The Roman Empire - In The First Century
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Much of what we know of Rome in the first century comes from its writers. Like writers before and since, those in Rome were a product of their time.

Their work tells us about the politics, society and culture in which they lived, even if they did not mean to do so.

Pliny the Elder’s multi-volume “Natural History” is fascinating for its insights into Roman mythology and thinking. Meanwhile, Seneca’s concerns about the battle between integrity and hypocrisy says much about the challenges of working for an Emperor such as Nero – particularly when the writer was committed to living a simple life.

Past and present

Other writers used the past to draw parallels to the present: in the “Aeneid,” Virgil used the story of Aeneus to praise the law and order brought by the new emperor, Augustus, and to prophesy a glorious future for Rome. One hundred years later, historians like Tacitus used the mistakes of past emperors, such as Tiberius, to judge Domitian, who was only recently dead.

Other writers dealt more directly with their surroundings. The letters of Pliny the Younger illustrate domestic life, Roman history, current events and etiquette, while Ovid was much more frivolous. His witty, flirty poetry about love seems harmless today, but he found himself frozen out – literally – in Romania after the emperor took offence.


The targets chosen by satirists like Petronius and Juvenal tell us a huge amount about society at the time. Petronius wrote about people who had become newly rich. Juvenal wrote about former emperors and rich patrons. Funny and cruel but always accurate, the satirists are still read today 2,000 years later. They offer us information about their time as well as simple amusement.

Where to next:
Religion in Ancient Rome
The Social Order in Ancient Rome

Related Links:

Virtual Library   Virtual Library
Virgil   Virgil
The Roman Empire

Republic to Empire

Age of Augustus

Years of Trial

Empire Reborn


Social Order

Life in Roman Times

- Virgil
- Ovid
- Seneca
- Petronius
- Pliny the Elder
- Pliny the Younger
- Historians
- Juvenal

Enemies and Rebels


The Roman Empire - In The First Century