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World History
Chapter 5
Ancient Rome
The Latins settled near the Tiber River around 750 B.C. and established
the city of Rome a short time later. They borrowed many ideas from the
Phoenician and Greek civilizations that lived in Italy.
Around 600 B.C., the Etruscans conquered Rome. The Romans
learned many customs from the Etruscans. Less than 100 years later, the
Romans removed the Etruscan king from power and set up a new form of
government called a republic. A republic is a form of government in which
citizens elect their leaders. Rome became very powerful during the rule of
the republic.
The republic slowly evolved. At first, a class of wealthy landowners
called patricians ran the government. Plebeians, or common people, such
as farmers, artisans, merchants and traders did not have any power.
Patricians set up the governing body, or the Senate. Two consuls were
chosen by the Senate from the patrician class to administer the laws of
Rome and command the army. The popular assembly approved the consuls.
The two consuls each had the power to block the action of the other.
This power is called a veto, which means, “I forbid”.
A dictator was chosen in urgent situations. He held absolute power
for a period of six months. There was no one to veto his decisions.
Plebeians were not allowed into the army until the patricians finally
realized they needed help. The army was made up of legions. A legion is a
division of the Roman army made up of about 6,000 soldiers. The Roman
army benefited from their ability to move around quickly. This was made
possible by forming smaller groups within each legion.
Two new assemblies replaced the popular assembly. The Assembly of
Centuries elected the consuls and censors, as well as other officials. The
censor was in charge of registering the population for tax and voting
purposes. He was also in charge of enforcing the moral code.
World History
Only plebeians made up the Assembly of Tribes. They elected
tribunes. Tribunes were people elected to speak on behalf of the plebeians.
The Assembly of Tribes gradually helped the plebeians gain more rights.
Eventually they were allowed to marry patricians if they chose. They
even gained the right to hold any office. After 451 B.C.E., they gained
the privilege of passing laws. The Twelve Tables of Law, a written code
of laws, was an important development because it safeguarded everyone
from unjust treatment.
In Roman families, the father ruled with complete authority.
Children were taught courage, loyalty and the value of hard work. If
they had many children, couples were given special concessions.
Bachelors were punished.
The Romans lost a couple of battles to the Greeks before they were
finally able to take control of Italy. One such battle was with the Greek
king of Epirus, Pyrrhus. Pyrrhus won, but suffered so many casualties that
he announced, “Another such victory and I am lost.”
History and Geography of Ancient Rome
World History
Over a period of 456 years, the Romans acquired a huge empire.
From 500 B.C. to 264 B.C., they conquered the Italian peninsula. From
264 B.C. to 146 B.C., they took over Spain, northern Italy, Macedonia,
Carthage, Sicily and the western Mediterranean islands. Between the
years of 146 B.C. and 44 B.C., they gained Gaul, Pergamum, Asia
Minor, Syria, Egypt and northern Africa.
Most of these areas were conquered during the Punic Wars. The
Romans became trade rivals of the Phoenicians of Carthage when they took
over Italy. They both sought control of the western Mediterranean. The
Punic Wars were a result of this rivalry. The first war lasted 23 years. At
the end of it the Phoenicians lost Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica to the Romans.
The second war lasted 17 years and ended with the battle of Zama, where
Hannibal, a Carthaginian general was defeated and forced to surrender
Spain to Rome. The third war was only three years long and when it was
finished, the Phoenicians had lost Carthage to the Romans, who destroyed it.
The citizens of Carthage were massacred.
After Carthage was
destroyed, Rome had no other great rival and was easily able to expand
its empire. Macedonia, Greece and southern Gaul were other cities added to
the Roman Empire during the Punic Wars.
The Romans were very liberal with the peoples they conquered. They
didn’t try to change their religion or customs. This made most people very
accepting of their rule.
Some Romans required their conquests to pay them by giving them
things like slaves and treasures. A tribute was a forced payment from
conquered lands. One of the ways they were forced to pay was with grain.
As a result, Rome had an overabundance of grain and this forced the price
down. Because of this, small farmers could not make enough to support
themselves and were forced to sell their land. Romans with a lot of money
bought their land and created vast estates, or latifundias.
The number of farmers without land and soldiers without jobs grew.
They became increasingly unhappy with the government. They pushed for
changes. Tiberius Gracchus was a spokesman for them. He campaigned for
World History
land reforms. He was eventually murdered by wealthy nobles who opposed
his ideas.
Generals began recruiting these poor people for their armies. They
offered them loot. Generals became very powerful and eventually they
became the rulers of Rome.
Sulla was the first general to rule Rome. He became dictator in 88
B.C. after he defeated another general in a violent civil war. 28 years
later, in 60 B.C., three other generals created the First Triumvirate.
The Triumvirate, which means government led by three men, was an
alliance formed between Gnaeus Pompey, Julius Caesar and Marcus Lucius
Crassus to rule Rome together. The Senate had shunned both Pompey and
Caesar: Pompey, when he couldn’t get land grants for his soldiers, and
Caesar, in 61 B.C., when they blocked his election as consul.
They ruled Rome for a short while until one of the generals, Marcus
Lucius Crassus, died and the other, Gnaeus Pompey, turned against Caesar.
In 49 B.C., the Senate, who had formed an alliance with Pompey, told Caesar
to break up his armies, but he refused. Caesar went on to defeat an army
headed by Pompey. Five years later, in 44 B.C., Caesar was chosen as
dictator for life after winning many victories.
Between 88 B.C. and 44 B.C. Caesar had come to dominate the
Roman government.
He introduced many positive reforms, such as
redistribution of land to the poor, extension of citizenship to people in
the provinces and better wages for soldiers. Caesar was murdered in 44
B.C., before he had even served for a full year.
After Caesar died, his heir, Octavian formed the Second Triumvirate
with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus. When the triumvirate disbanded,
Octavian and Antony fought each other for power. Antony wed the queen of
Egypt, Cleopatra. Octavian declared war on them, and defeated them at
the battle of Actium in 31 B.C. He later became known as Augustus.
Rome became an empire and was very peaceful under Augustus’
leadership and remained that way for two hundred years. This peaceful
World History
time was called the Pax Romana. Click here to read more about Augustus
and the Pax Romana.
Augustus was made the commander-in-chief of the Roman Armies,
or imperator. He made many positive reforms during his rule, which made
people feel better about Rome and helped spread Roman views. Rome grew
in strength and wealth because of some of these reforms.
Marcus Aurelius was one of the exceptional emperors who ruled
Rome in the second century A.D. He wrote Meditations, which spelled out
his philosophies. Although he would have rather done other things than
fight wars, much of his time in power was spent fighting. He fought
Germans and eventually allowed them to settle on the frontiers of the
Roman Empire.
There were still problems during the Pax Romana. There were a lot
of poor and unemployed people. Slave labor took jobs away from others who
were left without work. Another problem was inflation. Inflation is an
increase in the money supply followed by an increase in prices.
Many slaves were killed at the circus. Charioteers risked death while
racing, and others were killed in battle reenactments. The Romans appeared
to care nothing about the lives of those killed, only about the entertainment
of the games and the free bread they received.