Why was the Roman Empire so important

Roman Empire

If one believes the Roman historian Titus Livius (59 BC to 17 AD), the exact founding date falls from Rome (Latin Roma) on April 21, 753 BC Chr.

And who does not know the catchy saying “Seven, five, three - Rome crawled out of the egg”? Also in the “Aeneid”, the Roman national epic, written by Virgil (70 to 19 BC), one learns more about the foundation of the city of Rome - the eternal city. There it goes back to the twins Romulus and Remus, who were raised by a she-wolf.

But like that from a small city-state Roman Empire (lat. Roman empire), is, however, a complex, exciting and historically and politically unique development story.

At the same time, ancient Rome changed not only its borders, but also its basic state-political features. Over the centuries it changed from the Roman royal period (753 to 509 BC, time of the Etruscan kings) to the Roman Republic (509 to 27 BC) and then to the imperial period and late antiquity.

The formative religion also changed, so the traditional polytheistic religion was replaced by Christianity from Constantine I (270 to 337) and officially from Theodosius I (347 to 395).


From the city-state to the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire under Emperor Trajan (57 to 117) had the greatest expansion and encompassed the entire Mediterranean region. The Romans therefore called the Mediterranean a perfect one Mare nostrum (Eng. Our sea).

The empire comprised territories on three continents with provinces from Britain and Mauritania to Dacia, Armenia and Egypt. The Romans, of course, also led their way of life in the conquered provinces Latin language, the language from the Latium region surrounding Rome (today Lazio). In addition to art, culture, administration and law, they also brought culinary products¹ with them.

The fabulous rise to greatness and power, not only by ancient standards, was preceded by centuries of growth. The city of Rome was the most imposing metropolis in the world with temples, palaces, thermal baths, the Colosseum and numerous triumphal arches. The city of the “Seven Hills” on the Tiber also had a sophisticated road system, a modern water supply through aqueducts and with the Cloaca maxima via a sewer. Emperor Augustus (63 BC to 14 AD) set up the first fire brigade because of the many fires in Rome in 22 BC. These firemen were slaves and armed with buckets and first sprays of water.

It is estimated that Rome had around one million inhabitants at that time. In addition to the elegant, luxurious city villas of some rich patrician families, many of the “new” residents of Rome lived in one of the many Insulae, large rental houses. They only had a small room, they drew running water from the public wells, they ate outside and human needs were fulfilled in the public latrines (possibly together with lively conversations with those sitting next to them).

Rich Patrician and now and then a rich man Plebeians In contrast, they had their own latrine, an inner courtyard with a cistern (atrium), a dining room (triclinium) with loungers, a kitchen and the peristyle, a small garden. Ornate mosaics and sculptures were also found in the houses. What many do not know: with the hypocaust, the wealthy Romans even had underfloor heating.

Slaves did the daily chores, they put on the toga for the landlord (Dominus), the housekeeper (Domina) did the hair, set the table, cooked and kept the property clean. Often they also accompanied the children to school, which was private and paid for. Girls were allowed to go to some kind of elementary school, if at all, and deeper studies were reserved for boys. Alternatively, the descendants also received private lessons from a teacher who was often a slave from Greece, because the Romans regarded the Greeks as cultured and educated. Doctors were also often Hellenes and brought the Greek art of healing to Rome and the entire Roman Empire.


Culture area of ​​the Romans and Greeks

For the Romans, the Greeks were role models in many ways, they counted themselves together with them to a cultural group. The other peoples of the earth, however, were called Barbariansthat you especially during the Pax Romana that civilization wanted to bring. This epoch began with Emperor Augustus and is therefore also called Pax Augusta: The goal was inner peace and prosperity while securing the borders to the outside. It was preceded by expansion, e.g. under the most famous Emperor Gaius Iulius Caesar (100 BC to 44 BC), who, among other things, conquered Gaul for the Roman Empire. Latin students know the related events well, as his work “De bello Gallico” is often used as a teaching work for linguistic and historical reasons.

Architecture, art and literature flourished during the Pax Romana. However, when you came to Rome as a slave, your situation was not easy: the house slaves often had it best, the hard-working slaves in agriculture and mining fared worse.

They were a specialty Gladiators, mostly slaves or prisoners or impoverished citizens. They could achieve fame and glory if they successfully survived the battles, e.g. in the Colosseum². They were trained in a gladiator school, the largest of which in Rome was the Ludus magnus. Good gladiators were well looked after, they trained hard and fought in different genres such as the secutor (sword and shield) or the retiarius (trident and throwing net), fights with animals such as lions or simulated sea battles were also part of the program of the games played by the Roman people were used for amusement. Also a spectacle and less brutal than the events in the Colosseum, on the other hand, were the chariot races, e.g. in the Circus maximus were held.

It is estimated that one third of the population of Rome is slaves, no wonder that a slave revolt like the Spartacus revolt in 73 BC. Became dangerous for the Roman Empire.

Sometimes the slaves were finally released by their owner after decades of work. As a freedman you could work in all professions and with a little luck and skill you could actually make money and prosperity.

The model for Roman mythology was also the world of Greek gods and legends. Within the framework of the Interpretatio Romana (German: Roman translation), the Greek gods with their tasks and characteristics were also adopted with a few exceptions and deviations. The most important god, the Greek Zeus, became the Roman Jupiter (Latin Iuppiter) and his wife Hera also became the Roman goddess of marriage and care, Juno (Latin Iuno).

Poseidon (Neptune), Pallas Athene (Minerva), Aphrodite (Venus), Ares (Mars), Apollon (Apoll) and Artemis (Diana) were also taken over. To honor these gods, Rome was full of temples, such as the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol or the Temple of Venus and the (city goddess) Roma, the largest temple in the city. The Temple of Vesta with the well-known Vestal Virgins, which was dedicated to the goddess of the hearth fire, stood in the Roman Forum. For the sake of completeness, it should be mentioned that the Romans also “imported” gods from other cultures, such as the Persian Mithras and the Egyptian Isis. In general, ancient Rome was open to foreign cultures and religions, mostly they were tolerated or even integrated into the existing or Romanized.

For a long time, however, Rome was hostile towards Christians, the differences to the traditional pagan religion were too strong and the rapidly rising and popular Christianity was seen as a danger to the state. Christianity as the state religion of the Imperium Romanum was therefore hardly conceivable for a long time and only became a reality under Theodosius I (emperor from 379).

In the Roman family (lat. Familia) the patriarchy was valid. The Father familiae (or Pater familias) had the say in the family, he represented the family externally and was also a family priest. Fathers determined who their daughters married and had to pay a dowry to the other family as well. In the event of a divorce, however, this had to be returned, which is probably one of the reasons why divorces were rare.

However, the lady of the house could also have an important position within the family. Wealthy Roman women invested a lot of time in their appearance: there was rouge made from red wine and ocher earth, lipstick and mascara made from black soot. Blonde hair was considered to be particularly attractive and therefore the fine ladies also had wigs made from the hair of blonde German women.

Innovative perfumes, e.g. with extracts from cardamom, rosewood and cinnamon, were mixed and applied. Precious mirrors made of silver and fine combs and hairpins were used and the hairstyles were often imitated the appearance of the empress. Not many women in ancient Rome could indulge themselves in the luxury of bathing donkey milk like this.


Expansion guarantee: the Roman Legion

People have often wondered how the Roman Empire could come to such an abundance of power and expansion. Was it the Roman roads that made it possible to develop the empire and its provinces structurally and economically over a distance of approx. 80,000 km?

Or was it due to the brilliant speakers such as Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 to 43 BC), the well-organized administration with tax and legal systems or the many technical innovations of the Romans?

The answer is not that simple, but arguably the main reason for the Romans' success was this Roman legion. The Roman State S.P.Q.R. (Long form: Senatus Populusque Romanus, dt. The Senate and the People of Rome) was not only based on its political institutions and power elites, but especially on the strength of its armed forces.

As the Ager Romanus The legion also grew, at its heyday a Roman emperor commanded around 30 legions. Each legion was headed by a legate as commander, and other officers were subordinate to him. A legion had about 6,000 legionnaires and was divided into cohorts, maniples and centurions. The centurion commanded 80 men. The legionnaire was a respected profession and one had to be a Roman citizen to serve. He received regular pay, but also had to do a tough job: With 30 to 40 kg of luggage, they had to make long marches and in the evenings had to set up the camp with a protective wall.

The legionaries were not only good fighters, but also craftsmen. Equipped with a helmet, rail armor and the large arched protective shield, he was armed with the short sword (gladius) and the javelin (pilum). But there were also specialists such as javelin throwers (armed with the long spear hasta) and archers. The Legion also used larger weapons such as siege towers, battering rams, catapults and ballistae.

Tactically, they once again orientated themselves to the Greeks and fought with a system (phalanx), which of course gave the Romans advantages over their opponents. There were also special combat formations such as the famous one Turtle formation.

The Roman legion was also supported by the auxiliary troops (German auxiliary troops), in which allied peoples and soldiers served without Roman citizenship. The sea fleet used the raven, a movable boarding bridge that rammed into enemy ships. Rome was therefore well positioned militarily in all genres and could e.g. against its main opponent for power on the Mediterranean, the Carthaginians (Punians) in the three Punic Wars, push through.

But the Roman army also suffered defeats, for example against the Teutons in the Varus Battle of 9 AD in the thicket of the Teutoburg Forest, where three Roman legions were wiped out.

The large fortified military camps were standardized and thus managed efficiently. Overall, the Roman legion was rather small in relation to the size of the empire and the legionaries were rarely underemployed. If they did not practice fights and had no training, for example, they built roads. But if a legionnaire had served Rome well for 25 years, he received a severance payment, often also a piece of land on which he could spend his old age. Despite all the hardships, the legionnaire's profession was in great demand.


End of the Roman Empire

Despite the strength of the Roman Legion, the Roman Empire fell apart at some point. The reasons for this were often sought in the decadence of the power elites, in a waning of the old Roman virtues such as humility, diligence and discipline.

If this is also the case, there was more to it than crushing the Roman Empire with its sophisticated organization, army and administration. With its different peoples as Imperium sine fine (dt. empire without borders) Rome had failed because of its own success. It had become too big after Emperor Theodosius I in 395: that Western Roman Empire (Westrom) with the capital Rome and the Eastern Roman Empire (Ostrom / Byzantium) with the capital Byzantium (Constantinople).

The real Latin Rome was Western Rome, because Eastern Rome was more Greek and Oriental. This also applied to the language, because Greek replaced Latin as the official language in Byzantium: Justinian I (482 to 565) was the last Byzantine emperor whose mother tongue was Latin.

Despite these facts, it is reasonable to link the end of the Roman Empire to the end of Byzantium, which means that it actually lasted until May 29, 1453. Only then was Byzantium conquered by the Janissaries of Mehmet II for the Ottoman Empire. The last Roman emperor Constantine XI. fell during the fighting in the city that had been besieged for two months.

In this context, reference can also be made to the Holy Roman Empire (Latin: Sacrum Imperium Romanum), which existed from 962 with the coronation of Otto I until 1806. Whereby this successor was denied by Byzantium that only saw itself as an inheritance.

Others date the end of the Roman Empire to the year 476, when the last emperor of Western Rome, Romulus Augustulus (460 to 507?), Was deposed by the Roman officer of Germanic origin Odoacer (433 to 493). However, the deposed emperor was not liquidated, but moved from Ravenna (which was now the capital) to the fortress Castellum Lucullanum Exiled to Naples, where he even received a pension of over 6,000 solidi. A historical delicacy should not be concealed: for Ostrom, however, the predecessor of Romulus Augustulus, Julius Nepos (430 to 480), was the last legitimate emperor of Western Rome.

Some historians also note that Westrom existed for a few decades longer, as the Senate and Court still existed in Ravenna for some time.

Despite all the different views, the migration of peoples was probably one of the reasons for the decline of the Roman Empire in the west. The East Germanic tribe of Vandals was driven west by the Huns in 401. They advanced through Gaul into Hispania and conquered the Roman provinces in North Africa. There they founded a vandal empire with the capital Carthage and sacked Rome in 455. As early as 410, the city had been sacked by the Visigoths.

However, if one actually takes the year 753 as the starting point of Rome and the year 1453 as the end of the empire, then the Roman Empire lasted for a full 2,206 years. Some see the key dates 395 (division of the Roman Empire) and 1453 (fall of Byzantium) as the start and beginning of the Middle Ages. As painful as the fall of Byzantium was, it also made the Renaissance possible, due to the flight of numerous scholars from Byzantium to Western Europe.

This influence of ancient Rome continues to this day in the Latin letters, designations & idioms, street layouts, the legal and political system of Europe and much more.

Anyone who deals with ancient Rome and its language, Latin, has an excellent basis for understanding past and present. It is worth it!


1. Anyone interested in Roman food and drink should get a copy of De re coquinaria from Marcus Gavius ​​Apicius, the most famous Roman gourmet.

2. The Colosseum (built 72 to 80 AD), which can still be visited in Rome today, offered space for 50,000 visitors and was hierarchically structured as an arena. The imperial lodge and the noble citizens sat downstairs, followed by simple citizens and later slaves and women.