Ancient Rome

The Portland Vase

In legend Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus, its first king. In 509 BC Rome became a republic ruled by the Senate (wealthy landowners and elders) and the Roman people.  During the 450 years of the republic Rome conquered the rest of Italy and then expanded into France, Spain, Turkey, North Africa and Greece.

Rome became very Greek influenced or “Hellenised”, filled with Greek architecture, literature, statues, wall-paintings, mosaics, pottery and glass. But with Greek culture came Greek gold, and generals and senators fought over this new wealth. The Republic collapsed in civil war and the Roman empire began. 

Starting with Augustus in 27 BC, the emperors ruled for five hundred years. They expanded Rome’s territory and by about AD 200, their vast empire stretched from Syria to Spain and from Britain to Egypt. Networks of roads connected rich and vibrant cities, filled with beautiful public buildings. A shared Greco-Roman culture linked people, goods and ideas.

The Roman empire was so large that five departments of the British Museum hold art and artefacts from it. Prehistory and Europe holds material from Roman Britain, and the whole empire after the fourth century. Ancient Egypt and Sudan has evocative mummy portraits, while Middle East has stone portraits from the city of Palmyra. Coins and Medals holds an extensive collection of Roman coins. Greece and Rome holds material from Rome’s Mediterranean heartland, in particular from Italy, Greece, Turkey and Libya.

Image caption: The Portland Vase
Perhaps from Rome, Italy, about AD 5-25