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Rome, Italy, Europe

Founded: 753 b.c.; Unified: 1870
Location: Lazio region in Italy, Europe, on a peninsula extending from southern Europe into the Mediterranean Sea, bordering France to the northwest, Switzerland and Austria to the north, Slovenia to the northeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south
Time Zone: 11 am = noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
Flag: Vertical bands of orange (left) and yellow.
Ethnic Composition: Italian; German, French, Slovenes, Albanian-Italians, Greek-Italians
Elevation: 4,336 m (14,453 ft) above sea level
Latitude and Longitude: 41°54N, 12°30E
Climate : Temperate, mild winters and long, dry, hot summers
Annual Mean Temperature: 7.4°C (45.3°F) in January; 25.7°C (78.3°F) in July
Average Annual Rainfall: 890 mm (35 in)
Government: Multi-party republic, headed by a president and prime minister, legislative power held by bicameral Parliament: Senate and Chamber of Deputies
Weights and Measures: Metric
Monetary Units: The euro (EUR). As of January 1, 1999, the lira became a subdivision of the Euro (conversion rate: 1,936.27 lira to one Euro; one Euro equals 100 cents.)
Telephone Area Codes: Italy country code 39; Rome city code 6

1. Introduction

Near the banks of the Tiber River, 2,700 years ago on seven hills, the foundation of Rome was laid. It is one of the most ancient cities in Europe. Since then, it has been continuously inhabited and has grown into a city of almost three million people, covering 1,502 square kilometers (580 square miles). Rome is in southern Italy, in southern Europe, and has a parallel latitude with New York state.

Located inland about 27 kilometers (17 miles) from the Tyrrhenian Sea, Rome is the capital city of Italy. Within Rome's enclave is Vatican City. The seat of the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church, Vatican City has been recognized as an independent state by the Italian government since 1929. The majestic dome of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City dominates the Roman skyline. Once the center of the Roman Empire, Rome has been the capital of united Italy since 1871. The economy remains strongessentially based on tourism and government operations. After World War II (193945), the city developed a wide base of industries; thus, the Rome of today hosts the headquarters of many multinational corporations and agencies.

Divided into two regions, the sprawling outer city is changing with suburban growth. The historical center is a small area, located on the eastern bank of the Tiber River and contains many monuments of Rome's past greatness. The city is an unparalleled repository of monuments from all periods in European history. The legacy of the Roman Empire is extensive, witnessed from the preservation of the Pantheon, considered one of the finest surviving temples of antiquity, to the impressive Colosseum, an amphitheater that hosted gladiatorial combat and other spectacles. Ancient city walls, triumphal arches, public meeting places, churches, and palaces are scattered throughout Rome. With an extraordinary wealth of artwork, Rome is a major world center for creative study and performing arts.

2. Getting There

Italy is bound to the north by Switzerland and Austria, to the east by Slovenia and the Adriatic Sea, to the south by the Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian, and Ligurian seas, and to the west by France. It covers 301,308 square kilometers (116,335 square miles), and Rome is located about halfway down Italy's western coast.


Driving to and around Rome can be challenging. The main road linking Rome to the north and south of Italy is the Autostrade del sole, which connects with the ring road circling the city. The 13-kilometer (8-mile) Mount Frejus highway tunnel, integrating France and Italy through the Alps, opened in 1980. The legal age for an auto rental is 21 years of age. There are several rental car agencies at both airports and a few at Termini Stazione.

Rome Population Profile

Population: 2,688,000
Area: 1502 sq km (580 sq mi)
World population rank 1: 115
Percentage of national population 2: 4.7%
Average yearly growth rate: 0.0%

  1. The Rome metropolitan area's rank among the world's urban areas.
  2. The percent of Italy's total population living in the Rome metropolitan area.

Bus and Railroad Service

Train is by far the most efficient means of transportation for any land journey within Italy, to or from Rome. The Italian State Railways have several levels of service, from local trains that stop at every station, to the Pendolino, a fast, luxurious first-class-only train. From the airport, the Stazione Termini direct train runs hourly. The Stazione Termini, Rome's main train station, is the hub of the urban transportation system. Beneath it is the only interchange between the city ' s two Metro lines, and directly outside, on Piazza dei Cinquecento, is the central bus terminal, a stunning twentieth-century building.

Buses run from 6:00 am to midnight, with some services running throughout the night. The city ' s Metro service has two lines, and both go through Termini. A bus ticket is also valid for the city's subway and train services.


Rome is serviced by two international airports. Leonardo da Vinci, commonly known as Fiumicino, handles most scheduled flights and is about 29 kilometers (18 miles) southwest of the city. Ciampino is about 14 kilometer (nine miles) southeast and is used for charter flights. The national airline carrier Alitalia is 89.3 percent owned by the state.

3. Getting Around

Navigating the streets of Rome can be tricky. Often it is easiest to take advantage of the city's public transportation. Tickets for city metros, buses, and trams must be purchased before boarding.

Bus and Commuter Rail Service

The Metro system is useful and simple to master. There are two lines, A and B, which cross at Termini. Metro trains run approximately every ten minutes, from 5:30 am until 11:30 pm, 12:30 am on Saturday. Tickets for metros are valid for one single journey only. Daily and weekly travel passes are also available. For sightseers, favorite metro stops include the Spanish Steps, Spagna, Vatican Museums, Ottaviano, Colosseo, Circus Maximus, Bath of Caracalls, Circo Massimo, the Catacombs, and Colli Albani.

The main bus terminal is outside Termini Stazione. Most day buses have only a driver while night buses usually have a conductor who issues tickets. Tickets are not sold on day buses, and passengers board from the rear. There are several bus lines that run from 5:30 am until midnight. Night buses run from 1:00 am until 5:30 am. Tickets are time stamped and are valid for 90 minutes of travel.

Rome's public orange buses and handful of trams cover much of the city, but they do not travel through the narrow streets of the historic center. Several routes, however, are within a short distance of most main attractions. Communal stops include the Vatican, Spanish Steps, and Trevi Fountain.

Official taxis in Rome are yellow and must bear the taxi sign on the roof. An expensive venture, taxis also charge extra for baggage, late night trips, Sunday travel, or public holiday travel. The fare may begin from the telephone request, not from the point of origin.


The center of Rome is compact, and wandering the ruins on foot is a great way to see the city. Street life is vibrant and constant. The architectural design is consuming, and close proximity of ancient sights make for a comfortable and convenient walk. For instance, the Colosseum is approximately one-and-a-half miles from the Spanish steps. One route travels by the Forum, Piazza Venezia, and several churches, passing through charming neighborhoods. A longer, more scenic route weaves from the Colosseum to the Vatican. Most major monuments are west of the train station. The Pantheon and Trevi Fountain are a short detour away. The Palatine Hill and the Forum are the center of ancient Rome. Via del Corso runs north from the Forum to Piazza del Popola, and Trevi Fountain is to the east. The Vatican is northwest of the Forum, across the Tiber River. Small patches of central Rome have sidewalks and streets closed to cars for use by cyclists and scooters.

Bike tours from the north to the south of the city are actually a popular way to see the sights of Villa Borghese, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Venezia, and the Spanish Steps. Conversely, the narrow streets combined with steep hills can make cycling a bit of a challenge.

City Fact Comparison
IndicatorRomeCairoNew YorkBeijing
(Italy)(Egypt)(United States)(China)
Population of urban area12,688,00010,772,00016,626,00012,033,000
Date the city was founded753 BCAD 9691613723 BC
Daily costs to visit the city2
Hotel (single occupancy)$172$193$198$129
Meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner)$59$56$44$62
Incidentals (laundry, dry cleaning, etc.)$15$14>$26$16
Total daily costs$246$173$244$207
Major Newspapers3
Number of newspapers serving the city20131011
Largest newspaperLa RepubblicaAkhbar El Yom/Al AkhbarThe Wall Street JournalRenmin Ribao
Circulation of largest newspaper754,9301,159,3391,740,4503,000,000
Date largest newspaper was established1976194418891948
1United Nations population estimates for the year 2000.
2The maximum amount the U.S. Government reimburses its employees for business travel. The lodging portion of the allowance is based on the cost for a single room at a moderately-priced hotel. The meal portion is based on the costs of an average breakfast, lunch, and dinner including taxes, service charges, and customary tips. Incidental travel expenses include such things as laundry and dry cleaning.
3David Maddux, ed. Editor&Publisher International Year Book. New York: The Editor&Publisher Company, 1999.

Mopeds and scooters, called Vespa or wasps in Italy because of the buzzing noise they make, are an efficient way to get around the narrow streets. Bikes and mopeds can be rented from Roma Rent and Scoot-a-Long, among others.

For a gentler tour of the historic center, sightseers can hire a horse-drawn carriage. Trips can be taken for a half-hour, an hour, half-day, or a day, for up to five people. Prices for longer rides are negotiable and can be hired from Piazza di Spagna, the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, St. Peter's, Via Veneto, Villa Borghese, Piazza Venezia, and Piazza Navona.

4. People

Due to improved economic and social conditions in southern regions, and the influence of the media, differences between northern and southern Italians are diminishing. However, Italians still refer to one another by their city of origin (Milanese, Roman, Florentine), and some regional attitudes remain. Adopting practices of their German and Austrian neighbors, people in the industrialized north traditionally value punctuality, reliability, organization, and economic success. They view time as a precious resource not to be wasted. Communities take pride in maintaining a low tolerance for public corruption and escalating crime.

Southerners tend to be gracious and known for their warm character and friendliness. Neighborhoods and citizens of Rome value leisurely days and take their time conducting business. Family values prevail in the south and are often revered over economic success.

Regional economic differences have contributed to tensions within the country. Northern Italians feel they are too heavily taxed for subsidized projects in the south. Southerners resent the higher income and better employment opportunities offered only in the north. Political movements that call for regional autonomy in a federal system have gained momentum in the north, but most Romans oppose any political separation.

Social life and interaction is important to Romans. Citizens enjoy public events, parties, and celebrations. Humor, reliability, and success in business and social lives are all regarded more favorably than individual assertiveness.

The dominant language in Rome and throughout the country is Italian. However, German and Ladin, a dialect of the Rhaeto-Romanic, are spoken in the Alto Adige region on the Austrian border; French is spoken in the Valle d'Aosta region bordering France and Switzerland; and Greek and Albanian are spoken in southern Italy. English is a common second language.

5. Neighborhoods

According to tradition, Rome was founded in 753 b.c. on one of the Seven Hills, a term coined to describe the Capitoline, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Caelian, Aventine, and Palatine hills surrounding the old community. Archaeological evidence indicates, however, that human settlement dates from at least 1000 b.c. Capitoline Hill was long the seat of Rome's government, and Palantine Hill was the site of the epic Palace of the Flavins, built by the Roman emperor Domitian. As a result of construction throughout the centuries, today most of the Seven Hills are hardly distinguishable from the adjacent plain.

Rome is easily divided into two regions: the inner city, within the Aurealian Wall, built in the late third century to enclose the area around the Seven Hills; and the sprawling outer city, with its suburbs. The historical center is a small area, located almost entirely on the eastern bank of the Tiber River. Monuments of Rome's past eminence are located mostly within the historical center and are a stark contrast to the modern districts.

The street pattern of the city reflects its long and complex history. The Via del Corso traverses most of the historic center from Piazza Venezia, the geographic center of Rome, to the Piazza del Popolo at the foot of Pincio Hills. Its use dates from the Middle Ages when it was a horse-racing course.

6. History

Of all of Italy's historic cities, Rome summons the most compelling fascination. There is more to experience in Rome than almost any other city in the world, with relics of more than 2,700 years of continuous occupation packed into a sprawling urban area. As a contemporary European capital, Rome has a unique sense of leadership. The city features are classical, the Colosseum, the Forum, and Palantine Hill, while relics from the early Christian period decorate ancient basilicas. The Baroque and Romanesque fountains and churches are only part of the picture. First headquarters of the Roman Empire, and then of the Catholic Church, Rome has had an immense impact on social customs throughout the world. Several European languages are based on Latin; many political and legal systems follow the ancient roman model of civil service, and buildings all over the world demonstrate styles and techniques perfected in Rome. The ancient city spaces are filled with layers of buildings spanning two millennia.

Rome began as an Iron Age hut village founded in the mid-eighth century b.c. In 616 b.c. , the Romans' neighbors, the Etruscans, seized power but were ousted in 509 B. C. when Rome became a Republic. By the time Rome entered into the first of the three Punic wars in 264 b.c. , its power in Italy spanned the whole peninsula as far north as Ariminum. The driving motivation behind all three Punic wars was for Rome to defeat the African city of Carthage and gain Mediterranean dominance. In 241 b.c. the Romans won Sicily. In the Second Punic War (218201 b.c. ), they defeated General Hannibal of Carthage (247182 b.c. ), and in the Third Punic War (149146 b.c. ) they seized the city of Carthage itself. Rome then went on to conquer Syria and Macedonia to gain dominance over the western Hellenistic world.

The expansion of the empire provided opportunity for individuals to gain power and rule. However, leaders became abusive of their power, and the clashing of egos led to the crashing of democracy. Julius Caesar (c. 10044 b.c. ) ruled for a time as dictator, but the Roman Republic came to an end when he was assassinated in 44 b.c. Taking his place was the famous triumvirate: Mark Antony (c. 8030 b.c. ), Aemilius Lepidus (d. 13 b.c. ), and Octavian Caesar (63 b.c.a.d. 14). Octavian defeated Lepidus in 39 b.c. and Antony in 31 b.c. to become emperor of the Roman world. He then gave all his power to the Senate in an effort to create a "restored republic." The Senate placed him in control of nearly all Rome's military strength, and he was given the title Augustus. Upon Octavian's death in a.d. 14, his chosen heir, Tiberius (42 b.c.a.d. 37), took the throne. It was during the reign of Tiberius that Jesus Christ was crucified. Within a few years, the followers of Christ became legendary in Rome, but their teachings were perceived as a threat to public order, and many Christians were executed. Even so, the new religion spread through all levels of Roman society. By the time the apostles Peter and Paul had arrived in Rome, a small Christian community had been established, and in spite of persecution by the state, Christianity flourished.

Having little success with the Senate, Tiberius withdrew himself from office and was succeeded by a medley of emperors, including Caligula (1241), Claudius (10 b.c.a.d. 54), and Nero (3768). Nero's suicide in a.d. 68 ended the Augustus reign of emperors, and Rome entered into a state of constant civil war. Sulpicius Galba (3 b.c.a.d. 69), governor of Spain, seized control, but the throne changed hands four more times. It wasn't until Diocletian (a.d. 245313), a traditional militaristic Roman, took control in a.d. 284 that Rome was restored to order. He divided the empire in half and appointed two rulers for both east and west Rome. In a.d. 302, Diocletian banned Christians from the Roman Army, brought religion into the office of emperor, and made the position a "divine monarchy."

In a.d. 313, the Emperor Constantine (c. 274337; r. 306337), proclaimed ruler by Britiain, issued an edict granting Christians freedom of worship, and he founded the city of Constantinople as the new capital. Even after securing Rome's position as the center of Christianity, its political importance waned in the fifth century, and the city fell to Goths and other invaders. For a while, Rome was reduced to a few thousand residents and little power. But the next couple centuries uncovered a newfound strength. The growing importance of the papacy revived the city and rejuvenated its power. Conversely, ongoing conflict between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor undermined the papacy. The tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries were among the bleakest in Roman history: violent conflict with invaders left Rome poverty stricken, and constant warring tore apart the city. In 1309, the papacy moved to Avignon, leaving Rome to slide further into squalor and strife.

The city recovered spectacularly in the mid-fifteenth century. Pope Nicholas V (13971455; r. 14471455) came to power and groomed Rome to be a city worthy of the papacy and the center of Renaissance culture. Successors followed his lead, and the city's appearance was transformed. The Classical ideals of the Italian Renaissance (14501600) inspired artists, architects, and craftsmen, such as Michelangelo, Bramante, and Raphael. A newly confident Rome was nurturing a massive papal patronage of the arts.

By the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church had accumulated extensive wealth and was therefore criticized by other reformed religions. Displays of grandeur and extravagance by the papal court contrasted vividly with the poverty of the people. Galileo (15641642), a physicist/astronomer, was condemned to death for heresy (beliefs opposed to the traditionally accepted beliefs of the church). Rome was also discovering a new style of its own in Baroque (16001750).

Under Napoleon, Italy tasted unity but by 1815 was again divided into many small states, and papal rule was restored in Rome. The next 50 years experienced patriots struggling to create an independent, unified Italy, and Rome was briefly declared a Republic, but forces were driven out by French troops. The French continued to protect the Pope while the rest of Italy united as a kingdom under Vittorio Emanuel of Savor. In 1870, troops stormed the city, and Rome became the capital of the newly unified Italy.

Twentieth-century Rome endured the dictator Benito Mussolini (18831945; r. 19221945) and his dreams of recreating the immense order and power of the Roman Empire. In 1922, the fascist leader was appointed prime minister. In 1929, the Lateran Treaty brought over a century of tension between Church and State to an end by creating a separate Vatican State. During the World War II (193945), British forces captured much of Italy's colonial empire. From 1947 to the early 1990s, Italy had no less than 57 governments, and the first non-Italian pope since the sixteenth century, Pope John Paul II (b. 1920), was appointed in 1978.

Rome is in many ways the ideal capital of Italy. Each era in history added its own layer of culture to create a city unparalleled by any other in the world.

7. Government

The Italian Republic is divided into 20 regions, five of which (Sicily, Sardinia, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Valle d ' Aosta) enjoy a special status; there is a large degree of regional autonomy. Each locale has a council elected every five years by universal suffrage, and a Giunta regionale is responsible to the regional council. The regional council is a legislative assembly while the Giunta holds executive power. The regions are subdivided into a total of 95 provinces.

Officers of the government include the president, who is chief of state, and the prime minister, who is head of government. The prime minister is generally head of a majority party or a majority coalition of parties but can also be appointed from other parties. A proposed prime minister must be approved by a parliamentary vote of confidence and can be removed from office at any time if parliament passes a vote of no confidence.

8. Public Safety

In Rome, speed limits are fixed at 50 kilometers (31 miles) per hour in urban areas, 110 kilometers (68 miles) per hour on main roads outside urban areas, 90 kilometers (56 miles) per hour on secondary and local roads, and 130 kilometers (81 miles) per hour on motorways. The new highway code recently introduced in Italy also stipulates that one must not drive at a speed which is so slow as to hinder the flow of traffic. There are speed limits of 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour on all roads outside urban areas and 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour on motorways for cars towing trailers or caravans. Drivers and passengers are required by law to wear seat belts in front and rear seats. Also, while driving, the use of portable telephones is prohibited if they require intervention by hand to function. Helmets are required by law for drivers on two-wheeled vehicles.

Emergency breakdown services in Italy are run by ACI (Automobile Club d'Italia). The service operates 24 hours a day throughout the road network. On the motorways, breakdown services can be summoned using the yellow emergency posts located approximately every two kilometers (one mile). Information about breakdown service is provided by the 18 ACI representatives at the frontier posts for entry to Italy.

9. Economy

Since World War II, Italy has evolved from an economy based on agriculture into an economy of industrial ranking, with approximately the same total and per capita output as France and the United Kingdom. Yet, the country remains partially divided by the private companies developing in the industrial north and the public enterprise that governs the agricultural south.

Rome is headquarters to many multinational corporations, including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and several World Food programs. Service accounts for 48 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), industry for 35 percent, public administration for 13 percent, and agriculture for four percent. Most raw materials needed by Italian industry are imported, including over 75 percent of energy requirements.

In the early 1990s, Rome was unsettled at the prospect of not qualifying to participate in plans for European economic and monetary union; thus, the city's financial imbalance was addressed, and subsequently the government adopted stringent budgets, abandoned an inflationary wage index system, and scaled back social welfareprograms, including pension and health care. Monetary officials were forced to withdraw the lira in September 1993 when it came under extreme pressure in currency markets; it was not re-engaged until in November 1996. On January 1, 1999, the euro (EUR) became the legal currency in Italy, and the lira became a subdivision of it, the irrevocable conversion rate being 1,936.27 lira to one euro. The euro, which consists of 100 (U.S.) cents, will not be in circulation until January 2002.

With the start of the new millennium, Rome's economy is strong, but familiar issues remain a concern: high unemployment figures, government deficit, tottering communications systems, and environmental concerns for the ongoing expansion and industrial integration of the European Union.

10. Environment

Italy has limited mineral resources but has consistently increased its production of mineral imports, like petroleum, lignite, iron ore, sulfur, mercury, and marble. The country is rich with deposits of natural gas; however, reserves are dwindling. Demanding energy requirements keep Italy dependent on oil. Cultivated hydroelectricity does generate some power, and there are several nuclear stations in the country.

Roman industrial groups and environmental organizations have made a joint declaration to reduce the environmental impact of energy use, signed in December 1998. The declaration aims to reduce emission of carbon dioxide, improve electrical sector efficiency, diversify energy sources, reduce energy consumption in both urban and transport, and double production of renewable energy.

11. Shopping

Rome is a city full of treasures. The prime shopping area for fashion is along Via dei Condotti and Via Frattina, from Via del Corso to Piazza di Spagna, and all of the avenues in between. Shop windows are dressed with jewelry, foot-wear, and of course, Italian designer clothes. Moderately priced fashions coupled with quality workmanship make the area popular.

The elegant Ludovisi District is lined with famous cafes, divine restaurants, and exclusive shops. Radiating out from one of the world's most famous streets, Via Veneto, the surrounding area has a wealth and style all its own.

Between Via Del Tritone and Via Nazionale, the scaled-down boutiques are competitive and of classic quality. The Trevi Fountain area shops are plentiful and quite shoe savvy.

Antique shopping can be found between Via Margutta, Via Ripetta, Via dei Coronari, and Via Del Babuino. Across the Tiber River is the Via cola di Rienzo and the Via Ottaviano, and both avenues are lined with clever shops.

The department stores in Rome range from the Coin and Rinascente to Upim and Standa. The Coin is in Piazzale Appio at Porta San Giovanni, and La Rinascente is in Piazza Colonna and in Via del Corso. Both Upim and Standa are more accessible at various locations throughout the city.

Stores close on Sundays and for a half day during the week (Thursday afternoon for food stores, Monday morning for most others); however, some tourist area shops will remain open on Sundays. During the summer, the half-day closing schedule is on Saturday afternoon. Some shops and most department stores have opted for non-stop operating hours.

The markets are another facet of shopping in Rome, especially the flea markets. One of the most famous in Italy is the Porta Portese market, held every Sunday morning. Merchant wares that contain everything from antiques to the unlikely cover a three-kilometer (two-mile) stretch of streets, from the Porta Portese to the underpass that leads into Piazza della Radio.

12. Education

School attendance is compulsory from ages six to 14 in Italy. Classes may be held six days a week, and education is a serious matter. There are many universities, educational centers, and degrees available in higher education. Italy's largest institution, the University of Rome, has an enrollment of 190,000 students. Founded in 1303, the university confers many degrees in international relations and communications. Due to an extraordinary wealth of art, Rome is a major center for studies in creative dance, dramatic arts, music, and art restoration.

The oldest university in Europe was founded in Bologna in the twelfth century. Present-day academic institutions and educational centers near Rome include Istituto Guglielmo Tagliacarne, Istituto Quasar Design school, John Cabot University, Pontifical Athanaeum Regina Apostolorum, Pontifical University of Saint Bonaventure, Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Universita degli Studi di Roma La Sapienza, Universita degli Studi di Roma Tor Vergata, Universita Popolare di Roma, Universita degli Studi Roma Tre, Libera Universita degli Studi Maria SS Assunta, Libera Universita, Internazionale Studi Sociali Guido Carli, Libero Istituto Universitario Campus Bio medico, Pontifico Ateneo della Santa Croce, Pontifica Universita Gregoriana, Pontifica Universita Lateranense, Libero Istituto Universitario San Pio V, and the Osservatorio Astronomico.

13. Health Care

The problems that plague Italy's health care system are complex and deeply rooted in the nation's political history and economy. The withdrawal of the lira from the monetary system signaled the beginning of a period of economic austerity. In an attempt to control spending by Rome, social benefits, including health care, were cut back. Despite Italy being the world's fifth-largest economy, governmental intervention policy has strangled productive growth.

Generally, health care services are coordinated through government agencies, and 95 percent of Italians rely on the public system for health care. The system provisions offer cradle-to-grave medical and surgical care at public facilities throughout the nation. Of those 95 percent relying on public health care, about five percent have private insurance, which debuted about three years ago, and they tend to live in the northern region of Italy.

About one percent of the population pays privately for health services, and a small number of private hospitals and clinics exist to serve their needs. Italy spends about seven-and-a-half percent of its GDP on health care or, in terms of U.S. dollars, about $1500 per person.

Large public hospitals are the prominent features of the Italian health care landscape. Managed by the government, medical universities, or the Roman Catholic Church, the number of services available and the quality of service at public facilities correlates with each hospital's geographic location. Private urban hospitals that tout the best equipment are rivaled by large public facilities in big cities.

There are three types of hospitals in Italy: general care facilities, specialist centers, and psychiatric care hospitals. Facilities are further defined by the number of patients they intend to serve. Local or zone hospitals serve 25,000 to 30,000 people and are the most common facilities. Provincial hospitals serve about 400,000 people, and regional facilities, located in large urban areas, serve about one million and offer the most services. The Italian Ministry of Health's National Health Service, known as the SSN, oversees the operation of all government facilities, but each hospital is governed directly by an administrative council whose members are locally elected.

Overall, health care tends to be unevenly distributed in Italy; the north is equipped with a greater number of facilities and more professionals than the neighboring south.

14. Media

Rome's two main newspapers are La Republica and Il Messaggero. British and American newspapers are readily available, and the International Herald Tribune is sold on the day of issue.

British Broadcast Communications (BBC) world service can be heard on radio 15.070 MHz (shortwave) in the morning and 648KHz (medium wave) at night. Listeners can tune in to Vatican Radio on 93.3 MHz, and 105 MHz broadcasts news in English.

The state television channels include RAI, Uno, Due, and Tre; all are politically aligned. Satellite dishes and cable TV allow for reception of various European channels, as well as channels for sports and news in English.

15. Sports

Romans are sports enthusiasts and play with passion. A peaceful afternoon may suddenly explode with the sounds of victorycheers from excited crowds and honking car horns. Football, commonly known as soccer in North America, is the national sport. Playing for Rome in the Campionato Italiano (Italian championship league) are two teams, Roma and Lazio, and they take turns playing in Stadio Olimpico on Sundays at 3:00 pm.

Spring in Rome is synonymous with tennis. For tennis players, there are an abundance of clubs from which to choose. For tennis fans, the International Tennis Championship meets for two weeks every May at Foro Italico. The event draws the world's top tennis players to smash it out on clay courts. Spring also brings out golf enthusiasts. Golfers in Rome can play at several golf associations in and around the city. Some will accept a touring golfer with a home membership. Golf fans can also watch the National Championships in and around the city. The tournament play runs in October, and the Rome Masters is held in April.

Rome also hosts a plethora of racing venues. For horseracing fans, the trotters run at the Ippodromo di Tor di Valle. Steeple chase or flat races are run at Ippodromo delle Capannelle. Auto-racing enthusiasts head to Valle Lunga, where Formula-1 and Formula-3 cars vie for the lead position on Sundays. Dogs race at the Cinodromo Track, where greyhounds run Wednesday and Thursday evenings, as well as Sunday mornings. Finally, for the fans of rowing, a British Oxbridge team challenges the historic Aniene team to race, alternately on the Thames and the Tiber rivers, in mid June.

16. Parks and Recreation

Rome's perfect climate and stunning scenery beckon many people into the plentiful city parks. People don't have to travel far to experience park settings and exquisite monuments. The Trevi Fountain, begun by Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini (15981680) in 1640, is a perfect example. The Roman Forum's archaeological area is a public garden in itself that is open from morning until sunset.

The largest park in Rome, Villa Doria Pamphilj, is located just south of the Vatacian. The park was designed in the mid-seventeenth century for Prince Camillo Pamphilj. A beautiful place to stroll, there is plenty of open space, a network of paths to explore, and three different tracks for walking dogs or jogging.

On a hillside above Piazza del Popolo is another lush and inviting park, Pincio Gardens. The streets are skillfully terraced with umbrella pines, palm trees, and evergreen oaks to hide the zig-zag road that climbs up to the gardens.

Villa Borghese, designed in 1605 for Cardinal Borghese, was the first park of its kind in Rome, with 400 planted pine trees and dramatic waterworks. The garden layout was often imitated by prominent Roman families. Honoring the eighteenth-century renovation, the intersections of paths and avenues are now marked by fountains and statues. Long avenues of trees are dotted with picturesque villas that double as museums and galleries. The woods, lakes, and grass cover a vast area. This park also offers a running track.

A beautiful villa and garden, Villa Torionia was once the Mussolini family residence. Its well-maintained commons area contains a variety of exotic plants and ample trees. Another small, serene park villa with a scenic view of the city is Rome's Villa Aldobrandini. The supreme Villa Celimontana is located between the Colosseum and the baths of Caracalla. Open dawn until sunset, only a part of another comely city park, Villa Ada, is open to the public.

If exercise is on the agenda, bicycles are available for rent from many places, including Porta Pinciana in Villa Borghese, Collalti, and Via del Corso. Organized bike tours are advertised in various publications.

For the indoor enthusiast, there are sport centers that offer swimming pools, gym facilities, and dance classes. Some health clubs do require membership.

17. Performing Arts

Italy is considered by many to be a birthplace of the arts. Today Romans still enjoy cultural events and are proud of their country's artistic heritage.

Throughout the year there are numerous musical and artistic venues to experience, both indoors and outdoors. For classical music, the city's churches host a range of choral, chamber, and organ recitals, many free of charge. For jazz and blues afficionados, the gardens at Villa Celimontana host premiere musicians for an evening of music under the stars. Throughout the year, the local Accademia di Santa Cecilia stages concerts, with either national artists or visiting orchestras, at Via dei Greci 18, and in the summer concerts are held at the Piazza del Campidoglio. Rome's opera scene concentrates on the Teatro dell' Opera. Winter season is conducted on the Via Firenze; for summer season, the ensemble moves outdoors to Villa Borghese park. Finally, for a colorful open-air theater, Janiculum Hill plays host to Teatro di Pulcinella Puppets on late afternoons and weekend mornings.

Reflecting diverse styles, the magnificence of Rome is preserved through arts and culture. The city is host to hundreds of theaters throughout the streets, in open spaces, and among ancient ruins.

18. Libraries and Museums

Italy has more than 2,400 public libraries and 3,442 museums that store and specialize in information. Some institutions circulate only materials that cover a particular field of studyarchaeology, ancient art, bio-medics, to name a few. With a history as rich as Rome's, it takes numerous institutions to house and display all the ancient treasures. The following is only a partial list of the many libraries: Accademia Dei Lincei, Accademia di Danimarca, Accademia di Ungheria, Accademia Spagnola di Storia, Biblioteca A. Sarti, Angelica, Casanatense, Comunale Rispoli, Belle Donne, Di Storia Moderna E Contemporaena, Raccolta Teatrale Del Burcardo, Nazionale Centrale, Universitaria Alessandrina, Vallicelliana, Vaticana, British Council, Centro Studi Americani, Fondazione Lelio Basso, Fondazione Luigi Einaudi, Goethe Institut, Istituto Austriaco Di Cultura, Istituto di Norvegia a Roma, and Istituto Svizzero Di Roma.

Rome also hosts more than 50 different visual art museums and galleries. Not all are inside structures; some museums operate within the very structure they represent, like the Catacombs.

The oldest art collection in Rome, housed in the Capitoline Museum, was established in 1471 and contains exceptional antiquities. Other Roman museums are the National Museum of the Villa Giulia, which has an outstanding collection of Etruscan and Roman art, and is located in the mid-sixteenth-century country house of Pope Julius II (14431513). The Borghese Gallery, a museum of paintings and sculpture is housed in an early seventeenth-century palace. The National Roman Museum, designed by Michelangelo (14751564), features exhibits of Greek and Roman sculpture, including the Ludovisi collection of antiquities. Important collections of art and decorative pieces can also be seen in the city's other palaces. Among these are the Farnese Palace, built between 1514 and 1589; the mid-fifteenth-century Venetian Palace, with a noted collection of small renaissance bronzes; and the Palazzo Barberini, a seventeenth-century Baroque palace with a remarkable picture gallery.

The Vatican Museum, Viale Vaticano, is open from March through October and offers student pricing. Archaeological museums tend to be closed on Mondays. Several within the city include Antiquarium Comunale, Museo Barracco Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Capitoline Museums Piazza del Campidoglio, Museo Della Civilta' Romana Piazza Giovanni Angel, Museo Nazionale Romano, and Museo Preistorico ed Etnografico L. Pigorini.

For inspirational art, visitors should see Museo Gregoriano Profano, Museo Pio Clementino, Museo Chiaramonti, Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, Museo Storico, Castel Sant'Angelo Museum, National Roman Museum of the Thermae, Museum of Roman Civilization, Natural History Museum, Napoleonic Museum, Palazzo delle Esposizioni Via Nazionale, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Galleria dell; Accademia, Galleria Colonna Via della Pilotta, and Galleria Doria Pamphili.

Museums and monuments to the deceased are also popular places to visit in Rome. One rather unusual place is an eclectic museum devoted to the dead souls trapped in purgatory who leave messages for the living. Admission is free at Museo delle Anime dei Defunti.

Near the Pantheon on Piazza della Minerva is Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Here lies the body of St. Catherine. After her death in 1380, her body was severed from her head, which remained in Siena, the town of her birth.

The Saint Maria della Concezione's Cappuccini monk cemetery is elaborately decorated with the bones of 4,000 monks and a Barberini princess. Located on Via Vittorio Veneto, it is a place of startling spirituality.

19. Tourism

A great number of tourists are attracted to Rome by its Alpine and Mediterranean scenery, sunny climate, archaeological remains, medieval and Baroque churches, Renaissance towns and palaces, painting, sculpture, and famous opera houses. Each province of Italy has a Board of Tourism; in addition, there are more than 300 supplemental listings for further information in Rome.

The latest figures indicate that close to 60 million people visit Italy every year. Tourist dollars spent in 1996 amounted to more than 46 million lira. City authorities estimate more than 40 million pilgrims traveled to Rome during the year 2000.

20. Holidays and Festivals


Lenten season

Ides of March

Easter (The Pope says mass on Holy Friday at the Colosseum.)
Natale di Roma (Rome's birthday is celebrated with fireworks.)
Liberation Day
International Horse Show
Rome Masters Golf Tournament

Labour Day
Foro Italico (Roman International Tennis Championship)
Spanish Steps Azaleas Display

Derby Horse Racing
Anniversary of the Republic
St. Peter's Square papal benediction (Sundays)
Crew race between teams Oxbridge and Aniene

Expo Tevere (artisan fair)

Assumption of the Virgin Mary

National Golf Championship

All Saints Day
National Unity Day
Premio Roma horse race

Birth of the Virgin Mary
Feast of St. Stephen

21. Famous Citizens

Francisco Accorso Accursius (c. 1182c. 1260), jurist and professor, compiled Glossa Magna on Roman law.

Alfieri (17491803), poet.

Saint Ambrose (340397), patron saint.

Fra Angelico (13871455), renaissance painter.

Saint Anthony of Padua (11951231), Franciscan preacher, who holds the record for being canonized in the shortest period of time after his death, less than one year.

Saint Augustine (354430), bishop whom scholars call the greatest thinker in the Latin language.

Augustus Caesar (63 b.c.a.d. 14), the first and perhaps greatest Roman emperor.

Dario Bellezza (194495), poet and novelist.

Saint Benedict (c. 480c. 547), founder of the Benedictine monastic order, patron saint of engineers.

Filippo Brunelleschi (13771446), architect and sculptor.

Enrico Caruso (18731921), tenor.

Saint Clare of Assisi (11981253), revered female of the early Franciscan Order.

Dante (12651321), poet and founder of modern Italian literature with his The Divine Comedy.

Federico Fellini (192093), film director.

Saint Francis of Assisi (11821223), religious figure, founder of the Franciscan Order (1209).

Augustus William Hare (17921824), author of guidebooks and travelogues of Italy and the Mediterranean.

Pope John Paul I (Albino Luciani, 19121978), Catholic Pope.

Julius Caesar (c. 10044 b.c. ), assassinated a month after being named imperial Roman dictator for life.

Niccolo Machiavelli (14691527), author.

Angelo Mariani (182173), music director, collaborator of Verdi.

Saint Mark (d. 68), patron saint of Venice.

Giulietta Masina (192094), actress, wife of Federico Fellini.

Marcello Mastroianni (192496), actor, discovered by Fellini.

Michelangelo Buonarroti (14751564), painter, sculptor and architect, who rejected the restrictions of classical design theory and generated an imaginative approach to architectural composition.

Claudio Monteverdi (15671643), composer.

Niccolo Paganini (d. 1840), violin virtuoso.

Pope Paul VI (Giovanni Montini, 18971978), Catholic pope.

Giacomo Puccini (18581924), composer.

Raphael (14831520), artist.

Gioacchino Rossini (17921868), composer.

Tintoretto (15181594), Venetian painter.

Arturo Toscanini (18671957), conductor.

Giuseppe Verdi (18131901), composer.

Gianni Versace (194697), fashion designer.

Virgil (7019 b.c. ), Rome's champion epic poet, wrote literary masterpiece the Aeneid.

22. For Further Study


Enjoy Rome. [Online] Available (accessed February 7, 2000).

Northern Italy. [Online] Available (accessed February 7, 2000).

Theodora. [Online] Available (accessed February 7, 2000).

Government Offices

Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura
Piazza dell' Indipendendza 6, 00185 Rome
Francesco Paolo Fulci
Ambassador to United Nations

Unione Italiana delle Camere di Commercio
Piazza Sallustio 21, 00187 Rome
Tel: (6) 47041

U. S. Embassy
Via Veneto 119A/121
Tel.: 467 41

Tourist and Convention Bureaus

Dipartimento del Turismo:
Via della Ferratella in Laterano 51, 00184

Ente Nazionale Italiano per il Turisom (ENIT)
Via Marghera 2, 00185


Absalom, R. Italy since 1880: A Nation in the Balance. Harlow, 1995.

Smith, D.M. Modern Italy: A Political History. Yale University Press, 1997.


views updated Jun 08 2018


ROME. From 1500 to 1789, Rome's population grew from about 50,000 to over 160,000. A small civic government maintained some autonomy well into the seventeenth century, but the papacy increasingly controlled local and regional administration, even as its own role in European politics declined. As the center of Catholic Christendom, Rome remained the focal point for the church hierarchy, for numerous religious orders, and for pilgrims. From the 1540s on, concern for doctrinal orthodoxy circumscribed written and artistic expression, but for another two centuries the city of the popes remained a site of cultural creativity and accomplishment, particularly in architecture.


In 1500, papal revenues still came primarily from dioceses and church landholdings throughout Europe. After the Protestant Reformation diminished that source, the popes relied more upon heavy taxation of their territories in central Italy, known as the Papal States. A funded debt established in 1526 helped rationalize the curial economy. By 1600, Rome's administration of its territories was arguably as sophisticated as that of any other European state, but its failure to develop new sources of wealth meant reliance upon deficit spending and foreign patronage. The economy of the city beyond the Curia, built largely around the annual influx of pilgrims, perennially lacked a strong industrial or agricultural base. Bad harvests could readily lead to famines, as happened in 17631764.

Whereas sixteenth-century popes such as Julius II (reigned 15031513) and Paul III (reigned 15341549) engaged in wars with powerful Roman families such as the Colonna, over time the local nobles were subsumed into the church hierarchy. A civic government, the Senate and People of Rome, retained some judicial powers and provided a forum for rallying public opinion. It had influence particularly during periods of vacant see (i.e., between popes). But by 1600 all top state officials were churchmen: a cardinal-chamberlain (camerlengo) headed administration of the papacy's temporal domain, with cardinal-legates governing different regions and a cardinal serving as secretary of state. Thereafter, Roman nobles played an essentially ceremonial role, except to the extent that family members obtained high curial offices.


By 1500, Italian politics were being transformed by the presence of French and Spanish armies. PopeJulius II played the two against each other while strengthening his economic and political hold on the Papal States. By the mid-1520s, however, the might of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, united in the person of Charles V (ruled 15191556), became decisive. Clement VII (reigned 15231534) sought intermittently to form alliances to contain imperial power on the peninsula, but the League of Cognac (formed 22 May 1526), in which the pope joined forces with Venice and France, was too disunified in purpose to prevent an imperial army from sacking Rome on 6 May 1527. Clement VII ultimately made peace with Charles V, and he officially crowned Charles emperor in Bologna in February 1530.

Thereafter, Spanish sovereigns often proved critical in defending Rome and in furthering papal goals beyond Italy. Paul IV (reigned 15551559) bucked this trend, forming with France an alliance designed to drive the Spaniards from Italy, but the strategy backfired when an imperial army under the duke of Alba encamped near Rome in 1557, forcing the pope to make peace. French defeats soon led to the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559), following which Spain enjoyed a uniquely privileged relationship with Rome: Spanish kings exerted influence in the papal court and gained control over substantial church revenues in Spain. In turn, the kings generously endowed religious institutions in Rome and provided military support to the papacy. Meanwhile, the Vatican diplomatic service grew more complex and systematic, especially under Gregory XIII (reigned 15721585) and Clement VIII (reigned 15921605), and it came under official control of cardinals.

By the 1620s, the balance of power between Spain and France shifted temporarily in the direction of the latter, and Urban VIII (reigned 16231644) was elected pope with strong support of French cardinals. Spain remained influential throughout the century, particularly during the pontificate of Alexander VII (reigned 16551667). But following the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which ended the Thirty Years' War, religion became sharply less important in European politics, and so Rome ceased to be as critical to dynastic strategies.


Although the building of Renaissance Rome was well under way by 1500, Pope Julius II gave it added impetus. Seeking to make the city suitably dignified for his ambitions, he sponsored construction projects including the Via Giulia and St. Peter's Basilica (begun 1506). Paul III enhanced the fortifications of the Vatican, employed Michelangelo to restore the city capitol (the Campidoglio), and saw to the construction of major urban thoroughfares. Subsequent pontiffs, notably Sixtus V (15851590), further edified and embellished the city. Classical models inspired both urban design and the building of suburban villas with gardens.

The seventeenth century saw the addition of massive baroque structures, many designed by Francesco Borromini (15991667) and Gian Lorenzo Bernini (15981680). Commissioned in 1638 to build the Church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Borromini later designed its imposing curved facade. Bernini's projects included overseeing the completion of St. Peter's and designing the colonnade that surrounds its square (completed 1667).

In the eighteenth century, elaborate new facades for churches and other buildings transformed the appearance of existing squares and streets. Wealthy families such as the Corsini and the Doria Pamphili commissioned private palaces whose facades vied for attention in the public theater of the city. There was more practical construction, as well: some structures were divided into private apartments of varying size to house the burgeoning ranks of mid-level papal officials, and new buildings were erected for oratories, monasteries, convents, and charitable institutions. By the later eighteenth century, construction was curtailed amidst economic crises, but there was by then a dense core of buildings in central Rome, surrounded on the outskirts by the villas of the wealthy.


Although the Protestant Reformation cut into the papacy's prestige and revenues, Rome remained the world center of the Catholic faith. Starting in the pontificate of Paul III, it was also a center of reform. When the papacy convened the Council of Trent (15451563), which enacted extensive doctrinal and institutional reforms, new religious groups had already emerged, including the Capuchins (1528) and the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits (1540). The latter's zealous and at times controversial promotion of the faith, which could threaten secular rulers' prerogatives, led in 1773 to its temporary suppression by Pope Clement XIV (reigned 17691774). Beginning in the mid-sixteenth century, the Roman Inquisition and the Index of Prohibited Books (first promulgated in 1559) limited the scope of acceptable theological expression but did not entirely stifle other forms of intellectual creativity. The University of Rome, strong before the Sack of 1527, had to shut down for eight years. After reopening, it had mainly regional importance, educating lawyers, mid-level papal and civil officials, and some doctors. Bologna remained the premier university in papal territories. Within Rome, religious orders' schools, especially the Jesuits' Collegio Romano (established 1551), dominated theological education. Literary, scientific, and archaeological culture flourished in the later sixteenth century and beyond, when private collections of manuscripts and antiquities became increasingly fashionable. The constraints of orthodoxy limited radical religious expression, at times forcefully, as in the case of Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake in Rome in 1600. Philosophical, scientific, and literary pursuits that did not directly contravene church dogma flourished, especially in academies such as that of the Lincei (16031630) and the Arcadia, founded in 1690 by scholars who had enjoyed the patronage of Queen Christina of Sweden (d. 1689), who had converted to Catholicism.

The early sixteenth century, a peak period for artistic creativity in Rome, encompassed Michelangelo's painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling (15081512) and Raphael's work in the Vatican stanze (begun 1509). Later influential contributions included Michelangelo's Last Judgment (completed 1541), and around 1600 Rome still drew major painters like Annibale Carracci (15601609) and Caravaggio (15711610). Achievements in architecture reached new heights the following century in the works of Borromini and Bernini, the latter of whom also made enduring contributions to baroque statuary, notably his Ecstasy of St. Theresa (1652) in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, and the Fountain of the Four Rivers (1651) in the Piazza Navona. In the eighteenth century, public spaces were redesigned with an eye to theatricality. Major projects included the Spanish Steps (17231726), the Piazza Sant' Ignazio (17271735), and Nicola Salvi's design for the Trevi fountain (mid-1730s), which still today dominates its piazza.

By 1789, Rome had ceased to be a center even of architectural innovation. Still, prints designed and compiled by the architect and engraver Giovanni Battista Piranesi (17201778) helped disseminate abroad an appreciation for the city's cultural riches, as did its distinction as the final stop on European aristocrats' grand tour. Although Rome's cultural role had waned, the Renaissance, Reformation, and baroque ages would bequeath a rich legacy to future generations, much as the culture of antiquity had done for them.

See also Art: The Conception and Status of the Artist ; Catholicism ; Christina (Sweden) ; Jesuits ; Papacy and Papal States ; Rome, Architecture in ; Rome, Art in ; Rome, Sack of ; Trent, Council of .


Dandelet, Thomas James. Spanish Rome, 15001700. New Haven and London, 2001.

Gross, Hanns. Rome in the Age of Enlightenment: The Post-Tridentine Syndrome and the Ancien Regime. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1990.

Partner, Peter. Renaissance Rome, 15001559: A Portrait of a Society. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1976.

Signorotto, Gianvittorio, and Maria Antonietta Visceglia, eds. Court and Politics in Papal Rome, 14921700. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2002.

Kenneth Gouwens

Rome and The Roman Empire

views updated May 21 2018


ROME AND THE ROMAN EMPIRE. Roman gastronomy, or gluttony, impresses all who read the Latin and Greek literature composed under the great Mediterranean empire of the first four centuries C.E. Feasting was a central feature of Roman society. The cuisine of Rome, much influenced by ancient Greece and the Near East, is the direct ancestor of the national cuisines of most of western Europe.

Ancient texts form one of the source materials for reconstructing Roman food behavior. These texts include scientific and technical writings (such as the earliest surviving recipe book, Apicius, probably compiled in the fourth century C.E.) as well as lively depictions of food, wine, and banquets in classical Latin prose and poetry. Archaeology is is an equally important source of information on this topic. Notable in this context are the finds at Pompeii, the Italian city buried in 79 C.E. by the disastrous eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Historical Outline

Rome was said to have been founded by Romulus and Remus in 753 B.C.E. on the banks of the Tiber in central Italy. It was a country town whose power gradually grew until it was the center of a world empire. In the third and second centuries B.C.E., Rome fought and defeated the Carthaginians of north Africa, a victory that opened the way to Roman domination of the whole western Mediterranean; in the second and first centuries B.C.E., successive victories in Greece, Anatolia (Turkey), Syria, and Egypt extended Rome's power and wealth eastward.

The rule of the first Roman emperor, Augustus (27 B.C.E.14 C.E.), marks the beginning of a four-hundred-year period, unique in history, during which a single political power governed the whole Mediterranean. Travel and trade were relatively free throughout the region and there was intensive cultural interaction. Travel was slow, however: it was a five-month voyage from the Pillars of Hercules (Straits of Gibraltar) to Antioch at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Only foods that were dried, pickled, or salted, and only special wines (see below), would withstand the rigors of such a journey.

Crises in the third and fourth centuries C.E. led to the division of the empire into two parts, which had quite different fates. The Eastern Roman Empire was directly continued in the Byzantine Empire. The Western Roman Empire collapsed, finally disappearing in 476 C.E. However, the "barbarian" kingdoms that took its place inherited Roman dietary ideas and developed a way of life that had many Roman features.

Even before those eastern conquests, Romans had become rich enough to spend their wealth enthusiastically on imported luxuries. Lavish banquets became fashionable, and the price of slave cooks rose steeply. Moralists inveighed against these developments, but they did so in vain. Meanwhile, other changes had affected the Roman diet. The acquisition of new territories provided the opportunity for experimentation in agriculture and food production. Romanization in the provinces encouraged people to demand that what was available in the capital should also be available more widely, especially to Roman legionaries and provincial administrators. The province of Britain, whose conquest began in 43 C.E., provides an example: vines, peaches, walnuts, celery, coriander (cilantro), carrots, and several other important foods were first transplanted to that province in Roman times. Wine, olive oil, olives, figs, lentils, chickpeas, and rice were among the commodities that Roman traders first exported to Britain in response to the popularity of Roman fashions in that region.

Many special features of Roman administrative and economic life left their marks on the food and cuisine of the vast region that was once the Roman Empire. Great frontier armies, whose zones of recruitment ensured movement and mixture of populations, required the delivery of reliable, standardized supplies on well-built roads. Inscriptions show that periodic markets existed: they were held every eight days in Italian towns, twice a month in North Africa, and three times a month in Asia Minor.

The Literature of Food

The oldest Latin prose text, written about 175 B.C.E., is De Agri Cultura (On farming) by the statesman Cato. This work focuses on the two great cash crops of Italywine and olive oiland also includes recipes for cakes and flavored and medicinal wines suitable for farmhouse production. The tradition of Roman agricultural texts culminated in Columella's detailed manual On Agriculture, written about 50 C.E. Columella provides much information on food throughout the manual, as well as a long section (Book 12) full of recipes for household preserves and other food products. Written at about the same date, the Latin encyclopaedia Historia Naturalis (Natural history) by Pliny the Elder contains eight books (1219) on plants and their uses, with special attention to fruits and vegetables. Book 14 is devoted entirely to grapes and wine. Although Latin was the native language of Rome, many medical and scientific texts of the Roman Empire were written in Greek: examples are a dietary manual, On the Properties of Foods, by the imperial physician Galen (129199 C.E.), and a medical and dietary textbook by one of his successors, Oribasius (c. 325400 C.E.). These dietary manuals list foods in great detail, which allowed the reader to work out suitable diets. The manuals also make allowances for seasonal factors and each individual's constitution, lifestyle, and current state of health, in accordance with ancient medical theories. (For English translations of all the texts named in this paragraph see the bibliography.)

Poetry and literary prose give a different perspective on food from that of the technical texts. The personal poetry from the period of Augustus is full of insights on food and dining among the elite, demonstrating the growth of gastronomy and the ways in which food articulated social relations. Authors of this period include Propertius, Horace, and Ovid. Written about one hundred years after the time of Augustus, the picaresque novel Satyrica by Petronius mocks the luxurious lifestyle of the new rich. The series of biographies of emperors by the imperial archivist Suetonius (Lives of the Twelve Caesars, written about 115 C.E.) provides a glimpse into palace lifestyles, in which feasts sometimes turned into Roman orgies. Lives of poorer people are depicted in the fictional Metamorphoses (often translated under the title The Golden Ass ) by Apuleius (born 125 C.E.), and later in the biographies of Christian hermits and saints.

It was common in Roman writing to despise complicated dishes designed for show rather than for taste. Yet, in practice, Romans reveled in the spices and delicacies of the whole ancient world: the pepper of south India and even the cloves of the Spice Islands were prized luxuries. In the recipes of Apicius, the flavor of the main ingredient is often enhanced with ten or fifteen spices and herbs. Rich households must have spent much money and slave labor on the finding of rare ingredients and the elaboration of showpiece dishes. The parrot wrasse (a type of fish) and the dormouse fetched high prices not because of their flavor but because of the way they looked on the table. Peacocks, and peahens' eggs, were in demand among gourmets for their rarity more than their quality.

It was also a commonplace to boast of the freshness and simplicity of the farm produce that one was offering to one's guests. There is a tradition of poetic "invitations to dinner" that demonstrate changes in style as well as individual responses to food fashion, extending from about 50 B.C.E. to 110 C.E.: authors of this genre include Catullus (Poems 13), Horace (Epistles 1.5; Odes 3.29, 4.12), Martial (Epigrams 5.78, 10.48, 11.52), Juvenal (Satires 11), and Pliny the Younger (Letters 1.15).

Staple Foods and Major Flavorings

Rome's status as an overgrown city-state was signaled in one of the special privileges enjoyed by inhabitants of the city: the free bread ration. Interruptions in the wheat supply led to riots. Rome's annexation of Egypt, after Cleopatra's suicide in 30 B.C.E., ensured the continuity of the supply. Thereafter, huge grain ships left Alexandria regularly throughout the sailing season, bringing wheat to Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber. It was on such a ship that St. Paul reached Italy after having been shipwrecked on Malta. Roman bakers baked leavened bread, both white and wholemeal. Small-scale baking required a dome-shaped baking-crock (testum and clibanus ). Archaeologists often find fragments of these. A commercial bakery, complete with fossilized loaves, has been excavated at Pompeii.

The traditional staple food of early Italy had been not wheat bread but puls (porridge made from emmer wheat). The staple diet of the Roman provinces varied considerably, depending on climate and local custom. Barley, although widely considered a respectable, even desirable, staple food in ancient Greece and Italy, was viewed by Roman soldiers as punishment rations. This increased the demand for wheat wherever Roman armies were stationed.

Always in use in the Roman kitchen were olive oil, fish sauce, and wine. All three were manufactured and distributed on a large scale. Garum was the major source of dietary salt: scarcely any Apicius recipes call for pure salt. Grape syrup was also much used in flavoring, as were honey and dates. Many recipes begin with the instruction, "Pound pepper and lovage," a reminder that both exotic spices and local herbs were appreciated (lovage, native to Liguria in northern Italy, is a bitter culinary herb resembling parsley). Other commonly used flavorings were onion, mustard, dill, fennel, rue, savory, thyme, mint, pine kernels, caraway, cumin, ginger, and asafoetida, the central Asian substitute for the silphium that the Greeks had appreciated so much.

Pliny the Elder and Galenboth of whom were wine enthusiasts, judging from their writingsprovide full information on the wines that Romans drank with their meals. Italy had many fine wines to boast of. The famous Caecuban vineyards in Latium (modern Lazio) succumbed to urbanization, but Falernian wine, from hillsides in northern Campania, maintained its reputation throughout the empire. In the world's oldest recorded tradition of wine vintage years, fine wines were labelled with the name of one of the consuls elected for the year. The Opimian vintage (121 B.C.E.) was legendary: Opimian wines were served, already 160 years old, at a banquet given for the emperor Caligula in 39 C.E. Horace addressed an amusing poem to a jar of wine: "born, as I was, when Manlius was consul," (that year was 65 B.C.E.). It was in Roman times that the wine-growing regions of Spain and southern Gaul (France) first came to real economic importance. Long-distance transport of wines was less risky if they were "cooked" and sweetened with honey or grape syrup; it was in this form that Greek wines were enjoyed in Rome. Roman territory eventually extended northward far beyond the latitude at which grapes ripen to full sweetness. In these regions, including northern Gaul and Britain, Roman legionaries developed a taste for local beer, which was usually brewed from malted barley.

Food in Roman Society

City dwellers in imperial Rome, many of whom lived in apartment blocks, had little opportunity to cook: cooking required an open fire, often an unacceptable risk. However. street food was always available to the city dweller. Street stalls and cookshops sold cakes and sweets, mulled wine, hot sausages, hot chickpea soup, and porridge. "In the tavern all are equally free," wrote Juvenal (born 67 C.E.) with an undertone of disapproval. He continues, "all drink from a common cup, the couch is barred to no man, the table is no closer to one than it is to another," (Satires 8.177-8). The philosopher Seneca the Younger (died 65 C.E.) gives us the sounds of the busy street just outside his apartment window: "pancakesellers and a sausage-vendor and a confectioner and all the proprietors of cookshops selling their wares, each in his distinctive accent" (Letters to Lucilius, 56).

Poor countryfolk had to depend largely on food from their own fields and gardens, supplemented by herbs and fruits gathered from the wild. Meat and fish were uncommon in their diets. For a sense of the flavors of a Roman peasant diet, see the poem "Moretum" (c. first century b.c.e.).

For the peasant population of the ancient countryside, food preparation was a shared task, but in general it was the special responsibility of women. Large house-holds had kitchens staffed with slaves, the skilled cook himself often being an expensive and carefully-chosen acquisition.

Romans tended to eat little during the first part of the day: a breakfast (ientaculum ) was a snack that many did not trouble to take at all, and only the greedy wanted a heavy lunch (prandium ). There was no better preparation for a full evening meal, (cena ) the one big meal of the day, than a couple of hours at the baths. These were fashionable meeting places, ideal locations for informal business discussions. One could easily spend a whole evening there, for food and wine were available at bars and restaurants.

Typical larger Roman houses had a special dining room, the triclinium. Three couches arranged in a U-shape, each large enough for three diners, surrounded a central table. A house with a big enough garden might have had a garden dining area, as well, which was shaded by vines and creepers, with three stone couches sloping gently upwards to the middle (cushions and pillows made these comfortable). The open side of the square was for waiters to come and go.

Servants took off guests' sandals as they reclined and brought water to wash their hands. A sequence of dishes began with the appetizer or hors d'oeuvre (gustus ), followed by an aperitif such as honeyed wine (mulsum ) or spiced wine (conditum ). The appetizers were generally more varied and more costly than the main course, though not as bulky. At one religious dinner attended by Julius Caesar, sixteen hors d'oeuvres awaited the priestly celebrants. The appetizers ranged from sea urchin and clams to slices of venison and wild boar.

The main courses were accompanied by bread and wine. Diners ate with their hands, with the occasional help of a knife. Waiters were constantly coming and going, bringing new courses, clearing away dishes, and supplying perfumed water for finger-rinsing. Music and dance from hired performers, usually slaves, often accompanied the drinking, which tended to continue long after the meal itself was over. The emperor Augustus preferred to entertain his guests by employing traditional storytellers.

A napkin, which lay in front of the diners as they reclined, might serve as a knapsack to take home the little gifts (apophoreta ) with which a host would regale his friends as they departed. Similar gifts were given to dependents not lucky enough to be invited to a real dinner. Martial (c. 100 C.E.) wrote a collection of short poems intended to accompany such gifts. They are the most obvious sign that hospitality helped to articulate the patron/client relations that permeated Roman society. The Greek satirist Lucian (second century C.E.) wrote a convincing sketch of daily life in a rich Roman household and addressed it to a friend who had been offered a post as private tutor. Placed at the lowest table, Lucian warned, the friend would be sneered at by slaves and would taste little of the fine cuisine except the mallow leaves that garnished the serving dishes (On Salaried Posts in Great Houses, 26).

Among upper-class Romans, unlike Greeks, the sexes were not segregated at meals. It was said that Roman women once sat demurely at the feet of their husbands' dining couches, but by imperial times the women also reclined. It was said, too, that in the old days women did not drink wine, and that the kiss a Roman husband gave his wife when returning home was a way of assuring himself that this rule had been kept.

See also Ancient Kitchen, The ; Ancient Mediterranean Religions ; Apicius ; Feasts, Festivals, and Fasts ; Greece, Ancient ; Greece and Crete ; Italy ; Luxury ; Petronius ; Wine in the Ancient World .


The standard modern survey of Roman food and the most detailed study of Roman wine are both in French: André, Jacques. L'alimentation et la cuisine à Rome [Food and cuisine in Rome]. 2d ed. (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1981. Tchernia, André. Le Vin de l'Italie romaine [The wine of Roman Italy]. (Rome: Ecole Française de Rome, 1986). Plenty of useful information in English will be found in: Alcock, Joan P. Food in Roman Britain. (Brimscombe Port, Gloucestershire, U.K.: Tempus, 2001); Fleming, Stuart J. Vinum: the Story of Roman Wine. (Glen Mills, Pa.: Art Flair, 2001); Garnsey, Peter. Food and Society in Classical Antiquity. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Slater, William J., ed. Dining in a Classical Context. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991); White, K. D. Roman Farming. (London and New York: Thames and Hudson, 1970); Wilkins, John, David Harvey, and Mike Dobson, eds. Food in Antiquity. (Exeter, U.K.: Exeter University Press, 1995).

Modern translations of most of the Roman literary texts cited in this article are easily found in libraries. For examples of Christian biographies see Russell, Norman, trans. The Lives of the Desert Fathers. (Oxford: Mowbray; Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1981). The following is a list of specialized Roman sources on food that are available in English: Dalby, Andrew, trans. Cato, On farming. (Totnes, Devon, U.K.: Prospect Books, 1998); Ash, Harrison Boyd, E. S. Forster, and Edward H. Heffner, trans. Columella, On Agriculture. 3 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 19411955); Rackham, H., et al., trans. Pliny, Natural History. 10 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 19381963); Grant, Mark. Galen on Food and Diet. (London and New York: Routledge, 2000); Grant, Mark. Dieting for an Emperor: A Translation of Books 1 and 4 of Oribasius' Medical Compilations. (Leiden: Brill, 1997).

For Roman recipes with modern adaptations see: Grant, Mark. Roman Cookery: Ancient Recipes for Modern Kitchens. (London: Serif, 1999); Dalby, Andrew, and Sally Grainger. The Classical Cookbook. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum; London: British Museum Press, 1996. See also under Apicius).

For information on the spice trade see: Miller, J. Innes. The Spice Trade of the Roman Empire. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969); Dalby, Andrew. Dangerous Tastes: the Story of Spices. (London: British Museum Press; Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000). For works on country people and their food see: Frayn, Joan M. Subsistence Farming in Roman Italy. (London: Centaur Press, 1979); Kenny. E. J., ed. Moretum: the Ploughman's Lunch,A Poem Ascribed to Virgil (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1986). For information on markets see: Frayn, Joan M. Markets and Fairs in Roman Italy. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993); de Ligt, L. Fairs and Markets in the Roman Empire. (Amsterdam: Gieben, 1993).

Emily Gowers, in The Loaded Table (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993) explores the hidden meanings of food in Latin poetry: she makes a special study of the poetic invitations to dinner. Andrew Dalby's Empire of Pleasures: Luxury and Indulgence in the Roman Empire (London and New York: Routledge, 2000) is a survey of the empire's foods and other luxuries, showing their use in constructing Roman imperial identity. The best outline of Roman daily life, dated in some ways, but well documented and not superseded, is: Carcopino, Jérôme. Daily Life in Ancient Rome. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940; London: Routledge, 1941).

Andrew Dalby

Ancient Rome

views updated May 14 2018

Ancient Rome

The sexual activities of the Romans and their bawdy depictions in art and literature have for centuries embarrassed scholars who studied Roman society. In fact, the subject of sex was so little explored that it was only in the late 1970s that scholars attempted to define precisely the "naughty" words that had been so scrupulously avoided by the nineteenth-century compilers of the Greek and Latin lexicons. Before the 1970s, when scholars discussed sexual attitudes and practices at all, they did so by unproblematically equating modern conceptions of sexuality to ancient ones. Michel Foucault's 1979 claim that sexuality is constructed and therefore specific to a particular time and place caused scholars to question whether their basic assumptions concerning sexuality and, by extension, gender roles were accurate or useful in understanding the Romans. Since Foucault, a flood of scholarship has explored the constructed nature of Roman sexuality and gender through examinations of literary and material culture. At the same time, however, other scholars found sexual behaviors among the Romans that looked similar to modern ones, especially in reference to modern homosexuality, which led them to take an essentialist stance. John Boswell was chief among those who asserted that sexuality was a stable enough category to justify its study through the centuries (1980). Most scholars now walk a line between the two schools by rejecting the modern homosexuality/heterosexuality dichotomy in favor of an active/passive paradigm in which Roman male citizens exerted their political and social dominance over their partners by playing the active, penetrating role in sexual acts. These same scholars make a nod to the essentialists by acknowledging that while sexuality seems to be constructed, the biological desire for a particular sex is not.


The active/passive paradigm is most clearly seen in evidence from literary sources composed almost exclusively by and for elite Roman citizens. These legal and medical texts, and poetry and public political discourse, display attitudes toward sexual practices that varied considerably based upon the political and social status of the participants. In general, a Roman male citizen could penetrate anyone under his power of a lower social or political status without incurring societal disapproval. This category included slaves, freedmen, foreigners, and prostitutes of both sexes. In this context, the sex of the penetrated partner was not nearly as important as his or her social standing. Indeed, literary sources from as early as the third century bce attach no stigma to a male desiring to penetrate another male be he a boy or fully grown man. So long as the Roman male citizen was the penetrator, he need not worry about a perceived lost of masculinity regardless of the sex of his partner.

Sexual access to Roman citizens was more complicated. Citizens of both sexes were born with pudicitia, a state of inviolability which was destroyed if he or she were sexually penetrated in any orifice. A man was expected to maintain pudicitia throughout his life and indeed this seems to have been a necessary quality if the man wished to become prominent in politics; a woman could maintain her pudicitia so long as she was penetrated only by her husband and only vaginally. The pudicitia of an individual was considered a familial possession since stuprum, the term for the violation of pudicitia, endangered legitimate inheritance in the case of unmarried women and in the case of boys and men, the quality of masculinity so necessary for political life. Stuprum was punished by the paterfamilias, the guardian of the violated party, and punishments could entail the rape or even death of the offender. Roman male citizens who submitted to penetration in any orifice and at any age were mocked as effeminate and sometimes socially shunned as being polluted. The mere accusation of a young man submitting to or desiring stuprum could prevent him from a successful political or military career. Though boys were seen as sexual objects, they were off-limits unless they were of a lower social and political class than the penetrator, and in this the Romans differ from the Greeks and their institutionalized pedophilia.

According to literary sources, female Roman citizens were ideally to limit their sexual experiences to their husbands. Even within marriage, sexual practices were socially prescribed. Though sources suggest that it was unmanly for a male to concern himself with the pleasure of his partner, a woman's orgasm was thought by medical writers either to aid in or be essential for conception. It therefore seems likely that social prescriptions were sometimes disregarded for practical reasons. Yet even when a husband turned his attention to his wife's pleasure, certain practices were still frowned upon: because the mouth was a revered part of the body, fellatio and cunnilingus were thought to be unworthy of a citizen.

In reality, women may well have had sexual relations outside their marriages. Certain social conditions may have facilitated such relationships. In the first centuries bce and ce, women could achieve a degree of financial independence that was unheard of in the ancient world. The traditional form of marriage, which placed the bride financially and legally under the control of her husband and his family, was increasingly displaced by the sine manu form that allowed her to stay under the control of her own father or a guardian. The sine manu arrangement gave the bride financial leverage and helped to balance an essentially unbalanced power relationship (girls could be married as early as twelve while men often waited until their thirties to marry). Under the emperor Augustus, elite Roman women who produced three children, common Roman or Italian women who produced four, and provincial women who produced five were legally allowed to manage their own finances. Some scholars believe that this financial independence allowed for greater sexual freedom. It was also under Augustus that marriage legislation was enacted, forcing men to divorce adulterous wives and forbidding others from marrying these women.

There is little evidence either in literature or in art for sexual encounters between females and modern notions of lesbians; that is, women whose identities are shaped by their sexual preference for women seem to be without Roman parallel. The Greek poetess Sappho and her love of women was well known by Roman authors, though the practice named after her homeland, lesbianism, had little to do with sex between women. Instead, lesbianism was another term for fellatio. When literary sources do mention women having sex with other women, cunnilingus is less prominent than tribadism, in which dildos were employed to please their partners.

Finally, it was common for slaves and some freeborn women to work as prostitutes or pimps. Prostitution was a legalized and socially accepted institution and was even taxed under the emperor Vespasian. Sources attach no stigma to men visiting prostitutes of either sex unless they became emotionally attached to the prostitute or visited too often. On the other hand, prostitutes were marked out from other women by their costume: They were to wear togas, curiously, the garment usually worn only by Roman male citizens. Freeborn prostitutes were seen as social pariahs and under the Empire, elite classes were forbidden to marry them.


The regulation of birth was a regular topic of discussion in medical treatises and poetry. Medical writers were more concerned with methods to aid in conception than prevent it, but the Romans practiced multiple forms of birth control including exposure, barrier methods and chemical treatments. Exposure occurred when, for whatever reason, the father refused to acknowledge a child as his own. Shortly after birth, the baby would then be placed in a trash heap outside the city where she or he would either die of exposure or be rescued and raised as a slave. Predictably, exposure earned the fiery censure of early Christians.

Women were the chief practitioners of other types of birth control. Barrier methods consisted of a wad of wool soaked in olive oil and placed at the mouth of the cervix. Some medical writers prescribed sponges soaked in vinegar or cedar resin used in the same fashion. Chemical treatments came from plants and were ingested or used as pessaries: Silphium, a stalky plant that grew only on the shores of Cyrene, was thought to be particularly effective and by the Imperial period was worth its weight in silver. Queen Anne's Lace seeds were ingested the day after sexual intercourse and seem to have served as an early abortificant.


Evidence from art and material culture presents a far broader range of sexual attitudes and practices than those found in literature, perhaps because material culture addressed a more diverse audience. No more than ten percent of Roman society might be expected to read literature, but art touched society from the grandest to the humblest in both public and private spheres. The quality of Roman art reflects the social standing of its owners; pieces depicting sexual themes range from life-size marble statues to modest clay lamps. Placed in plain view and without embarrassment, wall paintings, statuary, tableware and lamps depict examples of the very acts that literature labeled unworthy of Roman citizens. For example, the famous silver Warren Cup and various high priced cameos present seemingly sympathetic depictions of male homoerotic acts, apparently between men of equal ages and political status, just the sort of arrangement so frowned upon in literature. Likewise, cunnilingus and fellatio are prominently displayed in public and private contexts. Depictions on clay lamps boast sexual orgies consisting of three or even four participants at a time. Images of erect phalluses and the god Priapus, a guardian god whose primary feature is a two-foot-long phallus, were ubiquitous, appearing in such diverse contexts as the entrances to wealthy homes, on street pavers, or shrines painted on the exteriors of house walls. Public bathhouses were often decorated with comic depictions, such as black men, apparently slaves, who sported enormous erect phalluses.

Who created these works, under whose commission and who were the intended audiences are questions currently occupying art historians. Since the 1990s scholars have taken some important steps in unraveling these issues, but there are considerable difficulties in studying sexual life through material culture. Because of the moral scruples of the excavators and collectors, a substantial amount of evidence was destroyed or removed from its context, an act that makes interpretation far more difficult. Early excavators of Pompeii, for example, tore "obscene" images from walls, wrenched statuary from gardens, and thrust moveable objects with sexual themes into secret collections. Until recently, these were kept under lock and key, safely away from the eyes of the impressionable.

Art historians are busily engaged in recontextualizing this art, and their findings have underlined conclusions of Foucault as well as those of Boswell. That is, some art celebrates love between men seemingly of equal ages and classes; the media of this art testifies to an upper class context in which homosexual men were mocked. In this, Boswell's thesis that homosexuality is a useful category of analysis, finds some merit. Yet one need not look far to find depictions that underline the specificity of Roman notions of sexuality. For instance, the Suburban baths at Pompeii feature wall paintings depicting a number of sexual encounters frowned upon in literature. But these seem to be mnemonic devices for remembering where one put one's toga, or by the interpretation of another scholar, in order to cause bathers to laugh and thus avert the evil eye. Likewise the bronze flying phalluses with dangling bells, mosaics of black men sporting enormous phalluses, and images of Priapus are thought to defuse the power of the evil eye by laughter.


Though the demand that a Roman male citizen penetrate rather than be penetrated was clearly an important part in achieving masculinity, it seems to have been only one of several requirements. Early Roman literature points to a definition of virtus, rather weakly translated as "masculinity," which seems to mean aggressive courage in military engagements. The late third century bce and the infusion of Hellenistic culture and philosophy into Rome saw the broadening of this concept to include a number of other traits involving the physical and emotional control of oneself and others. By the second century bce, martial virtus took on a component of restraint, especially in reference to ruling others by keeping the peace in the provinces or at home, or by controlling others through the medium of rhetoric and oratory. Control of one's own body was also a high priority since it allowed others to judge visibly the virtus of a man. Thus literary sources dwell upon cultural codes such as the length of one's tunic and sleeves (the shorter, the manlier), the ability to withstand cold and hunger, and the careful balance struck between grooming the body and effeminately preening. Men who did not control themselves and others were often depicted as effeminate and occasionally accused of playing the passive role in sexual encounters with other men. Curiously, it was these same men, cneidi or pathici, who were accused of blatant and uncontrolled adultery, that is, of violating the pudicitia of married women. These adulterers were not seen as hypermasculine for their ability to seduce married women; rather they were considered effeminate because they were unable to control their passions.

The expanded meanings of virtus sometimes extended to descriptions of women as well as men. In the Republican period there are only a handful of instances when this quality is ascribed to women, and it most often means courage. Under the Empire, however, funerary inscriptions attribute virtus to non-noble women. In these cases, the word seems to indicate the later ethical qualities of the word, especially in terms of restraint. Literary references seem to indicate that women could share masculine qualities with men, but the line between a woman being admirable for such qualities and being presumptuous for stepping out of line was indeed a fine one that could be portrayed positively by friends or negatively by enemies.

In general, the Romans constructed their world in such a way that elite women were expected to stay at home and care for their homes and families. As funerary inscriptions attest, lower class women could and did practice professions, very often those of their husbands. Though the dominant rhetoric envisioned women's intellectual ability or moral fortitude as weaker than men's and thus not fit for political life, the Romans seemed also to recognize that individual women in extraordinary circumstances could carry themselves well in public life. Thus, a fitting closure to this entry seems a selection from the Laudatio Turiae, a funeral inscription for a first-century bce woman erected by her husband:

You became an orphan suddenly before the day of our wedding, when both your parents were murdered together in the solitude of the countryside. It was mainly due to your efforts that the death of your parents was not left unavenged … So strenuously did you perform your filial duty by your insistent demands and your pursuit of justice that I could not have done more if I had been present … How you reacted to this, with what presence of mind you offered resistance, I know full well, although I was absent…. You have innumerable other merits in common with all married women who care for their good name. It is your very own virtues that I am asserting, and very few women have encountered comparable circumstances to make them endure such sufferings and perform such deeds. Providentially Fate has made such hard tests rare for women.

Not only does this inscription underline that some Roman women could navigate through the dangers of dominant gender definitions which marginalized them, it also hints at very real dangers women faced in everyday life: seeing to family businesses, managing finances and raising children alone while men were at war, surviving the dangers of childbirth, and seeing to their own personal safety.


Adams, J. N. 1990. The Latin Sexual Vocabulary. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Boswell, John. 1980. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century. Chicago, London: University of Chicago Press.

Cantarella, Eva. 1987. Pandora's Daughters: The Role and Status of Women in Greek and Roman Antiquity. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Clarke, John R. 1998. Looking at Lovemaking: Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art, 100 B.C.–A.D. 250. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Clarke, John R. 2003. Roman Sex, 100 B.C.–A.D. 250. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Corbeill, A. 1996. Controlling Laughter: Political Humor in the Late Roman Republic. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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Flemming, R. 2000. Medicine and the Making of Roman Women: Gender, Nature, and Authority from Celsus to Galen. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

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Hemelrijk, Emily Ann. 1999. Matrona Docta: Educated Women in the Roman élite from Cornelia to Julia Domna. London and New York, Routledge.

Henderson, J. 1975. The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Attic Comedy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Joshel, S. R., and S. Murnaghan. 1998. Women and Slaves in Greco-Roman Culture: Differential Equations. London and New York: Routledge.

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McDonnell, M. A. 2006. Roman Manliness: Virtus and the Roman Republic. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press.

McManus, Barbara F. 1997. Classics & Feminism: Gendering the Classics. New York and London: Twayne Publishers and Prentice Hall International.

Pomeroy, S. B. 1975. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity. New York: Schocken Books.

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                                   Julie Langford-Johnson

Rome (Ancient Religion & Magic)

views updated May 29 2018

Rome (Ancient Religion & Magic)

Magical practice was widespread among the ancient Romans. Magic was integral to their worship and operated as an organized system of magical rites for communal ends. Magic formed a foundation for thought and outlook upon the world, entered daily life, and directly affected many laws and customs. This ingrained tendency eventually developed into a broad polytheistic system, which led during bad times, especially in the later years of the Empire, to a frenzied search for new gods, borrowed from various countries Rome had conquered. In times of misfortune and disaster, the Romans were always ready to utilize a non-Roman deity if his or her favors promised more than those of their own deities.

Although there was a strong conservative element in the populous, and the "custom of the elders" was strongly upheld by the priestly fraternity, this usually gave way before the momentary impulses of the people. Thus, as a rock shows its geological history by its differing strata, so the theogony of the Roman gods tells its tale of the race that conceived it. There are prehistoric nature deities, borrowed from indigenous tribes; gods of the Sabines, from whom the young colony stole its wives; gods of the Etruscans, and of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Persians. The temple of Jupiter on the capitol contained the altar of an ancient deity, a stone-god, Terminus, the spirit of boundaries. In the temple of Diana of the Grove, a fountain nymph was worshiped. Additional instances of this kind abound.

Belief in Spirits

In addition to the gods, the spirits needed to be propitiated. Indeed the objects offered to the Roman for veneration were seemingly numberless. Apuleius gave a description of popular supernaturalism when he told of a country road where one might meet an altar wreathed with flowers, a cave hung with garlands, an oak tree laden with horns of cattle, a hill marked by fences as sacred, a log rough-hewn into shape, an altar of turf smoking with libations, or a stone anointed with oil.

Every single action of man's daily life had a presiding spirit, as did commerce and husbandry. Ednea was concerned with eating and Potina with drinking. Other spirits oversaw departures, travel, approaching, and homecoming. In commerce Mercurius reigned as the spirit of gain and Pecunia of money. Farmers had to pay attention to the spirits of cutting, grinding, sowing, and bee-keeping. A deity presided over streets and highways; Cloacina served as goddess of the sewers, while the lowly Mephitis was the spirit of bad smells. Spirits of evil, such as Robigo, the spirit of mildew, also had to be propitiated by pacificatory rites. In Rome there was an altar to fever and bad fortune.

From the country came Silvanus, god of farms and woods, and his fauns and nymphs with Picus, the woodpecker god who fed the twins Romulus and Remus with berries. Each deity or spirit possessed some influence, and had to be approached with proper rites. The names of these spirits were inscribed on tablets, indigitamenta, which were in the charge of the pontiffs (priests), who thus knew which spirit to evoke according to need. Most of these spirits were animistic in origin.

Rites and Worship

Worship in ancient Rome consisted largely of magical rites destined to propitiate the powers controlling human beings, to bring people into touch with those powers, to renew life and the land that supported it, and to stop that process of degeneration constantly set in motion by evil influences. Everything connected with worship typified this restoration. The priests, who represented the life of the community, were therefore bound by strict observances from endangering it in any way. Rules as to attire, eating, and touch were numerous. Sacrifices were systematized according to the end desired and the deity invoked.

Worship instructions designated the age and gender of all animal sacrifices; oxen were to be offered to Jupiter and Mars, and swine to Juno, Ceres the corn-goddess, and Silvanus. At one shrine, a pregnant cow was sacrificed and the ashes of the unborn young were considered to be of special magical efficacy. Even human sacrifice existed within historical times. After the battle of Cannæ, the Romans sought to divert misfortune by burying two Greeks alive in the cattle-market, while in the time of Julius Cæsar, two men were put to death with sacrificial solemnities by the pontiff and flamen of Mars. Again, in the time of Cicero and Horace, boys were killed for magical purposes.

Fire possessed great virtue and was held sacred in the worship of Vesta, in early belief Vesta being the fire itself; it presided over the family hearth; it restored purity and conferred protection.

Blood had the same quality and, smeared on the face of the god, symbolized and brought about the oneness of the deity with the community. On great occasions the statue of Jupiter was treated thus: the priests of Bellona made incisions in their shoulders and sprinkled the blood upon the image. The face of a triumphant general was painted with vermilion to represent blood.

Kneeling and prostration brought one into direct contact with the earth of the sacred place.

Music was also used as a species of incantation, probably deriving its origin in sounds made to drive away evil spirits. Dancing too was of magical efficacy. In Rome there were colleges of dancers for the purposes of religion, youths who danced in solemn measure about the altars, who, in the sacred month of Mars, took part in the festivals and were sent throughout the city dancing and singing. One authority stated that there were four kinds of "holy solemnity"sacrifice, sacred banquets, public festivals, and games. Theatrical performances also belonged to this category, in one instance being used as a means of diverting a pestilence.

Sacred banquets were often decreed by the Senate as thanksgiving to the gods. Tables were spread with a sumptuous repast in the public places and were first offered to the statues of the deities seated around.

The festivals were numerous, all of a magical and symbolic nature. In the spring there was the Parilia, when fires of straw were lighted, through which persons passed to be purified, and the Cerealia, celebrated with sacrifice and offerings to Ceres, the corn-goddess, and followed by banquets. The Lupercalia, the festival of Faunus, was held in February and symbolized the wakening of spring and growth. Goats were slain as sacrifice and with their blood the Luperci, youths clad in skins, smeared their faces. They took thongs made of the goatskin and, laughing wildly, rushed through the city striking the crowd, Roman matrons believing that the blows thus received rendered them prolific.

Juno, the goddess of marriage and childbirth, also had her festival, the Matronalia, celebrated by the women of Rome. During festivals of the dead, the door leading to the other world was opened, the stone removed from its entrance in the Comitium, and the dark spirits who came forth were appeased with offerings. On these days, three times in the year, when the gods of gloom were abroad, complete cessation from all work was decreed. No battle could be fought nor ship set sail, neither could a man and woman marry.

To the sacred games were taken the statues of the gods in gorgeous procession, chariots of silver, companies of priests, and youths singing and dancing. The gods viewed the games reclining on couches.

The chariot races also partook of the nature of rites. After the races, in the Field of Mars, came one of the most important Roman rites, the sacrifice of the October Horse. The righthand horse of the victorious team was sacrificed to Mars, and the tail of the animal, running with blood, carried to the Altar of the Regia. The blood was stored in the temple of Vesta until the following spring and used in the sacrifice of the festival of Parilia. The sacrifice was essentially magical, all citizens present being purified by the blood-sprinkling and bonfire.

The Roman outlook upon life was largely colored by magic. Bodily foes had their counterpart in the unseen world wandering spirits of the dead, spirits of evil, the anger of innocently offended deities, and the menace of the evil eye. Portents and prodigies were everywhere. In the heavens, strange things might be seen. The sun had been known to double, even treble itself, its light turn to blood, or a magical halo to appear round the orb. Thunder and lightning were always fraught with presage. Jove was angered when he opened the heavens and hurled his bolts to earth.

Phantoms, too, hovered amid the clouds. Upon the Campagna, the gods were observed in conflict, and afterward tracks of the combatants were visible across the plain. Unearthly voices were heard amid the mountains and groves and cries of portent sounded within the temples.

Blood haunted the Roman imagination. Sometimes it was said to have covered the land as a mantle, the standing corn dyed with blood, the rivers and fountains flowing with it, while walls and statues were covered with a bloody sweat.

The flight and song of birds might foretell the decrees of Fate; unappeased spirits of the dead were known to lurk near and steal away the souls of men, who then died. All these happenings were attributable to the gods and spirits, who, if the portent was one of menace, must be propitiated, if one of good fortune, thanked with offerings.

Down to later times, this deep belief in the occurrence of prodigies persisted. When Otho set out for Italy in 69 C.E. , Rome rang with reports of a gigantic phantom rushing forth from the Temple of Juno and of the statue of Julius turning from east to west.

Divination and Augury

Divination was connected with Roman worship. There was a spot on the Capitol from which the augur, with veiled head, read the auspices in the flight of birds. Augurs also accompanied armies and fleets and read the omens before an engagement was entered upon. Divination was also practiced by reading the intestines of animals, by dreams, by divine possession, as in the case of the Oracles, when prophecies were uttered. These had been gathered together in the Sibylline Books and were consulted as oracles by the state. With the worship of fortune were connected the Lots of Praœneste. The questions put to the goddess were answered by means of oaken lots a boy drew from a case made of sacred wood. The fortune-tellers also used a narrow-necked urn that, filled with water, only allowed one lot at a time to rise. Astrologers from Chaldea were also much sought after and were attached to the kingly and noble houses.

Familiar things of everyday life took on magical import. Words and numbers, especially odd ones, were of special significance. The Kalends, Nones, and Ides were so arranged as to fall upon odd days. Touch was binding, and so recognized in the law of Rome, as the grasp of a thing sold, from a slave to a turf of distant estate. Knotting and twisting of thread was injurious, so that women must never pass by cornfields twisting their spindles.

A strange sympathy existed between the trees and humankind, and great honor was paid to the sacred trees of Rome. On the oak tree of Jupiter, the triumphant general hung the shield and arms of his fallen foe, while the hedges about the Temple of Diana at Nemi were covered with votive offerings. The trees also harbored the spirits of the dead, who came forth as dreams to the souls of men. Pliny the Elder stated in this matter:

"Trees have a soul since nothing on earth lives without one. They are the temples of spirits and the simple countryside dedicates still a noble tree to some god. The various kinds of trees are sacred to their protecting spirits: the oak to Jupiter, the laurel to Apollo, olive to Minerva, myrtle to Venus, white poplar to Hercules."

These trees therefore partook of the nature of their presiding spirits and it was desirable to bring about communion with their magical influence, as in the spring, when laurel boughs were hung at the doors of the flamens and pontiffs, and in the temple of Vesta, where they remained hanging until the following year. Trees and their leaves were also possessed of healing and purifying value. Laurel was used for the latter quality after triumphs, when the spears and javelins of legionaries were wreathed with its branches to purify them from the blood of the enemy.

Man himself had a presiding spirit, his genius, each woman her "Juno" and the Saturnalia was really a holiday for this "other self." The Roman kept his birthday in honor of his genius. He would offer frankincense, cakes, and unmixed wine on an altar garlanded with flowers while making solemn prayers for the coming year. Cities and villages had their genii.

Beliefs About Death

Death was believed to be the life and soul enticed away by revengeful ghosts, hence death would never occur save by such agencies. The dead therefore must be appeased with offerings or else they wandered abroad working evil among the living.

One manifestation of this belief appeared in Ovid's lines, "Once upon a time the great feast of the dead was not observed and the manes failed to receive the customary gifts, the fruit, the salt, the corn steeped in unmixed wine, the violets. The injured spirits revenged themselves on the living and the city was encircled with the funeral fires of their victims. The townsfolk heard their grandsires complaining in the quiet hours of the night, and told each other how the unsubstantial troop of monstrous specters rising from their tombs, shrieked along the city streets and up and down the fields."

Beans were used in the funeral feasts. They were supposed to harbor the souls of the dead, and the bean-blossom to be inscribed with characters of mourning.

Dreams were considered of great importance by the Romans and many historical instances of prophetic dreams may be found. They were thought to be like birds, the "bronze-colored" hawks; they were also thought to be the souls of human beings visiting others in their sleep or the souls of the dead returning to earth. In Virgil much may be found on this subject. Lucretius tried to find a scientific reason for dreams; Cicero, although writing in a slighting manner of the prevalent belief in these manifestations of sleep, recorded dreams of his own.

Sorcery & Witchcraft

Sorcery in all its forms, from love-magic to death-magic, was rife among all classes, as were necromantic practices. There were charms and spells for everything under the sun. The rain-charm of the pontiffs consisted of the throwing of puppets into the Tiber. The charm against thunderbolts was compounded of onions, hair, and sprats. The charm against an epidemic required the matrons of Rome to sweep the temple-floors with their hair. There were many more charms, including the simple love-charm strung around the neck of the country maiden.

Witches were prevalent. The poets often chose these sinister figures for their subjects, as when Horace described the ghastly rites of two witches in the cemetery of the Esquiline. Under the light of the new moon they crawled about looking for poisonous herbs and bones. They called the specters to a banquet consisting of a black lamb torn to pieces with their teeth, and afterward these phantoms had to answer the questions of the sorceresses.

Witches made images of their victims and prayed to the infernal powers for help; hounds and snakes glided over the ground, the moon turned to blood, and as the images were melted so the lives of the victims ebbed away.

Virgil gives a picture of a sorceress performing love-magic by means of a waxen image of the youth whose love she desired. Lucan, in his Pharsalia, discusses Thessaly, notorious in all ages for sorcery, and drew a terrific figure of Erichtho, a sorceress of illimitable powers, one whom even the gods obeyed, and to whom the forces of earth and heaven were bond-slaves.

Both Nero and his mother Agrippina were reported to have had recourse to the infamous arts of sorcery, while in the New Testament may be found testimony as to these practices in Rome.

The attitude of the cultured class towards magic is illustrated by an illuminating passage to be found in the writings of Pliny the Elder. He states,

"The art of magic has prevailed in most ages and in most parts of the globe. Let no one wonder that it has wielded very great authority inasmuch as it embraces three other sources of influence. No one doubts that it took its rise in medicine and sought to cloak itself in the garb of a science more profound and holy than the common run. It added to its tempting promises the force of religion, after which the human race is groping, especially at this time. Further it has brought in the arts of astrology and divination. For everyone desires to know what is to come to him and believes that certainty can be gained by consulting the stars. Having in this way taken captive the feelings of man by a triple chain, it has reached such a pitch that it rules over all the world and in the East, governs the King of Kings."

Ancient Rome

views updated May 18 2018

Ancient Rome

The most powerful of the ancient empires, the civilization that became the Roman Empire rose from humble origins as a city in central Italy. At the height of its power, the Roman Empire stretched from Spain in the west to present-day Syria in the east, and from Egypt in the south to Britain in the north. The story of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, including what the Romans wore during this fascinating era, has captivated historians for two thousand years.

From city to empire

Legend has it that the city of Rome was founded in 753 b.c.e. by Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of the god Mars, who had been raised by wolves. They established a small town that grew, over time, into a small city that controlled the surrounding region. Rome was one of many small city-states on the Italian peninsula. The most powerful of these city-states was inhabited by the Etruscans, who dominated most of Italy from about 800 b.c.e. until they finally were defeated by the Romans in 250 b.c.e. These small cities, and especially the Etruscans, had a great influence on the developing Roman civilization. Many of the cultural and costume traditions of the Romans were borrowed from the Etruscans.

Initially ruled by a king, in 509 b.c.e. the powerful families of Rome took control of the city-state and established it as a republic, with representatives of the citizens of the city choosing people to form a ruling senate. This began a long period of Roman history known as the Roman Republic (50927 b.c.e.). At first only the wealthiest members of Roman society could join the government, but over time more of the poorer citizens, called plebeians, gained access to power. It was not a perfect democracy, but many people had the right to vote and thus to call themselves citizens. During the republic the Romans grew more powerful, and slowly they extended their rule. First they took control of much of the Italian peninsula, and then they extended their control into present-day Greece, Spain, and northern Africa. But the rise of powerful armies and the problems with managing an expanding society brought the republic many troubles that were soon addressed by a change in government.

In 27 b.c.e. a new era in Roman history began when a powerful general established himself as the first Roman emperor, thus beginning a period known as the Roman Empire (27 b.c.e.476 c.e.). This emperor, Augustus (63 b.c.e.14 c.e.), took full control of the empire, and he ruled over an era known as the Pax Romana, or Roman peace. For nearly two hundred years the empire flourished. New cities were created and trade with other societies expanded. The empire as a whole grew very rich. Conflict between the rulers of different cities, each with their own armies, soon began to tear the empire apart in a long civil war. The emperor Diocletian (c. 245c. 316) reorganized the empire in 293 c.e., creating a Western Roman Empire centered in Rome and an Eastern Roman Empire centered in modern-day Turkey. These were united in 324 c.e. under an emperor known as Constantine the Great (c. 285337 c.e.), yet even Constantine could not hold the empire together. The Western Empire slowly crumbled, attacked by armies from outside and beset by economic trouble from within, and ended in 476 c.e. The Eastern Roman Empire survived, however, as the Byzantine Empire, which lasted until 1453 c.e.

Triumphs and excesses of the empire

The great power that the Roman Empire held in the ancient world led to many accomplishments. Romans build a vast system of roadways and waterways that connected Europe and parts of the Middle East. They created a system of republican government, in which power lies with a group of citizens versus a supreme ruler, which lasted for several hundred years. And they established trade networks that stretched throughout the world, including a thriving trade with China and the Far East. Yet the great successes of Rome also brought troubling changes. The once sparing and simple Romans became lovers of luxury. The rulers had such great power and wealth that they felt anything was possible. The legend that the third-century-b.c.e. emperor Nero played his fiddle while the city of Rome burned has become a symbol for an uncaring ruler. The vicious combat that occurred in the arenas of Rome among gladiatorssoldiers who fought to the death as public entertainment for ancient Romansalso showed a lack of concern for human life. Rome's leaders lost the support of their citizens, and eventually the empire could not hold together.

These larger historical changes can be seen in the way that Romans dressed and decorated themselves. Over the entire history of Roman civilization, a few garments provided the basis for the Roman wardrobe. Yet as Rome grew wealthier, these garments became more highly decorated and were made from richer fabrics. Romans became great lovers of jewelry and did not hesitate to display their wealth by wearing numerous jewels. As more and more Romans earned enough money to buy expensive fabrics and adornments, Roman politicians began to limit access to various clothing styles by passing sumptuary laws, which regulated what people could wear and how much money they could spend. Roman clothing also shows the influence of territorial expansion, as the Romans adopted the clothing styles of those they conquered in northern Europe and the fabrics of the Orient. Today we remember Roman clothing through the popular image of the toga, but the Roman clothing tradition offers many other fascinating insights into this amazing ancient society.


Batterberry, Michael, and Ariane Batterberry. Fashion: The Mirror of History. New York: Greenwich House, 1977.

Hart, Avery. Ancient Rome!: Exploring the Culture, People, and Ideas of This Powerful Empire. Charlotte, VT: Williamson, 2002.

Hunt, Alan. Governance of the Consuming Passions: A History of Sumptuary Law. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.

Nardo, Don. The Ancient Romans. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 2001.

The Roman Empire. (accessed on July 11, 2003).

Simpson, Judith. Ancient Rome. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1997.

Steele, Philip. Clothes and Crafts in Roman Times. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens, 2000.

Symons, David J. Costume of Ancient Rome. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

Sumptuary Laws Regulate Luxury
Roman Clothing
Roman Headwear
Roman Body Decorations
Roman Footwear


views updated Jun 11 2018


Ancient capital of the Roman Empire, later the headquarters of the Papacy and an important center of patronage and artistic innovation during the Renaissance. At the fall of the western empire in the fifth century, Rome entered a chaotic period when the city was subject to invasion by barbarian tribes and civil war among its most powerful families, the Colonna and the Orsini. The emergence of the Papacy gave the city prominence in the late Middle Ages. After the schisms within the church were settled in the early fifteenth century, the Papacy was established permanently in the city. The city attracted artists from all over Italy with its ancient ruins and monuments that inspired them to emulate the architectural styles of antiquity.

Pope Nicholas V, whose reign began in 1447, invited scholars and artists to the city and commissioned Leon Battista Alberti to design a new basilica. The new Saint Peter's Basilica was constructed over the next century from the plans of Alberti, Donato Bramante, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Raphael, and several other renowned artists and architects. Pope Sixtus IV established the Vatican Library in 1475, began construction on the Sistine Chapel, and ordered new roads to clear away the city's dark and sinister medieval alleys.

Rome became a major political center as the popes expanded their authority to the Papal States in central Italy and contended for power in northern Italy. The city was occupied by the French in 1494 and in 1527 sacked by the mutinous troops of the Emperor Charles V. In the meantime, several popes gained a reputation for nepotism and corruption, and the city remained a lawless place where murder and riots were frequent occurrences. Under Pope Julius II, Leo X, and Clement VII, Rome became a thriving artistic center of the Renaissance, the home of new churches, palaces, and masterpieces created by Michelangelo, Bramante, and Raphael. At the same time, the popes and the Catholic Church were being directly challenged by the Protestant Reformation sweeping northern Europe. By convening the Council of Trent, Pope Paul III attempted to reform the church and return Protestant territories to the religious authority of Rome. The Catholic Reformation that followed discouraged new scholarship and placed new restrictions on the style and subject of art and literature, with an Index banning certain works entirely and an Inquisition accusing and trying many for religious heresy. The popes ended the lavish feasts and festivals that had entertained the city, and adopted new costumes and regalia meant to display the church's more devout, somber, and modest character. Under Pope Sixtus V, the Papacy established a large police force and banned all manner of unruly behavior, from prostitution to public assembly to dueling. Pope Sixtus cleared away many old neighborhoods in order to make Rome a more welcoming center for religious pilgrims. By the end of the Renaissance the city had been completely transformed, with new churches and palaces raised in the new style largely inspired by the city's ancient ruins.

See Also: Julius II; Papacy; Papal States; Sack of Rome


views updated May 17 2018

Rome according to tradition the ancient city was founded by Romulus (after whom it is named) in 753 bc on the Palatine Hill; as it grew it spread to the other six hills of Rome (Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline, Esquiline, Viminal, and Quirinal). Rome was ruled by kings until the expulsion of Tarquinius Superbus in 510 bc led to the establishment of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire.

By the time of the empire's fall the city was overshadowed politically by Constantinople, but emerged as the seat of the papacy and as the spiritual capital of Western Christianity. In the 14th and 15th centuries Rome became a centre of the Renaissance. It remained under papal control, forming part of the Papal States, until 1871, when it was made the capital of a unified Italy.

In allusive use, Rome is traditionally seen as standing for the Roman Empire or the Roman Catholic Church: the heart and emblem of a major power.
Rome was not built in a day proverbial saying, mid 16th century, used to warn against trying to achieve too much at once.
Treaty of Rome a treaty setting up and defining the aims of the European Economic Community. It was signed at Rome on 25 March 1957 by France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
when in Rome, do as the Romans do proverbial saying, late 15th century, meaning that you should conform to the customs of the society you find yourself in; St Ambrose, the 4th-century bishop of Milan, wrote in a letter, ‘When I go to Rome, I fast on Saturday, but here [Milan] I do not. Do you also follow the custom of whatever church you attend.’

See also Roman, Romans.

Rome, ancient

views updated May 17 2018

Rome, ancient Capital of the Roman republic. According to tradition, Romulus and Remus founded Rome in 753 bc. By 509 bc, the Latin-speaking Romans had thrown off the rule of Etruscan kings, and established an independent republic dominated by an aristocratic elite. Its history was one of continual expansion, and by 340 bc Rome controlled Italy s of the River Po. By the 3rd century bc, the plebeian class had largely gained political equality. The Punic Wars gave it dominance of the Mediterranean in the 2nd century bc, when major eastward expansion began with the conquest of the Greek lands around the Aegean. Social division and military dictatorship placed strain on the republic. Spartacus' slave revolt was crushed by Pompey, who emerged as Sulla's successor. Pompey and Julius Caesar formed the First Triumverate (60 bc). Caesar emerged as leader and greatly extended Rome's territory and influence. His assassination led to the formation of the Roman Empire under Augustus (27 bc).


views updated May 17 2018

Rome (Roma) Capital of Italy, on the River Tiber, w central Italy. Founded in the 8th century bc, it was probably an Etruscan city-kingdom in the 6th century bc. The Roman Republic was founded in c.500 bc. By the 3rd century bc, Rome ruled most of Italy and began to expand overseas. In the 1st century ad, the city was transformed as successive emperors built temples, palaces, public baths, arches, and columns. It remained the capital of the Roman Empire until ad 330. In the 5th century, Rome was sacked during the Barbarian invasions, and its population (already in decline) fell rapidly. In the Middle Ages, Rome became the seat of the papacy. In 1527, it was sacked by the army of Charles V. The city began to flourish once more in the 16th and 17th centuries. Italian troops occupied it in 1870, and in 1871 it became the capital of a unified Italy. The 1922 Fascist march on Rome brought Mussolini to power, and he did much to turn Rome into a modern capital city. It is also home to the Vatican City. Industries: tourism, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, oil refining, engineering, textiles, films, printing and publishing, banking and finance. Pop. (2001) 2,656,000.