Fast Facts: The Roman Empire

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Image: “The Course of Empire: Consummation” by Thomas Cole

  • Emperor Julius Caesar was the first to encode war communications, using what’s now called the Caesar Cypher.
  • When the British guerrilla leader Caratacus was captured and put before the emperor Claudius, he delivered such a rousing speech that he was released to live in Rome.
  • The empire isn’t often cited for its leniency, however. Four hundred slaves were once executed because they couldn’t foil a plot against their master.
  • The aquila eagle symbol used on war banners was of deep importance to Rome. Sometimes there were years-long searches for banners lost in war.
  • The Reichsadler eagle used on German coats of arms came from the aquila. The symbol was passed down to them through the medieval Holy Roman Empire.
  • Much of the legal systems now used in Europe and across the world have direct ancestry in the Roman Code of Justinian.
  • The imperial city of Rome housed 450,000 to 1 million inhabitants. The national borders stretched to include 20 percent of the world’s population at the empire’s height.
A depiction of Caractacus by William Blake.

A depiction of Caractacus by William Blake.

  • The Greek philosophy of Stoicism was prominent in elite circles. Destructive emotions can be defeated by aligning one’s will with nature, the doctrine preached. Many of ancient Rome’s greatest thinkers, like emperor Marcus Aurelius, were stoics.
  • The Romans often granted citizenship to conquered peoples as part of a Romanization policy. This was designed to encourage others to participate in the Roman state and protect against inevitable rebellions by the disempowered.
  • With no real media outlets, Roman coins promulgated the emperor’s image and accomplishments.
  • The ancient Han Chinese knew of the Roman Empire. Their name for it was Ta-Ch’in.
  • Public toilets, locks and keys, satire, the postal system, the welfare system and the calendar are among the innovations Rome invented or improved upon.
  • Some scholars believe the switch from republic to empire contributed to eventual demise because a single-leader system encourages “rent seeking.” This happens when unfair tax laws or other redistributions of wealth benefit a politically connected elite.
  • However, corruption, economic woes and constant attacks by Germanic tribes are among the most cited factors in Rome’s fall.

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One comment

  • I had no idea there was any sort of contact between Rome and China, that’s incredible!