Republican Rome

Rome before the republic: from the 8th century BC

The Tiber is a natural barrier across the land route which runs up and down the west coast of central Italy. The first place upstream at which it can be bridged is about 15 miles (24 km) from the coast, where an island in the river is overlooked by several steep hills rising above the marshy plain. Boats can make their way this far up the river, but marauding pirates will not risk venturing into such a likely trap.

This is an obvious place for a prosperous settlement. It is the site of Rome.

There is evidence of Bronze Age settlement on the various hills of Rome. By the 8th century BC local villages are combining into something more like a town. The centre of their community is the low-lying ground between the Capitoline and Palatine hills, an area later known as the Forum. Drained and paved in the 7th century BC, it becomes and will remain the centre of Roman government.

By about the end of the 7th century the rulers of Rome are kings from a more developed civilization to the north, that of the Etruscans.

Etruscan rule in Rome is brought to a sudden end late in the 6th century. Roman legend provides a dramatic story to account for a rebellion by the Roman people.

The Etruscan king, Tarquin the Proud, has a son, Sextus Tarquinius, who rapes a Roman lady of exceptional virtue, Lucretia. She makes public the crime and then stabs herself. The outrage provokes a public uprising, led by Brutus. The Etruscans are driven from Rome.

The rape of Lucretia later becomes a favourite subject in art, as do other stories about the Etruscans and Rome. One concerns the two sons of Brutus, who conspire to restore the Tarquin dynasty. Brutus himself condemns them to death, putting the interests of the new republic above family ties.

Another dramatic legend embroiders the historical attempt of an Etruscan king, Lars Porsena of Clusium, to recover Rome. A brave soldier, Horatius Cocles, holds off the Etruscan army single-handed on the bank of the Tiber while other Romans, behind him, demolish the wooden bridge which leads across the river to the city.

Senators consuls and tribunes: from 509 BC

The traditional date for the ending of Etruscan rule and the founding of the Roman republic is 510 BC. This is probably not far from the truth.

The Roman senate, already in existence as an advisory body to the Etruscan kings, now chooses two officials from among its own number to become joint heads of state. Known at first as praetors, and later as consuls, they are elected only for a year. Each has a veto on any action of the other. To avoid stalemate in a crisis, the constitution of the republic provides for another more powerful office. An overall leader may be appointed, with the title of dictator, for a period not exceeding six months.

The senate consists of 300 members whose appointment is for life. The senators select the men who are to fill the vacancies in their number caused by death, and they recommend each year which two from among themselves shall be consuls. The system is perfectly designed for a small number of aristocratic families to hold on to power.

The result is that the vast majority of the Roman people (the plebs) soon feel excluded from the benefits of the new republic. As early as 494 the plebs organize a concerted protest. They withdraw from all civic activities.

The patrician senators give in to pressure from the plebs for a good reason. Rome's army, on which the city's success and survival depends, is at this stage a citizen army. All citizens are liable for service, and the vast majority are from the plebs. A mass refusal to comply is a persuasive argument. The 494 protest has no need to be other than peaceful.

The result is the creation of two powerful new officials, the tribunes of the people. They are to be elected annually and their task will be to safeguard plebeian rights. By 449 BC there are as many as ten tribunes. They remain important officials, though their radical function becomes blunted when a plebeian elite begins to emerge.

Over the years a few plebeian families grow in wealth and prestige through being frequently elected to high office. From 367 BC one of the two consuls each year is from the plebs. A plebeian aristocracy develops, closer to the patrician class than to the people.

The real distinction now is between the owners of land and the poor of the towns. The urban poor, together with freed Slaves, are classed as proletarians. Their numbers grow, as the use of Slaves on large country estates forces smallholders to sell up and seek work in the city. Soldiers are now paid (from early in the 4th century), but proletarians are not even allowed to serve in the legions which are steadily extending Rome's frontiers.

The Roman legions: from the 4th century BC

In the early years of Rome's history Roman soldiers form up for battle in a Greek phalanx, but by the 4th century a distinctive tactic is beginning to emerge in the deployment of the Roman legion.

The essence of the change is the division of the army into companies of 120 men, known as maniples. Each maniple is formed up on the battle ground as a block 12 abreast and 10 deep. Instead of the serried ranks of the Greek phalanx, the soldiers stand about 5 feet apart within each maniple; and the maniples are deployed on the field like three rows of squares on a chessboard (each black square a block of men, each white square open space).

In the first shock of battle each maniple knows that there is a space behind into which it can fall back. By the same token a maniple of the second or third rank has space in front, where it can move to give support. And enemy forces may be enticed into a space between maniples, where they can be attacked from both sides. This is very different from the rigid once-for-all clash of two solid phalanxes.

In keeping with this more open role, the weapons of the Roman foot soldier are gradually modified.

Arms of the Roman legionary: from the 4th century BC

In a Roman army the long heavy spear of the Greek hoplite is replaced by a javelin. The Roman foot soldier flings this as soon as he is in close contact with the enemy. He then gets to work with his short thrusting sword, the most characteristic weapon of the Roman legionary.

The Roman helmet is simpler than the Greek version, with more of the face exposed. And the Roman shield is rectangular, with a slight curve so that it hugs the body. Held edge to edge above the head, these shields can form a roof to protect soldiers carrying out a siege - the famous Roman testudo or 'tortoise'.

The foot soldiers in their maniples form the centre of any Roman line of attack. Cavalry and light infantry give support on the wings, particularly in the later centuries. It is a military system which proves well suited to conquer and control most of Europe, north Africa and much of the Middle East. The legions, and the great network of Roman roads which they build and march upon, are the backbone of the empire.

But by the 4th century AD there is a military threat of a kind unfamiliar to the legions - heavy cavalry, which Rome's horses and horsemen are at first ill-equipped to confront.

Roman expansion in Italy: 5th - 4th century BC

Rome's military skill is a crucial element in the growth of her empire, but the start is decidedly slow. Her nearest rival is the Etruscan town of Veii, a mere 10 miles (16 km) to the northwest. Rome throws off the rule of the Etruscans in about 509, yet it takes more than a century of skirmishes between these two very close neighbours before Rome finally captures Veii in 396 BC.

The insecurity of Rome herself is dramatically demonstrated a few years later. The Romans find themselves helpless against Celtic tribesmen, marauding south through Italy in search of booty. In about 390 the Celts enter Rome and burn much of the city before departing north again.

From this low point in the early 4th century, the expansion of Roman power progresses more smoothly. An important element in this success is political. Victories on the battlefield are reinforced by settlements which give the defeated towns an involvement in the success of Rome.

The closeness of that involvement varies. Some of the nearby communities to the south, sharing the Latin language with the Romans, are granted full Roman citizenship. Other Latins have only a limited form of citizenship. More distant communities, of differing languages and cultures, are given the status of allies. They must supply troops or ships to support Rome, but they are left in charge of their own affairs.

Rome reinforces this network of alliances with a sound system of communication. In 312 the first of the great Roman roads, the Via Appia, is built by Appius Claudius to link Rome with an important new ally - the city of Capua, north of Naples.

Additional security is provided by small colonies planted at strategic places. In each of them 300 Roman families are settled in a walled encampment, becoming in effect a self-sufficient military outpost. Each family is given its own plot of land; the men are of an age to be liable for military conscription if still in Rome. One of the first colonies is established in about 400 BC at Ostia, defending the mouth of the Tiber.

Enemies overseas: 3rd - 2nd century BC

Early in the 3rd century Roman pressure begins to be felt as far south as the heel of Italy, where Tarentum is one of the oldest Greek colonies. The inhabitants appeal for help to an ambitious ruler, Pyrrhus, who has been vigorously extending his kingdom of Epirus on the other side of the Adriatic.

Pyrrhus sails in 281 BC with some 25,000 men and 20 elephants, the first to be seen in Italy. During the next two years he defeats the Romans in three battles, with heavy casualties on both sides. When he finally returns to Epirus, in 275, he has only a third of his original force - having achieved, in the phrase through which his name lives, nothing but Pyrrhic victories. He leaves a garrison in Tarentum, but the city falls to Rome in 272.

Pyrrhus has been the Romans' first adversary from overseas. Their dismissal of him, and their subsequent capture of the Greek city of Tarentum, sends a clear message to the Mediterranean world. There is a major new power in the west.

The two dominant colonial groups of the region are the Greeks and the Phoenicians, or Carthaginians. Both have well-established colonies close to the shores of Italy.

The natural flashpoint between the three powers is the nearest overseas territory to mainland Italy, the island of Sicily, exceptionally fertile and later known as the 'bread basket of Rome'. Its eastern section is a Greek colony, while its western parts are Carthaginian.

The Romans intervene on the Greek side in a dispute, sparking off in 264 the first of three wars with the Carthaginians, known as the Punic wars. The final score, three-nil, demonstrates the power of the upstart.

In the first Punic war (264-241) Rome wins the whole of Sicily, which becomes the first overseas province of the Roman empire. In the second (218-201) the Carthaginians are driven out of Spain, in spite of a dramatic achievement during the conflict - Hannibal's crossing of the Alps and invasion of Italy.

The third war (149-146) ends with the Romans destroying the city of Carthage and selling into slavery the surviving Carthaginians.

The province of Sicily: 241 BC

Sicily is a valuable new possession for Rome in 241, and its acquisition prompts a new arrangement. Territories in mainland Italy, given the status of allies, must provide men for Roman armies. But the manpower of Sicily is less interesting to Rome than its agricultural wealth. Moreover both Carthagians and Greeks have developed an excellent means of exploiting the native Sicilians. A proportion of their produce is demanded as tax.

Rome, adopting this system, finds that a governor, with a supporting army, is necessary to ensure that the funds are collected. Sicily becomes Rome's first province - the adminstrative unit by means of which an empire will develop. Sardinia and Corsica are added, in 227, as the second Roman province.

Campaigns east and north: 2nd - 1st century BC

By 200 BC the western Mediterranean is effectively under Roman control, but the east is still under the influence of Greece - part of the empire created more than a century earlier by Alexander the great. Descendants of his generals are now independent kings in Alexander's original homeland of Macedonia, in Syria and in Egypt.

The rulers of these empires are in almost constant conflict with each other and with their neighbours over territory in the eastern Mediterranean. Rome becomes involved when independent Greek states in the Aegean appeal for help against aggression from Macedonia.

A Roman expedition defeats the Macedonians in 197. The Roman commander then uses an occasion when representatives of all the Greek communities are gathered together, at the Isthmian games in 196, to make a dramatic announcement: all Greek states are now free, under Roman protection.

It means less than it might, for in 194 the Roman army returns home to Italy - leaving the Greeks to enjoy their freedom. This they do in their usual manner, with a rapid return to armed conflict. The Romans intervene on several occasions, apparently with reluctance. But by 148 their patience is at an end. Macedonia is annexed as a Roman province. From it a loose control is exercised over the rest of mainland Greece and the Aegean.

Roman territories are also being greatly extended in the north of the Italian peninsula, pressing back the Greece who have settled in the Po valley. A colony is established at Rimini in 268; by 220 the Via Flaminia links it with the capital. Bologna becomes a colony in 189, followed by Parma and Modena in 183.

Subsequent Roman campaigns bring territory under control as far north as the Alps and westwards along the coast. The south of France is made a Roman province in 121 BC, as Transalpine Gaul. Northern Italy becomes in 81 the province of Cisalpine Gaul.

Build-up to empire

Civil unrest and tribunes of the people: 2nd century BC

Success on the frontiers of the expanding empire is accompanied by increasing unrest at the centre. In 133 BC there is a scene of horrific violence in Rome. A party of reactionary senators and their supporters club to death a tribune of the people and 300 others. This event, unprecedented in the previous four centuries of Rome's history, ushers in 100 years of intermittent civil war.

The underlying friction is between the senate, whose members are intent on preserving their wealth and privilege, and the champions of the broader population of Roman citizens whose grievances seem to go unheeded.

The champions of the people have a wide range of motives, some of them good. Real concern can be felt for uprooted peasant families who have lost their ancestral smallholdings (many are forced into this category by rich investors forming large agricultural estates). Military considerations reinforce this concern, for Roman soldiers must own at least a minimum amount of property. The spread of poverty threatens recruitment.

On the debit side, demagogues have their own reasons for pleasing the plebs. Rome is not a working democracy in the sense of Athenian democracy. But by a system of block votes, organized by tribe and district, citizens can influence the major decisions of various important assemblies.

The Gracchi: 133-121 BC

Tiberius Gracchus, the Tribune Murdered in 133 by the mob of senators, is concerned mainly to reinforce the army. He puts forward a programme of land reform. Territories owned by the state, but largely rented and farmed by the rich, are to be distributed as allotments to the urban poor, returning them to the status of a property-owning peasantry.

Gracchus himself is from an influential patrician family and his proposals enjoy considerable support. Less welcome is his unscrupulous use of the popular vote to override opposition. The prospect of his being elected Tribune for a second consecutive year, contrary to precedent, provokes the violence in which he is killed.

The land reforms of Tiberius Gracchus are nevertheless enacted by a commission which includes his brother Gaius. In 123 Gaius Gracchus himself becomes Tribune. He puts into effect many policies of reform, including the provision of a subsidized grain allowance for all Roman households. But again, in what emerges as a new pattern, opposition to his policies leads to extreme violence.

Rioting breaks out in 121 during a debate on one of his measures. The senate declares a state of emergency, the first in Rome's history. An armed party, led by a consul, attempts to seize Gracchus. In the fighting he is killed. Subsequently 3000 of his supporters are executed.

Gaius Marius: 107-99 BC

Unlike the aristocratic Gracchi, the next in the line of people's heroes is the son of a farmer who has made himself wealthy - mainly through tax-collecting in Rome's eastern provinces. He is Gaius Marius. Elected Consul in 107, on a vote of the popular assembly and against the wishes of the senate, he immediately solves the army's recruitment problem by the simple device of abolishing the property qualification. The poorest Romans eagerly join up.

Marius's army is of a new kind, made up of professional volunteers rather than conscripted amateurs. They develop a special loyalty to him personally, and their trust is well placed. He proves to be a brilliant general.

In the years 107 to 105 Marius wages a successful campaign in north Africa. His next task is to tackle aggressors who are causing extreme alarm in the north of Italy. Two German tribes, the Teutones and cimbri, have defeated several Roman armies sent to deter them, culminating in the destruction in 105 of a force led in person by the two Roman consuls. Marius overwhelms both tribes in decisive victories, in southern France and northern Italy, in 102 and 101.

But Marius's success as a general and the changed nature of his army bring new problems. His soldiers expect favours from him. And their support puts him in a powerful position to deliver.

Soldiers retiring from the army at the end of a campaign want somewhere to settle, for most of them are no longer farmers with their own place to return to. Many of his African veterans have already been found places in Africa. After the successful northern campaign proposals are put before the senate to grant land in southern France and other regions.

The senators are reluctant to assent to what is undoubtedly a new policy, bringing with it the peril of private armies, but they are persuaded by another dangerous innovation. Marius's political allies use gangs of thugs to organize violence at meetings. They even assassinate a rival who seems likely to be elected Consul.

When a state of emergency is again declared by the senate, in 99 BC, Marius disowns his riotous colleagues and helps to restore order. On this occasion he pulls back from the brink. But a pattern has been set which will prevail through much of the century. Events have made it clear that the senate is powerless if confronted by an unscrupulous general who has the support of an army.

The point is soon rammed home. In the next fifteen years three Roman armies march against Rome.

Sulla: 88-82 BC

The first occasion is in 88 BC. One of the consuls, Sulla, is appointed to lead a campaign to the Black Sea. Just after his departure a tribune uses a populist vote to have the command transferred to Marius, now a neglected veteran of sixty-nine. Sulla's response is unprecedented. He marches on Rome, captures the city and kills the hostile tribune.

Marius escapes to Africa. There he too assembles an army. In 86, when Sulla is far away in the east, Marius returns to take Rome. The stakes are steadily being raised. This time the old general organizes a gruesome massacre of his opponents before declaring himself consul. He dies, of natural causes, after only thirteen days in office.

Sulla has considerable military success in Anatolia, but the followers of Marius in Rome declare him a public enemy. His return in 83 BC, with an army of 40,000 men and much treasure, leads to a brief but full-scale civil war. It is won by Sulla in 82 BC at the battle of the Colline Gate, just outside the walls of Rome.

This time the butchery surpasses all previous excesses. It begins with the slaughter of some 3000 prisoners. Then rewards are offered for the murder of anyone who can be shown to have assisted Marius and his colleagues. To guide would-be assassins, a 'proscription' list is published of 4700 suitable names. In the orgy of killing these are unlikely to be the only victims.

The land of those who die is declared to be forfeit, and Sulla uses it to settle colonies of his soldiers. Some 10,000 young male slaves of the dead men are given their freedom, becoming a significant group with a special debt of gratitude to Sulla.

By now neither the popular assemblies of Rome nor the senate are in a mood to disagree with anything which Sulla might suggest. They vote that he should become Dictator - but not, as the constitution declares, for a maximum of six months. He must be Dictator for life.

The Social War: 90-87 BC

The bloodthirsty struggle between contenders for power in Rome has been matched by continuing disorder within Italy. One restless group is very close to home. The people of the central mountain range are known as the Italians, by contrast with the Latins who occupy the regions directly south of the capital city. The Italians have long had the status of socii (allies), but without the benefit of Roman citizenship.

For some years there has been political pressure in Rome to grant citizen status to the allies, but in 91 BC the proposal is rejected by the senate. A short while later the tribune who has championed the legislation is assassinated. The response of the Italian allies is to declare independence.

A confederacy of Italian tribes sets up a government and strikes coins bearing the name Italia. Soon they have 100,000 soldiers in the field - soldiers of high quality, for these men have fought in the armies of Rome.

The ensuing war (known confusingly as the Social War, because it is between Rome and the socii) lasts three years (90-87), costs a great many lives, and ends with the concession which would have prevented it. Rome restores order by granting citizenship even more widely than it has been demanded. The process is launched which leads, by 42 BC, to everyone in the whole Italian peninusula becoming a Roman citizen. The war of the Italians creates, within half a century, the first united Italy.

Spartacist revolt and Mediterranean pirates: from 73 BC

Soon after the Social War another violent uprising within Italy shakes Roman confidence. This time the rebels are Slaves.

In 73 BC certain Slaves, being trained as gladiators at Capua, break free and take refuge on the slopes of Vesuvius. As word of their rebellion spreads, other runaway Slaves join them. Under the brilliant leadership of one of their number, Spartacus, the Slaves maraud through southern Italy and defeat a succession of Roman armies. They are not finally overcome until 71 BC. The end is grisly, like so much in Roman history of this period. Crosses are erected along the Appian Way, the main road south from Rome, and 6000 Slaves are crucified.

Rome suffers from disorder at sea as well as on land. Piracy is endemic in the Mediterranean, with its rich merchant traffic and broken coastline, but until recently the sea has been well policed by a leading maritime power, the island of Rhodes - whose wealth, from its network of trade, is symbolized by the giant statue, or Colossus, which dominates the harbour.

Rome has taken deliberate steps to reduce the prosperity of Rhodes, but the result has been increasingly dangerous seas. Like other Roman problems, this seems to require a ruthless solution. And Rome is now not short of ruthless men. The task is given to Pompey.

Pompey and Caesar: 81-44 BC

The public life of Rome, in the middle years of the 1st century BC, is dominated by two men. Both are outstanding examples of a relatively new trend in Roman history - that of the individual career pursued with unflinching single-mindedness. The faces of these new men can be seen in the equally new and hard-headed tradition of Roman sculpture.

The tradition goes back to Marius and Sulla. Their natural successors are Pompey and Caesar.

Pompey, six years older than Caesar, is the first to make his mark. In his twenties he conducts successful military campaigns in Sicily and Africa. In his thirties he is given a large fleet and army to rid the Mediterranean of piracy within three years (he achieves it in three months). He then goes on to a triumphant four-year campaign (66-62) in the Middle East.

For Caesar the equivalently important campaign abroad is his eight years (58-50) in Gaul. For much of this time he and Pompey are allies, manipulating the political life of Rome for the benefit of themselves and a third member of their 'triumvirate', Crassus. But by the end of the period they are bitter enemies.

The senate in Rome supports Pompey, relying on him to defend the state against Caesar - whose move south with his army, in 49 BC, triggers another civil war. It ends with the death of Pompey in the following year and the appointment of Caesar as dictator in 47. In February 44 the dictatorship is extended to Caesar's lifetime. The situation in Rome seems more stable than it has been for many years.

A month later the dictator is assassinated. Another considerably longer civil war begins. It will last fourteen years and will bring to an end, after nearly five centuries, the Roman republic.

Mark Antony and Octavian: 44-27 BC

This time there are again two main contenders for power, both closely linked with Caesar. One is Mark antony, who calms Rome with his funeral oration for Caesar. The other is Octavian, a great-nephew who is named in Caesar's will as his heir.

For some years the two men are in alliance (forming in 43, with Lepidus, a second 'triumvirate'), but from about 35 BC they are open adversarsies. Victory in the Battle of Actium, in 31, makes Octavian the undisputed ruler of the Roman world. In 27 BC the senate gives Octavian a title for life, Augustus Caesar. It is the moment at which, historians subsequently agree, he becomes the first Roman emperor. A new chapter begins in the story of Rome.

The empire: 27 BC - AD 14

By a coincidence of history the Roman empire, at its start, has recently achieved a new geographical completeness. The campaigns of Pompey have led to the annexation of Syria in 64 BC and the capture of Jerusalem in 63. With Octavian's defeat of Cleopatra at Actium in 31 BC, Egypt too becomes a province. Just in time for the start of the empire, the eastern pieces of the jigsaw are in place.

The Mediterranean, centre of the known world (as its name states), has become what it will remain for the next four centuries - a Roman sea. And during the same period, until Constantine gives the city a new Christian role, the story of Rome itself becomes submerged in that of the wider Roman empire.

The rule of Augustus Caesar brings an unprecedented forty years of peace in Italy. With few setbacks on distant frontiers, Rome and its territories enjoy a steady increase in prosperity and trade.

The frontiers of empire are slightly extended. More important, they become stablized and properly defended. Professional careers are now possible in the army (recruits sign on for sixteen years, later increased to twenty) and in the civil service. Improved roads make it easier to keep in close touch with distant parts of the Roman world, and to move troops wherever they are needed. New towns, built to Roman design, are established in areas where there was previously no administrative structure.

The region in which Augustus makes the most effort to extend the empire is beyond the Alps into Germany. By 14 BC the German tribes are subdued up to the Danube. In the next five years Roman legions push forward to the Elbe. But this further border proves impossible to hold. In AD 9 Arminius, a German chieftain of great military skill, destroys three Roman legions in the Teutoburg Forest.

The Romans pull back (though they return briefly to avenge what seems a shameful defeat). The conclusion, bequeathed by Augustus to his successors, is that the Roman empire has some natural boundaries; to the north these are the Rhine and the Danube.

Within these boundaries the reign of Augustus introduces what becomes known as the Pax Romana, the Roman peace. For those within the empire this represents a real and unprecedented benefit.

Somehow, after the death of Augustus in AD 14, this fortunate state of affairs survives even the grotesque behaviour on the imperial throne of the descendants either of Augustus himself or of his second wife Livia. The Family life of the caesars, recorded in dramatic detail by Tacitus and others, has fascinated subsequent generations. But amazingly the empire not only survives this first dynasty of emperors (AD 14-68). It even grows.

Christian Rome

Battle of the Milvian Bridge: AD 312

A mysterious decision by Constantine in October 312 can be seen now as one of the great turning points of history. He is camped just north of Rome, about to do battle with his rival for control of the western empire. He decides that his men shall wear on their shields a Christian symbol - the monogram known as the Chi-Rho, formed from the first two Greek letters of the word Christ.

Constantine wins the battle of the Milvian Bridge. His rival dies fleeing back over the Tiber when a bridge of boats collapses. In Constantine's mind he has won this crucial engagement in alliance with the god of the Christians. The results are dramatic.

Formally acknowledged by the senate as the Augustus of the west, Constantine immediately takes steps to favour the persecuted Christians. He restores confiscated church property and offers public funds to churches in need. In AD 313 he arranges a meeting in Milan with Licinius, one of two claimants to the Title of augustus in the east. He persuades him to follow the same policy.

Later in that year Licinius defeats his rival in the east. He too now proclaims a policy of religious toleration, offering compensation to the Christians for the wrongs done to them.

Within a year or two of suffering severe persecution, the Christians suddenly find themselves a favoured group within the empire. They win tax concessions, and Roman basilicas are constructed for their use as churches. There are career advantages within Constantine's administration if one is a professing Christian. Conversions follow.

But Licinius is less fully committed to the cause. In 320 he reverts to a mild persecution, dismissing Christians from the army and the civil service. Constantine marches against him, in 324, and again the Christian banner is victorious. Licinius surrenders after a defeat near Byzantium. A year later he is executed on a charge of attempted rebellion.

The first churches: AD 312-337

Concrete evidence of the new status of Christianity is seen in the emergence of the first church buildings. The change is most visible in Rome, the strongest Christian community. Until now, in spite of the size of the congregation of Christians in rome, worship has been conducted discreetly in private houses. Suddenly churches become public buildings, city landmarks as prominent as the temples of the pagan cult.

Some of the churches evolve from the private houses already in use for worship; one such example is SS. Giovanni e Paolo in Rome. Others in the capital city are new and more striking foundations.

Constantine establishes three important churches in Rome. One, intended to be the city's cathedral, is sited immediately beside his own Lateran palace - already presented to the Christians as a residence for the pope. This church is St John Lateran.

The other two churches of Constantine in Rome are built in honour of the city's two martyrs, Peter and paul, on the supposed sites of their graves. One is outside the old city and is called S. Paolo fuori le Mura (St Paul Outside the Walls). The other, in the Vatican, is St Peter's. Both have since been rebuilt.

A new Rome: AD 330

Constantine, now in firm command of the entire Roman empire (the first man for a long while to be in that position), is planning another initiative as significant as his adoption of Christianity. Immediately after the defeat of Licinius he sets about rebuilding Byzantium as a Christian capital city - one in which pagan sacrifice, the central rite of imperial Rome until this time, is specifically forbidden.

The city is ready by AD 330 for a ceremony of inauguration. Byzantium acquires two new names - New Rome and Constantinople, the city of Constantine. The Roman empire, within eighteen years of Constantine's first victory, has a new religion, a new centre of gravity and a significant change of culture.

Greece has always been the main cultural influence on Rome, and Greek is the language of the inhabitants of Byzantium. With the founding of Constantinople, the older culture effectively absorbs its vigorous younger challenger. Even the name Constantinopolis is Greek (polis meaning city).

Yet Constantinople is also the new Rome, capital of the Roman empire. The Greeks of this city will long continue to describe themselves as Romans. For several centuries Constantinople represents both the end of the Roman empire and the beginning of the Byzantine empire. Meanwhile Rome gradually establishes a new identity - as the seat of the Christian pope.

Byzantium offers the Roman emperor a clear strategic advantage as a centre of operation, for it is much closer than Rome to the threatened regions of the empire.

The main problems in the past century have been defending the Balkans from invaders beyond the Danube and protecting the Middle East from the Persians. Byzantium, renewed now as Constantinople, sits firmly between these troubled regions.

The sack of Rome: AD 410

In the gravest crisis to confront Rome for many centuries, both the emperor (Honorius) and the pope (Innocent I) are safely elsewhere. They are sheltering on the coast, at Ravenna, when Alaric and his Visigoths enter Rome in AD 410 and spend three days gathering plunder.

On this occasion the papacy can claim no credit for the departure of the barbarians ( who do little damage to the buildings of the city). But when Rome is under similar threat later in the century, from Attila the Hun and Gaiseric the Vandal, the city's new leadership - in the form now of Leo I - is perceived as being much more effective.

Papal Rome

Leo the Great: AD 440-461

The first pope to indicate the real potential of the papacy is Leo I, who has an unusual span of twenty-one years in office. He uses his time well, not only in the papal duty of restraining heretics but also in rehearsing other roles to be played by Rome.

These include defining Catholic orthodoxy (his epistle called Tome is widely accepted by his contemporaries in this context), and the assertion of the pope's authority over other bishops by the Power of the keys, granted by Jesus to Peter and supposedly passed on to his successors: 'I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. What you forbid on earth shall be forbidden in heaven, and what you allow on earth shall be allowed in heaven.'

With the collapse of imperial authority in the western empire, as Visigoths, Vandals and Huns move around almost at will, the papacy finds itself well placed to take a lead in temporal affairs. Ambrose in Milan has already demonstrated how a bishop can exert spiritual authority over an emperor. Leo confronts two dangerous men on a more purely diplomatic basis.

During Leo's pontificate Rome is threatened by Attila the Hun (in 452) and Gaiseric the Vandal (455). He negotiates with both, and is traditionally credited with persuading Attila to turn back short of Rome and with convincing Gaiseric that the city should not be utterly destroyed. Whatever the exact truth of his achievement, his actions predict a broader role for the papacy.

Gregory the Great: AD 590-604

Gregory I, in the late 6th century, reveals in a similar way the future direction of Rome and of the papacy. It can be seen in two significant events. In 592, two years after his election as pope, the Lombards are at the gates of Rome; Gregory accepts papal responsibility for the city, negotiates with the barbarians and persuades them to withdraw (admittedly at the price of an annual tribute). Four years later, in 596, he despatches a mission of forty men to England. Like Gregory himself, until his election as pope, these missionaries are Monks.

A temporal ruler of Rome, using monastic establishments to spread spiritual rule throughout Europe - the pattern for the medieval papacy is in place.

Popes and Franks: AD 753-772

In 753 the pope, Stephen II, makes an unusual journey north of the Alps. He visits the Frankish king, Pepin iii, to seek his help against the Lombards who have recently taken the city of Ravenna and who now pose a similar threat to Rome. The pope anoints Pepin at the abbey of St Denis, near Paris, together with his two young sons Charles and Carloman. Pepin duly invades northern Italy in 754, and again in 756.

He is able to drive the Lombards from the territory belonging to Ravenna. But he does not restore it to its rightful owner, the Byzantine emperor. Instead, perhaps believing the fiction revealed in the forged Donation of Constantine, he hands over large areas of central Italy to the pope and his successors.

The land given to pope Stephen in 756, in the so-called Donation of Pepin, gives the papacy the added role of a temporal power. These lands, increased and reduced at various periods of history, are the papal states over which the popes continue to rule until their incorporation in the new Kingdom of italy in 1870.

In the short term the temporal rule of the popes is shaky. Within a few years the Lombards again invade their territory. In 772 a new pope appeals for help to a new Frankish king. Adrian I enlists the support of Charlemagne. This time the Lombard threat is conclusively resolved. But northern Italy, now within the Frankish empire, is reduced to an appendix of France and Germany.

The land given to pope Stephen in 756, in the so-called Donation of Pepin, makes the papacy a temporal power. This territory is the origin of the Papal States, over which the popes continue to rule until their incorporation in the new Kingdom of italy in 1870. The story of Rome, for the next eleven centuries, becomes almost entirely the story of the papacy.

In the short term the temporal rule of the popes is shaky. Within a few years the Lombards again invade their territory. In 772 a new pope appeals for help to a new Frankish king. Adrian I enlists the support of Charlemagne. This time the Lombards have conclusively met their match. In 774 Charlemagne adds their kingdom to his own.

Secular Rome: 12th - 15th century AD

The popes and the papal curia are the main power in Rome, but the city does also have a secular identity. In the late Middle Ages, when other European towns are finding a measure of self-government as Communes, a similar movement develops in Rome.

An uprising for civic independence takes place in 1143, specifically invoking the Senate of Rome's great secular past. It is called renovatio senatus ('renewal of the Senate'). The councillors elected in this year call themselves senators - a title later reserved for the head of the council.

This movement is soon appropriated by the papacy. Popes win the right to appoint the senator, and even select themselves for the post. Economic power in this city resides with the papacy, as well as political and spiritual power, for a large slice of Rome's income comes from pilgrims.

Boniface VIII displays commercial genius when he endorses the first Jubilee or Holy Year in 1300. The round number of the date, reinforced by the pope's promise of Plenary indulgences, brings visitors and profit to the city on an unprecedented scale. (The idea proves so excellent that Jubilees are held in Rome every 50 years until the late 15th century, when the interval is reduced to 25 years).

The Rome of Boniface VIII, in the late 13th century, is dominated by a few extremely powerful families. Prominent among them are the Colonna and the Orsini. After Boniface's pontificate his own clan, the Caetani, becomes their equal. Papal wealth is the origin of nearly all these great dynasties.

Nepotism (from the Latin nepos, 'nephew') is a word later coined to describe a specifically papal vice, the granting of favours to nephews. This is the only way for a pope to enrich his family, since in principle he should have no sons (a nicety which does not inhibit some of the Renaissance pontiffs).

The great families of Rome provide many of the cardinals at the top of the church's hierarchy, and among these cardinals each family has from time to time a pope. In this way the papacy is intertwined with the secular life of Rome. It is therefore all the more damaging to the city's prospects, a few years after the death of Boniface VIII, when the pope and the curia move in 1309 to Avignon.

It will be more than a century before Rome has an undisputed pope in residence again. But the family name of Martin v, the pope who returns to the city in 1420, is reassuringly familiar to the Romans. He is a Colonna.

Ruins and a republic: 14th century AD

Rome without the popes is a sorry place. The great families live in their fortified strongholds while decay and anarchy set in around them. Goats graze the grass which sprouts from the steps of St Peter's.

A contemporary author points out the contrast between the present day and the ancient ruins of Rome. But the ruins, so evocative of past grandeur, are also the seeds of something new. Decaying Rome implies on one level the collapse of the Middle Ages. It is also the inspiration of the Renaissance.

In 1341, in a ceremony on the Capitol, Petrarch is crowned poet laureate in an echo of the Roman empire. Six years later, at another gathering on the Capitol, Rome acquires a Tribune - in the tradition of the Roman republic.

The Tribune is Cola da Rienzo. A friend of Petrarch, and much impressed by the laureate ceremony, he dreams of restoring Rome to her ancient greatness. To this end he wins leadership of the popular party in the city and eventually has himself declared Tribune with virtually dicatorial powers. He announces grandly that all Italians are now Roman citizens, as in the days of ancient Rome.

Italians in other parts of the peninsula fail to notice the honour conferred upon them, and by the end of 1347 even the Romans are tired of their Tribune. He flees from Rome, but returns for a few months in 1354 when the pope in Avignon - rather strangely - appoints him senator of the city. Before the end of the year he is hacked to death by a Roman mob.

The story of Cola di Rienzo teeters on the verge of tragicomedy, but his view of ancient Rome as the blueprint of civilization is a foretaste of the Renaissance. And the popes, returning in the following century, will make Rome the greatest of Renaissance cities.

Cultural Rome

Rome and the Renaissance: 15th century AD

Martin V takes three years on the journey south to Rome, moving cautiously between warring principalities and armies of condottieri. This is an Italy in which unscrupulous men are beginning to establish courts of glittering brilliance.

The pope newly crowned at Constance looks a tentative figure among such dangers, but over the following decades the papacy adjusts to the realities of Renaissance Italy. By the beginning of the next century unscrupulous popes have made Rome the most brilliant court of all.

The pope who begins the transformation of Rome, in the mid-15th century, has none of the scurrilous characteristics associated with the pontiffs of half a century later. He is Nicholas V, a scholarly man who founds the Vatican library, employing hundreds of scholars and copyists to provide the basis of a great collection of manuscripts.

The familiar image of a Renaissance pope begins a little later, with the election of Sixtus IV in 1471. His patronage of the arts is evident in the Sistine chapel and the Sistine choir, both named after him. But his lavish patronage goes hand in hand with a very worldly conduct of the Vatican's affairs.

Sixtus, a Franciscan friar from a poor family in the region of Genoa, brings the papal practice of nepotism to new heights. While greatly enriching his nephews (seven of whom he makes cardinals), he also uses them as his agents in the power politics of rival Italian states. The scheming of one nephew even results in the murder of one of the Medici in the cathedral at Florence during High Mass.

Another nephew learns his trade so well with Sixtus that he easily outdoes his uncle, both in politics and patronage, when he is elected to the papacy as Julius ii.

Between the pontificate of Sixtus IV and of Julius ii comes the most notorious of the Renaissance popes, Alexander VI. He manipulates Italian politics not with the help of nephews but through his son, Cesare Borgia (see the Borgias).

Alexander's successor Julius ii is even more a man of his time. He is a pope who rides out in person to direct military campaigns, but he also commissions work from Raphael and Michelangelo. The frescoes of the Vatican and the Sistine chapel are created among the abuses which prompt the Reformation.

Julius II: AD 1503-1513

Pope Julius II, reigning from 1503 to 1513, represents the best and the worst of the newly self-confident Rome of the Renaissance. His energetic sense of purpose on behalf of the holy see emerges as naked aggression in territorial matters; yet the same boldness and ambition makes him the greatest patron of the arts in the history of the papacy.

In 1503, his first year in office, Julius launches the great scheme to rebuild St Peter's. In 1509 the pope invites Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and persuades Raphael to decorate three rooms in the Vatican. Christian Rome's greatest glories have been conceived within a space of six years.

Julius's territorial ambitions are fired by a determination to restore the papal states, recently much reduced by the activities of Cesare Borgia and by encroachment from Venice. To achieve his purposes, this pope even marches into battle in armour at the head of the papal forces.

Erasmus is in Italy in 1506 when Julius II scores his first military success with the capture of Bologna. Erasmus is so shocked that he writes a play satirising this militant pope. Entitled Julius Exclusus and published anonymously, it depicts a furious Julius, after death, arriving in armour at the gates of heaven and finding them locked against him.

The barbed comments of St Peter, as the gatekeeper in conversation with the excluded pope, reflect a hostility to the Renaissance papacy which will soon find violent expression in the Reformation.

The temporal schemes of Julius II are designed to serve Rome's best interest within the turmoil of Italy. By the time of his death, in 1513, that seems to have been largely achieved. Papal land has been recovered from the Venetians. The French have been driven from northern Italy. But a more lasting threat to the papacy is about to emerge in Germany - prompted, ironically, by Julius's ambitious scheme for the rebuilding of St Peter's.

St Peter's: AD 1506-1590

In April 1506 Julius II and his architect, Bramante, are ready to lay the foundation stone of the new St Peter's. A commemorative medal is struck with the classical inscription Templi Petri Instauracio (Renewal of the Temple of Peter), showing a view of a great domed basilica with a classical portico.

In spirit - though not in detail - this design is similar to the church which is eventually completed in 1590, by which time Raphael and Michelangelo and several others have succeeded Bramante as official architect for the scheme.

The final appearance of the exterior, particularly in its upper half, owes more to Michelangelo than anyone else. The church's magnificent profile, visible from miles around as an imposing architectural statement, inspires the Age of the dome in western architecture - a natural choice for religious and public buildings during the next three centuries.

The completion date of the exterior of St Peter's, in 1590, aligns it perfectly for a role in another new architectural style. The large space in front of St Peter's, and the central features of its interior, are entrusted to Bernini. They become seminal examples of the Baroque.

Meanwhile the need for funds for the vast new project, together with the unscrupulous manner in which Renaissance popes are willing to raise them, provokes the great central crisis of Europe in the 16th century - the Reformation.

The flash point proves to be Germany. And it is not hard to see why.

Bernini and baroque Rome: 17th century AD

In the transformation of Rome into a baroque city, no one plays a part comparable to that of the sculptor and architect Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini. In 1629 he is appointed architect to St Peter's, the creation of which has given a new excitement and dignity to the ancient city. Over the next forty years he provides magnificent features to impress the arriving pilgrims.

The first, completed in 1633, is the vast bronze canopy held up by four twisting columns (profusely decorated with the Barberini bees, for the pope at the time is Urban viii). This structure, known as the Baldacchino, is at the very heart of the church - above the tomb of St Peter and below the dome.

The Baldacchino rises above an altar at which only the pope conducts mass. Visible between the columns, from the point of view of the congregation, is Bernini's other dramatic contribution to the interior of St Peter's. This is a golden tableau, a piece of pure theatre, above the altar at the far end of the church. Its central feature is the papal throne of St Peter, held aloft among the clouds.

Sculpted golden rays stream up from St Peter's throne towards heaven. In an extra dimension to the illusion they are joined by real rays of golden light, shining from the afternoon sun through an amber window in which the holy dove spreads his wings. This glorious blend of sculpture and architecture is achieved between 1657 and 1666.

During these same years Bernini's great contribution to the exterior of St Peter's is also under construction. The open space in front of the church, where pilgrims gather to hear the pope's Easter address, needs to be enclosed in some way to form a welcoming piazza.

Bernini achieves a perfect solution in the form of an open curving colonnade. The four concentric rows of columns provide covered walkways and a shape for the piazza, but they do so without closing it in - for there is no back wall. Meanwhile the balustrade above the columns is an ideal pedestal for the gesticulating stone saints who are an indispensable part of monumental baroque.

Bernini can be seen in even more emotional and theatrical vein in his superb ensemble in the Cornaro chapel in Santa Maria della Vittoria. The subject is the mystical ecstasy of St Teresa of Avila, following her own account of being pierced by the arrow of divine love. The saint, in a flutter of white marble robes, swoons as a jubilant winged boy prepares to plunge an arrow into her heart. Real light from a hidden window combines with sculpted rays to illuminate the scene from above.

In a final theatrical touch, in this most histrionic of religious masterpieces, sculpted members of the Cornaro family watch the scene from boxes to either side.

Baroque Rome perfectly reflects the mood of the Catholic reformation. The city of the popes (whose temporal rule in Central italy and whose spiritual authority over the greater part of Christendom are now alike restored) is also the headquarters of the popes' energetic new missionaries, the Jesuits.

The sumptuous central church of the Jesuits - the Gesù, completed in 1575 - is an early and influential example of the Baroque style. Its sculptural altars and painted ceilings, in which saints destroy heresy or fly heavenwards with flamboyant certainty, leave the visitor in no doubt that Rome and its brand of Christianity have recovered their confidence.

The Cornaro chapel is completed in 1652. The previous year Bernini has unveiled the most spectacular of Rome's many fountains. There are others by him in the city (in the Piazza di Spagna and the Piazza Barberini), but this one in the Piazza Navona outdoes them all.

The design of the Fountain of the Four Rivers is Bernini's but most of the carving - including the figures of the four river gods - is done by others from his preparatory models. From the shock of its central concept (heavy obelisk on top of hollow rock) to its lively and often surprising details, this is a worthy secular counterpart to Bernini's Christian contribution in the shaping of Baroque Rome.

Classical Rome: 18th century AD

In the more leisurely mood of the 18th century, baroque Rome acquires a stream of wealthy and influential visitors who come here mainly for the city's pre-Christian past. It is the destination of young noblemen arriving from northern Europe, and particularly from Britain, on the Grand Tour. They pose here for their portraits against a backdrop of vases, columns and distant vistas. The very rich take home excavated fragments of classical sculptures, described as 'marbles'. Others make do with paintings, prints, or even cork replicas of famous ruins.

This period of settled calm, unusually long in Rome's history, is brought to an abrupt end by Napoleon.

Political Rome

The French and Rome: AD 1793-1814

The papacy is ill-equipped to cope with either French revolutionary zeal or Napoleonic empire building. The years of French ascendancy are a long tale of disaster for Rome.

An incident of 1793 sets the tone. A French diplomat in Rome, Nicolas de Basseville, indulges in a provocative display of the Tricolour, symbol of French anti-clerical republicanism. A Roman crowd attacks him and he dies the next day. Four years later, when Napoleon reaches as far south as Ancona in an advance on Rome, this incident remains a specific grievance for which France holds the pope responsible - demanding and receiving 300,000 livres as compensation for Basseville's family.

The pope who has to negotiate with Napoleon in 1797 is Pius VI. The price of persuading the French intruder to head north again, agreed in the peace of Tolentino, is a massive indemnity, the removal of many works of art from the Vatican collections and the surrender to France of Bologna, Ferrara and the Romagna.

This reduction of the papal states is only the beginning of Pius's troubles. In the last few days of 1797 a disturbance outside the French embassy in Rome results in the death of a French general. This is made the pretext for a French army to occupy Rome and to seize the pope, who is taken off to captivity in France - where he dies in 1799.

The new pope, Pius VII, is at first conciliatory towards Napoleon. He agrees the Concordat of 1801. He travels to Paris in 1804 to officiate at Napoleon's imperial Coronation. But by 1808 relations have deteriorated. The pope annoys Napoleon by refusing to sanction the annulment of his brother Jerome's marriage and, perhaps more significantly, by not bringing the ports of the papal states into the Continental system.

The result is that a French army occupies Rome in February 1808. In the following month another section of the papal states (the Marches) is annexed to the Napoleonic kingdom of Italy.

Napoleon follows up these affronts by annexing in 1809 all that remains of the papal states, including the city of Rome, and by announcing that the pope no longer has any form of temporal authority. Pius VII responds by an immediate use of his spiritual authority, excommunicating Napoleon himself and everyone else connected with this outrage. He is immediately arrested and removed to imprisonment in France.

These are the events which bring the entire Italian peninsula under French control by 1809. The situation remains unchanged until after Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig in 1813 - an event followed by Austrian recovery of much of Italy and a subsequent seal of approval at the Congress of vienna.

From republic to royal capital: AD 1848-1871

After the return of Pius VII to Rome in 1814, the city resumes for the next three decades its dual role as the religious centre of Roman Catholicism and the political centre of the papal states. Both are rudely interrupted by the events of 1848.

Pope Pius IX attempts to make liberal concessions in the administration of Rome in response to the revolutionary turmoil sweeping Europe in 1848. But at the end of the year, following the assassination of his chief minister, he flees to safety in the coastal fortress of Gaeta. After his departure, the radicals have the city to themselves.

A Roman republic is proclaimed in February 1849. This promising event is followed by the arrival of the veteran revolutionaries Mazzini and garibaldi. Mazzini plays a major part in running the republic during its brief existence and Garibaldi fights magnificently in its defence (against an army sent by the new French republic on behalf of the pope, a measure of how much Italian affairs are intertwined with the broader issues of European politics).

The Roman republic falls to the French forces in early July 1849. Pius IX is restored to his papal throne - turning the clock safely back, in a pattern which becomes common almost everywhere during 1849.

On his return to Rome, Pius IX is just three years into a pontificate of thirty-two years - the longest in history.

His experiences during 1848-9 leave him disinclined to take a positive role in the developments now leading towards a united Italy. Instead his cautious and reactionary policy reduces Rome to the status of a backwater during the next two decades. He survives untroubled in his shrinking papal states (Cavour annexes the Romagna in 1860), because the French leave a garrison to safeguard his rule. But events in 1870 leave him suddenly exposed.

The outbreak of the Franco-prussian war means that the French garrison is hurriedly withdrawn from Rome, in August 1870. The French defeat at Sedan in September is immediately followed by the deposing of the emperor Napoleon III. Nothing now remains to deter the Italian state from seizing the holy city. Troops break in through the Porta Pia on September 20.

In October a plebiscite in Rome and the surrounding Campagna results in a vote for union with the kingdom of Italy. Pius IX refuses to accept this act of force majeure. He remains in his palace, describing himself as a prisoner in the Vatican.

The provisional capital of Italy since 1865 has been Florence, in an attempt to appease those nationalists who resent the usurping of their cause by the northern kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont. Now, in 1871, the Italian government moves to the banks of the Tiber. Victor Emmanuel instals himself in the Quirinale Palace. Rome becomes once again, for the first time in thirteen centuries (since the dying gasp of the western empire in the reign of Odoacer), the capital city of a united Italy.

It is unusual among capital cities only in that it contains a powerful figure and a small parcel of land (the pope in the Vatican) beyond national control. This anomaly is not formally resolved until the concordat of 1929.

This History is as yet incomplete.
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