The Roman Empire, at its height, included about a fourth of Europe, much of the Middle East, and the entire northern coastal area of Africa. Its millions of people spoke many languages and worshipped different gods, but they were united by the military power and government of the Romans. The city of Rome grew from a farming village in central Italy to become the capital of the huge empire.
The Roman Empire fell apart almost 1500 years ago, but it still influences our lives. More than 300 million persons speak languages directly related to Latin, the Roman tongue. Many words in English and in other languages come from Latin. Roman law provided the basis of the law of most European and Latin-American nations.
The Romans built roads, aqueduct, and bridges so skillfully that many are still in use 2000 years after they were constructed, building based on Roman architecture stand throughout North and South America and Europe.
The principles that bound the Roman Empire together were justice, tolerance and desire for peace, influence countless generations. Roman cruelty and greed caused great misery, and the use of force brought hardship and death, but the Romans qualities of pietas (sense of duty), gravitas (seriousness of purpose), and dignitas (sense of personal worth) remain ideals for peoples everywhere.
In the 2nd millennium BC, the Romans emerged from a small settlement near Rome to begin a course of expansion that was to make them the dominant power in the Mediterranean. By the 1st century AD, Roman territories expanded from Britain in the North to Egypt in the South. Much of the Roman culture and crafts reflected the preceding, Hellenistic period, however, their extensive trade network provided them with a great variety of materials. Artisans often combined styles and materials creating their own unique designs. While personal adornment was frowned upon by the early Romans, their attitude of austerity had diminished by the 1st century BC and a rich variety of jewelry abounded. Roman jewelry reflected both the Hellenistic influence and the Eastern taste for colored stones, glass beads, bronze, gold and silver. Although scarce at first, true bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, was rarely used. During the 2nd millennium, the use of true bronze greatly increased. Homer in the illiad relates how Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire, threw cooper, tin, silver and gold into his furnace to make the shield of Achilles.