Ancient Rome 101 | National Geographic


– [Narrator] The story of ancient Rome is a story of evolution, of
how a civilization’s ability to adapt and dominate
can lead to its survival for over 1,000 years. Rome began as a small village on central Italy’s Tiber River. In the coming centuries,
it grew into an empire that stretched from the north Atlantic all the way to the Persian Gulf. During this transformation,
Rome displayed a political, military, and cultural
prowess that enabled it to become a super power and helped shape what would become known
as western civilization. The lifespan of ancient
Rome can be divided into three major periods, the regal, the republican, and the imperial. During the regal period,
Rome was monarchical and ruled by a succession
of about seven kings. Rome’s first king, according to legend, was a man named Romulus. He and his twin brother Remus are said to have founded Rome in 753 B.C. In 509 B.C., Rome adopted a
republican system of governance in which the state was primarily ruled by two annually representatives
called praetors, who were later called consuls. One of them become a famous general and dictator, Julius Caesar. The imperial period followed. It was characterized by the
rise of the Roman Empire and notorious leaders such as Octavian, Rome’s first emperor, who
issued in an era of peace, and Nero, who, some scholars believe, was Rome’s cruelest emperor. Rome’s focus and pride in its military was vital to the civilization’s growth, and this ethos was evident
as early as the regal period when Rome was only a small village. Still, Rome slowly conquered and annexed neighboring peoples. This slow and steady
expansion eventually lead to the Romans’ domination
of the Italian peninsula and the entire Mediterranean Sea, where they conquered the Greeks, Egyptians, and Carthaginians. Military conquests would later help Rome conquer lands as far
away as Britain and Iraq. This massive scale and growing populous necessitated advancements
in Roman engineering. Aqueducts were constructed,
which increased the public’s access to water,
helped improve public health, and paved the way for
Rome’s famed bath houses. A 50,000 mile long road
system was built as well. While made originally for the military, it facilitated the movement of people and ideas throughout the empire. This transmission of ideas
and increased contact with diverse cultures also enabled other aspects of Roman culture to evolve. A key to Rome’s success and longevity was the empire’s inclusion of cultures from the lands they conquered. From the nearby land of Latium, Rome acquired the Latin language, which became the empire’s
official language and the ancestor to
Europe’s Romance languages. Romans also adopted cultural aspects from the ancient state of Etruria, including their religion, alphabet, and the spectacle of gladiator combat. However, no other civilization
influenced the Romans as much as the ancient Greeks. Their influence is probably most apparent in Rome’s art and architecture. Upper class Romans commissioned
paintings and sculptures to imitate Greek art. Greek architectural
styles, such as columns, were implemented in Roman structures such as the Pantheon and Colosseum. One cultural shift in
particular that resonated throughout the empire was
the rise of Christianity. Originating in the Middle East, the religion found a strong
advocate in Constantine I, the first Roman emperor to
convert to Christianity. He enabled Rome’s transition
into a Christian state and encouraged the religion
to spread across Europe. By the fourth century, after a lifespan of over a millennium, the
Roman Empire declined. Factors including political corruption, economic crises, and class conflict led to the empire’s decay from within while invasions and other military threats caused it to break down from outside. Rome’s ability to
incorporate diverse cultures, dominate rivals, and
adapt political systems to the needs of its people
are all lessons to be learned for time eternal.

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