Roman Empire Facts for Kids

  • Ancient Rome had a powerful culture.
  • Rome is also called “The Eternal City” because civilizations have been there for a long time and prospered.
  • There are ancient ruins all around the world that were built by ancient Romans, like Hadrian’s Wall in Britain or the Hagia Sophia church in Turkey.

Beginnings

The city of Rome is located on the banks of the Tiber River. It was easy to travel to and from the sea because it was close to a ford in the river.

Rome has seven hills surrounding it. The hills make it hard for enemy armies to attack the city. The Romans used these hills as lookouts.

The city of Rome was close to excellent farmland with lots of wood and stone nearby. This helped the Roman civilization to thrive.

The ancient Romans believed that their city was founded by twin brothers Romulus and Remus. Legend says the twins were abandoned as infants in the ancient city of Rome and found by a she-wolf who raised them.

Rome was originally a small farming village. Its name is said to have come from the name of Romulus.

Roman politics

The ancient Romans had a king. There were seven kings before Rome became a republic. The last king was Tarquin the Proud.

The Romans also had a Senate, which was a group of 300 people who made decisions.

Later on, a group of patricians or noblemen expelled the king and decided that Rome would be a republic. 

A republic is a place where people are elected to rule, and they have jobs like senators. The Senate selects two people called consuls who work for the patricians.

The Senate met in a place called the Forum. It is a kind of marketplace. 

The senators would decide on military and foreign affairs, but tribunes helped protect the rights of plebeians or poor people.

Tribunes could say “no” to laws which they didn’t like by shouting “veto.” If enough tribunes said “no,” then they could prevent laws from passing or becoming law for a long time.

Roman militia

Rome started with an organized military. There were 3,000 infantry and 300 cavalry soldiers. They called these units legions, and they say that their foundation was set by Romulus himself.

Rome won the Pyrrhic War against the Greeks. This was a hard victory. Afterward, Rome controlled all of Italy and became dominant here.

The ancient Greeks provided some of ancient Rome’s cultural traits that are still present today. For example, Roman gods are based on their equivalent Greek version.

When Romans conquered new lands, the conquered became Roman citizens. They would have rights like those of other Romans.

Roman soldiers had many different weapons including:

  • the sword or short spear called a pilum
  • a body armor with chainmail or metal plates
  • helmets with horns on them to frighten enemies
  • spears and javelins (a light throwing weapon)
  • bows and arrows
  • and catapults (heavy ancient artillery machines)

Roman society

Rome was a society with many levels. Patricians were the noble families in Rome. The patricians ruled the city, and the plebians or poor people had almost no rights.

Some ancient Romans were wealthy merchants who had large town homes and spent a lot on themselves even if they gained their wealth through slave labor.

One ancient Roman aristocrat could live in a house that spanned up to two acres. Back then an acre would be the size of a football field.

There was a conflict called the Conflict of the Orders where both social groups realized that they needed to work together, so they agreed on new laws for themselves. 

The poor people won more rights. Now they could decide not to work if they didn’t want to or leave the city in search of something better for them. 

Slavery

The ancient Romans had a system of slavery.

People from other countries came to Rome to work for them. In the beginning, the Romans welcomed these people as Roman citizens. But later on, many of these people were sold as slaves. The Romans got riches from all the hard work that these slaves did.

Ancient Roman emperors had slaves who did all kinds of jobs for them such as cooking or cleaning up after dinner parties with 100 guests at home! But slaves weren’t just common among aristocrats- most ordinary people owned an occasional slave too. 

Spartacus

Spartacus was a slave who led a revolt against the Roman army. He built an army of thousands of soldiers from slaves he and his followers liberated, but the Roman councils sent an army of 40,000 soldiers to defeat the slave revolt.

Slaves lost the battle. Spartacus was killed fighting, and 6,000 of his soldiers were crucified.

Roman religion

Romans had many gods. They were polytheistic.

In ancient Rome, there were many gods for different things: Mars for war; Venus for love; Diana goddess of hunting; Minerva goddess of wisdom, and so on. 

Roman festivals were very important to them because they brought together citizens for worshiping one god or many gods at the same time. They also provided an opportunity for people to celebrate.

During ancient Roman times, there were many religions – like paganism, Christianity, and Judaism – and they all coexisted together peacefully at some point or another. 

Roman baths

The ancient Romans loved the water. They would often go swimming at the beach, public baths, or in pools of fresh-water springs that bubbled out from under the ground near their homes. 

Roman baths were famous for being used to cure several illnesses.

Gladiators and chariot races

During ancient times Romans would enjoy themselves in circuses. There you could watch chariot races, wrestling matches, or gladiators fighting each other while crowds cheered.

The Colosseum was Rome’s great arena. It took 10 years to build, and it could hold 80,000 people. 

The Circus Maximus was even larger. It held crowds of 250,000 people. Julius Caesar and Augustus helped develop it into the largest stadium in the world.

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar changed Rome from being ruled under monarchy into becoming a republic. He seized power himself when his nephew threatened to take over as king following his father’s death.

Julius Caesar was also a great general. His victory over Gaul meant that he could attack other countries too: Spain, Britain, and Egypt made up his conquests during ancient Roman times.

Julius Caesar took over as dictator in ancient Rome. This means he was able to create laws without approval by the Senate.

Caesar was a powerful leader. Today the month of July is still named after him.

Julius Caesar met Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen, when she wrapped herself up in a carpet as a present to him. When he opened it, he found her inside! He fell in love with her.

However, his power and popularity angered some senators who killed Caesar on March 15th 44 BC. This date is called the Idus of March.

The Roman Empire

After the death of Julius Caesar, Rome became an empire with its first emperor, Augustus Caesar. Augustus Caesar changed Roman law so that emperors could be either men or women.

Ancient Roman emperors were considered gods – or at least they believed that they came from godly ancestry.

There were some crazy emperors like Caligula or Nero, who set the city of Rome on fire.

Others were better rulers, like Claudius who built a wall to protect Rome from wild animals and enemies who might attack from ancient Germany. This is called Hadrian’s Wall today.

A succession of strong leaders ruled ancient Rome before its collapse: Augustus Caesar, Tiberius, and Claudius, among others.

Roman roads

The Romans had built over 1,000 miles of roads! When they first arrived, the Roman army needed to use the old roads, which were very difficult to travel along. 

The Romans wanted better roads because they needed to be able to move quickly from one place of trouble to keep control over their enemies.

The saying “All roads lead to Rome” meant that Rome was at the center of ancient civilization, so all roads led there eventually!

Roman legacies

Ancient Rome was also responsible for many inventions like glass windows and wine.

The Latin language was first spoken only in the city of Rome. It became the official language of business and government. As time went by, the Roman Empire expanded to most of Western Europe. The Romans took Latin with them.

Even though many people living in Roman provinces spoke local languages, over a long period they mixed with Latin to form what we now call Romance languages. Romance languages include Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Romanian. 

The ancient Romans used Latin as a language for their books and documents. They wrote down on parchment scrolls, some of which we still have.

Roman architecture

Romans were excellent builders – they built amphitheaters, aqueducts, temples, and roads that still exist in some places today. They even invented concrete.

The ancient Romans built aqueducts to bring water from the mountains into the city of Rome, which is why it grew so large and had such great public baths!

Christianism

During the Roman Empire, Romans also conquered the Middle East. Most people living near Jerusalem were Jewish. The Romans would let the Jews practice their faith and did not force them to worship Roman gods. 

Around AD 30, a holy man named Jesus attracted a following in the Roman province of Judea. His followers came to believe that Jesus was the son of God and said he performed miracles. 

Jesus’ followers became angry with Roman authorities because they refused to follow either Jewish or Roman laws, which led to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. This gave birth to the religion known as Christianism.

Christianism was good for the poor because it promised a better life after they died. These people were attracted to a faith that told them everyone is equal. 

After Jesus died, missionaries spread Christianity to other places in the world and many Christians were persecuted.

Roman emperors got more intolerant of Christianity. They banned anyone from becoming Jewish or Christian. Soldiers often tortured those who disobeyed the emperor by using wild animals at sporting events. 

But even though this happened, Christianity continued to grow. 

Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal again when he seized power. Four years later, a legend says that he saw a Christian symbol in the sky with words that meant “By this sign, you shall conquer.”

The fall of the Roman empire

The Roman Empire fell with the rise of Germanic tribes. Rome wasn’t conquered by one empire but gradually weakened by its divisions and other external forces that attacked the empire.

The emperor Constantine moved his government from Rome to a safe place. The city of Rome was being attacked by barbarian invaders, so Constantine decided to move his government east. 

He renamed the city Constantinople and it became the capital of his new empire. This empire, called Byzantium, was in modern Turkey and included modern Greece and Yugoslavia.

The ancient Romans were around for a long time – about 500 years. They are still remembered today as one of the greatest ancient civilizations because they created so much that is still in use, like their famous roads or aqueducts to bring water into Rome.

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