The most remarkable aspect about Rome isn’t its age, although it’s definitely very ancient. There is archeological evidence that suggests that Rome was settled at least 14,000 years ago, although the dense layers of younger ruins obscure the Palaeolithic and Neolithic sites. What is remarkable about Rome is that it is one of the world’s oldest continual civilizations and one of the most influential in terms of history.
The city of Rome is believed to have been founded in the year 753 BCE, but the story is one of legends and myths. The most popular and famous of all Roman myths is that it was founded by twins, Romulus and Remus, who had been suckled by a she-wolf. The brothers agreed to build a city together, but after an argument Romulus killed Remus. This legend had to be reconciled with another that was set during that time period that placed a Trojan refugee escaping into Italy and founding the line of early Romans through his son, Iulus, the namesake of the Julio‑Claudian dynasty. The dual legends received their harmony through the Roman poet, Virgil, in the first century.
While its origins are obscure, the impact it made on the early civilizations is not. Its early beginnings as a monarchy lasted only 244 years, initially under sovereigns of Latin and Sabine origin, and later under the Etruscan kings. After displacing the last of the seven kings that had assumed the right to rule over its subjects, the Roman citizens decided to institute their own form of government. Their republic was derived from the Latin words, ‘res publica’, which means public matters or matters of the state.
The Roman republic was made up of a senate that appointed a consul, who was allowed to rule for one year before a new election took place. The senate was considered only an advisory committee, but if they felt the consul had ruled unwisely or was effectively a tyrant, he could be punished by the next ruler.
There were four social classes in early Rome. On the lowest end of the scale were the slaves, who were considered property and had no rights at all.
The plebeians were the small land-owners and considered free people, but they had very little say in government matters. The equestrians enjoyed a special niche in society, for if they were willing to fight for Rome, they would be given a horse and a high status in society. The highest class, and the wealthiest in Rome, were the patricians.
Rome’s early years were marked by constant internal struggles between the plebeians and the patricians and by wars against the populations of central Italy. Their relentless assault against the Gauls, Osci‑Samnites and the Greek colony of Taranto, which was allied with Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, resulted in the conquest of the Italian peninsula, from the central area up to Magna Graecia.
Despite Rome’s internal conflict, its force as a united empire continued to spread throughout the third and second century BCE. During the three Punic wars, it fought against Carthage and Macedonia, eventually establishing its first provinces in Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, Spain, Macedonia, Greece (Achaia), and Africa.
Beginning with the second century BCE, the power in Rome was contended between two groups of aristocrats; the optimates, which represented the conservative members of the senate, and the populares that relied on the popular support of the public to gain favour. At the same time, the bankruptcy of the small landowners, and the increase of large slave owner estates, caused massive migrations into Rome’s city centre.
Civil war marked the first century BCE and the establishment of Julius Caesar, who after fighting a second civil war against the Senate and Pompey, became a life-long dictator. His assassination led to a second Triumvirate among Octavian (Caesar's nephew and heir), Mark Antony and Lepidus, and to another civil war between the Octavian and Antony.
Rebellion, civil strife, assassinations and conquest changed the face of Roman governance many times, yet it continued to thrive as a mighty empire for over six centuries. Officially, Rome toppled in 476 CE, after it was first sacked by the Visigoths in 410, than by the Vandals in 455. The city was ruined. Impoverished and depopulated, Rome collapsed as the most powerful force in the ancient world. For many historians, this marked the beginning of the Middle Ages.
Yet a new vitality seized Rome during this era of collapsing empires. Christianity had begun its spread, and persecution of the followers of this new religion began altering as even the wealthy landowners began to convert to Christian ideology. Christianity became the official religion of the empire after the last emperor of unified Rome, Theodosius, delivered an edict in 308 declaring Christianity’s elevated status.
The city that could no longer rule with military might became the became the most important city to the blossoming new faith. The rallying cries of the first martyrs to Christianity were heard in Rome, including those of the Apostle’s Paul and Peter. A papacy was created, with the belief that St. Peter was the successor and held the keys to the Kingdom of Jesus, along with the Catholic doctrine that dominated early Christianity. Because of its enormous importance to the Christian faith, the earliest churches and cathedrals can be found in Rome.
It can be argued that as the seat for Christianity, Rome once again was the centre of power within the Western world and beyond. Numerous wars were fought throughout the centuries following its rise as the single most important religious influence on the Christian world, including the Crusades and its wars against the Muslims, as well as internal wars, as entire countries split from the Catholic faith into Protestant interpretations. The citizens of Rome, however, benefited from the early conversion.
Throughout the centuries, that stretch from the Byzantine era to late modern and contemporary influences, its architectural structure and design has remained intact in its numerous churches and cathedrals. The arts have been enormously appreciated, with some of the most preserved works of arts found in Rome’s religious centres. Their musical appreciation has produced some of the world’s greatest composers, orchestrated music and opera performers. A walk into the history of Rome is virulent and alive with ancient conspiracies, grasps at enormous power, visions in magnificent accomplishments and a feeling that this is where it all started.
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