Roman history is a wide area of research. There are countless articles and books published on the subject, and there are oftentimes very little agreement to be found amongst the scholars of Roman history. Edward Gibbons, the author of a notorious six volume set called, “the decline and fall of the roman empire,” views Rome entirely different than historians in Rome itself.
So, Roman history can be a daunting area to study, not only because of the vast differences in opinion between the experts, but also because there is a vast amount of research to read. Which is why I strongly recommend this book: History of Rome 4th Edition.
The book covers the empire from the beginning to the end, and likewise covers some of the research methods used to support claims made by different Roman historians, both old and modern alike. And on top of bringing to a central location all the important information, generally speaking, on Roman history, the book does an excellent job in presenting said information.
If you are interested in Roman history, then this book might be a good read for you. Here are some of the things I learned from the book.
The Origins of Rome
Italy Before Rome
Italy was the origin of Rome, at least at first. It is not that Rome originated in Italy, but that those who were considered Roman peoples had firstly invaded or migrated to Italy. Those groups were: Ligurians, Celts, Etruscans, Raetians, Veneti, Apuli, Carthaginians, Italics, and Greeks. Evidence of settlements and cultures belonging to each of these groups can be found throughout Italy.
Despite the seemingly large variety of people inside Italy at the time, they were all very similar to one another, with rare exceptions for some groups. For example, there were largely similar agricultural practices, all the languages were of an indo-european variety, and the groups even traded between one another regularly, which facilitated the exchange of peoples but also conflict.
And although there were many similarities between cultures, one culture stood out more than others: namely, the Etruscan culture. The Etruscan villages and settlements surrounded by walls, a practice later adopted by Romans. The Etruscans had 12 independent rulers for their 12 city-states, and when an emergency arose, one ruler was deemed dictator and was allowed to rule all 12 city-states, a practice later adopted by Rome as well. Many cultural practices of the Etruscans can be found in the Roman empire.
While the Etruscans spread their influence and power across the north, the Greeks and Phoenicians began to spread their influence in Italy from the East.
Merchants from Tyre and Sidon have been known to have an influence on Rome, Italy, Africa, and etc. Artifacts from Tyre were found in Etruria, and the manufacturing which took place in many parts of Italy were a copy of Tyre products, or Tyre products themselves. And even the founding of the first statue of Hercules was linked to Tyre merchants.
More so than the Phoenicians, the Greeks dominated significant portions of Italy. There is evidence of native populations integrating into Greek culture in works of art and religious practice. And there is evidence of Greek settlements going as far as Cumae, Tarentum, and Sybaris.
So, Italy was occupied by Etruscans, Greeks, and Phoneicians, among others. And these groups either contributed to or were part of the founding of Rome.
The Formation of Rome
In legend, the founding of the city of Rome came from the descendant of Lulus Ascaniıus. Lulus Ascanius founded Alba Longa, which was a head of a confederation of villages known as the Latin league in Latium. His descendant then founded the city of Rome in 753/754 BCE.
In archeology, however, we have a similar yet different story. Archaeology does support the legend in some ways. For example, the foundations of huts were found in 1907 in the palatine where Romans had preserved the memory of Romulus’ house. In addition to that, there have been findings of urns and pots which date back to Roman time, and are of ”Romulean” variety
So, this evidence, among other things, leads us to conclude that Rome likely became a city of sorts around 753/754 BCE.
Rome as a town and organized state, however, is linked to the Etruscan settlements in southern Italy. From there, Rome began to become militarized, urbanized, and develop an administrative framework.
Rome and Byzantium
Boundaries and Frontiers
Rome had boundaries in Britain. Caesar had twice crossed the English channel and Octavian planned expeditions against the Britons. As far as the evidence shows, Ireland was left untouched by Rome.
The Romans fought and traded with the people of Germani for a significant portion of Roman history. Caesar and Agrippa both crossed the Rhine with armies and there is evidence of Roman traders crossing the Rhine and going inside Germani from a very early time. Later on, Rome went west into the Celtic regions and into the east of Germani.
Rome also extended into the Alpines, where the people usually lived off farming and breeding livestock. The routes in the Alpines were often travelled by Roman traders, and the people of the Alpines seemed to avoid foreign wars and politics.
The Danube basin served, in part, as an area for Germani tribes to form leagues and subsequently launch raids into Roman provinces like Macedonia. The boundaries of Rome also extended to the east where Parthians and Arabs lived, and to the south where Nubia and the Sahara were.
In total the borders of Rome reached the Atlantic ocean, Britain, Armenia, Babylon, Egypt and Tripolitania.
Eastern and Western Empires
Western Rome and Eastern Rome, eastern Rome being Byzantium, are often considered to be distinct empires. When there were single rulers over Rome, many were from Western Rome. But when Eastern leaders came to rule over Rome, it was often different. For example, one Eastern ruler had brought with him an Eastern God, and seemed to have placed all other Gods beneath his. And support for Easterners was derived from the east, not the west. Rome under eastern rule was more orientalized as well.
Moreover, when Western Rome began to fall, or at least be conquered by Germans, Eastern Rome remained strong and stood for another 1,000 years. This is due to a few factors. Byzantium was beginning to become economically independent, they had a strong source for soldiers, and their borders were far more secure due to massive walls. In addition to that, political stability was not a problem in Eastern Rome like it was in Western Rome.
For these reasons, Rome can be viewed as being composed of two, an eastern and western empire.
What I have presented here are a few things I have learned from the book, and there is TONS more to learn. For example, some authors have argued that the end of Rome really took place in 1918, as Kiser and Tsar are both abdications of Caesar. The book is filled with many details and maintains a very nice timeline in different domains of the Roman empire, such as conquests, leaders, and economic developments. The History of Rome 4th edition is a good starting point for Roman history!