Culture in the Ancient Roman Republic

An introduction to the culture of Rome, especially the Roman Republic

The early Romans adopted culture from their neighbors, the Greeks, and Etruscans, in particular, but imprinted their unique stamp on their borrowings. The Roman Empire then spread this culture far and wide, affecting diverse areas of the modern world. For instance, we still have colosseums and satire, for entertainment, aqueducts to supply water, and sewers to drain it. Roman-built bridges still span rivers, while distant cities are located along remnants of actual Roman roads. Going further and higher, the names of Roman gods pepper our constellations. Some parts of Roman culture are gone but remain intriguing. Chief among these are the gladiators and death games in the arena.

Roman Colosseum

The Roman Coliseum in the early morning
Robin-Angelo Photography / Getty Images

The Colosseum in Rome is an amphitheater. It was developed as an improvement over the Circus Maximus for gladiatorial combats, wild beast fights (venationes), and mock naval battles (naumachiae).


Portrayal of the ancient Roman army, with gladiators and chariot race at Jerash, Jordan. Jerash is the only place where the performances can be experienced in a genuine Roman setting.
Celia Peterson / Getty Images

In ancient Rome, gladiators fought, often to the death, to entertain crowds of spectators. Gladiators were trained in ludi ([sg. ludus]) to fight well in circuses (or the Colosseum) where the ground surface was covered with blood-absorbing harena, or sand (hence, the name 'arena').

Roman Theater

Roman Theatre Of Palmyra, Syria
Nick Brundle Photography / Getty Images

Roman theater began as a translation of Greek forms, in combination with native song and dance, farce and improv. In Roman (or Italian) hands, the materials of Greek masters were converted to stock characters, plots, and situations that we can recognize today in Shakespeare and even modern sitcoms.

Aqueducts, Water Supply and Sewers in Ancient Rome

Aquaduct, Rome
David Soanes Photography / Getty Images

The Romans are renowned for engineering marvels, among which is the aqueduct that carried water for many miles in order to provide a crowded urban population with relatively safe, potable water and water for latrines. Latrines served 12 to 60 people at once with no dividers for privacy or toilet paper. The main sewer of Rome was the Cloaca Maxima, which emptied into the Tiber River.

Roman Roads

Empty Narrow Street Of Pompeii
Ivan Celan / EyeEm / Getty Images

Roman roads, specifically viae, were the veins and arteries of the Roman military system. Through these highways, armies could march across the Empire from the Euphrates to the Atlantic.

Roman and Greek Gods

Italy, Rome, Ara Pacis Augustae, erected 13-9 B.C., relief depicting goddess Tellus, two children and two women symbolizing fertility: 'Water' on sea monster and the 'Air' on swan, detail
DEA / G. NIMATALLAH / Getty Images

Most of the Roman and Greek Gods and Goddesses share enough attributes to be considered roughly the same, but with a different name -- Latin for the Roman, Greek for the Greek

Ancient Roman Priests

Sermon in the Colosseum, published in 1878
A sermon in the Colosseum. ZU_09 / Getty Images

Ancient Roman priests were administrative officials rather than mediators between men and gods. They were charged with performing the religious rituals with exactness and scrupulous care so as to maintain the gods' good will and support for Rome.

History and Architecture of the Pantheon

Pantheon, Rome, Italy
Achim Thomae / Getty Images

The Roman Pantheon, a temple for all gods, is comprised of a huge, domed brick‐faced concrete rotunda (43.3 meters high and wide) and an octastyle Corinthian, rectangular portico with granite columns.

Roman Burial

Mausoleum of Hadrian
Mausoleum of Hadrian in Rome. Slow Images / Getty Images

When a person died, he would be washed and laid out on a couch, dressed in his finest clothes and crowned, if he had earned one in life. A coin would be placed in his mouth, under the tongue, or on the eyes so he could pay the ferryman Charon to row him to the land of the dead. After being laid out for 8 days, he would be taken out for burial.

Roman Marriage

Italy, Latium region, Rome, Roman marble sarcophagus with relief depicting nuptial rite, celebration of marriage
Roman marble sarcophagus with relief depicting nuptial rite. DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI / Getty Images

In ancient Rome, if you planned to run for office, you could increase your chances of winning by creating a political alliance through the marriage of your children. Parents arranged marriages to produce descendants to tend the ancestral spirits. 

Important Figures in Greek and Roman Medicine

Roman surgeon's knife, close-up, National Archaeological Museum, Rome
A Roman surgeon's tool kit contained forceps, scalpels, catheters and arrow extractors. The tools had various uses and were boiled in hot water before each use. Danita Delimont / Getty Images

The Greeks and Romans contributed greatly to the field of medicine, advancing it substantially from a magic-based process to one involving regimens, like diet and exercise, and observation, diagnosis, and more.

Greek and Roman Philosophers

Roman philosphers
A ancient Roman sculpture of the philosopher Plato. Getty Images/iStock/romkaz

There isn't a clean line of demarcation between Greek and Roman philosophy. The better known Greek philosophers were of the ethical variety, like Stoicism and Epicureanism which were concerned with the quality of life and virtue.