Far less documented than its glory years, Rome’s early period receives a capable account from historian Everitt (Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome, 2009, etc.).
The legendary hero Aeneas led refugees from the sack of Troy to Italy around 1100 B.C. Another hero, Romulus, son of the war god, Mars, murdered his twin, Remus, and then founded Rome in 753 B.C. There followed seven more or less legendary kings with an implausible average reign of 35 years before the last, Tarquin, was expelled in 509 B.C. By the 5th-century B.C., the Roman Republic of history emerged, a belligerent warrior state where soldiers enjoyed such status that only property owners could enlist. The government was a senate, whose members served for life, and two consuls, elected yearly. Patricians dominated but could not ignore the unruly plebeians who elected powerful officials of their own. Unique among the ancients, no division existed between bureaucrats, generals and priests. A Roman leader combined all three. By the 3rd century B.C., Rome had become a Mediterranean power, defeating armies from Macedonia, Carthage, Greece and Gaul. Wealth poured into the city along with a burgeoning lower class, as vast estates, worked by slaves, took over the countryside. Fighting overseas required a standing army, and the decline of small farms meant that, by 100 B.C., soldiers came from the landless poor. Unlike citizen-soldiers, these warriors owed allegiance only to their generals, who used them to fight vicious internecine wars whose ultimate victor, Octavian Caesar, became Emperor Augustus, ending the moribund Republic.
An engrossing history of a relentlessly pugnacious city’s 500-year rise to empire.