Origins of the Romans: The Romans created one of the biggest and most prosperous empires the world had ever seen. However as the apt quote goes, ‘Rome was not built in a day’, the Roman empire too was only the end product of a long process of change and development. This started with the establishment of Rome as a settlement on the banks of the river Tiber around 25 kilometers from the Western coast of Italy. The original settlement was established near a ford on the Tiber. The city eventually expanded to include the hills and more of the surrounding areas.
The ford, along with the hills would prove to be excellent natural defenses of Rome in the future. This would give Rome a strong tradition of independence. The origins of the Romans, shrouded in legend and mystery also provided a sufficiently impressive and awe-inspiring story to better subjugate and subsequently integrate conquered peoples when the Roman set out to fulfill their ‘destiny’.
Origins of the Romans
This article will provide an overview of the early history of Rome and will glance over the surrounding tribes of Italia that played a role in shaping Romes’s ‘destiny’. A brief summary of the establishment, the working and the end of the Roman Kingdom will also be provided.
Iron age Italy consisted of two major Indo-European tribal groups (these tribes had an Indo-European origin and spoke Indo-European languages). The first group – which included the Romans – spoke Latin and related languages and occupied the Tyrrhenian coast of central Italy. The second group was termed the Osco-Umbrians and the included tribes spoke Oscan, Umbrian, and dialects of Oscan. The second group included the Samnites and the Sabines both of which had important roles to play in early Roman history. The Osco-Umbrians chiefly occupied the Adriatic coast of North and central Italy, including the extremely fertile region of Campania.
The Northern parts of Italy were occupied by Gallic tribes with which Rome would eventually come into conflict. Another important tribe was the Etruscans. The Etruscans were a non-Indo-European tribe and occupied North-Western Italy and parts of central Italy.
All of these tribes would play important parts in shaping the early history of Rome. The conflict would eventually break out with the Oscans, the Umbrians, the Samnites, the Sabines and the Etruscans. It is important to note here that although many of these tribes shared much of their culture and language with Rome, it did not stop the Romans from conquering them.
The Roman Kingdom
The site of Rome. (The ford is near the river bend to the South of the riverine island and to the North of the Aventine hill)
Roman Empire at its Height
The origins of the Romans is based on a legend, the city of Rome was supposedly founded by two twins Romulus and Remus. It is important to note that the legend does not provide a particular year, it is assumed as sometime in the mid-8th century BCE. However, the date of establishment of the city is mentioned in each and every account as 21 April. Archaeological evidence has supported the mid-8th century BCE date of establishment.
Another factor to be kept in mind is that there have been as many as three different legends for the establishment of Rome, these include one story that attributes it to Aeneas, a survivor of the Trojan wars.
Romulus, the first king of Rome was probably either a historical figure or based on one. He is said to have opened citizenship of Rome to all people regardless of social class or tribal identity. Thus early Rome included Latins, Etruscans, Sabines and various other small communities. The kings following Romulus included Sabines, Etruscans, and Latins, which shows the integration of various people in Rome which was also a defining feature of the Roman Empire and the Republic.
An interesting aspect of the Roman Kingdom was the process of ‘election’ of the king. When a king died, the kingdom entered a state of interregnum (between reigns), the Senate would then appoint an interrex (interim king) from among themselves. The interrex had only one duty – to find a suitable king. The interrex held power for only 5 days, after which he appointed a new interrex to replace him, with the approval of the Senate. This process would continue until a suitable rex (king) was found. Following this, the candidate would be presented to the Senate. If the Senate approved the candidate, the interrex would convene and preside over the Curiate Assembly.
After this, the candidate had to be approved by the public of Rome. After this, an augur had to perform auguries and only suitable auguries meant a suitable rex. Once again, the Curiate Assembly had to confer imperium (power) on the rex for him to actually take up the powers of rex.
Although the process, in theory, vested power in the hands of the people, it was the Senate who had the real power to influence the process.
The Roman kingdom was the first of the three governmental types that Rome went through. Although it did not last as long as the Republic, nor did it have the power of the Empire, it was important in its own way as it served to unite most of the surrounding areas under the Roman banner. It secured the foothold from which the Romans would expand to conquer vast amounts of territory and gain immeasurable wealth.
This article upon the origins of the Romans is the beginning of my series on the Roman military. Most of these will deal with the organization and the various campaigns of the Roman military. The articles will be in chronological order and I will try to present the campaigns in a more interesting, story-based narrative style. As such, I will be providing overviews of the Roman social and political situation as it changes so that readers can have a balanced and comprehensive outlook on the military matters taking place. Needless to say, I will also be mentioning the various reforms that the Roman military went through and the way it evolved.
Please mention in the comments if you would like us to deal with a specific topic, we’ll do what we can to help you out.