The Roman Republic

The Latins lived in Italy, squashed between the Etruscans, a mysterious people, probably Greeks of some sort driven to settle in Italy by the chaos of the bronze dark age, and Greek colonies in the south. Their principal city was Rome, a small settlement on the Tiber river in central Italy. The Greeks started colonizing the south of Italy and Sicily around 750-700 B.C. Caught between these two civilizations, the Latins rapidly changed from simple farmers to hard-bitten warriors. Conquered by the Etruscans, the Latins gained a hatred for monarchy and looked to Greek democracy as a model of political freedom. The Latins adopted Greek religion, worshipping Greek Gods (with Latinized names), and admiring Greek Culture. When the Etruscan Empire fell apart, the Romans were quick to fill the political vacuum. The Romans, like the Greeks, saw military service and citizenship as inseparable. Unlike the Greeks, the Romans did not deliberately temper the bloodshed in their battles. The Greeks fought in phalanxes, dense rows of infantry armed with long spears. Greek battles were basically huge rugby scrums, filled with pushing and shoving but rarely involving more than twenty percent casualties. The Romans main weapon was the far less subtle and far more effective Gladius, or short sword. The Romans fought battles of butchery and annihilation, and though they lacked the will or ability to engage in tactical finesse their infantry was the best on Earth until the third century A.D. In 510 B.C. the Romans gained their independence from the Etruscans, and by 398 B.C. they captured the Etruscan city of Veii, the first time foreign troops had set foot in any of the original twelve cities of the Etruscan league. Rome continued to conquer all before her in the years to come. In the three Samnite Wars (343-290 B.C.), the Romans defeated a series of alliances of Italian city states and Po Valley Gauls led by the Samnites, the most powerful of the Italic tribes save for the Latins. Rome's next challenge came from Pyrrhus, the militaristic leader of Epirus, who had practically all of Sicily and nearly all of southern Italy by 280 B.C. Pyrrhus aided the Greek colonists of Italy against Rome and the Carthaginians, the greatest sea power in the western Mediterranean. In vicious war with battles fought in Sicily, Italy, and Greece, Pyrrhus conquered all before him. In 272 B.C. he died, and his empire fell apart immediately thereafter. The Romans consolidated their gains and by 270 B.C. they dominated an alliance of Italian City States that held all but the Po Valley. This pattern of powers standing in the way of Rome and then being broken by her persistence and indomitable infantry would continue until Rome conquered the entire Mediterranean world. In the three Punic Wars, Rome fought the Carthaginians, their allies against Pryyhus, in an incredibly bloody war of attrition. In the First Punic War (264 - 241 B.C.), Rome, which had virtually no fleet, slowly built one up and defeated the mighty Carthaginian navy in a series of battles. Having defeated the Carthaginians and with the Hellenistic Kingdoms having long since drained their own power fighting each other, Rome was now master of the Mediterranean. In the Second Punic War (219-202 B.C.), the brilliant Carthaginian General Hannibal marched into Italy and defeated the Romans in a series of battles culminating in the massive bloodbath at Cannae. But Hannibal, who could win all the battles, could not win the war. The Romans fought a war of strategic attrition and finally defeated the Carthaginians at Zama (202 B.C.), outside Carthage itself. Finally the in the Third Punic War (149 - 146 B.C.) the Romans obliterated Carthage. By that time Rome had begun to spread its power beyond the western Mediterranean and gradually conquered Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. As Rome expanded, however, the weapon that made her so powerful began to turn against her. The small holding farmers who made up the legions were kept on campaign for years, and in their absence their holdings were foreclosed and bought up by aristocratic landowners and worked on by slaves. Attempts at reform were stymied by conservatives, and finally the forces of reform led by the aging military genius Marius were defeated by Sulla and his conservative allies. After victory, Sulla would go on to implement the very reforms he had opposed in war. The Legions became professional, their soldiers serving for pay rather than as part of their duty to the state. However, this created its own problems, as these professional soldiers owed more allegiance to their commanders than the Senate. A series of able commanders used their troops to muscle their way into politics, until finally Julius Caesar did away with the Republic all together. His successor, a distant nephew named Octavian (later known as Augustus), institutionalized the Empire, and with it Rome brought two hundred years of peace and prosperity to Europe. Special thanks to Professor Kathryn E. Meyer for some helpful corrections. Mithridates no longer spins in his grave. Urn. Whatever he resides in. To use this page, click on underlined text to access information on various maps of the Roman Republic.

Questions, comments, and corrections are welcome! Direct comments and such toTony Belmonte