How Plague Helped Make Ancient Rome a Superpower

Epidemics haunt history, but they shape history too, as happened in 212 BCE at Syracuse. “The dogs were the first to feel the mischief; next the birds flagged in their flight and dropped down from the black clouds; and then the beasts of the forest were laid low. Soon the infernal plague spread further, depopulating[…]

Aqueducts and Water Movement in Ancient Rome

Most Roman aqueducts proved reliable and durable. They still stand today as a testament to that. Introduction The Romans constructed aqueducts throughout their Republic and later Empire, to bring water from outside sources into cities and towns. Aqueduct water supplied public baths, latrines, fountains, and private households; it also supported mining operations, milling, farms, and[…]

How Did Ancient Greeks and Romans Celebrate Special Occasions?

Getty curators answer your questions about ancient parties. If the ancient Greeks and Romans were still around today, we might say they “know how to party.” With dozens of gods and goddesses to celebrate, plus birthdays and other religious holidays like Saturnalia, the Greeks and Romans had many opportunities for revelry and merrymaking throughout the[…]

Saturnalia: The Wild Holiday that Turned Ancient Rome Upside Down

How the Romans celebrated Saturnalia. Happy Saturnalia! This ancient Roman holiday honors Saturn, the god of seed-sowing, and celebrates the promise of a spring harvest. Originally just one day, over the centuries the festivities grew to last a whole week, starting on December 17 and coinciding with the winter solstice.⁠⠀ In Rome, the holiday was[…]

The Defeat of Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium

Antony’s defeat marked the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Empire under Octavian Augustus. Introduction The Battle of Actium was a naval battle in the last war of the Roman Republic, fought between the fleet of Octavian and the combined forces of Mark Antony and Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. It took place on 2 September 31 BC in the Ionian Sea near the[…]

Mark Antony: From Hero to Traitor in Ancient Rome

He was accused of betraying his Roman citizenship by forming an alliance with a foreign queen. Introduction Marcus Antonius (c. January 14, 83 B.C.E. – August 1, 30 B.C.E.), known in English as Mark Antony (also spelled Marc Anthony; Latin, Marcus Antonius), was a Roman politician and general. He was an important supporter of Gaius Julius Caesar as a military commander and administrator. After Caesar’s assassination, Antony allied[…]

Foederati: Subsumed by Ancient Rome and Bound to Defend It

Foederati were the tribes that were bound by a treaty to defend Rome but were neither Roman colonies nor citizens. Introduction Foederati were peoples and cities bound by a treaty, known as foedus, with Rome. In Republican times the term identified the socii, whereas during the Imperial period it was used to describe foreign states, client kingdoms, or[…]

Sons of Mars: An Historical Overview of the Military of Ancient Rome

The purpose for and use of the military shifted between the Republican and Imperial periods. Introduction The military of ancient Rome, according to Titus Livius, one of the more illustrious historians of Rome over the centuries, was a key element in the rise of Rome over “above seven hundred years”[1] from a small settlement in Latium to the capital of[…]

The Nika Riots against Justinian at an Ancient Roman Chariot Race

Justinian was dealing with the Persians over peace in the east at the end of the Iberian War and now he faced a potential crisis in his city. Introduction The Nika riots, Nika revolt, or Nika sedition took place against Emperor Justinian I in Constantinople over the course of a week in 532 AD. They were the most violent riots in the city’s history,[…]

The Decline and Ruin of the Ancient Roman Republic

Violent rhetoric and disregard for political norms was the beginning of Rome’s end. By Jason Daley The U.S. Constitution owes a huge debt to ancient Rome. The Founding Fathers were well-versed in Greek and Roman History. Leaders like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison read the historian Polybius, who laid out one of the clearest descriptions[…]

The Lavish Roman Banquet: A Calculated Display Of Debauchery And Power

The banquet of a noble Roman in ancient Rome was a crucial power tool — a way of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. The Roman banquet may well have been the original staging ground of gastronomic excess — think platters of peacock tongue and fried dormice, chased down with liters of wine[…]

Faces of the Roman Empire: From Augustus to Domitian

Examining a series of facial reconstructions of early Roman emperors from the Julio-Claudian dynasty to the Flavian dynasty. By Arienne King Introduction From the peaceful reign of Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE), Rome’s first emperor, to the chaotic Year of the Five Emperors (69 CE), which culminated in the rise of the Flavian Dynasty, these were Rome’s[…]

Ancient Roman Funerary Practices

Funerals were primarily a concern of the family, which was of paramount importance in Roman society. Introduction Roman funerary practices include the Ancient Romans’ religious rituals concerning funerals, cremations, and burials. They were part of time-hallowed tradition (Latin: mos maiorum), the unwritten code from which Romans derived their social norms.[1] Roman cemeteries were located outside the sacred boundary (pomerium) of towns and cities. They were visited regularly with offerings of[…]

Nero: Cowardly Tyrant to the End in Ancient Rome

Though a coward, Nero thought a voluntary death better than the indignities which he knew awaited him. The emperor Nero (ruled A.D. 54-68) was the son of Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus, and of Agrippina, daughter of Germanicus Caesar, and sister of Caligula. Nero’s original name was L. Domitius Ahenobarbus, but after the marriage of his mother[…]

Feasting in Ancient Rome

Ancient Roman cuisine enthusiasts answer your burning questions. If you were to sit down for a meal with ancient Romans, some of the food on your plate might leave you scratching your head. Dormouse and flamingo, anyone? Other dishes may appear surprisingly familiar, like bread, cheese, and wine—still the cornerstones of many a Mediterranean-inspired lunch[…]

The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia in Ancient Roman Palestrina

The presence of wealthy Romans led to the expansion of the temple structure and its continuing decoration. Introduction The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina (ancient Praeneste) in Italy was built in the 2nd century BCE to honor the goddess Isis and the goddess Fortuna. The massive site spans a mountainside, built with Roman cement or[…]

The Romulean and Servian Tribes of Pre-Republican Ancient Rome

All Roman citizens were enrolled in one of these tribes, through which they were entitled to vote in certain elections. Introduction A tribus, or tribe, was a division of the Roman people, constituting the voting units of a legislative assembly of the Roman Republic.[1][2] The word is probably derived from tribuere, to divide or distribute;[…]

The Column of Trajan: Propaganda of Empire in Ancient Rome

Trajan expanded the Roman Empire to its greatest extent, celebrating his victories with this monumental column. The Triumph The Triumph was a riotous military ritual celebrated by the Romans over the course of centuries—whenever their commander had won a spectacular victory. On the appointed day (or days) the city would be overflowing with crowds, pageantry,[…]

Augustus of Primaporta: Propaganda for Ancient Rome’s First Emperor

Augustus invoked the power of imagery to communicate his ideology. Heading Today, politicians think very carefully about how they will be photographed. Think about all the campaign commercials and print ads we are bombarded with every election season. These images tell us a lot about the candidate, including what they stand for and what agendas[…]

Justinian I and a Failed Attempt to Reunite the Ancient Roman Empire

He is widely held as one of the greatest (and most controversial) late Roman/Byzantine emperors in history. By Will Wyeth Introduction Justinian I reigned as emperor of the Byzantine Empire from 527 to 565 CE. Born around 482 CE in Tauresium, a village in Illyria, his uncle Emperor Justin I was an imperial bodyguard who[…]

Proscriptio: Stripping Political Opponents of Power in Ancient Rome

Many were declared enemies of the state, their property confiscated, and they were sent into exile (or worse). Introduction Proscription is, in current usage, a ’decree of condemnation to death or banishment’ (Oxford English Dictionary) and can be used in a political context to refer to state-approved murder or banishment. The term originated in Ancient[…]

Restoring Ancient Sculpture in Baroque Rome

Not every artist in Renaissance and Baroque Rome had access to ancient Greek and Roman statues. Early Modern Fascination with the “Antique” In this late 16th-century drawing by Federico Zuccaro, we see the artist’s older brother, Taddeo, surrounded by Greek and Roman sculptures in the Vatican’s Belvedere courtyard in Rome. Taddeo is seated on a[…]

A History of Baroque Roman Art and Architecture

It was a focus for tourists and artists and a watershed of inspiration throughout the Western world. Introduction In the seventeenth century, the city of Rome became the consummate statement of Catholic majesty and triumph expressed in all the arts. Baroque architects, artists, and urban planners so magnified and invigorated the classical and ecclesiastical traditions[…]

Family Structure in Ancient Rome

In Ancient Rome, fathers were endowed with nearly limitless power (patria potestas) over their family. Introduction The Ancient Roman family was a complex social structure based mainly on the nuclear family, but could also include various combinations of other members, such as extended family members, household slaves, and freed slaves. Ancient Romans had different names[…]

Usurper: Stolen Valor in Ancient Rome’s Third Century Crisis

The usurpation mania of the third century had profound effects in the empire’s bureaucratic and military organization. Introduction Roman usurpers were individuals or groups of individuals who obtained or tried to obtain power by force and without legitimate legal authority. Usurpation was endemic during the Roman imperial era, especially from the crisis of the third[…]

Four Emperors: A Year of Struggles for Power in the Ancient Roman Empire

Nero’s death marked a definitive end to the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, and a series of civil wars began as others went for the laurel wreath. Introduction The Year of the Four Emperors, 69 AD, was a period in the history of the Roman Empire in which four emperors ruled in succession: Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian.[1][…]

Growing Old in Ancient Rome

The old were often portrayed as avaricious, cowardly, quarrelsome and irritable, and they always complained about the younger generation. By Dr. Karen CokayneUniversity of Reading Old age is a topical subject in today’s society. At present, the aged (those over 60 for women and 65 for men) comprise approximately 20% of the total population and[…]

Damnatio Memoriae: Forgetting the Past in Ancient Rome

Around half of all Roman emperors received some form of the condemnation. By Mati Davis and Sara Chopra While the phrase damnatio memoriae – a “condemnation of memory” in Latin – is modern in origin, it captures a broad range of actions posthumously taken by the Romans against former leaders and their reputations. Most prevalent[…]