Primary History

Romans: City of Rome

  • How did Rome get its name?

    Rome is now the capital city of Italy. 2,000 years ago it was the centre of the Roman Empire. Building started in 753 BC. The Romans had a story to explain how Rome began. Twin boys, Romulus and Remus, were the sons of Mars (the Roman god or war). An evil uncle took them as babies from their mother and threw them into the River Tiber to drown. The babies floated to land, and a mother wolf fed and cared for them. Later a herdsman looked after the twins until they grew up.

    Years later, Mars told his twin sons to build a city where they had been found. The city was Rome. One day, Remus made fun of the wall Romulus had built around the city. The twins argued, fought, and Romulus killed Remus. Today, historians and archaeologists agree that people were living in Rome long before 753 BC, but the legend is one of the most famous in world history.

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  • How was Rome ruled?

    The people of Rome were farmers and herders. For a time, they were under the control of their neighbours, the Etruscans. Rome became a rich city, ruled by kings. In 509 BC, the Romans drove out their last king, Tarquin the Proud. Rome then became a republic.

    The republic was ruled by a Senate. Rich men, called senators, ran the government. Poor men (called plebeians) had much less power. The plebeians fought for fairer treatment. A plebeian, who was a free man (someone who was not a slave), could be a Roman citizen. People in lands conquered by the Romans could become citizens too. Women and slaves though, could not be citizens - so they could not vote in elections.

    The Senate could not always control the Roman army. Army generals sometimes fought one another. Rome's best general was Julius Caesar. He lived in the 1st century BC and invaded Britain twice. Caesar came close to being emperor of Rome, but he was murdered in 44 BC. By then, Rome was more than a city. It was the capital of an empire. The Romans ruled lands from France to North Africa. You can see this in our map in the 'Photos' section on the right.

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  • Who were the Roman emperors?

    A Roman emperor was the man who ruled over the empire. The first Emperor ruled Rome after years of fighting between rival leaders. His name was Octavian. He took a new name, Augustus, when he became Emperor in 27 BC. Augustus brought peace after years of fighting. Not all the emperors were good and wise. Some were terrible. Some wanted to be gods.

    The emperor had a troop of special soldiers to protect him. They were called the Praetorian Guard. However, some of the bad emperors were so unpopular that their Praetorian Guards killed them!

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Fun Facts
  • In his portraits, Julius Caesar wore a wreath on his head to hide his baldness!

  • The Emperor Claudius rode an elephant when he visited Britain in AD 43. People in Britain were amazed to see such a sight.

  • To be a Roman citizen, or even an Emperor, you did not have to be born in Rome. The Emperor Septimius Severus was an African, from Libya.

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-Z

A to D

Acropolis [a-CROP-olis]
The Acropolis is a large hill in the centre of Athens. On top of it were many temples and other buildings, the remains of which can be seen today.
amphitheatre
A place like a stadium, where Romans went to watch animals and people fighting.
aqueduct
A system of pipes and channels used to bring water into towns.
archaeological site
A place such as a ruined fort studied by archaeologists.
archaeologists
People who study the past by looking at old things, often found underground.
archaeology
Studying the past by looking at old things, often found underground.
Aristophanes [aris-TOF-a-neez]
Lived in Athens in the 5th century BC. He wrote comedies for the theatre in Athens.
Aspasia [as-PAY-zia]
Was a woman to taught public speaking in Athens. She was the partner of the famous general Perikles. Aspasia had much more independence than most women in Athens.
barbarian
A person who lived outside the Roman Empire, seen by Romans as violent and uncivilized.
basilica
A large building where town business was carried out (like a modern Town Hall).
assembly
The Assembly was the public meeting of the giovernment of the city. All citizens could take part and vote there.
Athena
The patron goddess of Athens. A huge statue of Athena stood outside the Parthenon.
Attica [A-tik-a]
The region around Athens.
aulos [OW-los]
A wind instrument with a reed similar to a modern oboe.
capital city
Main city of a country, the centre of government.
catapult
A machine that threw rocks or burning tar at the enemies. In Latin it was called an onager.
cavalry
Soldiers who fight on horseback.
chariot
Cart with two wheels pulled by horses. Romans raced chariots, and Celtic warriors rode into battle on them.
celts
People who lived in Europe, including Britain, and who fought the Romans.
centurion
An officer commanding about 80 legionaries.
citizen
Person with special rights, such as the right to vote and own property in the Roman Empire. Only men could be full Roman citizens.
cohort
There were ten cohorts in a legion.
crossbow
Weapon like a bow and arrow, only the string is pulled back by turning a handle and the bow is fired by releasing a trigger. In Latin it was called a ballista
druids
The priests of the old Celtic religion.

E to G

election
Process where people vote to choose the people they want to be in charge.
empire
A large area with many people ruled by one strong leader, called an emperor.
forum
An open space in the middle of a town for markets and meeting people (like a market square). It was the centre of Roman town life.
fort
A building with walls to keep out enemies, used by soldiers.
foundations
Firm base for a road or building.
general
leader of an army, the soldier giving the orders to everyone else.
gladiator
A person trained to fight other gladiators or animals in amphitheatres.
governor
The ruler of Roman Britain, who worked for the Roman Emperor.

H to L

hypocaust
Roman central heating. Hot air from a furnace (fire) flowed through gaps between walls and flooring
latin
The language spoken and written by the Romans
legate
The officer commanding a whole legion.
legion
The main battle unit of the Roman army, its soldiers were called legionaries. There were between 4,000 and 6,000 legionaries in a legion.
legend
A story made up about people in the past.

M to O

mosaic
A pattern made from coloured pieces of stones and pottery.
myth
A made-up story, often about gods and spirits, told to explain things such as why the sun rises and sets every day.

P to Z

pension
Money paid to a retired worker or soldier.
picts
people who lived in Scotland
republic
A country without a king, queen or emperor. The Roman republic was ruled by the elected Senate. Most countries today are republics.
sacred
Something that is believed to be holy and to have a special connection with a god or gods.
scroll
Roman book, written on a long strip of paper rolled around a stick.
senate
The Roman government, made up of senators.
senator
A person elected to the Roman Senate who helped run the government. Some countries today, like the U.S.A., have senators.
sewage
Dirty water and toilet waste which flows into sewers from drains and toilets.
sewers
Pipes or tunnels that carry away sewage.
slave
Someone who can be sold to another person to work for nothing. A slave is not free and has no rights.
slingshot
Weapon for throwing stones, made from a long strip of leather and whirled around by the thrower.
standard
Roman army emblem, a pole with special decorations (such as a metal eagle) carried by a soldier. Each legion had its own standards.
stirrups
the metal holder for a rider's foot. Attached to a horse's saddle by a leather strap.
strigil
A metal object used in Roman baths to scrape sweat, dirt and excess oil off.
stylus
A metal pen for scratching words into soft wax on wooden tablets.
taxes
Money or items taken by the government from people, to pay for things like the army, wars, emperor's palaces and building roads.
Thatched roofs
Roofs of buildings made from bundles of straw or reeds.
treadmill
Machine like a big wheel inside which slaves walked round, to turn the machine.
tribe
A group of people who live in one part of a country and are ruled by a chief.
tutor
A teacher who gives lessons to a student at home.
underworld
A gloomy place where Romans believed your soul went after you died.
villa
A large house in the country. Some Roman villas were farmhouses and some were like palaces.
warrior
A trained soldier, someone used to fighting in wars.
wreath
A ring or crown made of leaves or flowers.