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Roman Civilization: The Pre-Christian Centuries
The purpose of this paper is to introduce, discuss, and analyze Roman Civilization. Specifically it will discuss the pre-Christian centuries of Roman civilization, including personal impressions, supported by cited research. The Pre-Christian centuries built the foundations of Rome and Roman civilization, and clearly show just how a major civilization develops, grows, and moves on from its roots.
Early Roman civilization was complex, extremely modern for its time, and legendary in some of its opulence and excesses. The early Romans valued their agrarian roots, their families, and showed the world what a complex civilization could grow to and accomplish. Ancient Rome was a marvel of architecture, engineering, government, and society, and the people lived good lives, filled with leisure activities and artistic pursuits. Rome and the surrounding areas developed some of the mores and ideas that would lead them into the modern world and that would influence many other civilizations and cultures. The ancient Roman world is fascinating to study, and to see what they accomplished so many thousands of years ago is quite enlightening, even today.
In pre-Christian Rome, religion was still important. The Romans worshipped a variety of gods and goddesses and enjoyed rituals and symbols that would ensure their health, happiness, and continued prosperity. The Romans also kept their ancestors memories alive in their homes and used their funeral masks in yearly rituals and religious ceremonies (Matthews & Platt 111). This indicates the Romans were spiritual even before Christianity entered their realm, and also indicates how the ritualism of Catholicism, their major modern religion, would appeal to them later in history.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of their society was their openness to change and the influence of others. Many scholars believe the Romans simply copied Greek culture and civilization in developing their own, but others dispute this belief. Another historian familiar with Roman culture writes, "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). Certainly, Roman culture was influenced by the successful Greek culture, but they also developed strong differences which would remain individual and important to their culture and the world. For example, they developed complex architecture and beautiful building techniques like the Greeks, but they took this one step further. They also developed complex engineering techniques, such as their systems of aqueducts which brought water to their cities, and systems which brought water to their villages and public baths.
That of course is not to say that Rome and its culture were perfect. That is simply not the case with any complex civilization, as our own modern civilization clearly indicates. While the Roman system of government during the city-state was reasonable and semi-democratic, it ended by 600 B.C. Even during times of good government, there was still a great distinction between the classes, and eventual exclusion of the plebian class. When the Roman republic replaced the earlier government, it was a model in government and separation of powers (Matthews & Platt 114), and it evolved through several stages, but it was still dominated by strong families and politicians, and it eventually disintegrated into an autocracy. The government had become corrupt, imperialistic, and largely ceremonial and ineffectual, no longer fully representing the entire population and their needs and wants. When the autocracy was formed, the rulers relied on military power to hold on to their rule. Society improved, and so did trade, but just about every aspect of culture changed when Rome changed from a republic to an empire, even the arts and architecture. Many things advanced, in parallel with Greek culture, but other aspects diminished, which eventually led to unrest, unhappiness, and eventual collapse. During the empire, culture, the arts, and philosophy all reached a "golden age." It almost seems as if Rome reached a pinnacle and could go no further, and so, there was no where to go but down. Historian Jenkyns notes that one reason the empire finally fell was the influence of other customs and societies as other cultures infiltrated Roman civilization. He writes,
The end of classical civilization in the West -- roughly between AD 450 and 650, with regard to transmission of texts -- is not so much the story of the violent physical destruction of the Roman empire as was once thought, but rather a matter of the barbarization of Roman civilization over 200 years or so, as the army, the government officials, the business classes, and the very population assumed the styles and customs first of the Ostrogoths and then of the Lombards (Jenkyns 43).
Thus, while the Roman Empire eventually fell, for a time it excelled in the arts, architecture, law, music, religion, and language. It influenced European and worldwide culture for centuries, and, as the textbook authors note, "When the ancient world was swept away, the Idea of Rome remained a beacon in the darkness that descended over Europe" (Matthews & Platt 140). What is most interesting about all of this is that powerful as it was, the empire still could not withstand the influences of without and within, and was not strong enough to stand on forever. Another historian writes, "The Empire gradually killed itself; decay was more rapid at the heart 1 than on the frontiers; and the result could not have been brought about in any other way, since it was the greatest power in the world, and could only die of its own inherent weaknesses" (Chapot 417). That raises the question, is any civilization capable of lasting "forever," or longer than the Romans?
I chose this subject because of the complexity of ancient Roman civilization. It has many consistencies with our own modern civilization, and a study of why Rome ultimately collapsed is a look at the undermining of any strong and viable civilization. Looking at what the Romans did wrong can help assess our own civilization, and what we have to celebrate as well as what we have to fear. Are we heading in the same direction as Roman civilization -- doom? This is a question many scholars and experts wonder about every day, and reading these pages, it is easy to see why. The subject is personally relevant because we can always learn from history, and because our society today seems to be degrading on many levels, and it is interesting to see the parallels between our own lives and the lives of the ancient Romans. We, as individuals and as a society tend to be rather smug, and feel we have created everything we experience new and fresh. Reading history like this shows that is simply not the case, and that if we want to survive as long as Roman culture has, then perhaps we had better step back and take a much closer look at our own values, culture, and society, and see just how close we are to a culture that eventually died away and was replaced by a more modern, and perhaps equally self-destructive.
The Roman Empire is probably one of the most significant reigns in the ancient world. On that Empire, the foundations of modern thought, civilization, and even architecture were established. The origins of the Empire show the student just how civilization is first established, what makes civilization different from simple communities or villages, and what it takes for a civilization to continue or crumble. As textbook authors Matthews and Platt note, "Roman morality and Roman law both echoed a rural ethic by stressing the importance of nature and living within one's means" (Matthews & Platt 110). Thus, the Roman Empire began with agrarian roots, like so many other civilizations, but grew to be one of the most powerful and influential in the world, while still holding on to the roots that helped it grow. The Roman Empire before Christianity had its problems, but it was certainly a major influence in civilizations around the world, and so, it is a significant topic in history today, and it will continue to lend its significance to study in the future.
Personally, much of this subject moved me, and led me to think hard about our own culture and situation today. The Romans were the most influential and powerful empire on Earth. Certainly, their government went through changes, their people often rebelled, and they came under the influence of other civilizations. However, with their military strength, their strong arts, culture, and society, and their governmental ideas and reforms certainly indicated a strong and viable society that could withstand duress and stress. Ultimately this was not the case. Of course, the most compelling impression of this reading is that our own society could certainly be headed in the same direction. Why? There are a number of compelling reasons.
First, our society, while we tend to think of it as very old, is really less than 400 years old, a veritable drop in…[continue]
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