The capital of Italy and ancient capital of the Roman Empire. The greatest city of the ancient world, according to legend founded in 753 B.C. by Romulus and named after him, but possibly in reality either from Ruma, a former name of the River Tiber, of Etruscan origin, or from Greek rhein, 'to flow' or rhome, 'strength'. This last suggestion is supported by its other name, Valentia (latin valens, 'strong'). It acquired a new significance as the seat of the papacy.
Rome developed as a group of villages on seven hills on the east bank of the Tiber, and was ruled until 500 BC by seven kings, of whom the last three are believed to have been Etruscan. After the last of these, Tarquinius Superbus, had been expelled, a republic was set up (510 BC), ruled by a senate and two consuls. The plebeians increasingly challenged the dominant power of the patricians, until by 300 BC they had obtained the right to hold any office. The political organization was extended to include tribunes, quaestors, aediles, censors and praetors. A code of law was drawn up (451 BC) by the decemvirs.
Rome expanded its power to neighboring peoples in Italy (5th-3rd centuries BC), defeated Carthage in the Punic Wars (264-241 BC, 218-201 BC and 149-146 BC) and gained territory in Spain, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and North Africa. Macedon was made a Roman province (146 BC) and the whole of Greece was subjugated by 27 BC.
The task of governing the Mediterranean world resulted in class dissent in Rome, notably when the brothers Gracchus attempted to reform the agrarian laws (2nd century BC). Civil war broke out, and the republic was further destabilized by the rivalry between Marius and Sulla and by that between Pompey and Caesar.
After the disintegration of the 1st Triumvirate, Caesar established a dictatorship (48-44 BC). On his assassination, civil war restarted and the 2nd Triumvirate was created. This resulted in war between Antony and Octavian, and the republic collapsed when the latter took absolute power as emperor with the title of Augustus (27 BC).
In the two centuries after the reign of Augustus the Roman Empire reached its greatest scope, encircling the Mediterranean, reaching north to the Rhine, the Danube and central Scotland and spreading into Armenia and Mesopotamia. A well-developed system of communications, the use of Latin as a universal language, and the growth of trade and industry united the empire.
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