Ancient Rome

In many respects, the ancient Romans created the foundation of the Western world through the political unity that they brought to Europe, the Mediterranean and the Near East.  Their empire was one of the first, and largest, supranational (or multinational) political institutions to ever exist in the world.  The Roman achievement in practical governance and law, as well as the spread of the Latin language, was passed on to the eventual "barbarian" successors.  But for all of Rome's greatness, it is important to remember that the Roman Empire was an empire based on military conquest.  Once that military expansion ended, then the inexpensive supply of slaves that had fueled economic growth and expansion ended.  That brought ruin to the Roman economy and was one of the factors leading to the decline of the empire.

There is no question that Roman pre-eminence in the West lasted a very long time. Today, in these days of rapid change, it is difficult to imagine how this one city could dominate Europe and the Mediterranean from the third century bce to the fourth century ce (not to mention the continued existence of the Roman Empire in the Eastern Mediterranean, as the Byzantine Empire, until the fifteenth century). And, what is more remarkable, very little actually changed in that span of eight centuries. The continuity and stability achieved by Rome was enormous, and much of that continuity was the result of hard work by Roman citizens and their civic mind set, i.e., their idea of devotion to the state. That hard work paid off in a comprehensive system of law that remained intact over the centuries and that provided a solid framework for the society and economy.

It was the Roman Empire that later became the mechanism enabling the spread of Christianity.  For literally centuries, Christianity was basically a minor religious sect within the empire, but in the fourth century, as the empire crumbled, Christianity assumed an increasing role as a spiritual bulwark against the travails of life and the immediacy of death.  Eventually, Christianity became the official religion of the empire.  (See The Conversion of Constantine.)

Some recommended online lectures and websites:

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