Answers: Roman History Quiz
Spoiler warning: These are the answers to the Roman History Quiz, go there first before reading this if you wish to test your knowledge of the ancient Romans and their empire. The answers and discussion below are true to the best of my knowledge, but I’m not a professional historian, nor are the records from that era as complete as historians would like. Some some of what I say may be more conjectural than actual, or may be more controversial than I let on. Or may simply be wrong, my quizzes are intended to stimulate thought and further reading on the part of my gentle readers, not tutor them for college level history exams. Enjoy!
Answers: Roman History Quiz
1. What nation and city state was Rome’s first great rival in the Mediterranean, with which they fought three great wars, one of which was called “The First World War” in its time:
This would be Carthage and the Second Punic War. This was an incredible war lasting for more than fifteen years, there really hadn’t been anything like it before. It was the one where Hannibal crossed the Alps with elephants (one survived the crossing.) The war ultimately was won by Rome despite them losing numerous battles.
2. In what battle during this war did the Romans suffer a defeat so ghastly that it’s still admired today in military circles and was the inspiration for America’s attack on Iraq in 1991?
This would be the Battle of Cannae, Hannibal’s most amazing victory. Short version, the Romans had a huge mass of troops that marched towards the Carthaginian line, which fell back in the centre, so that the huge Roman army was pushed into a “U” of Carthaginian troops. Then Carthaginian cavalry attacked the Romans on the sides and rear of their giant mass of troops. The Romans seeing they were surrounded on all sides, panicked. With nowhere to run, the resulting slaughter was one of the greatest in history.
3. Why were the Romans able to conquer the powerful Greek city states?
A: The Romans had better weapons.
B: The Romans had Persian allies attacking from the east to support them.
C: A terrible plague devastated Greece before the Romans invaded.
D: The Greek city states didn’t unite in the face of the Roman threat.
This one is almost obvious even if one didn’t know the history. Yes, the Greeks simply didn’t unify in the face of the Roman threat, and were conquered one city at a time. On the plus side, educated Greek slaves were in high demand in Rome, there’s always a silver lining.
4. Caesar Augustus was one of history’s greatest generals, what land did he invade and fail to conquer twice?
It’s a little known fact, but Caesar Augustus invaded the British Isles twice, and was forced to retreat both times. It wouldn’t be until 100 years later that the Romans invaded and successfully conquered Britain. I get a kick out of this one because they parodied it on an episode of “Xena, Warrior Princess.” The illustrious Xena defeats Caesar’s attempt to conquer Ireland, and at the end of the episode the retreating Caesar throws his scribe overboard so that the world would never know of his failure, an obvious allusion to his failed invasions of Britain.
5. What event is widely regarded as the beginning of the fall of Rome?
A: Crassus’s defeat at Carahae.
B: The assasination of Julius Ceasar by Brutus and co-conspirators.
C: The murder of Pertinax and the auctioning off of the throne by the Praetorian guard.
D: Cleopatra’s death at her own hand.
Yes, the Praetorian Guard, the ceremonial Roman legion that was tasked with protecting the emperor … rioted and killed him. Realizing this was maybe a mistake, the leaders of the riot decided to simply auction off the position of emperor to the highest bidder rather than claim the throne for one of their own. It goes downhill from there, though the Praetorian Guard eventually got their just desserts when real warrior Roman legions returned to Rome to set things straight. One of the worst things about this event is that it cemented a precedent where legions would declare someone to be the emperor … then demand and expect a huge payout from their designated emperor to be.
6. What Roman city was buried by volcanic ash and preserved in fabulous detail?
This would be Pompeii, and the lesser known but equally buried Herculaneum. Not only do Pompeii and Herculaneum give incredible insight into day to day life in Rome, there are many fabulous discoveries still waiting to be dug up by future archaeologists.
7. Many great Roman marble carvings and statues remain today, but if Romans saw them now they would be puzzled, why?
A: Damage by acid rain has blurred their features.
B: The paint has worn off.
C: Christians have defaced most of them.
D: Roman’s always dressed their statues in burkas.
Roman (and Greek for that matter) marble statuary was always brightly painted. When carving marble statuary became all the vogue in renaissance Italy over a thousand years later, the only Roman/Greek examples that remained had long ago lost all their paint. So that’s what the renaissance artists thought they looked like, and to this day marble statues are created to be displayed unpainted. The Romans would have wondered why the statues weren’t painted. Efforts now are being made to show people what some of the great Roman and Greek works of art looked like back when the Romans and Greeks admired them … in their colourful painted glory.
8. This woman was a great warrior, led a revolt against Rome that was finally crushed, yet may have lived happily ever after?
A: Zenobia, queen of the east.
D: Xena, warrior princess.
Ah, this would be Zenobia. Clearly an inspiration for the fictional Xena, Warrior Princess, yet I’ve never seen that mentioned anywhere. She revolted against Rome during a weak period, built the great city of Palmyra, but was defeated by Roman armies when the Romans got their act together. Paraded naked through Rome in golden chains after her capture, by some accounts she so impressed her captor that she was given a villa near Rome and lived out her days in style, her daughters marrying prominent Romans. In other accounts, she got the same treatment virtually all who challenged Rome and failed got, an unpleasant death.
9. What was the most popular form of entertainment in Rome?
A: Gladiator combat.
B: Throwing Christians to the lions.
C: Plays and theatre.
D: Chariot racing.
Ah, I can see the scoreboard in the Colosseum now: “Final score: Lions 40, Christians 0.” Tasteless jokes aside, this one Ben Hur got right, chariot racing was the football of its time. Oddly enough all of the Roman games and entertainments such as chariot races and gladiator combat were provided as free entertainment for the public. In order to curry political favour of course, or to keep people from rioting in the streets more accurately. Free food was also given to the public, and thus the term “bread and circuses” originated with the Romans to be passed down to us today.
10. Which of the following is false?
A: Roman fathers could legally kill their children at any age.
B: If a slave killed his or her owner, all other slaves of that owner were put to death.
C: Women could own property and conduct business in Rome.
D: Roman warships were rowed by slaves.
This one is fairly easy to figure out logically. Say you’re on a warship going into battle, who do you want manning the oars? Fellow soldiers who can grab their swords and join the fray when ship to ship combat ensues, or a bunch of surly slaves that will turn on you or run away given half a chance? Warships never used slaves or convicts to man the oars, it would have been insane. Ben Hur dropped the ball on this one, but hey, it was still a great movie.
On the sad side of the equation, yes, if a slave killed their owner, the entire household’s slave were killed. Sometimes this was hundreds of slaves. Obviously this gave slaves a good reason not to plot against their owners, and excellent reason to immediately report the slightest hint of such a plot. By the same token, by law a father’s children had to obey him at pain of death their entire life. And while killing your adult kids was frowned upon, especially in the later empire, it did sometimes happen. The most famous incident when a son fought and killed a number of enemy soldiers when his father had told him not to fight … and his father rewarded his success by having him executed for disobeying. On the plus side, modern research has shown that by the age of forty only about 6% of Romans had a living father, so this wasn’t the lifetime slavery it would be in the modern era where people routinely live to their seventies or older.
On the positive side, modern studies of prayers carved into strips of lead cast into temple wells shows that women did indeed participate in business deals, own property, and could take cases to the courts in legal disputes. Rome was a man’s world in almost every way, but women were not as disempowered as was believed by scholars until recently.
11. Bonus Question. What is the name of the building pictured at the top, and what’s on it missing from Roman times?
This would be the Pantheon in Rome. Most Roman temples weren’t stand alone buildings, so few were converted into Christian churches when the time came. The Pantheon was though, so this wonderful testament to Rome’s engineers survives to this day. The “blueprints” to the Pantheon were recently discovered, and as many had long expected, the columns at the front of the building were supposed to be taller, and for some reason shorter columns were substituted. And sadly the building was covered with wonderful bronze statuary (illustrated above) until fairly recent times. Then they were melted down to make cannons. Is that twisted or what? And yes, the stone frieze is missing too, but that was kind of obvious.
(The above image of a model of the Pantheon dates from before 1927 and is Public Domain under US copyright law. Some of the amazing things found in Pompeii was a 20 by 40 inch glass window and the first known depiction of Christ. My favourite though is wall advertisements for a wonderful new household animal that unlike the ferret, wouldn’t bite family members or run away if it got outside. The Romans knew a good thing when they saw it, and carried the domestic cat out of Egypt to all corners of their empire.)