The Roman Empire encompassed a multitude of disparate peoples throughout the Mediterranean world. From the first century BCE to the fifth century CE, the inhabitants of the empire were connected by the material elements of Roman life—from the monumental (baths, amphitheaters, forums, and aqueducts) to the personal (ceramics, brooches, and household gods). Roman customs and visual culture drew not only on Greek traditions but also on those of the Etruscans, Iberians, Celts, Egyptians, and others who were united under Roman rule. In religion, native Italian traditions, such as the offering of anatomical votives, were preserved alongside newly encountered beliefs. Evolving practices sometimes combined the characteristics and functions of deities, such as the Egyptian Isis with the Roman Venus, who was essentially the Greek Aphrodite. Roman influence in laws, individual representation, coins, and decorative motifs continued into the Byzantine and medieval periods.
Embellished with the attributes of deities, heroes, and conquerors, the portraits of Roman emperors and their families were prominent on coins. Their statues were set up in forums throughout the empire and venerated in shrines dedicated to the imperial cult, which helped to reinforce the loyalty of the common people, many of whom would never personally see their ruler. Wealthy private citizens also commissioned statues of themselves, in some cases following imperial models, but funerary sculpture—including urns, sarcophagi, and especially inscriptions—was the primary medium for individual commemoration. A common scene depicted in Roman funerary reliefs, wall paintings, mosaics, and literature was the banquet, where the diners would recline to eat while they were entertained by music, dancing, or even physical contests. The luxury tableware left behind is a testament to the decadence of the Roman banquet, which has inspired artistic representations from the Renaissance to this day.