S I I A S @ C S I Study Collection for Ancient and Medieval Civilizations
* Home * Egyptian * Greek * Roman * Medieval * Collecting * Web Sites *
* Roman Republic * Roman Empire * Roman Timeline * Roman Objects *
According to ancient legend, the city of Rome was officially founded in the year 753 BCE* on seven hills around the Tibur river in central Italy. For over 2,200 years a state existed that called itself Roman, and which could trace its political ancestry back to this legendary foundation. In the course of four centuries, Rome was to build an empire that encircled the Mediterranean, incorporating much of western Europe, north Africa, and the Middle East into a universal polity. The celebration of Roman triumphs over enemies therefore formed an important part of Roman culture from earliest times. Eternal victory and perpetual imperium were held by the Romans to be the gift of Heaven in return for Roman reverence of the gods. But it was the Roman administrative genius for tolerance and flexibility that was to make the diverse subjects of the Empire come to identify with Rome, its culture, and its imperial idea of a universal Commonwealth. Thus did the Roman Empire gradually outgrow its simple territorial designation, becoming a concept that stood for civilization itself.
* BCE = Before the Common Era (formerly B.C. Before Christ); CE = Common Era (formerly A.D. Anno Domini)


Map from ROMARCH web site  


Encyclopedia Mythica
Roman name Greek name       Roman name Greek name
Aesculapius Asclepius       Aurora Eos
Bacchus Dionysus       Ceres Demeter
Cupid (Amor) Eros       Diana Artemis
Faun Satyr       Faunus Pan
Fortuna Tyche       Furies Erinyes
Hercules Heracles       Juno Hera
Jupiter Zeus       Mars Ares
Mercury Hermes       Minerva Athena
Neptune Poseidon       Pluto Hades
Sol Helios       Tellus Gaia
Ulysses Odysseus       Venus Aphrodite
Vesta Hestia       Victoria Nike
Vulcan Hephaestus            

Click Here for Further Reading
about Ancient Rome in the CSI Library

James Elsner
Imperial Rome
N 5630 .O83 1998

Encyclopedia of
Greek & Roman
N 5630 .O83 1998

Diana Kleiner
I Claudia
N 5630 .O83 1998

David Castriota
Ara Pacis Augustae
N 5630 .O83 1998


Early Rome was ruled by Etruscan kings, but following a popular revolution in 509 BCE, the dynasty was ejected and replaced with the res publicae -- the "activity of the Roman people" -- or a Republic. The Republican constitution sought to share rulership, or imperium (from imperare, "to order" or "command"), between the Patricians, or aristocratic elite, and the Plebeians, or common people. Like the Greek city states, the Roman Republic was a form of civic democracy, administered by assemblies of the Roman people, an executive body or Senate, and the elective magistracies, of which the most important were the Consulate and Tribunate. Unlike the Greek city states, Roman citizenship was not restricted by birth or property requirements. Roman citizenship, and its associated political and legal advantages, was a far more inclusive concept that could be obtained as a reward for service to the state. This astute policy enabled Rome to absorb conquered populations by providing the incentive of participation in the Roman state in return for the benefits of empire. Service in the Roman army was the principal way of earning these benefits, and it was Roman military prowess that was to win Rome an empire.

Early Rome and Italy

Early Rome was deeply influenced by the Etruscan, Italic and Greek cultures of central and southern Italy, and a number objects in the SIIAS@CSI Collection serve to illustrate the material culture of this period. The Etruscan cities were the most powerful states of the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, and Etruscan rulers reigned as kings of Rome until the establishment of the Republic. Many Etruscan customs were transmitted to Rome during this period, including aspects of religious belief and cult, symbols of authority, costume, and forms of art and architecture. The Etruscans are known to us largely through archaeology and Roman accounts, since texts in the Etruscan language are so poorly known. One of the most distinctive aspects of this culture is Etruscan funerary architecture. Large underground tombs, often under artificial burial mounds or tumuli, contained elaborate burial chambers that were designed to immitate the homes of the living. A large number of artifacts in the SIIAS@CSI Collection were probably excavated from such tombs or shrines. These objects also show that the Etruscans were deeply influenced by the Hellenic culture of the neighboring Greek colonies of southern Italy and Sicily. Greek painted pottery, and their Etruscan immitations, are common finds in Etruscan tombs, and these imports also found their way north to Rome itself. The increasing involvement of Rome in the affairs of the Greek south and East was to further this process of hellenization over the course of the next four centuries.
Left image: Caere, Etruscan tumulus

Drinking Cup (Kyathos)

SIIAS A 1574; Height 4 1/2 inches
MacDonald Bequest
Terracotta, burnished greyish-black fabric;
so-called Bucchero ware
Etruscan, 7th-6th century BCE

This shallow cup with its distinctive tall handle was probably used for drinking wine at dinner parties or symposia held by the Etruscan elite. The symposium was a Greek custom adopted by the Etruscans, who depicted these banquets in paintings on the walls of their tombs.
Right image: Tarquinia, Tomb of the Lionesses

Bow-shaped Fibuli

Bronze; Etruscan, 7th-6th century BCE
MacDonald Bequest

This selection of fibuli or brooches were used to gather and pin male or female garments at the shoulder. Such fibuli are illustrated in wall-paintings and sculptures of the period.

Handles from a Hydria

SIIAS X 54-112.2
Bronze, southern Italian Greek or Etruscan, 6th-5th century BCE(?)
MacDonald Bequest
This pair of bronze handles were once attached to a bronze hydria or carrying vessel for water or wine. They bear distinctive protomes of male faces with long, curling moustaches, perhaps inspired by contact with the Gauls, a Celtic people settled in northern or Ciscalpline Italy. These peoples made regular raids into the peninsula; in 390 BCE a band of marauding Gauls even sacked Rome. Etruscan bronze vessels immitated the shapes of Greek prototypes, and there is a close correspondance between the shapes of these vessels in both terracotta and metal. Those of precious metals, such as gold and silver plate, were especially prized, but those of bronze were also of considerable value and prestige. Bronze vessels such as hydria were used at banquets or symposia, and were also used as burial containers for human bones or ashes.

Votive Figurines of Worshippers

SIIAS A 58-68.10-11
Bronze; Etruscan, 4th-3rd century BCE.
MacDonald Bequest
These figurines represent Etruscan worshippers, holding phiales to pour libations to the gods. The figures wear crowns and togas, the latter garment an Etruscan legacy to Rome. These figurines were probably dedicated at an Etruscan sanctuary as ex-votos or offerings aimed at winning the help of a god or goddess.

Votive Busts

Terracotta, Etruscan or southern Italian Greek, 3rd-2nd century BCE.
MacDonald Bequest
These votive busts were placed in sanctuaries by worshippers seeking divine assistance. Large numbers of such busts have been discovered in shrines and temples, perhaps in the belief that the body part represented in the dedication would be healed by the divinity concerned.

The Later Republic

By 295 BCE Rome had come to dominate the states of Italian peninsula, and by 264 most of Italy had become Roman. Following the defeat and destruction of Carthage, its chief rival in the West, Rome gained control of Spain, north Africa and the western Mediterranean islands. From this point on Rome was to be increasingly involved in the affairs of the Greek Hellenistic kingdoms, which were gradually incorporated into the Empire. The Roman elite had a deep admiration for the Hellenistic culture they encountered and they enthusiastically imported it to Rome. The expansion of Rome into the Greek East led to major cultural changes, but also placed great strains upon the Roman state. The constitution of the Republic, originally designed for a small scale city-state, was ill-equipped to deal with the growth of an overseas empire. Political and social tensions, largely caused by the temptations of the new wealth and power, led to disputes and civil wars between the Roman ruling classes. The last century of the Republic saw the gradual breakdown of the Republic as generals from the ruling families competed for sole imperium. The most successful of these contenders was Caius Julius Caesar. By 48 BCE Caesar had defeated his rivals and had become sole ruler. But fears that Caesar coveted the title of King of Rome led to his assassination on the Ides of March in 44 BCE.

Head of a Man

SIIAS A 63-83;
Height 9 1/5 inches
Said to have been found at Baiae, near Naples, Italy.
White marble, 1st century BCE
Gift of the Ingram Merrill Foundation and the Piero Tozzi Gallery, 1963

This sculpture is typical of the portraiture of the late Republic. The portrait is life-size and probably formed part of a statue, bust or funerary relief. The head is carved in the so-called veristic style that represented the subject in a highly realistic manner, in this case with the furrowed brow, sunken cheeks and grave expression of an older man. Links have been drawn between this style of portraiture and the death masks or imagines maiorum of Roman ancestors, which were carried in funeral processions. The portrait also illustrates the impact of Hellenism on Rome, since these portraits were inspired by Hellenistic portraiture and were probably carved by Greek artists.
Right image: Head of Caracalla, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

* Roman Republic * Roman Empire * Roman Timeline * Roman Objects *
Return to SIIAS@CSI Home Page
photo credits