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Learning about the Romans

In terms of historical subjects with plenty of information to dig into, the Romans definitely qualify. Starting out as a small civilization among many, they would go on to conquer and rule the entire Mediterranean at the height of their power. Even after their empire split in two and the western half dwindled and fell, the legacy of the Roman Empire would live on for another thousand years in what would become known as the Byzantine Empire. But, even if you’re just focusing on teaching about the era before the empire split, there are plenty of topics to cover. So, where should you get started?

Traditionally, the beginning is considered the best place to start, but this proves a bit tricky with the Romans. This is because of the various sackings which Rome suffered in the twilight days of the Western Empire destroyed whatever historical records existed regarding their founding. So, the only surviving account of Rome’s founding comes from the story of Romulus and Remus which, if it has any truth to it, is clearly a highly mythologized account of what actually happened.

Instead, a more reliably documented starting point would be when the Romans deposed their last king; Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, also known as Tarquin the Proud. Ruling from, roughly, 535 BC to 509 BC, he was considered a cruel and tyrannical ruler who was disliked by both the aristocracy and the general population. Following the revolt which deposed him and sent him into exile, Rome became a republic. This new form of government was designed to ensure that no one person had too much power (which would work… for a time). This was the point where Roman society started to become what most people are more familiar with.

Possibly the largest topic you can cover when teaching about the Romans, is their military. Even before becoming an empire, Rome had conquered a lot of territory. The Romans believed that they would lose the favour of the gods if they fought an unrighteous war, so they held that they should only engage in war for the defence of Rome. That being said, the Romans stretched the term ‘defence’ as it owed them money. Many of their conquests were justified as preemptively dealing with future threats to Rome. And the wealth that came flowing in from their new provinces ‘proved’ that they must still have the gods’ favour, so they kept on doing it. This massive amount of wealth allowed them to build Rome into one of the most wonderful cities of the time.

Of course, expanding as far as places like Britain meant that Rome had to consider how to handle the beliefs of these other cultures. Obviously, simply demanding that these people worship their gods would only stir up rebellion. But, allowing the worship of gods different to their own wasn’t acceptable either. They got around this by means of ‘syncretism’, which was pairing similar gods from each pantheon and asserting that they were the same god.
I could go on further with this, as the Romans are a huge topic, regardless of what age the students you’re teaching are. But this is also a topic that should have something to catch the interest of most students.

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The author

Joseph Morgan is a Content Executive for Twinkl; an educational resources company. Before joining Twinkl, he worked in the care sector as a support worker for St Cuthbert’s Care.

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