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The Roman Empire
Supplemental Debate Information
Two thousand years ago, the world was ruled by Rome. From England to Africa and from Syria to Spain,
one in every four people on earth lived and died under Roman law.
The Roman Empire in the first century AD mixed sophistication with brutality and could suddenly lurch from
civilization, strength and power to terror, tyranny and greed.
Leader of the pack
At the head of the pack were the emperors, a strange bunch of men (always men). Few were just OK: some were
good - some even were great - but far too many abused their position and power. They had a job for life, but that life
could always be shortened. Assassination was an occupational hazard.
The emperors sat at the top of Rome's social order. This was as finely graded as flour. Specific qualifications were
needed for Romans to be admitted as equestrians or senators. Even freed slaves had different rights from citizens.
Daily life in ancient Rome
What's more, the social status of any citizen governed the life they led. While all Romans enjoyed the baths and made
a feature of the evening meal, their clothes and food, homes and hobbies, were a product of their class.
Those that tried to climb the ranks too quickly were savagely mocked by Petronius, just one of many Roman writers
whose observation and wit still breathes life into a society long since dead.
More than a city
Petronius knew his city well, but Rome itself was much more than just one city. Its empire was a vast collection of
states, backed up by force. It was not always peaceful. Enemies and rebels like Cleopatra and Boudicca revealed the
Roman steel that lay behind its civilization.
Even allowing for the occasional revolt, the empire was an enormous achievement. It was a huge marketplace in
which citizens could trade and travel unhindered. This helped the spread of foreign religions like Judaism and early
Christianity as far as Rome itself. Slowly, these religions encroached on traditional Roman spirits and gods.
By the end of the first century AD, Rome was even ruled by a Spaniard, Trajan. He was the first of many foreign
emperors that showed the Roman Empire to be a vast, multi-cultural melting pot that still has relevance, more than
2,000 years later.
The history of the Roman army
During the first 5 centuries, the Roman Empire had no army. That is: the empire had no
standing army (an army that is permanently established at a tactical place). When the
authorities in Rome thought it was necessary to take military action, they called up the
citizens who had subscribed to a list. When these citizens were called up, they took their
own armour with them and formed a temporary army. At the end of such a campaign the
'part-time soldiers got a reward: some money or a patch of ground. In these centuries,
when there was no real army, the Roman Empire very often used allies.
When the Roman Empire became bigger and bigger, and the military actions took place
further from Rome and Italy, the people weren't satisfied with the citizen-army anymore.
About 100 B.C. the Roman general and consul Gaius Marius had made a regular army out
of the Citizen-army. Because the army was regular now, it became much better and
stronger, because the soldiers were better trained and armed. A disadvantage of such a
regular army was, that it could be used as a personal political means of power. A good
example of this is Julius Ceasar. More about him in the chapter Emperors.
When Augustus became the first emperor of the Roman
Empire, he started to demarcate he frontiers of the
Empire. Before the reign of Augustus, the Roman Empire
was a hegemonic empire, which means an empire with
zones of decreasing influence around the center of Rome
and Italy. Apart from that, Augustus conquered big
territories in
the middle of Europe, and he also tried to conquer northern Europe, but he made no
progress there. When Varus was defeated with his legions at the Teutoburgerwald (9
A.D.), the Roman Empire began to demarcate frontiers very clearly around the territory
where the empire was in control. Augustus kept peace inside the frontiers of his empire.
That peace was named after him: Pax Augusta. Along the northern frontier of the empire
(on the banks of the Rhine and the Danube) a lot of forts were build in order to bring
enough pressure on the barbarians outside the empire. In this way the Roman army
became a standing army, which was unparalleled for those centuries.
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was one of the largest and most enduring in world history.
The saying "All Roads Lead to Rome" alludes to this central hub of technology, literature, culture and
architecture in the ancient world. The engineers of the Roman age created an unparalleled network of
roads in ancient history.
Approximately 50,000 miles (80,000 km) of roads spread Roman civilization, influence and the mighty
legions throughout the western world. They built strong arched bridges, and mastered the concept of
"running water" using aqueducts that, among other things, supplied public baths rivaling today's
modern water facilities.
At the height of its power in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the Roman Empire consisted of some 2.2
million square miles (5.7 million sq. km). 60 million people (or as much as 1/5 of the world's
population) claimed citizenship of Rome and as many as 120 million people may have lived within its