The Legacy of Rome



It has been said that Rome’s true genius was her talent for efficient  organisation and her unique expertise in coordinating the efforts of large bodies of men. These qualities were clearly manifest in the superiority and professionalism of Rome’s legions – the armed forces which won them an empire and allowed them to hold on to it for centuries.


However, this zest for creating order and efficiency was not confined to bolstering the awesome capability of their military. The energies of the Roman people were also expressed in more peaceful activities as well. The remains of the great civic works undertaken all over the Empire stand as a lasting tribute to the Roman innate talent for planning and organization. Harbours, aqueducts, bridges and roads sprang up over a vast area, bringing civilized life to millions. We cannot fail to be in awe of this amazing ability to coordinate the enormous resources of men and materials, needed for constructing such impressive public projects, before the invention of modern machinery.

Roman Engineering

Such civic enterprises, involving thousands of workmen, were not only a triumph of technology, but were also involved overcoming huge organisational problems in logistics and in the procurement of resources. How many ox waggons are needed to bring in the bread and wine for twenty or thirty thousand labourers? How many brickfields must be set up to produce the millions of bricks needed for a massive bathing facility – and where is all the timber to come from to make the charcoal to bake the bricks? These impressive projects needed organisation on a large scale, particularly as they were usually required to be carried out in a very quick time as they not only had strategic value, but were intended to directly improve the lives of the citizens, foster trade and contribute to the efficiency of the state.


Romans were superb engineers


Roman Administration

Equally important was the efficient manner in which the Romans organised the civic administration of their huge empire – in an age where the fastest communication was carried in the saddle bags of a horseback rider, or on the deck of a naval galley. The secret of their success was that there was a common body of administrative and legal procedure found everywhere in the empire. Everyone knew more or less what was expected of them and the both appointed administrators and the people they ruled would expect public affairs to be conducted with a uniformity across the Empire that would surprise the citizens of the diverse nations of the modern world.


These administrative and legal regulations and procedures were aimed at protectng the rights of the individual, whilst demanding that all fulfilled their duties and obligations to the State. This generally benign situation came about because in the early Roman Republic there had been robust and often violent interactions between the different classes of citizens who were in competition for a share of the resources of the City.  To prevent a general collapse the Senate and People, acting in concert, created  highly practical arrangements for social, legal and administrative checks and balances, mainly based on tradition and precedent.


Adminstering the Provinces

Because these arrangements were then largely codified, they were easily exported as models for the provinces of the growing empire. The system worked, because however much abused in practice, deep in their hearts most Romans continued to believed firmly in the “Rule of Law” and the maintenance of traditional rights. The practice of Law was always seen as an honorable activity that was both a prerogative and duty of the ruling classes, from which the magistrates and governors of the provinces were drawn. Administration and Law were seen as two sides of the same coin. These Roman blueprints for administation and control  of civic interactions are still valid today and continue to provide the fundamental guidelines for regulating the affairs of  all  great nations, even if they have had to be slightly tailored to suit the times.


Language, Science and Mathematics

The Roman alphabet is still the primary script in use throughout the world and Latin is the basis of contemporary Spanish, French, Italian and Portugese and it is also a major component of the English language. The Romans excelled as architects and engineers. They created structures on a massive scale that had superb balance in form and function and simultaneously created a tradition that would endure for centuries and still inspires modern building techniques. Surprisingly, although Romans were great engineers, creating magnificent works to solve tricky problems, their expertise in advanced mathematics and science was limited. Romans were primarily empiricists who extrapolated practical solutions directly from their field observations. Developing fundamental theory was not their strong point and whatever they had was largely borrowed from the Greeks.


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The Church

Spiritual speculation and religious fervour were unsuited to the Roman character, which focused largely upon the ritual aspects and civic obligations of  religion. However the rapid spread of Christianity was largely due to the “Pax Romana”, which  provided peaceful conditions for the free movement of persons and ideas throughout the widespread empire. Ultimately the Roman flair for organisation was applied to bolstering rather than opposing the Church and once Christianity became the official state religion it progressed from strength to strength.


See also the Legacy of Greece