Substantive Education

Ancient History Rome….class notes

These are the notes from class, most of this is a summary of what is in The History of the Ancient World, by Susan Wise Bauer. All the quotes by Livy are also from that book.

According to Legend (and the legends vary)

In 776 B.C. King Numitor ruled two cities. He and his brother Amulius were refugees from the city of Troy. Amulius seized the throne from his brother forcing him into exile. He murdered his nephews and forced his niece, Rhei Silvia, to be a vestal virgin. (Again with the legends, evidence points to the fact that the Vestal Virgins didn’t even exist at this point. )

Rhea became pregnant, as a vestal virgin this carried the death penalty. According to the historian Livy she claimed she was raped by the god, Mars. (Others rumored that the child was fathered by her uncle…yuck.) Plutarch (Greek biographer) said that the boys were of unusual size and beauty. This and their lineage worried the usurper.

Amulius ordered the boys to be exposed, or drowned in the river. A she-wolf found the boys and nursed them in her cave. They grew strong and one day a herdsman found them and since he and his wife were childless he brought them home to raise. Plutarch says that Numitar heard about them while he was exiled and sent money for their education.

Once the boys were grown they did away with their evil uncle and restored Numitor to the throne. Deciding that they needed a town of their own they set out to find a good spot. They found the seven Palatine Hills. Once again sibling rivalry reared it’s head and they fought over who should be the ruler of their city. They decided to let the gods decide. Each of the brothers went to wait on a hill. .

Remus saw 6 vultures appear and claimed the gods had chosen him. Then Romulus saw 12 vultures appear and he claimed that he was the victor. Remus claim was based on the fact that he was first, Romulus claim was based on the number of vultures that appeared. The brothers tempers flared, a battle followed and Remus was killed.

In a separate version Livy records that Remus mocked his brother for building a wall around his city, but the wall was so small that Remus was able to jump over it. Whichever story you believe, Romulus won and named the city, Rome, after himself.

Rome was founded on the Palatine Hill in 753BC. In 30BC Livy stated that the events of the birth of Rome have come to us in old tales with more of the charm of poetry than of a sound historical record.

The story appears to be a combination of Greek legends. Both Sargon and Moses were left in baskets on the river. There is historical evidence that the story of sibling rivalry may have some historical basis. Rome was begun on two hills, each with a different Latin tribe.

Romulus didn’t have have enough people to populate the city so he invited fugitives and wanderers to come and live there. This created a new problem…these wanderers were mostly men. There were not enough women for the city to survive. Neighboring cities would not marry their daughters off to the men because they feared the growing power of the Latins.

Romulus comes up with a solution. He invites the Sabine tribe to come to Rome for a feast to honor Neptune. In the middle of the feast the Romans kidnap all of the Sabine women. As you might predict, this starts a war. At one point in the war the Sabines were able to force the Romans out of the city and they were forced to attack their own city.

The Sabine champion named, Mettius Curtius, taunted the Romans saying, ‘Show them that catching girls is a different matter from fighting against men.” At these words Romulus went straight at him and the Sabine champion galloped off in a panic. A massacre seemed likely.

At this point the two armies were lined up to fight and the Sabine women ran between the lines of men pleading for them to put down their arms. They had evidently decided they liked their Roman husbands and didn’t want husbands fighting their brothers and fathers. So the war ended and a united government was formed.

Originally Romulus and Tatius (the Sabine King) ruled jointly. However, Tatius was murdered a few years later and it is said that Romulus ‘is said to have felt less distress at his death than was strictly proper.’ The beginning of Rome echoes the beginning of Egypt with it’s Upper and Lower kingdoms. There were two people groups who in essence were enemies trying to come together in one country.

Romans weren’t the only ones on the penninsula. There were many Greek settlers who had come to form colonies. When a Greek father died his lands were divided equally among his sons. This went on with each generation, soon there wasn’t enough left for a family to live on, so they looked beyond the borders of Greece, many moving onto the Italian peninsula.

According to legend one of the groups that came were that of the Trojan hero Aeneas carrying his father on his back away from the shattered city of Troy. He made his way as an exile through Thrace and then sailing to Sicily, and from there to the Italian coast. he settled there and took a wife, sired sons, and became a king in his own right.

This melding of people groups produced the Etruscans. They were strong builders and wealthy merchants who did not intend to stand by and watch the Latin people expand without a challenge.

Romulus had many challenges during his reign, not the least of which was the senate. While Romulus was king he didn’t have absolute authority, he had to answer to a senate. Romulus was much more popular with the common people than he was with the senate. This rivalry produced enough hostility that at Romulus’s death it was thought that the senate had torn him limb from limb. Here is Livy’s account of his death.

“a storm burst, with violent thunder. A cloud enveloped him, so thick that it hid him from the eyes of everyone present; and from that moment he was never seen again upon the earth. The senators, who had been standing at the king’s side…now declared that he had been carried up on high by a whirlwind…Every man hailed him as a god and son of a god and prayed to him….However, even on this great occasion there were, I believe, a few dissenters who secretly maintained that the king had been torn to pieces by the senators. ”

After Romulus death, or ascension, the senate seized control to rule by committee. The Sabines objected and wanted a Sabine King.

The committee agreed provided they were able to choose who it would be. They chose Numa Pompilius. He was a wise man, famous for his justice. Livy says, “Rome had originally been founded by force of arms, the new king now prepared to give the community a second beginning, this time on the solid basis of law and religious observance. ”

Numa Pompilius may just be a legend but either way he serves as a transitional figure as Rome advanced into an age ruled by reason and law. Part of Numa’s legend is that the gates to the Temple of Janus, the God of War, were shut for the first time. This symbolized that Rome was at peace with all of her outside neighbors. Numa is also credited with founding the Vestal Virgins. Numa’s peace was short lived. The next two kings went to war with neighboring tribes to expand Romes borders.

Things within Rome weren’t that great either. The tribes within the borders didn’t think of themselves as Romans so there were conflicting interests. Loyalties were divided and politics were messy.

A man named Lucumo whose father was a Greek and mother was Etruscan decided he would move to Rome. His reasoning was that there would be more opportunities in Rome where courage and skill were more important than genealogy. He quickly became the right hand man to the king and the guardian of the princes. When the king died, he sent the princes out of the city on a trip, campaigned for votes and was elected king. He is known as Tarquin the Elder and he reigned for 40 years.

His son-in-law succeeded him to the throne. Supposedly, he was revealed as a future king, when, as a child he was sleeping and his head burst into flame. He woke up and the fire went out. From that time on the child was treated like a prince. He grew to be a man of truly royal nature and Tarquin betrothed his daughter to him and made him his heir.

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Tarquin was an Etruscan. as was his father-in-law. In reality the Etruscan’s were in control of Rome. They also controlled the mines of copper, iron, and silver. Because of the trade in metals they came into contact with Greece and began to use their alphabet.

Livy credits Tarquin with the planning of the Circus Maximus…a great stadium that lay between the two hills, with laying the foundation of the temple of Jupiter….and with digging the sewer system.

Little is left of the Circus Maximus in Rome. Marble seats and palatial boxes used to stream up the sides of the valley. At one time crowds of over a quarter million Romans would gather to witness the largest sporting events in Western Civilization, but now nearly all that remains is a lonely dirt track on a grassy field. The Roman Circus Maximus overlooked a variety of sporting events and religions processions – but the most famous of these were the wildly popular chariot races.

The Romans originally did not set up their cities with any planning, the Etruscan’s changed that. The Etruscan’s brought in their city plans. Mud and stick houses were torn down and replaced with stone. They created a city gathering place that would become the Roman Forum.

Rome had two classes of people. The rich were called Patricians, and the poor working classes were called plebeians. Different clothing styles and colors gave clues to where a Roman fell in the social chain.

By 539 BC Rome was growing in size and power, however, the larger Rome grew the more internal problems expanded. The different races living within Rome were so hostile that they refused to intermarry or co-operate with one another. They seem to have tried to work out a compromise between a monarchy, like Persia, and a democracy, like Athens. They had a king, and a senate. From the earliest days it appears the Romans had a voice in the cities affairs.

One Roman historian, Varro, divided the population of Rome up into 3 tribes, the Latials, Etruscans, and Sabines. Livy, on the other hand, credits Servius Tullius with dividing the population up into 6 classes based on wealth. Rome was the country of the self-made man. Every man, rich or poor, was expected to come to the defense of Rome when needed. When Servius Tullius’s reign ended it seems the Roman people were done with wanting a monarch.

The catalyst for the change was that the new king, Tullius’s nephew was evil and his wickedness was exposed. He was known as Tarquin the younger and while he was a married man he began an affair with his brother’s wife Tullia. The two of them concocted a plan and killed off their spouses so that they could marry each other. When speaking of the two of them Livy said, “There is a magnetic power in evil, like draws toward like.”

Livy continues to explain that once they were married Tullia’s ambitions grew and she pushed her husband harder and harder. “From that day on, Servius, now an old man, lived in ever increasing danger. He soon learned that one crime must lead to another…she gave her husband no rest by day or night. I didn’t want a man who would be content just to be my husband, I wanted a man who was worthy of a crown?”

This pricked Tarquin into action. He broke into the throne room while Servius was out and declared himself king. When Servius heard he ran to the throne room to confront the usurper but Tarquin the Younger threw him into the streets and his assassins finished him off. “With Servius,” writes Livy, “true kingship came to an end; never again was a Roman king to rule in accordance with humanity and justice.”

The new king soon had a new nickname…Tarquin the Proud. He had a body guard and had loyal supporters of the former king killed. He accused many innocent people of crimes so that he could confiscate their money. Again Livy says,

“The people had not elected him, the Senate had not sanctioned his accession. Without hope of his subjects’ affection, he could rule only by fear…He punished by death, exile, or confiscation of property men whom he happened to suspect or dislike; he boke the established tradition of consulting the Senate on all matters of public business, he made and unmade treaties and alliances with whom he pleased without any reference whatever either to the commons or to the senate.”

The final straw came when the kings son raped a married noblewoman named Lucretia. Lucretia committed suicide. Her husband rallied support around his wifes dead body to take vengeance over the rape…this grew to indignation toward the entire tyrannical family.

Tarquin was outside the city when this happened and by the time he hurried back with his army he found the gates shut against him and learned that he had been exiled. His army joined the insurrection and he and his son had to flee for their lives.

With the tyrants gone a new era begins. Lucretia’s husband and one of his friends are elected ‘consul’. They basically have the power of a king, except they can each veto one another, and their reign only lasted for one year. Rome the Republic had begun.

Livy is enthralled with Rome the Republic and writes, “My task from now on will be to trace the history of a free nation, governed by annually elected officers of state and subject not to the caprice of individual men, but to the overriding authority of law.”

With the throwing off of Tarquin the Proud the Romans were also throwing off the last of the Etruscan kings. Tarquin appealed to the Etruscan’s to come with him to try to retake Rome. A fierce battle ensued and Livy remarks that the Romans won because they lost one fewer man. The Etruscans were not done however and under the leadership of Lars Porsena planned a second attack. The Romans were panicked and retreated into the city walls.

The walls around Rome were only on three sides. The fourth side was the Tiber river, considered uncrossable. However, the Romans had built a wooden bridge across the river and this is where Lars Porsena started his attack. He was able to take part of the bridge without trouble and the Roman army turned and ran….except for on man.

Horatius took up his position determined to defend the bridge by himself if necessary until a demolition team could destroy it. According to Roman legend he held off the Etruscans long enough for the Roman demolition forces to arrive. Ignoring their shouts to retreat he continued to fight until all of the supports were cut. Again, according to Livy, “The Etruscan advance was suddenly checked by the crash of the falling bridge and the simultaneous shout of triumph from the Roman soldiers, who had done their work in time.” Horatius plunged into the water in full armor and swam to safety. “It was a noble piece of work, legendary, maybe, but destined to be celebrated in story through the years to come.”

Although the Etruscan’s couldn’t cross the bridge the war continued eventually ending in a truce. Rome also signed a treaty with Carthage about the same time which recognized the coast south of the Tiber as Roman, not Etruscan.

So the Etruscans were losing power in the south, and in the north the Celts were invading. During Roman times the Celts lived in many places in Western Europe. Gaul, depending on when it was used could be just referring to France, or to areas extending north into Switzerland, Germany, even Britain and Ireland. At this time the king of the Celts sent his two sons to search out new areas to expand. The Gauls had experienced a population explosion and needed more land. After crossing the Alps they defeated the Etruscans and founded the city of Mediolanium, or modern day Milan.

Livy goes on to describe 4 successive invasions from Gaul into Italy. Each time the marauding tribes drove the Etruscan’s farther south and then the Gauls built more cities. They were greatly feared as warriors and their name, Celts, means ‘to strike’.

Due to the growing tension the invading Celts were causing the Roman Republic, only 8 years old, decided to appoint a dictator. Historians believe this move on the part of the Romans was fear of unrest all around them and the need for a strong military presence. Roman dictators were only in power for 6 months at a time. Although his powers were limited he could impose the death penalty without consulting the people. Of this first dictator Livy writes.

“The appointment of a dictator for the first time in Rome, and the solemn sight of his progress through the streets preceded by the ceremonial azes, had the effect of scaring the commons into a more docile frame of mind….From a dictator there was no appeal, and no help anywhere but in implicit obedience.”

Implicit obedience would be Romes first defense. This was the first time the rights of the Roman Republic were suspended for expediency, but it wouldn’t be the last.


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