Roman Change over Time
Around 55 C.E. Christianity and Judaism began to occupy Roman culture. During the transportation of a Jewish prisoner named Paul of Tarsus to Rome, it can be seen that religion was just one of the major concerns during this time. Founded in the eighth century B.C.E., Rome was originally a small city-state ruled by one king. Eventually, Rome established itself as the dominant power in the Mediterranean basin by instituting an aristocratic republic government. Roman civilization changed drastically politically, economically, and culturally during the last centuries of the classical era, (100-600 C.E.), although some factors remained the same. The Roman forum was a political and civic center filled with temples and public buildings where leading citizens tended to government business that was built at the heart of the city. Rome also instituted a republican constitution that entrusted executive responsibilities to two consuls who exerted civil and military power. The Senate ratified all major decisions and along with the consuls, represented the interests of the patricians. This caused constant tension between the wealthy classes and common people, the plebeians.
Patricians continued to dominate Rome, although the plebeians did receive some governmental rights. They had tribunes, which had the power to intervene in political matters and veto measures they considered were unfair. The plebeians gained the right to hold almost all state offices and became eligible to have one of the consuls represent them during fourth century, B.C.E. These compromises eased tensions between classes, but did not solve all political crises. The Romans would appoint a dictator when faced with military of civil issues.
Imperial expansion brought wealth and power to Rome; however, that created some problems as well as benefits. Unequal wealth distribution created more class tensions, and the need to administer conquered lands created difficulties. During the first century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., Roman leaders steadily dismantled the republican constitution and enforced a centralized imperial form of government. Conquered lands were usually given to the wealthy families, which had large plantations known as latifundia. Social conflict and civil war broke out among the social classes during the first and second centuries B.C.E.
Long after the chaos of Rome, an era of peace facilitated economic and political integration during the third century C.E. Augustus brought peace to Rome and the empire by ending the civil disturbances. His reign launched the era known as pax romana, or Roman peace, which lasted about two and a half centuries. As a result of low political setbacks, Romans could focus their attention elsewhere. They began to build roads, which became a major advance for transportation. These factors encouraged trade, which helped many cities flourish. The Romans exercised a strictly patriarchal society and made extensive use of slave labor.
Agricultural production was the economic foundation of the Roman Empire. It also underwent transformation with the empire’s expansion. Many latifundia owners concentrated on exporting their goods, instead of planting crops for local use. Grain was exported to many large cities around the empire, and was one of the easiest crops to cultivate due to favorable prices and relatively cheap production. Just some of the regions Rome traded with include Greece, Syria and Palestine, Gaul, and Spain. Much of the profit from Mediterranean trade flowed to Rome, where it fueled outstanding urban development.
Romans built many attractions to serve locals and tourists. Not only did they have elaborate plumbing and sewage systems, but almost all towns had public baths including hot and cold rooms, swimming pools, and gymnasia. For entertainment there were massive circuses, amphitheatres, and stadiums where they held competitive games often that ended in battles to the death between gladiators, or humans and wild animals. The Roman Colosseum, which opened in 80 C.E. held about 50,000 spectators.
Although Rome was based mainly on the “Pater Familias” patriarchal rule, women had influence on their families. They helped select marriage partners for their children, and often played large roles in managing finances. Slavery was very common in Rome, but over time, slaves gained more rights and could even work themselves out of slavery by being loyal. It was common, though not mandatory, for masters to free slaves after they reached thirty years of age.
Religion was a major portion of Roman culture during the classical era. Paul of Tarsus, as mentioned earlier, was the principal figure in expanding Christianity beyond Judaism. He attracted high urban masses, and his doctrine called for high moral standards and faith before all else. He promised a glorious future for all who observed faith that Jesus was their savior. While on his travels seeking converts, he was executed by the mid-first century C.E. Christians refused to view the emperor as a god, and Roman imperial authorities attempted to eliminate Christianity, but by 300 C.E. Rome had a sizable Christian population. By the third century C.E., Christianity had become the most dynamic and influential religious faith in the Mediterranean basin.
Roman civilization changed politically and created a structure that administered lands as far as Mesopotamia. Trade networks helped Rome and other cities gain more products they could not produce themselves and created a much more modern idea of trade. Women gained more rights, and religion spread widely; which heightened curiosity and increased knowledge. Religious authority continued to influence cultural development, much like Confucianism and Buddhism in classical China and India.