Discover the History of Rome
THE FOUNDING OF ROME
When it comes to the origins of Rome, the line between historical fact and mythical tale blurs, leaving a trail of legends that inextricably link the two. Archaeological findings indicate that Etruscan and Latin settlements were amongst the earliest on the Palatine Hill, which would later become the chosen site for the new city of Rome.
Because the beginnings of Rome are shrouded in layers of legends, it is difficult to ascertain the true historical events. Nonetheless, historians have come to accept that the city was founded around the year 753 B.C.
One legend about the founding of Rome seems to prevail and has garnered immense popularity over the course of history. This is the tale of Romulus and Remus, first featured in Titus Livius' (also known as Livy) monumental History of Rome. Written during the 1st century B.C., Livius' historical account numbers 142 volumes and includes the tale of the twins Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of the eternal city.
The twin boys were the sons of Princess Rhea Silvia and Mars, the god of war. Rhea Silvia was a vestal virgin and thus sworn to chastity. Her uncle Amulius, keen that she should not bear any offspring that might overthrow him, had Rhea Silvia executed for breaking her vestal vows. The children were also sentenced to death, but the servant given the gruesome task couldn't bring himself to do it. Instead, he placed the children in a basket alongside the Tiber River.
The river carried them away and washed them ashore on the Palatine Hill, where a she-wolf came across them. She nursed the boys until a shepherd named Faustulo took them into his home and reared them in secret. Years later, after defeating Remus in a struggle, Romulus founded Rome on the Palatine Hill and was crowned king of the newborn city.
The historical authenticity of this tale cannot be verified, but Romans have come to embrace this legend as their own. If asked how Rome began, they will tell you the story of Romulus and Remus. Romulus supposedly built the first semblance of a city, including the earliest walls, and invited neighbouring villages to join Rome, thus hoping to increase the city's nascent population. Some stories claim that he even welcomed criminals into the city's fold with the unintended and unfortunate side-effect of creating a disproportionately high male population.
THE REPUBLIC AND THE EMPIRE
The city of Rome prospered under monarchic rule until Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud) came to power and installed a new form of government: the Republic. Republican rule brought about significant changes in Roman society, which was now divided into two classes, the patricians and the plebeians.
The former were the new upper class, made up of privileged professionals such as judges, magistrates and priests. The vast majority of the population, however, fell into the plebeian class; they tended the crops and livestock or worked in commerce.
The two classes functioned within a system of vassalage in which each plebeian served a patrician family. The plebeians swore loyalty to the patrician family in exchange for protection. Every noble family, also known as gens, had several plebeians working for them and therefore functioned much like an independent unit. The entire unit was led by the head of the patrician family and run according to a set of individually tailored codes or laws.
But the social pecking order didn't end there; it extended into a far more detailed and complex hierarchy. A group of gens formed a Curia, a vast extended family that even had its own personal temple and priest. The Curiae would meet in the so-called Assembly of the People, where decisions regarding the development and governing of the city would be made. A voting process determined these decisions, but of course only members of the patrician class were granted this right. There was yet another, parallel governing body - the Senate – which was even more exclusive. It was comprised solely of the heads of the patrician families. Eventually the plebeians achieved a moderate measure of representation through the establishment of the plebeian tribune. This was mostly a symbolic gesture to appease the socially less fortunate since the ruling class had no intention of upsetting its existing social order.
Although the Republic was still a far cry from our modern understanding of democracy, the Roman Laws that were ceremoniously inscribed on iron tablets in 450 B.C. did provide for several social advancements. For example, the laws permitted the marriage between members of the patrician and plebeian classes, a baby-step towards greater social integration. This was also an era of great urban expansion, witnessing the construction of new buildings, temples and forums (the bustling centres of social and commercial life in Ancient Rome) as well as aqueducts and roads. New social systems developed parallel to this construction boom, including a legal system that bore significant influence on its modern-day counterpart in western society.
Despite the social and political advances that began to distance Rome from the Greek influence that had accompanied the city since the beginning, Rome fell short in developing an equally ambitious industrial and economic system. The city grew accustomed to military victories and living off the spoils of war. And since these victories continued over time, they seemed infinite, enough to last the city long into the future. Rome's bellicose glory was great indeed and soon began to spread beyond the confines of the Italian peninsula. Carthage was a thorn in Rome's side, hampering its expansionist ambitions.
Know the Historical Facts
The Founding of Rome
Historical fact & mythical tale
The Republic & the Empire