Wednesday, 19 February 2014


The might of the Roman Empire was unparalleled. The scope of the Empire was massive. And yet, Rome began as a small city in the middle of a war zone. These links trace the development of ancient Rome, from the Republic to the Empire to the Fall.
The Romans thought of themselves as highly religious, and attributed their success as a world power to their collective piety (pietas) in maintaining good relations with the gods. According to legendary history, most of Rome's religious institutions could be traced to its founders, particularly Numa Pompilius, the Sabine second king of Rome, who negotiated directly with the gods. This archaic religion was the foundation of the mos maiorum, "the way of the ancestors" or simply "tradition", viewed as central to Roman identity.
The priesthoods of public religion were held by members of the elite classes. There was no principle analogous to "separation of church and state" in ancient Rome. During the Roman Republic (509 BC-27 BC), the same men who were elected public officials served as augurs and pontiffs. Priests married, raised families, and led politically active lives. Julius Caesar became Pontifex Maximus before he was elected consul.
The augurs read the will of the gods and supervised the marking of boundaries as a reflection of universal order, thus sanctioning Roman expansionism as a matter of divine destiny. The Roman triumph was at its core a religious procession in which the victorious general displayed his piety and his willingness to serve the public good by dedicating a portion of his spoils to the gods, especially Jupiter, who embodied just rule. As a result of the Punic Wars (264-146 BC), when Rome struggled to establish itself as a dominant power, many new temples were built by magistrates in fulfillment of a vow to a deity for assuring their military success.
Roman religion was thus practical and contractual, based on the principle of do ut des, "I give that you might give." Religion depended on knowledge and the correct practice of prayer, ritual, and sacrifice, not on faith or dogma, although Latin literature preserves learned speculation on the nature of the divine and its relation to human affairs. Even the most skeptical among Rome's intellectual elite such as Cicero, who was an augur, saw religion as a source of social order.
As the Athenians saw the symbol of their city-state's democracy and culture in the rock-jutting Acropolis, so the Romans viewed the Forum as the symbol of imperial grandeur. Temples were to be found there, but in contrast to the Acropolis, the Forum was dominated by secular buildings - basilicas used for judicial and other public business; the nearby Coliseum, used for gladiatorial shows; and the great palaces of the emperors rising on the
neighboring Palatine Hill. While the Acropolis was crowned with statues to Athena, the Forum gloried in triumphal arches and columns commemorating military conquests. Rome was the capital of a world-state, extending from Britain to the Euphrates, and its citizens were proud of their imperial mission.

Although the buildings in the Forum appear fundamentally Greek in style, they are more monumental and sumptuous. Here, then, are two clues to an understanding of the Romans: they borrowed much from the Greeks and others, and they modified what they took.


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