Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Roman Civilisation: A brief history

Although the Romans conquered Greece in 146 BCE, Greco fashion remained until the end of antiquity. Rome was founded around 753 BCE by an agrarian Italic (Pre Roman) peoples living south of the Tiber river. It started as a small village and grew into a city. As it did the government and Roman culture developed. They were a tribal people and organized themselves along tribal lines but adopted the workings of neighboring civilizations, i.e. the Etruscans. At first, Rome had a monarchical government which oversaw the city and its territories. No written records survived, and the histories were recorded retrospectively during the Republic and Empire. Conventional opinion supports this history was largely based on legend.

During the Roman Kingdom (circa 753-509 BCE) monarchy had absolute power (or imperium) and ruled alongside a Senate and an Assembly. The Senate was a council of elders (all male) composed of the heads of various clan groups. No individual could ascend the throne without the approval of the clan leaders and the Senate had the power to approve or veto the appointment of the king. Citizenship was granted only to individuals who could demonstrate both their parents were native Romans. As Rome grew and wealth accumulated this fell into the hands of a few people. Society was divided into two groups: the patricians and the plebeians. Patricians held the wealth and controlled most of the trade, power, and the military. Only patricians could serve as clan leaders and were allowed to sit on the Senate or hold any appointed or elected offices. The plebeians were mainly small farmers, hard laborers, and craftspeople and made up the majority of the population. Most plebeians worked for patricians but some small farmers worked their own lands. Plebeians had a small voice in government via the assembly which governed their interests. Gradually the Etruscans took over the government of Rome as it expanded into surrounding territories. There was a revolt in 510 BCE and the Etruscan monarchs were expelled, thereafter the Republic of Roma was established.

The Roman Republic (circa 509 BCE – 43AD) saw the greatest expansion of Roman power and was ruled under a republican government. Emphasis was placed on the simple and practical. Many ordinary people went barefoot but gradually between 300-27 BCE Romans wore a variety of footwear. These included ankle boots of rawhide or leather which laced completely up the front. Towards the end of the Republic, ladies of quality wore sandals with very thick soles to make them look taller. White was popular but later more exotic colours were preferred. Pearls and other gems decorate the footwear of the rich. The Ladies of Rome wore purple or green sandals whilst the women of Pompeii (6th BCE – 79AD) preferred white, red or gilded leather shoes. The transition from Republic to Empire was marked by the appointment of Julius Caesar's as perpetual dictator (44 BC).

The Roman Empire (27 BCE–AD 47/1461) consisted of an autocracy with large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean. The first emperor was Augustus/ Octavianus (27BCE-14AD). The empire reached its greatest extent under Caesar Divi Nervae Filius Nerva Traianus Optimus Augustus, (also called Caesar Nerva Traianus Germanicus), and he was the first Emporer to be born outside Italy. He controlled approximately 6.5 million km of land surface. The institutions and culture of Rome had a profound and lasting influence on the development of language, religion, architecture, philosophy, law, and forms of government in the territories it governed. The Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476 as Romulus Augustus (circa 461 - 476) was forced to abdicate by Odoacer. The Empire became gradually less Romanized and increasingly more Germanic in nature.

The Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire ended in 1453 with the death of Constantine XI and the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks led by Mehmed II.

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