44. How the City of Rome Looked. Majestic indeed was the great city which had conquered the world. In the center, thronged with people coming and going, was the famous Forum or public square which had witnessed so many stirring scenes, from the exile of Tarquin to the funeral of Caesar. It was surrounded by magnificent temples and public buildings upon which had been lavished untold sums.

Round about rose the celebrated seven hills, set thick with dwellings and palaces. Of these the best known is the Capitoline, where stood the temple of Jupiter and the citadel which had once defied the attack of the Gauls.

In their temples and other public buildings the Romans had very largely copied the Greeks. But the simple and graceful temples of Greece were not gorgeous enough for them, and they added such features as colored marbles and columns richly carved with leaves and flowers.

The Romans, however, had some original ideas. They knew how to build arched roofs and doorways,

and also how to put lofty domes on many of their temples. They learned, too, how to construct large buildings of brick and concrete instead of those entirely of stone.

Of most of the notable buildings which once adorned Rome the visitor now sees only broken remains. About the ruined Forum we can see their crumbling arches and perhaps trace their foundations. Yet to this day one temple built in the time of the Roman Empire still stands to show us how a Roman structure actually looked. With its lofty dome and ornamental porch the famous Pantheon carries the traveler back to the days when Caesar's word was law and his legions unconquerable.

As the city grew, other public squares or "fora," splendidly adorned, were constructed as centers of life in different parts of Rome. But none ever equaled the original Forum in importance.

The busy streets of the world's capital were often beautified and shaded by "porticoes," or rows of columns covered by a roof but open to the air. Beneath the warm sun of Italy these structures gave welcome protection.

Here thronged the vast population. The dignified senator clad in his toga and with sandals on his feet, the half-naked slave, the workman with his tools, the soldier with sword and helmet--Romans, swarthy Africans, rude Britons, cultured Greeks--might have been seen passing in rapid succession, for everybody who could, came to Rome on pleasure or business.

The senator, thinking over a speech he is to deliver, no doubt is on his way to the Senate House. Others

may be going to one of the great "basilicas," or buildings where courts of justice are held. Many, too, are on their way to the public baths, for bathing was to the Romans one of the chief delights.

The buildings which contained the baths were among the most notable structures in Rome. Erected at great expense by Caesars anxious to gain the favor of the people, they contained not alone every possible arrangement for bathing, but places for exercise and games, lounging rooms, libraries, and gardens where one might sit and

talk with his friends, and many other attractions. Many Romans seem to have spent most of their time there.

45. What a Roman Triumph Meant. But most splendid did the great city seem when a triumph was

to be celebrated by Caesar or by some great general. Such a triumph was held after a victory over the enemies of Rome, when the successful commander and his army returned home.

Up the Via Sacra, or Sacred Way, which led to the Capitoline Hill, came the splendid procession, with music and shouting, first the magistrates of Rome and the senate; then the long line of cars and wagons piled high with the spoils taken in the war; next, loaded with chains, the captives, often the kings or princes of distant peoples. Now, riding in his chariot, came the victorious leader himself, clad in splendid apparel and crowned with a garland. Finally tramped in stern array the Roman soldiers, each legion bearing the eagles around which it had toiled and fought so well.

Along the route the populace greeted them with shouts of joy and praise, and sometimes threw flowers before their feet. No wonder that a triumph was one of the greatest honors which a Roman could attain.

Sometimes, for still greater glory, a victorious emperor would set up in some public place a mighty column bearing aloft his statue; or cause a lofty triumphal arch to be constructed. Several of these still stand in Rome, commemorating the victories of seventeen or eighteen centuries ago. Even yet we admire their grace, and sometimes copy them in our own great cities.

46. Amusements of the Romans. Like the people of most great cities, the Romans became more and more fond of amusement. Imitating the Greeks, they thronged the theater and took pleasure in horse and

chariot races held at great race courses called "circuses".

But such amusement grew too tame. Under the empire the awful custom of holding public combats in which armed men called gladiators fought with each

other or with wild beasts became more and more popular. These gladiatorial shows were held in huge, open, circular structures of stone or concrete called amphitheaters. Of these the most famous is the gigantic Colosseum at Rome, but almost every important town in the empire could boast a similar though smaller building.

Not merely the ignorant people crowded the stone seats, but even nobles and senators, and the Caesars themselves, clad in festal garments, were present and shouted their applause while the wretched gladiators fought and died before their eyes.

These poor men were usually prisoners captured in war or else slaves carefully trained for the purpose. Generally they fought in pairs, but on great occasions small armies of them sometimes contended and the arenas, as the spaces in the center of the amphitheaters were called, ran with their blood. Savage beasts, such as lions, tigers, and bears, were also brought at huge expense from distant lands to add to the bloody spectacle.

Wealthy men seeking to be popular sometimes spent large sums in giving the people such entertainments. Later the emperors furnished them regularly so that the people might praise their generosity and be kept by such amusements from rebelling against their rule. Perhaps the vilest thing of all occurred when several of the worst emperors tried to win the applause of the Roman mob by taking part in the games themselves, using care, however, that they should be protected against all chance of injury. One wicked emperor fought with gladiators who had as weapons only swords made of lead or tin.

Such wicked and brutal amusements did much to make the Romans cruel and cowardly. This was one of several reasons why, under the Caesars, they were no longer the brave and honorable men who had expelled the Tarquins and forced victory from Carthage.

47. The Destruction of Pompeii. The rich Romans loved to have their villas and summer homes in attractive places. No wonder that many chose the shores of the beautiful Bay of Naples with its blue waves, vine-clad hills, and background of mountains. Here, too, were flourishing towns, one of which was called Pompeii. It

Back to Table of Contents.

© 2000 by Lynn Waterman