Thursday, July 11, 2013

History mystery: The Rise Of Rome

Romans believed their city originated with gods and heroes, But what were the real origins of its greatness? Ancient Rome gloried in its mythic origins. According to legend, the city was founded in 753 BC by twin brothers, Romulus, and Remus, offspring of the god Mars and a vestal virgin named Sylvia. A villainous usurpet threw the twins in the River Tiber, but they were washed ashore and cared for by a she-wolf. After many vicissitudes, the twins were returned to their grandfather.

Later, Romulus killed Remus in a dispute over the best site for a settlement, then established the city that still bears his name. Seven centuries later, Virgil adapted another legend about Rome’s origins for his epic poem The Aeneid. It told the story of Aeneas, who fled from Troy after it had been destroyed by the Greeks. Aeneas’s adventurous wanderings led him to Italy, where he received a prophetic vision of Roman history from the spirit of this dead father, Anchises.

Aeneas’s mother was the goddess Venus, and he was a forebear of Romulus and Remus. Virgil’s version of this story satisfied Rome’s dream of a link with the divine world. It was also a paean to the Emperor Augustus and the newly created Roman Empire. In reality, Rome had humble beginnings. About 1000 BC, herdsmen settled in the region of present-day Rome. By the 7th century BC, their settlements combined into larger communities, of which Rome became the dominant center. At his time, the city fell under the benign control of Italy’s chief power, the Etruscans, whose culture and language had a vital impact on the city. Greek culture, also introduced by the Etruscans, cast an even more enduring spell over the Romans.

 Despite these influences, Rome developed its own institutions. In 509 BC, the Romans created a republican form of government that lasted 500 years. The early Republic preserved the Romans’ simple rural way of life. Unlike their neighbors, they were a hard-working people who resisted the corrupting effects of ease and luxury. Their disciplined attitude helped them to assert control over the weaker states in the rest of Italy. In a conflict over Sicily, Rome clashed with the North African power Carthage, waging intermittent warfare with the Carthaginians from 264 to 146 BC. 

The worst time came when invading Carthaginians, led by Hannibal, wreaked havoc throughout Italy. But Rome would survive, crush Carthage, and gain control of the western Mediterranean. The Republic was initially controlled by the Patricians (aristocrats). But the Plebians (commoners) acquired their own elected leaders. The plebian leaders were discredited after their defeats during the Carthaginian invasions, and patrician generals, who saved Rome, took over as political leaders.

The Senate, which made the republican system work, retained the right to appoint generals, but found it best to have these bellicose commanders fighting wars abroad in order to avoid conflict in Rome. With its relentless war machine, Rome conquered Greece and the eastern Mediterranean, and its boundaries soon stretched from Egypt to the English Channel. Fabulous plunder poured into the capital, but its effect was disastrous: It opened up a vast gap between rich and poor. Troubles grew as the Republic gave way to civil strife and military dictatorship.

Julius Caesar seized power, but his plans to reorganize the government alarmed the Senate. The assassination of Caesar by a senatorial clique in 44 BC was supposed to bring about a return to republican government. Instead, it sparked a civil war, in which Caesar’s adopted son, Augustus, triumphed. Although he kept some republican forms, he set up an empire with himself as emperor in 27 BC. As foretold in The Aeneid, Augustus gave Rome peace – a despotic peace – which lasted two centuries. When it ended in the late 2nd century AD, Rome’s decline and downfall began.

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