Naturally the most obvious achievement of the Romans was their vast empire, which spread over three continents. It lasted for a long, long time.
From 625 BC to AD 476 = 1101 years ! – And if one includes the eastern Roman empire which lasted until AD 1453 it would even be 2078 years !
In comparison the United States of America only exists since 1776 – less than 250 years.
The Roman Army
The Romans achieved world fame with their incredible army. It defeated pretty much everybody.
The Roman Legion was perhaps the most powerful army ever. Sure, they didn’t have airplanes, tanks and battleships like today. But they were capable of defeating armies far larger than themselves, despite being equipped with the same basic weapons: shields, spears and swords.
Founding Fathers of many Cities
Europe would not be the same without the Romans.
All over the continent they founded cities which still stand today. The great city of London for example, the capital of the United Kingdom, was founded by the Romans under the name Londinium. Also the great German city of Cologne is Roman (Colonia Agrippina). In fact, the list of towns and cities founded by the Romans seems endless.
The Great Builders of Old
No civilization is so identified with constructing and building things (see also The great Builders), than the Romans. Aquaeducts, roads, baths, walls, theatres, temples, arches, cities, palaces… They built a world from which later peoples still benefitted for a long time to come.
Some of their old roads are even still in use today. So too, some of their great amphitheatres.
Latin, the eternal Language
As the Romans conquered their empire so did they bring with them their language. The language of their army was Latin, so too was it the language of the governors and office workers in the provinces of the empire. Lasting witness to this language which was once spoken all over the ancient empire, are the many languages which in time developed from it. French, Italian, Portuguese, Rhaeto-Romantsch (spoken in the Canton Grison in Switzerland), Rumanian, Spanish… All these languages have developed out of Latin.
The Catholic church still speaks and prays in Latin today. Its head, the Pope, is still today called the Pontifex Maximus (the greatest high-priest).
The Roman alphabet is what most of us still use today in the western world. We have added a few letters to it, like W, but it is much still the same alphabet used by the Romans.
Their numerals are not any longer in every day use. It is Arabic numbers we use today. But for inscriptions on public buildings and some other things Roman numerals are still sometimes used.
The Twelve Tables and the Justinian Code
Roman law was indeed a great institution. They developed many of the ideas of justice which we today take for granted.
Already in 451 BC they created basic laws which governed them all, laying down what one could and could not do. They wrote them down on twelve plates made of bronze, which became known as the Twelve Tables. These were the first examples of written law.
Much later a great Roman emperor of Constantinople, Justinian, refined many of the laws of the day and collected them all into one work. This is known as the Justinian Code and it was completed in AD 529. These laws form the basis of all today’s justice systems in the western world.