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How Far Did Ancient Rome Spread?

August 12, 2019 in History

By Becky Little

At its peak, Rome stretched over much of Europe and the Middle East.

Legend has it that Romulus and Remus—twin brothers who were also demi-gods—founded Rome on the River Tiber in 753 B.C. Over the next eight and a half centuries, it grew from a small town of pig farmers into a vast empire that stretched from England to Egypt and completely surrounded the Mediterranean Sea.

The Roman Empire conquered these lands by attacking unmatched military strength, and it held onto them by letting them govern themselves.

Rome’s desire to expand had deep historical roots, says Edward J. Watts, a professor of history at the University of California, San Diego, and author of Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell Into Tyranny.

“There’s a tradition going back to basically Roman prehistory, mythological history, where they talk about the expansion of the city under the kings,” he says. “Marcius is one of the early Roman kings [from 642 to 617 B.C.], and he’s said to actually have engaged in expansion and extended the city to incorporate other hills. So the idea of them expanding is always deep in the historical DNA of the republic, and even the monarchy before the republic.”

Rome Expands With Capture of Etruscan City

The taking of the Etruscan city of Veii by the Romans in 396 B.C. After a siege of many years they finally won victory after digging into the soft tuff rock below the walls while distracting the Veiians with attacks on the walls and infiltrating the city’s drainage system to emerge in the citadel.

Even so, Rome was still relatively small by the time it transitioned from a kingdom to a republic in 509 B.C. The republic’s first significant expansion came in 396 B.C., when Rome defeated and captured the Etruscan city of Veii. Instead of destroying Veii, the classicist Mary Beard argues the Romans largely let the city continue operating as it had before, only under Roman control and with the understanding that Rome could conscript free men for the Roman army.

The conquest of Veii was “a big turning point for [the Romans] because they take over a territory that’s half the size of the territory they already have,” Watts says. Over the next two-and-a-half centuries, Rome spread throughout the Italian Peninsula by conquering territories and either making them independent allies or extending Roman citizenship.

“The absorption of Italy was …read more


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