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6-08-2015, 15:00

Humble Beginnings

Scholars know little history of the area that would
become the city of Rome prior to the 700s BCE.
Historians agree that Rome’s story begins with a
very ancient city called Alba Longa. It was located a
short distance southeast of Rome. Alba Longa was
the most powerful city in that region, called Latium,
beginning in approximately the 1100s BCE. Historians
widely accept that Alba Longa was the center of the league made up
of approximately 30 Latin cities in the area and had some sort of rule
over them.
The history of Alba Longa is mixed with so much myth that historians
have difficulty obtaining a true historical knowledge of the area. Alba Longa
did function as a kingdom from approximately 1150 BCE to the mid-700s BCE,
when Rome was founded. A century after Rome began, its king, Tullus
Hostilius, destroyed Alba Longa in war, sparing only its temples.


Limited knowledge exists about the true history of Rome from the time of
Alba Longa to the founding of the city of Rome. Archaeologists do know the
mighty metropolis began as a humble settlement of farmers and shepherds.
In the early 700s BCE, present-day Italy was populated with multiple tribes,
including the Etruscans and the Latins.
In approximately 1000 BCE, small village communities along the Tiber
River united into a single settlement of agricultural people. They called their
new settlement Rome. A small group of huts in an area known as Palatine Hill
was Rome’s nucleus.
The river offered freshwater and transportation, both of which helped
Rome develop. By the 700s and 600s BCE, the Romans had cleared woods
and drained swamps to expand their farmland. The
settlement had evolved into an important city-state
that was growing in size and sophistication.
By 600 BCE, the Etruscans, who were the most
advanced civilization in northern Italy, took control
of the city of Rome. The town continued to prosper
as the Etruscans cultivated trade and commerce and
built roads and public buildings. A series of seven
Etruscan kings ruled the growing city until 509 BCE.
During their reign, in approximately 575 BCE, the
Romans leveled two marshy areas to make way for a
cattle market and the Roman Forum, a marketplace.
Roman citizens fell into two classes. Patricians were
property-owning noblemen from wealthy families.
Plebeians were common, working-class people who
depended upon the patricians. Slaves, who were not
considered citizens, also lived in the city.
Although Rome was thriving, the people were
displeased with their Etruscan king, a harsh ruler
named Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. Roman nobles
overthrew him in 509 BCE and set out to establish
a new form of government that would allow Rome to transition from a
monarchy to a republic, or res publica, which is Latin for “property of
the people.”


By the time the Etruscan royal family was banished, Rome had grown into a
walled city. A series of wars and victories over neighboring settlements left
Rome the most powerful city-state in central Italy.
As Rome prospered, Romans were eager for a government that allowed
the people more power. The early years of the republic brought about a
ruling body called the Senate. It consisted of elected officials called senators,
who served different levels of office and decided how Rome should be
organized and run. They also passed laws and controlled the army. Initially,
only patricians could serve as senators, leaving the working class with
no control. By 367 BCE, plebeians could hold the office of consulship, the
highest office in Rome.


By the 200s BCE, Rome had gained control of the Italian Peninsula. Then,
during the First Punic War (264–241 BCE), the Romans took the island of
Sicily from Carthage, a trading center and sea power on the northern coast
of Africa (modern-day Tunisia). Countries or regions taken under control by
Rome were called provinces. Sicily became Rome’s first province.
Rome battled Carthage again during the Second Punic War (218–201 BCE).
Hannibal, a mighty Carthaginian general, attacked Rome from the north
when he brought his army, complete with 6,000 horses and a few elephants,
through the Alps into Italy.1 The Romans defeated Hannibal’s army in
202 BCE. The victory gave Rome the Carthaginian provinces in Spain.
During the Third Punic War (149–146 BCE), Rome destroyed the city
of Carthage and annexed portions of northern Africa and more of Spain.

In 146 BCE, Rome expanded into Greece and Macedonia and soon gained
portions of land in modern-day Turkey.
Rome’s conquests brought great wealth. The Romans took the spoils of
war, such as marble and gold. They also brought slaves back to Rome to
work the land of upper-class citizens and their expanding holdings. Slaves
were important resources. Free men could be drafted into military service,
but slaves were exempt. That meant landowners might lose their paid
laborers to military service but not slave labor.
Appian, a Greek historian and Roman citizen, explained that during this
time “powerful citizens became immensely wealthy and the slave class
all over the country multiplied,” while common laborers suffered under
“poverty, taxes, and military service.”2 Peasant landowners were forced
to give up their small, less productive farms as the aristocrats’ latifundia,
large expanses of land used to produce profitable crops, continued growing.
These huge farms did not offer employment to the displaced smaller farmers
because slaves worked the land without wages. Rome’s poor population grew
as the social structure degraded. The result was a civil war.


In 133 BCE, the government official Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus attempted
to enforce landholding limitation laws that had been established in the
200s BCE but not enforced. A group of
senators murdered him. Because senators
were from the wealthy upper class that
continued to get richer, they did not favor
reform that would transfer any kind of
power or wealth to the working class.
Although he had made a fervent attempt
to help those less fortunate, Gracchus
was unsuccessful in acquiring reform for
poorer citizens.
Rome also suffered slave revolts and
an invasion by Germanic tribes. Rome had
to arm the poor to avoid complete defeat.
The door opened for powerful military
generals to seize control. In 60 BCE,
Pompey, Crassus, and Julius Caesar
formed a pact called the First Triumvirate.
The trio grew powerful within the Senate.
However, when Crassus was killed in
battle, Pompey and Caesar turned on
one another. Caesar eventually defeated Pompey and his loyal supporters
and took control of Rome for himself. He declared himself dictator for life in
45 BCE and was the sole ruler of the Roman world. The following year, on
March 15, 44 BCE, a group of senators killed Caesar, fearing he was becoming
an emperor. His death marked the end of the Roman Republic.


After defeating Mark Antony and gaining Egypt for Rome in 31 BCE, Octavian,
Caesar’s grand-nephew and adopted son, became Rome’s first emperor, soon
taking the name Augustus. This marked the beginning of the Roman Empire.
Augustus was the first of many emperors who would control the strongest
empire on earth. Some emperors were wise and good, supporting public
works projects and improving life within the city of Rome. Other emperors
were cruel, power-hungry tyrants.
Rome reached the height of its power from 96 to 180 CE. Emperor
Claudius pushed troops as far as Britain in 43 CE and into North Africa
(modern-day Morocco and Algeria), further expanding the empire. Trajan,
who ruled from 98 to 117 CE, brought the empire to the peak of its expansion,
pushing into Dacia (modern-day Romania and Hungary), as well as parts
of the Middle East (modern-day Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq). Rome had
become a superpower, governing
more than 60 million people across
three continents.3
The Romans erected towns and
cities as far away as Wales and
Scotland as Roman armies took
control in those areas. Great wealth
poured into Rome in the form of
gold and silver cups, plates, and
other items the Romans had taken
from conquered lands and melted
to create Roman money. Trade
and commerce across the empire
thrived. The Romans created
buildings, statues, and monuments
using marble, stone, gold, and
other precious materials from
faraway lands. Opulence and luxury
abounded for the wealthy.


In 79 CE, Vesuvius erupted and destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum, located
near the Bay of Naples. Signs of an impending eruption were present, including
an earthquake. But Pompeii’s population was caught completely unaware.
On the morning of August 24, the eruption started. Ash and pumice
fell first. By midnight, hot ash, pumice, rock fragments, and volcanic gas
rushed down the side of the mountain. Fumes coming from Vesuvius were
toxic, making breathing deadly. Refugees fled to the harbor, but there was
no time to evacuate them. Pompeii was completely covered in successive
blankets of black ash and pumice. One-tenth of the population—2,000
Pompeians—died in the blast. Many of them died almost instantly.4
The eruption left behind an incredible record of Roman life that was
undiscovered for centuries. The ash encased Pompeians and created
hardened molds around their bodies. The bodies disintegrated, but the molds
remained. By carefully injecting plaster into the molds, archaeologists were
able to recreate detailed forms of the victims, capturing their expressions

of pain and agony.
Vesuvius had preserved
Pompeii as though it had
been frozen in time.
archaeologists unearthed
much of the city,
excavating entire houses
and public buildings, along
with streets and artifacts.
Researchers found
beautiful fresco paintings
on house walls and
discovered pottery, jewelry,
and other household items.
By studying the remains
of Pompeii, historians
were able to learn much
about everyday life in an
ancient Roman city.

Languages of
the Empire

Although Latin is considered the
language of ancient Rome, Greek
was also a dominant language.
Latin was the language of the
courts and the military, and
many traders and businessmen
used it. As the empire expanded,
the Romans conquered peoples
who did not speak Latin. The
empire expected such groups to
acquire at least a rudimentary
understanding of the language.
Educated upper-class citizens
studied and were fluent in
Greek. They used this language
for diplomatic communications
with their Greek neighbors.
When the West Roman Empire
dissolved, Greek became the
dominant language in the East
Roman Empire, later known
as the Byzantine Empire.


Rome’s vastness eventually contributed to its
downfall. The empire became too large for one man
to control effectively. Roman armies in distant lands
became more loyal to their commanding officers
than to their emperor. Rome battled enemies in
Europe and Asia, and rivals fought to claim the title
of emperor.
In 284 CE, Diocletian became emperor. He
reorganized the Roman government, dividing
it into smaller provinces to create stability. He
also standardized Roman coins and attempted
to implement price controls. His efforts would
not endure.
In 395, Arcadius and Honorius, the sons of
Emperor Theodosius I, split the Roman Empire in
two: the West Roman Empire and the East Roman
Empire. Rome remained the capital in the West.
Constantinople became the capital in the East.
In the early 400s, Germanic tribes began invading and looting cities under
Roman control in Spain and Africa. In 410, the Visigoths, a Germanic group,
sacked the city of Rome. Meanwhile, formerly conquered groups such as the
Celts and Saxons fought Roman occupation. And in 455, Gaiseric, a Vandal
leader, led his people in an attack on Rome. They plundered the mighty
city. In 476, Odoacer, a Germanic leader, knocked Romulus Augustulus from
power. The West Roman Empire had fallen.
The East Roman Empire remained intact for nearly another 1,000 years.
It thrived as the Byzantine Empire. In 1453, the Ottomans took control of
Constantinople and made it the capital of their empire. After enduring for
more than 20 centuries, the rule of Rome had come to an end.