The rise of Rome summary




The rise of Rome summary


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The rise of Rome summary



Who is so thoughtless and lazy that he does not want to know in what way and with what kind of government the Romans in less than 53 years conquered nearly the entire inhabited world and brought it under their rule-an achievement previously unheard of?"1 This question was first asked by Polybius, a Greek historian who lived in the second century B.C. With keen awareness Polybius realized that the Romans were achieving something unique in world history. 

What was that achievement? Was it simply the creation of a huge empire? Hardly The Persians had done the same thing. For that matter, Alexander the Great had conquered vast territories in a shorter time. Was it the creation of a superior culture? Even the Romans admitted that in matters of art, literature, philosophy, and culture they learned from the Greeks. Rome's achievement lay in the ability of the Romans not only to conquer peoples but to incorporate them into the Roman system. Rome succeeded where the Greek polis had failed. Unlike the Greeks, who refused to share citizenship, the Romans extended their citizenship first to the Italians and later to the peoples of the provinces. With that citizenship went Roman government and law. Rome created a world state that embraced the entire Mediterranean area and extended northward. 

Nor was Rome's achievement limited to the ancient world. Rome's law, language, and administrative practices were a precious heritage to medieval and modern Europe. London, Paris, Vienna, and many other modern European cities began as Roman colonies or military camps. When the Founding Fathers created the American republic, they looked to Rome as a model. On the darker side, Napoleon and Mussolini paid their own tribute to Rome by aping its forms. Whether Founding Father or modern autocrat, all were acknowledging admiration for the Roman achievement. 

Roman history is usually divided into two periods: the republic, the age in which Rome grew from a small city-state to ruler of an empire, and the empire, the period when the republican constitution gave way to constitutional monarchy. 


*How did Rome rise to greatness?

*What effects did the conquest of the Mediterranean have on the Romans themselves?

*Finally, why did the republic collapse?

These are the questions we will explore in this chapter.



To the west of Greece the boot-shaped peninsula of Italy, with Sicily at its toe, occupies the center of the Mediterranean basin. As Map 5.1 shows, Italy and Sicily thrust southward toward Africa: the distance between southwestern Sicily and the northern African coast is at one point only about a hundred miles. Italy and Sicily literally divide the Mediterranean into two basins and form the focal point between the halves. 

Like Greece and other Mediterranean lands, Italy enjoys a genial, almost subtropical climate. The winter’s arc rainy, but the summer months are dry. Because of the climate the rivers of Italy usually carry little water during the summer, and some go entirely dry. The low water level of the Arno, one of the principal rivers of Italy, once led Mark Twain to describe it as "a great historical creek with four feet in the channel and some scows floating around. It would be a very plausible river if they would pump some water into it.”2 The Arno at least is navigable. Most of Italy's other rivers are not. Clearly these small rivers were unsuitable for regular, large-scale shipping. Italian rivers, unlike Twain's beloved Mississippi, never became major thoroughfares for commerce and communication. 

Geography encouraged Italy to look to the Mediterranean. In the north Italy is protected by the Apennine Mountains, which break off from the Alps and form a natural barrier. The Apennines hindered but did not prevent peoples from penetrating Italy from the north. Throughout history, in modern times as well as ancient, various invaders have entered Italy by this route. North of the Apennines lies the Po Valley, an important part of modern Italy. In antiquity this valley did not become Roman territory until late in the history of the republic. From the north the Apennines run southward the entire length of the Italian boot; they virtually cut off access to the Adriatic Sea, a feature that further induced Italy to look west to Spain and Carthage rather than cast to Greece. 

Even though most of the land is mountainous, the hill country is not as inhospitable as are the Greek highlands. In antiquity the general fertility of the soil provided the basis for a large population. Nor did the mountains of Italy so carve up the land as to prevent the development of political unity. Geography proved kinder to Italy than to Greece. 

In their southward course the Apennines leave two broad and fertile plains, those of Latium and Campania. These plains attracted settlers and invaders from the time when peoples began to move into Italy. Among these peoples were the Romans, who established their city on the Tiber River in Latium. 

This site enjoyed several advantages. The Tiber provided Rome with a constant source of water. Located at an easy crossing point on the Tiber, Rome stood astride the main avenue of communication between northern and southern Italy. The famous seven hills of Rome were defensible and safe from the floods of the Tiber. Rome was in an excellent position to develop the resources of Latium and maintain contact with the rest of Italy. 



In recent years archaeologists have found traces of numerous early peoples in Italy. The origins of these cultures and their precise relations with one another are not completely understood. In fact no totally coherent account of the prehistory of Italy is yet possible, but certain elements of this period are yearly coming into sharper focus. One fundamental fact is, however, indisputable: from about 1000 to 875 B.C. many peoples speaking Indo-European languages were moving into Italy from the north, probably in small groups. They were part of the awesome but imperfectly understood movement of peoples that spread the Indo-European languages from Spain to India. 

Only with the coming of the Greeks does Italy enter into the light of history. Yet Italy had a long prehistory before the Greeks arrived. Old legends preserved a faint memory of past events, and modern archaeology has brought much of this distant past to light. The oldest developments in Italy are almost bewilderingly complex. The Greeks found that the Phoenicians from Tyre and Sidon had traded with peoples in Italy from at least the eleventh century B.C. In the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. their merchants had exchanged material goods with many peoples throughout the area. Phoenician influence, however, was not very significant, for they came to trade, not to settle. The Greeks also encountered the Etruscans, Celts, and Italians, all scattered along the peninsula and each independent of the other. 


The Etruscans

Despite much uncertainty, a generally reliable outline of events can be sketched. Among the various peoples in Italy were the Etruscans, one of the most mysterious peoples of antiquity. Who they were and where they came from are topics still being argued. Earlier scholars have concluded either that they were newcomers from the north, part of the vast movement of peoples of the period, or that they had sailed from Lydia in the Near East. Recent work in archaeology and epigraphym-the study of inscriptions-suggests that they may have been a people indigenous to Italy. That means that they developed their culture and were one of the peoples who had been in Italy from time immemorial. Excavations have clearly demonstrated a continuity of settlement and culture that goes back at least to the eighth century B.C. There is no break in the archaeological record, no indication of the arrival of newcomers, and no dramatic and unexpected change in customs. In short, archaeology strongly suggests that the Etruscans evolved from earlier native folk. 

Study of the Etruscan language proves that it is unrelated to any known language. This is precisely what one can expect of an indigenous people who developed their culture in isolation from the outside world. There is no evidence that they were even literate until about 700 B.C., when they adopted and adapted a western Greek alphabet in which to write their language. (As we saw in Chapter 3, the Greeks had done something similar by using the Semitic Phoenician alphabet to write their Indo-European language.) 

Of greater importance than the question of the origins of the Etruscans is an understanding of their accomplishments. Once established as a major player in Italian life, they exported their rich mineral resources to pay for luxury goods imported from the eastern Mediterranean. They also played an important role in the wider Mediterranean world because of their contacts with their neighbors. In addition, they created an export market in olive oil and wine. Their society evolved cities that resembled Greek city-states, and their wealth, along with their political and military institutions, enabled them to form a loosely organized league of cities whose domination extended as far north as the Po Valley and as far south as Latium and Campania (see Map 5.1). In Latium they founded cities and took control of a small collection of villages subsequently called Rome. By the seventh century B.C. they had fully entered the cosmopolitan life of the Mediterranean world. 



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