Explaining the Rise and Dominance of Rome
Consolidation of Italy
From its inception in 753 BC to 338 BC, Rome was simply a city-state founded by Italic tribes in central Italy, which also controlled a handful of nearby city-states. Between 338 and 290 BC, the Roman Republic began to aggressively assert itself in its region, asserting control over a significant portion of west-central Italy, exhibiting Roman military prowess for which it would become notorious. Its expansionist ambitions would continue to become increasingly insatiable, as the Romans conquered nearly all of the Italian peninsula by 290 BC.
As Rome became an unstoppable military force, the Italian peninsula became natural aspiration, as the geography of the peninsula lent itself to inherent continuity. The continental region to the north was barricaded by the Alps, forming a protective barrier for the peninsula. The Roman Republic would continue to steadily expand well beyond the Italian peninsula, but the Romans would always view the peninsula as its homeland. Romans would become accustomed to invasions of the various outposts of its empires over the ensuing centuries, but would be especially distressed whenever the Italian peninsula was attacked, as they understood that it was the heart of the empire, rather than an appendage, as territories outside Italy were viewed.
The Roman juggernaut could not be constrained within the Italian peninsula. Rome methodically conquered most of the land mass around the Mediterranean Sea, including major empires such as Carthage, Greeks, Syria, Persia and Egypt). They also expanded at will into Celt territories to the north and west, while also pushing back Germanic peoples in the north.
Nearly all Celt peoples in modern Spain, France, Germany and England were submitted and completely assimilated into the Roman Republic (later the Roman Empire). However, aside from losing some territories, Germanic peoples largely resisted the Roman advance, despite a concerted effort by the Romans to capitulate them under their control.
The primary reason for the inability of Rome to successfully conquer the Germanic "nation" was the decentralized nature of the Germanic peoples. Unlike the more organized Celt tribes, which clustered into small villages and settlements, the Germanic peoples were a collection of very numerous, loosely-affiliated tribes. In which case, it was not possible to assert control over a large group of people by simply conquering a few strategic settlements. The inability to submit the Germanic tribes to the north would prove to be a major cause of the collapse of Rome later in history, as mass Germanic raids and migrations along the long, northern border of Rome would severely weaken the empire.
Reasons for Rise of Rome
Naval Dominance. After conquering nearly all of the Italian peninsula in the 3rd century BC, the Roman Republic gained control over long stretches of coastline strategically located in the center of the Mediterranean Sea. This geopolitically-advantageous position boosted the wealth of Rome, and provided a push to build up a powerful navy, as they frequently came into conflict with the Carthaginians, who dominated the north coasts of Africa along the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Rome merely copied the cutting-edge Carthage ships, to instantaneously become a formidable foe for the Carthaginians. But the Romans added upon existing Carthaginian technology, pioneering a plank they could drop on the enemy ship to board the opposing ship in large numbers.
In which case, the Roman navy eventually challenged Carthage for dominance of the Mediterranean, leading to the Punic Wars. Rome would achieve victory, rewarding it with hegemony across the all-important sea, enabling it to control all trade. This was also an insurmountable military advantage, allowing Rome to drop troops anywhere along the coast to quickly reach far-flung battlefields.
Appeasement. Rome figured out early that the best way to project its power outward was to keep its new constituents happy. Respecting local cultures reduced the drain on military (i.e. fewer revolts to contend with), freeing it to continue expanding Rome's sphere of control. They typically protected local customs, religions, etc., keeping the locals pacified.
Improved Stability, Protection, Commerce, Government. For most of its captives, the Romans represented a better way of life. Its military might enabled the Roman Empire to protect civilizations from barbaric raids better than previous regimes. Plus, the advanced Roman road system, and centralized currency/trade laws, enabled free trade throughout the empire, increasing the export markets and access to diverse and more affordable goods. Therefore, most conquered peoples enjoyed greater prosperity under Roman rule compared to their pre-Roman economic systems (or lack thereof). By today’s standards, Rome was still a society rife with inequality, as slaves comprised about a quarter of the population. There was a substantial lower, “peasant” class with limited rights. However, slavery and inequality were common features of ancient societies of the time.
Standardization. Trade, currency, laws, freedom of movement, measurement systems, etc. were all standardized under the Roman Empire, facilitating improved commerce, governance, administration of law, travel, among many other things.
Infrastructural Advances. Rome brought innovative, new technologies to its provinces such as aqueducts to provide for running water, cement mixing technologies for better construction, architectural design, etc.
Food Allocation. Rome centralized control of base products, such as wheat and grain, avoiding disruptions in the food supply, which is a leading cause of riots and instability. If one region of the empire was suffering food shortages, then Roman planners could facilitate economical distribution of needed food products from another part of the empire that enjoyed surpluses. However, grain came primarily from North Africa, a territory which was farmed so heavily, its formerly fertile areas became permanently damaged, transforming into agriculturally-hostile desert.
Military Prowess. Rome introduced the world’s first professional army. It was more trained and disciplined than any other force. It's advanced naval capability and road system meant quick deployment. The Romans were also effective at supplementing its manpower-hungry army with mercenaries as necessary. However, this would ultimately be a major pitfall for the Roman Empire later in history, contributing to the decline and collapse of Rome, as the high percentage of mercenaries resulted in an army more loyal to its commander than the empire itself, causing multiple government overthrows in its final days.
Geopolitical. It has been proven throughout history that any state that can control the Mediterranean Sea can project power throughout Europe, West Asia and North Africa. By developing a dominant navy, Rome did just this, gaining control over a vast empire that was centered around the Mediterranean Sea. However, after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, this would prove to be an impossible task throughout most of the Dark Ages, as piracy would overwhelm state navies.
The Original "Western" Superpower. Rome would come to represent the ideal of "Western Civilization", since it is the first hegemonic, enduring civilization based on a western style of government and culture. It was also the first major transcontinental empire based in Europe (not counting the brief Greek Macedonian Empire which was soon subdivided after conquering much of Asia). Rome would be the template for other emulators throughout time (Medieval Frankish Empire, Germanic Holy Roman Empire, Byzantine – a continuation of Roman Empire amongst the Greeks, Germany's Third Reich, Fascist Italy, Russian Empire). It also served as historical precedent, and the basis of comparison for other Western Powers later in time, including Great Britain and the USA.
Democracy. Rome practiced a rudimentary, primitive form of democracy, with a senate representing the voting constituency, although only a small minority were allowed to vote.
Jews in Europe. Rome deported a large population of Jews from Jerusalem into various locations throughout Europe in order to put an end to ongoing revolts, marking the beginning of a contiguous Jewish population in Europe.
Propagates Greek Culture. Greek thought and culture gained preference in the Roman Empire, especially after the Roman armies conquered the Greek world. Greek culture took root in the Roman Empire, dominating Roman culture. By the collapse of the Roman Empire, Roman (i.e. Greek) ways were so entrenched throughout such a large part of the known world, its influence was destined to pervade cultures throughout the rest of time.
Christianity. As was the case with Greek culture, the Roman Empire assumed and carried the banner of Christianity throughout much of the civilized world, ensuring its everlasting pervasiveness. From the 1st century AD to the 4th century, Christianity was a minority religion within the empire. This changed with Emperor Constantine, who became a believer, and enforced its position as the official religion of the Roman Empire. This proved to be the pivotal turning point of Christianity, bringing it from the fringe into worldwide prominence.
National Borders. Rome set the borders that would eventually define England, Spain, France and Germany (not to mention Italy).
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How about some references from Primary Sources? Livy, Polybius, Plutarch, Julius Caesar, Tacitus.. .
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Suggestion : do your own research.
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#38 - nathan - 11/10/2013 - 15:07
The rise and fall of Rome has been documented extensively. It is available on 14 DVD's, a 300page abridged paper back or a massive hard back. This is a good ~600 word summary.
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