Ancient Cleverness – and Cruelty

Dear 7C,

INTRODUCING THE ROMANS… The Romans built superbly designed roads, triumphal arches and aqueducts. They administered a massive empire for hundreds of years, but despite their brilliance in many fields they had a brutal streak.


The Colosseum: A feat of ancient architecture and engineering, a scene of ancient bloodbaths…This building symbolizes the inventiveness and the cruelty of the Romans.

For instance, they are still famous for their cruel punishments, such as the one inflicted on Jesus and the thousands of slaves they executed for rebellion along the Appian Way. We remember them for the blood sports in their amphitheatres, where by all accounts they bayed for blood and got it. Their banquets were evidently lavish – and were of course served by slaves. These are just a few examples of how they often used their inventive ideas in cruel and unprincipled ways.

Nevertheless, their influence on the modern world has been immeasurable, like that of the ancient Greeks. The script used by the Romans is the one used in most countries for writing today. The words of their language, Latin, have found their way into many modern languages. Their administrative methods, architecture and engineering have been admired and copied ever since their empire finally collapsed.

In the early 1400s, during the Renaissance, the architect of Florence’s famous cathedral, “Il Duomo”, visited the Pantheon in Rome to get some ideas about how to build a dome. That shows that the Romans were advanced for their time – despite their unfortunate violent tendencies.

The Western Roman Empire officially came to an end in 476AD, a date that is usually considered to mark the end of the ancient period and the beginning of the medieval period. This depends on which historian you read, of course.

Even though they were warlike and vicious, they imposed an enforced peace upon their large empire. In the midst of all their decadence, the learning and ideas that flourished during that time of peace (known as “Pax Romana”) provided a basis for later civilisations to build upon.

I hope you enjoy finding out about this clever, violent and influential civilisation.

Kind regards,


JB Jordan chariot race IMG_0468
Our family friend, John Bayley, took this shot of a reenactment of a Roman chariot race during his visit to Jordan some years ago. The picture below shows a reenactment of a Roman legion in formation.

Reenactment of a Roman legion in formation, taken by John Bayley during his trip to Jordan some years ago

Click HERE for the Gladiator: Dressed to Kill Game from the wonderful BBC website. (You can also click on the pic below.) Roman Mosaics: The Romans loved to make pictures with small tiles.

A mosaic in modern Rome

Click HERE for some pictures of Roman mosaics to inspire you. Then try making your own by clicking on my mosaic below to go to a site that lets you design one online.

Click HERE to view a Roman mosaic of a dog – you will love it.

A Roman Street

Toss everything that doesn’t belong in a Roman street into the time tunnel in this game from the BBC.

An ancient street in Pompeii

Click HERE.

The History of Pizza

Another ancient mosaic snapped in modern Rome


Read this interesting story by clicking HERE.


My husband David looks up in awe at the Colosseum in 1995

1. Go to this site to find a simple definition of tyranny. Write down your own definition of tyranny, doing your best to use some of the words introduced in class.

2. Read a straightforward account of the history of the Roman republic at this site. Write a brief account of the meaning of the word republic. In what ways was Rome’s republic similar to Athens’ limited democracy?

3. Write a comment in response to this question: When does a person in authority, such as a parent, a teacher or a leader of a country, overstep the mark and begin to act in a tyrannical manner? Think hard about this question.

4. Question for class discussion: What can ordinary people (children, adults and citizens) do to reduce the chance of tyranny? Why might this be a difficult and sometimes even a dangerous task?

A little wander through ancient Greece…

Recommended Website:

Hypothetical Thoughts from Enquiring Minds 

School pillars copyFirst student: “The pillars at the front of the school? Hmm, would you say they’re Doric,Greek columns from pd Ionic or Corinthian?”


Second student: “We’re just starting to study geometry and trigonometry in Maths.”


Third student: “I’d like to take Philosophy in Year 11. I’ve heard the teacher is very good. She uses the Socratic method…”


Fourth student: “You know one thing I hate about school? It’s so undemocratic. The teachers are all despots.”


Every single one of these statements touches on the legacy of the ancient Greeks. We might have arrived at all of these concepts without them, but since we can never know what would have been in history, we can’t be sure.

Now there’s a philosophical question…

But first, before we get to philosophy, you need to visit another ancient civilisation, whose influence reaches, as the examples above show, to the present day…

All the photos on this post were taken by my brother Ern on his trip to Greece. I am using them with his permission. 

Write brief answers IN SENTENCES to the questions below, using the websites provided or your textbook.

  • What does the word “philosophy” mean?

/browse/philosophy (There are six definitions given. Look for the one you find easiest to understand.)

  • Where did the Greeks believe the gods and goddesses lived?

Read this site to discover the answer to this question.

  • Name a famous landmark from ancient Athens.

Look at this picture for ideas.

  • What was the word for the market place in Athens?

This site has an interactive map and many details about ancient Athens (and modern tourism).

  • Name the two most famous city-states of ancient Greece.

  • Name three famous ancient Greek philosophers.

  • What was Euclid famous for?

  • How did Socrates teach?

  • What happened to Socrates and why?

Wrapping up ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt left behind many legacies to future civilisations. A legacy in this context means a special contribution that a civilisation leaves behind.

People leave legacies too, and I don’t mean money. They leave behind their ideas, their acts of kindness, their inventions and their creativity. You are exploring the legacies of human beings in your work for the Night of Notables.

An example of a civilisation’s legacy is writing. The ancient Sumerians are believed to have been the first to create a writing system. They pressed wedge-shaped marks into clay tablets. Many historians believe that this is what gave the Egyptians the idea of developing hieroglyphs.

A legacy could also be:

  • a special way of organising a society or dealing with a problem;
  • some kind of scientific knowledge;
  • an invention;
  • a monument;
  • a skill;
  • an impressive achievement in art, government, literature, etc;
  • something that later societies have admired and sought to emulate.

Cuneiform – clipart kindly provided by I always think that it would be wonderful if the first writing was created to write love poems or great literature. But no – someone wanted a receipt. Sigh. This is a material world.

The ancient Egyptians had many achievements over the course of their long history. Their beautiful tomb paintings, for example, show us all about their lives on the Nile River. They drew figures in a way that changed little over the years. Can you think of other great and inspiring achievements that others might have built upon?

Egyptian peasants during harvest – note the side-on presentation of the bodies in classic Egyptian style
Image in public domain from wikimedia.commons

See what you can find out about the legacies of the ancient Egyptians at these sites.


Ancient Egyptian ideas about pi:

Ancient Egyptian art:

Ancient Egyptian water engineering and inventions:

(You’ll need to scroll down to read the vital information.)

Managing time – calendars and clocks:

Ancient Egyptian writing:

Your task: Leave a comment describing the ancient Egyptian legacy you consider most interesting, significant or worthwhile.

Then answer this question: What legacy would you as an individual like to leave behind? Another way to put this could be: How do you intend to leave the world a better place than you found it?

Finally, see how many of the questions in the quiz below you can answer correctly.