The public sphere of Rome, which included religious norms, social settings, as well as some other cultural divides, has been known to greatly affect the Roman political system throughout, from its inception to its fall. Our world has seen many great empires and perhaps the most popular one by name is the Roman Empire. A great number of books have been written on this subject, many movies have been made, and the Roman Empire remains rich in our minds to this date. The Roman history involves some great moments as it recounts such great leaders as Julius Caesar (see Picture 1), the birth of Christ and his exploits, and then the setting up of the Church and the Vatican by Constantine. Just like any other state or empire, the Roman Empire was also much affected by the people that were its subjects. These people had their own religion throughout the various epochs of the Empire, and these people had their own norms and practices. The Roman citizen was instantly recognized by his toga (See Illustration 1) and the Roman army by his uniform (See Picture 2) The political structure of the Roman Empire was affected by the way that its citizens had behaved during the various times, including their religion, their social structure, gender relations and economics. This paper shall follow the course of the Roman Empire through history, from its inception to its decline and fall and relate how the various factors were able to influence the Empire in different ways. It is also important to realize that the Roman public was able to influence the political structure of the Roman Empire.
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The culture of the Roman Empire was influenced by many factors. The Roman Senate declared Augustus (See Picture 3) as the Emperor of Rome in 27BC. This was the beginning of the Roman Empire that was destined to last for the next five hundred years, adding more and more territories to its name. The diversity in the Roman Empire came because of the number of regions that it was able to incorporate into its boundaries. The Roman Empire included ancient Britain, Arabia, and Romania. Augustus was a good ruler and he was able to stabilize Rome both politically as well as socially. A lot of development in the areas of art, literature, and philosophy took place in the Roman Empire, as it continuously borrowed from various civilizations and cultures. Among the most important of things that came out of the Roman Empire include the religious and ethical elements of Judaism, the teachings of Christianity, the study of astronomy and astrology, and so much more information from other Eastern countries like Persia and Egypt. This spread of information gave power to the Roman politics since they were able to use this knowledge to introduce new reforms in their political structure, as well as add some mystery to it. The Romans left such a mark of their culture on the world that people and artists, centuries later, such as Michelangelo in the 16th century A.D, This is how the Roman culture was able to spread its architecture and literature all over Europe, and we can still find their elements in various Western traditions today.
One of the areas where we see the most of Roman influence is that of mathematics. Many of the theories and principles that are employed in mathematics have been the product of Greek/Roman minds such as Archimedes and Pythagoras. Their ideas have formed the basis of what we call geometry. Many innovations and inventions have been made based on these ideas and hence we see a large influence of Roman mentality in things like weapons and architecture. Much of theoretical as well as practical science has also been laid down by the Romans. They established the field of botany and many of the early Roman scientists worked to collect a horde of information about many of the plants that existed in the region. Aristotle and his Theophrastus (often referred to as the father of botany) classified and named these plants. Although no apparent connection exists between the advancement in mathematics and the political structure, we find that as more and more mathematical concepts were introduced and adopted in Rome, the politicians also were able to adopt their versatility. One of the concepts that arose out of mathematics was economics and the Romans were able to carry out trade on a better level. This gave a boost to the Roman Empire and the politicians were able to use mathematics to their advantage.
Many of the ideas of economics and politics that the Western world follows toady have also been derived from Ancient Romans. The Roman’s system of the senate is still employed by many Western countries today. In addition, the Romans were the first ones to introduce the ideas of interest in business and loans and we all know that the whole economic arena of the world today works on the principles of interest. Many of the Greek/Roman philosophers, such as Aristotle and Socrates, also played their role in Roman influence and we see that many Western countries have their contemporaries who are always building upon the original ideas and concepts. The Roman influence on art is phenomenal. We find that many of the artists of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment era used to follow the art techniques of the Romans. Many of the sculptures and murals painted by Michelangelo (See Illustration 2) are evidence of the fact that he was motivated and inspired by Roman art. These theories, aspirations, and ideas were passed from the Greeks to the Romans and then to other nations in Western Europe.
The most comprehensive aspect of the social life and the Empire that the Romans were able to develop and spread to the rest of Europe includes the details of the Roman Law. The Romans were able to take the basic framework provided by the Greeks and transform it into an extremely sophisticated and scientific legal system. “The history of Roman law spans almost a thousand years from the law of the twelve tables (449 BC) to Justinian’s codes (aroung 530 BC). The twelve tables still reflect a relatively primitive and pre-scientific legal system. However, from the 2nd century B.C, the Romans began to apply the methods and categories of Greek philosophy to legal problems (which the Greeks themselves had never thought of). A legal profession began to emerge and the production of scholarly treaties on Roman law started.” It was in the second century AD that the Roman legal science was able to reach its peak. This happened when the economic and political conditions of the ‘principate’ became favorable to the scholarly activity of Roman jurists. However, this classical age of the Roman jurists ended in the 3rd century and no one has been adequately able to explain that. “The following centuries saw a general decline of Roman legal culture, which was not stopped by the efforts of emperor Justinian to revive classical Roman law in the 6th century.
Justinian did manage, however, to preserve a great part of the literary legacy of the classical jurists by incorporating their writings in his codes. The Digest, which is the most important part of the codification and was published in 533, is a gigantic collection of fragments from classical text books and commentaries. While it was unknown in Western Europe in the early middle ages, it was rediscovered around 1070 in Italy. From that time onward, Roman law and especially the teachings of the classical jurists preserved in the Digest became the basis of continental European. It has been said quite rightly, that the Digest is one of the most influential books in European” .
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Roman culture that was able to affect the political structure the most was religion. Rome had grown up to be a formidable empire by 120 AD (See Map). The history of Rome is embedded with wonder. Much of what Rome was to become in the later stages of its life was due to the ancient yet colorful religion, one that is now known as Roman mythology. The Romans had gods and goddesses for every element, and for every occasion. These gods were in a continuous state of tension, balancing the good and evil, while keeping the humans happy as well. It is in this religion that we find the basic impetus for the Roman Empire, its political structure, and its social environment. Perhaps Ovid was best able to present this relationship between the gods and humans in his Metamorphoses. The first story of a human involves a sinner, punished for his offence against the gods. Lycaon’s case represents one example of the wickedness of all humanity in the Iron Age. Lycaon (“wolf man” in Greek) is the reason for the flood, Jupiter explains, but not the origin of evil (Ovid does not mention the famous story of Pandora’s box). Lycaon’s metamorphosis into a beast reveals his true nature; the description translates literally, “his mouth gathered savagery from the man himself.” The reaction of the other gods to Jupiter’s punishment of Lycaon resembles a senate of yes-men; at first it sounds as if the gods feel pity for humanity, but soon their selfish motives are revealed: without men they will lose their sacrifices. Jupiter claims that he wants to make the world safe for lesser divinities, nymphs, fauns, satyrs, but as we will soon see in the stories to follow, the biggest threat to pretty young nymphs are the amorous gods themselves
After the ancient religions in Rome, came the slightly modern ideas that pertain to cynicism and stoicism. One of the most famous of the Stoics was Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (See Picture 4). His whole political system was dictated by the Stoic way of life as he was in favor of the human being devoid of all emotions, where things like envy, fear, etc were all thought to have come out of false judgments of the human minds. The focus of much of Aurelius’s philosophy had to do with the ethics that were involved in the Stoic way of life. These ethics involved the four basic virtues of wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. Aurelius was also an advocate of going through continuous meditation and exercises in order to keep the mind and the body in a state of togetherness. In Meditations, Book II, part 1, Aurelius writes: “Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill… I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together…” This is not just him making a statement; rather it is giving the reader a practical technique of reminding oneself every day, repeatedly, of the problems that the person might face, and how they can be solved. This is somewhat reminiscence of what later became to be known as the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. This Stoic way of life was greatly reflected in Aurelius’ political structuring of Rome.
But perhaps the one religion that had the most impact on the Roman empire and its political structuring is Christianity. The fall of the Roman Empire brought about a rise of Christianity and the Christian Church and this affected many changes in the view of the world. Some of the rulers of Christianity, like Saint Augustine (354-430 AD), upheld that the Bible should be considered the only legitimate source of information about important questions and this led to a great devotion to the Bible as the main source of intellectual reserve for the Western civilization for many years to come. Many of the Christians fell into the dark ages right after the fall of the Roman empire as well and only a few found salvation in the religion. The evolution of the Christian church in terms of contributions by various rulers are discussed herein.
Constantine I (See Picture 5) was one who helped contribute a lot to the rise of the Christian church as he was one of the most advantageous advocates of the Orthodox Church. He was a Roman emperor who legalized Christianity and founded Constantinople, and by doing so he single handedly laid the foundations of the Greco-Christian Empire of Byzantium. He adopted Christianity as the religion of his state and gave freedom to the priests and bishops to practice Christianity without bounds. Another emperor who was instrumental in the expansion and vital to the race of Christianity was Theodosios I (born 347 AD). In 380, he proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of the state. He also convened the second Ecumenical Council and finalized the Articles of Faith. As with these two aforementioned Emperors, there was many who ruled Byzantine and helped it progress in terms prospective growth as well as religious development of Christianity.
By the 11th and 12th centuries, Christianity saw a divide into the East and the West sections due to the vast land distances that the religion covered. There was hardly even any contact between the Christians of the East and the Christians of the West because of the great geographical distances between them. They did, however, remain to be the same religion, and were only kept apart in their cultural and historical upbringing by imaginary lines of directions. Thus were born many different independent and self-governing churches that answered to either the Western or the Eastern Orthodox Church. All these churches were in contact with each other and were bind together by the ‘canon’ law and followed the same traditions, literature, ecclesiastical calendar, and customs.
The Roman Empire remained a powerful one for more than 300 years, but it also met its doom when it disintegrated into two parts, the Western and the Eastern empire. No one is quite sure exactly when the division occurred but everyone agrees that it was a gradual transformation. It all started because of power struggles between the rulers of the area. There were many times in the history of Rome when the rulers were undecided as to the determination of successors to their thrones. After 330 A.D, Rome was often engaged in civil wars between martials, all of whom wanted to be the rulers of Rome. The Roman economy aslo played a vital role in its division. Eastern Rome found better uses for its slaves and there was a change in the social and economical system of that region. The Eastern part of the empire developed a different political system, one that resembled the fuedal system of today, and this gave a boost to their economy. The Western part, however, stuck to conventional norms and soon their middle class disappeared in the wake of excessive taxing and the Western Roman Empire fell. Since Byzantine was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, the region came to be known as the Byzantine Empire.
The Eastern Empire survived because it had a more developed urban culture and it was not invaded as much as the Western one was. Since the Byzantine Empire had been a part of the grander Roman Empire, it retained much of the Roman laws and its heritage, although the legal code was updated. The official langiage of the region remained as Latin in the beginning and was changed to Greek later on. Many new churches, including the famous Church of Agia Sofia (Holy Wisdom), were also contructed. Some of Byzantium’s contribution to Western Europe include great works of literature and art, a framework for an extremely efficient and highly centralized administration, and trading norms and regulations. Perhaps the biggest contribution comes out of the setup of the Orthodox Church that defined the cultural, political, social, and religios life of the region and its people for many a years to come.
The Orthodox Church originated with Christ himself and can be said to be as old as Christianity itself. The Orthodox Church is geographically considered to be an Eastern Church because it is basically a creation Middle Eastern, Hellenic, and Slavic history and culture. Most of the growth and progress of the Orthodox Church, whether it is historical or spiritual, has been done on its own, almost entirely with segregation from Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The divide between the two parts, the East and the West, cannot be easily identified, but this divide occurred mostly in the 11th and 12th centuries. There was hardly even any contact between the Christians of the East and the Christians of the West before this and because of the far greater distances of those, these two, however same religions, were kept apart in their cultural and historical upbringing by imaginary lines of directions. There are many different independent and self-governing churches that answer to the Eastern Orthodox Church. All these churches are always in contact with each other and are bind together by the ‘canon’ law
The Orthodox Church’s administration was directed over managing the people around the land, people, which were known as a ‘community.’ There were many such communities all over the ancient Russian and Greek regions of the land and each city of the era had a community that served the Orthodox Church. The highest rank amongst the governors of these communities was the bishop, who was assisted in his duties by priests (or presbyters) and deacons. The idea of martyrdom was common to the people of the Orthodox Church as it attracted much persecution from the other forms of governments that were in operation in those times.
The administrative ideas about holding a ‘council’ were always very important to the Orthodox Church and they believed that the council was the only able body to administer the laws and rules of the Church unto the people of the area. These councils were setup so that any problem that could not be solved by one person alone was put to the vote and many able heads were put together to work out the will of God on the problematic issue. The first council was converged in Jerusalem and it was convened so that the Apostles could come to a decision upon a serious issue. Many different types of council were setup, local ones and the famous Apostolic Council. It was only in the fourth century, when an Emperor of Constantine embraced Christianity that the Christian Empire was founded.
Another important aspect of religion that greatly affected the Roman Empire were the Seven Ecumenical Councils. The Seven Ecumenical Councils were the most important councils of the Orthodox Church. The first one was convened in Nicea in 325 A.D. By Constantine the great and the last one again in Nicea in 787 A.D. The main topics that the Councils addressed were mostly on the nature of Jesus’ advent on Earth. The first Council was very sure in its decision and it described the nature of Christ as being the same as of God Himself. The ‘Father and Son’ image of God Jesus was discussed in the second Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 381 A.D and it decreed the Trinitarian ideology that there were three states of God: Father, Son and Spirit. The Macedonians were condemned as heretics in this second Council. The third Ecumenical Council was held in Ephesus in 431 A.D. Nestorians were deemed as heretics and Jesus was proclaimed to be both complete God and complete man in one person and thus Mary became “theotokos”, or “God Bearer” because she gave birth to both God and Man. The Third Council also declared that both the parts of the Creed were final and complete. The Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Councils were all on the debate of whether the Christ was God or man and all of them declared him as being both occurring in the same form. There were some ideas by the Monophysites and the Monoethlites that Jesus’ humanity dissolved in the presence of his divinity. So Jesus was only divine. There was vehement condemnation of this theory and all the Councils announced that Jesus is complete God and complete man. There was an intermediate council between the Sixth and Seventh one and it was called the Qinisext Council (Trullo) and was held in Constantinople 692 A.D. This council was held for the completion of the fifth and sixth one and it was held for purely administrative reasons from where the canons were ratified. The seventh Ecumenical Council was held in Nicea in 787 A.D and is also called “The Sunday of Orthodoxy.” The main debate of this council was what to do with all the images of God and Jesus.
So, we find that just like any other political regime is affected by the way that the people orient themselves in it, so was the Roman Empire affected by the various cultural and social aspects of its citizens. And as it is with most of the states, we also find that religion had the biggest part to play in determining the political structure of the Roman Empire. This religious intervention had been instilled in the Roman culture and politics ever since the prehistoric times, where the ancient religions governed the way that the emperors would rule the empire. These religious undertones were also responsible in setting up the social structure of Rome, as it differentiated between the men of different classes. The elites in Rome enjoyed a privileged class where they were free to engage in artistic and intellectual ways of life. Some of the Romans, those who could afford to, would import slaves from distant land and would flaunt them as being more talented than the average Roman slave. This ‘sophistication’ of the Roman citizens allowed for many other innovations in the social, and hence, the political system of Rome. It was required to make special laws for the foreigner and the slaves, and the elites also enjoyed some special rights. No slaves were allowed to enter the government, while it was the elites’ birth right to be a Senator. Thus, the more sophisticated the Romans became, so did their political structure.
The reason for the public sphere being so much effective in influencing the political realm in the Roman Empire is because it was a very sophisticated empire. We tend to think of those times as being the ancient ages, yet the Romans were very ahead of their time and they were able to live a life that was essentially very different from those people who lived all over the rest of the world. The Romans had confidence, they had ability, and they had their pride, all of which made them into a culturally and socially strong nation. This strength of their nation was also reflected in their political sphere as their citizens were very closely tied up to the government (the senate was elected democratically from the common citizens). Thus the public sphere was greatly able to affect the political structure of Rome, as discussed above in this paper.
Julius Caesar, perhaps the most famous Roman of them all
The Roman toga: dress sharp to be a politician
The gladiator’s suit, a soldier’s uniform
Augustus, the first Roman Emperor
Michelangelo’s Ceiling of the Sistine Vault
The Romans had conquered most of Europe by 120 A.D.
Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic
Constantine I, the Christian Roman
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Ovid, Allen Mandelbaum, The Metamorphoses of Ovid, New York: Harvest Books, 1995
MacMullen, Ramsay, Romanization in the Time of Augustus, Yale University Press, 2000.
Veynw, Paul, editor, A History of Private Life: I From Pagan Rome to Byzantium Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992
Wikipedia, “Culture of Ancient Rome,” Online, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_culture (Accessed November 28, 2005)
Pictures and Maps
Portrait Gallery, Online, http://www.roman-empire.net/republic/laterep-gallery-index.html (November 21, 2005)
Reenactment Event at Corbridge, Online, http://www.cavazzi.com/roman-empire/diverse/reenactment-corbridge-2002.html (November 21, 2005)
Rome: Map of the Empire, Online, http://intranet.dalton.org/groups/Rome/RMap.html (November 20, 2005)
Wikipedia, “Caesar Augustus,” Online, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustus (November 21, 2005)
Wikipedia, “Constantine I,” Online, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_I_%28emperor%29 (November 22, 2005)
Wikipedia, “Marcus Aurelius,” Online, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcus_Aurelius (November 22, 2005)
Wikipedia, “Roman Culture,” Online, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Toga1.png (November 21, 2005)
Web Gallery of Art, “Frescoes in the Sistine Chapel,” Online, http://gallery.euroweb.hu/art/m/michelan/3sistina/1chapel.jpg (November 22, 2005)