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Mythical Period of Kings to beginning of Punic Wars (? 753-264 b.c.).


Ancient history, from the beginning of historical information to the downfall of the Western Roman Empire (? B.C. - 476 A.D.). Rome (? 753 b.c. - a.d. 476).
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The supreme importance of Roman history to modern readers lies in the fact that it is, in a large degree, the history of the world, if we regard history not as a mere chronicle of events, an "old almanack," but as the science of causes and effects. Rome alone founded an universal empire in which all earlier history is absorbed and out of which all later history grew. That empire included nearly all the civilised old world, and the breaking-up of that vast dominion gave rise to the chief states of the modern world. The language of ancient Rome is the basis of the living speech of most of southern and of all south-western Europe, and of France, and it is largely incorporated in the literary dialect of our own country. For ages the classical Latin, little changed, was the ecclesiastical language of half Christendom, and it was also, until quite modern days, the common language of science, diplomacy, and learning. The law of Rome is still quoted in our courts of law, and taught in our universities, and the whole jurisprudence of great European countries has there its source and groundwork. A city became an empire; a municipal republic ruled an ever-increasing subject territory. When the republican government ended in the sway of the Caesars, the Roman citizen and the provincial were alike their subjects, and then the rights of the Roman citizen were extended to the subjects of the whole dominion. The difference is thus very strongly marked between the history of Greece and that of Rome, since in the latter we have unity from beginning to end - the rise, greatness, degeneracy, and fall of a single state. In contrast with the endless variety of the Greek struggles between many small states, we have in the history of Rome a steady solemn march of power paving the way for the spread of a heaven-sent religious faith arising in Palestine, and with its oracles or sacred books using the tongue of Greece, but reaching us only through the agency of Rome. In the Roman history we witness almost unbroken progress from the rise of a single small city to the dominion of the world. The growth was slow, but the materials were solid, and the fabric was durable. A main cause of the prosperity of ancient Rome lay in the mingling of Latins, people possessed of a genius for organisation, with Sabines, men of rigid virtue and self-devotion. The uncertainty of the details of early Roman history arises from the fact that, above 360 years later than the date (753 b.c.) assigned for the foundation of the city of Rome, nearly all the public records were destroyed after the Gallic capture of the town. The oldest annals were compiled more than a century and a half after the destruction of the records. The outline-history of the great Roman republic and empire which we shall here present will be, as in the case of ancient Greece, entirely devoid of legendary matter, and will consist of statements based upon satisfactory evidence.

A brief geographical and ethnographical survey of ancient Italy will clear the way for what is to come. About the middle of the 8th century b.c., which we must accept as the date for the foundation of Rome, we must regard the whole peninsula as divided into three parts - Upper Italy, Central Italy, Lower Italy. Upper Italy, the great plain between the Alps and the Apennines, could not then be considered Italian at all. The larger portion was occupied by the Celtic race [called Gauls, and had the name of Gallia Cisalpina, or "Gaul on this side [to a Roman, of course, to the south] of the Alps," in distinction from Gallia Transalpina, or "Gaul beyond [north-west of] the Alps." South-west of this Cisalpine Gaul lay Liguria, extending to the sea at and on both sides of the Gulf of Genoa, by its modern name. The Ligurians seem to have been distinct in race both from the Kelts and the Iberians, an ancient people of Spain, identified by some with the mysterious modern Basques of northern Spain. North-east of Cisalpine Gaul was Venetia, of whose people we can only state that they were not Keltic. Central Italy consisted of the territories marked on the map as Etruria, Latium, Campania, on the west; Umbria, Picenum, Samnium, on the east. The Etruscans were the most important people in the peninsula at that time. Their name survives in the modern "Tuscany." These people are yet a mystery in their origin. Their language is entirely lost, and we can only say that at the time of the foundation of Rome they were a powerful people in a loose confederacy of 12 independent cities under kings called Lucumos, ecclesiastical as well as civil rulers, with a small close body of aristocrats holding the mass of the nation in serfdom or vassalage. They were highly civilised, as is proved by their proficiency in statuary, metal-work, ship-building, and architecture. They paid the greatest attention to religion, and furnished the Romans with various political and religious institutions, including the arts of divination. The other parts of central Italy were inhabited by Italian peoples, of Aryan race, and therefore akin in origin to the Greeks. The most important of these people were the Latins, having a league of 30 independent cities in historical times, and living in the plain south of the Tiber; and the Samnites, the bravest and most warlike of the simple, virtuous, and devout Sabine tribes, dwelling north-east and east of Latium, and destined to form an important element in the Roman population. We may note that Campania, on its western coast, had Greek colonies in the cities of Cumse and Neapolis (Naples). Lower Italy, consisting of Apulia, Calabria, Lucania, and Bruttii (wrongly given as "Bruttium"), contained so many important Greek colonies that it became known as Magna Graecia, or "Greater Greece." Among these cities were the powerful Tarentum, luxurious and wealthy, with a great trade, and considerable naval and military forces; the commercial Croton or Crotona; Thurii; and Sybaris, proverbial still for the self-indulgence of the wealthy inhabitants.

About the year 753 b.c. the Latins founded a colony on the left (south) bank of the Tiber, the chief river in that part of Italy, as a guard for their territory against their powerful neighbours the Etruscans. The new town was about 15 miles from the mouth of the river, and consisted at first of a few houses upon a little hill near it. A wall was erected, and in this position of comparative safety against sudden attacks from the north the little Rome acquired some importance in trade. Within a century and a half of its foundation the city had seven hills within the extended wall, nearly five miles in circuit, and acquired in history its name of "the City of the Seven Hills." The place had soon acquired the lead among the Latin towns and become the head of the "Latin League." The chief part of the population lived by the tillage of the land around the city, and the rest depended on the petty trade in the imports and exports of Latium. The chief element of the people was Latin, as the language shows. Sabines, in some way of which we know nothing, became incorporated with the original Latins; and the third element, as regards both amount and order of time, consisted of Etruscans. It is wholly uncertain whether it was by partial success in war with Rome or by other means that Etruscans were admitted to the citizenship. The story of the "Seven Kings" may be dismissed at once as regards details. The -historical truth as regards the early government is that it was patriarchal, combined with the rule of elected monarchs. The heads of families (patres, or fathers) formed the Senate or body of old men, presided over by the king. New immigrant inhabitants, having no place in the old families, were styled the plebes, plebs, or crowd; and thus the little state was composed of an aristocracy, or patricians, as the governing body, and of the mass of population, or plebeians, having at first no share in the control of affairs. Towards the end of the regal period, it seems probable that the kings were of Etruscan race, and that the state grew rapidly in importance and power. At this time a division of the people was made according to property (census) for military and taxing purposes. Under this system the cavalry (equites) contained both patricians and plebeians of the first rank as regarded wealth in land, and the infantry (pedites) consisted of both patricians and plebeians of less wealth. The military and political division was now in centuries, or hundreds, of men, and the Comitia Centuriata, or meetings of the centuries, a mixed patrician and plebeian assembly, became for a long period the chief ruling body, electing the higher state-officials, repealing and enacting laws, and deciding cases of appeal from judicial sentences. We must carefully note that Roman citizens (the governing body) did not necessarily live inside the city-walls, and that the plebeians were not by any means wholly composed of poor people, but included many wealthy and respected families.

About 500 b.c. monarchy came to an end under circumstances (stated in the legends to be the gross tyranny of a king of Etruscan race named Tarquin) which made the very word "king" henceforth hateful to all Roman citizens. A republic arose, with two yearly officers, at first called Praetors, or leaders, and afterwards Consuls, a word which may mean either colleagues or administrators. For special emergencies an official styled Dictator might be appointed for six months, with absolute civil and military power. The Consuls became at last the chief executive officers, convoking the Senate, presiding over its deliberations, and enforcing all decrees of that body and of the powerful popular assembly to be hereafter described. These august officials were attended abroad, in monthly turns, by 12 men called lectors, carrying fasces, a bundle of rods betokening supreme power, extending in theory to corporal punishment, and outside the city, in the field of war, enclosing an axe as a sign of the martial law then exercised by the consul as having the imperium, or sovereignty. The consuls had the command of the armies, and, when the state had extended its territory beyond the borders of Italy, they could be appointed, at the close of their year of office, to chief provincial governorships as proconsuls. The Senate, composed at first of 300, and in later times of 600 members, now had plebeians from the equites, or wealthy class, admitted to its ranks. For the sake of clearness, we may here state what this body became in formation and functions when the Roman constitution was fully developed. The vacancies occurring by death or expulsion in this great assembly of life-peers, as they really were, were filled up by the two Censors, officials of very high rank and powers, who were chosen every five years, generally from ex-consuls (consulares). The name was derived from making the census, or register of property for every citizen. They had a general and arbitrary control over private and public morals. They could expel members from the Senate, knights (equites) from their order, and any ordinary citizen from his tribe, with loss of the franchise. They also had charge, under the Senate, of the finances, making arrangements with the publicani, or tax-farmers, for the gathering of the revenue, and expending money on great public works. In order to be elected to the Senate, a citizen must have held at least one of the five highest offices of the state - the consulship, censorship, praetorship, aedileship, and quaestorship. The first two of these have been already described. The praetors, gradually increased in number from one to eight, acted as judges in Rome during their year of office, presiding over the standing courts for the trial of various offences, and, in the year succeeding that of office, they went, as proprietors, to govern such of the more quiet provinces as might fall to each of them by lot. The aediles had the charge of all matters of police, including the public buildings, great public festivals, and drainage. The quaestors were the state-paymasters, expending revenue on the civil and military services, the original two being increased in number with the growth of territory, as each provincial governor had a quaestor on his staff of officials. When republican government was fully developed, the holders of all the five chief offices were chosen by the people in one or other of the two assemblies, the Comitia Centuriata and the Comitia Tributa; hence it is clear that none could be senators who had not enjoyed public confidence and had some practical experience in affairs. The powers of this famous body of men, whose name became a generic term for like august assemblies, were very great. Its decrees, the senatus-consulta, had power in matters connected with religion, foreign policy, provincial rule, and home-administration. By the senators provincial governors were appointed, and the operations of war, with the choice and dismissal of generals, were controlled. Negotiations in foreign affairs were carried on by their envoys. With the Senate lay the power of suspending the constitution at critical times by the investment of a consul with the Dictatorship already mentioned. The Comitia Tributa, or popular assembly, originally based upon a division of the city-people into local wards or tribes, included at last the citizens as arranged in 35 tribes, being the whole body of landowning inhabitants, both patricians and plebeians. Each tribe had one vote, decided by the majority of voters in it. This was the body which gave a democratic side to the great Roman oligarchical republic.

For about two centuries (500-300 b.c.) the domestic history of Rome consists of a succession of struggles, both social and political, between the patrician and plebeian orders. The fitness of Romans to create a powerful state is shown during this period by the wise spirit of moderation generally displayed by both parties in the contest for the retention of old and the acquirement of new power. There was rarely any violence ending in bloodshed, and there was no civil war. Both orders were united against foreign foes in time of need, and a high sense of duty to the state, as superior to all individual or party claims, was developed. Obedience, perseverance, and self-control were learned as patricians held out against plebeian demands until they were obliged by moral pressure to give way, and as plebeians strove to show themselves worthy of the rights which they claimed. The first trouble of the republican times arose from the impoverishment of plebeians through ravaging of their lands in war with the Etruscans. They were greatly in debt to patricians, and liable, on this ground, to imprisonment and slavery. This state of things was remedied through a peaceful revolt, or refusal of the plebeians to do military service for the state. The famous tribunate was created. These tribunes of the commons, who became at last ten in number, were the champions and protectors of the plebeians against the privileged class, the patricians, who held nearly all the ager publicus, or public land, both pastoral and tilled, acquired by conquest, and who virtually paid no taxes in the shape of rent. The persons of the tribunes were inviolable, and they could interfere to protect any plebeian from the injustice of an official. They could at last prevent any administrative or judicial action by their jus intercessionis, or right of intervention, and they exercised judicial functions, and convened the Comitia Tributa. The tribunes were elected only by the popular assembly, and, being soon admitted to the Senate, they could there, by a veto, deprive any resolution of the body (senatus-consultum) of its legislative force. About the middle of the 5th century b.c. a temporary suspension of the constitution took place, and Decemviri, or Ten Commissioners, were appointed to draw up the famous code known as the Laws of the Twelve Tables, engraved on copper and set up in the Forum, or public place, that all citizens might have a safeguard against oppression in knowing what laws were those by which judicial functions were guided and controlled. This step in advance subjected the patrician administration to public judgment. For the dates and details of successive steps in the development of the republican constitution, readers of this sketch are referred to any of the ordinary histories.

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Pictures for Mythical Period of Kings to beginning of Punic Wars (? 753-264 b.c.).

Map. Ancient Italy.
Map. Ancient Italy. >>>>

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