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Lesson Plans of Ancient Roman Civilization: Early Roman Empire

A Foundation of Stability and Expansion

The Early Roman Empire, spanning from 27 BC to AD 284, marks one of the most pivotal periods in the annals of history. This era, initiated by the reign of Augustus, heralded a transformative phase for Rome, setting the foundations for an empire that would dominate the ancient world for centuries. The significance of this period lies not only in its historical events but also in its contributions to the development of governance, culture, architecture, and the arts, which continue to influence contemporary society.

The Dawn of a New Era

The transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire was anything but smooth. The Republic, plagued by internal strife, political instability, and class divisions, was ill-equipped to manage the vast territories it controlled. The assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC culminated in a series of civil wars, out of which Augustus, then known as Octavian, emerged victorious. In 27 BC, he was bestowed the title "Augustus," signifying the beginning of the Roman Empire and his reign as its first emperor.

The Pax Romana: A Period of Unprecedented Peace

One of Augustus's most enduring legacies was the establishment of the Pax Romana, or "Roman Peace," a period of relative stability and peace across the empire that lasted for over two centuries. This era was characterized by significant reductions in large-scale conflict, which allowed for economic prosperity, extensive infrastructure projects, and the flourishing of arts and culture. The Pax Romana was instrumental in cementing the Roman Empire's dominance and facilitated the assimilation and spread of Roman culture and language throughout its territories.

Expansion and Architectural Marvels

The Early Empire was marked by territorial expansion under emperors like Trajan and Hadrian. Trajan's conquests reached the greatest extent of the Roman Empire, encompassing vast regions of the Near East, North Africa, and Europe. Hadrian, known for his architectural contributions, commissioned the construction of the Pantheon, Castel Sant'Angelo, and Hadrian's Wall in Britain, underscoring the empire's architectural and engineering prowess.

The monumental construction projects of this period were not only feats of engineering but also served to glorify the emperors and the empire, reinforcing the Roman presence in conquered territories. These projects facilitated the integration of diverse cultures within the empire and promoted the spread of Roman architectural and engineering techniques.

Legacy and Importance

Studying the Early Roman Empire offers valuable insights into the mechanisms of power, governance, and cultural integration that enabled a single state to control such a vast and diverse territory for centuries. The establishment of imperial institutions and the concept of a centralized authority under the emperor influenced subsequent forms of governance in European history.

Moreover, the architectural and cultural achievements of this period have left a lasting legacy, influencing the development of Western art, architecture, legal systems, and urban planning. The Roman Empire's emphasis on infrastructure, such as roads and aqueducts, set standards for public works that are still admired today.

The Early Roman Empire is a testament to the complexities and capabilities of human societies to govern vast territories, integrate diverse cultures, and leave a lasting impact on subsequent generations. The period from 27 BC to AD 284 offers not only a historical narrative of conquest and governance but also lessons on the importance of stability, cultural exchange, and innovation. As such, studying the Early Empire and events like it enriches our understanding of history and its relevance to contemporary challenges in governance, cultural integration, and infrastructure development.

The World During the Early Roman Empire (27 BC–AD 284)

The Early Roman Empire, spanning from 27 BC to AD 284, was a period of significant transformation and consolidation within Rome. However, to fully appreciate the historical context of this era, it's essential to look beyond the borders of the Roman Empire and explore concurrent events around the world. This broader perspective reveals a dynamic tapestry of civilizations, each contributing to the complex history of this time.

The Han Dynasty in China (206 BC–AD 220)

While Augustus established the Roman Empire, the Han Dynasty flourished in China, marking a golden age of economic prosperity, cultural achievement, and expansion. The Han Dynasty paralleled the Roman Empire in many ways, with significant advances in science, technology, engineering, and philosophy. The Silk Road, a network of trade routes, was established during the Han period, facilitating the exchange of goods, ideas, and cultures between East and West.

The Rise of the Kushan Empire (1st–3rd Century AD)

In the region that is now northern India, Afghanistan, and parts of Central Asia, the Kushan Empire emerged as a significant power. Under the leadership of emperors like Kanishka the Great, the Kushan Empire played a crucial role in the spread of Buddhism across Central Asia to China and acted as a cultural bridge between the Roman Empire and ancient India. The Kushans also contributed to the rich tapestry of Silk Road trade, connecting the East with the West.

The Teotihuacan Civilization in Mesoamerica (1st Century BC–7th Century AD)

While Rome was building its monuments and expanding its territories, the Teotihuacan civilization in present-day Mexico was constructing the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. Teotihuacan was one of the largest cities in the world at its zenith, indicative of a highly organized society with advanced knowledge in architecture and urban planning. The city's influence extended throughout Mesoamerica, impacting the development of later civilizations, such as the Maya and the Aztecs.

The Emergence of the Sasanian Empire (AD 224–651)

Toward the end of the Early Roman Empire period, a new power arose in Persia: the Sasanian Empire. Founded by Ardashir I, the Sasanian dynasty replaced the Parthian Empire and became Rome's main rival for dominance in the Near East. The Sasanians were renowned for their military prowess, architectural innovations, and contributions to art and culture. Their conflicts with the Roman Empire would shape the political and cultural landscape of the Middle East for centuries.

The Development of the Mayan Civilization (c. 2000 BC–AD 250 start of the Classic Period)

The Mayan civilization, although having developed earlier, began its Classic Period around AD 250, towards the end of the Early Roman Empire era. The Mayans are known for their sophisticated writing system, as well as their advancements in mathematics, astronomy, and architecture. The construction of iconic cities such as Tikal and Palenque during this period reflects the Mayans' complex societal structure and their deep spiritual and astronomical knowledge.

The period of the Early Roman Empire was not an isolated epoch of advancement and consolidation; it was part of a global mosaic of human achievement. From the bustling trade routes of the Silk Road to the architectural marvels of Mesoamerica, this era witnessed profound developments that shaped the course of human history. Understanding these concurrent events offers a more nuanced appreciation of this period, highlighting the interconnectedness of human societies across continents and the shared drive towards complexity, innovation, and expansion.

Key Figures of the Early Roman Empire

The Early Roman Empire (27 BC–AD 284) stands as a foundational period in the annals of Western civilization, marked by unprecedented achievements in governance, military conquest, architecture, and the arts. This era's impact was largely shaped by its leaders, whose visions and policies not only expanded the empire's boundaries but also laid the groundwork for its lasting influence on subsequent generations. Delving into the lives and legacies of these figures offers invaluable insights into the complexity of leadership and empire-building, underscoring the importance of historical research in understanding our past and its bearing on our present and future.

Augustus (63 BC–AD 14)

Born Gaius Octavius Thurinus and later known as Octavian, Augustus was the founder of the Roman Empire and its first emperor. He established the imperial system that would govern Rome for the next few centuries, marking the end of the Roman Republic. His reign brought about the Pax Romana, a period of peace and stability unseen in the history of the empire. Augustus' administrative reforms, military expansions, and patronage of the arts left a lasting legacy, making him one of the most pivotal figures in Western history.

Trajan (AD 53–117)

Marcus Ulpius Traianus, better known as Trajan, was Roman emperor from AD 98 to 117. Recognized as one of the empire's greatest military leaders, his conquests expanded Rome's borders to their greatest extent, stretching from the Iberian Peninsula to the Persian Gulf. Trajan's rule is noted for its ambitious building projects, including Trajan's Forum, Trajan's Market, and Trajan's Column in Rome, which celebrated his victory in the Dacian Wars. His policies towards the provinces and his efforts to improve Rome's infrastructure contributed significantly to the empire's prosperity.

Hadrian (AD 76–138)

Hadrian succeeded Trajan and is best known for his extensive building projects throughout the empire, including the Pantheon in Rome, rebuilt during his reign, and Hadrian's Wall in Britain, marking the empire's northern frontier. Hadrian traveled extensively, visiting nearly every province of the empire to inspect and improve its administration and defenses. His reign is characterized by a consolidation of the empire's territories, emphasizing defense over expansion.

Marcus Aurelius (AD 121–180)

Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic philosopher and Roman emperor from AD 161 to 180, is often remembered for his work "Meditations," a series of personal writings reflecting his Stoic beliefs. His reign was marked by military conflicts on the empire's northern and eastern borders, but he is most celebrated for his philosophical insights and the example he set as a "philosopher-king." Marcus Aurelius' thoughts on duty, resilience, and the nature of life continue to resonate today, making him a significant figure in both history and philosophy.

Diocletian (AD 244–311)

Although Diocletian's reign began slightly after the period in question, his actions had a profound impact on the structure of the Roman Empire, setting the stage for its later divisions. He introduced significant administrative reforms, including the tetrarchy, a system of rule by four co-emperors, to address the empire's vast size and complexity. Diocletian's policies helped stabilize the economy and the empire's borders, laying the groundwork for the Byzantine Empire's longevity.

The Importance of Researching Their Histories

Studying the lives and legacies of these figures is crucial for several reasons. First, it offers insights into the challenges and responsibilities of leadership in one of history's most powerful empires. Second, it helps us understand the policies and innovations that contributed to the empire's stability, expansion, and cultural achievements. Finally, by examining the successes and failures of these leaders, we gain perspective on the universal themes of power, governance, and human ambition that remain relevant in today's world.

Researching the history of the Early Roman Empire and its leaders not only enriches our understanding of the past but also provides lessons that can inform our approach to contemporary leadership, governance, and cultural preservation.

Archaeological Discoveries from the Early Roman Empire

The Early Roman Empire, stretching from 27 BC to AD 284, was a formative period in the history of Western civilization, characterized by monumental architecture, the expansion of empire, and the consolidation of imperial power. Archaeological discoveries from this era have provided invaluable insights into Roman life, culture, and the extent of Roman influence across the known world. These findings not only illuminate the grandeur of the empire but also offer a glimpse into the daily lives of its citizens.

Augustus and the Foundations of Empire

  • The Res Gestae Divi Augusti: One of the most significant textual artifacts from the reign of Augustus is the "Res Gestae Divi Augusti" (The Deeds of the Divine Augustus), an autobiographical inscription that outlines the achievements of Augustus. Found engraved on bronze tablets and stone monuments throughout the empire, this document offers direct insight into Augustus's policies, accomplishments, and how he wished to be remembered by posterity.

  • Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace): Discovered in pieces throughout the 20th century and now reconstructed in Rome, the Ara Pacis celebrates Augustus’s achievements and the peace he brought to the Roman Empire. Its intricate reliefs depict members of the imperial family and symbolize fertility and prosperity under Augustus's rule.

The Expansion and Grandeur of Rome

  • Trajan's Column: Erected in AD 113 in Rome, Trajan's Column commemorates Emperor Trajan's victory in the Dacian Wars. The spiral bas-relief carving provides a detailed pictorial account of the campaigns, offering insights into Roman military practices, equipment, and the complexity of their engineering projects.

  • Hadrian's Wall: Spanning the width of modern-day Northern England, Hadrian's Wall was a Roman frontier defensive structure. Excavations along the wall have uncovered Roman forts, settlements, and artifacts that depict military life and the interactions between Romans and local tribes.

The Daily Life of Romans

  • Pompeii and Herculaneum: The catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 preserved these Roman cities in ash, providing an unparalleled snapshot of Roman daily life. Excavations have uncovered houses, shops, frescoes, and even graffiti, offering clues to the social, economic, and domestic practices of the time.

  • Ostia Antica: Once the bustling harbor city of ancient Rome, Ostia provides evidence of the empire's commercial activities. Archaeological digs have revealed warehouses, apartment buildings, and taverns, painting a detailed picture of urban life and commerce in the Roman world.

Religious and Cultural Integration

  • The Pantheon: Originally built during the reign of Augustus and later rebuilt by Hadrian, the Pantheon in Rome, with its revolutionary dome and oculus, is a testament to Roman architectural innovation and the empire's religious pluralism. The temple was dedicated to all the gods, reflecting the inclusive approach to religion that allowed Rome to integrate diverse peoples into its empire.

  • Luxor Temple Graffiti: Inscriptions by Roman soldiers stationed in Egypt, found on the ancient walls of Luxor Temple, illustrate the far-reaching presence of Rome and the interactions between Roman military personnel and Egyptian culture.

The archaeological evidence from the Early Roman Empire reveals a civilization of complexity, innovation, and diversity. These discoveries not only underscore the architectural and military prowess of the Romans but also offer intimate glimpses into the lives of individuals who lived through this transformative period. As excavations continue and new technologies allow for more nuanced interpretations of artifacts, our understanding of the Early Roman Empire will undoubtedly deepen, shedding light on the intricacies of Roman society and its lasting impact on the world.

Life Lessons and Thought Processes

The Early Roman Empire, from 27 BC to AD 284, offers more than a chronicle of ancient governance and conquests; it serves as a profound source of life lessons and insights into human thought processes. By examining the reigns of emperors like Augustus, Trajan, and Hadrian, we can extract timeless wisdom applicable to both personal growth and understanding complex societal dynamics. Here are several key lessons and thought processes derived from studying this pivotal period in history.

Adaptability and Vision

Augustus’s transformation from Octavian, a player in the Republic’s complex political theater, to the first emperor of Rome, underscores the importance of adaptability and vision. He navigated through political turmoil, reformed the Roman constitution, and laid the groundwork for a stable and enduring empire. This teaches us the value of adapting to changing circumstances while maintaining a clear vision for the future, a principle applicable in personal career planning, business strategy, and navigating life's uncertainties.

The Importance of Stability and Peace

The Pax Romana, or Roman Peace, was a period of unprecedented stability and prosperity that lasted over two centuries. It illustrates how peace and stability are crucial for the flourishing of cultures, economies, and individual livelihoods. This period reminds us to strive for harmony in our communities and personal lives, and to value and work towards maintaining a stable environment that nurtures growth and prosperity.

Infrastructure as a Foundation for Success

The Roman focus on building extensive infrastructure, including roads, aqueducts, and public buildings, was key to the empire’s longevity and influence. These projects facilitated communication, trade, and military mobility, contributing to the cohesion and strength of the empire. The lesson here emphasizes the importance of investing in a solid foundation—be it education, health, or relationships—as a prerequisite for enduring success and resilience.

Cultural Integration and Tolerance

The Roman Empire was notable for its cultural diversity and the relative autonomy allowed to its provinces. Emperors like Hadrian showed respect for local customs and religions, integrating them into the Roman fold rather than imposing a strict, uniform culture. This approach fostered loyalty and stability throughout the empire. Studying this aspect teaches the value of tolerance, respect for diversity, and the strength found in embracing multiple perspectives and backgrounds in our communities and workplaces.

The Balance of Power and Responsibility

The emperors of Rome wielded immense power, but their reigns also came with the heavy responsibility of governing a vast and diverse empire. The successes and failures of various emperors highlight the delicate balance between power and responsibility, reminding us that leadership is not just about exercising authority but also about serving, protecting, and making wise decisions for the collective good.

Legacy and Memory

Finally, the monuments, inscriptions, and cultural achievements of the Early Roman Empire speak to a deep concern with legacy and how future generations would remember their deeds. This aspect of Roman thought encourages us to consider our own legacies—how we impact our world and how we wish to be remembered. It prompts reflection on the values we live by and the contributions we make to our communities and beyond.

The study of the Early Roman Empire, far from being an academic exercise, offers rich lessons in adaptability, the pursuit of stability, the importance of foundational investments, cultural integration, the balance of power, and the consideration of legacy. These timeless principles provide guidance for personal development, leadership, and the cultivation of a prosperous and inclusive society.


Studying the Early Roman Empire is not just a journey through time; it's an exploration of a rich tapestry of history, culture, and governance. Here are some essential vocabulary words that students should become familiar with to deepen their understanding of this pivotal period:

1.    Augustus: The first Emperor of Rome, who transformed the Republic into the Empire and initiated the Pax Romana.

2.    Pax Romana: A period of relative peace and stability throughout the Roman Empire, lasting approximately 200 years.

3.    Imperial Cult: The practice of worshiping the Roman Emperor as a god, a key component of Roman state religion during the Empire.

4.    Praetorian Guard: The elite unit of the Imperial Roman army that served as personal bodyguards to the Emperor.

5.    Legion: The primary unit of the Roman army, consisting of about 4,000 to 6,000 soldiers.

6.    Senate: The assembly of noble and wealthy citizens that, even during the Empire, played a significant role in governing Rome.

7.    Aqueduct: An artificial channel for conveying water, often in the form of a bridge across a valley or other gap, widely used to supply Roman cities with fresh water.

8.    Forum: The central public space in a Roman city, used for judicial and other business, surrounded by various public buildings and temples.

9.    Triumph: A ceremonial procession and celebration in ancient Rome awarded to a victorious general.

10. Colosseum: Also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, a large amphitheater in Rome built during the reign of the Flavian emperors.

11. Pantheon: A former Roman temple, now a church, in Rome, famous for its dome and as a symbol of Roman architecture.

12. Villa: A country house built for the elite, often lavish and used as a retreat from city life.

13. Provinces: Territories outside Italy that were under Roman rule, each governed by a Roman appointed as a governor.

14. Patrician: A member of the noble families of ancient Rome, who held most of the political power in the Republic and early Empire.

15. Plebeian: The general body of Roman citizens (as opposed to the patrician class), including both middle-class individuals and the poor.

16. Gladiator: A person, often a slave, criminal, or prisoner of war, who was forced to fight to the death in a public arena for the entertainment of the Roman public.

17. Consul: One of the highest offices in the Roman Republic, and later a ceremonial position in the Empire, with two consuls being elected annually.

18. Tribune: An official in ancient Rome chosen by the plebeians to protect their interests.

19. Civic Virtue: The cultivation of habits important for the success of the community. In Rome, this included bravery in battle, loyalty to the state, and respect for the gods.

20. Client State: A state that is economically, politically, or militarily subordinate to another more powerful state in international affairs.

Familiarity with these terms will enrich students' understanding of the complexities of the Early Roman Empire, its governance, society, culture, and the legacies it has left behind.

Engaging Activities for Exploring the Early Roman Empire

Learning about the Early Roman Empire, a period marked by significant historical developments, can be both fascinating and educational for students. Here are a few activities designed to help students delve into this era, understand its importance, and connect with its historical context. These activities are tailored for different age groups, ensuring that learners of all levels can engage with the material in a meaningful way.

1. Create a Roman Empire Timeline (Ages 8-12)

Activity Description: Students will create a visual timeline of the Early Roman Empire, highlighting key events, rulers, and achievements. Using craft supplies, printable images, and brief descriptions, students can represent the reigns of significant emperors like Augustus, Trajan, and Hadrian, along with major constructions like the Colosseum and the expansion of Roman territories.

Educational Value: This activity helps students understand chronological order, the concept of cause and effect in history, and the significance of different events and leaders. It also encourages research skills and creativity.

2. Roman Daily Life Role Play (Ages 9-13)

Activity Description: In this activity, students will role-play as citizens of the Roman Empire, assuming roles such as senators, legionaries, merchants, or farmers. They can create costumes, props, and scenarios based on their characters' daily lives, discussing topics like trade, family life, education, and military service.

Educational Value: Role-playing allows students to empathize with individuals from the past, gaining insights into the social structure, economy, and cultural practices of the Roman Empire. It also enhances communication skills and fosters teamwork.

3. Construct a Roman Aqueduct Model (Ages 10-15)

Activity Description: Students will learn about Roman engineering by constructing models of aqueducts using materials like cardboard, plastic tubing, or building blocks. The activity can be expanded to include challenges such as transporting water from one point to another without leaks, simulating the engineering prowess of the Romans.

Educational Value: This hands-on activity introduces students to principles of engineering and architecture, highlighting the Romans' contributions to these fields. It encourages problem-solving, planning, and the application of scientific concepts.

4. Debate on Roman Leadership (Ages 12-16)

Activity Description: Students will participate in a debate on the effectiveness and ethics of various Roman emperors' leadership styles. After researching emperors like Augustus, Trajan, and Hadrian, students will argue their points based on criteria such as military success, public works, and treatment of conquered peoples.

Educational Value: This activity develops critical thinking, research skills, and public speaking. It also encourages students to consider the complexities of leadership and governance, as well as the impact of historical figures on their societies.

5. Design a Roman City (Ages 13-18)

Activity Description: Using software like Minecraft or physical materials, students will design a Roman city, incorporating features like forums, temples, aqueducts, and amphitheaters. They must consider aspects such as city planning, defense, water supply, and public amenities.

Educational Value: This project introduces urban planning and the importance of infrastructure, fostering creativity, spatial awareness, and an understanding of how cities reflect the values and priorities of their creators.

These activities offer diverse approaches to learning about the Early Roman Empire, catering to different interests and learning styles. By engaging in these exercises, students can gain a deeper appreciation for this influential period in history, developing a range of skills from critical thinking and creativity to empathy and teamwork.

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