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The Roman Empire has been represented
in cultural contributions as diverse as
the 1959 American film Ben Hur and the
1979 British film Monty Python’s Life of
Brian. The Romans are the villains of the
Christians’ New Testament. Yet they are
also the people who gave contemporary
civilization some of its most practical
architectural innovations. Anyone who
benefits from a public sewer system
should thank the Romans. In history, the
Romans were both winners and losers.
Their revered empire collapsed. Perhaps
it does not deserve to be unquestioningly
revered. Below are 10 reasons the
Roman Empire does deserve to be
thoughtfully examined.

10. The Romans worshipped many deities (many borrowed from the Greeks)

The Romans were polytheists, meaning
they worshipped more than one god. One
minor god was Nemesis , the god of
revenge. From his name comes the
English word, “nemesis,” meaning “a rival
against whom one seeks revenge.” The
primary 12 gods and goddesses, called
the di consentes , meaning “associated
with the gods” in Latin, were taken from
the Greek pantheon of gods and
goddesses. Of those 12, the three most
important ones were Jupiter, protector
of the state (the Greeks’ Zeus), Juno,
protector of women (the Greeks’ Hera),
and Minerva, goddess of craft and
wisdom (the Greeks’ Athena).

The Romans sometimes changed Greek
myths so that their morals promoted the
values of Roman civilization. While the
Greek gods and goddesses were
anthropomorphized, the Roman gods and
goddesses seldom visited earth. Their
power symbolized the hierarchical power of the state .

9. The Romans adopted the practices of the civilizations they conquered

Early in its expansion, the Roman Empire
was influenced by the cultures of the
Greeks and the Etruscans. The decline of
Greece began when the Roman emperor Maximus took the Greek city of Corinth
in 146 BCE, though the Greeks retained
land in present day Italy. The Etruscans
ruled Rome for roughly 100 years before
the Romans deposed them. Many of
Rome’s architectural innovations were
introduced by the Etruscans, including
the sewer system, called the Cloaca
Maxima; the Temple of Jupiter, on the
Capitaline Hill; Rome’s race track; the
Circus Maximus; and the Servian Wall (a
wall surrounding Rome).

The Romans adopted the Greeks’
religious structure and theatrical genres,
though Roman plays are more likely to
include stock characters. The Romans’
adoption of some practices of the
cultures they conquered was more
indicative of practicality than cultural
tolerance. They adopted practices that
were beneficial to them, regardless of
who initiated those practices. In the case
of the Britons and other subjects of the
empire west of Rome, productive
relationships were promoted based on
subjects’ willingness to adopt Roman

8. The Roman Empire was actually two empires

By 286 CE, The Roman Empire stretched
from present day Britain to the present
day Persian Gulf. Invaders regularly
threatened the empire, so Emperor
Diocletian (284-305 CE) divided it so it
could be more easily defended. Maximian
ruled the Western Roman Empire from
Milan (and led the necessary battles
against invaders), while Diocletian ruled
the Eastern Roman Empire from near
western Anatolia. When Diocletian
reorganized territory, he also
streamlined authority. Under his rule,
both sections of the Roman Empire were
theocratic absolute monarchies.

Diocletian consolidated the earlier
practices of separating military careers
from civil careers and decreasing the
authority of the Senate. The Western
Roman Empire eventually became the
lesser of the two empires. During the
rule of Emperor Theodosius I (379-395
CE), Theodosius’ zealous promotion of
Christianity, invasions by Germanic
tribes, and scarcity of resources all
weakened the Western Roman Empire.

7.Roman emperors spread Christianity more systematically than they condemned it

Though Christians were publicly
sacrificed during certain periods of the
Roman Empire’s history, they were never
killed specifically because of their
religious beliefs. Nero used Christians as
scapegoats in an attempt to discredit the
rumor that he himself had started the
Great Fire (64 CE). In 250 CE and 303 CE,
Decius and Diocletian, respectively,
passed edicts requiring Roman citizens to
make public sacrifices in front of Roman
officials. Though Christians were
sometimes offered as sacrifices, they
were not specifically targeted in either
edict. In both cases, the emperors
wanted to quell civil unrest by
strengthening their authoritarian

In 313 CE, the Emperor Constantine
converted to Christianity himself (though
perhaps not wholeheartedly). That year,
he issued the Edict of Milan, promising
tolerance to Christians. Perhaps, as he
claimed, Constantine did see a vision of
a flaming cross in the sky on the eve of
a battle. Perhaps Constantine’s
conversion was another example of a
Roman adopting a beneficial practice
from another culture. Christianity is a
monotheistic religion. There is one god
who, Constantine claimed , chose the
emperor as his divine representative on
Earth. Divine rule could have been a
strong justification for consolidating one
man’s political power. Constantine’s
successor, the Emperor Theodosius,
persecuted non-Christians.

6. Roman society was openly classist

Roman society was hierarchically
structured. However, unlike in a
contemporary democracy containing
hierarchical power structures, Roman
society provided few opportunities for
social mobility. There were three classes
in Roman society: the patricians, who,
according to the Roman author Livy
were descendants of the 100 men
Romulus chose to form the first Senate;
the plebeians, who were the citizenry;
and the slaves. After the Conflict of the
Orders (500-287 BCE), the process of
transitioning between the patrician and
plebeian classes become much more
fluid. During the Conflict of the Orders,
the plebeians asserted their civic
authority by seceding from the Roman
Empire during wars, which eventually
earned them the right to intermarry with
members of the patrician class, and
assuming roles in governmental
organizations such as the consul and the
priesthood. In 287 BCE, Hortensian Law
ended the Conflict of the Orders by
making resolutions passed by the
Plebeian Consul binding for all Roman

Unlike plebeians, slaves had no rights
under Roman law. The Romans valued
dignity and restraint, but of course those
are defined based upon one’s own
sociocultural norms. Raping slaves was
an accepted practice. For the Romans,
the acceptability of a sexual pairing was
determined by the status and positioning
of the partners, not by their sex or
gender. Penetrating a male slave was
perfectly acceptable, because the partner
of lower social status should always be
the one getting penetrated. Beating a
slave with a stick was dignified, because
the owner was not using his hands. The
father of the physician, Galen, reportedly
urged his friends not to punch their
servants’ mouths, because the owners
might injure their own hands.

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Rufai Oladimeji
Lagos State University
100Level, Nigeria.
5. Divorce was not maligned in the Roman Empire

Whether chosen or arranged, a
contemporary marriage is considered a
personal event. For the Romans,
however, marriage was a civic duty. A
marriage could create mutually beneficial
sociocultural and sociopolitical
connections between families. As the
head of the family, a father had the
authority to promote a marriage that
would benefit his household. A divorce,
however, was considered a personal
matter between the members of a
couple, partially because breaking one
alliance to form another, more
desireable one was a socially accepted

Since wives were the property of their
husbands, no divorce required a division
of goods, though a man was required to
return a woman’s dowry to her family if
he divorced her. Men were permitted to
divorce their wives without citing a
reason, though common reasons
included adultery, infertility, consuming
wine excessively, and making copies of
the household keys. The Justinian Code
of 449 CE allowed women to divorce men
under certain circumstances. It was not
the first such law, but it was the first
that did not impose penalties on the
woman if her divorce was denied.

4. The Pax Romana lasted 200 years

In 27 BCE Augustus Caesar, nephew of
Julius Caesar, became the emperor of the
Roman Empire. His reign marked the
beginning of the Pax Romana, a Latin
phrase meaning “Roman peace.”
Augustus’ reforms provided the Pax
Romana’s stability. He decreased
imperial expansion (admittedly only after
gaining land in what are now Spain,
Switzerland, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Egypt
by defeating Mark Antony). He ordered
the building of roads and aqueducts ,
using concrete made from ash. He
decreased the size of the military. He
protected sea trade, ordering the navy to
capture pirates. He promoted the arts.
Horace, Virgil, Ovid, and Livy are all
writers whose careers flourished during
the Pax Romana.

Though Augustus’ rule, exemplifies the
best of the Pax Romana, it outlasted his
reign. Incompetent emperors and
invasions from Germanic tribes
combined to end the Pax Romana in 180 CE.

3. Scholars disagree about why the Roman Empire fell

More accurately, no one can isolate the
single most significant factor that led to
the Western Roman Empire’s collapse in
476 CE. The Eastern Roman Empire, also
called the Byzantine Empire, lasted until
the 1400s, when it was conquered by the
Ottoman Empire. The division of the
Roman Empire into two halves was one
factor in its decline. Both halves did not
thrive equally, and each half developed
distinct sociocultural values.

Other factors: The empire was too large
to rule uniformly, and it was vulnerable
to invaders, particularly Huns and
Germanic tribes. After the third century,
some of the Western Roman Empire’s
emperors weren’t of Roman descent, and
that threatened civic unity. Increasing
reliance on mercenaries led to military
defeats, and a lack of successful
conquests decreased the availability of
the slave labor on which the farmers
depended. Historian Guy Halsell writes,
“The Roman Empire was not murdered
[…] nor did it die a natural death. It
accidentally committed suicide.”

2. English words are inspired by Roman culture

Latin words are still used in the medical
and legal professions. However, some
English words also come from Roman
culture. The Senate was the Romans’
term for their lawmaking body, and a
senator was a person who served there.
Auditorium is Latin for, “a place for
listening.” For the Romans, a circus was
any place of entertainment designed in a
circle, racetracks included. “Civilized”
comes from the Romans’ “civitas”
meaning “citizen.”

The Romans contributed the words
“emperor” and “gladiator” to the English
language. In military academies, a first
year cadet is called a “plebe.” This is a
shortened form of “plebeian,” the
Romans’ term for a lower class citizen.

1. The Romans influenced contemporary governments

Any democracy owes a debt to the
Greeks. The concept of democracy, a
political system wherein each person
receives one vote when legislative
governmental matters are being
determined, originated in Athens. In
Athens, as in any other place democracy
is instituted, how personhood was
defined determined who actually had the
right to vote. The word “democracy”
comes from two Greek words,
“demos” (people) and “kratos” (power).
However, the structure of a
contemporary democracy, or any form
of government that includes an elected
lawmaking body, owes a debt to the
Romans. Contemporary democracies are
representative democracies.

Like the Romans, voters elect officials,
who then vote on policies on behalf of
their constituents. The Patrician and
Plebeian Consuls were comprised of
citizenry from both of the Roman
Empire’s social classes. The Senate
functioned more like a parliament in a
constutional monarchy, insofar as the
extent of its powers was largely
determined by the ruling emperor.

However, members of the Roman Senate
were appointed. The Roman Empire’s
government was primarily authoritarian,
since the emperor created and enforced
policy. However, the governmental
structures the Romans modeled have
inspired other types of governments.


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