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Who Were the Romans?

By K. Willis
Updated May 23, 2024
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Romans were members of the Roman empire, which was at its peak during the first and second centuries CE. The Roman empire encompassed the majority of Western Europe, controlling countries such as Britannia (England and Wales), Hispania (Spain), Gaul (France) and Achaea (Greece). The Roman empire also encompassed parts of the Middle East, known during the Roman period as Judea, and large swathes of the North African coast. The empire was controlled centrally from Rome. Because the Roman empire was so large, its people were extremely diverse, and those identifying themselves as Romans may not have been born in Rome, or even in Italy, but were born into areas controlled by the Roman empire.

Populations were conquered by the formidable Roman military. To avoid uprisings, conquered peoples were permitted to continue to follow their own religions and cultures and worship their own deities. This meant the culture of the Roman empire was incredibly diverse. Roman life absorbed many influences from other nations, particularly the Greeks. This included philosophies, laws, deities and architecture.

The Romans were an industrious and advanced people, and throughout the empire they built a network of roads to make travel and transport easier. Romans understood the need for hygiene, cleanliness and clean water, even if they did not fully understand the science behind it. The Romans built aqueducts to ensure clean drinking water and were responsible for the first public health regimes in the world. Public baths were constructed for the whole population, irrespective of class or social standing. Romans also built sanitation systems and public toilets designed to carry away the waste.

Roman society was medically advanced compared to other civilizations of the time and had many surgical and medical implements that are similar to some still in use in the 21st century. A vast amount of medical terminology used by the Romans also remained in use into the 21st century. Much of Roman medicine was an eclectic mix of science and superstition. Roman medicine followed many of the teachings of Greek physicians such as Hippocrates.

Entertainment was wide and varied in ancient Rome. A great deal of free entertainment was available so all could attend, regardless of social standing or affluence. It is theorized by many historians that entertainment was provided on such a large scale to distract people from the often harsh realities of daily life and to prevent potential uprisings.

Entertainment consisted of gladiatorial combat, theatrical performances, poetry recitals, chariot races and circus acts. Gladiators were generally slaves or prisoners of war who were forced to fight each other or a variety of large animals to the death. Records indicate that many of the theatrical performances were comedies, though not necessarily in the way people think of comedies today.

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Discussion Comments
By hllywd — On Apr 06, 2011

It’s incredible how much the Romans continue to influence societies in the modern day. The Roman government forms the foundations of many current societies, and their intellectual pursuits have shaped much of our current intellectual passions. Roman, along with Greek, art and literature were very developed in their time, and they still form the backbone for our conceptions of beauty in culture and art.

The Romans as a group were very advanced for their time, and their systems of warfare and politics gave them huge advantages over their enemies. The Roman empire is still considered to be something of an enigma. It’s also interesting to see how quickly the Roman downfall came. I wonder what we can learn from the Romans and their experiences? How much of what we see today is influenced by the Romans and how much more can we learn from them?

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