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While the Roman Empire has been extinct for more then fifteen centuries, the vestiges of its empire in the form of religion, and the memories of its glorious past would continue to affect and inspire many great nations and the word "Rome" today is still very much a byword for culture and style in the present day.

Early StrugglesEdit

"Let them learn to be soldiers. Let them know, and teach their children."

— Livy

The Italian peninsula was inhabited by warlike nomadic herdsmen during the Bronze age around 1500BCE, who displaced the previous Stone Age peoples to form what would be the numerous Italic tribes such as the Sabines, Umbrians, and Latins. Between 900 BC and 700 BC, Greek and Etruscan settlers also began to establish colonies along the Italian penninsula, who brought the seeds of civilisation into the area, with the Greeks primarily in the south and Etruscans mostly in the north. The Etruscans were believed to have originated from Asia Minor (later Roman tradition held that the Latins were descended from the Trojans), and used an alphabet based on the Greek alphabet.

From its founding in 753 BC along the Tiber river as a small village by a band of rustic Latins, they were on a 1,000-year road towards greatness due to Rome's proximity to a port and its fertile agricultural lands. Rome according to legend was founded by a feral child called Romulus who along with his brother Remus was raised by a she-wolf. He had killed his brother to become Rome's first King, This colourful tale, while not based on much fact, points to the aggressiveness and ambition that would characterise the Roman Empire.

As the Etruscans developed into a series of city-states they came to dominate the various Italic tribes, greatly influencing the Latins. In the beginning, Rome was ruled by a monarchy for the first two centuries of its existence, but they would eventually tire of being ruled by their Etruscan overlords and in 509BCE drove them out of Rome, forming a republic.

The RepublicEdit

Within the next 500 years, the Roman Republic managed to unify the entire Italian Peninsula under its reign. They would also go on to conquer much of the ancient Mediterranean superpowers. This period of Roman history saw great changes in the social and political order. The concept of Roman citizenship was established and ordinary people were able to achieve political power. However, this period was also wrought with conflicts. It began against other Latins and Greek colonists, with the unification of the Italian penninsula under Roman rule. They also had to defend themselves from Gallic invaders and the Carthaginian Empire. However, the Romans inevitably prevailed against all comers. From the Carthaginians, Rome's greatest enemy, they exacted the annihilation of this once powerful seafaring nation. From the Greeks, they would gain culture and science, indeed fluency in Greek was a sign of proper and upper class upbringing in Roman society. From the Egyptians, they gained the vast agricultural resources of the Nile, and naturally the lands of all these conquered peoples, indeed the people themselves as slaves for the Empire. The Romans would elect a dictator as they were called by the Romans, in times of need to defend Rome.

Sons of Mars and JupiterEdit

Now fix your sight, and stand intent, to see
Your Roman race, and Julian progeny.
Virgil, Aeneid (Cap 7)

Contrary to popular belief, the Romans' most famous military unit — the legion — was not a wholesale innovation, but was instead the results of the percolation of various experiences in war — especially the ones where the Romans did not fare so well.

The first Romans fought as Greek-style hoplites in phalanx formation, using equipment more or less similar to that used by the Greeks and those peoples who fell under the sway of Hellenic culture, like their Etruscan overlords. Armies, however, were also recruited on a somewhat feudal basis, with only those with property obliged to take up arms. However, the increasing intensity of conflict and the weaknesses of the phalanx soon began to take its toll, and by the 1st century BCE the Romans were obliged to look for a new means of organising their fighting men, which the legion proved to be.

The legion was the basic unit of Imperial Rome's standing army, and fought in groups called maniples that formed a front that looked like a checker board. Each maniple was capable of rearranging themselves to form a variety of formations, like the tortoise, wedge or refuse (v-shaped) to deal with different situations. This organisation allowed the Romans to reinforce tiring troops with the offset maniples, yet presentating a continuous front to the enemy. It also had the advantage of being able to maneuver much more coherently and flexibly on the battlefield.

A legion roughly consisted of 6,000 men who were constantly being trained in the arts of war for a period of twenty years, each equipped with a short sword called the gladius, a dagger, two pilums (a special form of a javelin) that could be used to hurl at the enemy or ward off cavalry. For defence, the legionaries wore a metal helmet and carried a large retangular shield that was slighly curved to surround the soldiers body. Behind this he wore either a kind of banded plate armour called the lorica segmentata, a chainmail jacket, or a jacket made of metal scales. The smallest sub-division of men consisted of 8 men accompanied by a pack horse, called a tent-group. Ten tent-groups formed a century, which each commanded by a non-commission officer called a Centurion. Six of centuries are grouped in three pairs to form a cohort. Ten cohorts would form a legion. Above these were officers of various rank, with a general command one or more legions for a specific campaign. The legionaires fought primarily as infantry. However, a complete legion would also be accompanied by cavalry, seige weapons, logistical and supply personel, and irregular auxilliary troops such as archers and slingers.

However, Rome also had another weapon in its arsenal, and that was the idea of Rome itself, almost everyone wanted to be Roman for what it represented and what they could gain from it. Unlike the kingdoms of Europe which attempted to indoctrinate the peoples they encountered into their religions, or earlier civilisations which simply slew them, the Romans preferred instead to assimilate people by providing them with citizenship. This process of legal and cultural assimilation was also aided by the Marian Reforms, named after the general Gaius Marius, which advocated the need for a professional army independent of property ownership and for the settling of soldiers on conquered lands as part of their pay. As Rome grew to cover most of the Mediterranean, more enterprising barbarians soon discovered that it was more lucrative to collaborate with the Romans than to perpetually oppose them. There was much cultural syncretism and religious tolerance in the republican era (after all, the Romans did borrow different equipment styles from different cultures — the Legion combined the discipline of the sternest hoplite with Celto-Iberian arms) although by the Imperial Era there were attempts to "Romanise" citizens into following the same cultures and (eventually) religious beliefs, as will be mentioned later below.

Return to Monarchical RuleEdit

This city is on sale and doomed to quick destruction if the right price is paid.
Jugurtha, Numidian king

The Marian Reforms were a highly rousing success, because it meant that Rome could always have a professional military corps on hand to deal with any military contingencies, instead of having to wait out a lengthy period of mobilisation. However, the granting of land as retirement benefits to soldiers soon resulted in a shift of loyalty in soldiers away from the Roman state and to individual generals instead, resulting in the mutation of the democratic republic into a crypt-feudalistic military state. This would soon lead to the rise of the Roman Imperium or Empire, as civil wars reduced the power of the Roman senate, and led to the rise of a new type of ruler — the Imperator or emperor.

The first Emperor of Rome would be Gaius Octavius in 27 BC. He would usher in the period of Imperial Rome and for this deed would receive the epithet of "Augustus" or "august one". Despite having been founded on democratic principles, Rome prior to Augustus had been ravaged by civil war, and was ready to accept peace at any cost.

Augustus' rule, while dictatorial, did indeed lend a semblance of stability and Rome even continued to prosper under his sway. However, with Augustus the old republic that had been founded almost five centuries ago had dwindled to little more than a legal fiction used to legitimise the rule of a military hereditary monarchy disguised as a democracy — indeed, Augustus did not choose the ancient title of rex or "king", but instead styled himself as princeps, "prince" and imperator. However, although Rome had made great strides in conquest and influence at the advent of his career, it was not until the rule of Flavius Vespasian (69 AD–79 AD), inaugurating the Flavian dynasty, that Rome would begin reaching the peak of all power, which was achieved under the Antonine Emperors. However, by this time there were troubles ahead.

With military power and not popular representation forming the deciding factor in choosing political leaders, it soon meant that civil wars would become more rife, especially after the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Political chaos and a heavily slave-dependent economy eventually sapped the vitality and resilience of the Empire, even as it was buckling under the incursions of German tribes who had began to become restless again and looked to the Roman Empire for plunder and territory. Different emperors tried different solutions: Diocletian attempted to create a tetrarchy, where the empire would be ruled co-jointly by four emperors with each responsible for a different part of the Empire, but this only made things worse. Much later, the prevalence of Christianity within the Empire encouraged Constantine to subsequently issued the Edict of Milan, declaring Christianity as the official religion of the empire in an effort to maintain the unity of the Empire, but it was to no avail. In 476 AD Odovacar, the leader of a Germanic tribe called the Ostrogoths, marched into Rome and crowned himself the King of Rome, marking the formal end to Roman dominance in Western Europe. The Eastern part of the Empire which was still intact would continue to hang on for another 1,000 years after the fall of Rome until it was overcome by Muslim invaders in the 15th century.

ReferencesEdit

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