Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Augustus: family and succession

For this post, I am particularly indebted to Werner Eck, The Age of Augustus, 2nd edn (Blackwell, 2007)

It is misleading to think of Augustus as an ‘emperor’ who was free to leave the succession to a member of his family. He owed his power to the various offices given him by the Senate and People, from his immense private fortune and from the number of clients who owed everything to his patronage. It was important to Augusts that he preserved the appearance of republican rule and that the succession should be chosen not by him but by the Senate and People.  In wishing the position he had achieved to be passed down to his family, he could claim to be simply following republican precedent.

Julia Augusta
'Julia the elder'

It was a problem for Augustus that he had no son to whom he could pass on his powers in a way that contemporaries would have thought natural. His only child was his daughter, Julia, born to his second wife, Scribonia, in 39 BC. On the day of her birth Octavian (as he then was) divorced Scribonia and married Livia Drusilla, a member of the gens Claudia, an old political family. Livia had been married to Tiberius Claudius Nero, she was the mother of a four-year-old son, Tiberius, and was pregnant at the time of her second marriage. This meant that Octavian had to obtain permission from the college of pontifices. The ceremony took place on 17 January 38 BC, and was the cause of much gossip. Three months after the marriage she gave birth to her second son, Drusus.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Roman slavery

Female slaves attend their mistress

The Digest of Roman Law, the Code of the Emperor Justinian,  drew a fundamental distinction between the liber homo, the free person, and the servus, or slave.  A slave was defined as someone in potestate, in the power of a master, whereas the free person is sui juris, able to act in his own right.

Slavery was universally accepted. Apart from a few Stoics, no-one thought it was wrong. There was no concept in the ancient world of individual human rights. 

Roman society relied heavily on slaves. From the 3rd century BC onwards slaves flooded into Rome from all quarters –for example, there   were 75,000 enslaved prisoners from the first Punic War.  During the last two centuries BC Sicily, North Africa and Italy possessed economies that were firmly grounded in slave labour. Unless poverty- stricken, every free man owned at least one slave.  But many Romans were poor, and it is unlikely that those living in the cramped tenements in Rome could have owned even one slave.  However, important Romans may have averaged four or five hundred slaves apiece. Romans of good family were brought up by slave nurses, and as children played with slaves of their own age. Their teachers and coaches were slaves. Their suicides were aided by their slaves. The relationship between free and slave was one of close physical proximity. Slaves worked alongside citizens not separately from them- there were no specifically slave occupations. They were defined not by their labour but by their legal status.  

Roman women

Eumachia, priestess of Venus at Pompeii


Roman marriage was a simple and private business. A man and woman were assumed to be married if they claimed to be married.
The wealthy often had formal marriage ceremonies, in which the bride traditionally wore yellow clothes, but these were not essential.The purpose of marriage was the production of legitimate children.

Women often married young, at around fourteen or fifteen. Their husbands were usually in their mid to late twenties. Cicero’s daughter, Tullia, was betrothed to her first husband when she was eleven and married at fifteen. Early marriage seems to have applied to the lower classes as well: girls in their mid-teens married men ten years older than they were. 

‘Whatever the relative freedoms of Roman women, their subordination was surely grounded in that disequilibrium between and adult male and what we would call a child bride.’ Mary Beard, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (Profile Books, 2015).

However, Cicero went too far when in his sixties he married a girl forty-five years younger!

Childbirth was the biggest killer of young adult women. Two prominent deaths were those of Cicero’s daughter, Tullia, and Caesar’s daughter, Julia.

The republican matron: the ideal
There was a constant tension between the ideal of the Roman matron and its reality. The ideal was a life of chastity and simplicity, in which a woman put the needs of her husband and her children before her own, and spent much of her day spinning and weaving. The reality was a world of enormous wealth, aristocratic indulgence and display, and the exercise of leadership during the absences of men on campaigns.

The Roman house

This post owes a great deal to Mary Beard's briskly sceptical and extremely readable, Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town (Profile Books, 2010)

The so-called House of Pansa, Pompeii

House and shrine
Unlike the modern house, the Roman house was a shrine. It was the dwelling of the pater familias, the head of the family. It was also the place where the household gods were celebrated.

Three kinds of deity were venerated:
1. The lares: these were the gods of settlement, who resided where men had taken possession of the land and cultivated it. They were offered fire.
2. The genius was the god of the male line - each citizen received it from his father and passed it on to his son. They were offered pure wine.
3. The penates were the gods of the larder; they turned the house into food store (corn, beans, wine, bacon, salt meat). They were offered incense.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Roman baths

The Baths of Caracalla
AD 206
For this post I have been particularly indebted to J. P. V. D Balsdon, Life and Leisure in Ancient Rome (The Bodley Head, 1969) and Mary Beard, Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town (Profile Books, 2010)

In Rome there were two types of baths. The thermae were the large imperial bath complexes, while balneae where the smaller baths, public or private, that existed in great numbers throughout the empire. Both words are derived from Greek and the more austere Romans disapproved of bathing as a degenerate Hellenistic practice. The association with luxury can be seen in a tombstone inscription put up at the entrance to the tepid bath in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome in the first century AD. This was to a freedman, Tiberius Claudius Secundus by his partner Merope: 
‘Wine, sex and baths ruin our bodies but they are the stuff of health – wine, sex, and baths.’ 

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Circus and spectacle

For this post, I have been indebted, among other sources, to Robin Lane Fox, The Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome (Penguin, 2006), Mary Beard, Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town (Profile Books, 2010), Robert Knapp, Invisible Romans (Profile, 2013), and Florence Dupont, Daily Life in Ancient Rome (Hachette, 1989, Blackwell, 1992). There is also an excellent discussion here.

Mosaic of a chariot race, from Lyon. T
he four teams (Red, Green, Blue, and White) can be clearly seen

'Bread and circuses'
In his Tenth Satire the poet Juvenal (c. 100 AD) stated: 
‘Time was when the plebiscite electedGenerals, Heads of State and commanders of legions: but nowThey’ve pulled in their horns, there’s only two things that concern them Bread and circuses.’
He was referring to the corn dole and to the constant entertainments put on for the population.

In her review of Jerry Toner's The Day Commodus Killed a Rhino: Understanding the Roman Games (Johns Hopkins, 2015) Catherine Nixey writes: 
'The games were not some frivolous sideshow to Roman society: they were Roman society: financially, socially and politically they were at its heart.' The Times, 7 February 2105.

Life in Rome was punctuated by great festivals: ancient religious festivals, anniversaries of victories, celebrations of important dates in Rome's own history  - in total, probably over 130 a year. They were originally religious festivals - such as the Ludi Romani dedicated to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva - but they gradually lost their religious significance for many people. About half these festivals were celebrated by a wide variety of games and spectacles: chariot races in the Circus Maximus and wild beast fighting in the amphitheatres. In AD 80 the Colosseum was opened by the Emperor Titus.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Roman religion (2)

A scene from the Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii

Mystery religions

Syncretism was the chief characteristic of all Roman religion. This is seen most clearly in the assimilation of mystery religions.

Though the state religion was effective in stirring patriotism, it had little to offer those who lacked a share in the state, especially women and slaves. In addition, it did almost nothing to soothe the almost universal beliefs in Fate or Chance. Some Romans turned to astrology, others to a passionate belief in certain saviours who would comfort them in this life and give them a happy life in the next world. This explains the popularity of eastern mystery religions and the partial Hellenization of the official religion. The promise of a better life in the world to come was especially appealing to the poorer and more oppressed elements in Roman society. The mystery religions of the East catered for individuals, rather than for the state. Thus they could be seen as potentially subversive. They offered positive rewards of personal satisfaction.

Roman religion (1)

The temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill

Roman religion had many gods and their number was not fixed. There were no tenets of belief and no authoritative sacred texts.  The community’s adherence to its religion was demonstrated through action and ritual rather than words, and the chief ritual was animal sacrifice.  Romans did not doubt that the gods existed. They believed that all the important processes in the world were divinely activated, and that different gods had charge of particular functions and spheres of activity. As an intensely practical people, they thought of the gods in terms of what they did rather than what they were. For example, a 'jack of all trades' was 'a man of every Minerva' - Minerva was the goddess of trade and commerce.

The relationship of men and gods was one of reciprocity. If men carry out the proper rituals, the gods will protect and support them.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Rome under Augustus

A reconstruction of the Forum of Augustus,
showing the Temple of Mars the Avenger

One of Augustus's most remarkable achievements was to change the face of Rome. He faced a double challenge:
  1. to bring the population under control
  2. to turn the city into an architectural show place.

Relief showing the Praetorian Guard
under Augustus
  1. Rome was divided into 14 regiones and 265 vici- these were run by leading tradesmen, often freedmen, thus giving them a stake in government they had never had before. The regiones still survive in modern Rome as Rioni.
  2. Seven separate local fire stations were set up under the command of seven aediles. But the command structure was inadequate and the fires continued to blaze.  In AD 6, a paramilitary force of freedmen, 7000 strong, the vigiles were founded, under the control of a Prefect. Fully equipped with axes and buckets and the legal right to enter households.
  3. In AD 8 the provision and distribution of grain were organised under a military Prefect with staff.
  4. A police force - the urban cohorts - was set up. This was controversial because it went against the ideology of the city-state. However by the end of his reign the 3000 Urban Cohorts were a permanent institution.
  5. The Praetorian Guard were the only troops stationed in Italy. Initially, they were responsible for crowd control - then they became the personal guard of the Princeps. In 2 BC they became a separate command structure under the two Praetorian Prefects.
Augustus's reforms made Rome more efficient. They also introduced a new element of professionalism and specialisation- a move away from the previous self-help pattern of both Greece and Rome.

Augustus: from Republic to Empire

The Prima Porta statue
of Augustus

Augustus wrote in his Res Gestae Divi Augustus (Achievements of the Deified Augustus), 
‘After I had extinguished civil wars, by universal consent, I gained  control  over all affairs'.

The myth of Actium
Actium  (2 September, 31 BC) might not have been a decisive victory for Augustus, but it was a milestone in the history of Rome, its anniversary celebrated as a public holiday. The poets milked it for its propaganda, seeing it as a victory of senate and people (700 senators crossed over to Greece with Octavian in a show of solidarity) over the degenerate East. Antony was vilified as a general who had been unmanned by a woman. Cleopatra was portrayed as a crazed queen, attended by wrinkled eunuchs, the worshipper of a series of monster gods. By contrast, the promontory of Actium housed a temple dedicated to Phoebus Apollo, the god of prophecy, music and poetry, and the avenger of piety and purity, who was credited with routing the Egyptian gods.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Julius Caesar: epilepsy or strokes?

The historians Plutarch and Suetonius described Caesar as suffering from convulsions and sudden fainting fits, which Shakespeare interprets as the 'falling sickness'. It has been widely accepted that this was epilepsy. However, two doctors are now arguing that he might have been afflicted by cerebrovascular disease, a series of mini-strokes that would have impaired his judgement and might account for his reckless behaviour in his final years. See their arguments here.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Antony and Cleopatra

When Antony reached Tarsus in the autumn of 41, he summoned Cleopatra, now aged twenty-eight, to meet him. After Caesar’s death, she had gone back to Alexandria, where her younger brother and consort Ptolemy XIV had died in mysterious circumstances.  She then made the young Caesarian her co-ruler and he was proclaimed King of Egypt. Antony wanted to call her to account for her failure to supply an army to help him and Octavian. But Cleopatra staged a famous meeting with Antony on the river Cygnus, after which she became his mistress. His support enabled her to strengthen her rule in Egypt.  She returned there and was joined by Antony in the winter of 40-1. However, he was forced to leave, and did not see her for four years (nor the twins that she bore him).

Back in Italy Octavian was forced to evict many farmers in order to provide for his veterans. His army became bogged down in the siege of Perusia (Perugia), held by Antony’s wife, Fulvia. Plutarch describes Fulvia as a headstrong woman, given to meddling in politics. He states that she began the war with Octavian in order to lure Antony back to Italy. In 40 Antony tried to land in Brundisium, but he was refused entry into Italy. 

Antony and Octavia
The threat of war was averted by negotiation, and the Treaty of Brundisium in October reinforced their fragile alliance. As Fulvia had died, Antony was able to marry Octavian’s sister, Octavia. This is probably the time the poet Virgil wrote his Fourth Eclogue; perhaps the divine child of the poem is the son that he believed would be born to Antony and Octavia. (In the Middle Ages it was believed that Virgil had foretold the birth of Christ.)
Now comes the crowning age foretold in the Sibyl’s songs, A great new cycle, bred of time, begins again. Now virginal Justice and the golden age returns, Now its first-born is sent down from high heaven.With the birth of this boy, the generation of iron will pass, And a generation of gold will inherit all the world.
The next few years saw Octavian increase his power in the west, and Antony in the east. In effect, they split Rome into an eastern and a western Empire.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

The end of the Republicans (43-41 BC)

Octavian: Caesar's heir.
Would he be his successor?

The proscriptions
One of the first acts of the triumvirate was to follow the example of Sulla. The amnesty previously granted to Caesar’s assassins was repealed and a series of proscriptions eliminated their enemies and also gave them the funds to keep the army and the populace happy. They signed the death warrants for some three hundred senators and two thousand knights. The most famous victim was Cicero, whose death was quite unlike the peaceful ending he had envisaged in his writings. After his death his head and hands were cut off and brought to Antony, then nailed up above the rostra in the Forum. This was to gratify Antony’s personal lust for revenge but Octavian cannot escape responsibility for the prescriptions.  The historian Plutarch notes that he deliberately sacrificed Cicero to Antony and that Antony in turn abandoned his uncle: 
‘I can conceive of nothing more savage and vindictive than this trafficking in blood.’
Julius Caesar was deified, and Octavian began to style himself ‘son of the divine’ (‘divi filius’).

The battle of Philippi
A military campaign was then organised to avenge Caesar’s murder and to dispose of the conspirators. At the two-stage battle of Philippi in Greece in October 42 BC the conspirators were defeated. Plutarch states that Octavian proved himself an indifferent general (he was nearly defeated by Brutus) and that most of the credit for the battle went to Antony. The story of the visitation from Caesar’s ghost comes from Plutarch. Both Cassius and Brutus committed suicide. Antony and Octavian found themselves in control of sixty legions and more than a quarter of a million men.

The division of the spoils
After Philippi the provinces were divided among the triumvirs. Octavian took Spain, Sardinia, and Lepidus Africa. He also received Italy, which gave him the advantage of being at the heart of the empire. However, Italy was disrupted by civil war and harassed by the piratical activities of Pompey’s son, Sextus Pompeius. On the face of it, Antony was the chief beneficiary in that he took control of the east, which had always been regarded as a great reservoir of resources. He went first to Athens and then in the spring of 41 he crossed into Asia and found himself, like other powerful Romans, welcomed as a god; at Ephesus he was greeted as a ‘new Dionysus’. This is the type of thing that can go to a man's head!

After the assassination

Mark Antony: Caesar's co-consul.
 Would he also be his heir?

Antony: the heir of Caesar?

The Liberators, as they called themselves, believed they had restored the Republic; later, they had coins struck with daggers and the cap of liberty. But they made a fundamental mistake, naively assuming that once Caesar was removed the Republican government would automatically regain full vigour. As Cicero was to point out, they left ‘a fine banquet’ unfinished.

The immediate reaction to the assassination was panic. The Senators fled from the scene. One of those who escaped was Mark Antony, Caesar’s co-consul and his trusted friend. Cassius had wanted him to be assassinated along with Caesar, but Brutus had successfully argued that his life should be spared. However, Antony did not know this. In the general alarm following the murder, he put off his senator’s toga, disguised himself in plebeian dress and escaped.

Following the assassination, the conspirators went up to the Capitoline Hill, and with their hands smeared with blood and brandishing their naked daggers, they called on the citizens to assert their liberty. But their speech met with a mixed reception, and when they did not receive popular support, they retreated in confusion into the Capitol where they were joined by Cicero.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Ides of March (44 BC)

Marcus Junius Brutus (85 BC- 42 BC):
republican and tyrannicide
Early in 44 BC several ambiguous events occurred. Two tribunes, Flavus and Marullus, removed a diadem that had been put on Caesar’s statue and said that they would prosecute anyone who spoke of him as king.

On 15 February, the fertility festival of the Lupercalia was held, an ancient ritual in which young men ran, dressed in animal skins to ‘touch’ women with rods in order to ensure their fertility. One of the runners was Mark Antony, Caesar’s fellow consul. He offered Caesar a diadem, which he refused, and he ordered that the refusal be placed in the public records. (Was he taken by surprise or was it prearranged? Was his acceptance or refusal going to depend on the crowd reaction?)

'Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world...' 49-44 BC

The ruins of Caesar's Temple of Venus Genetrix
in the Roman Forum

Pompey's flight

After crossing the Rubicon, Caesar moved forward rapidly into the centre of Italy. He divided his small force into two columns. Both columns then pressed on, and one town after another opened its gates to him. Cicero wrote: 
‘Is it a general of the Roman people we are talking of, or Hannibal?

Caesar’s enemies included most of the senior senators, but they were also jealous of Pompey and would not allow him the powers he needed. This meant that he was unable to withstand Caesar. His veterans had known twelve years of peace, while Caesar’s were battle-hardened.  Pompey made the mistake of abandoning Rome. He retreated south and most of the Senate fled with him. In March 49 he crossed the Adriatic and made for the eastern provinces where he hoped to establish an alternative power base. In Greece he was joined by Cicero, who, after spurning overtures from Caesar, decided that Pompey was the lesser of the two evils. Caesar’s enemies were in a potentially strong position, as they had command of the sea and threatened Italy’s grain supply. It was not clear that they were going to lose.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Julius Caesar: towards the Rubicon (59-49 BC)

The presumed course of the Rubicon, the boundary between Rome and Cisalpine Gaul.
It was never a major river. Now it is only a stream

Caesar in Gaul

In 59 a friendly tribune had secured Caesar the command of the provinces of Illyricum (the Dalmatian coast) and Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy) for five years, with three legions and the right to found colonies.  Cisalpine Gaul was near enough to Rome to allow him to keep in touch with events. However the death of the allotted commander for Transalpine Gaul (Gallia Narbonensis), at a time when it was threatened by hostile tribesmen, caused the senators to panic and add it to his provinces. But it seems that this command was only granted on a yearly basis and was less secure than the other two.

Gaul and the Roman world on the eve
of the Gallic War

Caesar’s campaigns against the Gauls were described in his Gallic War. Between 58 and 56 the Romans over-ran the greater part of Gaul, though the Veneti of Brittany were still causing trouble and were only defeated after a naval battle, after which the elders of the tribe were massacred and the rest sold into slavery. 

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Julius Caesar: the First Triumvirate, 60 BC

Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BC)

In 61 BC Pompey was finally permitted to return to Rome. To the surprise of most people, he showed no desire to make himself a dictator. He disbanded his troops and made two reasonable demands: that his veterans be granted land, and that the Senate should ratify his eastern settlements. But the Senate refused these demands. He was ‘never a revolutionary’ but his success aroused great fears among the traditional elites. The opposition was led by the die-hard republican, M. Porcius Cato, the great grandson of Cato the Censor, who became tribune in 62. 

The complicated intrigues of this period left both Pompey and Crassus feeling aggrieved.  The most significant of Pompey’s allies was an ambitious young man, Gaius Julius Caesar

He was born in 100BC in July, the month that would be named after him, the descendant of an ancient patrician family.  The gens Julia claimed descent from the kings of Rome and the goddess Venus, mother of Aeneas.  Because Caesar’s aunt, Julia, was the widow of Marius, he was forced to leave Rome during Sulla’s dictatorship.  Sulla spared him with misgivings: 
‘In that young man I see many Mariuses'.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The rise of Cicero

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC)

The thirty years following Sulla’s retirement was a period of impassioned political dispute. These disputes took place in the open air, in the Roman Forum, a square half-mile of ground. In this period the total male citizenship increased hugely, swollen by the recently enfranchised Italians. The census of 69 registered about 910,000 adult citizen males, about three times as many as in the 130s.  Elections were held in the Campus Martius outside the formal boundary of the city. Voters in the city were congregated into four ‘tribes’ and the result was decided by a block-vote within each tribe. Although the patricians continued to dominate politics, the way was now open for men outside the political elite to enter politics. 

In the consular elections of January 63 an outsider had successfully stood for office. This was Marcus Tullius Cicero, a relative of Marius (not helpful!) from Arpinum, a hill-town about eighty miles south-east of Rome. 

Pompey the Great: conqueror of the East

Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey) (106 BC-48BC)
‘Sulla had given the Romans their first glimpse of what it might mean to be the subjects of an autocrat, and it had proved a frightening and salutary one. This was a discovery that could never be unmade.…What had once been unthinkable now lurked at the back of every Roman’s mind: “Sulla could do it. Why can’t I?”’ Tom Holland, Rubicon (2006), p. 109
The legacy of Sulla was therefor a bitter one. The sons of those who had been proscribed were excluded from political life, and the way was open for other ambitious men, many of whom had family connections with Sulla, to use the traditional venue to popularity- military victory- to force their way to power. 

These ambitions were played out against a background of thuggery and anarchy in Rome itself. By the mid 60s the city contained at least 750,000 inhabitants, a huge mass of citizen-freedmen, slaves and foreigners, many of them very poorly housed. This population had to be conciliated by regular supplies of food and, increasingly, by lavish entertainments put on by the politicians.

The rise of Pompey

Gnaeus Pompeius was the son of one of Rome’s principal officers during the Social War, who had died in disgrace following accusations of treachery.  Pompey served with his father and built up a strong personal following in eastern and central Italy.  When Sulla returned from the east, Pompey, who was married to his stepdaughter, joined forces with him.  He defeated his enemies in Africa so effectively that, while still in his mid-twenties, his troops acclaimed him, as ‘the Great’.  At his Triumph he was said to have tried to drive a chariot pulled by elephants through the city gates only to find that the gate was too narrow. In the 70s he enhanced his reputation by defeating Sertorius, a governor of Spain who had opposed Sulla, after six years of hard fighting. 

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Republican Rome: the structure of goverment

An imaginative reconstruction of the Senate in action

In 509 BC the Etruscan dynasty of the Tarquins was overthrown, and replaced by the republic; the term res publica means 'public business.’ The coup that overthrew Tarquin the Proud left the Romans with a hatred of kings. By c. 500 BC the Roman community probably numbered about 35,000 male citizens, divided along class lines but united in its espousal of freedom and republican values.  As Cicero was to write in his sixth Philippic, 
‘that the Roman people should ever not be free is contrary to all the laws of heaven’. 
In republican Rome power was divided among magistrates, according to the principle of collegiality.

The Republic in crisis: the Gracchi, Sulla and Marius

Lucius Cornelius Sulla, dictator

The land problem

Rome’s expansion came at a high political and economic price.  In the early second century BC the Republic faced severe class tensions caused by the shortage of land.  In the early days of Roman expansion, soldiers had been given land in the rest of Italy, but with the conquest of the peninsula completed, there was little new land available. During the Second Punic War the Romans had confiscated large tracts of land belonging to the allies of Carthage, but this public land (ager publicus) became monopolized by the senatorial and equestrian classes, who built up large slave-run estates and excluded the poor from land ownership.

The land problem was intensified by the rise of the professional solder. By the first century up to half a million men were serving overseas for years at a time. When they returned, the generals confiscated land from the peasants and gave it to discharged soldiers.  Displaced peasants flocked to Rome and the other Italian towns. The population of Rome grew to perhaps three-quarters of a million by the middle of the first century. Poor families crammed into tenements put up by speculative builders, but found that their wages were undercut by unpaid slave labour. 

Monday, 4 January 2016

The foundations of Rome

The she-wolf suckles Romulus and Remus

The Romans created an empire that ranged from Djem in north Africa to Hadrian’s Wall, from Baalbek in Lebanon and the Euphrates to southern France. The heirs of ancient civilizations such as the Phoenicians, Egyptians and Greeks became subject to Roman rule and part of an empire that at its height numbered about 100 million people. The Roman Empire lasted for centuries, not collapsing in the east until the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Everywhere the Romans left marks of their presence – their alphabet, language, roads, aqueducts, bridges, and temples. They also left a way of doing things – a legal system, a moral code, an ideal of republican government. 

The expansion of Rome

In Italy

In 509 BC, when the Republic was founded, the territory of Rome measured about 24 kilometres across. No-one could have imagined that such a small state could become a great empire. The historian Tom Holland notes that 
‘It took time for the other states of Italy to wake up to the nature of the predator in their midst.’  
In the first century of the Republic’s existence, Rome fought a series of mainly defensive wars against the inroads of other Italian peoples. The late fifth century was a time of widespread migration throughout Italy. The best-known of these migrants are the Sabines of the South. For a century or so, from 460 to 360 BC there were fewer than ten years when Rome was not at war. Her successes against these peoples encouraged Rome to attack her Etruscan neighbour Veii only fifteen kilometres north of Rome. In 396, Veii fell after a long siege. As a result, Roman territory was virtually doubled.

The destruction of Carthage

Go here to listen to a discussion of the destruction of Carthage on Melvyn Bragg's 'In Our Time' programme.