In this chapter you will learn about the history of the Roman Republic.The Roman Forum, the ruins of which are shown above, was a public meeting place at the heart of Rome.
Section 1: Geography and The Rise of Rome
THE GEOGRAPHY OF ITALY Rome grew from a small town on the Tiber River to become a great power. Rome conquered Greece, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Persia. Rome’s central location and good climate were factors in its success. Because most of Italy is surrounded by water, Romans could easily travel by sea. The mountains in the north made it difficult to travel over land. The warm dry weather resulted in high crop yields, so the Romans had plenty of food.
ROME’S LEGENDARY ORIGINS Rome’s beginnings are a mystery. A few ancient ruins show that people lived there as early as 800 BC. Later, the Romans wanted a glorious past, so they created stories or legends about their history.
The early Romans believed their history began with the mythical hero Aeneas (i-NEE-uhs). Aeneas fled Troy when the Greeks destroyed the city during the Trojan War. He formed an alliance with a group called the Latins and traveled to Italy. This story is told in the Aeneid (i-NEE-id), an epic poem written by a poet named Virgil (VUHR-juhl) around 20 BC.
According to legend, Rome was built by twin brothers Romulus (RAHM-yuh-luhs) and Remus (REE-muhs). Romulus killed Remus and became the first king of Rome. Scholars believe Rome started sometime between 800 and 700 BC. Early Rome was ruled by kings until the Romans created a republic in 509 BC.
THE EARLY REPUBLIC In the republic the Romans created, citizens elected leaders to govern them. They voted once a year to prevent any one person from gaining too much power. But early Rome had its troubles. For one thing, Rome was usually at war with nearby countries.
To lead the country during war, the Romans elected dictators, rulers with almost absolute power. A dictator’s power could not last more than six months. The most famous dictator was Cincinnatus (sin-suh-NAT-uhs), a farmer elected to defeat a major enemy. He resigned as dictator right after the war and went back to his farm.
Within Rome the plebeians, or common people, worked for change. Only the city’s patricians, the wealthy citizens, could be elected to rule Rome. When the plebeians elected a council, the patricians changed the government.
Section 2: Government and Society
ROMAN GOVERNMENT During the 400s BC, the plebeians were unhappy that they did not have any say with the government. The city’s leaders knew that they had to compromise or the plebeians might rise up and overthrow the government. So the patricians created positions in the government for the plebeians. A tripartite (try-PAHR-tyt) government, a government with three parts, was established to keep any one group from getting too much power.
The first part of the government was made up elected officials called magistrates (MA-juh-strayts). The most powerful magistrates were called consuls (KAHN-suhlz). Two consuls were elected each year to run the city and lead the army. The consuls got advice from the Roman Senate. The Senate was a council of wealthy, powerful citizens who held seats for life. Magistrates who finished their one-year terms earned a seat on the Senate, so the Senate gained more power as time passed.
The third branch of government had two parts. The first branch was made up of assemblies. The assemblies elected the magistrates who ran the city of Rome. The second branch was a group of officials called tribunes. The tribunes had the power to veto (VEE-toh), or prohibit, actions by the government. Veto means “to forbid” in Latin, the ancient Roman language.
Checks and balances existed to even out power. Some officials had the power to block actions by other officials. Action could be stalled if people could not work together. But when an agreement was reached, Rome worked strongly and efficiently.
WRITTEN LAWS KEEP ORDER At first Rome’s laws were not written down. People thought that it was not fair to be charged by laws they did not know existed. In 450 BC Rome’s first legal code was written on twelve bronze tablets and displayed in the forum, Rome’s public meeting place. Although the Romans continued to make laws, the Law of the Twelve Tables remained as the basis of Roman law.
THE ROMAN FORUM The forum was the heart of Rome. All the important government buildings and religious temples were there. It was also the main meeting place for Roman citizens. It was used for public speeches, and for shopping and entertainment.
Section 3: The Late Republic
GROWTH OF TERRITORY AND TRADE Rome expanded due to threats from other cities. When the Gauls took over Rome in 410 BC, Roman officials paid them to leave. Because of this Rome was constantly fighting offinvaders. Rome’s army was very organized, so defense of the city was usually successful. Soldiers were divided into legions, or groups of up to 6,000 men. Each legion was divided into centuries, or groups of 100 soldiers. The army had the flexibility to fight together, or break up into smaller groups.
Most Romans were originally farmers. Many of them moved to the city and ran their farms from afar with help from slaves. As the population of the city grew, so did the need for more food. An extensive trading network was established. Rome coined copper and silver money, which was used widely in the region.
ROME GROWS BEYOND ITALY Rome’s growth made both allies and enemies in the Mediterranean. The Roman army fought many wars, including the Punic (PYOO-nik) Wars with Carthage. Carthage was the capital of a Phoenician civilization that flourished in North Africa between 264 and 156 BC. Although an attack on Rome led by the brilliant general Hannibal nearly succeeded, Rome eventually conquered Carthage. The Romans then took over Gaul, Greece, and parts of Asia. The Romans were deeply influenced by the Greeks and adopted much of the Greek culture.
CRISES STRIKE THE REPUBLIC As Rome’s territory grew, so did its problems. Tensions between the rich and poor grew. Some leaders tried to keep the poor citizens happy, but their plans were not popular with the wealthy. Politicians who tried to make a change and went against Rome’s powerful leaders were killed.
Army general Gaius Marius (GY-uhs MER-ee-uhs) encouraged the poor and the unemployed to join the army. Before, only people who owned property had been allowed in the army. As a result, the army became more loyal to Marius than to the Roman government.
Another man, Lucius Cornelius Sulla (LOOshuhs kawr-NEEL-yuhs SUHL-uh), raised his own army. He fought and killed Marius and became dictator. Soon afterward, Spartacus (SPAHR-tuhkuhs), a slave and former gladiator, led an uprising of thousands of slaves against the republic. Spartacus was eventually defeated and killed, but these conflicts had weakened Rome.