When I first wrote this page about the meaning of “romans” the approach was to look at its definition – rather like a disambiguation effort. That content is still shown below – “Romans” is very generic term which can refer to a variety of areas and meanings.
In this page we draw a number of these together and I hope to go a little further by applying a further, deeper, consideration regarding how the term “Romans” came to vary through time: What was Roman society when Rome was first created and what was it when Rome fell or indeed Roman society after the fall of the Roman empire? The image points to how the various aspects and facets of “roman society” evolved through time (say 1000 years between 500BC versus 500AD):
- The name “Romans” for the Roman people is said to come from the name of Romulus, founder of the city of Rome. Rome the city = Romans the people.
- Ethnicity of the ancient Romans: It should be noted however that early Roman society was a collection of peoples of difference ethnic origin. There were essentially three “tribes”. One of these being the local Latins (represented by Romulus), the second were the Sabines ruled by king Titius Tatius, and thirdly the Etruscans. A dispute between the Roman and Sabine contingents of society was settled by an agreement that whilst the Sabines would become “Roman” subjects, the Roman people would be called “Quirites” (the Sabines were said to descend from a local deity called Quirinus. Ie Romans were collectively known as the “Quirites”. For a period Romulus and Titius were co-regents of ancient Rome although Titius Tatius is not generally counted amongst the 7 kings of Rome.
- A large variety of ethnicities were included within the collective umbrella of Roman citizens and this variety grew as the empire expanded and citizenship was extended to the provinces. Nevertheless we should also recognise that the peoples and ethnicities within ancient Rome were varied from the very beginning:
- As the story of Romulus tells us, the population of Rome was initially built up by accepting people in need of protection and refuge as well as through the combination of Latins, Sabines and Etruscans. The Etruscans it is believed were themselves partly of Turkish origin. The mythology around Rome’s foundation also gives repeated signals of early settlers from Greece/Turkey such as the story of Evander and of Aeneas. The earliest written language was driven by that of the Euboeans which had settled at Cuma, in southern Italy.
- Rome’s success as a trading centre brought “clients” from far and wide: merchants who often settled in the growing city to make their fortune.
- Many slaves were imported into the city as the campaigns against Greece and Carthage and into the East progressed. A number of these slaves became liberti (freed slaves = free men) and hence Roman citizens. Their children could aspire to political careers and of course there are many examples of rich liberti who dedicated temples or other public works in memory of the good they had received from the city which had become their home.
- Study of ancient Roman art including sculpture and portraits gives us some relatively good insight into some of the more common ethnicities in Roman society.
- We should also consider a broader meaning of “Romans”: It is interesting to note that after the fall of Rome in 476AD (emperor Romulus Augustulus deposed by the Goth Odoacer) the “Roman” empire lived on for at least another thousand years, in two semblances both of which considered themselves “Roman” yet didn’t include the city of Rome nor its citizens per se. We can thus say that the term “Roman” assumed a far greater meaning than it holds today, including the broad concept of geographical extension, economic power, imperial rule, united cultural identity and social unity which could be identified with the “pax Romana”. It is doubtful that either instance actually achieved anything close to the Roman empire but they do confirm a definition of Romanity far broader than we would understand today:
- The Roman empire had moved its capital from Rome to Constantinople. Even though the empire of the west and Rome had fallen, the emperor at Constantinople and the people under him still considered themselves as rightful representatives of the “Roman empire”.
- The “Holy Roman Empire” –in spite of the western half of the empire having fallen the myth of Rome, its cultural heritage and its empire lived on and during the Middle Ages was refashioned by the Gallo-Germanic conquerors into the “Holy Roman Empire”. The king of the Franks “Charlemagne” managed to assemble something close to what was the Roman dominion of mainland Europe and a strong alliance with the Catholic church: The Pope crowned him Emperor of the Romans in 800AD whilst Charlemagne bequeathed large portions of Italy to papal rule. Charlemagne’s empire eventually broke in half, the eastern (German) portion becoming the “Holy Roman Empire”, comprising much of Central and Eastern Europe as well as large portions of Italy, yet in spite of its name it never actually included the city of Rome itself.
“Romans” is also the name used for an epistle (letter) written by the Roman Christian Saint Paul. It’s correct name is “Epistle of Paul to the Romans” and it forms the 6th book of the New Testament in the Christian bible. It is generally considered Saint Paul’s most important theological contribution.