The ancient city of Rome gave its name to an empire that stretched from Britain to the Arabian Peninsula. While political life was centered in the city of Rome—the seat of the Senate and of the emperor—“Rome” came to represent a much broader geographic expanse. From the second century BCE to the third century CE, Rome’s magnitude was reflected in the diversity of experiences of all those who lived within the empire’s borders, not just those who lived in the shadow of the great Colosseum (Figure 7.1).
Rome was a patriarchal society that achieved success through military dominance, patriotism, and respect for authority. Romans prided themselves on the status and reputation they achieved through military or political service, as well as through their claims of noble ancestors. This arrangement largely benefited upper-class Roman men, while others struggled to navigate the system and were subject to domination by the elite. Roman women and enslaved people were held to restrictive cultural standards for their behavior, though many were able to overcome these and hold real influence in Roman society. The complexity of daily life in Rome is key to understanding the way the empire functioned and flourished at its height.