Lecture 6: When All Roads Led to Rome
Italy before the Romans: The Etruscans
We've already mentioned Phoenician and Greek colonies in Sicily and Italy, but what about people in Italy before these colonies? We know relatively little about stone-age farming cultures in Italy. In about 1200 BCE, Indo-European "Italic" speakers with bronze weapons invaded Italy from the Adriatic. By about 800 BCE these invaders had settled all along the Italian peninsula and established the cultures known as the Umbrians, the Sabines, the Samnites, and the Latins.
Also around 800 BCE, peoples called the Etruscans invaded Italy. They were neither Semitic nor Indo-European, and elements of their burial tombs and religious practices suggest origins in western Asia. They settled in the region we call Tuscany, but that they called Etruria (hence Etruscans). These invaders clearly came from an urbanized culture, because they quickly began building walled cities.
The Etruscan city-states began as monarchies but came to be ruled by councils of aristocrats who chose annual magistrates (administrators who served one year terms). The Etruscan warrior-aristocrats ruled over conquered Italic peoples, whom they used as laborers. By the 500s BCE the Etruscan city-states had entered into a federation (not a centralized monarchy) and had conquered all of Italy from Naples to the Alps. In the mid-500s BCE, Etruscan warriors conquered the region of Latium, including a small town called Rome. Rome first rose to importance under the rule of Etruscan kings.
The Etruscans traded goods with Carthage and the Greek city states, who valued high quality Etruscan metalworking (which they traded for Greek pottery and textiles). The Greeks had a great impact on Etruscan culture: the Etruscans adopted the Greek alphabet, they were influenced by Greek religion, they borrowed Greek hoplite military tactics, and they were influenced by Greek art.
But the Etruscans were not cultural clones of the Greeks; they had their own distinct traditions, many of which the Greeks considered barbaric. Unlike the Greeks, the Etruscans did not segregate and secluded women. Greek sports simulated aspects of combat (wrestling, javelin throwing, etc.); Etruscans actually engaged in combat as spectator sport (gladiators). Etruscan religious divination practices also differed from the Greeks. And Etruscans had one skill as builders that the Greeks never mastered—they understood how to build arches.
What happened to the Etruscans? In around 400 BCE Celtic invaders from Gaul (now called France) crossed the Alps and seized the northern reaches of Etruscan-held territory in the Po Valley. Not long afterwards, the city of Rome conquered and absorbed the remaining Etruscan lands.
Royal Rome (before the Republic)
Roman myth (based upon Etruscan myth) says that the twin orphan brothers Romulus and Remus, who had been raised by a she-wolf, founded Rome in 753 BCE. The truth is less fanciful.
At some point around 750 BCE one of the Italic invader tribes settled in a rich farming region called Latium. Italic farmers built a small town on seven hills that overlook the Tiber River. This was Rome, which remained a small town until conquered by Etruscans in the 500s BCE.
Rome drew the Etruscans because of its strategically important location: it had access to rich farmland and to the sea (via the Tiber River); it was perfectly located to trade with the Etruscan federation to north and the Greek colonies to the south; and it was a very defensible position. Under Etruscan kings, Rome quickly grew into a mighty regional power.
Rome's Etruscan kings organized an extremely effective army based upon Greek weaponry and tactics. Its officers became Rome's aristocrats and had great political power (as in the Etruscan city-states). Rome's aristocratic Senate "elected" the King as the city's administrator and gave the King the power of imperium—the right to command, arrest, fine, and punish any Roman. The King served as military commander, chief priest, and supreme judge. But in practice, government power was limited and divided.
By legend, Rome's first king (Romulus) appointed and advisory council of aristocrats to serve as his councilors--the first Senate. In Royal Rome, 300 Senators served life terms. The Senate technically had no legislative or executive powers in Royal Rome, but it elected the King and served as his councilors.
Royal Rome had another government assembly—the Curiate. The King used the Curiate to gain public approval of major policies. Any man born of two Roman parents enjoyed Roman citizenship, and all citizens belonged to a set category/group (curia) in the Curiate. Voting took place by curia. (Each curia gathered separately and its members voted. If the majority in Curia X votes Y, then Curia X casts its one vote for Y.)
Royal Roman society had two legally-defined social classes: patricians (the aristocrats) and plebeians (the lower classes). People inherited their status as patricians or plebeians. Only patricians could serve on the Senate, hold office, or serve as priests, and patricians only married other patricians. Plebeians had no such privileges. Status was based upon birth, not wealth. A plebe was a plebe, be he wealthy (non-aristocratic) landowner, a "middling" farmer, or a poor urban or rural laborer.
A practice called clientage linked patricians and plebeians. Powerful "patrons" provided protection and economic assistance (e.g., land grants) to their "clients"; in return, the client worked and fought for the patron and supported him politically. The patron-client relationship, called fides (trust, fidelity), constituted a mutual moral obligation. Hereditary patron-client relationship between families passed on from generation to generation. By the time of the Republic, clientage among patricians had become a path to power and influence.
This brings us to the organization of the Roman family. Under Roman customary law, the father exercised imperium over the family and could punish his children as he saw fit (including selling them into slavery). The husband had limited power over his wife, however; women, while not considered equals to men, had greater legal standing in Rome than in any of the Greek city-states.
Legal recognition of marriage (connubium, necessary to protect the transfer of property within families) was one of the "traditional" rights of Latium peoples that the Etruscan-based monarchy continued to recognize. Other elements of the "Latin Right" included commericum (the enforceability of contracts) and migratio (transfer of citizenship in moving from one town to another).
Popular belief that citizens (and especially patricians!) had unalienable rights probably fueled an aristocratic rebellion against the king in 509 BCE. Legend says the Romans rebelled after King Tarquin's son Sextus raped a virtuous Roman woman named Lucretia. For Romans, this myth symbolized the untrustworthiness of kings.
The Early Republic (500-150 BCE) and Constitutional Rule
Having cast off their king, Roman aristocrats created a constitutional form of government called a Republic (in which the people are sovereign and participate in power through electoral institutions). Under the unwritten constitution of the early Republic, only the patricians exercised political power. The patrician Senate, which now met continuously, played a direct role in policymaking and controlled state finances.
If the Senate was composed of patricians, how did the Republic determine citizenship? The Senate elected from among its members two Censors, who served five-year terms. The censors conducted "censuses" that defined each man's taxation category and social status, and from these they drew up lists of men who were legally citizens. Eventually the censors also drew up lists of senators. If the censor removed you from the lists, you lost your status as a citizen (or as a senator); therefore these were very powerful positions.
The new constitutional order created a new legislative body, the Centuriate Assembly. This assembly elected the government's executives, voted on proposed legislation, declared war, and served as an appeals court. Its members represented the Roman Army, which was organized into units of 100, called "centuries." Again, the patricians dominated: centuries were organized by types of unit (cavalry, archers, etc). Since soldiers had to supply their own weapons and armor, these represented categories of wealth. Most plebeians had no political voice.
Each year the Assembly elected two patricians to the office of Consul. The two Consulors exercised limited imperium: they led the army, were head priests, and served as chief judges. But they could not invoke capital punishment inside Rome's city borders without approval of the Assembly. The Consuls sought Senate support for policies, and after serving as Consul a man became a senator for life.
In cases when Rome was in crisis--generally during wars-- the Consuls had the power to appoint a "dictator," who for a period of six months held imperium both within and outside the city's borders and could punish citizens without restrain by the Assembly. And the early Republic was often at war. As its armies fought longer and more distant wars, its constitution changed: the Assembly created the Proconsulship, extending Consulars' terms when they were leading the army. And it created the office of Preator, generals who served for one-year terms and also had the power of imperium.
In its early stages, the Republic was a tool of the patricians and the patricians alone. But patrician families accounted for less than 5 percent of Rome's population. The plebeians, the other 95 percent, found themselves taxed and forced to serve in the wartime army, but excluded form any political voice. The great injustices of this system led to a series of plebian rebellions in the mid-400s BCE.
Plebeian rebellions (the "Struggle of Orders") forced Rome's government to democratize, although the process was painfully slow. Around 450 BCE the Senate created the institution of the Tribune, two ombudsmen for the plebeians with the power to veto acts passed by the Assembly. In the mid-400s the Assembly issued Rome's first written law code, the "Law of the Twelve Tables." Next, plebeians won the right to serve as low-level judges. In the mid-300s the Senate first chose a plebeian as Consul. Soon, wealthy plebeians began serving as senators. And in 287 BCE Rome created a new legislative assembly made up only of plebeians, the Concilium Plebis, which could make laws that the Senate could not revoke.
Although these reforms gave wealthy plebeians greater power, the gulf between rich and poor in Rome grew in the 400s-200s BCE. Moreover, a relatively few patrician families still dominated the Senate (particularly after laws were passed banning senators from participating in merchant activities).
Economy and Culture in the Early Republican Period
Rome had been founded by farmers, and agriculture remained the core of its economic life under the Republic. Commerce and artisan crafts existed, of course, but they were less important in Rome than in most Greek cities. (Thus, as Coffin points out the Romans did not have a fixed currency system until the mid- 200s BCE.) In the early Republic most agricultural production depended upon small family farms.
This changed as Rome's power military power expanded. In the 200s BCE, more and more Roman farmers served long tours of army duty and without their labor their families fell into debt. This added to the economic power of the "Equestrians," businessmen with strong political connections, who bought up "cheep" land from poor farmers and built huge estates (latifundia).
Patrician/Equestrian landowners found cheap labor for their latifundia in the form of slaves. They took advantage of the growing number of poor farmers who had fallen into debt slavery. But once Rome began conquering lands beyond Italy, they also had access to hundreds of thousands of slaves taken as spoils of war. Rome's economy became entirely dependent upon slave labor.
Commerce also grew along with Rome's territorial expansion. More and more trade came into the capital from conquered territories. Also, expansion required more weapons production, which required more raw materials (more mining and forestry), and more infrastructural development (road building, canal building, ship building, etc.) Equestrians controlled most of these ventures, so that Rome's military growth meant wealth in the hands of the elites. And as Rome's power expanded, its leaders built more monuments and public buildings, project that employed slaves but also thousands of artisans and artists.
Yet Republican Rome's culture still reflected its status as an agricultural society—for instance, fertility cults remained central features of their religious practice (as with other ancient peoples). Many aspects of Roman cultural life were changing, though, as Rome engaged in almost constant warfare.
Fathers still enjoyed household imperium, but the status of wives in patrician households changed somewhat; women now could keep property inherited from their fathers and had the right to initiate divorce. Both measures were really about protecting patrician property, which grew increasingly important as war made Rome "richer." Moreover, patrician women now had slaves to do all household tasks, so their daily life increasingly focused on luxury and pursuit of pleasure.
Fathers still served as priests in household worship. Each family had its own household gods, including ancestors to whom they prayed in hopes that the dead would intervene with the gods in the family's favor. In addition, Romans publicly worshipped a pantheon of gods that included their own versions of Greek gods (Jupiter = Zeus; Venus = Aphrodite; Neptune = Poseidon; Cupid = Eros; Mars = Ares; Saturn = Kronos; Bacchus = Dionysus etc.). Temples of religious cults functioned as branches of the state and in the 200s and 100s BCE the Senate intervened directly in establishing and banning certain religious cults (e.g., it banned the cult of Bacchus and the cult of the Greek mother goddess Cybele).
The family served as Rome's basic educational institution. Fathers taught their sons how to farm; how to read, write, and do basic math (it was expected that a Roman could at least read the Twelve Tables); how to conduct religious rituals; the history of their families; and how to fight as Roman warriors. The goal of this education was to teach a vocation and to instill piety and patriotism.
The emphasis of education changed somewhat in the 200s BCE, as a result of Greek influence. Increasingly, patrician boys were expected to learn humanitas—languages (esp. Greek), literature, and philosophy, with an emphasis on critical thinking—from a grammaticus (a hired teacher). From the 200s BCE the Romans began producing their own literature, although still strongly influenced by the Greeks (as were their arts). Again, this was tied to warfare.
The Early Republic's Wars of Expansion
From the 390s to the 260s BCE, Rome's wars aimed at expanding its dominance over Italy. Rome often practiced a strategy of "divide and conquer," making alliances to fracture resistance then conquering both ally and foe. Rome promised loyal conquered Italians Roman citizenship and put down all resistance with brutal force. The turning point in Roman expansion in Italy came in 295 BCE, when Rome defeated a coalition of Italian states and won control of all Italy between the Po Valley and Naples. By 265 BCE it had control over the Greek colonies in southern Italy.
That same year, Rome entered its first war with Carthage. Carthage, remember, had been a Phoenician colony (Romans called them "Poeni"), that had grown into a wealthy independent city-state. By 300 BCE Carthage ruled much of the western Mediterranean. When the Carthaginian tyrant of Syracuse (Sicily) launched an attack on Messina in 265, it looked as though Carthage had designs on the Italian peninsula.
In 264 BCE the Roman assembly voted to enter the war against Carthage, which began the First Punic War (264-241 BCE). Fighting in Sicily proved a long, costly stalemate. But in 241 BCE, Rome's fleet sank the entire Carthaginian fleet. Carthage then agreed to pay an "indemnity" and gave Rome Sicily and several other islands (Rome's first possessions outside Italy).
Rome now competed with Carthage for dominance over the western Mediterranean. In particular, the Romans felt worried at Carthage's expansion in Spain. In 218 BCE, Rome launched a "pre-emptive" war against Carthage (the Second Punic War, 218-201 BCE). At first this seemed a huge blunder: the Carthaginian general Hannibal made an amazing attack on Italy, marching his army (war elephants and all) from Iberia through Gaul, then over the Alps into the Po Valley. In battle after battle, Hannibal's armies crushed the Romans (for example, Rome lost 80,000 soldiers in the battle of Cannae in 216 BCE).
Hannibal ran low on supplies, however, and could not attack key Roman cities. In 212 BCE the Romans regrouped and went on the offensive, but not against Hannibal. Instead Roman general Scipio attacked in Iberia, then landed in north Africa. In 204 BCE he forced Carthage to sign a peace treaty, although Hannibal's army in Italy had not lost a single battle. In 2002 BCE Hannibal returned to Carthage and convinced the city's leaders to break the peace. But Scipio's Romans defeated Hannibal at Zama, and in 201 BCE Rome took almost all Carthage's lands and forced it to pay a huge indemnity.
Rome now ruled the entire western Mediterranean. While stripping Iberia of its silver and other resources, they treated its conquered peoples as barbarians and committed countless atrocities. The Iberians refused to accept Roman rule and carried on a seventy-year long war of resistance, during which the Romans used terror tactics to "pacify" the local population.
The Romans proved just as brutal in their treatment of Carthage. In 150 BCE, Rome's Senate (whose wealth and power had been increasing with each war) again voted to attack Carthage, beginning the Third Punic War (149-146 BCE). The war ended when Rome burned Carthage, butchered tens of thousands of its civilians, and shipped 55,000 civilians back to Rome to be sold as slaves.
Rome simultaneously fought wars both in the West and in the East. By the late 200s BCE, the Romans considered the Alexandrian successor states (Macedonia and the Seleucids) threats to their further expansion. Macedonian King Philip V had revitalized his army and had allied himself with Carthage in the Second Punic War. In 215-205 BCE, Rome went to war against Philip V (the First Macedonian War), but did not defeat him. In 200 BCE the Romans deliberately provoked another war (the Second Macedonian War, 200-197 BCE), and this time drove the Macedonians out of Greece. Rome then declared war against the Seleucid King Antiochus and defeated him at Magnesia (in western Turkey, which the Romans called "Asia Minor") in 189 BCE.
At first, Rome allowed the Greek cities to remain "independent" Roman "protectorates. But this changed when Rome launched another war against Macedon (the Third Macedonian War) in 172-168 BCE. After defeating the Macedonians again, Rome began demanding huge sums in tribute from the Greek cities and took thousands of Greek prisoners as slaves.
By the year 150 BCE, the Romans ruled six huge foreign "provinces" ("Africa," Sicily, Sardinia-Corsia, Greece-Macedonia, Hither Spain, and Further Spain); it treated these as a source of income. Rome ruthlessly exploited the raw materials of conquered lands (under the oversight of the Equestrians, whom each war helped enrich). It was no less ruthless in treatment of conquered peoples, who became a seemingly endless source of cheap (slave) labor.
Rome's slaves frequently rose in rebellion, especially in the late Republican period. Among the most important slave revolts were those in Sicily in the 130s BCE (in which a slave army repeatedly defeated a Roman military army), and the "Spartacus" rebellion of the 70s BCE (in which a slave army also defeated several Roman armies). Rather than soften its treatment of slaves, Rome responded to such rebellions with even greater brutality. Most famously, after defeating Spartacus the Romans crucified 6,000 rebellious slaves.
The Late Republican Period (150-27 BCE)
Roman's census divided its roughly 8 million inhabitants into four legal categories: "senatorial" aristocrats; equestrians, common citizens, and slaves. Although tensions existed between the equestrians and the senatorial aristocrats, they generally worked together to control political and economic power in Rome. These elites lived off of the labor of their slaves, whom they treated as beasts of burden. (Indeed, dependence on cheap slave labor hampered innovation in the Roman economy). Slaves and commoners made up the vast majority of the population. Most commoners still toiled as farmers, but concentration of land in the hands of the wealthy elite continued. Rome's urban population included hundreds of thousands of poor families, most of whom had lost their land or been broken by the strains of warfare.
In 133 BCE a faction in Roman political life led by the Gracchus brothers (Tiberius and Gaius) proposed offering land grants to the poor and limiting the size of patrician estates. Tiberius Gracchus, who held the post of Tribune, hoped to help poor farmers while strengthening his faction's political position with the Concilium Plebis. (The land grants would also increase the number of men eligible for military service.) Faced with opposition from the Senate and the other Tribune (M. Octavius), Tiberius proposed changes to Rome's constitution that would weaken the Senate. In reaction, patrician senators murdered Tiberius and many of his inner circle.
A few years later, though, the Senate implemented elements of Tiberius' economic proposals as well as laws limiting grain prices proposed by Gaius Gracchus. While the Senate saw some wisdom in satisfying the basic material needs of poor Romans, it rejected Gaius' efforts to reform government administration (which would have weakened patrician power). Again, there was an aristocratic backlash; this time Senators not only killed Gaius, but also executed thousands of his followers.
The fall of the Gracchi ushered in a period in military generals dominated Roman politics. General Marius rose to power as a result of two wars (one against Numidia, near Carthage; the other against northern "barbarian tribes). The Assembly elected him Consul in 111 BCE, and he held the post until 100 BCE. In power, Marius made "reforms" in the army that bound soldiers (clients) in loyalty to their "commander in chief" (patron) rather than to the Roman constitution. Powerful generals now could use the army to bully the Senate. In 88 BCE, during yet another war (in Asia Minor), the Assembly elected General Sula as Consul. Having won the war, Sulla returned to Rome and launched a civil war against his political rivals in 83 BCE. In 82 BCE the Senate appointed Sulla "Dictator." He then killed his political opponents, turned their wealth over to the army, strengthened the authority of the patrician Senate, and weakened Rome's democratic institutions. The Republic was virtually dead.
After Sulla's retirement in 79 BCE, two army generals again battled for control of Roman politics, Pompey and Julius Caesar. Both were famous for their foreign victories and both commanded large armies loyal to them alone. The Senate gave Pompey control of the army during yet another war in Spain in 77 BCE. His authority grew when he returned to Rome and crushed the Spartacus slave rebellion in 71 BCE. Pompey joined into a political alliance with Senator Crassus to become a major force behind the scenes in Roman government, while the Senate increased the scope of his military power in war after war.
In the meantime, Julius Caesar had risen to great authority as commander of Rome's armies in Gaul. In 60 BCE, Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus entered into an alliance, the First Triumvirate. Together, these three practically controlled the Roman government. But tensions soon emerged: Crassus died in 53 BCE. In 52 BCE the Senate called on Pompey to put down rioting in Rome and gave him extraordinary powers as sole Council. At the Senate's urging, Pompey quickly moved against his rival Caesar, triggering a civil war.
Caesar then marched on Rome, in 49 BCE. Pompey and his forces fled Rome, and Caesar went in hot pursuit. In 48 BCE Caesar's army defeated Pompey in Greece. Like Alexander the Great, Caesar did not stop after vanquishing his rival; instead, he followed the remnants of Pompey's forces into Asia Minor and then into Egypt. The civil war lasted until 45 BCE, with Caesar constantly in the field (and away from Rome).
In 45 BCE he returned to Rome a "great conqueror." In his absence, Caesar had arranged "reforms" that packed the Senate with his own supporters. In 46 BCE the Senate named Caesar's "Dictator" for a ten-year term , with full power of imperium. But on returning to Rome, Caesar demanded more, and was appointed "dictator for life." (He was also Consul, Tribune, Chief Priest, and Prefect of Morals.)
Under Julius Caesar, Rome consolidated its conquests in Europe—this was perhaps his greatest achievement. Not only did it provide Rome with the great resources of Gaul (in particular, grain), but Julius Caesar also used Europe to solve the problem of staffing Rome's armies. He permitted men from Iberia and Gaul to gain Roman citizenship, and thus to serve in Rome's armies. In doing so, he also helped spread Roman (and through it, Greek) culture north into Europe.
In 44 BCE a faction in the Senate decided that the dictator had amassed too much power. With the help of Caesar's own friends Brutus and Cassius (both republicans), they assassinated Julius Caesar at a Senate session on 15 March in 44 BCE.
The Early Empire (27 BCE-180 CE)
Julius Caesar's political power was so great that he was able to "will" the position of Consul to his adopted son, Octavian. In 42 BCE Octavian (an army general) formed a Second Triumvirate with two generals, Mark Antony and Lepidus, who returned to Rome and crushed the Senate's republican faction (led by Brutus and Cassius).
For a decade Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus ruled together by dividing up Rome's territories (Antony ruled Egypt and the East, Lapidus ruled Africa, and Octavian ruled Italy and the West). But tensions and rivalries arose, particularly between Octavian and Antony. A new civil war erupted in 32 BCE; it ended with Octavian's victory over Antony at Actium in 31 BCE (Antony and his lover, Egypt's Cleopatra, later famously committee suicide).
From 31 BCE to 27 BCE, Octavian Caesar ruled as Consul; in 27 BCE he maneuvered the Senate into naming him "Emperor" and "Augustus" ("victorious general" and "most honored"), but his legal power rested on his status as "Princips" ("first citizen"). In 23 BCE, Augustus Caesar (his new title) resigned as Consul; the Senate, however, gave him continuing power of imperium for life and named him Tribune for life. That meant that Augustus controlled the army, the Assembly and the Senate; could veto any legislation; could impose judgment and punishment on any Roman; and was immune from arrest or punishment. Rome still had the façade of republican institutions, but in practice Augustus Caesar ruled as a king.
In power, Augustus implemented administrative reforms that made the Roman state much more efficient. These included re-organization of the Senate, recruitment of talented (wealthy) commoners for government service, division of Rome into rational administrative districts, organization of Rome's first police force and fire department, and construction of aqueducts to create an abundant public water supply.
Augustus also reorganized administration of Rome's huge empire, which proved vital to its success and further growth. He permitted participation of local elites in the administration of the provinces and appointed new, more competent governors to serve for longer terms. He reorganized tax collection to reduce corruption and bring in greater tax revenues, and he encouraged Roman colonization of the provinces.
Augustus also professionalized Rome's armies to a far greater extent than had any previous leaders. Soldiers now enlisted for 20 years, and in return received decent pay and the promise of land upon retirement. He kept some 300,000 soldiers stationed in the provinces, which not only helped maintain Roman rule, but also helped spread Roman culture. The system of rule built by Augustus lasted long after his death (in 13 CE), and worked smoothly for about 200 years (until the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 CE).
Under Augustus, Rome conquered most of Central Europe. His dynastic successors extended the empire into Eastern Europe and Mesopotamia. Rome imposed a system of "peace" (Pax Romana) over its huge empire through military dominance. But Rome also offered benefits to conquered lands. Its colonists and soldiers brought their culture and institutions to the new provinces, Rome built new cities, new monuments, new temples, new roads, new baths, new aqueducts and new ports. And perhaps most significantly, Roman rule meant Roman Law.
Even the most authoritarian of Rome's rulers recognized the importance of law, and Rome prided itself on the Rule of Law—the idea that men were to live according to clear legal principles. Roman legal experts (jurists) developed a very clearly articulated body of legal theory. They recognized three divisions of the law: civil law (written and customary law as it applied to citizens); the "law of peoples" (which applied to everyone everywhere, and focused mostly on property rights); and natural law (eternal principles of "nature" by which the gods ordered the universe and according to which all men must act). Roman natural law concepts (such as the idea that all men are men are born with rights, in fundamental equality, and that the government can not deprive men of these fundamental rights) provided an abstract philosophical basis for law.
Despite its efforts to assimilate conquered peoples, Rome often had to enforce its "peace" through military force. The German tribes and the Celtic tribes of the British Isles repeatedly rose against the rebellions, and the Roman army drowned all resistance in bloodshed. In 70 BCE the Romans crushed a rebellion in Judea, burned the Second Temple, killed perhaps 500,000 people, and banned Jews from Jerusalem. Rome's relations with its provinces was complex: Rome seemed to offer many opportunities to those who assimilated into its culture; at the same time, Romans borrowed aspects of the cultures they had absorbed, such as religious cults—including the mother goddess cults from Asia minor, Mithraism, and after about 40 CE a new sect in Judaism known as the Christians.
Life in the Early Roman Empire
Expansion of the empire meant that Rome now traded with the entire "known world" (even China), especially trade in luxury goods. Again, Rome had its own artisans and manufacturing, but these were not high priorities in Roman culture (which saw agriculture and war as the source of wealth). As a result, Rome had a "negative trade balance"—it imported goods and exported little else but gold and silver (to purchase these goods). As a long-term trend, this meant trouble. Moreover, as I have said before, this was a slave-based economy (which stunted domestic economic innovation); if the supply of slaves fell, then the economy would decline as well.
Still, the early Imperial period witnessed a great flowering of Roman intellectual and artistic life, although much of it still rested on Greek foundations. Roman Stoicism, for instance, took its basic principles from Greek Stoicism (see previous lecture). Like the Greeks, they stressed that one should seek inner peace by recognizing the natural order of the universe; ethical behavior, they argued, was in keeping with this natural order.
Roman versions of Greek Stoicism and Epicureanism had great influence on the "Golden Age" of Roman literature (for instance, in Horace's Odes). Greek influence is most obvious in the works of the poet Ovid--not only in his retelling of myths, but also in the often caustic, often erotic poems in the Metamorphoses. The major Golden Age historian Livy was influenced by Herodotus and Thucydides, although he was far less concerned with accuracy and documentation then had been the Greeks. Livy's aim was to present engaging patriotic propaganda, much as had Augustus favorite poet, Virgil (in the Aeneid).
By the end of the first century CE, Roman literature (now in its "Silver Age") took on a new tone—it now frequently exposed the seedier, decadent sides of Roman life, which authors held up for moral criticism. This is particularly true in the work of Juvenal, for instance (see the "box: in Coffin, p. 208) and the historian Tacitus (see the selection in Brody in which he praises the "savage" Germans as morally purer than Romans).
It was in architecture and engineering that the Roman's distinguished themselves most clearly from the Greeks: they had followed classical Greek models of naturalism in their painting and sculpture, but they far surpassed the Greeks in building domes, arches, roads and bridges aqueducts and urban water supply systems, etc. Roman architecture also had its propagandistic purposes—the point of the grandeur of the Parthenon, the hugeness of the Coliseum, was to impress upon Romans with the greatness of their Emperors and their empire.
Mention of the Coliseum brings us to one of the most famous aspects of Roman civilization, one that has made a deep impression in American popular culture: gladiatorial combat.
While the Greeks enjoyed sports that simulated combat, the Etruscans and Romans actually wanted to watch combat. The Roman "circus" (so called because it was held in round coliseums) featured huge displays of gladiatorial combat—the scenes in the movie Gladiator with Russell Crowe actually present a very accurate depiction of such combats. The Coliseum in Rome fit more than 50,000 spectators and would be filled to capacity for the "circus." All of Roman society, from the poorest to the wealthiest (including the Emperors) would attend the gladiatorial combats. Their entertainment came from watching men—usually slaves or convicts—torn apart by animals or forced to butcher one another.
The growing decadence of Roman society, the growing strains that super-expansion placed on its military, and a fatally flawed economic system all foreshadowed crisis. We will begin the next lecture by discussing that crisis, which came after the death of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in 180 BCE.