History of Italy during Roman times

From Academic Kids

History of Italy
Prehistoric Italy
Roman Period
Middle Ages
Italy under foreign domination
Monarchy and Mussolini
Italian Republic

This is an overview of the history of Italy during Roman times.


The origins of Rome (8th-6th centuries BC)

According to legend, Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus and Remus, and was then governed by seven Kings of Rome. In 509 BC the last of them, Tarquinius Superbus was overthrown, and the Roman Republic was formed.

The Republic was ruled by two elected consuls at a time, while the Senate (formed by the most notable Patricians, that is, aristocrats) and a city assembly formed a sort of Parliament.

Territorial expansion (5th-2nd centuries BC)

In the following centuries, Rome started expanding its territory, defeating its neighbours (Veium, the other Latins, the Sannites) one after the other. After each war, the Romans usually did not try to completely submit the defeated populations, but just forced them to become junior allies of Rome. This wise policy was probably one of the reasons of the strength of Rome. For example, several weak Etruscan or Greek cities in Tuscany and Campania actually asked for Roman protection, rather than confronting with Rome in a war.

At that point Rome controlled most of the western Mediterranean and its influence was rapidly growing in the east. At the end of 2nd century BC, the Roman state, having defeated the Hellenistic kingdoms of Macedonia and Syria, dominated the whole Mediterranean world with the exception of Egypt.

Civil Wars (1st century BC)

The institutions of the Roman republic, born for governing a city-state, were unfit to rule over such a large empire. Furthermore, there was discontent both inside Rome and between Rome and its Italic allies, and the tension favored military commanders, who started taking dictatorial powers. The first of these was Sulla, who prevented an overthrow of the republic by Marius but became a sort of "lord protector" of the Senate until his death (78 BC). After him came Julius Caesar, who after conquering the Gaul (present day France) won a civil war against Pompey but was assassinated by senators fearing he would start a monarchy, in 44 BC.

He was avenged by his nephew Octavianus who first defeated the senatorial party with the help of Mark Antony, and later (31 BC) Antony himself (who was allied to the queen of Egypt, Cleopatra).

The Roman Empire (1st-2nd centuries AD)

Octavianus was awarded the titles of Augustus and Princeps by what remained of the Senate, and was proclaimed Imperator (which at the time only meant "supreme commander") by his Legions. Even if he was careful to abide the rules of the old republic, Octavianus actually ruled as an Emperor, and the Roman Empire was born. This became apparent in 14, when he died and was succeeded by his adoptive son Tiberius.

The establishment of the empire brought substantial benefits to the provinces, which could now appeal to the emperor against rapacious administrators, rather than to the corrupt senatorial class to whom the administrators usually belonged. Furthermore, Roman citizenship was slowly extended to the provinces, and the rule of law became less arbitrary (although largely imperfect).

Despite its military strength, the empire made few efforts to expand its already vast extent; the most notable was probably the conquest of England by emperor Claudius in 47. In the 1st and 2nd century Roman legions were mostly employed in brief civil wars (e.g. in 68, the year of the four emperors) or suppressing insurrections (e.g. the Hebraic insurrection in Judea, ended with the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70, and with the start of the diaspora).

Decline and Fall (3rd-5th centuries)

In fact, the internal situation was slowly deteriorating, and exploded in the crisis of the Third Century, when economic problems, barbarian incursions and civil wars led to an almost complete disintegration of the empire. It was saved by Diocletian (284-305) and Constantine (306-337), who split the empire into a Western and an Eastern part, with Rome and Constantinopolis (founded by Constantine himself) as capitals. Constantine also stopped opposing the diffusion of the Christian religion (313, Edict of Milan), actually allying with the Christian church. Christianity became the only official religion of the empire in 380 under emperor Theodosius.



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