A Minute History Of Rome
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Rome is one of the oldest cities in the world, estimated by historians to have been founded at around 600 BCE! Old Italian legends say that it was founded by two brothers, Romulus and Remus, who were abandoned on the land that became Rome and were raised by wolves. It’s believed that early Rome was ruled by Kings for five generations, and was in fact founded due to its proximity to fresh water and fertile soil.
The ruling class of Rome was quickly overthrown, and a Republic was formed; a lotto-like selection of government officials who would oversee Rome for the following five hundred years. Emperors and a Senate ruled the city and fueled a huge expansion, until the Roman Empire stretched across most of the South-West of Europe, North Africa and some of the Middle East. This allowed the creation of a massive trade network around the empire, and facilitated unprecedented levels of development and quality of life.
As often is the case in history, there was a downside to this society; it relied on the slave trade to sustain its economy and enforced conscription (the creation of centurion armies) in times of border crises. There were regular clashes at the Germanic border and later the border with the Ottoman Empire. Some of the advancements in medicine and lifestyle made in this time took centuries to begin to revive, such as plumbing, glass and surgery. Some of the Roman aqueducts not only still stand, but function. You can visit Porta Maggiore, the Arch of Drusus or Nero’s Aqueduct when in Rome.
It was during this time that famous emperors such as Augustus and Caesar (later written about by Shakespeare) ruled. They were expected to take advice from their Senate, however; when Caesar became too dictatorial, his own advisors stabbed him to death.
During this time, the Romans were worshiping Roman Gods, who were akin to the Greek Gods; deities who watched over particular aspects of society, with Jupiter as the head of the Gods. The Pantheon is a tribute to these Gods. A key cultural shift occurred when Emperor Constantine converted the empire to Christianity, after claiming the Christian God came to him in a dream before an important battle that he then won. This led to a shift in architecture and culture that is still of course very visible and prevalent in the city today. He also built Constantinople (which is now known as Istanbul) to be the new capital of the empire.
The Roman Empire fell when the last Emperor in the West abdicated in 476AD. For a century Rome declined, passing between warring parties, and a lot of older buildings show damage from this time. The Senate vanished around 600AD and the population shrank from a million (at its peak) to just a measly 30,000!
The result of this population shrink was the rise of the medieval papacy and the growth of Western Christianity. This was the beginning of what was known as the dark ages. Much of the Roman territory was overthrown and the rise of the Ottoman Empire began.
One positive of this period was the Renaissance: Italy on the whole became a hub for arts and cultural development, with Rome being a center for cutting edge art and music. The rise of the Catholic church discouraged and stunted scientific and medical advancement (Galileo was arrested for his theories on the planets in the 17th century), but fostered immense works of fine art and architecture dedicated to the glory of God and the church. The wealth of the church allowed for the growth of a unique industry dedicated to the arts, as they could glorify God.
The power of the pope grew hugely within Italy and across Western Europe and so did the wealth and property of the church (known as the Papal States of Rome). There was a decline and absence of the papacy from 1305 until 1420, during which Rome declined again, but was rebuilt.
Henry VIII broke with the Catholic church in the early 1500s, which was another blow to the papacy. This cycle continued a few more times – it’s boggling to look at the difference between the modernity, politics and comfort of the peak of the Roman Empire and the massive decline that followed.
There was a six-year period (1808-1814) where the pope was actually imprisoned by the armies of Napoleon! He was welcomed back quickly, only to be revolted against in 1848. By 1871, all the French troops had left and the reunification of Italy began, with Rome being declared the capital. The population rose rapidly from 200,000 in 1871 to 660,000 in 1921 (but still below peak empire numbers!).
Unification of the Italian states into modern day Italy with Rome as its capital occurred from 1814 until 1861, with a Prime Minister at its head. The country continued to deal with internal war and violence during this period, as it had done for most of its history.
In 1922 Benito Mussolini marched on Rome and took control of the nation, eventually establishing a fascist state (though significant pockets of resistance persisted). He granted the Vatican independent status in 1929, and finally during the Second World War his regime collapsed. Rome was relatively safe from the conflict and continues to be Italy’s capital. It is also the house of the Chamber of Deputies, where the Italian Parliament sits, which cements it as a political and economic hub. Today, the city has an elected mayor and has a huge focus on culture and preserving its rich and varied history.
What do you find most interesting in this incredibly layered city?