The Romans, emerging after the Greek civilization on the Italian peninsula, would shape culture and customs in the region especially in regard to language, art, architecture, law, governing process, and traditions. The establishment of Rome and Roman culture has two sides. On one side of history are the Greeks, “who as early as the 8th century BCE colonized the southern coastal regions of the Italian peninsula.” (Sayre, 2013, p. 83) On the other side of history, there were the Etruscans, who may have been indigenous to the region or may have migrated from the Near East. Either way the people who lived in these regions would eventually become one of the most powerful people in the known world.
Map 1. The Roman Empire at its greatest extent in cs. 180CE. (Sayre, 2008, p. 76)
For many scholars, Rome represents the continuation of Greek civilization and culture due to the heavy influence of Greek colonization efforts throughout Italy and within the city of Rome in particular (Spielvogel, 2000). Rome emerged and become one of the most expansive empires ever assembled (Levack et al., 2007). The beginnings of what would become Rome were unfavorable. Rome began as a village of mud huts located on the southern bank of the Tiber River. Inhabited by shepherds and farmers but it would, one day, become the center of civilization.
Rome was located midway along the trade route between the Etruscans and Greeks. Through this trade, the indigenous people, called Latins, were exposed to both cultures. Tradition holds that Rome was founded in 753 BCE by the twins Romulus and Remus (although evidence points to a village much older). Romulus, for whom the city is named, was said to have established the class divisions of patrician (land-owning aristocracy) and plebeians (farmers, shepherds, and craftspeople).
Fig. 1. She-wolf, a visual image of the founding myth of Rome. The two brother, Romulus and Remus were nursed by a wolf after being left to die by the river bank. (Sayre, 2013, p. 83)
The overall origins of Roman culture were primarily Greek and Etruscan. The Greeks had colonized areas of southern Italy and Sicily as early as the 8th century BCE. The Etruscans may have been indigenous to the northern regions of what became the center of Roman culture, or they might have come from the Near East, which was at the same time becoming known to other civilizations for its natural resources (minerals). By the 7th century BCE, the Near East was a known exporter of a variety of goods, including wine and unique pottery.
The beginnings of Rome as a republic, documented by historical record, happened in 509 BCE when the Etruscan kings were expulsed and the Temple of Jupiter was dedicated. The Republic undertook military campaigns in the 3rd century BCE. As land was conquered, veterans were given land holdings. This not only assured the veterans of a certain level of status, but it also served the Republic by ensuring the continuation of Roman culture in the area.
Fig. 2 The Roman Forum, lies at the heart of Rome, where the Roman official would meet to govern. (Sayre, 2008)
During this time, leadership was constantly changing in the Roman Republic, and this provided much for the philosophers and writers of the day to discuss; it was often the subject of written and oral presentations.
It is essential to grasp the importance of family to the Romans for it was an ideal that would affect their entire history. The head of the family was the father (pater), and his duty was to protect his wife, children, and patrons (originally plebeians who depended on patricians for support). For this, he received unquestioned obedience in all things (pietas). He was the final decision maker.
Fig. 3 A Roman Man, face creased with wrinkles of age, this man if the very image of the pater. (Sayer, 2013, p. 85)
The early Roman government was a monarchy with the elected king holding absolute power called imperium and seen as a pater. Alongside the king was a council of elders, originally clan leaders called the Senate, which approved or vetoed the appointment of the king, judged legislation, and ratified the king’s decisions. It was a check of monarchial powers serving roughly the same as the U.S. Supreme Court. Finally, there was the Assembly that consisted of all male Roman citizens and granted the king imperium.
During the Roman monarchy, Rome began expanding its territory. In the middle of the 6th century, it was taken over by the Etruscans. The kings were Etruscan, and Romans bitterly resented the situation. The final straw came when a patrician’s wife was raped by a Tarquin (the Etruscan dynasty ruling Rome). Revolt ensued; and in 509 BCE and the Etruscans were thrown out of the area.
Levack, B. P., Muir, E., Maas, M., & Veldman, M. (2007). The West: Encounters & transformations. New York: Longman.
Sayre, H. M. (2010). Discovering the humanities. (1st ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.
——-, H. M. (2013). Discovering the humanities. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.
Spielvogel, J. J. (2000). Western civilization. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.