Ancient Rome was a vast empire that stretched from Great Britain to North Africa and the Middle East. Rome was founded in the 8th century BC. C. and grew to become the most powerful empire on Earth by 300 AD. C. Rome's size and geographic and temporal scope can make it seem overwhelming to learn about it, but you can learn about the intricacies of Roman history with a little knowledge and work.
Method 1 of 4: Find ways to educate yourself
Step 1. Get books
If you want to learn about Ancient Rome, one of the best ways is by heading to a local bookstore or library and looking for books on it. In a bookstore or library, you can browse through a wide variety of books on various topics related to Roman history and life. Perhaps the best way to learn about Ancient Rome is by searching for books you can read on this topic.
- Consider the classics, such as Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776).
- Also consider books on various aspects of Roman history and society, such as religion, government, language, military history, and so on.
- Consider e-books or other types of books online. You can find a wide variety of websites that offer free digital copies of classics on various subjects.
Step 2. Enroll in courses
As another great way to learn about Ancient Rome, you can enroll in formal education courses that focus on this topic. If you enroll in a class at a local university or take an online course, you will benefit from being able to learn about Ancient Rome from experts who have devoted a large part of their lives to the study of this topic.
- Consider courses at a local college or university.
- Among the types of courses you could investigate are introductory classes to world civilization, courses at a more advanced level specifically on Ancient Rome, or postgraduate courses focused on specific parts of Roman life or history.
- Don't forget that you don't have to go to get a degree in order to attend or hear a class. You could even attend the lectures for free. Talk to the teacher who teaches the course.
- Consider open courses through various colleges. For example, Yale University has a number of courses posted online that contain curricula, videotaped lectures, and more. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has a similar program. You can check out an open MIT course on Ancient Rome here.
Step 3. Watch videos
Likewise, it is possible to learn about Ancient Rome through films, as these are an excellent medium for both entertainment and learning. As a consequence, movies are a great way for you to absorb information in a way with very little stress.
- Consider documentaries (for example, The Ancient Rome of the BBC).
- Consider historical fiction movies (eg Gladiator).
- Consider television shows (for example, HBO's Roma).
- When viewing historical fiction, whether in film or on television, you should be careful to opt for works that are historically accurate. Read reviews on popular review websites to get an idea of the accuracy of any movie or TV show.
Step 4. Search for resources online
On the Internet you can find a lot of excellent resources that will be useful for you to learn about Ancient Rome. In many cases, websites have entire pages, sections, or other options dedicated to Roman history. Consider the following:
- encyclopedias online
- online databases, such as JSTOR
- websites dedicated specifically to the history of Ancient Rome
Step 5. Consider traveling to Italy
As a great way to learn about Ancient Rome, you can travel to Italy. As the center of the Roman Republic and later the Roman Empire, Italy is home to a wealth of ruins and other cultural resources.
- You should be sure to take a tour of Rome to visit the main Roman architectural wonders, such as the Colosseum.
- Visit museums where Roman history and art are displayed. Consider visiting the Museum of Roman Civilization in Rome.
- Consider visiting places like Pompeii to get a better idea of what Roman cities used to look like.
Method 2 of 4: Understand Interpretation and Theory
Step 1. Gain a basic understanding of historical theory
If you want to really learn about the history of Ancient Rome and understand it, you also need to basically understand the historical theory. By knowing historical theory, you can put everything you learn into perspective and have the infrastructure to understand it.
- The history of Rome taught today is an approximation of what happened in the past.
- History is not only made up of events, names, and dates, but also of ideas and concepts that help people understand the "facts."
- There are no laws to explain everything in history. Historical events are driven by complex causalities and also by the actions of individual agents. For example, the fall of Rome was not due to the end of the cycle from democracy to republic to dictatorship but was due to various reasons, including environmental deterioration and change in population and economic trends (although not limited to to these reasons).
Step 2. Understand that interpretation varies from historian to historian
You shouldn't start learning about Roman history without first understanding that interpretations will differ from historian to historian. It is important to realize this, since, for the most part, historians recognize that there is no way to truly know the past as people lived it during that time.
- Historical interpretations change over time.
- Different historians will present the same events and people in different ways.
Step 3. Get acquainted with leading scholars on Roman history
Once you've understood that interpretation varies from historian to historian, you should familiarize yourself with some of the best-known scholars on Ancient Rome. Ultimately, if you become familiar with the work of many historians, you will have a much more complete view of the history of Rome. Consider the following:
- Read the work of Livy and Tacitus, Roman historians who wrote during the first century AD. C. They focused on issues of political power and growth of the Empire. In many ways, their work reflects the power of Rome during the time in which they lived.
- Read Edward Gibbon's work. His work reflected the British interest in Empire and imperialism in the late 18th century.
- Read Géza Alföldy's work. His work reflects an interest in late 20th century social history. This constitutes a deviation from the focus on politics and power.
Step 4. Find out what are the main questions or problems that historians focus on in their studies of Ancient Rome
As an important part of learning about Ancient Rome, you must know and understand what are the central questions that historians have focused on in their studies. Knowing them will give you an analytical infrastructure and a starting point as you educate yourself about Rome.
- What are the factors that contributed to the rise of Rome?
- What was it that led to the fall of Rome?
- What impact did Rome have on Western (and global) civilization?
Method 3 of 4: Learn about Rome
Step 1. Learn about the basic chronology of Ancient Rome
One of your first steps should be learning about the chronology of Ancient Rome. Learning about it will help you understand the myriad of events, figures, and periods that are fundamental to understanding Ancient Rome. Consider a few important events:
- Legend has it that Romulus and Remus founded Rome in 753 BC. At this time, the Roman Kingdom became great and powerful.
- Rome transitioned to a republic in 509 BC. The Roman people had made the decision that their survival was constantly under threat from the Roman leaders who tried to exercise absolute power. At this time, a constitution, a magistrate, and a senate were introduced. This system was designed to balance the power of the government.
- During the following centuries, Rome won a very costly and extensive series of wars against the invaders from Gaul and Carthage.
- After the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. C. and a civil war between his heirs Augusto and Marco Antonio, Augusto proclaimed himself emperor, turning the republic into an empire, which was followed by a period of 200 years of peace and stability known as pax romana.
- Rome began its decline slowly.
- In the 2nd and 3rd centuries d. C., the Empire was divided into eastern and western. The Western Empire, which included Rome itself, further divided and collapsed. Ultimately, the sack of Rome by invaders in AD 476. C. indicated the beginning of the Middle Ages in Europe.
- The Eastern Empire continued for much longer to be ruled from Constantinople until, eventually, it was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.
Step 2. Explore the religion, philosophy and mythology of Rome
Before Christianity was established in the 3rd century AD. C., the Roman religion was dominated by a pantheon of gods and complex mythologies. Understanding the religion, philosophy, and mythology of Rome is critical to learning about Roman history.
- The gods and goddesses took on a variety of roles, from health, wealth, and fortune to the unknown spirits that guarded doorways.
- In Ancient Rome, there was a deity or mythology that explained almost every experience that a person could have.
- Roman temples ranged from large structures like the Pantheon in Rome to small domestic altars known as lararios.
Step 3. Learn about the government and laws of Rome
The emperor ruled the Empire symbolically. He had control over the army, dealt with foreign affairs, and acted as arbiter between the ruling families of Rome. If you learn about this system, you will be able to understand Rome in its entirety much better.
- As with many other ancient cultures, a rigid social structure existed, from slaves to the ruling class.
- Women, children, slaves, and the common man or worker (who were known as commoners) could not vote and were little recognized in Roman law.
- The father of the family was the one who controlled not only his entire home and property but also the lands of his sons. A landowner could not be the absolute administrator as long as his father lived.
- The powerful elite used and abused voting. Qualifying voters were divided into classes and the order of voting was designated from richest to poorest. For this reason, the poorest families that had the ability to vote were grouped into the same class and rarely had the opportunity to vote in the beginning.
- For the most part, legislation was drafted and passed through a popular assembly known as the comitia tributa, while the senate served as a powerful advisory council that often made it very difficult to pass new laws and reforms.
- During the time of the Republic, the ruler essentially had the role of first citizen. Later, when Rome became an empire, the rulers had absolute power.
Step 4. Learn about the economic system of Rome
It is very important that you know about Roman commerce and the economy in order to understand the complexity of Ancient Rome. This is of particular importance because Rome's global reach was largely economic in nature.
- Rome had its own units of measurement, including the weight or foot, which was divided into 12 unicae or inches in much the same way as the imperial method that is still used in some parts of the world today.
- In part, what made Rome more powerful and easier to trade with was its unified minting system, which made it possible for coins to be legally produced in mints throughout the Empire.
- What made Rome's economy difficult was its lack of a benchmark budget or institutions that managed the reserve. Territories earned funds for the Empire in the form of agricultural and other taxes and also in the form of tributes, but these often passed through the provincial governors before reaching Rome, whereupon officials used to embezzle these funds were either stolen by bandits.
- Rome's trade depended on maritime ships and, as Rome grew, it acquired greater control over the Mediterranean Sea and the coastal lands that bordered it. Also, Rome had an extensive network of roads that connected the entire Empire.
Step 5. Learn about notable Roman figures
In general, you can learn a lot about Roman history by looking at notable Romans and how they lived and influenced Rome. The stories of the Romans, in addition to being interesting, constitute a more global look at Roman life and society.
- Consider the rulers (for example, Julius Caesar, Augustus, and Mark Antony).
- Consider philosophers and scientists (eg, Cicero, Epictetus, and Seneca).
- If you want more information, you can read A day in Ancient Rome: daily life, secrets and curiosities by Alberto Angela.
Step 6. Understand the life of everyday Roman citizens
While it is easy to focus on the lives of rich Romans, a large number of the population was poor and led very different lives. They used to live in poorly built houses and struggled to provide for their families. It was even normal for poor families to abandon their babies in the hope that they would have a better life as servants or slaves.
- If you want to learn about everyday Roman life, one way is to study the remains of the city of Pompeii. This was a city in Rome that was preserved under the ashes after a volcano called Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. C.
- You can also study the differences between the way the rich and the poor lived (for example, their education, the way they dress, and the materials with which they built their houses).
Step 7. Learn about the gastronomy of Ancient Rome
Roman diet and food are also very important in understanding the history of Rome. If you know about the foods of Ancient Rome, you will get good insights into the way of life of the Romans.
- Meat was an expensive luxury and occasionally figured in the diet of the Romans, in which case it was the main event of the meal. Common meats included pigeon, rabbit, pork, and game birds. However, goose, chicken and fish were too expensive and consumed in wealthy households.
- Breakfast was called "jentaculum". It was often served at dawn and included bread dipped in wine. Likewise, the Romans consumed fruit, honey, egg-based dishes and cheese, and meat was a staple in wealthy households. The main meal of the day was known as "dinner" and used to start in the early afternoon until late at night in case there were guests.
- Wealthy Romans often ate reclining and also ate from a table called "Mensa". These feasts evolved into the three main dishes that are popular today: the "gustatio" was a first course, the "primae Mensae" was the main event, and the "Secundae Mensae" was the dessert.
- Roman breads were a luxury, and bakers were famous for their fruit loaves, buns, and tarts. However, bread was stale for the poor, as it was heavy and was often made from spelled and other grains. Often, it was necessary to soak it in wine or water to make it palatable, as it quickly turned rancid.
- Also, the Romans loved the use of spices and a salty sauce known as garum. This was made from fermented fish and fish guts that fermented slowly over the course of several months. Also, the Romans used olive oil and wine vinegar as dressings.
Step 8. Learn about the festivals of Ancient Rome
The Romans were excellent partygoers and several important festivals can be noted on their calendars. Generally, the number of holy days in the Roman calendar was greater than the number of secular days, and therefore there was always an opportunity to celebrate. An understanding of the major Roman festivals will give you excellent insight into life in Rome.
- One of the biggest celebrations was "Saturnalia" and is said to have been a precursor to the Christmas celebrations that take place today.
- When learning about the various festivals of Ancient Rome, you should take into account the context, origin, and perspective of whoever writes about them. This is important as it will inform you a lot about how he presents his performance of these festivals.
Method 4 of 4: Share your knowledge
Step 1. Teach a friend about Ancient Rome
In this way, you help solidify your knowledge. You could give formal private lessons to a friend who is also studying Ancient Rome or, alternatively, choose a friend who likes history.
As a way that you can get your friend interested in what you have to share about Ancient Rome, you can introduce him to the subject through a movie. Ask your friend to watch a movie set in Ancient Rome (for example, Gladiator) and then talk to him about the realities of Ancient Rome
Step 2. Make an online resource on Ancient Rome
Using a website like Prezi or Wix, you can create an online slideshow or website about Ancient Rome. Make it public so that anyone can learn from your resource. By creating your presentation or website, you can reinforce what you've learned and easily refresh your knowledge whenever you want.
- You can also make flashcards using a website like Quizlet.
- As another alternative, you can create a test in Kahoot.
- In case you like writing, you could start a blog.
Step 3. Give a presentation on Ancient Rome
This can be done in person, or you can film yourself and post it online. In case you are taking a history class, you can ask your instructor if it is possible for you to give your presentation in front of the class. Otherwise, you can upload a video of your presentation to a website like YouTube or a social network.
- Ask your friends or relatives to watch your presentation.
- You could also find a group that studies history in your area. You may be accepted as a guest presenter. Check with your library, local historical society, or online through websites like Meetup.com.