According to legend Ancient Rome was founded by Romulus. Romulus and Remus were twin brothers. When they were babies their mother placed them in a basket and set it afloat on the river Tiber. When the basket came ashore it was discovered by a she wolf that nursed them for a while. A Sheppard later found them and brought them up. When they grew up they founded a city close by where they had been found but argued and fought over the location of the new city. Romulus killed Remus and that is why the city is named Rome after him.
Most ancient settlements were near a river crossing and Rome was no exception. The city originated in around 753BC near a narrow crossing of the River Tiber. Surrounding the river crossing are Seven hills where a number of villages had been built.
As these villages grew in size and wealth they banded together for protection. They cleared the valleys between and hills and drained them and the villages became towns and eventually joined to become a city. The people that lived in Rome were from a larger tribe called the Latins. The Latins neighbours were the Etruscans to the north and the Samnites to the east. There were many conflicts between Rome, the Etruscans and the Samnites and the Romans developed a system where the citizens, mainly wealthy people that owned land, were expected to join the army when there was trouble. The Romans eventually became the dominant Latin city. They defeated the Etruscans and Samnites and added their land to their own. Eventually, about 300BC, Rome became the most powerful city in the Italian peninsular.
In the beginning Rome was ruled by Kings but around 510 BC the Roman people led by Lucius Iunius Brutus and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus exiled King Tarquin the Proud and announced a Republic ruled by an elected Senate on behalf of the citizens.
The Roman Army
In the early days of the Republic Rome was in competition with other powerful cities around the Mediterranean. The main threats came from the Carthage, with cities in northern Africa and Spain, and colonies created by the Greeks.
After the death of Romulus the leading member of the Senate announced that Romulus had come to him in a vision thinking that he could now be elected King. The citizens doubted this and the Sabine contingent declared that it was time for a Sabine to be king. The Romans agreed, so long it was them who choose the candidate. They choose Numa Pompilius.
Numa Pompilius was a man of wisdom and culture rather than a warrior and under is patronage Rome flourished for over 40 years without a war.
It was a warrior Tullus Hostilius that succeeded the peaceful Numa Pompilius. Tullus resorted to the sword to settle disputes rather than discussion and agreement.
One such dispute was with the neighbouring city of Alba Longa, the leading Latin city, 12 miles from Rome. Romulus was said to have been descended from the ruling line of Alba Longa and rather than commit the closely related people of the two cities to war it was decided to settle the differences with a combat between champions. Three brothers from the family Horatius fought for the Romans and three brothers from the Curiatius family fought for the Albans. The contest ended with just one Roman left alive and Alba Longa swore loyalty to Rome. The Albans proved to be unfaithful and abandoned Rome in a war with another neighbour. Rome was victorious and took revenge on Alba Longa by killing the King, raising the city to the ground and settling the Alban people on the Caelian Hill in Rome.
Tullus supposedly died after being struck by lightning and was replaced by another Sabine. Ancus Marcius was a grandson of Numa Pompilius and he was expected to re-establish the peace and prosperity that Rome had enjoyed under his grandfather's reign. For those enemies of Rome that thought Ancus would peacefully cede to their demands it was a shock to find he was a very capable warrior and increased Rome's wealth and prestige considerably.
Tarquinius Priscus (the Elder)
Tarquinius was an Etruscan. He was the guardian of King Ancus' two sons. When Ancus died it was Tarquinius that was chosen as King rather than either of Ancus' sons. Tarquin was an accomplished soldier and led his troops to victories over the Sabines, Latins and Etruscans.
He is thought to have introduced the Circus games and started the Circus Maximus. He is also credited with starting the great drainage ditch that was to become the great drain Cloaca Maxima.
Tarquin met his end at the hands of two assassins employed by the sons of Ancus. One approached him from the front distracting him whilst the other crept up behind and struck him on the head with an axe. Tarquin's wife told the Romans that he was recovering and that Tarquin had instructed that his son-in-law, Servius Tullius, should rule in his place until he recovered. He never recovered!
The two sons of Ancus were implicated in the death of Tarquin and were forced into exile. Servius was left to consolidate his throne. Servius won a battle against the Etruscan city of Veii so comprehensively that his prestige and fame as a commander ensured peace for the rest of his life.
It was during the reign of Servius that money was first introduced into Rome. At first it was just blank discs of copper but Servius then had his own image stamped on to the coins.
The Census was introduced at this time, which counted the population of Rome and grouped them into ranks.
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (the Proud)
Servius was overthrown in old age by Lucius Tarquinius, the husband of his daughter Tullia. Tarquin arrived at the Senate one day and announced he was the new king and that the Senate should respect and acknowledge this. When Servius arrived he was thrown out and murdered by hired assassins. His daughter later rode over his body in the street in her carriage.
Tarquin ruled by force. He was a tyrant and took for himself absolute authority. He used this power to remove his opposition. Tarquin bullied the other Latin cities into a confederation with Rome as the leader, increasing Rome's wealth and power enormously.
The citizens of Rome lived in fear of this man and eventually lashed back. The final straw came in 509BC when Tarquin was out of the city. Tarquin's son, Sextus, raped the noblewoman Lucretia. The citizens, prompted by the Senate, revolted. The nobles, led by Lucius Iunius Brutus and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, Lucretia's widowed husband, joined in and announced a Republic in place of the Monarchy. Tarquin attempted to return and put down the rebellion but the army deserted him and he was forced into exile where he died in 496BC.
Expansion and War
After the rebellion of 509BC the Senate elected two Consuls in place of the King. Their alternative title was Praetor, meaning leader, and referred to their role as an army commander. The first two were Lucius Iunius Brutus and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, notable for their part in leading the rebellion.
The history of the Republic is dominated by military campaigns that led to a continuous territorial expansion from the region around Rome to the entire Italian peninsular and then most of the land surrounding the Mediterranean, including most of Hispania (Spain), Gaul (France) and Greece.
The early military campaigns were confined to protecting Rome from attacks by neighbouring cities and in turn attacking them and subjugating them, adding there territory to their own. By 396BC Rome controlled Latium and the lands of the Etruscans to the north. In 390BC several Gallic tribes attacked Etruscan towns in the north. The towns called on Rome for help. The Gauls defeated the Roman army sent to stop them, then chased them back to Rome and sacked the city. This was the start of an enmity between the two peoples that would last for centuries.
Rome recovered quickly from the Gallic invasion and between 343 and 282BC Rome expanded east and after three wars forced the Samnites and Latins to submit to Roman rule.
In 280BC a disagreement with a Greek colony in the south ended in open war and the colony called on Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus, for support. Pyrrhus, a very capable general, rallied to the Greek cause with an army of 25,000 men. Despite several victories Pyrrhus found that the Romans were not prepared to negotiate. Each battle cost Pyrrhus heavy casualties and he was finding his position vulnerable. With his army exhausted he gave up and withdrew to Greece. This left Rome with the knowledge that it could beat the major powers of the Mediterranean and that the Greeks could not defend their interests in southern Italy. Rome quickly moved troops south and conquered the southern mainland.
The move south brought Rome into contact with the great north African naval power of Carthage. In 264BC the first Punic War began when opposing colonies on Sicily requested help from Rome and Carthage. The war required Rome to build a navy. The results were catastrophic defeats for Rome and she had to rely on her seemingly endless resources of men and material to gain the initiative. The ships lost in the early battles were replaced, new recruits were trained and new tactics were devised. Rome began to gain the upper hand and after a decisive victory for the Roman fleet at the battle of the Aegates Islands Carthage sued for peace.
In 218BC Hannibal Barca, a Carthaginian general, started the Second Punic War by attacking a town in Spain that was allied with Rome. The Romans responded by sending an army but Hannibal outwitted the Romans by travelling over the Alps receiving the aid of Gallic tribes in the area and gaining entry to northern Italy. In three battles: Trebbia, Lake Trasimene and Cannae, Hannibal inflicted serious defeats on the Romans. At Cannae the Romans fielded over 85,000 men against Hannibal's' 55,000 or so. In one of the greatest demonstrations of tactical warfare ever witnessed Hannibal destroyed the Roman army, of which between 50,000 and 70,000 were reported to have been slain. The result was the defection of several Roman allies and the adoption of the Fabian Strategy by which the Romans would engage Hannibal's allies but not Hannibal himself. In this way they wore Hannibal's army down and exhausted it to the point that it was incapable of any serious action. Hannibal was recalled from Italy to defend Carthage from a Roman army that had landed under the command of Scipio Africanus. Hannibal was defeated in one last battle at Zama ending the Second Punic war. Carthage subsequently became subject to Roman rule.
The Third Punic war between 149BC and 146BC was simply an excuse for the Romans to destroy Carthage forever. Carthage had never recovered from the terms imposed after the Second Punic War and was incapable of defending herself against Rome. After agreeing to all the terms laid down by the Romans Carthage was still still stormed and burnt to the ground, and it's population sold into slavery.
Between the Second and Third Punic wars Rome projected her power east and conquered Greece and Macedonia and parts of Asia Minor. By 146 BC Rome was the only major sea power in the Mediterranean and controlled most of it's shores.
The threat to peace now came from internal conflict. Between 135 and 71BC there were three uprisings by slaves, the last one involving possibly as many as 150,000 slaves led by an ex-gladiator called Spartacus. The Social wars were fought during 91BC between Rome and her allies over the right to Roman citizenship.
The most serious threat came from attempts by Generals to usurp the power of the Senate. In 82BC Sulla led an army against the Senate captured Rome and set himself up as dictator. The trend was set for other generals to follow suit.
Julius Caesar had been appointed Proconsul of Cisalpine Gaul and had used the transit of two tribes close to Roman territory as an excuse to invade Gaul itself. From 59 to 50BC Caesar systematically subjugated Gaul and even led two expeditions to Britain in 55 and 54BC. During this period Caesar's ex-ally Pompey had aligned himself with Caesar's political enemies in Rome. In 51BC the Senate felt powerful enough to demand that Caesar turn over his armies to the state. Caesar refused and in 49BC crossed the Rubicon with his armies and marched on Rome to start another civil war. After defeating Pompey and his allies Julius Caesar became the most powerful man in Rome. On March 14th 44BC (the Ides of March) a group of senators led by Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus, fearing that Caesar wanted to become King, assassinated him.
The death of Caesar prompted another civil war between the so called liberators that killed Caesar and the followers of Caesar: Mark Anthony, Lepidus and Octavian. The Caesarians were triumphant but soon fell out and another civil war between Mark Anthony and Octavian began. Octavian defeated Anthony and his ally Cleopatra at the battle of Actium in 31BC. Anthony and Cleopatra committed suicide leaving Octavian in sole possession of power. Octavian then began to re-organise the Republic around the idea of the Principate; an individual that is in control of the ruling Senate but is only a first amongst equals. Starting around 29BC it took about 30 years for Octavian to enact the necessary legislative changes and the result was the Roman Empire with Octavian assuming the title 'Imperator Caesar Augustus', the first Roman Emperor, effectively ending the Roman Republic.
The Roman Senate started as a council to the King. The early Roman social structure was based on clans, each being led by a patriarch (pater means "father" in Latin), a senior male in the clan. These Patricians, the aristocracy, were selected to form the Senate. The early Kings were selected by the Senate on behalf of the people and served until they died. The Senate was involved in the process of making law but it was the King who created it.
In 509BC the Senate was behind the actions that overthrew the Monarchy and replaced it with a Republic. The Republic was split into three parts: an administrative section, a legislative section and a judicial section. This ensured that no one person could control the state. The legislative section consisted of assemblies, where the people (Plebeians) voted by casting ballots to create laws. The Senate could interpret the law and pass on advice to magistrates who, as part of the judiciary, would implement the law.
The Republican Senate was wholly responsible for authorising the spending of state funds drawn from the treasury. Each year the Senate elected two Consuls to serve as joint leaders for a term of one year. The Consuls usually commanded the army in times of war. During the late Republic an ex-Consul would often be appointed a Proconsul, a governor of one of the provinces.
Every five years every male Roman citizen had to enter his name and that of his wife, children, slaves and possessions into the a register. Registration in the census was the only way to ensure that a man was counted as a free citizen. The Census was used to gauge the wealth and strength of Rome.
Everyone was grouped into a rank or class that decided the level of voting a person could enjoy. The rich had more voting power and were involved in the important affairs of state such as organising the army and assigning state funds.
The Census wasn't just a passive process. The rich were scrutinised very closely by the office of the Censors, two highly respected aristocrats appointed for their integrity and ability. A man's rank was founded on his wealth and prestige and if shown to be lacking could result in being demoted a rank.
The Census gave the community of Rome a sense of being from the same place and a common identity; it was a corner stone of their society and civilisation.