Founded, according to Roman tradition, in 753 BC, Rome battled to survive surrounded by local tribes. Expansion instead of pure defence resulted in her controlling all the Italian peninsula by 240 BC.
A clash with the Carthaginians, just across the sea from the SE toe of Italy was inevitable - the Carthaginian supremacy on the sea for power echoed Roman military might. Hannibal even brought his Carthaginian troops to ‘the gates of Rome’. But after three Punic Wars, in 146 BC it was all over and Rome destroyed Carthage and possessed their lands in Sardinia, Sicily, Africa and Spain.
Rome continued to expand taking control, in ‘just’ wars, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Gaul (conquered by Julius Caesar), Germany’s nearer lands, Egypt (taken by Augustus) and Britain (truly conquered by Claudius in AD 43). By AD 116, Emperor Trajan had advanced into Parthian land in the east and Dacia (north of modern Balkan lands) to take the Empire to its greatest extent.
Rome would hold the Empire, through troubled and unstable centuries until the Empire was divided into an Eastern Empire ruled from Constantinople, and a Western Empire ruled from Rome. Barbarian invasions weakened Rome terminally in the 400s AD, while Constantinople would survive to become the centre of Byzantine culture.
Archaeological Features & Sites to Look For;
During the centuries of Rome’s expansion and power a distinctive Roman culture developed. Rome adopted and adapted what they liked of the peoples they conquered:
The Romans took on the Etruscans’ engineering skills (arches, from which the Romans developed vaults), love of chariot racing, frescoes and politicial insignia (eg. The fasces and the curule chair);
The Romans built on Greek religion, art and literature and architecture, depending on Greek teachers, doctors and philosophers to serve their knowledge-base and education.
The Roman Empire provided rich resources and Roman life was one full of material goods: metal working in gold, silver, bronze, lead and iron was ubiquitous; glass blowing produced items of never-previously achieved beauty; sculpture wallowed in copying Hellenistic versions. Pottery was big business and woodworking, weaving and food production were always needed.
Towns around the Empire were founded or evolved into mini-Romes: look for a forum (market/meeting area) beside a basilica (admin and justice centre), public baths and latrines, monumental arches and inscriptions, temples galore to a pantheon of gods (Roman ‘hedging their bets’ left almost no god unworshipped), and houses (rich villa, poor ‘insulae’ apartments).
Shops and warehouses fuelled by harbours reveal the highly active industrial Roman world.
Rome is always evident by the sheer quantity and range of the material finds.
Top Archaeological Sites
Pompeii & Herculaneum Go there however you can!
Visit Roman towns around the Empire, from Ephesus in Asia Minor to Arles in Gaul.
Visit Roman villas throughout the Empire: mosaics and sometimes frescoes adorn these homes that are a cross between stately homes and rich working estates.
Military forts (and Hadrian’s Wall) give insights into the power that was Rome.
Museums & Places To Visit
The Roman galleries at the British Museum are always free to visit and provide a wealth of material that reveals just how far-reaching and wealthy Rome’s Empire really was.
New films and TV programmes based on Rome are produced every year.
There are many excellent documentaries relating to a wide range of topics concerning Ancient Rome and the exploration and detective stories that are involved in unearthing the truth about Roman life.
Drama series, such as the BBC Rome are often soap operas in disguise (or not even in disguise) and are modern tales set in an ancient scene.
However, some, such as I, Claudius, are an excellent insight into Roman life. The cameras of the ‘70s may have been heavy and the sets static, but this theatre-like effect and brilliant portrayals let you observe the wonderful accuracy of so much of the script and visual details. This adaptation of Robert Graves’ book owes much to the original Roman authors, historian Tacitus and biographer Suetonius who inspires Graves himself.
In our Time on Radio 4 is hosted by Melvyn Bragg and the always-accessible archives include several programmes related to the Romans: