The Roman Empire, at its peak, comprised about a quarter of Europe, most of the Middle East and the entire northern coastal area of Africa. There are millions of people who speak many languages and worship different gods, but have been united by military power and the Roman government. The city of Rome has grown from an agricultural village in central Italy to become the capital of the empire.
The Roman empire collapsed almost 1500 years ago, but it still influences our lives. More than 300 million people speak languages directly related to Latin, the Roman language. Many words in English and other languages come from the Latin. The Roman law provided the basis of the law of most European and Latin American nations.
The Romans built roads, aqueducts and bridges so skilfully that many are still in use 2000 years after their construction, a building based on Roman architecture scattered throughout North and South America and Europe.
The principles that bound the Roman Empire together were justice, tolerance and desire for peace, influenced countless generations. The cruelty and greed of the Romans caused great suffering, and the use of force brought discomfort and death, but the Roman qualities of piety (sense of duty), gravitas (seriousness of purpose) and dignitas (sense of personal value) remain ideal for the peoples of every place.
In the II millennium BC, the Romans emerged from a small settlement near Rome to begin a course of expansion that was to make it the dominant power in the Mediterranean. By the 1st century AD, the Roman territories expanded from Great Britain to the North to Egypt in the south. Much of the Roman culture and trades reflected the previous Hellenistic period, yet their vast commercial network provided them with a great variety of materials. The artisans often combined styles and materials creating their unique designs. While the personal adornment was disapproved by the early Romans, their austerity attitude had diminished in the first century BC and a rich variety of jewels abounded. The Roman jewels reflected both the Hellenistic influence and the oriental taste for colored stones, glass beads, bronze, gold and silver. Although initially scarce, the real bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, was rarely used. During the second millennium, the use of real bronze increased considerably. Homer in illiad reports how Hephaestus, the god of Greek fire, threw cooper, tin, silver and gold into his furnace to make the shield of Achilles.