Saint Ved Vyas relating the Bhagwatam to Shukdeo (3100 B.C.)

The Encyclopedia of Authentic Hinduism by H.D. Swami Prakashanand Saraswati (the most important site on Hinduism, the Upanishads, modern Physics, Bhartiya, Sanatan Dharm and more)

(15) Roman civilization, language and religion.

The development of Latin language and Romance languages.

Originally Latin was spoken by a small group of people who settled in Latium (west Italy) around the 1st millennium BC. Afterwards it became the spoken language of ancient Roman people. With the rise of the Roman political power the Latin language became popular. The languages that developed from Latin were called the Romance languages and were spoken in those countries that were once a part of the Roman Empire. The main Romance languages are: Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian. ‘To speak in a Roman way’ in Latin is, fabulare romanice. That’s how it got the name Romance. There were two forms of Latin: classical and the locally spoken vernacular. The first one was popular among educated people and the second one was the spoken language of the common people. The Romance languages were developed from the dialects of the vernacular Latin (called Vulgar Latin) over a period of several centuries, and around 1200 AD most of the western Europeans were speaking Latin or Romance language (especially Italian, French and Spanish). All of the Romance languages had their own dialect as spoken in different parts of the country and had their own history of development as to how their style of writing, grammar, phonology and vocabulary changed and developed in 1,000 years and how they received their modern shape.

Latin was the prestigious language of the West. It didn’t have the ambiguity of meaning like other languages had. It had precise expression, that’s why it achieved its dignity and it was the best suited language for legal and other such specific purposes, but it took a very long time to develop from the early spoken Latin to a fully developed form of Classical Latin. The earliest inscriptions could be traced back to only 6th century BC when it was in its infancy. It underwent many changes. Very little is known about its earliest stages as it changed so drastically between 500 and 300 BC that older texts were hardly intelligible. The golden age of its development was between 100 BC to 14 AD. Emperor Augustus (27 BC to 14 AD was called the Augustan Age) took special interest to develop the literary aspects of Latin.

The spoken Latin language continued to change over a wide period of time and it deviated from the pronunciation, vocabulary and the grammar of Classical Latin as well. To differentiate it from the Classical Latin, it began to be called Vulgar Latin after the 3rd century AD. Thus, there were two kinds of Latin: Classical and Vulgar. The works of St. Augustine (354-430 AD) are in Vulgar Latin.

Classical and Vulgar Latin.

Before the 3rd century AD Classical Latin went through a number of changes. Inflections were simplified, word order was regularized, the earlier system of vowel length was changed, sound of consonants was modified, future and imperfect tenses were modified and syntax too was stabilized. In this way the morphology of Classical Latin was improved and standardized to a greater extent, making it use nominal inflections and a distinctive use of conjunctions.

Vulgar Latin also continued to be changed. It was almost standardized during the middle ages. Its phonology changed considerably, for instance: viridem (green) became virdem, vinea (wine) became vinia; the difference in the pronunciation of short and long vowels was dropped and changed in time, resulting in the confusion of i and e, and u and o etc.; and ae became e, and au became o.

In this way the Latin language had a lot of changes in its syntax, spellings, vowel sounds, the overall structure of the language and also the writing system of letters as it is evident from the available literature of various periods. In earlier writings there were no punctuation marks. They were introduced afterwards at various stages of the development of the language.

There were similar situations with other Romance languages. There were more rapid changes in the language of northern France. All of these languages have many dialects. French alone has about 15 dialects spoken in different parts of the country. The grammar of Romance languages is closer to Latin and their common vocabulary is also inherited from Latin. The literary dialect of standard Italian language developed more between 13th and 14th century AD. It had adopted more of the Latin structure. Due to its linguistic consistency Latin was still being used for scholarly, religious and scientific purposes in many of the Romance speaking countries. By 1500 AD Latin was a fully developed language. Later on with the development of the English language it died out in England. Its popularity started declining after 16th c. AD and it almost died out after 19th century. The vocabulary of Latin contains most of the words from Greek, some of its own dialects and some from the Romance languages as well.

Ancient Rome and a brief history of the Roman Empire.

The Roman civilization started along the Tiber river, in the west of Italy. Early inhabitants before 1st millennium BC came from somewhere and settled. They were shepherds who started farming and acquired lands. Better climate and fertile soil promoted their village living. Slowly they grew and developed their colonies. Their social life began to expand. Some farmers also raised livestock and began to trade on a small scale. Wealthy farmers built up their estates and brought slaves to work in their fields. The head of the family had the sole power to run the family the way he liked. He could even sell his children for slavery if they were unwanted in the family.

Sometime around 1st millennium BC some other tribe, probably from the eastern Mediterranean side, came and settled in Etruria (now Toscana or Tuscany) on the northwestern side of the river Tiber. They were a smart and aggressive kind of people. Once settled they made the earlier inhabitants of that area their subordinates. These people were called the Etruscans. They had their own language but they used Greek (Phoenician) alphabet for their writings and also used the style of Greek art. Historians have found a number of inscriptions of their language, all in brief, but still they are unintelligible. They improved their living status and moved towards the north and south increasing their domain up to Latium. The peak of their prosperity and the dignity of their kingship was through the 7th century BC.

Rome was founded in 753 BC. Around 600 BC Rome and the whole of Latium came under the rule of Etruscans. They had an advanced civilization. They promoted trade and gave the idea of the citizen assembly. Under their rule, Rome grew into a prosperous city. But, with the urbanization of Latium and the prosperity of wealthy farmers and business people, a new social class developed in Rome that was more powerful.

Thus, in 509 BC the Romans took over the rule of Rome by throwing out the last king of the Etruscans and started the Roman Republic. It consisted of two elected consuls serving for only one year, and the senate, which was the powerful government body of the Roman Republic. All the senators were the members of Rome’s richest families who were called the patricians. They were so powerful that they also controlled the assembly that elected the consuls. The rest of the citizens were called the plebeians. They had no say in the government. (They only gained rights in the government after 287 BC.) Thus, there were the most powerful upper class people (the patricians), ordinary citizens and the slaves.

By 396 BC Rome had become the largest city in Italy. The Romans expanded their empire, gained full control over the Mediterranean coasts up to Spain, and conquered Greece and Macedonia by 140 BC. Wealthy Romans were getting more and more wealthy through business, tax revenues and the looted property of the defeated landlords, and thus, the gap and the friction between the rich and the poor was getting wider and wider. The unrest in the society grew and when some people tried to oppose the senate, they were removed forever.

A change occurred in the Roman history when Julius Caesar became the sole ruler of the Roman empire by pushing off the others; but he was assassinated by a group of Republican aristocrats in 44 BC. His heir (the adopted son) Octavian took over the reign with the alliance of two more army officers including Mark Anthony who fell in love with Cleopatra (the Queen of Egypt). There was already a civil war that went on for about 20 years which destroyed the domination of the Republicans and thus the Roman Republic ended in 27 BC when Octavian, the main power of the alliance (who changed his name to Augustus), became the first unchallenged emperor of the Roman world.

The Roman Empire reached its height between 100 to 180 AD in power and prosperity and all of the neighboring countries of the Mediterranean including Jerusalem were under its regime. The emperor had the power to reject or overrule any of the decisions of the senate and he was worshipped like a god of the earth.

There was a period of chaos in the emperorship between 235 to 286 AD when any powerful person or officer could seize the power by force and overthrow his rival. As a result more than 20 emperors were acclaimed during that short period, with a towering figure of five emperors in one year in 238 AD.

For the convenience of administration the Roman Empire was split into two sections, Eastern and Western, with separate emperorships. The Roman Empire was permanently divided into ‘East Roman Empire’ and ‘West Roman Empire.’ The Western Empire began to grow weak and in 476 AD it saw its final downfall when the Germanic chieftain Odoacer dethroned the last ruler of the empire, Romulus Augustulus. However, the Eastern Empire, called Byzantine Empire, lasted up to 1453 when the Turks captured it.

They also introduced a calendar around 738 BC that had only 10 months in a year, and a year had only 304 days. Two months were ignored because they were useless due to the cold weather. They were added around 452 BC, but still the days of the year were only 355 because the calculation was based on the solar system which caused continuous confusion in every progressive year. Finally, in 46 BC the calendar system was reformed.


For general recreation, in 80 AD, they built a four story open amphitheater in Rome with a 50,000 seating capacity, called the Colosseum where violent and bloody entertainments were held until 500 AD. For example: gladiators, the condemned victims trained for this purpose, were made to fight with one another until death. They were mostly slaves, criminals in prison or prisoners of war. Sometimes armed men fought with wild animals and sometimes certain condemned criminals or Christians were thrown in front of starving beasts like lions and tigers who attacked them and ate them. Chariot races by skilled charioteers were also a common game of the Romans. There were also certain theaters for stage shows.

Roman gods and goddesses.

Before 300 AD, in the Roman empire, most of the people worshipped a number of traditional gods and goddesses like: Jupiter, Juno, Pluto, Bacchus, Diana and Venus, etc., of which Jupiter, god of thunder and lightening, was their chief god. Some poeple followed the Jewish religion, and a very small minority followed the Christian religion. There was a further setback to Christianity when Diocletian restricted it. But in 313 AD Constantine I accepted the Christian religion and since then Christianity flourished. However, Julian did not like the way Christianity was spreading, so during his reign (361-363 AD), he discouraged Christianity and preferred the traditional worship of gods and goddesses. Again, a change came when, after the death of Theodosius I in 395 AD, the Roman Empire was permanently split into two Empires, East and West, and Christianity was accepted as their state religion.


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The True History and the Religions of India by H.D. Swami Prakashanand Saraswati