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Study Latin to Learn Everything About The Greco-Roman culture

By Yann, published on 22/06/2018 Blog > Academia > Latin > Learn Latin To Understand The Roman Civilisation

The Roman and Greek Empire, not only left behind them ancient languages that somehow still survived today, but they also left a huge heritage and mark on the land they conquered.

Even though both empires fell, they created the foundation of the European civilisation.

The Roman civilisation is so wide and complex that hundred if not thousands of books have been written to attempt to retrace, understand and rediscover an Empire that disappeared more than 1,500 years ago.

The Roman centurions were the corner stone of the Imperial Armies. Roman centurions lead the Empire’s legions into battle and were the most common officers in the Roman army. They had about 80 soldiers under their command. ( by hans s)

One article on Superprof could never cover all of the Gaul’s conquests by Julius Caesar (100 to 44BC, who wrote the famous De Bello Gallico) or the reign of Marcus Aurelius (121 to 180AD) or even attempt to cover the complexity of the everyday life of the Roman citizen under the Roman Republic era (until the 1st century BC).

If you have studied Latin, which is rare these days, you will probably have followed the new teaching methods that not only include the Latin declension and the Latin grammar but which also covers the culture of the Greco-Roman world.

This article is far from being complete but we hope that it will give you a good overview of the Roman civilisation, culture and history. Let’s immerse ourselves in the Roman civilisation.

Learning Latin Today

In the past, Latin was probably one of the most boring subjects you could be studying.

You had to learn all the declension by heart, repeating them again and again. Memorize endless lists of vocabulary and verbs and their translations.

No wonder that the number of Latin learner dropped drastically after it was no longer necessary to study Latin to enter a Law or Medicine School, in the early 20th century.

Current teaching method has managed to make Latin a much more interesting subject to study by including more than learning how to speak, read or write Latin.

If you learn Latin today you will also learn about :

  • The history of Literature
  • The GrecoRoman mythology and religions
  • Politics, philosophy and rhetoric
  • Science and Arts
  • The influence of Latin on modern languages including English
  • The history of the Roman civilisation
  • The laws and civil institutions of the Roman Empire

Rather than only learning a language, teachings include a multi-disciplinary curriculum that will take you beyond the simple Latin to English or English to Latin translations.

Despite being a dead language, Latin has the main advantage to be the mother tongue of 5 of the main Indo-European languages: French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian.

The Rosetta Stone which was discovered in Egypt in 1799, was engraved in two different Egyptian languages and in Greek but was first translated in Latin by Jean-Francois Champollion in 1822.

The Rosetta stone The Rosetta Stone is safely kept in the British Museum of London. It is one of the rare examples of writing to feature 3 different languages at once. (by Swiv)

Short History Of The Roman Civilisation

When one speaks about the Roman civilisation, one usually thinks about the Roman Empire. However the Empire era “only” cover 5 of the 13 centuries of the History of Rome.

Historians agree to say that the History of the Antic Rome lasted at least 1229 years and has known 3 different political systems.

Legend has it that the city of Rome was founded on the banks of the Tiber River, in the region of the Latium in 753BC, by Romulus, who after winning a duel whit his brother Remus, bequeathed his name to the city.

The Roman Monarchy

The wolf and founders of Rome. The legendary founders of Rome were said to have been raised by a wolf (by limitsios)

Historians list seven kings of Rome but only the last three can be authenticated through legitimate sources:

  • Romulus (753-716BC), founding father of Rome and creator fo the Senate.
  • Num Pompilius (715-671BC), invented the first Roman calendar made of 12 months and created the first Roman laws.
  • Tullus Hostilius (671-640BC), began the expansion of Rome in the Latium region.
  • Ancus Marcius (640-616AD), created the city of Ostia, the port of Rome.
  • Tarquin the Elder (616-578AD.
  • Servius Tullius (578-534AD).
  • Tarquin the Great (534-509AD).

Very few texts about the three centuries of the Roman Monarchy survived since the Archaic Latin used at the time mainly rested on a verbal tradition.

Yet, we know that the last three kings of Rome were Etruscans and that they adopted the Etruscan alphabet (derived from the Greek alphabet).

The Roman Republic

The Republic started in 509BC and lasted until 27BC when Emperor Augustus was coronated.

The Roman Republic was characterised by many conflicts that led to the conquest of Etrusca and the rest of Italy (from Rome to Campania, from Pompei to Sicily), of Gaul and all the Mediterranean basin.

The defeated people often spoke a different dialect and had to learn a foreign language, i.e. Latin, to be able to integrate the Roman Empire.

One of the greatest threat that the Roman had to face during that period was the attack and siege of Rome by the Gauls in 390BC. Lasting seven months the siege saw the Roman armies defeated several times.

The invasion ended with the defeat of the Roman and the sack of Rome.

The political and economic institutions of Rome strengthened and the alliances and partnerships that Rome created allowed the city to win many military victories and eventually to dominate the Italic peninsula.

The Greek language remains very important during the era of the Empire: Virgil writes in ancient Greek and The Iliad by Homer was at the time considered to be a Roman masterpiece.

Many of the Roman elite spoke conversational Greek as it was often taught as a first language in the noblest families hence the explanation why most senators were at least bilingual.

Latin and Greek became the vehicular vernacular, lingua franca, in the whole of the Western Mediterranean basin.

According to the Roman historian, Titus Livius, because Rome was constantly under attacks from barbaric (non-Roman) tribes, it was decided as early as the century BC that only a territorial expansion policy would guarantee the safety of Rome and its institutions.

The Republic became an autocratic Empire, where one main possess all powers and is supported by a well-trained army and a massive administration.

The Roman Empire

The Imperial era of Rome spreads from 27BC to 476AD, the year of the fall of Rome.

Map of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire spread across Eupore, North Africa and the Middle East.

Many events occurred during these 500 years or so. Civil war and barbaric invasion, slave rebellion and internal crisis, political treasons and decadence: despite the fact that the Empire saw the Roman territories expending as far as ever, it was a troublesome era.


“Veni, Vedi, Vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered), famous Latin phrase attributed to Julius Caesar


To complicate it even more, Christianity started to spread shortly after the coronation of the first Emperor, Augustus.

At first, Christians would be persecuted, but Constantine I would abolish this in 313AD and granted all Christians safety within the Roman Empire.

He also built what was to become the centre of the Catholic Church, St. Peter’s Basilica.

From early on, all newly annexed province had to learn and use Latin as their official language. It was the only language schools were allowed to teach in the provinces.

Vulgar Latin was the version of the language that was spoken, in opposition to Classical Latin that was mainly used to write literature and philosophical texts.

Both the legionnaires and the civil servants of the Roman Empire were instrumental to spread the use of Latin amongst the local populations of the Empire.

This influence and the mix with the native language the local population used was the beginning of the Romance languages.

After a long period of trouble and many successive barbaric attacks, Rome eventually fell to the hands of Odoacer, who deposed the last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire, Romulus, and declared himself king of Italy in 476AD.

Latin Culture: Roman Literature and Arts

The oldest documents of the Latin literature are liturgical songs and political theatre plays. The Roman literature was greatly influenced by the Greek language and culture which was held as nobler at the time.

Historians discovered many texts from the ancient world written in Greek.

Cato the Elder (234-149BC) is one of the first known Roman authors use Latin vocabulary to write poetry.

Latin literature saw the development of many genres: prose, satire, poetry in verse, comedy, tragedy and rhetoric, all reflecting a taste for logic and common sense, an interest for laws and the defence of the motherland against the barbaric invaders.

Cicero (106-43BC), Plautus (254-185BC), Terence (190-159BC), Lucrecius (94-54BC), Catulla (84-54AD) all produced numerous political texts.

The Golden Age of the Latin culture is referred by historians at the “century of Augustus” and comprises many very famous authors mostly active during the first years of the Empire under Emperor Augustus: Vergil (70-19BC), Horace (65-8BC), Seneca (4BC-65AD), Titus Livius (59BC-17AD), Pliny the Elder (23-79AD), Pliny the Younger (61-113AD).

Literature became a noble art reserved to the intellectual elite of the Empire and which kept track of the splendour of Rome.

Roman mosais found in Germany. This very well preserved mosaic was found in a 2nd century BC Roman villa in Germany. It depicts the games of the circus with an extreme amount of details. ( by Following Hadrian)

Alongside literature, many industrial advances were developed during the Empire era: architecture, painting and mosaic decoration as well as sculpture. Etruscans influenced these arts as themselves were renowned for using clay to make the imposing status of gods.

The Roman arts had an incredible capacity to emulate other cultures, not only the Etruscans but also the Greeks.

Ancient Romans notably borrowed the three main architectural style of the Greek: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian.

The use of arches in buildings, allowed architects, builders and slave to save a lot of concrete and mortar. Arches became very common in every Roman building, a lot of which survived today from Spain to Turkey, From North Africa to Britain. 

Bridges, aqueducts, palaces, public baths, temples, arenas, forums and columns, survived times and conflicts and are the proof of the technical skills the Roman possessed.

Roman legionnaires were very numerous and hard to the task. A legion was able to build roads, bridges and aqueducts very quickly to support their advances.

Among the many arts that the Roman came to master, minting coins was an important one. The use of metallic coins spread quickly under the rule of the Roman Empire. Jewellery, glass industry and the production of elaborated pottery made the region of the Latium an important cultural and artistic hub.

To learn to speak Latin, to memorise its pronunciation, its grammatical rules and conjugation is not only the apprenticeship of a language, it is the discovery of a powerful civilisation from which our modern societies built themselves. The greatness of the Roman Empire persists today throughout Europe.

The English language still bears the marks of the Latin dominium over the Western worlds as 29% of all phrases, nouns, verbs and adjectives from the English lexicon, come from Latin.

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