- Virginia Johnson
Rome grew from a small band of villages in central Italy to the greatest empire of its time. Roman law and sciences spread throughout the Western World, changing forever the ways of the Europeans and North Africans. Romans built coloniae (colonies) on their western frontier by very strict standards, making certain that the people who lived there knew they were a part of the Empire. The ruins of Roman forts and bath houses can be found in England, at the edges of Roman rule, and the parts of the great Roman roads can still be seen today.
In the beginning of its rise to glory, Rome was a republic, and its early form of government had much in common with our United States government, for its leaders were elected from its citizens. American revolutionaries, such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington-- were all learned men who had studied Roman government, as well as the Latin language and ancient philosophers. They used this knowledge to create a radically different form of government.
Important Romans enjoyed their way of life. Roman villas were grand country houses with many luxuries, and, among the upper classes, food for the feast could be as exotic as peacock tongues and camel heels. Slavery existed in Rome, as in many ancient empires such as Mali. Slaves came from as far away as the British Isles and Africa to fight in the colosseum and serve as workers and personal servants.
By the time that the city of Rome finally fell to invaders in 476 AD, the Roman people had already suffered decades of mad emperors, heavy taxation, and disease. But the ideas of Rome lived on in books, and today we can see traces of Rome in how our laws are made as well as the appearance of public buildings in Washington, D.C.
Those first U.S. statesmen honored Rome, not for its riches and certainly not for its slavery, but instead for the wisdom of its laws. Being a Roman citizen was a reason to be proud, and most Romans valued their honor. When George Washington refused to be king, he was compared to Cincinnatus, another great general who refused the temptation to be emperor for life although everyone thought he should be. Like Washington, Cincinnatus went home and returned to farming after his country's crisis passed.
Learn more about Roman times and ideas on the Web and in the library from our list, CRRL Kids: Roman Days and Roman Ways.