Over the years the Romans have gained something of a reputation for their engineering abilities. This is most evident in their construction of water supplies. The picture on the left shows the water still flowing at the baths of Aquae Sulis 2000 years after it was constructed, which to me represents quite a feat. Indeed the Roman engineering was so accurate that it has been used to make deductions about the springs at Bath in ancient times, as the flow was the same then as it is now. Equally, the precision of engineering involved in the construction of aqueducts was such that there was a gradient of around 0.5%. To me this is one of the things most remarkable about the Romans, that they were not only able to measure such a small gradient (for those interested, they used a tool called a chorobates) but that they were even able to build using it to ensure that there was a constant flow of water entering Rome.
Another way in which the Romans were defined, and in some ways chose to define themselves, was in the gladiatorial games. The colosseum, as well as being a venue for the games, was also a grand architectural gesture. What other culture would chose to build this with the spoils from their victories, in this case the siege of Jerusalem? The Athenians built the Parthenon with their spoils, however the Romans built an arena. As well as this, the idea of gladiatorial games has come down to us as one of the things that most people would name if asked 'who were the Romans?' It's interesting then, that there are so many misconceptions around the gladiators, such as the one that the games always ended in death. This was not the case, as gladiators were expensive and needed to be trained, and so they received proper medical care to ensure they could fight again. As a result, the gladiators are an important part of who the Romans really were.
The Roman army. A fascinating topic and one which I shall return to at another time (watch this space), to me it represents the Romans better than anything else. It is telling of the Romans that they turned themselves into the most efficient fighting machine of the ancient world, by borrowing ideas from others and mixing them to take the best from each. In addition, politics and the army were always linked together, and this is another unusual aspect of the Romans, especially from a modern perspective. For example, during the Republic, it was necessary to have served in the army as an officer before you could progress further in a political career, and the highest serving generals were also politicians (think of Pompey and Caesar). As a result, it is impossible to define who the Romans were without considering the army which, although not the first standing army, was for a very long time the most advanced in the world.
That concludes my two part post about 'who were the ancients?' I hope you've enjoyed reading them, and I'd love to know what your lists would look like - I'm eager to get more people reading and commenting, so please do!