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Rome[]

History[]

The Roman Empire is the most remarkable and long-lived political entity in the history of Western Civilization. It was founded around the 8th century BC, and portions of it survived until the 15th century AD. The Romans were great innovators in some areas, and they were not shy about appropriating good ideas they found in other cultures. They greatly shaped Western culture, law, art, architecture, religion, language, and warfare.

This Civilopedia entry covers the rise of Rome, the Roman Republic, and the establishment of the Roman Empire under the great Emperor Augustus.

Terrain and Climate[]

The city of Rome stands near the Tiber River in central Italy. A series of hills and mountains run along the spine of boot-shaped Italy; the coastal regions are flatter and make better farmland. The central highlands can be cold and snowy in winter, while the coastal lowlands enjoy milder, stereotypical Mediterranean climate.

At its height the Empire controlled much of Western and Central Europe along with a great chunk of the Middle East and most of the northern coast of Africa, and naturally the Empire's terrain and climate varied greatly from province to province.

Early Rome[]

According to legend, Rome was founded by twin brothers named "Romulus" and "Remus," the sons of the god Mars and a king's daughter. The children were abandoned at birth, but they were rescued by a she-wolf who suckled and raised them. Upon reaching maturity the boys founded a new city, then quarreled over who would rule. Romulus won: he killed his brother and became the first king of Rome.

Archaeologists date the first major settlement in the area from the eighth century BC (though there is some evidence suggesting that there were settlements in the area as far back as the 10th century BC). The city was founded by the Latin tribe atop the Palatine Hill, which overlooks a crossing of the Tiber River. The city's strategic location made it a natural trading post between the Etruscan civilization to the north and the Greek settlements to the south. Thus Rome benefitted from technological and cultural advances of both groups. Its location also made it greatly prized by its neighbors, and for two centuries the Latins fought off attacks by the Etruscans and the Sabines, another local tribe.

The Republic[]

Roman tradition states that the last Roman king was a brutal tyrant. The villainous king, Tarquinius Superbus, was overthrown after his son raped a virtuous noblewoman. Modern historians believe that the truth is far more prosaic. According to one current theory Rome was captured by the Etruscans, who ejected the Roman king, but external events forced them to vacate the city before they could install their own monarch. Finding that they preferred being kingless, the Romans did not recall Tarquinius to power but instead implemented a Republic loosely based upon the Greek model. It is believed that the last Roman king fell at the end of the fifth century BC.

The Roman political system evolved over time, but the early structure was something like this: Rome was ruled by two consuls. The consuls acted as the city's chief magistrates as well as the military commanders. The two consuls possessed equal power. The consuls were elected annually by the "centuriate assembly" - the Roman army. To ensure unity of command in times of great danger a "dictator" could be appointed. The dictator had supreme military command. However, the dictator's term lasted only for six months, at which time power reverted to the consuls and senate.

The second power bloc in Roman government was the Senate. The Senate was composed of approximately 300 men drawn from the leading Roman families. According to theory the Senate was strictly an advisory body, advising both the Consuls and the assemblies (see below), but in fact it held enormous political power, and its "advice" was almost always followed by the assemblies (see below).

Two assemblies met periodically in Rome, and they (theoretically) held all political power. The centuriate assembly met outside the city's borders in the Field of Mars. As stated before this assembly was composed of Roman soldiers; they elected consuls and magistrates and voted on peace and war. The "tribal" assembly met inside the city; it was comprised of all male Roman citizens. This assembly enacted laws and sat as a court for public offenses involving money.

Roman Expansion[]

During much of its history, the Roman Republic was at war with one or more of its neighbors. It was constantly expanding its territory at the expense of other Italian tribes. It fought and conquered the nearby town of Fidenae in 426 BC after an eleven-year struggle, and this was followed soon thereafter by a painful ten-year fight to conquer the Etruscan city of Veii. Much of these gains were swept away in 390 BC, when a Gallic tribe defeated the Roman armies and sacked the city. It took almost half a century for Rome to recover from this devastating defeat.

By the middle of the third century, however, Rome was master of most of central Italy, with Latin colonies extending far to the north and south. Further, work was progressing on the incomparable Roman road network linking the growing empire, and Rome was in the process of constructing its first navy.

As Rome's power grew, it began to come into conflict with other regional powers. One such power was Carthage, a one-time Phoenician colony based on the North African coast in Tunisia. At the time Carthage had a mighty trading empire which covered most of North Africa west of Egypt, coastal Spain and France, and much of Sicily. Rome and Carthage fought three "Punic Wars" (264 - 146 BC) to decide who would control the Western Mediterranean. While Roman historians placed the blame for the wars on Carthage, modern historians believe that the Romans actually provoked the conflict by attempting to muscle in on Carthaginian territory in Sicily.

The First Punic War[]

The First Punic War (264 - 241 BC) found the Carthaginian mercenary army no match for the Roman legions, who inflicted upon them a massive defeat at the Battle of Agrigentum in 261 BC. The elite Carthaginian navy had much better initial success against the untried Roman navy, but over time this advantage faded as the Romans constructed new vessels and gained combat experience. Eventually the Carthaginians admitted they were overmatched and ceded Sicily to Rome. Shortly thereafter the Romans took advantage of unrest in the Carthaginian army to take the Carthaginian islands of Corsica and Sardinia, as well.

With Rome restricting Carthaginian operations in the Central Mediterranean, Carthage sought to recoup its losses by expanding into Spain. Rome responded by allying with the Spanish city of Saguntum, making it clear that they were going to oppose Carthage's interests pretty much anywhere on the Mediterranean. In 219 BC the Carthaginian general Hannibal laid siege to Saguntum and Rome declared war once again. The Second Punic War (219 - 201 BC) had begun.

The Second Punic War[]

A brilliant general, Hannibal realized that Carthage could not defeat Rome as long as Rome had unrestricted access to all of the resources of Italy. To win, he had to disrupt Roman cooperation with the other Italian cities. To do so, he had to get his army into Italy. As a Roman navy now commanded the seas, he had to take the long, arduous land route. This remarkable six-month journey included a perilous trip across the Italian alps. By 218 BC Hannibal arrived in Italy with 20,000 foot soldiers and some 5,000 cavalry.

In 217 BC Hannibal defeated and largely destroyed a Roman army of some 15,000 soldiers. He moved south, hoping to stir up unrest in the Italian subject cities, but few joined the Carthaginian cause. His forces roamed about the countryside to no great effect.

By 216 BC the Romans had regrouped and fielded another, even stronger army of some 50,000-80,000 soldiers against Hannibal. The two forces met at Cannae. Hannibal let his center fall back in the face of the Roman attack, but he then wheeled his cavalry in behind the Roman army, who had neglected to adequately protect their flank. The Roman force was hemmed in and attacked from all sides, and Hannibal had destroyed yet another Roman army, this one much bigger than the last. This triumph totally demoralized the Romans. More importantly, it at last convinced the southern Italian people that Hannibal could win, and a large number of them deserted Rome and rallied to Carthage's support.

While Hannibal's forces had greatly expanded, he now had numerous allied cities he had to protect. While Rome had lost a great army and much of its southern possessions it still had northern Italy, not to mention naval control of the Mediterranean. The war degenerated into stalemate.

In 207 BC Hasdrubal, Hannibal's brother, duplicated Hannibal's storied march and brought yet another army across the Alps and into northern Italy. He sought to move south upon the east coast of Italy (the side away from Rome), join up with his brother, and launch a final assault on Rome. Rome managed to scrape up yet one more army and the two forces met at the Metaurus River. Stealing a page from Hannibal's book, the Roman general Gaius Claudius Nero outflanked Hasdrubal, cutting off his army's retreat. Most of the Carthaginian army was destroyed, and Hasdrubal himself was killed. His head was cut off and thrown into Hannibal's camp. That broke the back of the invasion. Although Hannibal remained in the area for some years, he was unable to again challenge Rome in Italy.

In the meanwhile, the great Roman general Scipio had captured most of Spain from Carthage. Despite Hannibal's presence in southern Italy, he convinced the Roman senate to back an invasion of Africa itself. In 204 he sailed across the Mediterranean. He destroyed the opposing Carthaginian force and another in 203 BC. In 202 BC he faced Hannibal, who had been recalled from Italy in the face of the crisis. Although Hannibal fielded a slightly larger army, Scipio's troops were veterans and they had a superior cavalry wing. Hannibal's army was outflanked and largely destroyed. Prostrate and defenseless, Carthage sued for peace. Rome stripped them of all of their remaining Spanish and island possessions and hit them with a huge indemnity of 10,000 talents (a fantastically large amount of gold).

The Third Punic War[]

The Third Punic War (149 - 146 BC) occurred some fifty years after the Second. It is generally agreed that this war was little more than a Roman mugging of the nearly helpless Carthage. While Carthage no longer had any significant military power to threaten Rome, the Empire greatly envied the wealth of the African city and its growing commercial empire. The Romans imposed a series of intolerable demands on the city, including that the citizens abandon Carthage and move inland so that they could no longer engage in commerce by sea. The Carthaginians refused, and the Romans besieged the city, which put up a stubborn resistance. In 146 BC Carthage fell. The city was destroyed, its fields sown with salt (according to myth), and the few surviving citizens were sold into slavery. Rome was undisputed master of the Mediterranean.

Social Unrest and the Fall of the Republic[]

Although Rome continued to expand, fighting wars across the Mediterranean, the first century BC saw tens of thousands of demobilized soldiers return from foreign lands. There was not enough work for the ex-soldiers, especially since Rome was being flooded with slaves from overseas possessions. These men were angry, and they had the vote. Several men attempted to enact land reforms, taking property away from the extremely wealthy and distributing it to the soldiers, but the senate (which was largely comprised of wealthy men) stymied these reforms. To be elected consul, Roman politicians had to appease the ex-soldiers, and Roman politics turned increasingly populist, and political infighting became increasingly bitter.

In 88 BC Sulla, an elected consul, marched his army into Rome to force the assembly to enact laws that would permanently weaken the opposing party. After his army left, the opposition retook the city and negated Sulla's laws. In 83 BC Sulla returned again with his army and slaughtered most of the members of the opposing party. He then passed a series of constitutional reforms and retired.

It was now clear that control of Rome would fall to whoever commanded the loyalty of the army. In 62 BC three men agreed to share power between them. This "First Triumvirate" consisted of the generals Gnaeus Pompey the Great and Marcus Lucinius Crassus, and a soldier and sharp politician from a very wealthy family named Julius Caesar.

These men had the same ability to cooperate and desire to share power as one might expect to find in your average killer shark, and following Crassus's death in battle, Caesar and Pompey were at each other's throats. Caesar was in the field at the time, and Pompey and the senate sought to remove him from his army. He refused the orders and advanced on Rome. The army defending Rome was untrained and Pompey did not believe it would stand against Caesar's highly motivated veterans, so he and the senate fled the city, and in 49 BC Caesar marched into Rome unopposed.

The Birth of an Empire[]

The events surrounding Julius Caesar's last years are well known. While maintaining the façade that Rome was a republic, he became a de facto dictator. He gave himself the power to appoint all senators, and he altered the constitution so that the assemblies would vote only on candidates and bills he submitted. In 44 BC he was assassinated by members of the senate.

Following Caesar's death, his lieutenant Mark Antony allied with Marcus Lepidus and Caesar's adopted son Gaius Octavian to defeat Caesar's assassins. Shortly thereafter members of the "Second Triumvirate" quarreled, and Octavian - now known as "Augustus" - became undisputed Emperor of Rome. (For more on Augustus, see his Civilopedia entry.) While the Roman Republic was dead, the Roman Empire had just begun, and the world would tremble at its power and glory.

The Rest is History[]

The mighty Roman Empire is an endlessly fascinating and complex entity. Although long dead, the Empire's shadow still falls across the world, and events in Rome 2000 years ago still affect our daily lives. One wonders if the same will be said about any of today's civilizations.

Roman Trivia[]

Asparagus was a highly prized delicacy in Ancient Rome and was kept frozen in the Alps for feasts and festivals.

According to Roman historian Suetonius, it was rumoured that one consul and co-regent of Rome was a horse - Emperor Caligula's favourite, Incitatus.

The first volume of recipes was published in 62 A.D. by the Roman Apicius.

Rome is known as the "Eternal City" and also "Caput Mundi," coming from Latin and meaning capital of the world.

The ancient Romans had celebrity chefs, ate beefburgers, and took food home in doggy-bags.

The first welfare benefits system was an integral part of ancient Roman culture. In 58 B.C. the state introduced a law making available to Roman citizens a monthly quota of free grain, upon which the poorer classes became highly dependent.

The tradition of the groom carrying his bride over the home's threshold originated from ancient Roman weddings.

Some Ancient Roman inventions:

Caracalla[]

History[]

Caracalla, also spelled Caracallus, byname of Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Augustus, original name (until 196 ce) Septimius Bassianus, also called (196–198 ce) Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Caesar, (born April 4, 188 ce, Lugdunum [Lyon], Gaul—died April 8, 217, near Carrhae, Mesopotamia), was Roman emperor, ruling jointly with his father, Septimius Severus, from 198 to 211 and then alone from 211 until his assassination in 217. His principal achievements were his colossal baths in Rome and his edict of 212, giving Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire. Caracalla, whose reign contributed to the decay of the empire, has often been regarded as one of the most bloodthirsty tyrants in Roman history.

Caracalla was the elder son of the future emperor Lucius Septimius Severus, a North African, and Julia Domna, a Syrian. He was originally named Bassianus, after his maternal grandfather, who had been high priest of the Syrian sun god Elagabalus. He assumed the name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and added the title Caesar because his father wanted to connect his family with the famous dynasty of the Antonines. In 198 he was given the title of Augustus, which nominally meant he had equal rank with his father. The byname Caracalla was based on his alleged designing of a new cloak of that name. Another of his nicknames, Tarautas, was that of an ugly, insolent, and bloodthirsty gladiator whom he was thought to resemble.

The ancient sources concerning his life and character are by no means reliable. One of them, for example, recounts that as a boy he was amiable, generous, and sensitive and only later became insufferable; but the same source reports in another context that he was fierce by nature. Modern treatments emphasize Caracalla’s Syrian heritage as one of the most important elements in his character, although here, too, due caution must be applied, since Eastern origin was in no way incompatible with a high degree of Romanization. Julia herself was well acquainted with Greco-Roman culture and hired excellent teachers to give her son the best education available. It is reported that he studied the Greek orators and tragedians and was able to quote long passages from the Greek playwright Euripides but also that he strongly despised education and educated people. This may have been the result of his passion for military life, which probably developed when he accompanied his father on his many military expeditions.

At the age of 14 he was married to Fulvia Plautilla, the daughter of the influential and ambitious commander of the imperial guard, Fulvius Plautianus; he is said to have hated Plautianus and played an important role in having him executed on the charge of a conspiracy against the imperial dynasty. He also exiled his own wife to an island and later killed her.

A significant development was the growing rivalry between Caracalla and his younger brother Geta, a rivalry that was aggravated when Severus died during a campaign in Britain (211), and Caracalla, nearing his 23rd birthday, passed from the second to the first position in the empire. All attempts by their mother to bring about a reconciliation were in vain, and Caracalla finally killed Geta, in the arms of Julia herself, it is said. There can be no doubt about the savage brutality of Caracalla’s act, but a solution that would have been at once moral and practicable was not in sight.

Caracalla next showed considerable cruelty in ordering many of Geta’s friends and associates put to death. Probably in order to regain goodwill, he granted an amnesty to exiles, a move denounced as hypocritical in ancient sources, which also slander Caracalla’s most famous measure, the so-called Constitutio Antoniniana de Civitate, as a device designed solely to collect more taxes.

His expeditions against the German tribes in 212/213, when he senselessly massacred an allied German force, and against the Parthians in 216–217 are ascribed by ancient sources to his love of military glory. Just before the Parthian campaign, he is said to have perpetrated a “massacre” among the population of Alexandria, probably in response to a disturbance there.

Caracalla’s unpredictable behaviour is said to have prompted Macrinus, the commander of the imperial guard and his successor on the throne, to plot against him: Caracalla was assassinated at the beginning of a second campaign against the Parthians.

Important for the understanding of his character and behaviour is his identification with Alexander the Great. Admiration of the great Macedonian was not unusual among Roman emperors, but, in the case of Caracalla, Alexander became an obsession that proved to be ludicrous and grotesque. He adopted clothing, weapons, behaviour, travel routes, portraits, perhaps even an alleged plan to conquer the Parthian empire, all in imitation of Alexander. He assumed the surname Magnus, the Great, organized a Macedonian phalanx and an elephant division, and had himself represented as godlike on coins.

Another important trait was Caracalla’s deeply rooted superstition; he followed magical practices and carefully observed all ritual obligations. He was tolerant of the Jewish and Christian faiths, but his favourite deity was the Egyptian god Serapis, whose son or brother he pretended to be. He adopted the Egyptian practice of identifying the ruler with god and is the only Roman emperor who is portrayed as a pharaoh in a statue.

In the many portraits of him, the expression of vehemence and cruelty is obvious, and some sources say that he intentionally reinforced this impression, perhaps because it flattered his vanity to spread fear and terror. It is also said that he was of small size but excelled in bodily exercises, that he shared the toils of the rank and file but also weakened his virility by a dissolute life and was not even able to bear the weight of a cuirass.

A similar inconsistency characterizes the judgments about his mental state. He was said to be mad but also sharp minded and ready witted. His predilection for gods of health, as documented by numerous dedicatory inscriptions, may support the theory of mental illness.

If Caracalla was a madman or a tyrant, the fact had no great consequences for his administration of the empire, which may or may not have been vitally influenced by Julia Domna and the great jurists who surrounded him. He was venerated by his soldiers, who forced the Senate to deify him after his death, and there is no indication that he was especially disliked among the general population. In any case, the Roman Empire at that time was still strong enough to bear a ruler who certainly lacked the qualities of an outstanding emperor.

Unique Components[]

Citizen Cavalry[]

Roman cavalry refers to the horse-mounted forces of the Roman army throughout the Regal, Republican, and Imperial eras. When the Republic transitioned into the Empire, Augustus made a regular Auxilia corp of non-citizen soldiers. By the time of the 3rd century, the Constitutio Antoniniana granted all peoples citizenship rights, and citizen cavalry was in use technically. Gallienus in 260 created a mobile reserve cavalry corps to respond to the empire's threats. By the 4th century, large numbers of heavily armored cavalry units such as cataphractarii, clibinarii, started to appear. These units were armed with a large spear, a sword and a bow. However, the primary strength of the Roman army remained the infantry.

Thermae[]

In ancient Rome, thermae and balneae  were facilities for bathing. Thermae usually refers to the large imperial bath complexes, while balneae were smaller-scale facilities, public or private, that existed in great numbers throughout Rome. Most Roman cities had at least one, if not many, such buildings, which were centres not only for bathing, but socializing, and reading as well. Roman bath-houses were also provided for private villas, town houses, and forts. They were supplied with water from an adjacent river or stream, or more normally, by an aqueduct. The water would be heated by a log fire before being channelled into the hot bathing rooms. The design of baths is discussed by Vitruvius in De Architectura.

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