Etruscan Tombs

Etruscan tombs are extremely fascinating, particularly the ones dating back to around the sixth century BC due to their architectural detail and decoration. Clearly the types of tomb employed throughout Etruscan civilisation varied somewhat and included solutions such as cremation, burial in chambers or even in deep wells.
The tombs at Tarquinia and Cerveteri are particularly interesting because they are of the chamber type: a large mound would be piled on top of a circular wall with an entrance to it. The entrance would often lead downwards into a passageway and into a number of chambers, rather like a house. The one in the image below is particularly well known for the large number of relief sculptures showing the different types of implements and tools one would have had in one’s own home at the time. This tomb is also interesting for the ceiling, which has obviously been sculpted to mimic the ceiling of housing of the time.

Reasons for the collapse and fall of the roman empire

The reasons for the collapse and fall of the roman empire can be approached in different ways, none of which can be demonstrated to be the right one. Answering the question goes to the core of philosophy:


  • historical events can be considered in a cause-effect structure, which has the nasty hitch of removing the idea of human free will and after all what is history if not a description of human affairs, presumably free thinking humans? Ie if every event in the timeline of Roman history is the result of the preceding event (its cause) then the event must be considered as pre-destined. So the fall of the Roman empire was predestined from the very beginning. Yuck!
  • On the other hand we could take a “teleological” approach which considers that events are driven by a final goal (whatever that might be) and hence permit some human free will (phew, I’m not a robot). In this model of Roman history we can actually allow the question of “what might have been done to avoid the decline and fall of the Roman empire”.


To get another angle at understanding the issue it is interesting to consider St.Augustine who was a Christian fore-father who furthermore happened to be alive at the time when the Roman empire was falling. The Christians played a big big role at the time of the roman empire’s collapse and are certainly one of the factors at play, although it’s difficult to say whether they were a cause as such. One of St. Augustine’s issues was this: if humans behave according to cause-effect in a causal kind of world then we cannot say we are free to choose because everything is predestined, and if so we cannot be blamed (by God) for our sins! As you can see, digging into historical events and the roles of people within them requires us to use a variety of tools.

A Teleological approach to explaining the reasons for the collapse of the Roman empire

So the teleological (the second) approach to the fall of the Roman empire seems an obvious choice – but it’s also tough to unravel as it’s like answering the question “why did the chicken cross the road” and possibly getting the unreasonable answer “to get to the other side“. If we tried it on the reasons for the fall of the Roman empire we might get a weirdly esoterical answer like:


  • Actually if you look at the timeline of Ancient RomeRoman society had already run its course and died long before the 4th century AD. Roman society had found a degree of equilibrium for its “Jungian” tensions of collective unconscious when “panem et circenses” proved to be a suitable answer for “happiness” and eliminated the cause for tension between poor Plebeians and rich Patricians. What we consider as the fall of the Roman empire only happened after “true” Roman society had already died out and been quietly replaced by a “civitas” where foreign barbarians with foreign values, foreign cultures and foreign personal aims far outnumbered true Romans and failed to use the Roman system to find their own social goal.“This made-up goal-ended answer is clearly full of broad unprovable statements but it is suggesting some intriguing ideas:
    • What we consider the fall of the Roman empire is simply the outwardly, delayed and visible effect of a society which had reached its “goal” (if such an concept really existed).
    • Roman society died out when it had evolved to its nirvana and the Roman empire fell because of the squatters who moved in in search of their own nirvana (and evidently didn’t find it)
    • This answer is pretty much in line with what the Christians of the time were saying – ie that pagan roman society was a decaying corpse; except they were blaming it on paganism as a religioius system rather than considering the demise of the empire as the aftermath of ancient Roman society having achieved its peaceful goal.


The Teleological (goal based) approach seems to give some interesting insights and it allows for free will but takes us into uncharted esoterical waters. Using it more extensively would require many pages worth of unqualifiable conjecture; the causal approach is easier and academically less dangerous to chat about.

A mechanistic-causal approach to explaining the reasons for the fall of the roman empire

I suggest that whoever is approaching the subject should start by taking the causal path, use it to learn the factors involved as if the result really were an inevitability and then step back and consider it all over again from a social- teleological standpoint. Very difficult and inevitably takes you into deep philosophy and psychology; I personally found Carl Jung and Myers-Briggs an interesting way to go (not discussed further in this article).

Returning to the “simple” causal approach….The reasons for the collapse and fall of the roman empire are broad and varied. As with other cataclysmic events it is not a single action, but rather a set chain of events coupled with a “final” trigger which takes history in a new direction. The chain can be there for a while and the final event may have failed to trigger a few times, but in the end statistical chance won the day:


  • Economic decline: all the wealth lay in the East. Nasty imbalance of trade.
  • Mutated social conditions, in terms of values, morals, individual objectives.
  • A shift in religion to Christianity which underpinned the failure of the “old” model of Romanity and rule. Perhaps it was a cause, perhaps a catalyst.
  • Overly extended boundaries created unsurmountable logistical and resource issues.
  • Increasing threat from outside the empire’s borders and indeed from her own allies and provinces ie geopolitics of a scale never encountered before.
  • Increasing power of the military. Strong link between military and ruling power made for highly unstable politics and hence lack of true government.
  • Ruling class’ increasing stranglehold on Roman society and trade. In spite of a series of adequate social, economic and technological conditions being place, comparable to those of pre.industrial revolution England, the ruling class (Roman Emperor) had great interest in maintaining the status quo – even as a means of avoiding social unrest. One way or another, social unrest or social dismemberment seems to have been structural and unavoidable…. sounds rather like a recipe for Hegelian historical cycles and Marxist social revolutions doesn’t it? I guess it’s a danger of the causal approach.


Having chosen the causal approach, and trying to remember that the approach itself will have a bias for a certain kind of conclusion (a little like the paradox of Schrodinger’s cat in physics), we will ponder the variety of factors both internal and external, which made up the chain of internal events leading to the collapse of ancient Roman civilisation: social, military, political, economic and religious as well as geopolitical (external to the empire).

These aspects of the fall of the Roman empire will be given some further consideration in the following sections:


Supremacy of the Roman Gods

In the earliest times of Rome it was prohibited to represent the gods with human semblance. This attitude was at times reinforced as an action to determine the supremacy of the Roman gods.

This is of interest when we think of similar theological issues of “iconoclasm” regarding the representation of god and Christ which raged on right through the Renaissance and Baroque. We can see this theological problem making itself felt in Rome towards the end of the empire when mosaics of Byzantine inspiration avoided excessively naturalistic facial features in representations of holy figures.

There were also a number of gods according to human attributes such as Spes (hope) and Fides (faithfulness) for example. Relatively ad hoc gods also came into being such as “Romulus”, founder of the city, “Rome” the city itself and most if not all the city’s emperors from Augustus onwards. Julius Caesar was also deified after his death.

A face was given to all of these deities and they were often represented on coins and public buildings as part and parcel of the political propaganda of the times.

Each divinity had its easily recognisable, personal attributes such as lightning, eagles, a chariot, a cornucopia (horn full of fruit), a snake and so on. These attributes allowed the deities which might be represented on coins to be instantly recognisable and be associated with the ruler or emperor shown on the other face of the coin.

Ancient Roman Recipes

Numerous ancient Roman recipes have made their way down to us although we cannot be absolutely certain of their accuracy given that the primary sources, such as Apicius’ De Coquinaria have made it down to us via copies made by monks and quite likely distorted by tastes and available ingredients of their own times.

It is interesting how incredibly popular ingredients or elements of Roman cookery such as the fish based sauce called “Garum” should become completely unknown to us, at least as far as its preparation is concerned.

As outlined in our page on Roman food the foods and recipes found on Roman tables varied and went in parallel with did Roman fortunes, wealth and culture both on the way up and the subsequent way down. The early Romans were austere shepherds/warriors. The Romans of the Republic were increasingly rich and in spite of the warnings of a nostalgic few such as Cato, avidly took on the habits of the populations they took over, for example the Greeks.

Conquest and riches gave access to imports from distant countries and exotic spices and ingredients with the obvious consequences this would have on traditional foods and recipes.

It seems that Roman recipes were handed from cook to cook with little information by way of quantities, presumably because it would be the cook’s on job to decide how and how much of each ingredient to add.

The philosophy behind Roman cookery (and tastes) was one of addition. This contrasts with the modern western approach whereby the various ingredients and spices are generally meant to enhance and support a major flavour which takes the principal role in the dish. This could possibly be likened to oriental cookery where the notion of opposites (ying and yang) plays a strong role and opposing flavours are often played against one another in equally powerful quantities. For example in sweet and sour!

The space that follows will be employed to add ancient Roman recipes….


Please note: these recipes are shown for information purposes only. Should you try them you are doing so at your own risk – but do let us know how you get on!

Fabam Vitellianam – Cream of broad beans à la Vitellio – Cook the broad beans and when it has frothed add leaks, coriander and mallow wild flowers.


Roman Aqueducts

Despite the river Tiber and a small number of springs, the natural water supply was not sufficient for the city of Rome, particularly at its greatest expansion.

The first aqueduct, the Aqua Appia, was build by Appius Claudius who was Censor for 18 months around 312BC (AUC441).  He also commissioned the first military road – the Via Appia. At first both public works were heavily criticised in the Senate for their high cost. Their social and strategic value later went unquestioned as even their construction provided the benefit of acting as a good source of stable employment for many plebeians. Both undertakings bear his name.

The aqueduct runs along an underground tunnel from about the 7th mile of the Via Prenestina (one of the Consular roads of Rome) before reaching a reservoir called a “castellum” near the city’s Porta Capena gate. When fully functional it carried some 75000 cubic meters of water per day into the city around the heavily populated Aventine hill. A section of this aqueduct can still be seen running across the top of the Porta Maggiore gate of Rome.

This point was particularly favourable as a water entry point to the city due to its relative topographical height above the rest of the urban area. Other water aqueducts arriving to Rome at this point include Anio Vetus (275BC), Aqua Marcia(144), Aqua Tepula (125), Aqua Iulia (33BC), Aqua Claudia and Aqua Novus (52AD). These last two are some 70kilometers in length and bring water all the way from Tivoli. Porta Maggiore is itself the result of a number of arches from these aqueducts which were included within the Aurelian defense walls of the city.

Other aqueducts were built during the next 500 years until the year 226AD, making a total of eleven. Most of the water was drawn from the hills to the south of Rome and from the area east of the city, near Tivoli. A couple drew water from the north, around the Volcanic lake of Bracciano.

The water drawn by the aqueducts entered the city through their own form of Triumphal monument called the mostra “the show”. The mostra was a particularly pompous fountain which was usually directly connected with the castellum. Although not of ancient Roman origin a famous mostra is the Trevi fountain. Similarly to the Trevi fountain, two of the best known fountains of antiquity were themselves mostre. One, the Julia fountain is still partially visible in the square in front of Rome’s central railway Termini station. The other was known as the Meta Sudans and was situated next to the Colosseum near to where the arch of Constantine stands. From here the water was distributed throughout the city for public use, in large villas, fountains and public baths.

The water system was so evolved as to cater for public lavatories also. Emperor Vespasian was responsible for the introduction of these lavatories throughout the city. This was not only aimed at hygiene but also at improving state finances as he introduced fines for soiling, as well as charging for use of the toilets. The public toilets were built as a large room with a number of toilet seats, with holes, built into the walls. A continuous stream of water ran under the seats to the sewers. Users of the toilets could then wash at a fountain situated in the same room – just like a modern public toilet (except for the lack of privacy)! The association with toilets ensured that the name Vespasian has never been popular for one’s children.

The barbarian invasions which brought an end to the Roman Empire of the West resulted in the eventual breaking of the aqueducts in order to cut the city’s water supplies. The Goths, led by Vitiges cut them in the year 537AD forcing the dwindling population of the city to rely on the river Tiber for several hundreds of years thereafter.

Restoration and renovation of the aqueducts only began with the Renaissance during which period a large number of fountains and water displays were added to embellish the city. The total number of aqueducts gradually increased until it was brought back up to eight by the early 1950’s.

Ancient Roman Leaders


A brief page on Roman Leaders in continuation to the broader article Ancient Roman leaders. It includes a general conclusion on the subject as well as a diagram of the important Scipio family who defined Rome’s future and included many notable leaders of all political and military camps.

Roman leaders in early Rome










A simplified genealogy of the Scipio family – great Roman leaders! – is given below.

Genealogy of the Scipio Family in Ancient Rome (gens Cornelia)

The Scipios formed a lengthy family tree which entwined itself with other great names of Roman history such as the Gracchi. The diagram above is a simplified version of the full family tree but sufficient to show the extent of Roman leadership within a single family: consuls and military leaders famous for their endeavours in the Punic wars which gave Rome supremacy of the Mediterranean, all the way through to defenders of plebeian rights (tribunes of the people) eventually assassinated for their revolutionary endeavours.

Their “revolutionary” reforms, particularly free grain for the poor, eventually became standard practice thanks to the example first given by Julius Caesar and eventually carried through by all the Emperors who followed him.

Concluding Remarks about Ancient Roman Leaders

It is interesting to note that the genealogy of the gens Cornelia shown above touches on leading figures of ancient Rome which span the entire period between the conquest of Italy, the wars with Carthage, domination of the Mediterranean almost reaching the final  crisis of the republic and the social wars of 90-80BC. Why is this interesting? Because if we consider aspects such as roman inventions, the roman economy, and even look at provincial cities such as ancient Pompeii, we will note that this period was both convulsed with civil strife yet at the same time a period of great socio-economic growth and wealth.

It is poignant to compare this group of Roman leaders with the Caesars and Julio-Claudian dynasty which ruled the Roman empire over a century later – the different, orientalising, approach to leadership exercised by emperors such as Caligula and perhaps most memorable in Nero’s model of rule and leadership. The plebeain masses came to hold less sway in daily politics and fortunes of the empire. The role of some Roman women such as Livia and Agrippina the younger played fundamental roles in establishing the rights to rule and the Roman army (increasingly full of plebeians) took an increasing role in establishing imperial nominees.

This was the period when the balance of Roman society really began to shift and even the definition of Romans was changing. With hindsight we can see there was still with some growth to come and the empire was still to reach its greatest extension but some of the aspects and symptoms of the fall of the Roman empire already beginning to manifest themselves. Few Roman leaders were truly able to reverse the ongoing process of decline.

Leaders and Caesars of Ancient Rome in chronological order: | ancient Roman kings | Tarquin | Marius | Sulla | Rome Julius Caesar | Augustus |The 12 Caesars | Emperor Tiberius |  Caligula | Emperor Claudius | Emperor Nero | Emperor Vespasian | Hadrian | Roman Emperor Trajan | Rome’s Five Good Emperors | Emperor Constantine | Emperor Justinian | Other emperors of Ancient Rome |

You might also have a look at what it was to be emperor or “imperator”. A list of Roman emperors.  A general look at famous Romans such as Scaevola “the left handed”.

Interesting external links about ancient Roman leaders

An interesting look at the value of hereditary leadership in ancient Rome

Thought-provoking essay comparing Ancient Roman leaders, the Empire, the US and Barack Obama



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"Ancient Rome" was written by Giovanni Milani-Santarpia for - Ancient Rome History Designed by VSdesign Copyright © Maria Milani 2017