In what ways did Roman inventions affect later developments in European life? Prioritizing the Legacies from Ancient Rome

This article is the twenty-second of an ongoing series from EuroClio providing teachers with ideas and practical resources for teaching a range of topics in their classrooms. You can find a wealth of additional resources including units, source collections and eLearning activities on the Historiana website and you can read the other articles in the series here.

This activity uses the material of the source collection on Historiana to provide students with ways as to not only arrange those relationships by looking at the case of Roman legacies in 21 st century Europe, but also a method to analyze the effect that the past has on the present more generally. The source collection illustrates 14 ways in which ideas and inventions that began in Ancient Rome are still a part of contemporary societies.
In this activity students use categories that have resonance in most peoples’ lives in different historical periods and are therefore easily transferable into other situations past and present: administrative, cultural, daily life, economic, environmental, intellectual, political, social, and/or technological.

Since it is critically important to assist students to prioritize these various points, they are connected to lessons of history and ideas to understand the deep ways the past continues to influence the present and the future.

The accompanying eLearning Activity, which can be easily adapted to your class needs, gives students the opportunity to develop skills in evaluating historical evidence and to do the work of historians. It utilizes the sorting, prioritizing, and analyzing tools that are part of the e-learning building models. It asks students to use both their historical and contemporary knowledge to assess the relationship between past events and current affairs by investigating the role of
inventions and ideas developed in Ancient Rome to their use in today’s European civilizations.

Consider the 14 legacies that are listed in Historiana’s Source Collection

– Using Arches for Construction, Aqueducts, Newspapers, Laws, Books, the Julian Calendar, the Postal System, a Sewage System, Heating, the Use of Concrete, Surgical Tools, the Separation of Powers, the Spread of Latin, and the Spread of Christianity.

1) Group the legacies into no more than four defensible categories out of
the nine categories listed above and

2) Prioritize each of them according to their importance for the 21 st century European civilizations.

Once they have done this work, they can answer the overarching question: In what ways did Roman inventions affect later developments in European life?

While this activity gives instructions for individual students, it can be wonderfully adapted for group work (as I would have done in my classroom!), particularly in the form of a jigsaw (see: in which students do the first part in the first group and then move into a new group to share the work of the first group and to answer the overarching question.
This activity can also be easily edited and adapted to suit your classroom context or even applied to a different historical period by building your own online task in Historiana’s eLearning Activity Builder. Another extension activity would be to ask students questions about the kind of society that supported these inventions and/or made such a society possible in the past and compare and contrast that with the present.

Such work allows students to think and work like historians, as is emphasized in the History Thinking Project:
Why are such themes important? At the same time such material from the past can overwhelm students unless they are taught ways to make sense of such influences. Historical empathy, comparison and contrast, and significance are the most useful skills to meet these objectives. To assist this process of organizing material, categories are one method of making sense of so much information. In so doing students work on a variety of historical skills and gain a greater appreciation of the ability of people in Ancient Rome to have organized their lives in ways that
appeared to have met their needs and interestingly still influence us today.
Yet when students look at the material from Ancient Rome more closely and critically they can also appreciate many of these inventions required an unequal social and hierarchical organization. In consequence it becomes equally important to consider the ways in which 21 st century Europeans may learn from the past without simply accepting it as it were as a guideline for the present and future.


Historiana would not be possible without the efforts and generous contributions of historians and educators from Europe and beyondand the support of the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union.


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