What Was Life Like In Ancient Rome Bbc

Ancient Rome

The legendary city of Ancient Rome had been a powerful political and cultural force in the Mediterranean for centuries. As a superpower of its time it was home to some of the world’s most famous emperors, gladiators, monuments and buildings, statesmen and artists. Ancient Rome remains an important example of what a powerful civilisation can achieve, even centuries after its fall.

In ancient Rome, the way of life was defined by a strict hierarchical structure, with social classes divided according to occupation and wealth. At the top of the hierarchy were the Patricians; the wealthy landowners, merchants and official officers. Conversely, at the bottom of the hierarchy were the plebeians, which included labourers, farmers and lower-class workers.

The Roman economy was based on a system of taxation, with citizens having to pay a variety of taxes, such as the poll tax, land tax and the grain dole. This was supplemented by a complex system of trade and bartering that allowed the citizens of Rome to purchase goods and services. In addition to this, the Roman government encouraged and supported the development of industry and commerce.

The ancient Roman legal system is seen as an important influence even today. It established the concept of justice and accountability, and had a number of features that remain relevant in the modern world. This included laws relating to marriage, inheritance, slavery and debt, as well as the more general law regarding public order and criminal activity.

Religion also played an integral role in the life of the citizens of Ancient Rome. While most people followed a polytheistic religion, there were certain individuals known as the Vestal Virgins who devoted themselves to worshiping the goddess Vesta and keeping her temple fires burning.

The Roman military was one of the most powerful of its time. Their military successes and conquests meant that the capital of Rome was able to exert political and cultural influence over vast areas of Europe and the Mediterranean. This was in part due to their highly organised military forces and their formidable weaponry.

Education was not a major priority in Ancient Rome, with the main focus being on mastering the skills associated with running a household. However, there were some opportunities for education and free public schools were available to all children in Rome, regardless of social rank.


The economy of Ancient Rome was complex and diverse, with a variety of industries and occupations. Agriculture was the main source of income and trade, and Rome relied heavily on slave labour and with labour laws, which had been in place since the 5th century BC. On top of this, the Roman government introduced various levies and taxes, such as the poll tax, land tax, grain dole, sales tax and entertainment tax.

Trade was an integral part of the Roman economy and was based on a barter system, whereby goods and services were exchanged for goods. Trade was encouraged by the Roman government, and traders were able to buy and sell goods, such as slaves, grain, fur and spices. The main trading cities were Marseilles, Alexandria and Antioch.

Industry was also an important part of the Roman economy, with the manufacture of goods becoming a major source of revenue. This included the production of textiles, pottery, glassware and metalware, as well as the construction of large engineering structures such as aqueducts and roads.

Commerce also played an important role, with the Roman government creating various trading networks. These included the imperial post, sea and overland routes, which made trading easier, faster and more profitable. This trading system helped to bring a certain degree of wealth and prosperity to the Roman Empire.

Finally, Rome was also known for its fine art, sculpture and architecture. Rome’s signature style of architecture and sculpture is still admired and iconic today.

Culture and Religion

The culture and religion of Ancient Rome was closely linked to that of the wider Mediterranean world. Roman religion was polytheistic and centred around a pantheon of Roman gods, goddesses and mythological figures. Alongside this, Roman culture was largely based on the Greco-Roman model, with the influence of the Greeks, Etruscans and other neighbouring cultures. Additionally, Latin literature and philosophy flourished in the Roman era and became integral to the culture of Rome.

The Roman government and political system also had an impact on Roman society. For example, the Senate was an important political body that represented the interests of the Roman elite, while the Roman magistrates dealt with the day to day running of the government and the law.

Public entertainments such as festivals, religious ceremonies and dramatic performances were also integral to Roman culture, and provided an important source of entertainment for the citizens of Rome. Additionally, public sports such as chariot racing and gladiatorial combat were popular and popularised the Roman way of life.

The most important festivals in Rome were those which celebrated military victories, with the most famous one being that of the Saturnalia. This was a festival which involved sacrifices, banquets and the presentation of food, wine and other gifts, and was celebrated throughout the Roman Empire.

Law and Justice

The Roman legal system is seen as an important influence even today. This system established the concept of justice and accountability, and featured a set of laws and regulations that governed the daily life of Roman citizens. These included regulations relating to marriage, inheritance, slavery and debt, as well as laws that addressed public order and criminal activity.

The most prominent figure in the Roman legal system was the Praetor, who was responsible for administering justice, maintaining order and overseeing legal disputes. He was appointed by the Senate and had the power to set the punishment for offenders, dispense justice and hand down judgement. The Roman legal system also included the use of courts, which allowed citizens to seek redress from a neutral third party.

In addition to this, Roman law also recognised the concept of natural law and actively recognised the rights and freedoms of citizens. This was evident in the Twelve Tables, which set out the basis of Roman law and served as a code of conduct for Roman citizens. This reflected the ethical values of the Roman Republic and is considered an important legal document even today.


The Roman military was one of the most powerful forces of its time. The Roman army was well-trained and equipped with the most up-to-date weaponry, and proved to be a formidable force in battle. Their military successes and conquests enabled the Roman Empire to expand its territories and exerted political and cultural influence over vast areas of the Mediterranean and Europe.

The army was made up of both professional and citizen soldiers. The professional soldiers were recruited from the local populations and served in the army for 25 years, while the citizen army was made up of citizens from Rome who could serve for only 6 months. Despite this, both armies were highly organised and well-equipped.

In addition to the army, the Roman navy was a key part of the military and played an important role in Rome’s success. The navy was made up of warships, which were used to patrol the Mediterranean and protect shipping routes. This allowed the Romans to extend their influence throughout the region with relative ease.


Ancient Rome was a civilisation that was ahead of its time in many respects. The Roman Empire was one of the first civilisations to make use of the arch, which allowed them to build structures of impressive size and strength. Additionally, their use of aqueducts and roads meant that water and goods could be transported quickly and efficiently.

The Romans were also famous for their engineering and construction projects. For example, the Colosseum and Pantheon are two of the most famous monuments of the Roman Empire and remain impressive even today. Additionally, the Romans were also skilled at hydraulic engineering, and designed and built bridges, dams and irrigation systems, which enabled them to cultivate their lands more effectively.

The Romans were also known for their use of technology in warfare, such as the inventions of catapults, siege towers and battering rams. They also used advanced offensive weapons such as swords and spears, as well as chariots and siege engines, which gave them a decisive advantage in battle.


Education was not a major priority in Ancient Rome, but Roman citizens did have access to some educational opportunities. Although there were no public schools or universities, there was a form of compulsory education for all citizens, known as the municipal schools. These schools taught basic reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as practical skills such as carpentry, masonry and farming.

In addition to this, there were also a number of private schools, known as schola, which taught Latin, Greek and rhetoric. These schools were mainly tailored towards the wealthy and educated elite of Rome, as they were considerably more expensive than the municipal schools.

Despite this, some Roman citizens were able to access higher education, such as the scholae medicorum which taught medicine. Additionally, there were also some colleges, known as the scholae curiales, which were similar to modern-day law schools and taught Roman law.

Finally, the Roman religion also provided some educational opportunities, with the training of the Vestal Virgins incorporating both religious and academic elements. The Vestal Virgins were an important part of Roman religious life and were educated in the rituals and ceremonies of the Roman religion.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

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