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Rome is known as “the Eternal City,” a fitting title for a city more than 2,500 years old. It is located almost exactly midway of the boot-shaped Italian peninsula, on its western shore. To the ancient world, it was not merely the capital of a great empire: it was the empire. There was the capital city of Rome, which over time continued to conquer regions around it, gradually increasing the population of Roman citizens. People outside of the capital city of Rome, yet in the Roman Empire, enjoyed the rights of Roman citizenship as well.

From Roman numerals to “toga parties,” from the calendar to the names of the planets to a multitude of daily expressions, the influence of Rome is everywhere. Rome left the modern world a vast legacy, symbolized by the word legacy itself, which is Latin for bequest, a gift handed down. In fact, symbolize and more than half the words in the English language come from the Roman language, Latin. The system of laws of the United States has its roots in ancient Rome, a fact reinforced by the Roman- and Greek-influenced architecture that dominates the official buildings of the U.S. capital in Washington, DC. The English alphabet is based on the Roman alphabet, which in turn was derived from the Greek. In fact the legacies of Greece and Rome are so intertwined that people often speak of them together, using the term “Greco-Roman.” The Greco-Roman heritage, along with the religious tradition of Israel, is the foundation of Western culture.

Early Rome

Ancient Rome EssayThe Romans traditionally dated the founding of their city at 753 B.C. A number of legends are told of its founding. In fact, the area around Rome may have been occupied as much as a century earlier. The legends themselves have little basis in history. Still, they formed a compelling national myth akin to the Greeks’ Troy tale, which is their basis.

The story of Aeneas, in fact, seems to have arisen among Greek colonists living in southern Italy and Sicily. According to the legend, Aeneas was a Trojan prince who organized a group of escapees from the defeated city and set sail for Italy to establish a new Troy across the seas. Along the way, however, he had a series of trials and tribulations not unlike those of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey.

After a wind blew his ship off course, he wound up on the shores of northern Africa, where he met the founder of Rome’s future rival, Carthage. The founder of Carthage was not a man but a woman, Dido. Dido was queen of Tyre as well as Carthage, a reflection of her people’s Phoenician origins. She fell deeply in love with Aeneas. When the gods commanded him to sail onward, he left her behind, whereupon she committed suicide.

After another series of adventures, Aeneas arrived in Latium. Latium was the ancient name for a region in western Italy, southeast of Rome. Historically, it was inhabited by a group of people called the Latins, or Latini. It appears that the Latins, who were primarily cattlefarmers, came down the Italian peninsula along with other Indo-European tribes some time before 1000 B.C. They passed by the swamps of the Italian countryside until they came to an area of seven rolling hills south of the Tiber River. There they began building simple clay huts covered in thatch. Thus began one of the most glorious cities on earth.

The saga of Aeneas went on to tell of an alliance between Latium and another group of people known to have inhabited the region in early centuries: the Etruscans. This combined force went up against Aeneas, who had formed an alliance of his own with a group of Greek colonists living on the seven hills of Rome. In fact the Greek colonies were well south of Rome. This part of the legend served to identify the Romans with the Greeks, as the people of Rome would continue to do throughout their history.

Having defeated Turnus, king of Latium, Aeneas married the Latin princess Lavinia and founded a city called Lavinium in her honor. Generations later, the legends recount, another Latin princess named Rhea Silvia gave birth to twin sons fathered by the war-god Mars. As punishment for violating her pledge of chastity, she was forced to abandon the twins, Romulus and Remus, on the banks of the flooding Tiber.

But a she-wolf found them there, and she nursed them until a shepherd found the boys and raised them. In time, Romulus and Remus built a city on the seven hills. Eventually the two brothers clashed. Romulus survived and went on to give the city its name. The legend of Romulus emerged long after Rome did and was used to explain the city’s name—along with its symbol, that of a wolf. The wolf symbol would prove a fitting emblem for what became the strongest, fiercest nation in the region. In time the Romans would triumph over the dominant power in Italy, the Etruscans.

Legendary Kings of Rome

The Etruscans reached their high point in the 500s B.C. Meanwhile, Rome itself was growing, with a population composed of native Latins, Etruscans, and Sabines. The latter were another group of people in central Italy, about whom the Romans later developed a legend.

Supposedly in the years after Romulus, Rome had far more men than women. Many of the men were cutthroats and murderers. Few women wanted to live in such a place. In order to get themselves wives, the Romans tricked the neighboring Sabine men into leaving their towns. Then the Romans charged in, raping and kidnapping the Sabine women. Naturally, the Sabine men were furious when they learned what had happened. Only the Sabine women—many of whom, willing or not, now had Roman husbands—were able to stop the two sides from going to war. They proposed an agreement whereby Rome would be ruled by alternating Latin and Sabine kings.

This legend, which is certainly revealing in its portrayal of the early Romans as savage brutes, probably contains some truth. It is quite likely that the Latins shared leadership of Rome with the Sabines, though with the interwoven layers of myth and fact that make up the city’s history prior to the founding of the republic, it is hard to tell. Beginning with Romulus, who supposedly reigned from 753 to 718 B.C., there were seven legendary kings of Rome. Romulus was followed by a Sabine, then a Latin, then the Sabine ruler Ancus Marcius, who allegedly reigned from 639 to 616 B.C.

The latter date saw the rise of Tarquinius Priscus, whose reign supposedly lasted from 616 to 578 B.C. He allegedly waged war against a combined force of Sabines, Etruscans, and Latins, which would indicate that the people of Rome were beginning to see themselves as an entity distinct from their neighbors.

The other three legendary kings after Tarquinius Priscus were all Etruscan. The last of these was Tarquinius Superbus, son of the earlier Tarquinius, who reputedly took the throne in 534 B.C. Legend holds that he was a proud, cruel king with an unruly son, Tarquinius Sextus. The latter is said to have raped Lucretia, the beautiful and virtuous wife of a Roman. Lucretia was so overcome by shame that she killed herself. This act led to a revolt that overthrew Tarquinius.

As always with early Rome, it is difficult to sort out legend from fact, though it is certain that the Etruscans began a slow, steady decline. Two years after the removal of Tarquinius (the date is not entirely certain, though traditionally it has been identified as 507 B.C.), the triumphant Romans founded the Roman Republic, which was to last for more than 400 years.

The Roman Republic

It is interesting to note that the date of Tarquinius’s expulsion in 509 B.C. very nearly coincides with that of Hippias’s overthrow in Athens. In place of tyranny, the Athenians created a democracy, whereas the Romans instituted a republican form of government. Together, these two systems formed a model for free peoples, or for people longing to be free, up to the present day. In modern times it is rather difficult to tell the difference between the two systems.

Both democracy and republicanism involved elected leaders rather than hereditary kings. At its beginnings, most power was in the hands of the wealthiest Roman landowners, known as patricians. Citizenship in Rome, however, was not as exclusive as in Sparta or even Athens, a fact that no doubt helped lead to Rome’s expansion.

Each year, the citizens elected two patricians as consul, an office with responsibilities similar to that of the Athenian archon. But whereas the archons started out with a great deal of power that gradually declined with the establishment of democracy, the Romans from the beginning instituted a system of checks and balances to prevent consuls from gaining too much power. Not only did the consuls have to be elected every year, but one consul could overrule another by means of a veto (Latin for “I forbid”).

Another part of the checks and balances were the various elected assemblies, the most important of which was the senate. Obviously, the Roman senate is the model for the U.S. Senate. Similarly, the government of the United States is built around a system of checks and balances not unlike those in Rome. For a long time, however, there was nothing to check the power of the 300-odd patricians who made up the senate. The patricians controlled public funds—thus giving it de facto authority over the consuls—and reserved the right to elect a dictator or absolute ruler in times of crisis. This system gave no representation to another group in Roman society: the plebeians.

In modern English, the word “plebeian” usually refers to someone who is unsophisticated. The plebeians of Rome, however, were the vast majority of people, a group that included the middle class as well as the poor and working class. The plebeians became outraged that they were treated as second- class citizens. The patricians, fearing an uprising, allowed the creation of several important institutions.

There already existed a plebeian assembly—in fact, two of them. One was a tribal assembly and the other a body representing the military. Together they supposedly gave all the citizens of Rome a voice in the government. Only in 494 B.C., however, did the collective plebeian assembly gain real power through the creation of a new office. This was the position of tribune, who exercised veto power over the senate’s decisions and thus saw to it that the plebeians were not overruled by the patricians.

An important theme that emerged in the early history of Rome was the rule of law. Rule of law meant a “government of laws and not of men.” Again, Americans can thank the plebeians, whose outrage at their unjust treatment by the Roman legal system led to the establishment of the “Twelve Tables” in 451 B.C. Up to that time, there was no written law. Judges made decisions based on the laws of the senate, as well as legal precedent or the previous rulings of judges. Since the plebeians were not allowed to know about the proceedings of the senate, this meant that they could be charged and punished for violations of laws that they did not even know existed. The Twelve Tables provided a clearly defined legal code, which gave citizens protection against the whims of judges.

The Power and the Glory of Rome

For centuries, the Romans’ behavior had resembled that of an old farmers’ saying: “I don’t want much; just the land that borders on mine.” Fearing conquest by others, they had conquered neighboring lands until they spread beyond Italy. With their two victories over Carthage, their lands grew considerably, including the Spanish coastal area conquered by Scipio.

With their many wars, it is not surprising that the Romans emerged as the most militaristic people of the ancient world, other than the Assyrians and the Spartans. It became common, in fact typical, for a military leader to hold political power and vice versa. In the years leading up to and following the establishment of the empire in 14 B.C., both the government and the military attracted around themselves an aura of power and glory that filled the Romans with pride and their foes with awe and terror.

When they marched into Rome following a new conquest, the legions received the Roman equivalent of a tickertape parade: a triumphal procession. Down the wide streets of Rome, lined with cheering crowds, would come a procession led by standard-bearers. The standards were long staffs. Atop the standards were symbols around which soldiers rallied in battle. Among these symbols were the first flags, though unlike modern flags they hung downward rather than flying in the breeze. Also prominently displayed were other emblems that stood for Rome: the wolf, the fasces, the war eagle, and the initials SPQR (senatus populus que Romanus, “the senate and people of Rome.”)

Next came a giant statue of Jupiter carried on a litter. Then came the spoils of war—treasure removed from the conquered lands. There were pipers and horn players to provide music for the procession and white bulls to be sacrificed on the altar to the gods. Among the procession were thousands of prisoners, including the rulers of the defeated people, who were subjected to special humiliation. This was the fate, for instance, of Perseus, the last Macedonian king. At the center of the parade was the triumphant general himself, hero of the procession, whose place of honor was enhanced by the presence of senators and magistrates on foot behind him. Last were the legions marching in ranks, thousands upon thousands of soldiers.

It was a stirring sight, and it emphasized the power of the Roman Republic. Running through the whole political and military system, from the war eagles on the standards to the majestic white togas of the senators, hemmed with a bright red stripe, was a brilliant sense of style. The Romans seemed to understand that it was just as important to appear powerful as it was to be powerful, an idea that would heavily influence nations right up to the time of Nazi Germany.

Downfall and Collapse of the Roman Republic

The Romans had always been hard, proud people, but in the Rome that emerged from the wars with Carthage and other nations, life took on a coarseness it had lacked before. Certainly other empires—and Rome was an empire, even if it would not use the word until A.D. 14—had been at least as cruel as Rome. Other empires, however, had not started with the high ideals of the early Romans. As a consequence their morals did not suffer as Rome’s did.

One of the principal causes for alarm was the growing gap between rich and poor. During the wars, Rome maintained the largest standing army, in proportion to the male population, of any nation in history. The conscripts, or draftees, typically came from the poorer classes. These young men were no longer available to tend farms in the countryside. This, along with the destruction of farms by Hannibal’s troops, helped lead to the end of peasant landholders as a class.

In plenty of poor areas, young men who managed to survive the wars simply chose to seek their fortunes in the glamorous city of Rome rather than to scratch out a living in the country. Once they got to the city, they found it filled with other young men just like them. Without enough jobs to go around, the poor began increasingly to depend on the government for support. This pattern would become much worse in the later empire, when the state tried to keep its poor happy by offering them “bread and circuses”—that is, a combination of cheap entertainment and what modern people would call welfare.

All of this had tragic results. The decline of peasant land holdings led to a growth in power among the aristocracy, who were able to build huge estates with the fields the peasants gave up cheaply. This new aristocracy consisted primarily of “plebeian patricians”—that is, people who had money, even if they lacked a distinguished background. They, of course, would not work these giant estates: for that they needed slaves.

The economies of both Greece and Rome depended on slavery. Rome was so much bigger, though, that slavery there assumed a scale unequaled in history, including in the United States prior to the Civil War (1861–1865). With every military conquest, Rome added to its “wealth” by enslaving the conquered peoples. Deep beneath the surface splendor of Roman society, the bitterness of the slaves was growing. In time they would have their moment, but first other dissatisfied groups would make their voices heard in Roman affairs.

Aside from the peasant landholders who were losing their land, the many people living on the Italian peninsula, though subject to the laws of Rome, did not enjoy any of the benefits that went with Roman citizenship. These issues came to the forefront under a pair of plebeian tribunes, two brothers named Tiberius (163–133 B.C.) and Gaius Gracchus (153–121 B.C.) Both offered reforms: Tiberius called for limits on the amount of land one citizen could own. Gaius proposed extension of Roman citizenship to Latins.

Not only did the Gracchus brothers fail in their efforts at reform, they paid with their lives. A mob killed Tiberius, along with some 300 of his followers. Twelve years later, after Gaius saw more than 3,000 of his own faction murdered, he committed suicide. These two deaths set an ominous pattern for the use of violence to settle political disputes.

Civil Wars

The term “civil war,” often applied to the whole period from the murder of Tiberius Gracchus in 133 B.C. and the Battle of Action in 27 B.C., is sometimes applied specifically to the events in Rome in 88 B.C. This was not really a war, since the majority of the violence came from Sulla’s executions of Marius’s allies. Marius himself fled to Africa. Sulla, having destroyed his other enemies in Rome, went on to Greece to fight two bloody, bitter wars with Mithradates (88-85; 83-82 B.C.). During Sulla’s absence, Marius had returned to Rome and killed a number of Sulla’s friends before dying in 86 B.C.. Therefore Sulla could not take revenge on him when he returned in 82 B.C. Instead, he massacred thousands of Marius’s supporters. In at least one case, the killing took place right before the eyes of a horrified senate.

Dictatorship had finally come to Rome, in Sulla’s words, “for the reform of the constitution.” It had not been established according to the provisions in Roman law, but it had been established just the same, and given those provisions, it is surprising it did not come sooner. Also surprising is the fact that Sulla, after three years as absolute ruler—during which time he packed the senate with supporters—voluntarily stepped down in 79 B.C. A year later, he was dead.

In 77 B.C., Rome sent one of its leading generals, Pompey (106–48 B.C.), to put down an uprising in Spain. Only a few years later, Pompey had to rush back to Rome in order to deal with a new force that threatened the very heart of Roman power, both for the nobiles and for the populares: a slave revolt.

Its leader was Spartacus, a Thracian slave sent to a school in Capua for the training of gladiators. Gladiators were warriors who fought to their deaths in a ring, watched by cheering spectators. The spectators paid good money for this form of “entertainment,” and they expected to see the death of at least one of the two combatants in a match. No wonder, then, that Spartacus and the other slaves at the gladiatorial school revolted in 73 B.C. Within a short time, they had an army of more than 120,000.

Slavery was the foundation of ancient Rome’s great wealth. Rome was not about to allow the slave revolt, sometimes called the Gladiatorial War (73–71 B.C.), to proceed unchecked. Not only did Rome call back Pompey, but it sent another army under the control of Crassus (c. 115–53 B.C.), an ally of Sulla who had become incredibly wealthy by buying up property confiscated under the dictatorship. In the final battle, Spartacus himself died rather than be captured— a wise choice, since the Romans crucified some 6,000 slaves along the Appian Way, the main road from Capua to Rome.

Pompey went on to deal with a group of pirates threatening the eastern Mediterranean. As the power of Greece had ebbed and Roman control of the region had remained uncertain, the pirates had returned. In 67 B.C., Pompey broke their hold, thus making the area safe for shipping. The following year saw his destruction of the other principal challenge to Roman control over the Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor: Mithradates. Mithradates had allied with his son-in-law, Tigranes of Armenia, against Rome. The defeat of both men gave Rome lands that stretched from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. Pompey’s victory in the east was marred at home, however, by a revolt whose leader was Catiline (c. 108–62 B.C.) Catiline might have overthrown the government in 63 B.C., but the noted orator Cicero (106–43 B.C.) helped foil his plan. Catiline was executed the following year.

To prevent the rise of another Catiline, Pompey proposed to form a new government. He had come out of the wars with Spartacus and Mithradates as one of the most powerful men in Rome, but he was wise enough to recognize that he could not rule on his own. Therefore he turned to Crassus, whose wealth, if nothing more, made him a formidable ally. These two formed an alliance with another soldier-statesman, a rising star named Julius Caesar (102–44 B.C.) As leader of the populares, Caesar would help to balance the patrician Crassus and garner more support for the proposed government of three, a triumvirate.

First Triumvirate

Once they found themselves in power, the members of the triumvirate used that power to their own advantage. Caesar went off to Gaul, where he campaigned for a decade and built a strong power base. Crassus went in the other direction, to Syria, which had become a Roman province following Pompey’s victory over Mithradates. Eager to prove himself, he went to war against the Parthians in the east. In 53 B.C., Crassus lost his life in a humiliating defeat.

Now there were only two rulers, Caesar and Pompey. They had never been more than uneasy allies. When Pompey started building up his power in the senate, the populares called for his resignation. Pompey in turn demanded, in 49 B.C., that Caesar return to Rome immediately to stand trial for corruption. So Caesar began making his way back—with his army. The senate sent him a message that if he crossed the Rubicon River, which formed the southern boundary of Gaul, he would be guilty of treason. Caesar chose to move ahead. (Today the expression “crossing the Rubicon” means passing a point of no return.)

Planning to build up his forces, Pompey went to Greece with a sizable army and most of the senate. Caesar was too quick for him. In a series of lighting maneuvers, he defeated legions in Spain, where Pompey had spent many years building up loyalties. Then Caesar marched on Greece, where he defeated Pompey’s forces in 48 B.C. Pompey fled to Egypt, whose boy king Ptolemy XIII (c. 59–44 B.C.) wanted nothing to do with any Romans. Ptolemy had Pompey assassinated and was prepared to oppose Caesar as well.

When Caesar arrived in Egypt in 48 B.C., his interest was primarily in Pompey’s co-ruler, his intriguing sister—and wife—Cleopatra VII (69–30 B.C.; r. 51–30). She was the last of the Hellenistic rulers that had followed Alexander. In 46 B.C., she left her brother and husband Ptolemy XIV (she had married a younger brother) to join the new Alexander, Caesar, in Rome.

Caesar had meanwhile begun to establish his rule and soon became exceeding popular. Rather than conduct a reign of terror against Cicero and other supporters of Pompey, he left them alone and undertook a number of initiatives to improve the republic. But many feared that Caesar, who had declared himself dictator for life, was becoming too powerful. On March 15, 44 B.C., a group of conspirators led by his former friends Brutus and Cassius stabbed him to death in the senate.

Second Triumvirate

In the upheaval that followed Caesar’s murder, two new leaders stepped to the forefront. One was Mark Antony (c. 82–30 B.C.), who had fought by Caesar’s side in number of military campaigns and served with him as co-consul. The other was Caesar’s grand-nephew Octavian (63 B.C.-A.D. 14), whom Caesar had adopted as son and heir just a year before his assassination. When Mark Antony tried to seize power, the senate threw its weight behind Octavian, whom they judged (wrongly, as it turned out) to be a mild-mannered figure uninterested in power.

Eventually, Octavian and Mark Antony formed their own uneasy alliance, with Lepidus (died c. 13 B.C.) in the balancing role that Crassus had held. This Second Triumvirate quickly dealt with Brutus, Cassius, and the other conspirators. Then they turned to killing personal foes, among them Cicero, whom Antony judged an enemy. With so much blood flowing, it was not long before they turned on each other. Octavian removed Lepidus from power in 36 B.C., setting the stage for a showdown with Antony.

Mark Antony had meanwhile taken up with Cleopatra, for whom he had left his wife—Octavian’s sister. By 34 B.C., Antony had moved to Alexandria. When Octavian read before the senate what he claimed was Antony’s will—in which Antony promised to leave Cleopatra all of Rome’s eastern possessions— the senate removed Antony from power. Rome declared war on Antony and Cleopatra, whose forces it met in a naval battle at Actium in 31 B.C. Actium was in Greece, not Egypt, an indication that the two lovers hoped to build a Mediterranean empire; instead, their forces were destroyed. They fled to Egypt, where they committed suicide.

The Pax Romana

The defeat on Antony and Cleopatra left sole authority in the hands of Octavian, and as it turned out, this event marked the end of the republic. Though Octavian insisted on claiming that he had restored republican rule—that he was the leading citizen among many, not a supreme leader—historians identify him as the first Roman emperor.

This became clear in 27 B.C., when the senate conferred on Octavian a number of formal titles, each of which had a very real meaning. They named him Imperator, which meant commander-in-chief of the armed forces but also meant “emperor.” They gave him the title Caesar, thus turning the family name of the former dictator into a title, just as the ptolemies of Egypt had done. Finally, they bestowed on him a new personal name: Augustus, meaning “exalted” or “sacred.”

In accordance with his new name, Augustus and the emperors who followed him would come to be treated as gods. Yet he was shrewd enough to assume absolute power very slowly, so that no one became alarmed. He maintained the trappings of the republic, including the fiction that he ruled only with the approval of the senate.

Augustus did not really have to fool the Romans, who were willing to give up a few freedoms in exchange for political stability. He proved a wise and fair ruler. He reformed the military, reducing its size and bringing it back under civilian control, and expanded the empire greatly. In A.D. 9, however, his troops suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the Germans. From then on, Rome’s northern border would be fixed by the Rhine River. After that point, the empire would continue to grow, but more slowly.

Despite all manner of troubles in the capital, the two centuries from Augustus to Marcus Aurelius would be a time of prosperity and peace in the Western world. It was an age identified by the term Pax Romana, or “Roman peace,” a time when no military force on earth could equal the power of Rome. The “barbarians” were out there, of course—in particular the Germans, who had come to be known as Goths—but they did not dare break through the frontiers of the empire itself.

Thus Roman strength ensured the peace, and the grandeur of the Roman Empire spread throughout Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. It was a time of massive building projects, including the construction of aqueducts that remain today as an impressive reminder of Roman achievements. Across the wide expanse of the empire, the Romans built temples, bridges, and triumphal arches, the latter to mark victories in battle, of which there were many. Roman artists improved greatly on the example provided to them by the Greeks and brought realism to a high point.

Science also flourished in the work of the astronomer Ptolemy (A.D. 100s) and the physician Galen (A.D. 129–c. 199) Neither man was a “Roman” in the strictest sense of the word: Ptolemy lived in Alexandria, and Galen lived in Asia Minor. But the name of Rome had long since come to refer to an entire world, not merely to a city.

Perhaps nothing says more about the stability of Rome in this era than its roads. Rome established a highway network so impressive that it can only be compared to the American interstate system of today, but in fact the Roman roads represent much more of an engineering triumph than the interstates. The Romans, after all, had no bulldozers or other machinery; just the labor of work gangs, mostly slaves.

During the years of the Pax Romana, it was possible to start out from Scotland and travel by Roman roads all the way to Rome itself; or if one wished, into Greece and even across to Asia Minor and thence all the way to southern Egypt. The roads were generally safe, protected from bandits—always a problem in ancient times—because outlaws feared the wrath of the empire.

Nor were these roads mere paths: most were 12 or more feet wide, built of stone, clay, and gravel three feet deep. Drainage ditches lined either side, and there were stone markers showing the distance to and from Rome—hence the famous saying, “All roads lead to Rome.” It says a great deal about these roads, and about the dismal conditions that prevailed in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire, that at the beginning of the Renaissance in c. 1500 A.D., the best roads on the continent were still those built by the Romans more than a thousand years before.

The Fall of Rome

It has been said that the two greatest questions in history revolve around how Rome came to conquer the world and how it came to lose it. A number of explanations have been put forward, but one thing is clear: the population of Germans and other barbarians was growing, while the Roman population— along with the vitality of its culture and civilization—declined.

Though the Roman Empire was gone, a remnant of its former glory remained in the Roman Catholic Church, whose supreme leader, the pope, would become a power on a level with the most influential kings. On Christmas Day, 800, Pope Leo III received a visit from a descendant of the barbarians, Charlemagne (742–814), the leader of a nation called the Franks. It was the first visit to Rome by an important monarch in three centuries. The pope crowned Charlemagne emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

In spite of its impressive name, this empire existed primarily on paper, but it was an important step in the revival of Europe. Once again, Rome had become a center for civilization, a rallying point for all the kingdoms of Europe. Christianity itself became a rallying point as well, sometimes in violent ways such as the Crusades (1096–1272). But the Crusades also exposed Europeans to the civilization of the Arabs, which was much more advanced than that of Europe.

Civilization had also survived in its ancient eastern European center: Greece. There the eastern empire had become the Byzantine Empire, which embraced its own form of Christianity, the Greek Orthodox Church. For a time, under the emperor Justinian (r. A.D. 527- 565), the Byzantines even managed to retake Rome and much of Italy; but the victory did not last long.

A new force was on the march: Islam, which originated in Arabia in the A.D. 600s. The Arabs took over much of the Byzantine Empire, and later the Turks seemed prepared to finish the job after defeating the Byzantines in a battle in 1071. Therefore, during the late A.D. 1000S, partly at Byzantine urging, the Pope launched the Crusades; but in the end, the Crusades led to a falling-out between the western and eastern portions of the old Roman Empire. The Byzantines drifted farther and farther from the west, and preserved civilization in a very rigid form that changed little over time. Their empire, sometimes referred to by historians simply as the Eastern Roman Empire, would remain intact until it was overrun by the Turks in 1453.

All over Europe, the lines drawn by ancient culture are vivid, far more important than the many magnificent Roman structures that dot the towns of France, Spain, and Italy. Those three countries all speak languages derived from Latin, as do the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking peoples of Latin America. North of the Rhine, as in ancient times, people speak the language of the Romans’ ancient foes, the Germans. Across the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean, millions more speak a language derived in part from both German and Latin: English.


  1. Bardi, Piero. The Atlas of the Classical World: Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. Illustrations by Matteo Chesi, et al. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1997, pp. 34-59.
  2. Bombarde, Odile and Claude Moatti. Living in Ancient Rome. Translated by Sarah Matthews, illustrated by Francois Place. Ossining, NY: Young Discovery Library, 1988.
  3. Burrell, Roy. Oxford First Ancient History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, pp. 206-315.
  4. Caselli, Giovanni. The Roman Empire and the Dark Ages. New York: P. Bedrick Press, 1985.
  5. Harris, Jacqueline L. Science in Ancient Rome. New York: F. Watts, 1988. Martell, Hazel Mary. The Kingfisher Book of the Ancient World. New York: Kingfisher, 1995, pp. 76-87.
  6. McKeever, Susan. Ancient Rome. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1995.
  7. Poulton, Michael. Augustus and the Ancient Romans. Illustrations by Christine Molan. Austin, TX: Raintree/Steck-Vaughn, 1993.
  8. Richardson, John. Roman Provincial Administration, 227 B.C. to A.D. 117. Basingstroke, England: Macmillan, 1976.
  9. Steele, Philip. Food & Feasts in Ancient Rome. New York: New Discovery Books, 1994.

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