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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Ancient Classics Philosophy and Mythology: Rome

Guide for Library Research on Ancient Classics

The Origin of Rome

Aeneas' Flight from Troy by Federico Barocci

Aeneas' Flight from Troy by Federico Barocci

According to legend the city of Rome was founded by one of two brothers, named Romulus. The two - Romulus and Remus, were considered to be the children of the Roman god Mars and after Romulus killed Remus, he built the city and named it after himself.

Later on the poet Virgil wrote an epic poem called the Aeneid where he told the story of Aeneas, who escaped from Troy and eventually arrived in Italy where he and his fellow Trojan survivors became ancestors of the Romans.

Rome Expands

The Intervention of the Sabine Women by Jacques-Louis David

The Intervention of the Sabine Women by Jacques-Louis David

After Romulus founded Rome, he needed to provide his new citizens with wives. To do so, he abducted women from neighboring tribes in an event known at "The Rape of the Sabine Women". The war with the Sabines that followed marked the beginning of a thousand year period in which Roman Kingdom, then Republic, and finally Empire would expand - first across Italy and then through Europe and the Mediterranean region.

The Roman Republic Falls

Cicero Denounces Catiline by Cesare Maccari

Cicero Denounces Catiline by Cesare Maccari

The Roman Republic is traditionally said to have begun after the overthrow of the seventh and last Roman King named Lucius Tarquinius Superbus following the rape of the noblewoman Lucretia by his son in 509 B.C. The Republic expanded Roman control over the whole of the Italian Penninsula and then fought three major wars over a period of 100 years with its North African rival Carthage that ended with Rome winning control over the western Mediterranean and annihilating Carthage. Ultimately the Republic entered a period of political instability and social unrest (including a massive slave revolt in 73 B.C. led by Spartacus) that ended in civil war and the founding of the Roman Empire in its place.

The traditional date of the fall of the Roman Republic is disputed; some date it to 44 B.C. when Julius Caesar was assassinated (after having crossed the Rubicon river with his army and setting the fall of the Republic into motion) and others date it to 27 B.C when Augustus Caesar officially founded the Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire

Claudius Summoned by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Claudius Summoned by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

The Roman Empire was a civilization that dominated antiquity in Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. The Empire ultimately lasted for 500 years and was able to provide political and economic stability for its first two centuries. This peace was called the "Pax Romana" or Roman Peace. However over time, instability returned as political leadership remained constantly in flux. Emperor followed Emperor, generally in a pattern of  incompetence followed by insanity with an occassional interlude of good governance.

The Fall of Rome

The Course of Empire - Destruction by Thomas Cole

The Course of Empire - Destruction by Thomas Cole

Eventually the Roman Empire was split into two administrative parts, with the western empire ruled by Rome and the eastern empire ruled from the city of Byzantium, later called Constantinople, and today called Istanbul. The western empire slowly broke apart as abuses of power, economic depression, and barbarian migrations made life miserable for people. In 476 A.D. the last Roman emperor in the west was officially overthrown by a barbarian king in Italy and the Roman Empire came to an end.

The eastern empire, know to historians after the fall of Rome in 476 A.D. as the Byzantine Empire (though the Byzantines continued to consider themselves to be Romans) survived the fall of Rome and ruled the Eastern Mediteranean region until it was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks who captured Constantinople in 1453 and renamed the city Istanbul.

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Latin Philosophy

Latin Philosophy

Like Roman mythology and theatre, most philosophy that the Romans adopted and practiced was based largely in Greek thought that they came into contact with as Rome conquered Greece. The two major schools of philosophy in Rome, though by far not the only ones, were Epicureanism and Stoicism.

Epicureanism is a philosophy that teaches that pleasure is the highest good and the way in which you attain tranquility and freedom from fear and physical pain. This philosophy was founded by Epicurus and the main known surviving book that presents the ideas of Epicureanism to the public is Lucretius' "On the Nature of Things".

Stoicism is a philosophy that teaches that life is best lived in harmony with reason and based on knowledge with complete indifference to pain and pleasure. This philosophy was founded by Zeon and remains a very popular philosophy down to modern times. Surviving ancient books that presents the ideas of Stoicism are the works of Seneca and Marcus Aurelius.

Latin Drama

Roman Theatre Mask

Roman Theatre Mask

Roman theatre is largely an adoption from Etruscan and Greek sources, made as they conquered and incorporated those cultures into their own. Many examples of Roman dramatic writing have been lost but there remains the comedies of Plautus and Terrance and a tragedy written by the philosopher Seneca. All of them are based on Greek works or themes.

Roman Religion

The Triumph of Galatea by Corrado Giaquinto

The Triumph of Galatea by Corrado Giaquinto

Ancient Roman religion was for the most part an adoption of what we call today Greek Mythology. The Romans adopted the polytheistic Greek patheon of gods but renamed them. Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Aphrodite, and Athena became Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, Venus, and Diana. In the later part of the Roman Empire, the Romans began to adopt various eastern cults such as worship of the Egyptian goddess Isis and the Persian cult of Mithras.

The Pantheon

Photo of the Pantheon in Rome The Inscription on top says "Marcus Agrippa, Son of Lucius, Three Times Consul, Built This"

Photo of the Pantheon in Rome
The Inscription on top says "Marcus Agrippa, Son of Lucius, Three Times Consul, Built This"

The Pantheon is perhaps the most well preserved ancient Roman building still in use in Rome. It was built as a temple to the Roman gods but it was given to the Pope in 608 A.D. and has been in use as a church ever since.

Gladiators

Pollice Verso (Thumbs Down) by Jean-Léon Gerome

Pollice Verso (Thumbs Down) by Jean-Léon Gerome

Rome's version of television was Gladiatorial fights. Gladiators were armed swordsmen who entertained audiences by fighting each other, mostly but not always to the death in arenas. Gladiators fought other gladiators as well as wild animals. Gladiators can be considered to be the celebrities of the era by the general public though legally and socially they were despised. Gladiatorial fights were ultimately only banned when Christianity was adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire.