Omnes viae Romam ducunt, says the old Latin proverb. All roads lead to Rome. The meaning of the saying is clear: there is more than one way to achieve a goal. But this ancient piece of wisdom highlights also the importance of the Eternal City and the whole Roman Empire. Traces of this antique culture can be still recognizable in our todays civilization. The western world can be considered as continuation of the ancient Greek and Roman traditions. Of course, not all inventions and ways of development were inherited by the modern society. Western civilization was also to a great extent influenced by Greek, Arabic and Egyptian culture. But it is doubtless that “in most of our intellectual and spiritual activities we are the grandsons of Romans” (Highet 37). The Empire functioned as a bridge to pass the contributions of the Hellenistic Age to the modern society. But the role of the Rome is much bigger: it also bestowed the nowadays world with its own heritage.
The most evident contribution of the Roman Empire to the western civilization can be observed in linguistic traditions. At the beginning, Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Romanian and Catalan were just variations of the bad Latin but then turned themselves into separate languages. They form a branch of the Indo-European language family, which was derived from Vulgar Latin (Latin Language). Nowadays over 750 millions of people speak Romance languages. Because of their popularity all over the world French and Spanish are the official languages of the United Nations Organization. Influence of time and other cultures made these languages sound different but lots of common can be still observed both in grammar structure and lexicology. In turn, these languages influenced other European languages, e.g. English. Furthermore, Latin alphabet is now widely spread and used even for those languages that were not descended from Latin.
Apart from the languages themselves, ancient literature and its influence on the Western civilization deserve a special mentioning. The most obvious contribution made by Romans to the modern culture is mythology and legends. Having mostly adopted the Greek myths and having included them into their own mythology Romans preserved and transmitted the Hellenistic world view and ideology to the Middle Ages and to the modern world as well. Thousands of plays, poems, lyrics and novels are based on the Roman legends. Shakespeare, Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio and other prominent writers were inspired by these ancient fairy tales, with the help of which people tried to explain their terrifying and magnificent reality. But not only Renaissance authors used Roman motives in their works. Stories of love and hate, heroes and bravery, gods and ordinary people grabbed the attention of the film directors and screenwriters who presented movies using their interpretation of the ancient stories.
Another great contribution of the Roman Empire is the modern concept of art. Established by Greeks, the art was developed and improved by Romans. For example, Greek sculptures were examples of the ideal human proportions. They were stone personifications of ancient gods, goddesses and athletes. Romans, in turn, highlighted more realistic details of people. They carved their emperors, politicians, philosophers. Roman sculptures can be easily distinguished from the Greek ones because they outline such peculiarities of the human body as wrinkles, bald spots, humps and other imperfections. With their pragmatic view Roman authors made statues of people in every age, not only in their prime. Yet in many sculptures ancient Roman authors followed the Greek ideals, which were later inherited by the Renaissance artists.
The Empire was also famous by its mosaic art. Pictures of gladiators’ battles and mythological themes decorated the walls of rich Romans’ homes, public bathes and forum buildings all around the territory of great Roman Empire. The techniques of mosaics influenced the art of the Byzantine Empire. Consequently, it influenced the traditions of the middle-aged iconography.
Religion is vital another issue that had a great contribution to the Western civilization. Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity resulted into a drastic change in the ancient world. Having rejected the idea of polytheism, Constantine hoped to strengthen his power in the empire. Before the emperor’s baptizing Christianity was the religion of slaves, after it “… seemed to be entrenched as the established religion, sponsored by emperors and protected in law” (Lunn-Rockliffe, BBC). Christianity as a religion gave both hope and moral basis to people. It was a religion with an ability to adapt pagan cults (such as painting eggs on Easter, which is a transformed pagan tradition) as well as to adopt (Madonna’s worshipping is considered to be an Isis’ cult).
Undoubtedly, this step influenced the further historical timeline of the Europe. It hindered the development of those kinds of arts that were related to Pagan tradition (such as sculptures and painting). On the other hand, it preserved and transmitted the Latin language through the Middle Ages, resulted in development of translation techniques, it established the basis of humanism, which is now the key factor of the human progress. The conversion to Christianity is a crucial factor, which made the Western civilization look as it is now.
Two more interrelated fields where Romans succeeded in are the politics and the law. As for the political science, the democracy once described and investigated by Greek philosophers was adapted and adopted during the Roman republic times. The democratic principles invented by Greeks were amended by Romans, who had taken into account the mistakes made by their predecessors. The greatest politician of ancient times, Marcus Tullius Cicero, familiarized the Romans with the Greek philosophy and introduced a concept of humanity. As for the judicial issues, the empire contributed greatly to the notion of rights of individuals. It’s the Romans whom modern people should be grateful for “presumption of innocence” (a key principle of the criminal law that requires proving the guilt of a criminal defendant and relieves the defendant of any burden to prove his or her innocence). Romans founded basis for legal concepts of civil rights, they reconsidered such concept as the legal personality of corporations. During the Roman times were used such terms as real and personal property, private ownership. Roman law is the cornerstone of the legislative systems of most European countries, the USA and the law of Catholic Church. Besides, another invention of ancient lawyers is still functioning in the modern world – the separation of powers. The “Lex of Hortensia” written in 287 B.C. stated that political duties were delegated between magistrates, Senate and assembly, which resulted in more efficient approval and implementation of the ancient laws and strengthened the power of the Empire’s rulers and increased the abilities to control the lawfulness of the population.
Finally, the traces of the Roman heritage can be observed in modern engineering and architecture. As it was mentioned at the beginning, all roads lead to Rome. This proverb appeared because the first thing Romans did after conquering a new territory was construction of roads and bridges. It allowed easier communication between the colony and the metropolitan country. The Roman roads were notable for their straightness and solid foundations. The minimum requirement stated for the road constructions was a width of five meters and a drained stone surface (Rodrigue). The Roman soldiers and slaves also built the world's first dual carriageway. Romans were also the first to achieve such success in bridge building and that’s why they could influence people even in the most remote colonies. Places that had been impassible became easy to reach because of efforts of ancient architects.
Nowadays Roman architectural influence can be seen among thousands of buildings especially those constructed for government and business aims. Such style is chosen by the modern specialists because of such Roman inventions as the dome, the arch and a specific kind of columns. The one of the most famous examples of Roman influence in architecture is the United States Capitol.
Roman specialists designed and constructed complex water-supply and sanitation systems to provide the Eternal City with fresh water and to satisfy citizens’ hygienic demands. The engineers also used the same aqueduct system in the other regions of empire. Such a construction was an innovation for other nations conquered by the Romans. One of the most amazing things about these aqueducts was a use of arch. Romans were one of the first to discover that this construction is extremely efficient as a weight-bearing structure.
Roman Empire was the state that conquered the Mediterranean world and transmitted the Hellenism, adopted common tendencies of that age and wrapped them in its own laws and culture. The Rome was a good mediator; it functioned as a bridge that passed the legacy of the Near East to create a framework of the modern Western civilization. It absorbed the intellectual, spiritual and artistic heritage of the conquered nations. With the expansion of the Roman Empire achievements and inventions of these nations were spread throughout the Europe.
Yet the ancient empire was more than just an ordinary mediator. Romans made their own specific and important contributions to create the present Western civilization. Throughout the centuries a small tribe managed to expand from a farming community to a powerful state that conquered most of the Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. Remains of Roman roads and aqueducts still leave people impressed by the level of their engineering skills; echoes of the Roman laws can be still heard in laws of European countries; ancient Roman myths still make people burst out of laugh and tears. It’s hard to argue that the influence of the Roman Empire is hard to overestimate.
Highet, Gilbert. The Classical Tradition: Greek and Roman Influences on Western Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. Print.
Latin Language. Web.17 Sept 2011.
Lunn-Rockliffe, Sophie. Christianity and the Roman Empire. BBC History, 17 Feb 2011. Web. 17 Sept 2011.
Rodrigue, Jean-Paul, Claude Comtois and Brian Slack. The Geography of Transport Systems. New York: Routledge, 2009.Web. 17 Sept 2011.