When the ancient Greeks were reaching the height of their glory, the power of Rome, to the west, was slowly rising. The Romans were best in warfare, engineering, and government. Rome rose to power gradually, with no set plan for world conquest. The Romans fought many wars and enslaved many people. By the time of Augustus, shortly before Christ, most of the known world was unified and at peace under Roman rule.
The Kings of Early Rome
The early Romans didnt keep any written records. There are only two existing documents, which give the continuous early history of Rome. The old legends say that Romulus founded the city in 753 BC when the settlements on the seven hills were united. Under his heir, the Romans conquered Alba Longa, the religious center of the Latin civilizations. During the rule of Ancus Martius, a number of annoying Latin cities were conquered, and their people were brought to Rome.
The Etruscan Conquest
Shortly before 600 BC, Rome was conquered by several Etruscan princes from across the Tiber River. Tarquinius Priscus drained the city’s marshes. The last of the kings of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, was a dictator who opposed the people. Under the rule of the Etruscans Rome grew in importance and power. Great temples and impressive public works were built. Rome had become the largest and richest city in Italy.
Period of Conquest
It was only a tiny city-state, much like the city-states that were growing at the same time in Greece. The common citizens were called the plebs or plebeians. They marched out of Rome in a body and threatened to make a new city in 494 BC. In 350 BC the plebeians were admitted to the dictatorship. The Roman Senate has been called the “most distinguished and important political body, which has ever existed in the world.”
The struggle for political power was the economic struggle between rich and poor. Gradually, reforms were forced through. Compelled at first to fight for its very existence against powerful neighbors, Rome gradually fought its way to the leadership of the Italian civilizations.
Success of Rome Slowed Down By Gauls
The successful progress of Rome received a temporary difficulty in 390 BC when wandering Gauls advanced through the center of Etruria. In another century Rome conquered their whole territory.
Only southern Italy remained independent. Fearful at the spread of Roman power, the Greek cities appealed to Pyrrhus. Rome renewed the struggle when the Carthaginian fleet arrived, and in 275 BC defeated Pyrrhus in the battle of Beneventum. Rome now had control of all Italy.
The Punic Wars
Two centuries of war had turned Rome into a nation of soldiers. Carthage was the top naval power and Rome was the top land power. The courage and strength of Rome were tested to the maximum in this long and unfortunate series of wars. Fifty years later, in the Third Punic War, Rome again forcefully attacked its defeated opponent.
The Empire Is Established
In the year 90 BC the Italian supporters, who had demanded full Roman citizenship for a long time, rose in revolt. For the first time a Roman army invaded Rome. The only thing that saved the widespread structure of Roman power from collapsing to final destruction was the development of two intelligent statesmen, Gaius Julius Caesar and his great-nephew Augustus.
Roman citizenship was expanded to all free men throughout the Empire. Later the so-called “Roman peace” extended over the civilized world.