A Tourist in Rome - A Very Brief History of Rome

Amount of detail: [Very Brief] [Brief]

Aeneas, son of Venus, fled Troy when it was burned by the Greek army in 1200 BC, wandered for a while, and settled in Italy along the Tiber River. Rome was founded in 753 BC, by his descendants Romulus and Remus, according to legend. Romulus became the first king of Rome when he killed his brother Remus. There were five more subsequent kings before 510 BC, when the sixth king, Tarquinius Superbus, also known as Tarquin the Proud, was so hated by the people of Rome that a revolt, led by Lucius Junius Brutus, overthrew him, and formed a government with representatives elected by the people. Rome vowed to never be ruled by a king again.

This Roman Republic lasted from 510 BC to 27 BC, and this period of time is called the Republican Age. In 387 BC, Rome was sacked by the Gauls and the entire city was destroyed, including all historical records, making history much less reliable before that year than after it. The part of the Republican Age from 350 BC to about 100 BC was the period of Rome's greatest expansion, when it grew through conquest from its city walls, to the entire Italian peninsula, to Northern Africa and Spain, to Greece, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt. From then until the fall of the Roman Empire the Mediterranean Sea was called the Internal Sea since all the land surrounding it was part of Rome. During the last 100 years of the Republic, individual leaders gained more power and lost respect for the Republic until a critical mass of power, popularity and loyalty of the military was achieved by Julius Caesar, who named himself "Dictator for Life" and was shortly thereafter assassinated by senators who correctly feared this would destroy the republic. But they didn't think through what would happen after his assassination, and the power vacuum led to Civil War which was eventually won by Julius Caesar's successor, Augustus.

Augustus' reign started in 27 BC and ushered in the age of the emperors, or the Imperial Age, from then until 476 AD. The emperors before about 180 AD were in general, good, and Rome saw its greatest territorial extent during the reign of Trajan, 98-117 AD. The city was a collection of monuments and government buildings of marble. Slave labor was abundant. Times were good for 60 more years. The decline after 180 AD was gradual, as Rome had more and more trouble defending it's too-large borders and less and less trouble accepting selfish leadership. Repairs were attempted, including splitting the empire in 395 AD into an eastern half with Constantinople as it's capitol and a western half led in Rome. Due to the wealth of the east and the lack of borders with the northern barbarians, the east survived. But the west was unable to defend itself, and Rome itself was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 AD and by the Vandals in 455 AD. The last western emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was forced out of power in 476 AD, marking the most popular date cited as the end of the Western Roman Empire. The Goths put the final nail in the city's coffin when they destroyed the aqueducts and cut off the water supply to Rome in 537 AD, ushering its final shrinkage from a peak population of about a million people to 30,000 in 550 AD. The Eastern Roman Empire (also called the Byzantine Empire) lasted until 1453 AD, but who cares anyhow since Rome was no longer involved?

Western Europe was plunged into the Dark Ages for 1000 years by the fall of Rome to the barbarians. When it finally emerged around 1500 AD, Rome was the center of the Catholic Church. The Popes raise Rome up from the ashes by repairing and rebuilding aqueducts, fountains, streets, and piazzas.

Rome was made the capital of the reunified Italy under King Victor Emmanuel II during the late 1800s, and modernized under Mussolini during the 1930s. It survived World War II to become the successful city it is today.

If this Very Brief History of Rome written by a lowly Tourist in Rome was interesting to you, you might just enjoy learning about the History of Rome in all its splendor by listening to the superb 70-hour audio History of Rome Podcast which I enthusiastically recommend most highly.

If you're prefer reading over listening, the UNRV History site's history of the Roman Empire is excellent and very comprehensive.


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