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7th Grade Social Studies / Lesson 5 - Roman Achievements

What will we be learning in this unit?
  • How was Greco-Roman civilizations formed?
  • What were some Roman contributions to literature, the arts, and technology?
  • What principles of law did Romans develop?


Greco-Roman Civilization
  • In its early days, Rome absorbed ideas from Greek colonists in southern Italy, and it continued to borrow heavily from Greek culture after it conquered Greece. To the Romans emerging from their villages, Greek art, literature, philosophy, and scientific genius represented the height of cultural achievement. Their admiration never wavered, leading the Roman poet Horace to note, "Greece has conquered her rude conqueror." 
  • The Romans adapted Greek and Hellenistic achievements, just as the Greeks had once absorbed ideas from Egypt and the Fertile Crescent. The blending of Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman traditions produced what is known as Greco-Roman civilization. Trade and travel during the Pax Romana helped spread this vital new civilization.


Literature, Philosophy, and History
  • In his epic poem, the Aeneid, Virgil tried to show that Rome's past was as heroic as that of Greece. He linked his epic to Homer's work by telling how Aeneas escaped from Troy to found Rome. Virgil wrote the Aeneid soon after Augustus came to power. He hoped it would arouse patriotism and help unite Rome after years of civil wars. 
  • Other poets used verse to satirize, or make fun of, Roman society. Horace's satires were gentle, using playful wit to attack human folly. Juvenal and Martial were more biting. Martial's poems were so harsh that he had to use fictitious names to protect himself from retribution.


 Literature, Philosophy, and History

  • Roman historians pursued their own theme - the rise and fall of Roman power. Like the poet Virgil, the historian Livy sought to rouse patriotic feeling and restore traditional Roman virtues by recalling images of Rome's heroic past. In his history of Rome, Livy recounted tales of great heroes such as Horatius and Cincinnatus. 
  • Another historian, Tacitus, wrote bitterly about Augustus and his successors, who, he felt, had destroyed Roman liberty. He admired the simple culture of the Germans who lived on Rome's northern frontier and would later invade the empire.

 


  Literature, Philosophy, and History
  • Romans borrowed much of their philosophy from the Greeks. The Hellenistic philosophy of Stoicism impressed Roman thinkers like the emperor Marcus Aurelius. Stoics stressed the importance of duty and acceptance of one's fate. They also showed concern for the well-being of all people, an idea that would be reflected in Christian teachings.


Art and Architecture
  • Like the Greeks before them, Roman sculptors stressed realism, portraying their subjects with every wart and vein in place. The Romans also broke new ground, however, by revealing an individual's character. A statue of a soldier, a writer, or an emperor might capture an expression of smugness, discontent, or haughty pride. 
  • Some Roman sculpture was more idealistic. For example, sculptors transformed Augustus, who was neither handsome nor imposing, into a symbol of power and leadership.


  Art and Architecture
  • Romans beautified their homes with works of art. Examples of these works were preserved in Pompeii, a city buried by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in a.d. 79. Artists depicted scenes from Roman literature and daily life in splendid frescoes and mosaics. A mosaic is a picture made from chips of colored stone or glass.


Art and Architecture
  • While the Greeks aimed for simple elegance in architecture, the Romans emphasized grandeur. Immense palaces, temples, and stadiums stood as mighty monuments to Roman power and dignity. The Romans improved on devices such as the column and the arch. Using concrete as a building material, they developed the rounded dome to roof large spaces. The most famous domed structure is the Pantheon, a temple to all the Roman gods, which still stands in Rome.


Science and Technology
  • The Romans excelled in engineering, which is the application of science and mathematics to develop useful structures and machines. Roman engineers built roads, bridges, and harbors throughout the empire. Roman roads were so solidly built that many of them were still used long after the fall of the empire. 
  • Roman engineers also built many immense aqueducts, or bridge like stone structures that brought water from the hills into Roman cities. The wealthy had water piped in, and almost every city boasted public baths. Here, people gathered not only to wash themselves but to hear the latest news and exchange gossip.


Science and Technology
  • The Romans generally left scientific research to the Greeks who were by that time citizens of the empire. In Alexandria, Egypt, Hellenistic scientists exchanged ideas freely. It was there that astronomer-mathematician Ptolemy proposed his theory that the Earth was the center of the universe, a mistaken idea that was accepted in the western world for nearly 1,500 years. 
  • The Greek doctor Galen advanced the frontiers of medical science by insisting on experiments to prove a conclusion. Galen compiled a medical encyclopedia summarizing what was known at the time. It remained a standard text for more than 1,000 years.


Science and Technology
  • Although the Romans did little original research, they did put science to practical use. They applied geography to make maps, and medical knowledge to help doctors improve public health. Like Galen, they collected knowledge into encyclopedias. Pliny the Elder, a Roman scientist, compiled volumes on geography, zoology, botany, and other topics, all based on other people's works.


 Roman Law
  • "Let justice be done," proclaimed a Roman saying, "though the heavens fall!" Probably the greatest legacy of Rome was its commitment to the rule of law and to justice. During the Roman empire, the rule of law fostered unity and stability. Many centuries later, the principles of Roman law would become the basis for legal systems in Europe and Latin America.


Roman Law
  • During the republic, Rome developed a system of law, known as the civil law, that applied to its citizens. As Rome expanded, however, it ruled many foreigners who were not covered under the civil law. Gradually, a second system of law, known as the law of nations, emerged. It applied to all people under Roman rule, citizens and non-citizens. Later, when Rome extended citizenship across the empire, the two systems merged.


 Roman Law
  • As Roman law developed, certain basic principles evolved. Many of these principles are familiar to Americans today. An accused person was presumed innocent until proven guilty. The accused was allowed to face the accuser and offer a defense against the charge. Guilt had to be established "clearer than daylight" through evidence. Judges were allowed to interpret the laws and were expected to make fair decisions.