“Can any one be so indifferent or idle as not to care to know by what means, and under what kind of polity, almost the whole inhabited world was conquered and brought under the dominion of the single city of Rome, and that too within a period of not quite fifty-three years?”
– Polybius, The Histories
In the history of mankind few empires have expanded quite as quickly as the Roman Republic of the 3rd and 2nd century BCE. Understanding the rise of Rome is of paramount import in understanding the reasons of its eventual downfall. Understanding Rome on the other hand is the key to understanding modern western civilization. The west could either enter a new golden age, or a total collapse, comparable to the collapse of the Bronze Age in the 11th century BCE.
As legend has it, Rome was founded in 753 BCE by Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of Mars. After killing his brother, Romulus became the first king of Rome. According to ancient mythology Rome had in total seven kings of Sabine, Latin, and Etruscan origin.
The overthrowing of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus in 509 BCE marked the end of the monarchical period, and as a result, the Roman Republic was born. It needs to be noted however, that the date is highly suspect. It is likely, that patriotric Roman historians in later eras changed the timing of the event to slightly pre-date the establishment of the Athenian Democracy in 508 BCE. The Romans valued their democracy greatly, and as such had a hard time believing they were not first in establishing it. As a result they might have altered their history to out-do the Greeks. Unfortunately there are no contemporary sources available to us, as all primary documentation was destroyed in the sack of Rome in the 390’s BCE., so we have to trust the 509 BCE date.
Rome, in the first few hundred years, saw the establishment and refining of its institutions, wars with its neighbours, and the gradual expansion into Italy.
It was in the Pyrrhic Wars against King Pyrrhus of Epirus, which first brought Rome to the international scene. Despite suffering heavy casualties in a number of battles, the Romans refused to negotiate with Pyrrhus as long as his army remained in Italy. Many senators were at first inclined to accept peace terms proposed by Cineas, a trusted adviser to King Pyrrhus, but were swayed by the old, and by then blind Appius Claudius Caecus who gave his famous speech against Cineas and Pyrrhus, advising Pyrrhus to withdraw to Epirus and to make his propositions from there. Appius Claudius had been a censor, twice consul, and twice dictator, and held such authority that the senate unanimously dismissed Cineas, the ambassador and resumed the war.
The Roman steadfast resistance and eventual victory gained the Republic a reputation abroad, and spreading its influence as a result. The Roman attitude is most perfectly illustrated by Quintus Ennius (c. 239 – c. 169 BCE), who is considered to be the father of Roman poetry,
“The victor is not victorious if the vanquished does not consider himself so”
After forcing Pyrrhus to leave Italy, the Romans went on to fight a series of wars against Carthage, Macedon, and the Selecuid Empire. While Rome was at its greatest height in 117 CE, during the reign of Trajanus, and would enjoy a period of relative stability for a hundred years more, its core values had decayed long before.