The once-small city in Latium that became the government seat of the greatest world empire in ancient Bible times; today, it is the capital of Italy. Rome is located inland about 25 km (16 mi) up the Tiber River, on both banks, about halfway down the W side of the 1,130-km-long (700 mi) Italian peninsula.

Just when Rome was founded, and by whom, is shrouded in legend and mythology. Tradition says it was in 753 B.C.E. by a certain Romulus, its first king, but there are graves and other evidence indicating it was inhabited at a much earlier time.

The first known settlements were built on seven hills on the E side of the Tiber River. According to tradition the Palatine hill was the site of the oldest settlement. The other six hills located around Palatine (beginning in the N and turning clockwise) were Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Caelian, Aventine, and Capitoline. In time the marshy valleys between the hills were drained, and in these valuable areas dwellings, forums, and circuses were built. According to Pliny the Elder, in 73 C.E. the walls surrounding the city were some 21 km (13 mi) long. In time the hills and valleys to the W side of the Tiber were annexed, including the more than 40 ha (100 acres) occupied today by the Vatican. Before the great fire of Nero’s time, according to conservative estimates, the population of the city was well over a million people.

Rome’s Political Image. Over the centuries Rome experimented with many types of political rule. Some institutions were adaptations from other nations; some were innovations of her own. In his Pocket History of the World, H. G. Wells observed: “This new Roman power which arose to dominate the western world in the second and first centuries B.C. was in several respects a different thing from any of the great empires that had hitherto prevailed in the civilised world.” (1943, p. 149) Rome’s political complexion kept changing as various styles of rule came and went. These included coalitions of patriarchal chieftains, kingships, governments concentrated in the hands of a few families of noble birth, dictatorships, and different forms of republican rule in which the power conferred on the senators, consuls, and triumvirates (three-man governmental coalitions) varied, with typical party struggles between classes and factions. In the latter years of the empire there was a series of emperors. As is common with human governments, Rome’s political history was mottled with hatred, jealousy, intrigue, and murder, with many plots and counterplots generated from internal friction and external wars.

Domination of the world by Rome was a gradual development. First, her influence spread over the entire Italian Peninsula and eventually around the Mediterranean and far beyond. The name of the city became practically synonymous with that of the empire.

In international affairs Rome reached the zenith of her glory under the Caesars. Heading this list was Julius Caesar, appointed dictator for ten years in 46 B.C.E. but murdered by conspirators in 44 B.C.E. After an interval in which a triumvirate attempted to hold the reins of power, Octavian finally became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire (31 B.C.E.–14 C.E.). In 27 B.C.E. he succeeded in becoming emperor, having himself proclaimed “Augustus.”

Roman emperors in the order of succession after Nero (through the first century) were Galba (68-69 C.E.); Otho and Vitellius (69 C.E.); Vespasian (69-79 C.E.), during whose reign Jerusalem was destroyed; Titus (79-81 C.E.), who previously had directed the successful assault on Jerusalem; Domitian (81-96 C.E.), under whose rule, tradition says, John was exiled to the penal island of Patmos; Nerva (96-98 C.E.); and Trajan (98-117 C.E.). It was under Trajan that the empire reached its greatest limits, the boundaries by then extending far out in all directions—to the Rhine and the North Sea, the Danube, the Euphrates, the cataracts of the Nile, the great African Desert, and the Atlantic on the W.—MAP, Vol. 2, p. 533.

During the declining years of the Roman Empire, Constantine the Great was emperor (306-337 C.E.). After seizing control, he transferred the capital to Byzantium (Constantinople). In the next century Rome fell, in 476 C.E., and the German warlord Odoacer became its first “barbarian” king.

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