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6-08-2015, 15:28

The Legacy of Rome

Approximately 800 years after the fall of the
West Roman Empire, the Renaissance period
in Europe, which began in the 1300s CE, revitalized
interest in Roman architecture and art. Education
emphasized Greek and Roman literature, and students
began studying Latin.
The Enlightenment was a European intellectual movement that took place
in the late 1600s and the 1700s. It emphasized reason and individualism
rather than tradition. Studying Latin became an important aspect of training
the mind for intellectual reasoning.
Although the Roman Empire collapsed more than 1,500 years ago, the
legacy of Rome lives on in many aspects of daily life in numerous nations
around the globe. Modern cultures, including the United States, owe much to
the ancient Romans.


The basis for the idea of the separation of powers in the US Constitution
dates back to the Roman Republic. The concept of representation for the
people and several aspects of the US legal system come from the Romans,
including several legal terms, such as alibi, which literally means “elsewhere,”
and pro bono, “for the good.”
The Roman philosopher and politician Cicero inspired the Founding
Fathers of the United States. Thomas Jefferson cited Cicero’s writings as
contributing greatly to how he drafted the Declaration of Independence and
shaping Americans’ understanding of the right to revolt.

John Adams, another Founding Father and the second president of the
United States, said, “As all the ages of the world have not produced a greater
statesman and philosopher united in the same character [as Cicero], his
authority should have great weight.”1 Voltaire, a
French writer during the Enlightenment period, said,
“The Romans had their Cicero, who alone is perhaps
worth all the philosophers of Greece.”2


The Roman Catholic Church helped preserve Latin
by adopting it as the official language of the church.
Although Latin was not new to many areas of Europe,
as Christianity spread into France, Spain, northern
Italy, Portugal, Romania, and several other areas, so
did Latin, the language of the Catholic mass. From
the 400s to the 900s CE, Latin evolved differently in
these different regions, mixing with local languages
to form unique languages with a Latin base. William
the Conqueror introduced Norman French, also
affected by Latin, to England in the 1000s CE. As a
result, today more than half of English words are
Latin in origin.

Latin has an everyday presence in the United States. The Latin phrase e
pluribus unum, which means “one out of many,” is on the Great Seal of the
United States and is stamped on US coins. Annuit coeptis, “he approves of the
undertaking,” and novus ordo seclorum, “new order of the ages,” are on the
US one-dollar bill.


The Renaissance was a cultural movement that began in Italy during the
early 1300s. That time was marked by a great resurgence in ideas and the
arts. Artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci created
extraordinary works that returned to the classic Roman models. Many
consider Michelangelo to be the greatest sculptor of all time. He mastered
accurately portraying the human form. He also perfected the fresco art form
with his paintings on the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel.
Italian architect and engineer Filippo Brunelleschi revived elements of
ancient Roman architecture. In 1442, work began on the Pazzi Chapel in
Florence, Italy, which he designed to incorporate arches and columns.
The architecture of ancient Rome also influenced the New World. It was
a major factor in the design of Washington, DC, including the US Capitol.
Construction on the Capitol began in 1793. Thomas Jefferson, a Founding
Father who was secretary of state at the time, had a passionate interest in
architecture. He wanted the design to resemble a Roman temple. Its tall
columns, triangular pediments, and domed roofs recapture the style of the
grand public buildings of ancient Rome.
The US Capitol building also showcases a grand example of Roman-style
art. A massive fresco on the interior of the building’s dome depicts George
Washington with a number of Roman gods and goddesses.
The US Supreme Court building also draws upon classical Roman
architecture, with its Corinthian columns and portico. The Jefferson
Memorial and the Washington Monument also have Roman architectural
elements in their design. Other US structures reflect Roman influence as
well, including New York City’s Washington Square Arch.
Roman architectural influences can be seen in other areas of the world as
well. Built between 1675 and 1710, Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, England,
boasts many examples of Roman architecture. Similar to Rome’s Pantheon,
a huge dome rests atop eight large arches 365 feet (111 m) overhead.3 The
western entrance of the church features a portico, and the inside of the
dome is adorned with frescoes and mosaics.
The Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, is another example. Emperor
Napoléon Bonaparte commissioned the structure in 1806 as a tribute to
his imperial armies. Construction was completed in 1836. The arch was
patterned after the great triumphal arches of ancient Rome, and at 162 feet
(49 m) high, it is the tallest of its kind in the world.4


Ancient Rome’s influence is widespread and enduring. The Roman alphabet
and calendar are still in use as well as countless words based in the
Latin language. The underlying basis for the US legal system has ancient
Rome to thank, and elements of Roman architecture dot the landscape in
courthouses, libraries, museums, post offices, and town halls. The Romans
founded the cities of London; Cologne, Germany; and Paris and Lyon, France.
And people still use the routes established by the system of Roman roads.

Although the once glorious Colosseum no longer hosts displays of
gladiator skills, the bullfights held in amphitheaters in Spain have endured
with their Roman influences. And since the time of Emperor Constantine,
Christianity, Rome’s last official religion, has grown and spread throughout
the world.
Physical evidence of Roman rule can be seen as far away as present-day
Scotland, Egypt, and Iraq in the forms of temple ruins, roadways,
monuments, bathhouses, and aqueducts. But the influence of ancient Rome
has lived on and spread much farther via art, architecture, language, and
religion. With all that it achieved and the scope of its influence, the world
may never experience another civilization as great as that of ancient Rome.