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History of ancient Rome


History of ancient RomeThat Rome was indebted, if not for its origin, at any rate for its importance, to these commercial and strategical advantages of its position, there are accordingly numerous further indications, which are of very different weight from the statements of quasi-historical romances. Thence arose its very ancient relations with Caere, which was to Etruria what Rome was to Latium, and accordingly became Rome's most intimate neighbour and commercial ally.

Thence arose the unusual importance of the bridge over the Tiber, and of bridge-building generally in the Roman commonwealth. Thence came the galley in the city arms; thence, too, the very ancient Roman port-duties on the exports and imports of Ostia, which were from the first levied only on what was to be exposed for sale (promercale), not on what was for the shipper's own use (usuarium), and which were therefore in reality a tax upon commerce.

Thence, to anticipate, the comparatively early occurrence in Rome of coined money, and of commercial treaties with transmarine states. In this sense, then, certainly Rome may have been, as the legend assumes, a creation rather than a growth, and the youngest rather than the oldest among the Latin cities. Beyond doubt the country was already in some degree cultivated, and the Alban range as well as various other heights of the Campagna were occupied by strongholds, when the Latin frontier emporium arose on the Tiber. Whether it was a resolution of the Latin confederacy, or the clear-sighted genius of some unknown founder, or the natural development of traffic, that called the city of Rome into being, it is vain even to surmise.

But in connection with this view of the position of Rome as the emporium of Latium another observation suggests itself. At the time when history begins to dawn on us, Rome appears, in contradistinction to the league of the Latin communities, as a compact urban unity.

The Latin habit of dwelling in open villages, and of using the common stronghold only for festivals and assemblies or in case of special need, was subjected to restriction at a far earlier period, probably, in the canton of Rome than anywhere else in Latium. The Roman did not cease to manage his farm in person, or to regard it as his proper home; but the unwholesome atmosphere of the Campagna could not but induce him to take up his abode as much as possible on the more airy and salubrious city hills; and by the side of the cultivators of the soil there must have been a numerous non-agricultural population, partly foreigners, partly native, settled there from very early times.

This to some extent accounts for the dense population of the old Roman territory, which may be estimated at the utmost at 115 square miles, partly of marshy or sandy soil, and which, even under the earliest constitution of the city, furnished a force of 3300 freemen; so that it must have numbered at least 10,000 free inhabitants.

But further, every one acquainted with the Romans and their history is aware that it is their urban and mercantile character which forms the basis of whatever is peculiar in their public and private life, and that the distinction between them and the other Latins and Italians in general is pre-eminently the distinction between citizen and rustic. Rome, indeed, was not a mercantile city like Corinth or Carthage; for Latium was an essentially agricultural region, and Rome was in the first instance, and continued to be, pre-eminently a Latin city.

But the distinction between Rome and the mass of the other Latin towns must certainly be traced back to its commercial position, and to the type of character produced by that position in its citizens. If Rome was the emporium of the Latin districts, we can readily understand how, along with and in addition to Latin husbandry, an urban life should have attained vigorous and rapid development there and thus have laid the foundation for its distinctive career.

It is far more important and more practicable to follow out the course of this mercantile and strategical growth of the city of Rome, than to attempt the useless task of chemically analysing the insignificant and but little diversified communities of primitive times. This urban development may still be so far recognized in the traditions regarding the successive circumvallations and fortifications of Rome, the formation of which necessarily kept pace with the growth of the Roman commonwealth in importance as a city.