The Ancient Roman Empire

The Ancient Roman Empire

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The Ancient Roman Empire



Rome had a war god in its lineage and wolf milk in its belly, implying that its citizens had a knack for warfare-which they would prove again and again. Early in Rome's history, the city was conquered by the Etruscans, the most notable civilization in Italy before Rome's rise to power. The Etruscans, who would influence Roman civilization, had migrated to Italy from Asia Minor, probably in the 12th century BC. Their distant past is a mystery, because their language has no relationship to any other group of languages. Their Italian homeland, Etruria, consisted of a loose confederation of city-states. They were noted for their metalworking and their fine pottery. The Etruscans were at the height of their power during the 6th century BC. By 500 BC their civilization was in decline, and at about that time the Romans rose up and claimed power in their city, establishing a republic. A patrician class initially ruled Rome, but over time the Plebs, or common people, gained influence. As late as 390 BC, when Greece and Persia were great powers in the world, Rome was still so weak that it was sacked by the Gauls. However, during the 4th and 3d centuries BC, the Romans became masters of central and southern Italy. Roman armies entered Greece, where they were both conquerors and conquered: they defeated the Greek armies, but they were overawed by Greek culture and brought back to Rome a taste for fine art and literature. Rome's most powerful rival was now the distant city of Carthage, ruler of north Africa and the western Mediterranean. During the Punic Wars, Rome suffered the humiliation of seeing a Carthaginian army on its soil for more than a decade. Neither Rome nor Carthage, led by the great general Hannibal, could prevail. Finally, the Carthaginians were forced to withdraw, and Rome chased them home to Africa. In 202 BC at the Battle of Zama, Rome defeated Carthage. The two nations lived in peace for a few decades, then another Punic War erupted. Rome prevailed again, obliterating Carthage. During the next two centuries the Roman Empire expanded rapidly, gobbling up many of the territories once ruled by Alexander the Great, including Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt. While venturing out to rule the Mediterranean world, Rome also defined its own civilization and polity. Reluctantly, the city extended its prized citizenship widely to other Italian towns and downward to social classes previously disfranchised.

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In 60 BC a triumvirate (three-man executive board) consisting of Gaius Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, and Marcus Licinius Crassus led Rome. In 67 BC the statesman and general Pompey the Great, who had fought the Marian party in Africa, Sicily, and Spain, cleared the Mediterranean of pirates and was then put in charge of the war against Mithridates. Meanwhile his rival Gaius Julius Caesar rose to prominence, and his political ability had full scope during the absence of Pompey. As leader of the popular party Caesar strengthened his hold on the people by avenging the injured names of Marius and Cinna, pleading for clemency to the children of the proscribed, and bringing to justice Sulla's corrupt followers. In Marcus Licinius Crassus, a man of great wealth, Caesar found a tractable auxiliary. Catiline's conspiracy in 63 BC , exposed and defeated by the famous orator and statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero during his consulship, involved Caesar in the ill will in which the middle classes held popular adventurers. Pompey returned from the east and asked the Senate for the ratification of his measures in Asia and the bestowal of land on his legionaries. His demands met with determined opposition, until Caesar, posing as his friend, formed with him and Crassus the coalition known as the first triumvirate. Caesar had come to power as a popular democratic leader. He was also a magnificent general. During the next decade he fought the Gallic Wars, leading a Roman army as far north as Britain. Caesar returned to a nation in turmoil. Ordered to halt his army at the Rubicon River, he crossed in 49 BC and waged war for the control of Italy. Successful there, he pursued his foes into Greece and Egypt. At Alexandria, his presence resulted in one of the great tragedies in the history of scholarship: the burning of the great Library of Alexandria, depository of almost 500,000 manuscripts. But Caesar had his mind on love as well as war. Victorious, he established Cleopatra as queen of Egypt and as his mistress. In 47 BC he won the battle of Zela and sent home the most famous words ever uttered by a triumphant warrior, "Veni, vidi, vici"-"I came, I saw, I conquered." Caesar returned to Rome, where his presence led to both admiration and envy. In the presence of such a man, the old ideal of the Roman republic seemed to fade The triumvirate in 59 BC fulfilled its compact. Caesar obtained the consulship and the satisfaction of Pompey's demands, conciliated the equestrians, many of whom were wealthy members of the mercantile class, at the expense of the Senate, and had enacted an agrarian law enabling him to reward the troops. His crowning success, however, was his obtaining for five years the military command of Cisalpine Gaul, Illyricum, and late of Transalpine Gaul, where he could gain glory by military conquests, and from which he could watch every political move in Italy. The triumvirs renewed their alliance, and Caesar procured his command in Gaul for five years more. Pompey and Crassus were elected consuls for the year 55 BC, and in the following year Pompey received as his province the two Spains, with Africa, while Crassus received Syria. The death of Crassus in 53 BC brought Pompey into direct conflict with Caesar. Rome, in the absence of efficient government, was in turmoil until the Senate induced Pompey to remain in Italy, entrusting his provinces to legates; it elected him sole consul for the year 52 BC and made him its champion against Caesar. The Senate, wishing to terminate Caesar's military command and defeat his second stand for the consulship in 49 BC, demanded either Caesar's disbanding of his legions, and his presence in Rome at the time of the election, or his continued command and his renunciation of claims to the consulship. Negotiations failed to solve the deadlock, and in 49 BC Caesar with his legions boldly crossed the Rubicon River, the southern boundary of his province, and advanced on the city, thereby beginning the civil war that continued for five years. Pompey and the leading members of the aristocracy withdrew to Greece, allowing Caesar to enter Rome in triumph. Caesar's victory, unlike those of the other generals who had marched on Rome, was not followed by a reign of terror; neither proscriptions nor confiscations took place. A policy of economic and administrative reforms was put into effect, in an attempt to overcome corruption and restore prosperity to Rome. Continuing the war against Pompey, Caesar hurried to Spain, where he was victorious over the powerful armies of Pompey's legates. Returning to Rome, having meanwhile been appointed dictator in his absence, he almost immediately renounced that post and was elected consul. Early in 48 BC he crossed into Greece and dealt Pompey a crushing blow at Pharsalus. Pompey was killed soon after in Egypt, but the Pompeian cause struggled on until 45 BC, when it collapsed at Munda in Spain, and Caesar was made dictator for life. Caesar's assassination by Republican nobles on March 15, 44 BC. In 44 BC by a group of senators led by Gaius Cassius Longinus and Decimus Junius Brutus. The empire he had founded, with its autocratic tendencies, would last long after his death. Ceasar's death was followed by Cicero's attempt to restore the old Republican constitution, but Mark Antony, who had been appointed consul with Caesar, now, at the head of 17 legions, combined forces with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Caesar's grandnephew, the youthful Octavian, later Emperor Augustus, to form the second triumvirate. The triumvirs began operations by proscribing and assassinating their opponents, including Cicero. A stand made at Philippi by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius, two of Caesar's assassins, was crushed by Octavian and Antony, and subsequently the triumvirs divided the control of the empire, Octavian taking Italy and the west, Antony the east, and Lepidus Africa. Antony, going to the east, was captivated by the charms of Cleopatra, queen of Egypt and formerly mistress of Caesar, and with her planned an eastern empire. Lepidus, summoned to Sicily by Octavian to assist in the war against Sextus Pompeius, son of Pompey the Great, attempted to seize Sicily for himself and was deprived of his province and his position in the triumvirate. The death of Sextus Pompeius, after the destruction of his fleet in the Mediterranean, left Octavian, who had been sagaciously strengthening his position in the west, with only Antony as rival. After the Battle of Actium in 31 BC and the subsequent suicide of both Antony and Cleopatra, the victorious Octavian became, in 29 BC, master of the east also and the undisputed ruler of the entire Roman Empire. In spite of the series of disastrous civil wars, during the last years of the Republic a remarkable development of literary activity took place. This period, known as the Ciceronian period, extended from about 70 to 43 BC and forms the first part of the so-called Golden Age of Rome's literary development; the remainder of the Golden Age, extending from 43 BC to AD 14, is known as the Augustan period. Caesar and Cicero brought Latin prose to its peak of achievement, and Marcus Terentius Varro was the greatest scholar of the age. The poetry of the period is best represented by the work of Gaius Valerius Catullus and Lucretius.
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