The Rise Of Rome

Without a navy and trading links, Etruscan decline was inevitable. Despite uprisings and struggles against Roman power, the Etruscan city-states lacked a national identity and unable to co-ordinate resistance they fell one by one.[1] By 280 BC most of Etruria was ruled by Rome. Rome began its attacks on Etruria c498 BC and finally conquered Etruria in 264 BC. The fall of the Etruscan Monarchy was probably due to a power struggle between the king and land-owning, aristocratic families. The aristocracy overthrew the kings and a republic of magistrates was introduced. The first two Roman consuls were the Etruscans Lucius Junius Brutus and Tarquinius Collatinus. A small Latin village, Roma had become a power.


According to legend the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, sons of the God Mars, were abandoned on the banks of the River Tiber and left to fend for themselves. A wolf took pity on them and fed them. Later they decided to build a town, but they had an argument and Romulus killed Remus, became king of the town, which he named Rome. Historians believe that Rome was founded c750BC as a small village, surrounded by other villages, each independent. Much of the later empire was gained through fighting. At first the Romans fought small battles with neighbouring tribes, but as Rome won these battles she gained land and power.

The Greek alphabet probably came to Rome via the Etruscans.[2] The Greek alphabet was developed c1000 BC. The Etruscans had been exposed to Greek colonies for some time, had developed trade, and used a Greek alphabet. The Greek Alpha and Beta, derived from the Semites, and provided the Romans (and us) the letters A and B. The Romans adapted the cursive Greek Gamma and redefined this as C, which then had a g-sound to a k-sound. (Some languages retained this g-sound, some Celtic languages being a case in point.) The Greek, triangular Delta, was adapted in cursive form to be our D, as was Epsilon for E. In similar fashion the Romans modified the Greek alphabet as a series of symbols for additional different sounds.

Victory over the Etruscans made the Romans confident and soon they were waging wars to gain land rather than to defend Rome. The Romans became very wealthy as a result of their wars, since some people were willing to cede control in return for protection and wealth, generated by trade. The key to this success was the disciplined Roman army. Weaker tribes, feeling threatened, asked for Roman help, usually secured as an alliance, which left the Roman army in place.

In 509 BC, Rome became a republic with the rejection of the tyrannical Tarquinius. The republic had three parts of government: the senate, the consuls and the assemblies. The senate was similar to a modern parliament; senators were elected by citizens, had discussions and then voted to decide upon action. The senators elected two consuls to act as leaders, they decided agendas, and had extra powers. The assembly retained veto power in a gathering of Roman citizens. At assemblies the citizens discussed new proposals and voted whether or not they should become law. The citizens also elected new senators and consuls at these meetings. The rich had more votes and women and slaves had none. The Roman republic lasted for more than 450 years until Octavian became the Emperor Augustus; however, the republic is still used as a political model.

Roman Politics

Empire c211


The Roman Empire lasted an additional five centuries passing through different phases of development, crisis and recovery. The Empire made the Roman system stable for a long period. The Mediterranean world became part of the Roman territory over this period. Agriculture and trade developed and forced the need for a good road network and the use of a common currency throughout the Empire. In short, Rome became a sort of modern 'common market'. It was the Romans who organised contacts with the Indians and Chinese (and no doubt took a percentage of the trade profits).

With this growth away from senatorial rule, there was the need of a new kind of power to control the growing populations. Power was firmly centralized in one person, the Emperor, as established by Julius Caesar and his nephew Octavian. Control of the Republic's ministries of the magistrates was increasingly assumed by the emperor, as the magistrates were simply deprived of their powers. Octavian in particular re-crafted the governmental system and introduced new laws and procedures. (He could afford to do this after seizing wealthy Egypt from Cleopatra.) The emperors' power was based on the army, and the Empire had become a de-facto military dictatorship.

Initially the Emperors ruled with the collaboration of the senate, which still had the power to elect the Emperor. Octavian called himself the 'first amongst equal senators'; that was a flimflam, he was a king and acted like one. He did take care to retain a few republican trappings to delude the gullible that the Republic still continued. However, the final power, to select the emperor, migrated to the centre of power: the army. The army used its inherent power to impose its choice by force. Finally, the Emperor could only count on his own followers, on his personal party, his family, collaborators and whichever public crowds he bought.

While Rome resolved its political system it was engaged in border skirmishes with the tribes north of the great European rivers. Strong emperors occasionally extended the empire over the rivers while weak emperors tended to lose those lands. The largest organised rival of the Romans was the Sassanid Persian Empire to the east, occupying modern Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The Sassanids were the political descendants of the Parthians. The Parthians had revolted away from Greek rule following Alexander's conquests and, thereafter, successfully resisted Roman invasions. In 224 AD, the Sasanid king Ardashir defeated the Parthians and established the Sasanian Empire, which lasted until overthrown by the Arabs in 642. After defeating Roman armies under emperors Gordian III and Philip the Arab, in 259 Shapur I led the Sassanids to a resounding victory over the emperor Valerian, who was killed at the Battle of Edessa.

The Silk Road


Since the Emperors held absolute authority, Rome functioned well with good emperors, but the incompetents did great harm. The rules for succession to the throne were never clear, and civil wars often resulted. The bureaucracy that managed the empire on a daily basis grew more corrupt, increasing the dissatisfaction of the common citizen. The wealth of the empire gradually concentrated in the hands of a minority while a large slave population did most of the work. The borders of the empire were immense and put a strain on military resources (500,000 soldiers defended a frontier that required 3 million or more to be secured). Roman conquests had ceased in the second century A.D., bringing an end to massive inflows of plunder and slaves. Taxes increased and production fell as the work force declined. A plague may have killed 20 percent of the empire's population in the third and fourth centuries, further reducing trade and production. In time the provinces grew in importance and their people became citizens, members of the Senate and a few Emperors. Later Caracalla gave the citizenship to all the free-men of the Empire. As the empire became larger and more unwieldy, power was split amongst competing imperial candidates, civil wars and size alone required the increasing use of non-Roman barbarians until finally the Huns toppled the Western Empire in the fifth century.[3]

The Roman Empire

The Roman Empire defined the territory under Roman control. The Empire was divided administratively into provinces the Latin names of which are echoed in many modern states. In c100 AD, the Empire controlled 6m kms². As a republic, the Romans had already conquered their rivals in Carthage and Syracuse: the Romans called the Mediterranean mare nostrum - 'our lake'! Augustus reformed the republican governmental functions into a centralised Imperium. In the late third century Diocletion further reformed the state after severe threats from invasions and civil war. In the next century, the empire was split into pieces and continued for a further two centuries. In September 476 the last Western Emperor, Romulus Augustus, was forced to abdicate by the Germanic chieftain Odoacer. In 1453, the eastern empire, better known as the Byzantine Empire, fell to the Ottoman Turks.

The Pantheon's 43m dome


The Romans copied neither Greek intellectual genius, nor Arab scientific development. The Romans were far more organised and practical. The Romans encorporated ideas from all around their empire, while inventing their own practical ideas. Many of our modern engineering concepts were either exploited by, or invented by the Romans. In particular, the development and extensive use of the arch (an Etruscan innovation of an earlier Sumerian invention) and the Roman invention of cementum enabled the creation of concrete and modern city life. Rome, in c150, was a city of one million people living in modern multi-story apartment buildings, supplied with 11m litres of water daily, while 50,000 were entertained in the Coliseum.[4] If you've seen the movie 'Ben Hur', you will be familiar with public chariot races, the largest were in the Circus Maximus in Rome. (You might also have noticed that 2,000-year old Roman cement Pantheon still stands without central supports, while some modern cement structures begin to age after 20 years![5] The Romans got it right: they used a finer volcanic 'sand' to bind their concrete tight.[6]

Roman medical practice was well-developed and complex procedures such as brain-surgery were practiced using fine steel instruments and drugs. The Romans did not initiate medical treatments, but they were astute enough to know a good thing and implement useful practices. Hygiene was well understood and as well as providing public drinking water, thermae, or public baths were supplied with both steam heat and large pools. Water was brought nearly 100 kms into Rome by tunnels and aqueducts some of which are still in use. Waste water from the baths was used to flush public toilets and water was channeled in modern plumbing The latin plumbum meant lead.and sheets of lead were hammered into shape around a pole to create plumbing pipes. Imperial cities were built around the supply of fresh water, which was moved by gravity and a constant slight slope to those tunnels and aqueducts. (The same water-supply techniques are still in use to supply many cities - notably in New York.)

To feed Rome, her army, and the Empire, required trade routes to the provinces and the world's first road system: of course, all roads led to Rome. (Roman trade was developed with both India and China.) The army built Imperial roads for the same reason that the Germans developed their autobahns - to move the army rapidly. Road-construction facilitated understanding of drainage and created a wide understanding of practical engineering solutions. The arch enabled structural weight to be supported by side-walls with access gained through the arches. The 50m-high Coliseum had 80 entrances and several levels of 'basements' to house thousands of animals, prisoners, gladiators, and even ships. The engineers had to build a solid, concrete sub-structure to support the massive weight and enable secure movement. The army developed and exploited the practical engineering skills required to build the empire.

The Empire c116 with roads, defences, and a typical legionary camp

The Fall of Rome

Rome and the Germans


The Roman Empire defined the territory under Roman control. The Empire was divided administratively into provinces the Latin names of which are echoed in many modern states. In c100 AD, the Empire controlled 6m kms². As a republic, the Romans had already conquered their rivals in Carthage and Syracuse: the Romans called the Mediterranean mare nostrum - 'our lake'! Augustus reformed the republican governmental functions into a centralised Imperium. In the late third century Diocletion further reformed the state after severe threats from invasions and civil war. In the next century, the empire was split into pieces and continued for a further two centuries. In September 476 the last Western Emperor, Romulus Augustus, was forced to abdicate by the Germanic chieftain Odoacer. In 1453, the eastern empire, better known as the Byzantine Empire, fell to the Ottoman Turks.

A variety of interesting theories have been expounded over the last 1,500 years to explain why Rome lost power. Certainly failing social discipline was a major cause. There are too many books and other sources to compete with explanations. (One recent explanation is that the Romans developed the use of plumbum (lead) and used dinner wear, cooking vessels and drinking cups made with lead. The people who could afford such things were, of course, the ruling elite. The elite slowly poisoned themselves with lead and in particular, since wine was often made and served in lead vessels, those wealthy Romans who drank wine (99% of the elite) absorbed more lead, which had been absorbed by the acid in the wine. Over time, the Roman elite grew less able to focus and concentrate.)

A more respectable cause may have been the result of successful Roman trade. By 200 AD malaria had spread across Africa, but had been stopped by the Mediterranean. By infected sailors, or perhaps Roman bilge water, the Anopheles mosquito and it's malaria spread to the north.[7] Apparently it first hit Sardinia at about the same time as a major attack by the Vandals. Coming from Africa (after being expelled from Spain by the Visigoths), the Vandals were probably inured to malaria, but the Romans were not. Much of the Roman population then sat along the swampy, Italian coast - ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Archeological and DNA evidence have confirmed endemic malarial infection. Some scientists have speculated that entire towns may have been killed. The results would not have helped a society under simultaneous attack from a variety of other causes.

I have contented myself in showing that the Empire did indeed become porous as seen below. It did not, of course, fall all at once.

Rome Fell


Invaders and Details


400 BC The Keltoi (Celts) invaded south-eastern France and Italy, they attacked the Etruscan city of Clusium. Celt
387/6 BC Raiding Celtic tribes ravaged Rome and occupied the city for three months. The leader, Brennus, demanded and got his weight (plus his sword) in gold as a ransom to leave the Romans alone. Brennus
370 AD Huns arrived on the Don River from Asia, migrating as a result of population pressures and climate change. Uldin
376-378 Visigoths entered the Empire in the area of the lower Danube. with permission of Roman Emperor Valentinian I. The Visigoths defeated Eastern Rome at the Battle of Adrianople. Emperor Theodosius made the Visigoths Roman allies. Fritigern
401-404 In 401 Visigoths invaded Italy, but were defeated by Roman General Stilicho in 404. Alaric Balthas
406 Romans allowed the Franks to settle in Gaul (Belgium; Franks pushed south to the Somme), and accepted Franks as foederati (allies). Clodius
407 Vandals crossed the frozen Rhine River and invaded Gaul (France), moving on to Spain in 408. Alaric Balthas
409 The Vandals and Sueves invaded Galicia, Spain. The Alans invaded Spain separately. The Visigoths rebelled against Roman rule. Gunderic
24 August 410 Visigoths sacked Rome after Alaric returned in 410 and starved Rome by siege. Visigoths plundered Rome for five days, but left at the end of 410. Alaric Balthas
411-507 In 411, the Visigoths invaded France and established a kingdom at Toulouse. In 418 the Visigoths settled in Aquitaine, France. In 507 the Franks defeated the Visigoths at Toulouse.  Athaulfe
425 Huns were hired by Roman General Aetius to fight in Italy during a Roman political crisis. Charato
429-439 The Vandals and Alans invaded Roman Africa from Spain and captured Carthage on 19 October 439. In 440 Vandals looted towns near Palermo, Sicily. Geiseric
433 Ruga signed a treaty with the Western Romans gaining Pannonia for the Huns in exchange for military help. In 435, Roman General Aetius used Huns to fight the Vandals and Franks. Ruga
452 In 447, Attila reached Constantinople, but without siege equipment. Attila defeated in 451 at the Battle of Chalons by Romans and their Visigothic allies. In 452, Attila, the Hun's leader, invaded Italy and was met by Pope Leo I who persuaded Attila not to invade Rome. Attila
June 455 Maximus, Emperor of Rome, forcibly married Licinia Eudoxia, widow of Emperor Valentinian whom he had killed. Eudoxia invited the Vandal Geiseric to attack Rome. The Vandals sacked Rome for 14 days and then left - with Empress Eudoxia and her two daughters. The Vandals continued to plunder the Sicilian and Italian coasts. Geiseric
456 Visigoths entered Spain. In 507 the Visigoths were defeated by the Franks but migrated to Spain as Roman allies. Theodoric II
4 September 476 In 468, the Vandals defeated Emperor Leo's Roman army. In 476, the Vandals killed the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus. Odoacer
490 The Visigoths invaded Spain and established a kingdom at Barcelona (then moved to Toledo). Alaric II
c490-507 Franks invaded Gaul (France). Clovis I
537 Franks invaded northern Italy. Theudebert I
546 In 539, Ostrogoths conquered Milan, and sacked Rome in 546. (The Ostrogoths were destroyed by the Eastern Roman empire [Byzantium] in 561.) Totila
560 Roman Emperor Justinian hired the Avars to fight the Huns and Slavs. In 568, the Avars invaded Roman Pannonia and signed a treaty with Rome in 571. Hephthalites
568-572 Lombards invaded Italy. Alboin
573 Visigoths established in Spain. Leovigild
620 Visigoths reconquered all of Spain and captured the last Roman possession in Spain. Sigebut
6 May-6 June 1527 34,000 unpaid imperial troops of Emperor Charles V insisted on sacking Rome for three days. Pope Clement VII escaped to Castel Sant'Angelo as a de-facto prisoner until he agreed to pay a large ransom. Charles III, Duc de Bourbon


1             Adapted from Grahame Clark, World Prehistory, In New Perspective, pp. 198-209; and Velthur Valerius, on 'Etruria and Carthage' (from the Ancient Sites Etruria Board).

2             Thomas Pyles, John Alges, The Origins and Development of the English Language, p. 45.

3             Mysterious Etruscans Web site, op. cit.

4             BBC News Report, Ancient Rome brought back to life,, dated 12 June 2007.

5            See, and also,_Rome,,

6            The website at is dedicated to the description and investigation of Roman concrete.

7            See Anopheles at,

8           The Empire map is from Image:World in 200 CE.PNG at,

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