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The word 'Roman' may be either an adjective or a noun.

As an adjective 'Roman' may mean:

  • Of or relating to the (ancient or modern) city of Rome or its inhabitants - for example, 'The Roman poor were housed in lofty, jerry-built wooden tenements' or 'The speed of the traffic makes it dangerous for pedestrians to attempt to cross some Roman streets';
  • Of or relating to the ancient Roman Republic or Roman Empire - for example, 'Romulus, the last Roman emperor in the West, was deposed in 476 CE' or 'The discipline and training of the Roman army depended on the centurions';
    • Readers of AWE may want to see our page on Classical languages, Latin, the language of the Romans, and its daughter languages, the Romance language family.
    • students of more modern history should be aware of two later political moments that sought to use the prestige of ancient Rome:
      • From 1798 to 1799, Napoleonic France controlled the city of Rome and much of the Papal States. The city was named the Roman Republic, and governed (as a 'client republic' of the French Directory) by consuls, on the presumed classical model, although there were as many as five. The legislature was composed of a tribunate with 72 members, and a senate of 32.
      • In February 1849, a popular uprising against the temporal power of Pope Pius IX caused him to flee. A Republic was established, governed by a triumvirate (another classical model) of Armellini, Mazzini and Saffi. It was defended by the Italian patriot Garibaldi against counter-revolutionary attacks by Naples and France, but fell to General Oudinot and overwhelming numbers of French in July. This was a significant step in the Risorgimento.
  • Of or relating to Roman Catholicism or the Roman Catholic Church - for example, 'The Anglican Church retained certain Roman practices'.

As a noun 'Roman' may mean:

  • An inhabitant of the (ancient or modern) city of Rome;
  • A citizen of the ancient Roman Republic or Roman Empire;
  • A member of the Roman Catholic Church - though this use of the word is possible only in informal speech and is usually derogatory.

A number of phrases involving the adjective 'Roman' have very specific meanings. For example,

Roman alphabet - the alphabet used by the ancient Romans to write Latin and used, with minor variations, by most modern European languages as well as by many other languages in other parts of the world. The Roman alphabet is sometimes known as the Latin alphabet.

Roman arch - a semi-circular arch. This type of arch was a distinctive feature of the style of architecture adopted by the ancient Romans. Its systematic use greatly increased the strength of Roman buildings and civil engineering. Its adoption by builders around the first millennium is the identifying feature, and gives the name to, the Romanesque style of architecture.

Roman blind - a type of window blind consisting of fabric which, when the blind is raised, gathers into horizontal folds.

Roman calendar (months) - the lunar calendar used by the ancient Romans until 45 BCE, when it was replaced by the Julian Calendar. See also Roman dates (years), for an account of the Roman system of numbering years.

Roman candle - a firework which originated in Italy and which gives off a continuous shower of sparks, punctuated by differently coloured balls of fire.

Roman collar - the collar worn by the clergymen (and women) of some Christian denominations. More commonly called a clerical collar or, in informal speech, a dog collar, it consists of a stiff white band buttoned at the back and with no opening at the front.

Roman holiday - entertainment, often involving disorder or debauchery, in which enjoyment is derived from others' suffering. In gladiatorial contests and some of the other public entertainments of ancient Rome human life was sacrificed for the gratification of the spectators. In Canto IV of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, a poem by Lord Byron (1788-1824), a Roman gladiator says that he expects to be 'butchered to make a Roman holiday'. Roman Holiday is also the title of a film starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck - a sentimental comedy that charms many viewers.

Roman law - the legal system of ancient Rome, which was codified under the sponsorship of the emperor Justinian the Great (reigned 527-565 CE), and which forms the basis of the legal systems of some European countries, though not of England and Wales; traces of 'civilianism', or 'Romanism' (reliance on Roman civil law) remain in Scots law, and can be seen in Stair's Institutes, fully Lord Stair's Institutions of the Laws of Scotland (1681).

Roman mile - a unit of length used by the ancient Romans. It was equal to 1620 yards and so was rather shorter than the modern statute mile of 1760 yards. (The word mile, in any sytem of measurement, is derived from Latin mīle , mīlle 'a mile', which is short for mīlle passūs or mīlle passuum 'a thousand paces [in Roman army marching]'.)

Roman nose - a nose characterized by having a high and prominent bridge. To judge from their images on coins, many eminent Romans seem to have had Roman noses.

Roman numerals- see separate page.

Roman salute - a form of greeting in which the arm is kept straight, with the palm down, and raised upward at an angle. It was believed by certain Italian Fascists to have been used as a greeting by the ancient Romans, and on the basis of this (entirely unwarranted) belief it was adopted by the Italian Fascist movement in 1923 and in 1926 by the German Nazi party. Nowadays its use in Germany or Austria is a criminal offence. (In an alternative version of the Roman salute the arm is not raised upward at an angle but is held parallel with the ground.)

Roman snail - a large edible European snail.

Roman type or Roman font - the name used, in contradistinction to Italic, for the form of printed letters that have vertical orientation.