Rome From Its Founding To Collapse

Ancient Rome

From its founding to decline

"Remember, Roman, that it is for thee to rule the nations. This shall be thy task, to impose the ways of peace, to spare the vanquished, and to tame the proud by war."

The accounts of the regal period have come down overlaid with such a mass of myth and legend that few can be verified; Roman historians of later times, lacking authentic records, relied on fabrications of a patriotic nature. Following this period, when a republic was established, Rome became a world power and emerged as an empire with extensive boundaries.

Rome To 509 B.C.

The Roman World 509 B.C. To A.D. 180


As the Athenians saw the symbol of their city-state's democracy and culture in the rock-jutting Acropolis, so the Romans viewed the Forum as the symbol of imperial grandeur. Temples were to be found there, but in contrast to the Acropolis, the Forum was dominated by secular buildings - basilicas used for judicial and other public business; the nearby Coliseum, used for gladiatorial shows; and the great palaces of the emperors rising on the
neighboring Palatine Hill. While the Acropolis was crowned with statues to Athena, the Forum gloried in triumphal arches and columns commemorating military conquests. Rome was the capital of a world-state, extending from Britain to the Euphrates, and its citizens were proud of their imperial mission.

Although the buildings in the Forum appear fundamentally Greek in style, they are more monumental and sumptuous. Here, then, are two clues to an understanding of the Romans: they borrowed much from the Greeks and others, and they modified what they took.

Rome was the great intermediary - the bridge over which passed the rich contributions of the ancient Near East and especially Greece, to form the
basis of modern Western civilization. The Romans replaced the anarchy of the
Hellenistic Age with law and order and embraced the intellectual and artistic
legacy of the conquered Greeks. As Rome's empire expanded, this legacy was
spread westward throughout most of Europe.

Yet Rome was more than an intermediary, for it made many important and
original contributions to our Western culture. Throughout a history that led
from a simple farming community in the plain of Latium to a strong state that
became the master of the Mediterranean world as well as Gaul, Britain, and
part of Germany, the Romans met one challenge after another with practicality
and efficiency. In the shadows of its marching legions went engineers and
architects, so that today, scattered throughout the lands that once were part
of the Roman world, the remains of roads, walls, baths, basilicas,
amphitheaters, and aqueducts offer convincing evidence of the Romans'
practical skills. Most lasting and far-reaching of all were Roman law and
administration - for example, the separation of powers (magistrates, Senate,
and assembly) and checks and balances in Rome's republican constitution were
models for the U.S. Constitution.

Rome To 509 B.C.

The history of Rome extends from 753 B.C., the traditional date for the
founding of the city by Romulus, Rome's legendary first king, to A.D. 476 when
another Romulus, Romulus Augustulus, the last Roman emperor in the West, was
deposed. The first period in this span of more than a thousand years ended in
509 B.C. with the expulsion of the seventh and last of Rome's kings, Tarquin
the Proud, and the establishment of a republic.

Geography And Early Settlers Of Italy

Geography did much to shape the course of events in Italy. The Italian
peninsula is 600 miles long and about four times the size of Greece and
two-thirds that of California. A great mountainous backbone, the Apennines,
runs down almost the entire peninsula. But the land is not so rugged as
Greece, and the mountains do not constitute a barrier to political
unification. Unlike in Greece, a network of roads could be built to link the
regions. Furthermore, the plain of Latium and its city, Rome, occupied a
strategic position. It was easy to defend, and once the Romans had begun a
career of conquest, they occupied a central position which made it difficult
for their enemies to unite successfully against them. The strategic position
of Rome was repeated on a larger scale by Italy itself. Italy juts into the
Mediterranean almost in the center of that great sea. Once Italy was unified,
its commanding position invited it to unify the entire Mediterranean world.

Italy's best valleys and harbors are on the western slopes of the
Apennines. The Italian peninsula faced west, not east. For a long time,
therefore, culture in Italy lagged behind that of Greece because cultural
contact was long delayed.

Both Greeks and Romans were offshoots of a common Indo-European stock,
and settlement of the Greek and Italian peninsulas followed broadly parallel
stages. Between 2000 and 1000 B.C., when Indo-European peoples invaded the
Aegean world, a western wing of this nomadic migration filtered into the
Italian peninsula, then inhabited by indigenous Neolithic tribes. The first
invaders, skilled in the use of copper and bronze, settled in the Po valley.
Another wave of Indo-Europeans, equipped with iron weapons and tools,
followed; in time the newer and older settlers intermingled and spread
throughout the peninsula. One group, the Latins, settled in the plain of
Latium, in the lower valley of the Tiber River.

For ages history had bypassed the western Mediterranean, but it was soon
to become an increasingly significant area. During the ninth century B.C. the
Etruscans, a non-Indo-European people who probably came from Asia Minor,
brought the first city-state civilization to Italy. Expanding from the west
coast up to the Po valley and south to the Bay of Naples, the Etruscans
organized the backward Italic peoples into a loose confederation of
Etruscan-dominated city-states. After 750 B.C. Greek colonists migrated to
southern Italy and Sicily, where they served as a protective buffer against
powerful and prosperous Carthage, a Phoenician colony established in North
Africa about 800 B.C. Yet the future was not to belong to these various
invaders but to an insignificant village on the Tiber River, then in the
shadow of Etruscan expansion. This was Rome, destined to be ruler of the
ancient world.

Rome's Origins

According to ancient legend, Rome was founded in 753 B.C. by the twin
brothers Romulus and Remus, who were saved from death in their infancy by a
she-wolf who sheltered and suckled them. According to Virgil's Aeneid
Romulus' ancestor was Aeneas, a Trojan who after the fall of Troy founded a
settlement in Latium. The Aeneas story, invented by Greek mythmakers, pleased
the Romans because it linked their history with that of the Greeks.

Turning from fable to fact, modern scholars believe that in the eighth
century B.C. the inhabitants of some small Latin settlements on hills in the
Tiber valley united and established a common meeting place, the Forum, around
which the city of Rome grew. Situated at a convenient place for fording the
river and protected from invaders by the hills and marshes, Rome was
strategically located. Nevertheless, the expanding Etruscans conquered Rome
about 625 B.C., and under their tutelage Rome first became an important

Some aspects of Etruscan culture were borrowed from the Greek colonies in
southern Italy, and much of this, including the alphabet, was passed on to the
conquered Romans. (Etruscan writing can be read phonetically but not
understood.) From their Etruscan overlords, the Romans acquired some of their
gods and the practice of prophesying by examining animal entrails and the
flight of birds. From the conquerors, too, the conquered learned the art of
building (especially the arch), the practice of making statues of their gods,
and the staging of gladiatorial combats. Even the name Roma appears to
be an Etruscan word.

The Roman Monarchy, 753-509 B.C.

Rome's political growth followed a line of development similar to that of
the Greek city-states: limited monarchy of the sort described by Homer,
oligarchy, democracy, and, finally, the permanent dictatorship of the Roman
emperors. We shall see that in moving from oligarchy to democracy, the Romans,
unlike the Greeks, succeeded in avoiding the intermediate stage of tyranny.

According to tradition, early Rome was ruled by kings elected by the
people. After the Etruscan conquest, this elective system continued, although
the last three of Rome's seven kings were Etruscan. The king's executive
power, both civil and military, was called the imperium, which was symbolized
by an ax bound in a bundle of rods (fasces). In the 1920s the fasces provided
both the symbol and name for Mussolini's political creed of fascism.

Although the imperium was conferred by a popular assembly made up of all
arms-bearing citizens, the king turned for advice to a council of nobles
called the Senate. Senators had lifelong tenure, and they and their families
belonged to the patrician class. The other class of Romans, the plebeians, or
commoners, included small farmers, artisans, and many clients, or dependents,
of patrician landowners. In return for a livelihood, the clients gave their
patrician patrons political support in the assembly.

Gary Edward Forsythe: Assistant Professor of Classical Languages and Literatures, University of Chicago. Author of The Historian L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi and the Roman Annalistic Tradition. Robert A. Guisepi: Author of Ancient Voices

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