There was a time when Rome was a series of small farms on seven small hills. It grew to become the greatest city of the ancient world.
Rome has come a long way since its humble beginnings.
There are countries and entire continents that owe their language, laws, faith and calendar to Rome.
Italy is the leg hanging off the bottom of Europe. Scratch your knee and you will find Rome half way up the leg.
Halfway down Italy’s west coast is the bustling city with an ancient, historic heart.
Rome, the city sits on seven ancient hills and spans the River Tiber. To the east lies the ancient heart of Rome and to the west is the Vatican.
There are 3.5 million Romans today, some 7% of the population. The city is popular with tourists and more than 20 million people visited here every year.
The locals believe that the world last as long as Rome exists, and Rome will last as long as the Colosseum is still standing. The Colosseum is made out of Travertine, a material that is heavy that it holds itself together.
Home to ancient gladiatorial combat the Colosseum represents all that is best and worst about the Roman Empire.
How did a culture more than 2,500 years old become masters of engineering and architecture and at the same time have an insatiable appetite for conquest and war?
The Beginning of the Roman Empire
Rome started as a village on the banks of the small River Tiber. Romans made a revolutionary commitment that changed history.
After years of tyranny under Etruscan Kings the villagers of Rome dreamed of a government based on restraint and the rule of law. In 509BC they created the Roman Republic.
It was the world’s first representative government. It was represented by the initials- SPQR that stood for “Senatus Populusque Romanus.” Its motto- “The Senate as the People of Rome.”
The Republic was a bold experiment in communal government. Wealthy and poor farmers agreed to share power. The rich served as Rome’s leaders and the poor as her soldiers.
In return everyone had a say in how the government was run. The Roman Republic has served as a model for western democracies ever since. Everything from its public architecture to its political rituals seems strangely familiar to a citizen of a western republic.
Once a year the whole city would turn out to vote for its leaders. Competition, for the consulship, the most important public office was intense.
It was up to the senators to insure the politics didn’t get to frivolous. They were the guardians of Rome’s traditions. Under their watchful eye, the young republic, fostered a sense of civic pride- the very foundation of the Rome’s empire.
Underneath Rome’s success lurked some serious contradictions. Women had few rights. It was never just one man to one vote. Elections were always rigged in favor of the wealthy.
Recovering the ancient meaning of virtus as an active, virile and civic capacity. The Italian and Florentine republicans claimed that for a freedom-loving, spirited and virtuous people, the Republic is the only suitable form of government.
Despotic rule, on the other hand, befits corrupt and servile minds.
The idea is the republic is superior to princely or despotic regimes. Especially when it comes to cultivating the virtues of the citizens goes back to Aristotle and the Roman historian Tacitus.
This was an important aspect in the world of the Roman Republic.
This is one of the most important virtues of a Republic (as in the Roman Republic). The US has exemplified its independence of spirit. The ideal is that men took responsibility for their actions. It was not unknown for senators to fall on their swords if they dishonored their office.
World of Extremes
They lived in a world of extremes.
While the rich defined the meaning of decadence, 95% of the people struggled below the poverty level. The social imbalance would fuel the most disruptive tradition in Republican Rome- patronage.
Every morning at dawn the poor would gather in the courtyards of the rich. The wealthy patronages saw to the needs of their clients. In return patronages would promise their votes at election time.
Loyalty was divided and the ideals of the republic were compromised. A small group of wealthy families ruled Rome. Notoriously conservative they protected their own interests. They quietly resisted reform, until one of their own broke the code of silence.
The new estates netted the Roman aristocracy obscene profits. They used these fortunes to buy foreign slaves to work the land.
When the veterans returned from Rome’s wars of expansions they lost their land to the wealthy and their jobs to slaves. Tiberius Gracchus promised to change all that.
Gracchus proposed something radical. Land should be divided among Rome’s homeless. The senators were horrified. His plan threatened their own huge estates and their own political livelihood.
If passed, it would make Gracchus the patron of Rome’s massive underclass. He would be the most powerful man in Rome.
A group of senators confronted Gracchus as he was speaking to his supporters. In a fit of rage they beat him to death with the chair he was sitting in.
Rome’s boldest reformer was thrown and dumped into the River Tiber. Yet, Gracchus had revolutionized Roman politics.
By championing the needs of the poor, Gracchus could outmaneuver his conservative peers. Ultimately, it would threaten the Republic.
By the beginning of the 1st Century BC the Roman Republic was imploding. Roman values were under siege. Slave revolts stunned Sicily and Italy. Something had to give.
Boak, A. E. (2010 ). A HISTORY OF ROME TO 565 AD. Ann Arbor, Michigan : Univeristy of Michigan Press.
de la Bédoyère, G. (2006). The Romans For Dummies. West Sussex, England : John Wiley & Sons.