All Roads Lead to Rome

Dear 7Y,

When I think of ancient Rome, my first thoughts tend to be gruesome.

I think of the chariot race from Ben Hur, of Julius Caesar being stabbed twenty-three times in the Senate (according to this source), of the crucifixions of the slave rebels on the Appian Way and of gladiatorial contests during which the crowds displayed a horrifying blood-lust… 

But surely it’s not all blood and gore! Am I just spreading a stereotype with the help of a few old Hollywood movies?

Well, not entirely. Even the relatively restrained BBC Website refers to the Romans as “ingenious but brutal”.

I think you have to remember both of these aspects of the ancient Romans as you learn about them. Could one employ these two adjectives to summarise the history of the human race? What do you think?

Even though the Romans were in many ways warlike and vicious, they imposed an enforced peace upon their massive Empire. This is sometimes referred to as the “Pax Romana”, which is in itself a kind of paradox, an internal contradiction, for despite the Romans’ lust for conquest and their enslavement of many conquered people, many states were able to enjoy relative peace and stability under Roman control.

This means that there were great and less bloody accomplishments as well as the blood sports, corruption, poisonings and cruelty. Indeed, the legacies of ancient Rome are still dotted over their former territories, in the shape of aqueducts, ancient roads, architecture and amphitheatres.

Even the letters I am using to type this post hail from the Latin script, the most widely used form of writing in the world today. Latin may be a dead language, but it evolved into the Romance languages, such as French, Italian and Spanish, and it lives on in countless words and expressions in other languages, including English.

So in many respects, the Romans are still among us. Like the genes of the Neanderthals.

Goodness, history is getting almost spooky.

Regards from Ms Green

On the Road to Rome:

  • Look closely at this map of the ancient Roman Empire. Can you identify the names of ancient lands under the control of the Romans and match them with their modern names?
  • Watch this video animation of how Rome might have looked around the year AD 320.

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