Origins of Rome

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Origins of Rome

Beginning in the eighth century B.C., Ancient Rome grew from a small town on central Italy’s Tiber River into an empire that encompassed most of Europe, Britain, much of western Asia, northern Africa and the Mediterranean islands. Among the many legacies of Roman dominance are the widespread use of the Romance languages (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian) that came from Latin, the modern Western alphabet and calendar and the emergence of Christianity as a major world religion. After 450 years as a republic Rome became an empire because of Julius Caesar’s rise and fall in the first century B.C. The long and triumphant reign of its first emperor, Augustus, began a golden age of peace and prosperity; by contrast, the empire’s decline and fall by the fifth century A.D. was one of the most dramatic implosions in the history of human civilization.

As legend has it Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus, who were twin sons of Mars, the god of war. Left to drown in a basket on the Tiber by a king of Alba Longa and rescued by a she-wolf, the twins lived to defeat that king and found their own city on the river’s banks in 753 B.C. Romulus became the first king of Rome after killing his brother, which is named for him. A line of Sabine, Latin and earlier Italian civilizations kings followed in a non-hereditary succession.

Rome’s era as a monarchy ended in 509 B.C. with the overthrow of its seventh king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, who ancient historians said was cruel and tyrannical, compared to his benevolent predecessors. A popular uprising was said to have arisen over the rape of a virtuous noblewoman, Lucretia, by the king’s son. Whatever the cause, Rome turned from a monarchy into a republic, a world derived from res publica, or “property of the people.”