Teach Ancient Rome!

One of the most exciting units to teach in World History is that of Ancient Rome. There are so many options as far as instructional methods, activities, and projects. This is a great unit to implement the use of maps in the history classroom. In addition, many great films and mini-series have been made on Ancient Rome. Your only obstacles as a teacher are the limits of your own imagination!

It is astounding to consider that from a small city on several hills, the Romans built the mightiest empire of the ancient world! Between 400 B.C. and A.D. 100, Roman armies conquered Italy, defeated the Greeks, and then took control of North Africa, Spain, the Middle East, and parts of Britain:

Make sure you teach your students that the Romans were not just soldiers and conquerors! Over 2,000 years since the collapse of the Ancient Rome, its impact continues in almost every aspect of our lives. For example, many of the laws that we know today originated in Ancient times. Romans believed that no one could be found guilty of a crime before the facts were thoroughly examined. They also believed that the accused had a right to defend themselves before a judge. The Latin word for “law” is “jus”, which became our word for “justice.” Besides the words we use in our language and the laws we live by, other influences include the letters of our alphabet and the engineering and construction of today’s buildings.

During the Pax Romana, a time period spanning one hundred years, the Roman Empire enjoyed peace and prosperity. Romans were master architects and once they mastered the skill of building arches, they produced bridges and aqueducts (channels or pipes that carry water). Fresh water for Roman people gushed through the aqueducts. Many times, the water source was a mountain spring or lake more than 25 miles away. The water flowed downhill through the aqueduct to the town. Because of this amazing feat, underground pumps and pipes were able to direct water to public fountains, baths, and lavatories. Historians are awestruck at the sheer determination and ingenuity of the Romans!

And any discussion of the Roman Empire would be incomplete without mention of the grand colisseum. To this day, it is still one of Rome’s most extraordinary buildings.

During ancient times, spectators crowded into the colisseum to watch the gladiator games. In order to make thrilling entrances and escapes, hidden elevators and trap doors enabled animals and men to pass through. Gruesome battles between gladiators and wild animals packed the colisseum with spectators who applauded and cheered as gladiators (who were slaves and convicted criminals) fought lions, tigers, and even each other to the death. Gladiators who satisfied the crowds might win their freedom; those who were especially brave and powerful were much admired.

Sometimes the floors of the Colosseum became flooded in order for gladiators to participate in sea skirmishes. Enormous, hungry crocodiles swam around the small ships in which the gladiators fought, anxious to devour those who tumbled overboard.

However, remember that when you teach history, it is your responsibility to be objective and fair to the history itself. So make sure your students understand that not all Romans enjoyed these brutal displays. In fact, some people, like the Roman politician Cicero, were disgusted by gladiator fights. Cicero wrote, "What pleasure can it give a person....when a feeble human being is torn to pieces by a strong wild animal?"

The Roman military was indeed a force to be reckoned with. But over time, with more and more conquests, the Roman Empire became too large to control and govern properly. To make matters worse, emperors were being overthrown and changed as quickly as the next day's wash. For example, if the emperor was not capable enough or did not pay the soldiers of his army enough he would be replaced. In 73 years there were approximately 23 different emperors. Twenty of them were murdered!

As a result of its sheer size and so much dissention in government, the empire eventually became divided in two, the Eastern Roman Empire and the Western Roman Empire. With the empire divided, numerous tribes from the North like the Vandals, the Visigoths, and the Franks began attacking the Empire's borders and conquering them. Shortly thereafter, the Anglo-Saxons overtook England. Consequently, the Roman Empire in the West lost ground and the tribes continued their invasions and attacks. Eventually, the great empire of Ancient Rome declined and crumbled.
In order to teach a complete and thorough unit on the Ancient Roman Empire, you might need to assign some homework (see my philosophy regarding homework at the Getting Started section of OwlTeacher.com). This ensures that students acquire some critical background information so that class time is more devoted to discussions and classroom activities/projects.

You definitely want your students to learn and understand as much as possible regarding this civilization which continues to influence our world today. Depending on what aspect of Ancient Rome you would like to pay particular attention to, you will find a variety of films and books in our Teach with Movies and Teach with Literature pages.

Return from Ancient Rome to World History


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