Roman Empire

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Roman Empire

Roman Empire


The Roman civilization was the last major ancient civilization before Europe and North Africa plunged into the Dark Ages. Modern Western civilization owes much to the Romans, including the influence of the Roman legal system, tactics in warfare, monumental architecture, the spread of Christianity, and the pax Romana-the peace of Rome. The Roman civilization was also one of the most enduring civilizations, lasting over 1,200 years.

The city of Rome lay north of the Greek colonies in southern Italy and south of the metal-producing cultures of Central Europe; thus, both cultures influenced it and traded with it. Furthermore, the city was far enough away from the sea to avoid pirates but sat at the first practical crossing of the Tiber River. Being located in the center of the Mediterranean Basin made Rome strategically located to be the capital of a Mediterranean/ European empire (Richards, 2000).

According to tradition, Romulus founded the city of Rome in 753 BCE. However, historians know little about the early history of Rome, except that it was a part of a collection of individual communities in Latium. During its early years, kings ruled Rome and established its political and religious institutions. Rome grew to be a prominent city, partially due to its geographic location, and eventually became the capital of Latium.

In 509 BCE, patrician nobles overtook the government, ousted the king, and began the Roman Republic (509-48 BCE). Under the Republic, the Senate ruled the people and selected magistrates to oversee various administrative functions, including the military. The Senate could appoint a temporary dictator (for up to 6 months) in times of crisis or war. Roman society also contained groups other than the patricians, including the plebeians, who were free-born commoners. For 200 years after the beginning of the Republic, these social classes struggled for power. In the end, the plebeians won equal rights with the patricians, including the right to vote, hold offices, and make law and the right to intermarry with patricians (Richards, 2000).

Early years and rise as an empire

Rome's realm of control and influence spread during the Republic years. In 338 BCE, Rome began to fight with other members of the Latin League and defeated them. Then, the Romans fought the Samnites in the mountains of central Italy, and they had subdued them by 295 BCE. Twenty-five years later, they controlled the entire Italian peninsula, having defeated the Etruscans, the Gauls, and the Greek colonies in southern Italy.

Rome rapidly expanded its land holdings during the three Punic wars (wars against Carthage). During the First Punic War (264-241 BCE), Rome made Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica their first provinces. They added the eastern and southern sections of Spain during the second war (218-201 BCE, also called the Hannibalic War) and annexed North Africa during the third war (149-146 BCE). These wars left no doubt that Rome was the supreme power in the Mediterranean area. Between the wars, Rome defeated the tribes of southern Gaul and began to spread to the Greek-controlled territories to the ...
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