A Brief Overview
Historical Overview of Roman
Early Rome: Archaeological
 Population grew with the transition from the
Bronze to the Iron Age in the 10th c. BCE.
 Large nucleated settlements developed, including
Rome, 20 km inland.
 Traces of iron-age huts (thatched) and cemeteries
dating from the 9th-7th c. have been found in
several places in Rome.
 Surviving literary accounts of the beginnings of
Rome are based entirely on legend - show us how
the Romans liked to see themselves.
Early Latium
Early Rome
Romulus’ City (8th-6th c.BCE)
 Later Roman tradition credited Romulus with
founding Rome in 753 BCE, its first king.
 During the 8th-6th c. 3 distinct groupings appeared
in central Italy: in Latium, Etruria, and Samnium the peoples in each spoke different languages (Latin,
Etruscan, Oscan). They had similar social and
political systems, but rather different religious and
funerary practices.
 Individual settlements were separate, each with a
‘king’ or small ruling elite of warrior-landowners.
The Time of the Kings
 Legend preserves seven king names, but there
were surely more.
 In the course of the 6th c. Rome grew into a major
 The city now contained a large temple of Jupiter,
land drains and culverts to increase habitable land,
large stone aristocratic houses.
 Romans built a defensive wall circuit enclosing
426 hectares, and held sway over much of Latium
(up to 100 km to the south).
The Roman Republic: The
Capital of Italy
 Towards the end of the 6th c. Rome abolished the
monarchy and established a new political order the Republic.
 King was replaced by 2 consuls and a number of
lesser magistrates elected yearly by the male
citizen body.
 The consuls chose an advisory body, the Senate
(later you had to have well-defined qualifications
to serve; landed wealth, military & political
The Patricians
 Consuls led the army in war and had executive
legislative powers.
 Army service was a duty of citizenship, but in
reality limited to those who could afford their own
 A small number of aristocratic families, the
patricians, gained a monopoly on the consulship
and most other civic and priestly offices from the
middle of the 5th century on.
The Plebeians
 Late 5th c.: the lower classes formed their own
alternative state, electing their own officers and
forming their own cult.
 For 200 years this plebeian organization fought to
improve the lot of its members.
 Principal demands: debt relief, fairer distribution
of economic resources (like land).
 4th c. the plebeians won equal rights - a pleb could
now run for consul. In 342, a rule was established
mandating that one of the two consuls be plebeian.
Roman Territorial Expansion
 Romans conquered and destroyed Veii in Etruria
in 396, then moved on to take control of the rest of
Latium and Samnium until all of central Italy was
under its sway. By 300 Rome was the dominant
power in Italy.
 Thereafter, it continued to expand its power both
north and south through war and colonization.
Roman imperialism was the result of continuous
war, and continuous war was the result of the
Roman system of alliances in Italy.
Rome: Capital of the
3rd-2nd c. BCE.
 Rome continued to gain power by making her
enemies into allies.
 After Rome had control of peninsular Italy, it
moved to control Sicily (first province), bringing
war with Carthage (north African power).
 By 100 BCE most of the Aegean, large parts of
Asia Minor and North Africa came under direct
Roman rule.
Effect of Conquests
 The nobility grew vastly more wealthy from spoils
of military campaigns - the plebs also participated
in the economic benefits.
 The upper classes adopted sophisticated habits, the
influence of Greek culture grew pervasive
(educated and cultured Greeks were slaves to elite
Romans, educated Roman children, served as
secretaries, etc.).
 Spurred the development of Roman architecture,
visual arts, and literature on Greek models.
Civil Wars: 90-31 BC
 Widening gulf between rich and poor led to unrest.
 The republican style army and negotiating skills of
Rome’s politicians achieved an empire - but had
trouble governing it (war, invasion, slave revolts).
 A professional, long-service army was established
in 107-100 by abolishing the old property
qualifications and enlisting and training a
proletariat force.
 Problem: generals could make the army their own
private weapon to achieve political goals.
Rise of Dictators
 Much of the 1st century was taken up with a series
of military dictatorships (magistrates given
supreme powers to deal with emergencies).
 Internal wars - the Italian allies, spurred on by
opposing Roman generals Marius and Sulla,
rebelled against Rome (“Social Wars”), winning
the right of Roman citizenship.
Civil War
 Marius and Sulla battled it out first (88-82)
 Pompey (really popular), Crassus (really rich), &
Julius Caesar (really smart) first joined forces then
fought next (49-45). Caesar became consul in 48
and dictator for life in 45/44 (then assassinated on
March 15, 44).
 Mark Antony and Octavian (44-31) fought last.
 Octavian won, becoming the first emperor under
the name Augustus.
 These wars caused terrible loss of life.
Augustus & Imperial Rome
 Octavian was born in 63 to Julius Caesar’s niece Caesar adopted him in 45 BC, making him his
 When Caesar was murdered 6 months later,
Octavian fought for 13 years to establish himself
and to eliminate all possible rivals for power.
 Final victory: battle of Actium in 31 BC. With the
defeat of Antony and his ally Cleopatra VII, Egypt
became a Roman province.
Augustus’ Reforms
 Augustus called himself ‘princeps’ - first citizen,
or leader among equals. The Senate remained the
most important political body, but its powers were
restricted by Augustus’ control of fiscal and
military policy.
 The army now owed its allegiance to the ruling
emperor only. More military campaigns were
undertaken to consolidate natural boundaries,
increase revenue.
 Reorganization of taxation and administration of
the provinces.
Augustus, continued
 The provincial empire doubled in size, 1/5
of the population of Italy was resettled in
overseas ‘colonies.’
 Augustus ruled for 44 years, blending
tradition with innovation.
The City of Rome
 By the start of the empire, Rome was the
largest city in the ancient world, having a
population of about 1,000,000.
 As their political power waned after the fall
of the Republic, the elite focused not on
townhouses in Rome but on elegant
suburban houses, known as Gardens
Other Emperors
 The lack of an established law of succession
resulted in tension between emperors and the other
elite, who might try to unseat them.
 The Julio-Claudians: Tiberius to Claudius (CE 1454), Nero (54-68). Period of instability followed.
 The Flavians (CE 69-96). Vespasian restores order
(69-79), his grandson Domitian blew it (murdered
in 96)
Roman Empire, 2nd c.
 Had a territory of about 5 million sq. km., with a
population c. 55 million.
 Each province had a Roman governor aided by
Roman procurators. There were 160 elite Romans
serving in these capacities, who used local officials
to perform routine administrative activities.
 Social structure - 3 elite classes over the rest:
senatorial order
equestrian order
local elites
the lower-classes
Other Emperors
 The High Empire: Trajan, Hadrian, and the
Antonines (CE 96-180). Series of adopted
imperial heirs who all had been leading senators
before their adoption. Marcus Aurelius’ son,
Commodus, reignited political tensions - was
assassinated on New Year’s Eve 192.
 The Severans (CE 193-238).
 The Later Third Century: all hell broke loose, 18
emperors and hordes of usurpers in 50 years:
nearly all met violent deaths after short reigns.
4th c. CE
 The imperial burden was shared between 2
emperors, until Constantine and his sons
took control of the empire in 324.
 Constantine was the first emperor to convert
to Christianity.

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