World History: Journey Across Time
The Rise of Rome
Rome's geography played an important role in the development of Roman civilization. The Etruscans changed the face of Rome when they constructed buildings of wood and brick and laid out streets, turning the village into a city. After rebelling against the Tarquins in 509 B.C., the Romans founded the Roman Republic. For 200 years, the Romans battled for control of neighboring territories, and when the wars were over, Rome controlled almost all of Italy. Rome's success had much to do with the strength of its army, which was organized into legions. The Romans were also excellent strategists and their policies and treatment of conquered peoples helped the republic grow stronger.
The Roman government was headed by two elected officials known as consuls. Praetors interpreted Roman laws and acted as judges. The Senate was the most important legislative body. Roman law was based on the Twelve Tables. After three long Punic Wars against the Carthaginians, the Romans ruled the Mediterranean. Despite their success abroad, the Romans experienced trouble on the homefront. The gap between the rich and the poor grew wider. Patricians created large farming estates called latifundia that were operated with slave labor. The small plebeian farmers could not compete and were forced out of business.
Civil war waged for 50 years until Julius Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey formed the First Triumvirate. Caesarseized power and made reforms. After Caesar's murder, the Second Triumvirate attempted to rule Rome, but it eventually failed and Octavian Caesar Augustusemerged as the first Roman emperor. Augustus expanded the Roman Empire and reorganized the military, bringing an era of peace and prosperity known as the Pax Romana. Rome's elaborate system of roads, aqueducts, ports, and common currency made the empire wealthy. Romans made many contributions to government, law, language, and the arts.
The empire's good fortune did not fall on all Romans. While some grew wealthy from trade and agriculture, most Romans were very poor. Later emperors recognized the empire was too large to govern, and they began reducing its borders.