7 Ways the Roman Empire has influenced the modern world

Ian Chaddock

BY Ian Chaddock

30th Nov 2023 History

3 min read

7 Ways the Roman Empire has influenced the modern world
The Roman Empire’s sophistication and incredible accomplishments influence civilisations even today. No wonder so many people are thinking about the Romans
The influence of ancient Rome, much like that of ancient Greece and ancient Egypt, echoes through time and is reflected today in everything from politics and architecture to language and gender identity.
Here’s just some reasons that the TikTok trend of asking “How much do you think about the Roman Empire?” might have exploded in recent months, and why it’s such a fascinating time and place for so many.

1. Politics

Ancient Rome’s governing style blended republicanism and authoritarianism—something that seems to be (worryingly) increasingly popular in the modern world.
"Many political concepts originate from the Roman Empire, including the rule of law and civic duty"
And that’s not all, many political concepts originate from the Roman Empire, including the rule of law, the idea of civic duty and the idea of citizens playing a role in government, all laying the path for democracies and other forms of government that have emerged since.

2. Architecture

Something that the ancient Romans are famed for are their staggering architectural achievements. There’s no doubt that their pioneering use of arches, domes and columns in iconic buildings such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon have been a huge influence on buildings around the world today.
Government buildings, courthouses and museums are just some of the buildings that often draw inspiration from Roman architecture, with the grand design choices enduring through the ages.

3. Language and literature

Romance languages including English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese all have their roots in the language of the Roman Empire—Latin. The linguistic legacy of the ancient Romans is undeniable and is key to how we communicate centuries later.
"Works of poetry, history and philosophy defined the ancient Romans as pioneering thinkers"
Classical Roman literature, including works by the likes of Virgil and Cicero, continue to be studied by scholars today. These ancient works were an inspiration for the many generations that have followed, with their works of poetry, history and philosophy defining them as great pioneering thinkers.

4. Law and legal systems

The ancient Roman legal system was defined by justice and equity, which are still at the heart of modern legal systems worldwide. Ideas such as the right to a fair trial and “innocent until proven guilty” originate way back in the days of the Roman Empire.
Many countries still look to Roman law as a foundation for modern legal principles and institutions. It’s astonishing to think that the laws that govern us have their roots in such ancient, yet in some ways progressive, times.

5. Combat sports

Mosaic of gladiators fighting on a floor in the Galleria Borghese in Rome
Arguably less important or groundbreaking than some of their innovations, the spectacle of gladiatorial games in an arena (the Colosseum in Rome, for example) has certainly echoed through the ages and is a symbol of the Roman Empire that fascinates many people to this day.
While they’re not a fight to the death like they were back then, there’s a clear line that can be drawn from the violence for entertainment of ancient Rome to the popular combat sports and entertainment of the likes of UFC and boxing today, often with sell out crowds.

6. Engineering and infrastructure

Urban planning and construction is another field that has been greatly influenced by the commitment and vision of the ancient Romans. With roads, aqueducts and bridges all aspects of Roman engineering that were truly pioneering, they are impressive even by today’s standards.
Transportation and connectivity in the modern world still looks back to the Roman Empire for inspiration of bridge, road and aqueduct building and for the importance of networks across countries and between cities.

7. Gender identity 

Bust of Roman Emperor Elagabalus
An issue that’s often thought of by some as being a more modern issue is that of trans rights and gender identity. However, there’s recent evidence to suggest that roots for this can be traced back to the top of the Roman Empire.
"Roman Emperor Elagabalus expressed his desire to live as a woman, proving that pronouns are not a new thing"
Roman Emperor in the third century AD (only for four years before his assassination, aged just 18) Elagabalus is considered one of the earliest historical figures with gender variance, opening expressing his desire to live as a woman (proving that pronouns are not a new thing) and wear feminine clothing. His rule is an example of how almost all societal issues today, and the defiance of societal expectations and gender norms, have origins in ancient Rome.
It's no wonder that so many people are always thinking about the Roman Empire when a time so distant and different in so many ways to the modern world also seems to have so much in common with the world we live in today.
Banner photo: The Colosseum in Rome (Chait Goli)

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