The reason students and scholars continue to study and discuss the history of the Roman Empire is because it did represent a magnificent achievement in a number of areas. Its vast expanse, spreading over three continents and lasting for over 1,000 years, are in themselves unique achievements in world history. Its politics, military, economy and philosophies all formed models for future civilizations, and the palace intrigue that characterized internal Roman political life remains the subject of innumerable fiction and nonfiction books, movies and the television series thousands of years after the empire’s demise.
Among the major achievements for which the Roman Empire is recognized today includes its design and construction of theaters, temples, and many other types of buildings, remnants of some of which remain standing today, the architecture of which continues to be universally admired. In addition, the Roman Empire’s construction of roads and aquifers remain a remarkable achievement for their design and utility. The Appian Way, the most well-known and important of the early paved roads built by the Romans, remains in existence today – an impressive achievement for a road built in 312 B.C. Stretching from Rome to the southeastern Italian region of Brindisi, the Appian Way was the crown jewel of Roman roads, but it was not the only such transportation route built to the Roman specifications.
In addition to the construction of great cities, the Roman Empire is also credited with the development of the so-called Romance languages. The spread of Latin that accompanied the empire’s expansion facilitated the development of Italian, French, Spanish, and others. The Roman Empire also, as a corollary of the spread of Latin, bequeathed future generations and civilizations the alphabet in use today in much of the western world.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Roman Empire, however, remains the system of government it established. While infected with levels of intrigue and political violence under which no democratic political system could survive today, the Romans are credited with establishing a legal code that served as a model for political systems in future countries, including the United States. The emperor Justinian (492-565) oversaw development of what is known as Corpus Juris Civilis, which is considered the earliest modern expression of civil law in history and which provided the basis for the legal systems that define democracy in the modern era.
The importance of the Roman Empire to the future of western civilizations cannot be overstated. Nor, however, should the reasons for its eventual collapse be ignored.