Legacy Of The Roman Empire Essay

The legacy of the Romans for Britain

I have never been to Rome. It must be strange for you, reading this statement of the author of an essay about Roman influence in Britain. But it’s true. And I have to face that fact even more often and be ashamed of what consequences it implies since I have come to Britain, and especially since I have come to Bath. Bath, the Roman City. Bath, the Roman Baths. Bath and the Romans. I feel like I have come to little Rome since I come here, really. It is everywhere and overwhelming, the still palpable presence of Roman life and culture today. I am very aware of the fact that the Roman Empire influenced not only Britain, but entire Europe. But the Romans never got so far as to conquer Berlin, so I never really got in touch with such an astounding presence still today. But the Romans did not have to really set a foot in a territory to make people feel their influence, even hundreds of years after the breakdown of the Roman Empire. Their influence is noticeable in almost every branch of human life, still today.

All roads lead to Rome. Taking this little proverb verbatim one might say that from the historic point of view it is true. The Roman Empire was a military state and in order to move troops to the remotest edge of the Empire there had to be proper ways to get there. The Empire was huge: “The Romans were the first and last people to unite the whole of the Mediterranean littoral under a single authority, and they maintained their empire for centuries­-one of the most remarkable feats in history” (Jenkyns, 3). And one way of controlling it was make the flow of orders more fluent, hence to take care of that the messenger arrives at his destination quickly. But even in a broader sense the proverb is true. When the Romans came to the Britannic island they built edifices made from stone and totally different from those the indigenous population had known before; which is also a reason for their defeat, because the Romans where in general the more advanced group of both. Some of the temples they built are still visible today, as, of course, the Roman Baths in Bath. Another very prominent example of Roman architecture is the Hadrian Wall, which was the frontier of the Roman Empire to the northwest. In southern Germany there is the ‘limes’, which had exactly the same function to it. Roman architecture is not in is very sense still apparent today, also its influence on the Renaissance architecture and thereby its rediscovery in the 15th century have been and are very important.

All roads lead to Rome. Rome was, as said before, a huge military apparatus that was depended on orders being given and carried out. In order to reach that aim there had to be language that everybody could understand; otherwise the system would have collapsed. Latin – contrary to its present-day state of a dead language – provided the necessary fluency of those orders, and became thus the first lingua franca. And because of magistrates being sent from the very centre of power to every more or less important geographic point in the Empire, and taking their language with them, soon – in linguistic terms – the entire population of the Roman Empire communicated in Latin. It was the language of the poets, of great politicians and philosophers, not to mention that of the conquerors, and for that reason had an influence in most European contemporary languages, that cannot be neglected. Obviously, the Romanic languages have their very roots in the Latin of 1400 years ago, Vulgar Latin. But even such remote languages, Germanic languages, as German and English would not be what they are today without the Latin influence. Of course, the Romans introduced first such words of objects that were unknown to the people whose land they conquered, such as wine, parsley, and cucumber. But also more abstract ideas entered the defeated people’s mind: Roman Catholic Church, Apostles, Bishops. And the Romans were pretty clever; they just took over what the culture of the defeated people had to offer and affixed the Roman seal on it. They did it with the Roman Baths, that not for always had been Roman. They did it with the polytheistic religion of the Britons. And they also did it with the names of the months and weekdays. “The Romans had no problem in combining these with their own gods, simply associating them with the god(s) or goddess(es) who most resembled them” (Ibeji). For Britain this had a very special effect: “For 400 years, Rome brought a unity and order to Britain that it had never had before. Prior to the Romans, Britain was a disparate set of peoples with no sense of national identity beyond that of their local tribe. In the wake of the Roman occupation, every 'Briton' was aware of their ‘Britishness’” (Ibeji).

All roads lead to Rome. And because of the good roads by that time, not only orders and language could spread so fast. It was also ideas that followed the Roman soldiers on their paths to the provinces. Democracy is certainly the most striking one among them. Of course or present-day definition cannot be compared to what the Romans thought a democratic state was. “[T]he Roman Republic represents the first example in our history of constitutional government operated on a grand scale and extending over centuries. It had to contend with social and political issues and dilemmas unprecedented in kind and in magnitude. It produced new modes of law and government that have permanently affected the character of Western democracies. Its legacy is one of the most enduring influences of antiquity” (Mitchell). It might even be argued that the Roman understanding of democracy was a highly exclusive, if not discriminative one. Women were not allowed to vote, and even not every man had the right to vote. One condition was to be a respected member of Roman society, and to become such one had either to belong to a wealthy family or make a little fortune themselves. And they kept slaves. But in comparison to the Greeks, from which the Romans copied a lot of ideas, they also gave their former slaves the opportunity to become a full member of the Roman society: “Another major asset of the Roman system was its willingness to create ‘naturalized’ citizens. This is the same concept the United States has made much out of. For the Romans, anyone willing to swear loyalty to Rome and its institutions [sic], could become a Roman citizen. Since Rome began as a successful, but geographically limited, city-state, this approach to citizenship was a key element in creating a Roman empire” (Dunnigan). “‘Roman’ was a juridical term, and anyone, of any race, could become a Roman citizen (it is a curious fact that not one of the Roman poets, so far as we know, was a native of Rome itself)” (Jenkyns, 6).

All roads lead to Rome. But the same roads also lead away from it, to every little corner there was in the Roman Empire. And although one has to dig deeper to find the true influence of the Romans today – “It is hard to trace an influence when it has been as fully absorbed as this [...]” (Jenkyns, 6) – it is there! It is in almost every thing we do, look at and speak. And because of the Romans having done such a great job in spreading their culture over the entire Empire even I can feel their influence today. So, maybe, I do not have to travel to Rome to experience Roman culture. It is in front of my eyes and Rome has surely changed ever since. Nevertheless I think it is worth a try...

Words: 1344


Anonymous. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Britain#The_legacy. 05.11.2006.

Dunnigan, James F. and Nofi, Albert A.. “The Legacy of Rome”. http://www.hyw.com/Books/History/Rome__Le.htm. 05.11.2006.

Field, A.J.. http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/year7links/doneforuse.shtml. 05.11.2006.

Ibeji, Dr. Mike. “An Overview of Roman Britain”. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/questions_01.shtml. 05.11.2006.

Jenkyns, Richard. “The Legacy of Rome”. The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal. Oxford University Press. 1992. http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=9806586. 05.11.2006.

Mitchell, Thomas N.. “Roman Republicanism: The Underrated Legacy”. http://www.aps-pub.com/proceedings/1452/Mitchell.pdf. 05.11.2006


I found this essay amid my filed papers from last semester that I don’t consider one of my best, but I still got an A on it. I can’t believe how many people visit my site for my college essays, so I’ll throw this one into the mix for any inspiration it may offer to someone else. Remember that I share my papers because I seem to be pretty good on analytical thought and written expression according to college level standards. That doesn’t mean anyone should copy what I wrote and claim it for their own – in all cases of any of the papers I post up, please be smart and don’t do anything unethical. Use MLA guidelines for quoting blogs if you absolutely cannot find a way of putting something I wrote into your own words.

What were the causes and repercussions of the decline and “fall” of the Roman Empire? Did it truly “fall”? If so, was this due to internal problems or external pressures? If continuity existed, how was it expressed?

The legacy of the Roman Empire can be summed up in the phrase: power corrupts. Unfortunately, that would make for an entirely too-brief essay. Whether the power was in the hands of a Roman Emperor or war hero exclusively or in conjunction with a Senate, the history of the Roman Empire is fraught with power struggles and greed on the part of those whose names have been handed down. Throughout the entire Empire period, the “haves” lorded it over the “have-nots,” and most rulers sought additional lands and the plundering of wealth from other countries. After building up a vast empire by sheer military force, readily maintained with violence, internal politics rotted away the structure like termites under the house. Invading tribes eventually used their own military forces to topple a bureaucratic model that had been patched and re-patched without ever having permanently corrected the issues of dysfunction. Resentment by the poor and struggling classes as well as by abused “step-children” of the provinces that were forcibly “adopted” into the empire was ignored and left festering like mold in the plaster walls. Rather than focusing on the negatives of the power struggles and corruption that eventually saw the Empire splinter and fall, the positive aspects of what the Romans left in their wake bear mentioning.

The great accomplishments in mathematics and engineering that led to the magnificent architecture that the Romans created attests to the benefits of having seemingly unlimited funds and the favor of the ruler. Where one victor sponsored monumental building projects, another came afterward intent on creating even greater displays carved in stone. The aqueducts designed and built during the Roman age are breathtaking in their scope. The large-scale and seemingly inexhaustible uses of concrete were perfected before the formula became lost for centuries. The Romans held tightly to the knowledge acquired from the Greeks not only in engineering and architecture, but in scholarship and art as well. By adopting and putting to profitable use the skills and knowledge gleaned from their world invasions, the Roman Empire set the stage for the first international community and supported inter-dialogue among the world’s scholars of the day.

By entertaining various levels of contribution to government by a Senate, the early concepts of the Greek polis, where all male villagers had a say in the policies of their hamlet, also survived the Empire and went on to resurface as a golden ideal through the Renaissance as Europe emerged from its feudal system. Bearing similarity in name only, however, the Holy Roman Empire of the German states and northern Italy during the Middle Ages bore little resemblance to the original Empire. The German region was an amassed collection of small city-states run by semi-autonomous local feudal rulers who may or may not obey their own over-lords.

Although the Senate disappeared following the Empire’s fall, demand for respect of the rights of the “little people” did not completely subdue after the Empire fractured. The Magna Carta of England and the Protestant Reformation showed that human nature demands that the voices of the oppressed or generally disgruntled be heard and heeded. Learning from the many mistakes made by the Romans in their erratic changes of governing style from tyranny to co-op and from violent to lenient, the American Colonists were the most successful in creating their charted course of democratic government.

In placing ancient Greek art, philosophy and knowledge on a pedestal, the Romans preserved and expounded upon what had gone before, adding their own contemporary emphases such as in the modification of art and décor to suit the Roman taste and in development of church architecture when Christianity became the official state religion. Throughout the centuries, the Christian church has maintained its “Roman-ness” by harnessing what they found locally and redirecting it through the lens of the new faith. Like the old Senate, Roman Catholic bishops overseeing a network of dioceses and the Curia of theologians maintain an advisory board status to the pope. Whether adopting the pagan calendar festivals and rededicating them (such as Easter, Christmas, All Hallow’s Eve, etc.) or by repurposing the civil forum and basilica architecture into centers of worship instead of merely meeting spaces, the Roman Catholic Church shows a distinct lineage to Ancient Rome’s penchant for adopting and adapting to suit.

The high honors accorded the ancient Greek philosophers also carried through the Roman Empire to revival attempts at same by Charlemagne, the Renaissance world, and on up to the 20th Century modern world in periods of great emphasis on liberal arts education and encouragement of new “thinkers” to flourish. Charlemagne’s era encouraged the start of the European universities; the Renaissance saw intelligencia delve deeper into not only philosophical and religious discourse, but also art and the maths and sciences. The worship of logic and reason took a leap by the turn of the 20th Century in advancing new theories such as evolution and the power of science over faith. Looking to the early Greek and Roman writers in support, “modern” thought led to experiments using the latest inventions and technology that created not only life-saving vaccines but weapons of mass destruction. Advancements in thought and science were therefore not always used for good, and the new liberal arts mindset no longer included room for faith and conscience since good and evil were deemed to be arbitrary and not scientific. The inventions of the industrial (and now technological) age were and continue to be in the hands of the wealthy few who, as in olden times, combine human greed and quest for power over others to achieve new heights of production while oppressing the poor who live and die in poverty.

The never-ending paradox of mankind’s desire to improve its lot and alleviate suffering while at the same time being willing to justify killing, the rise and fall of experimental governments and new ideologies like Communism and Democracy, and building bigger and better monuments that attest to the greatness of ourselves has been the seamless legacy of the Roman Empire. There are beautiful works of art, great written records and treatises, and magnificent edifices to look back upon in awe, yet merely idolizing the past without keeping in check those tendencies of human nature which caused the past to be left in ruins in the first place will cause history to repeat itself.


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