Ancient Rome – geography and climate

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Tiber island from above: Roman geography

Rome geography: Tiber island

Tiber river and trade

The city of Rome itself has tremendous environmental advantages, which made it easier for Rome to become an important city. Rome is located at the first place that people can easily cross the Tiber river, so it is the natural location of the main north-south road in Italy. The reason you can cross the Tiber at Rome is that there is an island in the river there (this is the same as at Paris, and many other cities). Probably the first Romans made a lot of profit from charging people to let them use the island to cross the river – charging tolls.

Salt flats near the city of Rome

There are also big salt flats near the city. Because salt was so valuable in the ancient world for preserving meat and fish, selling the salt made Romans rich. Also the riverboats going up and down the Tiber, from east to west and back again, could stop at Rome. So right from the beginning, the ancient Roman environment helped the Romans get rich.

Roman empire’s many climate zones

Pine trees and a lake

Black Forest in Northern Europe

As the Romans expanded their empire, they encountered many different climate zones. There were desertsmountains, wetlands, forests, and everything else. The great variety of environments helped the Romans get lots of different food and materials. They could get tin from England, and wood from Germany, and cotton from Egypt, and silver from Spain.

A Ribat, or fort, in North Africa

A Ribat, or fort, in North Africa

The Romans also had the advantage of a good climate. During most of the time of the Roman Empire, Europe and the Mediterranean were unusually warm, about as warm as they are right now. That weather seems to have been good for Roman farming. The Romans brought Mediterranean crops like wine grapes and olives much further north than they normally grew.

Climate change and the fall of Rome

But during the 200s AD, the weather got cooler. The cooler weather forced wine and olive growers to move south. It may even have made it harder to grow wheat and barley. The cooler weather made it harder to heat houses in the north. This may have helped cause problems for the Romans. The cold weather may have encouraged the Germans and the Sassanians to invade the Roman Empire. It may have encouraged many people to revolt inside the Empire as well. The fall of Rome in the 400s AD may also be related to this cooler climate, which lasted into the Early Middle Ages, until the 600s AD.

Did you find out what you needed about Rome’s geography and the Roman climate? Let us know in the comments!

Learn by doing: a Roman mosaic
More about African weather
The Medieval Warming period

Bibliography and further reading about the Mediterranean environment and the Roman Empire:

Roman Economy
Roman Food
Ancient Rome home

By | 2017-12-20T22:20:20+00:00 August 31st, 2017|Environment, Romans|12 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Ancient Rome – geography and climate. Study Guides, August 31, 2017. Web. February 24, 2018.

About the Author:

Karen Carr
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.


  1. mackenzie February 21, 2018 at 8:48 am - Reply

    how did the area of Rome affect its development?

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr February 21, 2018 at 9:38 am

      I think the article answers that question. Could you ask a more specific question please?

  2. Chuck February 8, 2018 at 4:08 am - Reply

    What are two difficulties you think the Romans would face based on their geography? I need to know this for my research

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr February 8, 2018 at 8:10 am

      Don’t you mean, your teacher wants you to think about this for your homework? I think you’ll learn more by thinking about Europe’s geography for yourself.

  3. Jason February 7, 2018 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    What is the date of when you posted this article because i cant find it anywhere

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr February 7, 2018 at 1:16 pm

      The date is at the end of each article.

  4. Delwyn January 21, 2018 at 9:55 pm - Reply

    What were the agricultural practices around the city proper?

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr January 21, 2018 at 10:25 pm

      In the early Republic, farmers near Rome and in Rome itself grew the things people wanted to eat: wheat, barley, millet, chickpeas, lentils, figs, olives, grapes, cabbages, onions, apples. They used oxen or sometimes donkeys to pull their plows. But by the time of the Late Republic Rome was too big a city to grow all its own food. Most of the wheat and barley and olive oil came to Rome on boats across the Mediterranean. So farmers near Rome probably specialized in fresh fruits and vegetables, and didn’t grow so much wheat and barley or olives anymore.

  5. Sam January 10, 2018 at 7:38 am - Reply

    How does the environment define the culture/civilization?

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr January 10, 2018 at 8:33 am

      That sounds like your homework? I’m sure you will learn more by doing your own thinking than by having me do it for you.

  6. Heather December 11, 2017 at 11:40 am - Reply

    Did not answer my question and i really was hoping that it would.

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr December 11, 2017 at 5:22 pm

      What’s your question? I’ll try to answer it, and if it’s a good question I’ll add that information to the article for other kids!

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