Rise of the Roman Empire
The Rise of the Romans
A new power had begun to arise in western Europe between 500 to 275 B.C. the Romans gained control of the entire Italian peninsula south of the River Po. They conquered some of the Italian cities founded by the Greeks, but the Romans did not destroy. They were too anxious to learn and admired the Greek sculptors so much that they employed them for their own great works.
We are chiefly concerned here with the growth of civilizations, but wars and conquests played their part even while the scientists and artists worked.
Rome became a great military nation, but in general she did not seek to oppress or make slaves of the people she had conquered. There were exceptions, however, such as Egypt. Then there was Carthage, the little trading colony of the Phoenicians which had grown into a great and splendid seaport city, spreading not only far inland on the north coast of Africa, but also spreading her power and influence in various parts of Europe.
Carthage became a rival to Rome. In 216 B.C. at Cannae in Southern Italy, their great general, Hannibal, annihilated a Roman army of 10,000 men.
Rome had her revenge in 202 B.C. when at Zama, five days march from Carthage, Hannibal was defeated and Rome became mistress of the Mediterranean. Carthage recovered to some extent but Rome never ceased to fear her. "Carthage must be destroyed!" said Cato, the Roman senator, in every speech, and in 146 B.C. his words were fulfilled. At the end of the third Punic War the Romans captured Carthage and utterly destroyed it. The territory became a Roman province.
In that same year another great city, Corinth, in Greece, was taken and destroyed by the Romans. With that defeat Greece, too, ceased to be an independent country and became part of the Roman Empire. But Greek civilization lived on. The Romans had destroyed a strong city but made no attempt to destroy Grecian culture and art. It has been said, indeed, that in their defeat the Greeks conquered the Romans. It was Greek art and literature that became the standard of Rome.
Here we need not go into all the details of the rise of the mighty Roman Empire. It became a great military nation, with a well-trained, disciplined army which could be supported by other armies belonging to countries under Roman control. To conquer a seafaring nation such as Carthage they built a powerful navy. Their central government in Rome, the Senate, showed great ability in carrying on their wars. Rome itself became a city of wealth and enormous power.
Rome Learns from Greece
In the Roman home were to be found statues, paintings and ornaments brought from Greece and other civilized lands of the East. Greeks who were brought to Rome as prisoners of war became teachers to the Romans. It was these Greeks who founded schools to which the Romans sent their children, or in other cases an educated Greek slave was engaged as tutor to a family. Presently there were Roman poets and writers, modelling their style on the Greek books brought into their country, but writing stories of Rome in Latin. A library stocked with papyrus rolls which were the books of those days became an important feature in well-ordered Roman houses.
The city had its troubles; there was civil strife and revolution. Rome ceased to be a republic and became an empire. Under the Roman eagle the legions went North, South, East and West. Egypt, parts of Asia Minor, the lands of the Danube, and a great part of Europe, including France (Gaul) and Spain, were all part of this Roman Empire by the time Julius Caesar figured in history. Gaul had not been completely conquered when Caesar became governor and made the country we know as France one of the finest provinces of the Roman Empire. The French became proud to belong to that empire and to this day France owes much to the influence of the Romans.
It is at this stage we come to our own land. Julius Caesar gazed across the waters now known as the English Channel and wondered about the unknown land on the opposite side. In 55 B.C., and again in 54 B.C., he crossed the Channel, the second time with a larger force. The ill-armed Britons with their war-chariots were no match for the Roman legions, but for various reasons Caesar was unable to remain and conquer the country. The real Roman invasion did not come till nearly a century later, A.D. 43, and then, under Aulus Plautus, it was completely successful.
With the coming of the Romans the civilization of Britain began. Julius Caesar in his writings described the Britons as he saw them in those far-off years of 55 and 54 B.C. Fair-haired warriors bedaubed with blue war-paint they were ; they had wicker coracles for crossing rivers, by the side of which they built their settlements of primitive huts. He describes, too, their powerful priesthood of Druids with their religion involving human sacrifices.
We know little of our own country before this visit of Julius Caesar, and it is from the coming of the Romans a century later that our own history begins. It was not until A.D. 407 that the Romans, for reasons of their own, bade good-bye to Britain, never to return orderly government ceased to exist and the country broke up into separate kingdoms. But the Romans had left much behind them, and though the story of our British civilization made little progress through the six centuries that followed the departure of the Romans, a good deal of our heritage from them remained. Civilization had come to us and our struggle towards that stage when this nation became, as Rome before us, a great colonizing and civilizing Empire had begun.