History of Culture in Ancient Rome
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Our digital history of culture in ancient Rome was remarkably consistent throughout the 1,200-year history of the Roman Republic and Empire, and throughout the empire’s expanse from Britain to the Euphrates. In fact, Rome was the largest city of its time, with a population of several million. But most Romans lived in the countryside in rural settlements which at least had a forum, temples, and the same sorts of buildings that were found in Rome. Absentee landlords lived in the cities and left their estates, and their legions of slaves, in the care of overseers and farm managers. Homes in Rome ranged from tenement hovels to opulent country estates. The word “palace” come from the elegant Palatine Hill district and its sumptuous imperial residences. But most people lived packed into apartment blocks that were prone to sudden collapse and fire.
The great public baths served as the epicenter of Rome’s social life. Similarly, Trajan’s Forum and the Pantheon became centers for official and political business (usually one and the same). The Colosseum drew packed audiences with brutish combat and racing spectacles, where gladiators disemboweled each other and lions tore Christians and other innocents apart to gratify Rome’s taste for cruelty. While there were several theaters and gymnasia, entertainment was usually more lowbrow; countless taverns and brothels soothed the savage breast of Rome’s overwhelmingly poor and desperate populace.
Upper-crust Romans acquired a taste for Greek culture during the Republic, and this spurred widespread denunciation of its degenerate and effeminate influence. Greek culture was imparted by Greek household slaves who taught the young of affluent and powerful families, and Greek chefs, decorators, secretaries, doctors, and hairdressers all made their way to Rome to practice their trades. Greek sculpture graced landscape gardening on the Palatine, and was imitated widely by Greek slave sculptors.
Against this human landscape, one of history’s most influential civilizations took shape, leaving behind a cultural legacy that wields influence even today. At its height, the Roman Empire had developed the most extensive government and social structure in Western civilization. Its influence on Western civilization was profound in law and governance, the two traits that best defined the Roman character.
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Architecture: Arcuate Revolution • Building Materials • Temples: Examples | Drama: Acting • Farce • Mime | Language | Learning: Curriculum : Childhood Education • Primary School • Secondary School • Higher Education | Libraries • Literacy • Rome • Empire | Schools | Scholarship: Empire | Literature: Empire • Historiography • Lesser Lights • Poetry • Prose | Music: Instruments • Musicians | Painting | Philosophy: Cynicism • Epicureanism • Empire • Greek Culture in Rome | Manichaeism • Neo-Platonism • Second Sophistic • Skepticism • Later Development | Prime Movers: Cassius Dio • Cato the Elder: Background • Writings • Legacy | Catullus | Cicero: Background • Beliefs • Writings | Dio Chrysostom | Ennius | Epictetus | Eusebius | Horace | Julius Caesar | Juvenal | Lactantius | Livy | Lucan | Lucretius: Writings | Martial | Ovid | Panaetius of Rhodes | Petronius | Philo | Plautus | Pliny the Elder | Plotinus | Plutarch | Posidonius | Rufus | Sallust | Seneca the Younger: Beliefs • Writings | Statius | Strabo | Tacitus | Terence | Tibullus | Varro | Virgil: Writings | Rhetoric | Sculpture: Empire | Science and Technology: Empire | Medicine: Disease • Physicians • Surgery • Treatments | Union of Greek and Roman Culture | Decline
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