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In modern historiography, ancient Rome refers to Roman civilisation from the founding of the city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. It encompasses the Roman Kingdom (753–509 BC), Roman Republic (509–27 BC) and Roman Empire (27 BC–476 AD) until the fall of the western empire.

Ancient Rome began as an Italic settlement, traditionally dated to 753 BC, beside the River Tiber in the Italian Peninsula. The settlement grew into the city and polity of Rome, and came to control its neighbours through a combination of treaties and military strength. It eventually dominated the Italian Peninsula, assimilated the Greek culture of southern Italy (Magna Grecia) and the Etruscan culture and acquired an Empire that took in much of Europe and the lands and peoples surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. It was among the largest empires in the ancient world, with an estimated 50 to 90 million inhabitants, roughly 20% of the world's population at the time. It covered around 5 million square kilometres (1.9 million square miles) at its height in AD 117.

The Roman state evolved from an elective monarchy to a democratic classical republic and then to an increasingly autocratic semi-elective military dictatorship during the Empire. Through conquest, cultural, and linguistic assimilation, at its height it controlled the North African coast, Egypt, Southern Europe, and most of Western Europe, the Balkans, Crimea and much of the Middle East, including Anatolia, Levant and parts of Mesopotamia and Arabia. It is often grouped into classical antiquity together with ancient Greece, and their similar cultures and societies are known as the Greco-Roman world.

Ancient Roman civilisation has contributed to modern language, religion, society, technology, law, politics, government, warfare, art, literature, architecture and engineering. Rome professionalised and expanded its military and created a system of government called res publica, the inspiration for modern republics such as the United States and France. It achieved impressive technological and architectural feats, such as the empire-wide construction of aqueducts and roads, as well as more grandiose monuments and facilities.

The Punic Wars with Carthage gave Rome supremacy in the Mediterranean. The Roman Empire emerged with the principate of Augustus (from 27 BC); Rome's imperial domain now extended from the Atlantic to Arabia and from the mouth of the Rhine to North Africa. In 92 AD, Rome came up against the resurgent Persian Empire and became involved in history's longest-running conflict, the Roman–Persian Wars, which would have lasting effects on both empires. Under Trajan, Rome's empire reached its territorial peak, encompassing the entire Mediterranean Basin, the southern margins of the North Sea, and the shores of the Red and Caspian Seas. Republican mores and traditions started to decline during the imperial period, with civil wars becoming a common prelude to the rise of a new emperor. Splinter states, such as the Palmyrene Empire, would temporarily divide the Empire during the Crisis of the Third Century before some stability was restored in the Tetrarchy phase of imperial rule.

Plagued by internal instability and attacked by various migrating peoples, the western part of the empire broke up into independent barbarian kingdoms in the 5th century. The eastern part of the empire remained a power through the Middle Ages until its fall in 1453 AD. (Full article...)

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A multi-generational banquet depicted on a mural from Pompeii (1st century AD)

Food and dining in the Roman Empire reflect both the variety of food-stuffs available through the expanded trade networks of the Roman Empire and the traditions of conviviality from ancient Rome's earliest times, inherited in part from the Greeks and Etruscans. In contrast to the Greek symposium, which was primarily a drinking party, the equivalent social institution of the Roman convivium (dinner party) was focused on food. Banqueting played a major role in Rome's communal religion. Maintaining the food supply to the city of Rome had become a major political issue in the late Republic, and continued to be one of the main ways the emperor expressed his relationship to the Roman people and established his role as a benefactor. Roman food vendors and farmers' markets sold meats, fish, cheeses, produce, olive oil and spices; and pubs, bars, inns and food stalls sold prepared food.

Bread was an important part of the Roman diet, with more well-to-do people eating wheat bread and poorer people eating that made from barley. Fresh produce such as vegetables and legumes were important to Romans, as farming was a valued activity. A variety of olives and nuts were eaten. While there were prominent Romans who discouraged meat eating, a variety of meat products were prepared, including blood puddings, sausages, cured ham and bacon. The milk of goats or sheep was thought superior to that of cows; milk was used to make many types of cheese, as this was a way of storing and trading milk products. While olive oil was fundamental to Roman cooking, butter was viewed as an undesirable Gallic foodstuff. Sweet foods such as pastries typically used honey and wine-must syrup as a sweetener. A variety of dried fruits (figs, dates and plums) and fresh berries were also eaten. (Full article...)
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0150 Statue Marcus Aurelius anagoria.JPG
Marble statue of a young Marcus Aurelius in military garb, wearing the muscle cuirass, Altes Museum, Berlin

The early life of Marcus Aurelius (r. 161–180) spans the time from his birth on 26 April 121 until his accession as Roman emperor on 8 March 161.

Following the death of his father, Marcus Annius Verus (III), Marcus Aurelius was raised by his grandfather, Marcus Annius Verus (II). Educated at home, Marcus became an adherent of Stoicism at a young age. In 138 he was adopted by Antoninus Pius, himself the adopted heir of Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian died later that year and was succeeded by Antoninus. (Full article...)

Did you know?

  • ...That when Caesar's troops hesitated to leave their ships for fear of the Britons, the aquilifer of the tenth legion threw himself overboard and, carrying the eagle, advanced alone against the enemy?
  • ...That the most well paid athlete in human history, Gaius Appuleius Diocles, was an illiterate Roman Chariot racer, and earned the equivalent of $15 Billion US Dollars.

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The Roman Forum (Latin: Forum Romanum) was a rectangular forum at the heart of the city of Ancient Rome. The Forum was used for military triumphs, elections, criminal trials, gladiatorial matches, and as a meeting- and business-place. The Forum survives today in ruins, and is the oldest structure in the modern city of Rome.

The Roman Forum (Latin: Forum Romanum) was a rectangular forum at the heart of the city of Ancient Rome. The Forum was used for military triumphs, elections, criminal trials, gladiatorial matches, and as a meeting- and business-place. The Forum survives today in ruins, and is the oldest structure in the modern city of Rome.

Photo credit: Howard Hudson

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