When I first wrote this page about the meaning of "romans" the approach was
to look at its definition – rather like a disambiguation effort. That content is
still shown below – "Romans" is very generic term which can refer to a variety
of areas and meanings. In this page we draw a number of these together and I
hope to go a little further by applying a further, deeper, consideration
regarding how the term "Romans" came to vary through time: What was Roman
society when Rome was first created and what was it when Rome fell or
indeed Roman society after the fall of the Roman empire? The image
points to how the various aspects and facets of "roman society" evolved
through time (say 1000 years between 500BC versus 500AD):
The word "Romans" is a collective noun, taken to
refer to Roman society in general. Roman society evolved through
time and eventually broke down from the unitary Roman during the
early kingdom (image left) to a disunited and heterogeneous
definition at the time of the fall of the Roman empire when a number
of dichotomies developed (image right).
This collective view of themselves as a single people is perhaps
most evident in the popular "SPQR" which was stamped on publicly
owned assets – "Senatus Populusque Romanus" – Belonging to the
Senate and the People of Rome!
We should also consider a broader meaning of "Romans": It is
interesting to note that after the fall of Rome in 476AD (emperor
Romulus Augustulus deposed by the Goth Odoacer) the "Roman" empire
lived on for at least another thousand years, in two semblances both of
which considered themselves "Roman" yet didn’t include the city of Rome nor
its citizens per se. We can thus say that the term "Roman" assumed a far
greater meaning than it holds today, including the broad concept of
geographical extension, economic power, imperial rule, united cultural
identity and social unity which could be identified with the "pax Romana".
It is doubtful that either instance actually achieved anything close to the
Roman empire but they do confirm a definition of Romanity far broader than
we would understand today:
- The name "Romans" for the Roman people is said to come from the name of
Romulus, founder of the city of Rome. Rome the city = Romans the
- Ethnicity of the ancient Romans: It should be noted however that
early Roman society was a collection of peoples of difference ethnic
origin. There were essentially three "tribes". One of these being the local
Latins (represented by Romulus), the second were the Sabines ruled by king
Titius Tatius, and thirdly the
Etruscans. A dispute between the Roman
and Sabine contingents of society was settled by an agreement that whilst
the Sabines would become "Roman" subjects, the Roman people would be called
"Quirites" (the Sabines were said to descend from a local deity called
Quirinus. Ie Romans were collectively known as the "Quirites". For a
period Romulus and Titius were co-regents of ancient Rome although Titius
Tatius is not generally counted amongst the 7 kings of Rome.
- A large variety of ethnicities were included within the collective
umbrella of Roman citizens and this variety grew as the empire expanded
and citizenship was extended to the provinces. Nevertheless we should
also recognise that the peoples and ethnicities within ancient Rome were
varied from the very beginning:
- As the story of Romulus tells us, the population of Rome was
initially built up by accepting people in need of protection and refuge
as well as through the combination of Latins, Sabines and Etruscans.
The Etruscans it is believed were themselves partly of Turkish origin.
The mythology around Rome’s foundation also gives repeated signals of
early settlers from Greece/Turkey such as the story of Evander and of
Aeneas. The earliest written language was driven by that of the Euboeans
which had settled at Cuma, in southern Italy.
- Rome’s success as a trading centre brought "clients" from far and
wide: merchants who often settled in the growing city to make their
- Many slaves were imported into the city as the campaigns
against Greece and Carthage and into the East progressed. A number of
these slaves became liberti (freed slaves = free men) and hence Roman
citizens. Their children could aspire to political careers and of course
there are many examples of rich liberti who dedicated temples or other
public works in memory of the good they had received from the city which
had become their home.
- Study of ancient Roman art including sculpture and portraits
gives us some relatively good insight into some of the more common
ethnicities in Roman society.
- The Roman empire had moved its capital from Rome to Constantinople.
Even though the empire of the west and Rome had fallen, the emperor at
Constantinople and the people under him still considered themselves as
rightful representatives of the "Roman empire".
- The "Holy Roman Empire" –in spite of the western half of the empire
having fallen the myth of Rome, its cultural heritage and its empire
lived on and during the Middle Ages was refashioned by the
Gallo-Germanic conquerors into the "Holy Roman Empire". The king of the
Franks "Charlemagne" managed to assemble something close to what was the
Roman dominion of mainland Europe and a strong alliance with the
Catholic church: The Pope crowned him Emperor of the Romans in 800AD
whilst Charlemagne bequeathed large portions of Italy to papal rule.
Charlemagne’s empire eventually broke in half, the eastern (German)
portion becoming the "Holy Roman Empire", comprising much of Central and
Eastern Europe as well as large portions of Italy, yet in spite of its
name it never actually included the city of Rome itself.
"Romans" is also the name used for an epistle (letter) written by the
Roman Christian Saint Paul. It’s correct name is "Epistle of Paul to the
Romans" and it forms the 6th book of the New Testament in the
Christian bible. It is generally considered Saint Paul’s most important
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written in 2010 by Giovanni Milani-Santarpia for www.mariamilani.com