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Rome Short Answer Questions

Italy is a peninsula extending about 750 miles from north to south and averaging about 120 miles across. The Apennines form a ridge down the middle of Italy that divides the west from the east. The peninsula has some fairly fertile plains for farming including the Po River valley in the north, which was the most fertile area. Geography had a significant impact on Roman history. Although the Apennines bisected Italy, they were less rugged than the mountains of Greece and didn’t divide the peninsula into many small isolated communities. Italy possessed considerably more productive agricultural land than Greece, enabling it to support a large population. Rome’s location was also favorable from a geographical point of view, located 18 miles inland on Tiber River, had access to the sea, and yet was far enough inland to be safe from pirates. Built on the famous seven hills, it was easily defended. Since the Tiber could be readily forded, Rome became a natural crossing point for north-south traffic in western Italy. Rome had a good central location in Italy from which to expand. The Italian peninsula juts into the Mediterranean, making it an important crossroads between western and eastern portions of the region. After the Romans had conquered their Mediterranean empire, governing it was made considerably easier by Italy’s central location. Furthermore, as a result of Rome’s location, centralized trading developed along with towns and cities as well as manufacturing.

The early Romans, basically a pastoral people, spoke Latin, which, like

Greek, belongs to the Indo-European family of languages. The Roman historical tradition also asserted that early Rome (to 509 B.C.E.) had been under the control of seven kings and that two of the last three had been Etruscans, people who lived north of Rome in Etruria. Rome fell under the influence of the Etruscans for about a hundred years during this period and by the beginning of the 6th century B.C.E., under Etruscan influence, Rome began to emerge as a city. The Etruscans were responsible for an outstanding building program—they constructed the first roadbed of the chief street through Rome, the Sacred Way, before 575 B.C.E. and oversaw the development of temples, markets, shops, streets, and houses. By 509 B.C.E., the traditionally accepted date when the monarchy was overthrown and a republican form of government established, a new Rome had emerged, essentially a result of the fusion of Etruscan and native Roman elements. The Greeks had much influence on Rome. They cultivated olives and grapes, passed on their alphabet, and provided artistic and cultural models through their sculpture, architecture, and literature.


2. At the beginning of the Republic, Rome was surrounded by enemies, including the Latin communities on the plain of Latium. According to Livy, Rome was engaged in almost continuous warfare with these enemies for the next hundred years. Many of his stories were legendary in character, teaching Romans the moral values and virtues that had made Rome great. These included tenacity, duty, courage, and especially discipline. By 340 B.C.E., Rome had crushed the Latin states in Latium. During the next 50 years, the Romans waged a fierce struggle with the Samnites, a hill people from the central Apennines, some of whom had settled in Campania, south of Rome. Rome was again victorious and the conquest of the Samnites gave Rome considerable control over a large part of Italy and also brought it into direct contact with the Greek communities. Soon after the conquest of the Samnites, the Romans were involved in hostilities with colonized Greek cities and by 267 B.C.E. had completed the conquest of southern Italy. After crushing the remaining Etruscan states to the north in 264 B.C.E., Rome had conquered all of Italy except the extreme north.

To rule Italy, the Roman devised the Roman confederation. Under this

system, Rome allowed some people to have full Roman citizenship while others were made allies. Only required to provide soldiers and left to their own affairs, statuses could be improved and the Romans had found a way to give conquered peoples a stake in Rome’s success. In the course of their expansion, the Romans had pursued consistent policies that help explain their success. The Romans were superb diplomats who excelled at making the correct diplomatic decisions. While firm and even cruel when necessary- rebellions were crushed without mercy- they were also shrewd in extending their citizenship and allowing autonomy in domestic affairs. In addition, the Romans were not only good soldiers but also persistent ones. The loss of an army or a fleet didn’t cause them to quit but spurred them on to build new armies and new fleets. Finally, the Romans had a practical sense of strategy. As they conquered, they settled Romans and Latins in new communities outside Latium. By 264 B.C.E., the Romans had established fortified colonies at strategic locations throughout Italy. By building roads to these settlements and connecting them, the Romans created an impressive military and communications network that enabled them to rule effectively and efficiently. By insisting on military service from its allies in the Roman confederation, Rome essentially mobilized the entire military manpower of Italy for its wars.


3. The Roman senate came to hold an especially important position in the Roman Republic. The senate or council of elders was a select group of about three hundred men who served for life. The senate could only advise the magistrates, but this advice of the senate was not taken lightly and by the 3rd century B.C.E. had virtually the force of law. The Roman Republic had a number of popular assemblies. By far the most important was the centuriate assembly. Organized by classes based on wealth, it was structured in such a way that the wealthiest citizens always had a majority. The centuriate assembly elected the chief magistrates and passed laws. Another assembly, the council of the plebs, came into being in 471 B.C.E. The Roman State was an aristocratic republic controlled by a relatively small group of privileged people.

The most noticeable element in the social organization of early Rome was

the division between two groups- the patricians and the plebeians. The patrician class in Rome consisted of families descended from the original senators appointed during the period of the kings. They were great landowners who constituted an aristocratic governing class. Only they could be consuls, other magistrates, and senators. Through their patronage of large numbers of dependent clients, they controlled the centuriate assembly and many other facets of Roman life. The plebeians constituted the considerably larger group of non-patrician large landowners, less wealthy landholders, artisans, merchants, and small farmers. Although they, too, were citizens, they did not have the same rights as the patricians. Both patricians and plebeians could vote, but only the patricians could be elected to governmental offices. Both had the right to make legal contracts and marriages, but intermarriage between patricians and plebeians was forbidden. At the beginning of the 5th century B.C.E., the plebeians began a struggle to seek both political and social equality with the patricians. Eventually, plebeians could hold the highest offices of state, they could intermarry with the patricians, and they could pass laws binding on the entire Roman community.


4. Rome’s empire was built in three stages: the conquest of Italy, the conflict with Carthage and expansion into the western Mediterranean, and the involvement with and eventual domination of the Hellenistic kingdoms in the eastern Mediterranean. The Romans did not possess a master plan for the creation of an empire. Much of their expansion was opportunistic and once involved in a situation that threatened their security, the Romans did not hesitate to act. The more they expanded, the more threats to their security appeared, involving them in yet more conflicts. Indeed, the Romans liked to portray themselves as declaring war only for defensive reasons or to protect allies. That is only part of the story, however. It is likely, as some historians have recently suggested, that at some point a group of Roman aristocratic leaders emerged who favored expansion both for the glory it offered and for the economic benefits it provided. Certainly, by the 2nd century B.C.E., aristocratic senators perceived new opportunities for profitable foreign commands, enormous spoils of war, and an abundant supply of slave labor for their growing landed estates. By that same time, the destruction of Carthage indicated that Roman imperialism had become more arrogant and brutal as well. Rome’s overseas success also had enormous repercussions for the internal development of the Roman Republic.

5. In 27 B.C.E., Octavian proclaimed the “restoration of the Republic.” He understood that only traditional republican forms would satisfy the senatorial aristocracy and in turn became the first Roman emperor. The senate awarded him the title of Augustus – “the revered one” – a fitting title in view of his power, previously reserved for gods. Augustus proved highly popular, and his continuing control of the army afforded him great power. The senate gave Augustus the title of imperator, or commander-in-chief. Imperator is Latin for our word emperor. Augustus maintained a standing army of 28 legions or about 150,000 men and a praetorian guard of 9,000 men protecting him. Augustus inaugurated a new system for governing the provinces, where certain provinces were given to the emperor, who then assigned deputies known as legates to govern them. Augustus also stabilized the frontiers of the Roman Empire. He conquered the central and maritime Alps and then expanded Roman control of the Balkan peninsula up to the Danube River.

Augustus had accepted the senatorial order as a ruling class for the empire.

Senators filled the chief magistracies of the Roman government, held the most important military posts, and governed the provinces. The equestrian order was expanded under Augustus and given a share of power in the new imperial state. Augustus died in 14 C.E. after dominating the Roman world for 45 years. He had created a new order while placating those who yearned for the old by restoring traditional values, a fitting combination for a leader whose favorite maxim was “make haste slowly.” By the time of his death, his new order was so well established that few agitated for an alternative.


6. One of Rome’s chief gifts to the Mediterranean world of its day and to later generations was its system of law. The Twelve Tables of 450 B.C.E. was Rome’s first code of laws, but it was a product of a simple farming society and proved inadequate for later Roman needs. Nevertheless, from the Twelve Tables the Romans developed a system of civil law that applied to all Roman citizens. As Rome expanded, Romans became involved in problems between Romans and non-Romans as well as between two non-Romans. Although some of their rules of civil law could be used in these cases, special rules were often needed. These rules gave rise to a body of law known as the law of nations, defined by the Romans as “that part of the law which we apply both to ourselves and to foreigners.” Under the influence of Stoicism, the Romans came to identify their law of nations with natural law, or universal law based on reason. This enabled them to establish standards of justice that applied to all people. These standards of justice included principles that we would immediately recognize. A person was regarded as innocent until proved otherwise. People accused of wrongdoing were allowed to defend themselves before a judge. A judge was expected to weigh evidence carefully before arriving at a decision. These principles lived on long after the fall of the Roman Empire.


7. At the beginning of the 2nd century, five so-called good emperors presided over a period of peace and prosperity (known as the Pax Romana, the “Roman peace”) that lasted almost a hundred years. These rulers treated the ruling classes with respect, cooperated with the senate, ended arbitrary executions, maintained peace throughout the empire, and supported generally beneficial domestic policies. Though absolute monarchs, they were known for their tolerance and diplomacy. By adopting capable men as their successors, the first four good emperors reduce the chances of succession problems. Under the five good emperors, the powers of the emperor continued to be extended at the expense of the senate. Increasingly, imperial officials appointed and directed by the emperor took over the running of the government. The good emperors also extended the scope of imperial administration to include areas previously untouched by the imperial government. Trajan (98-117) implemented the establishment of a program that provided state funds to assist poor parents in raising and educating their children. The good emperors were widely praised for their extensive building programs. Trajan and Hadrian (117-138) were especially active in constructing public works – aqueducts, bridges, roads, and harbor facilities – throughout the provinces and in Rome. Trajan built a new forum in Rome to provide a setting for his celebrated victory column. Hadrian’s Pantheon, a temple of “all the gods,” is one of the grandest ancient buildings surviving in Rome.

While the emperors and the imperial administration provided a degree of

unity, considerable leeway was given to local customs, and the privileges of Roman citizenship were extended to many people throughout the empire. In 212, the emperor Caracalla completed the process by giving Roman citizenship to every free inhabitant of the empire. Latin was the language of the western part of the empire, while Greek was used in the east. Roman culture spread to all parts of the empire and freely mixed with Greek culture, creating what has been called Greco-Roman civilization. The administration and cultural life of the Roman Empire depended greatly on cities and towns. A provincial governor’s staff was not large, so local city officials were expected to act as Roman agents in carrying out many government functions, especially those related to taxes. Cities were important in the spread of Roman culture, law, and the Latin language, and they resembled one another with their temples, markets, amphitheaters, and other public buildings. Finally, the process of Romanization in the provinces was reflected in significant changes in the governing classes of the empire, where senators were dramatically reduced.

The Early Empire was a period of considerable prosperity. Internal peace

resulted in exceptional levels of trade. Merchants from all over the empire came to the chief Italian ports of Puteoli on the Bay of Naples and Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber. Trade extended beyond the Roman boundaries and included even goods from China. Chinese merchants traveled across Central Asia, forming part of the Silk Road, a regular, overland route between west and east. Increased trade helped stimulate manufacturing. Despite the profits from trade and commerce, agriculture remained the chief occupation of most people and the underlying basis of Roman prosperity. Although the large landed estates called latifundia still dominated agriculture, especially in southern and central Italy, small peasant farms persisted. Although large estates concentrating on sheep and cattle raising used slaves, the lands of some latifundia were worked by free tenant farmers who paid rent in labor, produce, or sometimes cash. The prosperity of the Roman world left an enormous gulf between rich and poor. The development of towns and cities, so important to the creation of any civilization, is based in large degree on the agricultural surpluses of the countryside. In ancient times, the margin of surplus produced by each farmer was relatively small. Therefore, the upper classes and urban populations had to be supported by the labor of a large number of agricultural producers who never found it easy to produce much more than they needed for themselves. In lean years, when there were no surpluses, the townspeople often took what they wanted, leaving little for the peasants.

At the heart of the Roman social structure stood the family, headed by the

paterfamilias—the dominant male. The household also included the wife, sons with their wives and children, unmarried daughters, and slaves. A family was virtually a small state within the state, and the power of the paterfamilias was parallel to that of the state magistrates over the citizens. Fathers arranged the marriages of their daughters. Some parents in upper-class families provided education for their daughters. Upper-class Roman women in the Early Empire had considerable freedom and independence. Although slavery was a common institution through out the ancient world, no people possessed more slaves or relied so much on slave labor as the Romans eventually did. Slaves were used in many ways in Roman society and included nearly 20-35% of the total population. Rome boasted public buildings unequaled anywhere in the empire. The gladiatorial shows were an integral part of Roman society and were held in enormous amphitheaters. To the Romans, the games and the other forms of public entertainment fulfilled both a political and a social need. Certainly, they served to divert the idle masses from political unrest and were necessary for the “contentment of the masses.”


8. Diocletian and Constantine restored order and stability, virtually creating a new state: the so-called Late Empire, which included a new governmental structure, a rigid economic and social system, and a new state religion – Christianity. They both expanded imperial control by strengthening and enlarging the administrative bureaucracies of the Roman Empire. Civil and military bureaucracies were sharply separated and each contained a hierarchy of officials who exercised control at the various levels. The army was enlarged to half a million men, including German units. Mobile units were established that could be quickly moved to support frontier troops where the borders were threatened. Constantine’s biggest project was the construction of a new capital city in the east on the site of the Greek city of Byzantium, renamed Constantinople. Calling it his “New Rome,” Constantine endowed the city with a forum, large palaces, and a vast amphitheater.

The political and military reforms of Diocletian and Constantine greatly

enlarged two institutions—the army and civil service—that drained most of the public funds. Though more revenues were needed to pay for the army and bureaucracy, the population was not growing, so the tax base could not be expanded. Diocletian and Constantine devised new economic and social policies to deal with these financial burdens, but like their political policies, these measures were all based on oppression and loss of individual freedom. Coercion also came to form the underlying basis for numerous occupations in the Late Roman Empire. To ensure the tax base and keep the empire going despite the shortage of labor, the emperors issued edicts that forced people to remain in their designated vocations. In general, the economic and social policies of Diocletian and Constantine were based on an unprecedented degree of control and force. Though temporarily successful, such authoritarian policies in the long run stifled the very vitality the Late Empire needed to revive its sagging fortunes.


9. It was in the midst of the confusion and conflict in Judaea that Jesus of Nazareth (c. 6 B.C.E.-29 C.E.) began his public preaching. Jesus- a Palestinian Jew- grew up in Galilee, an important center of the militant Zealots. Jesus’ message was simple. He reassured his fellow Jews that he did not plan to undermine their traditional religion. According to Jesus, what was important was not strict adherence to the letter of the law and attention to rules and prohibitions but the transformation of the inner person. God’s command was simple- to love God and one another. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presented the ethical concepts- humility, charity, and brotherly love- that would form the basis for the value system of medieval Western civilization. To the Roman authorities of Palestine and their local allies, the Nazarene was a potential revolutionary who might transform Jewish expectations of a messianic kingdom into a revolt against Rome. Therefore, Jesus found himself denounced on many sides and was given over to the Roman authorities and crucified.

A few loyal followers of Jesus spread the story that Jesus had overcome

death, had been resurrected, and had then ascended into heaven. The belief in Jesus’ resurrection became an important tenet of Christian doctrine. Jesus was now hailed “the anointed and usher in the kingdom of God on earth. Christianity began, then, as a religious movement within Judaism. Although tradition holds that one of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, founded the Christian church at Rome, the most important figure in early Christianity after Jesus was Paul of Tarsus, who was responsible for founding Christian communities throughout Asia Minor and along the shores of the Aegean.

Paul provided a universal foundation for the spread of Jesus’ ideas. He taught that Jesus was, in effect, a savior-god, the son of God, who had come to earth to save all humans, who were basically sinners as a result of Adam’s original sin of disobedience against God. By his death, Jesus had atoned for the sins of all humans and made possible their reconciliation with God and hence their salvation. By accepting Jesus as their savior, they too could be saved.

Christianity spread slowly at first. Although the teachings of early

Christianity were disseminated mostly by the preaching of convinced Christians, written materials also appeared. Among them were a series of letters or epistles written by Paul outlining Christian beliefs for different Christian communities. Some of Jesus’ disciples may also have preserved some of the sayings of the master in writing and would have passed on personal memories that became the basis of the written gospels- the “good news” concerning Jesus- which were written down between 50 and 150 and attempted to give a record of Jesus’ life and teachings. These texts formed the core of the New Testament. An increasing number of followers came from Latin-speaking people and a Latin translation of the Greek New Testament appeared soon after 200 aided this process. Many Romans came to view Christians as harmful to the order of the Roman state. Since Christians held their meetings in secret, seemed to be connected to Christian groups in other areas, refused to recognize other gods and the imperial cult, the government could view them as potentially dangerous to the state.

Christianity grew slowly in the 1st century, took root in the second and by

the third had spread widely. The promise of salvation, made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection, made a resounding impact on a world full of suffering and injustice. Christianity seemed to instill life with a meaning and purpose beyond the simple material things of everyday reality, emphasizing a sense of spiritual equality for all people. With familiarity and universal appeal, Christianity gave new meaning to life and offered what the Roman state religions could not—a personal relationship with God and connection to higher worlds.


10. The end of the Roman Empire has given rise to numerous theories that attempt to provide a single, all-encompassing reason for its decline and fall, including the following: Christianity’s emphasis on a spiritual kingdom undermined Roman military virtues and patriotism; traditional Roman values declined as non-Italians gained prominence in the empire; poisoning due to the use of lead water pipes and cups caused a mental decline; plague decimated the population; Rome failed to advance technologically because of slavery; and Rome was unable to achieve a workable political system. There may be an element of truth in each of these theories, but each of them has also been challenged. History is an intricate web of relationships, causes, and effects. No single explanation will ever suffice to explain historical events. One thing is clear: weakened by a shortage of manpower, the roman army in the west was simply not able to fend off the hordes of people invading Italy and Gaul. In contrast, the eastern Roman Empire, which would survive for another thousand years, remained largely free from invasion.


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