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The tiny town that started near the Tiber River in central Italy, has become an empire that has reached the highest level including most of continental Europe, Britain, western Asia, northern Africa, and the Mediterranean islands. This tiny town began in the eighth century BC and has been given the name “Ancient Rome.” During the first century, Rome became an empire with the rise and fall of Julius Caesar. Then, the golden age of peace and prosperity began with the first emperor, Augustus. In the fifth century AD, the empire started to decline and created one of the most dramatic collapses in history. This is the evolution of the Roman Empire.
According to the long-lived legend, Rome was founded by the twin sons of Mars, who are named Romulus and Remus. These twins were left stranded in a basket that was thrown into the Tiber River by the king. Luckily, these twins were rescued by a she-wolf and were educated to defeat the king. After the defeat of the king, the twins founded their own city in 753 BC. After much debate about which twin should rule the city, Romulus killed Remus, crowning him as the first king of Rome. The name “Rome” comes from the first king’s name. Following the reign of Romulus were many Sabine, Latin and Etruscan kings without hereditary succession.
In 509 BC, the era of monarchy ended with the overthrow of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the seventh king of Rome. According to historians, this king was cruel and tyrannical towards his people. Another moment that lead to the decline of the Roman monarchy, was when the king’s son was accused of raping Lucretia, a virtuous noblewoman. These two situations were the main caused of why Roman turned from a monarchy into a republic. The world republic means “property of the people.”
The early Republic was constructed into two annually elected magistrates called consuls. These magistrates then served as commanders in chief of the Roman Army. Even though the magistrates were elected by the people of Rome, they were also drawn from the Senate, which was controlled by the descendants of the original senators from Romulus reign. During this time, politics were created by the difficulties between the patricians and the common people, who eventually gained some political power through the years of concessions from the patricians. These concessions included their own political parties, tribunes, which could initiate or veto legislation. In 450 BC, the Twelve Tables were created, which was the first Roman law code that was scribed into 12 bronze tablets. Included within the tables were laws dealing with the issues of legal procedure, civil rights, and property rights, along with the basis for all future Roman civil law. These tablets are now displayed in the Roman Forum. The Roman Forum was a popular site which was located in the center heart of ancient Rome. This forum held many important religious, political and social events. This was a multi-purpose site with many functions including elections, speeches, criminal trials, gladiator matches, social gathering, business dealings, public meetings, religious ceremonies, education events, and the buying, selling and trading of items. The Roman Forum is now one of the most famous tourist sites in the world.
Within the age of the early republic, the Roman state increased in both size and power. In 390 BC, the Gauls attacked and burned Rome to the ground. Under the leadership and direction of Camillus, the military hero, Roman was able to make a comeback and finally gain complete control of the Italian peninsula in 264 BC. Then, the Punic Wars began between Rome and Carthage, a city-state in northern African known to be powerful. When the First Punic War began, Rome interfered in the conflict with the Carthaginian-controlled island, known as Sicily. The first war ended with Rome controlling both Sicily and Corsica which marked the empires rise as a naval and land power. The Second Punic War occurred when the Carthaginian general, Hannibal, invaded Italy and took over Lake Transience and Cannae between the complete defeat with Rome’s Scipio Africanus, that left Rome maintaining control of western Mediterranean and much of Spain. Finally, in the Third Punic War, Scipio the Younger led Rome into capturing and destroying the city of Carthage which turned Africa into a domain of the Roman Empire in 146 BC. As a benefit to Rome’s military conquest, they also gained cultural growth within the city. These benefits include contact with the Greek culture which created the first Roman literature in 240 BC and translation of Greek classics into Latin.
In 59 BC, Julius Caesar returned to Rome and was given the governorship of three wealthy provinces in Gaul, while he was set to conquer the rest of the region for Rome. After Caesar’s invasion of Italy, it started the beginning of a civil war in which he became dictator of Rome for life. Within a year, Caesar was killed by his enemies. In 27 BC, Augustus became the first emperor of Rome in which restored all morale in Rome after years of corruption and destruction. Senate’s power was limited so it became important to support the emperor. Throughout his 56 years of reign, he instituted social reforms, won many military victories and allowed Roman art, architecture, literature, and religion to grow and flourish. Augustus was able to have a supportive army and grow a cult of devotion to his emperor.
The period between August and Diocletian was called the High Empire which occurred between 27 BC- 305 AD. The dynastic succession of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero ended when the emperor Nero died, which sparked the civil war. The other three emperors fought to gain the power and Vespasian won the war, which was part of the Flavian dynasty. The absolute power of Rome started to weaken over time. Rome’s only main priority was to defend and protect the borders from attacks by the Barbarians and Sasanians. After these constant wars, the army became too expensive to maintain and the empire declined in debts.
Throughout the third century, Rome suffered from various conflicts and difficulties. Out of the 22 emperors who took the throne, many of their lives were ended in such a violent way. Constantine rose to help with the power struggles and reunified Rome in 324 as a sole emperor. He then moved the capital to the Greek City of Byzantium and renamed the Roman capital Constantinople. He also made Christianity Rome’s official religion of the city. He divided the empire between his two sons Arcadius and Honorius which created the Western an Eastern Roman Empire. Rome eventually declined after slowly losing his empire, one province at a time. First was Britain, then Spain and northern Africa, then Gaul and Italy. The eastern Roman Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire, survived until the 15th century AD.
Another remarkable feature about Rome is the Colosseum, which is located east of the Roman Forum and was built in 70 AD by Emperor Vespasian. The Colosseum was built in 10 years, which was a rather quick period of time for such a remarkable building. The Colosseum was an area to contain many forms of entertainment including gladiator combats, wild animal fights, hunt, and mock naval engagements. The mock naval engagements took place when the arena was flooded from a storm. Majority of the combatants who fought within the amphitheater were male. The slaves, criminals or prisoners of war also served as the gladiators. This amphitheater was a freestanding structure, with three stories of arched entrances held up by semi-circular columns, making it the largest amphitheater in the Roman world. The large amphitheater could seat more than 50,000 spectators! Spectators were put into a social rank category and then arranged a seat within the arena based on the rankings. After four centuries of gladiatorial combats and public entertainment, the struggles of the Western Roman Empire and the change in society created a decline in the Colosseum. Today, natural disasters, weather, neglect, and vandalism has destroyed two-thirds of the amphitheater in which included the marble seats and decoration on the walls. This Colosseum still remains to be one of the most popular iconic symbols of Rome throughout history.
Rome has evolved in various ways. To begin with, the legends state that the twins founded Rome. Then the civilization of Rome transferred from a monarchy to a republic than to an empire. Next, Julius Caesar ruled as a dictator until his nephew, Octavian become Rome’s first emperor, claiming the title Augustus. In 1870, Rome finally became the capital of Italy, which was newly a unified country. Today, tourism brings around 7-10 million visitors each year. Rome is declared the 3rd most visited city in Europe. While the Colosseum see 4 million tourists and the Vatican Museums see 4.2 million tourists, these are considered the 39th and 37th most visited places in the world. Rome reflects and represents a long timeline of events that built this incredible city.
- “Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill Tour.” Rome by CIVITATIS, www.rome.net/roman-empire.
- Editors, History.com. “Ancient Rome.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 14 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/ancient-rome/ancient-rome.
- Editors, History.com. “Colosseum.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/colosseum.
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