Who Were The Romans and Where Did They Come From?

Here are some basic facts about the Romans, explaining who they were and where they came from.

  • The Romans are the people who originated from the city of Rome in modern day Italy.
  • Rome was the centre of the Roman Empire – the lands controlled by the Romans, which included parts of Europe (including Gaul (France), Greece and Spain), parts of North Africa and parts of the Middle East. The Empire was truly multi-cultural, and many Roman citizens had never even seen Rome.

  • The Roman Army that invaded Britain in 43 A.D. was made up of legionaries and auxiliary soldiers from all over the Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire

The map above shows the Roman Empire at its peak. The vertical line to the right of Italy shows the division of the Empire between the Western Empire, centered around Rome, and the Eastern Roman Empire, centered around Constantinople.

Check out our Roman resources page to learn more Roman facts and information.

Roman Entertainment Facts

The Romans, particularly the rich, enjoyed lots of leisure time, and they spent this time in a variety of different ways.

Here are some facts about some of the forms of Roman entertainment.

Roman Baths

  • Most Romans visited the public bath house on a daily basis. Bath houses were set up like the spas or health clubs of today, and a trip to the bath house was a social occasion.
  • At the bath house Romans could exercise, get clean, meet friends, walk in the gardens and borrow books from the bath house library.
  • Follow this link to learn more facts about Roman baths.

Chariot Racing at the Stadium

  • Chariot races took place in the stadium (sometimes known as the circus). The stadium had a central platform (called the spina), and the crowd watched the chariots race around it.
  • There were eight chariot circuses in Rome. There’s also the remains of one in Colchester, England.
  • The chariots were incredibly light and travelled really quickly. Chariot racing was a dangerous sport and many injuries occurred to both the charioteers and the horses.
  • The chariots were usually driven by slaves, and were pulled by between two and four horses.

The Roman Theatre

  • The Romans loved theatre and they enjoyed watching four different types of performance: comedies, farces, tragedies and pantomimes.
  • The plays were performed in a theatre with a stage, and area for the orchestra and the auditorium (a semi-circular area where the audience sat).
  • Only men acted in Roman times and and they often played more then one role per play.
  • Simple costumes were worn to allow the audience to distinguish between different characters.

Gladiators and the Amphitheatre

  • The Roman amphitheatre was probably the key form of entertainment for the citizens of the Roman Empire.
  • Rich and poor would pile into the amphitheatres of the Empire to watch gladiators fight each other, or to watch slaves fight wild beasts, or to watch recreations of famous battles, or to watch wild beasts fight each other. The Romans were very inventive and they came up with lots of different ways in which the crowd could get their fix of combat and bloodshed.
  • To learn more about Roman gladiators, follow the link.

Roman Feasts and Dinner Parties

  • Rich Romans enjoyed entertaining at home. They took their time over their evening meal and ate a wide variety of different foods and dishes.
  • The Romans didn’t sit at chairs around a dining table as we do today. Instead, the food was placed on a low tables and the Romans sprawled on couches and most dishes with their hands.
  • Rich Romans relied on slaves to wash their hands between course and before and after the meal, and to prepare and serve the food.

Find out more facts about the Romans by visiting our resources page.

Roman Soldier Facts

Here are some facts about Roman soldiers:

  • Only men over the age of twenty could become a soldier and join one of the legions of the Roman Army.
  • All regular Roman soldiers (legionaries) were Roman citizens, but this didn’t mean that they had to live in Rome. Soldiers came from all over the Roman Empire, from places such as: Africa, Spain, Germany, Britain and France.

  • Non-Roman citizens were still able to fight for Rome as auxiliaries. However, auxiliary troops did not earn as much as the legionaries and they didn’t have such high-quality armour, weapons and equipment.
  • Roman soldiers had to serve in the army for twenty-five years before they were permitted to retire. They received a pension or a gift of land when they left the army.
  • Roman legionaries were not allowed to get married.

Roman Soldier Facts

The Training of Roman Soldiers

The Roman Army was incredibly well-organised and well-drilled. Individual soldiers had to be incredibly fit and strong, and willing to follow orders without questioning them.

  • Roman soldiers were able to march more then twenty miles a day wearing full armour and carrying weapons and equipment.
  • They were trained to swim, build bridges, set up camp and fight as a unit.
  • Roman soldiers were famous for their discipline in battle. They always followed orders and knew that if an army of soldiers worked together they would often be successful. In battle, the Romans fought in lines and formations.
  • Some soldiers were specifically trained to fulfill certain roles. Some were expert archers, some were trained to use giant catapults (onagers) or large crossbows called ballistas, and some were trained to fight on horseback.

This video clip gives a good summary of the life of a Roman soldier, and includes details about their equipment, weapons and army discipline.

 

Roman Weapons, Armour and Equipment

  • Roman legionaries wore armour made from iron and leather strips.
  • They wore a metal helmet called a galea.
  • Roman shields were curved so that they would fit round the soldier’s body and wide enough so that it could be butted-up to the shields of other soldiers when they were fighting in formation.
  • The gladius sword was used by Roman soldiers when they were fighting in close combat. It was particularly good for stabbing.
  • Soldiers also carried a javelin (a throwing spear).
  • When marching, the soldiers carried food rations and camping equipment (including a cooking pot and a spade).

This video goes into lots of detail about the clothing, equipment, armour and weapons which would have been worn and used by a Roman soldier.


 

What next? Discover some Roman Army facts or visit our Romans reources page.

Roman Army Facts

The Roman Army was incredibly well-organised, well-trained and highly disciplined.

Only men were allowed to be Roman soldiers and they had to be Roman citizens and at least twenty years old.

Click the link to find out some more information about Roman soldiers.

How was the Roman Army structured and organised?

The Roman Army was divided up into about 30 legions. Each legion was made up of between 4000 to 6000 soldiers. The soldiers were known as legionaries. Each legion was made up of 10 cohorts. A normal cohort contained 480 soldiers. These soldiers were divided into six groups of 80, and these were called centuries and were led by a centurion. Within each century, the men were further divided into groups of 8 called a contubernium. These 8 men would share a tent when the legion camped.

The first cohort in every legion was larger than the other cohorts. It was made up of five double centuries.

The Roman soldier who had command of the whole legion was known as a legate.

Each legion also had a group of 120 horsemen attached to it. They were used as scouts and to send messages.

This video gives a really good picture of how the a Roman legion was organised and how it would look on the battlefied from the perspective of an opposing army.


 

What were Roman auxiliaries?

Although the legionaries made up the bulk of the Roman Army, they were not the only troops used by the Romans. Non-Roman citizens could also fight for Rome as a Roman auxiliary. Auxiliaries were paid only a fraction of the wages givenb to the legionaries and they did not have use of the best armour and weapons. They were used to defend the frontiers of the Roman Empire and they were sent to the front line in battles where the fighting was most fierce.

Roman Army
Roman Legionaries (Credit)

Discover more facts about the Romans by following this link to our Roman resources page.

Facts About Ancient Roman Clothes and Costume

What did the Romans wear?

The Romans mainly wore clothes made of wool (and linen was also imported from across the Roman Empire). The style of clothing was influenced by the clothing worn by the Ancient Greeks, but it also evolved over time, incorporating fashions from all over the Empire.

The Clothes of Roman Men

Roman men usually wore a chilton (a type of tunic which came down to the knees). This could be sleeveless or have short-sleeves. A cloak was often worn over the chilton. When the weather was cold, Roman men often wore more than one tunic.

Only free Roman citizens were allowed to wear a toga. Originally, togas were worn without tunics underneath, but it soon became normal to wear a toga over the top of a simple tunic. The toga was a large (sometimes 3.5 metres wide) semi-circular piece of woolen material designed to be draped over one shoulder and then folded to fit the body. Sometimes lead weights were sewn into the hem of the toga to help it to hang properly. By law, standard togas had to be white.

Roman Toga

The Clothes of Roman Women

The stola was a long tunic. It commonly reached to the ground and could be sleeveless, have short-sleeves or long-sleeves. It was usually worn over another long tunic. A palla (a smaller and simpler version of the toga) was often worn over the stola.

Women’s clothing could be quite colourful. The most sought after colour was Tyrian purple, created from a dye extracted from the glands of murex sea snails.

Roman Clothes

The Clothes of Roman Children

Most Roman children wore a simple tunic, belted at the waist.

Children would wear a bulla (a type of amulet or charm) which was given to them when they were very small. Boys would wear it until they reached the age of sixteen and girls would keep it on until they were married.

Rich boys wore a toga with a purple edging.

Roman Underwear

Romans wore a simple loin cloth, kept in place by knots at either side of the body. Instead of bras, women wore a band of material tightly tied across the body.

Undergarments were usually made of linen, but women also used silk when if they could afford it.

Roman Cloaks

There were several different types of cloaks, and the styles changed over the history of the Roman Empire. Cloaks were basically the jackets and winter coats of the Romans. They were worn over tunics and togas (although they sometimes replaced the toga) and they often had a hood sewn into them. Cloaks could be brightly coloured and sometimes made of leather or felt.

Roman Footwear

Roman men and women often wore the same types of shoes. There were lots of different options available to the Romans and the style they went for would have been affected by the weather and whether or not they were inside or outside.

The calcei was an outdoor shoe made from soft leather. It was worn by most Romans.

Sandals were thought of as indoor shoes. Rich Romans would employ a slave to carry his sandals for him so that he could change into them when he stepped inside a building. The Romans also wore a type of slippers when they were indoors.

Roman soldiers wore the caliga – a type of military boot / sandal. It had hobnails and was very hard-wearing.

A Roman military sandal (Credit)
A Roman military sandal (Credit)

Find out more facts and information about the Romans by visiting our Romans resources page.

What language did the Romans speak?

The Romans spoke Latin, but it wasn’t the Classical Latin language that it taught in schools and universities today. The Romans would have spoken Vulgar Latin, and used Classical Latin for their writing and official events and ceremonies. Vulgar Latin was not standard and is sometimes known as Common Latin or Colloquial Latin.

The Romance Languages (such as Spanish, French, Portuguese, Romanian and Italian) all evolved from the same starting point following the fall of the Western Roman Empire – Vulgar Latin. Over time they developed into completely separate languages.

In the Eastern Roman Empire, based around Constantinople, by the 4th century, the official language was Greek and not Latin.

Click this link to learn more about the Romans.

Roman Baths: Facts and Information

How did the Romans keep clean?

Washing and keeping clean was an important part of the daily routine for the Romans. Roman public bath houses were common in Roman towns all across the Roman Empire and many rich Romans also had baths in their own villas.

Roman Baths

For Romans, bathing was not a private activity, and it wasn’t just about keeping clean. Public Roman bath houses (thermae) were more like today’s health spas, and they allowed the Romans to socialise, exercise and bathe.

Most Roman men and women would visit the bath houses daily. Women usually went early in the day (when the men were at work) and the men usually went after work.

The Romans tended to follow a set routine when they went to a bath house.

  • First they would get changed and oil their bodies. Male bathers would then go and do some exercise (such as weight-lifting, running, wrestling, ball games or swimming).
  • After exercise, the dirt and oil would be scraped off their bodies using a tool called strigil, and the bathing would begin. The Romans often started in the tepidarium (a warm room), then moved onto the caldarium (a very hot pool), before finishing in the frigidarium (the cold room).
  • After bathing, the Romans often went for a walk in the bath house gardens, enjoyed some food from the snack bar, or read a book in the on-site library.

Bath houses were designed to be pleasant places to spend time. They had mosaics, paintings, high ceilings and they allowed in a lot of natural light.

How were the baths heated?

The hypocaust was a heating system designed by the Romans. The floors of the bath house rooms were built on pillars, leaving a space below the floor and inside the walls. This space was filled with hot air from a furnace (called a praefurnium) and heated the room. The temperature could be increased by adding more fuel to the fire. In the hottest rooms of a Roman bath house, bathers had to wear special sandals to protect their feet from the hot floor-tiles.

Roman bath houses also contained public toilets. Marble seats were built over a continuously flowing water supply which would act as a flush.

This video clip provides some excellent information about the size of a bath house complex and clever engineering the Romans had to use to make them work.

 

For more information, check out this site all about the Roman baths in Bath, England, or take a look at the Primary Facts resources page for more Roman facts.

Roman Food Facts: What Did the Romans Eat?

The Romans ate a varied diet consisting of vegetables, meat and fish. The poorest Romans ate quite simple meals, but the rich were used to eating a wide range of dishes using produce from all over the Roman Empire.

Romans typically ate three meals a day – breakfast (ientaculum), lunch (prandium) and dinner (cena). Cena was the main meal.

The Romans did not sit down at a tables to eat their meals. They spread out on couches around a low, square table. They basically ate lying down! They also ate most of their meals with their fingers (although they did use spoons for some of the dishes, such as soup, and have knives to cut their food into bite-size pieces).

Fruit and Vegetables

A range of different fruits and vegetables were eaten by the Romans. They would have had: carrots, radishes, beans, dates, turnips, pears, plums, pomegranates, almonds, olives, figs, celery, apples, cabbages, pumpkins, grapes, mushrooms and many more. Some of these fruits and vegetables had never been seen in Britain before the Romans invaded.

Meat

The Romans kept animals for their meat. The rich ate beef, pork, wild boar, venison, hare, guinea fowl, pheasant, chicken, geese, peacock, duck, and even dormice (served with honey). The poorer Romans didn’t eat as much meat as the rich, but it still featured in their diet.

Fish

Lots of seafood was consumed by the Romans. They particularly enjoyed shellfish and fish sauce known as liquamen.

Bread and Porridge

Bread was a staple part of the Roman diet. Three grades of bread were made, and only rich ate refined white bread.

Pottage, a thick porridge-like stew, was made from millet or wheat. To this the Romans would add cooked meats, sauces and spices.

Roman food
The types of food eaten by poorer Romans (Credit)

The Romans liked cheese (which was mainly made from goat’s milk) and eggs (from a variety of different birds).

Romans didn’t know about sugar, so honey was used as a sweetener. Rich Romans also used salt, pepper and a range of spices to add flavour to their meals.

Roman Banquets – What did rich Romans eat?

Check out this video clip – it gives a really good sense of some of the foods that were available to rich Romans and how they would go about eating them.

What did the Romans drink?

Wine was the main drink of the Roman Empire. It was always watered down and never drunk ‘straight’. In addition to drinking wine, the Romans also drank wine mixed with other ingredients. Calda was drunk in the winter and was made from wine, water and spices. Mulsum was a honey and wine mixture.

The Romans didn’t drink beer and rarely drank milk.

Find out more facts about the Romans by visiting our Romans resouces page.

Facts About Roman Roads

In order to keep control of the large Roman Empire, the Romans realised the need for a good road network. Roman roads were used to improve the speed that armies, officials, messangers and trade goods could move around the lands controlled by the Romans.

Here are some interesting Roman road facts:

  • At the peak of the Roman Empire, there were over 400,000 km of roads connecting the provinces to Rome. A fifth of all of the roads were paved in stone.

  • In Roman Britain, the Romans constructed more than 3000 km of road. Many of these routes are still used today – the modern road having been built over the Roman road.
  • Some of the key roads of Roman Britain were: Ermine Street (London to York), Fosse Way (Exeter to Lincoln), Peddars Way (Hunstanton to Thetford), Watling Street (Dover to Wroxeter).
  • The Romans constructed three different types of roads. Via terrena were little more than country tracks and consisted of levelled earth packed down by continued use. Via glareata were levelled tracks with a gravelled surface. Via munita were paved using blocks the most suitable local stone.
  • Construction of the paved Via terrena was complex and involved constructing a layered foundation to support the paved surface. The Romans used concrete and aimed to produce a smooth road surface.
  • Paved Roman roads had a camber (slope) to allow the water to drain off them and they often incorporated a sidewalk or pavement.
  • Roman roads are famed for being incredibly straight. This is true, but they were prepared to deviate from the direct route if a straight road would be too steep.
  • If possible, the Romans preferred to work out a way of putting a road through or over an obstacle, rather than going round it. They engineered ways of cutting roads into hilly or mountainous landscapes, and they were very good at bridging rivers and constructing causeways to support a road over boggy and marshy ground.
  • An Itinerarium listed the settlements along the course of each Roman road. this would allow a traveller to plan the route they needed to take.
  • The proverb ‘all roads lead to Rome’ (meaning: there are different ways to achieve the same results) was actually based on historical fact. Rome was the centre of the Roman Empire and the road network was constructed and maintained to connect the provinces to the capital.

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Facts About Boudicca, Queen of the British Iceni Tribe

Here are some facts and interesting pieces of information about Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni tribe, who led a revolt against the Romans in Britain.

  • Boudicca was the wife of Prasutagus, the ruler of the Iceni tribe. They were based in the region of Britain now called East Anglia.

  • When the Romans settled in the south of England in 43 AD, they made an agreement with Prasutagus that he would be allowed to continue as ruler of the Iceni.
  • However, when Prasutagus died, the Roman attitude to the Iceni people changed. The Romans took property belonging to the most importnat Iceni tribesmen and they had Boudicca whipped.
  • In about 60 AD, Gaius Suetonius Paullinus, the Roman governor, was called upon to lead an a Roman army in North Wales. While he was away, the Iceni tribe, led by Boudicca, rebelled against their Roman rulers. Several other tribes – such as the Trinovantes – joined the fight.
  • The Iceni warriors managed to destroy Camulodunum (Colchester) they also defeated the Roman IX Legion.
  • Hearing the news, Paullinus rushed back from Wales and set about evacuating Londinium (London). He guessed (correctly) that it would be the Britons next target.
  • Boudicca and her army destroyed Londinium and then attacked Verulamium (St Albans), destroying that city too.
  • Some people believe that more than 70,000 people were killed in the attacks on Camulodunum, Londinium and Verulamium.
  • The Roman army in Britain regrouped in the Midlands and finally defeated the Britons in the Battle of Watling Street.
  • It is not clear what exactly happened to Boudicca. Some people say she killed herself with poison when she realised she had lost the battle. Others say that she fell ill and died.
  • People have referred to Boudicca in lots of different ways over the years. She has been known as: Bunduca, Boadicea, Bodicca, Boudica, Boudiga and Boudica, to name but a few.
  • Tacitus, the Roman historian, said that Boudicca had reddish-brown hair that hung below her waist, and she wore a large golden necklace.
  • It is said that Boudicca worshipped Andraste, an old Bristish goddess of victory.
  • The exact location of Boudicca’s defeat is not known. Historians have suggested that it is in the Midlands, somewhere along the Roman road, Watling Street.
  • The story of Boudicca was almost completely forgotten during the Middle Ages. However, she became famous again in Victorian times, as Queen Victoria was keen to be associated with such a stubborn and brave warrior.
  • Alfred Lord Tennyson, the Victorian poet, wrote a poem called Boadicea, and Prince Albert commissioned Thomas Thornycroft to create a statue of Boudicca and her daughters riding a war chariot. The sculpture was finished in 1905 and it is situated close to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge.
  •  It has been suggested that Queen Boudicca’s body is buried underneath the area between platform 9 and 10 in King’s Cross Station. This is not supported by any historical evidence, so it’s probably just a myth.