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University of Oklahoma Press
Ancient Rome: An Introductory History

Ancient Rome: An Introductory History

by Paul A. Zoch


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806132877
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 08/28/2000
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 468,582
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.83(d)

About the Author

Paul A. Zoch holds a master's degree in classical studies from Indiana University and a bachelor's degree in classics from the University of Texas at Austin. He teaches Latin and English in the Alief Independent school District in Texas. This book is a direct outgrowth of his presentation of ancient Roman history in the classroom.

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Ancient Rome

An Introductory History

By Paul A. Zoch


Copyright © 1998 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-8854-6


A Linguistic Introduction

What do such languages as English, Latin, Greek (ancient and modern), German, Gaelic, Russian, Kurdish, Sanskrit, and Hindi have in common? Not much, it would seem. Yet, despite the thousands of miles and years separating them, those languages all have a common ancestry—that is, they are all descended from one prehistoric language and culture, which we call Indo-European.

The Indo-European people are believed to have lived around the Black and Caspian Seas. Around 3500–2500 B.C., they began migrating to parts of Europe and Asia, bringing with them their language and culture. All languages change as they are spoken, and as the speakers come into contact with speakers of other languages. Indo-European was no exception: It evolved, and from it arose the languages already mentioned, along with a host of others (see table). No written texts in Indo-European survive—not until 3000 B.C. did the Mesopotamians develop the world's first writing system. The earliest surviving written records of any Indo-European language are documents in Hittite that date back to 1300 B.C., and examples of Vedic Sanskrit, dating back to 1200B.C. Parts of the work of the ancient Greek poet Homer might date back to 1000 B.C., and the oldest literary texts in Latin date back to approximately 250B.C.. (See Arlotto, Introduction to Historical Linguistics, pp. 104–105.)

Despite the lack of texts in Indo-European, you can see the similarities among its different "descendant" languages by comparing their grammars and vocabularies. For example, the table shows some common words in several languages.

To take another example, the Indo-European root, gno, "to know," comes into English from Greek, Latin, and Anglo-Saxon (a Germanic language that became English). From Greek gno come words such as agnostic and diagnosis; from Latin gnosco come words such as noble, ignorance, note, connotation, and denotation; from the AngloSaxon gno we get the words know and knowledge.

Latin is the most important ancient representative of the Italic branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Like Indo-European, Latin also changed over time. When the Romans conquered western Europe and settled colonies of Italians and Romans in the conquered lands, the natives of those lands learned Latin from the settlers; over the centuries Latin fused with the native languages (in western Europe, various Celtic languages) to produce the Romance languages, which are the languages derived from Latin. They are Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Provençal, Rhaeto-Romance, and Catalan.

The similarities between Latin and the Romance languages are easy to see, and students of Latin will notice thousands more, if they learn a Romance language as well.

English, a Germanic language, gained its largely Latinate vocabulary mostly in five major time periods.

1. Starting in 110 B.C., the Romans fought wars with the Germanic tribes and established colonies in Germany. They thus left a Latin influence on the Germanic languages. For example, the German word Wein comes from the Latin word vinum, "wine," and the city of Cologne owes its name to the Latin word colonia, "colony." Much later, in the fifth century A.D., some Germanic tribes, called Anglo-Saxons, invaded England and in so doing brought to the Celtic languages of England Latin words that they had learned from the Romans. The Latin words that were adopted at this time included cheese, from Latin caseus through German Kaese.

2. In 55 B.C. the Romans invaded England under the leadership of Julius Caesar; a century later, in A.D. 43, under Emperor Claudius, England became a Roman province. The language of the Roman government in England was, of course, Latin, and it influenced the Celtic languages spoken there. Among the Latin words that came in at this time was castra, "camp," which appears in English place-names as caster (Lancaster) or as chester (Rochester).

3. In A.D. 597 missionaries began traveling to England to convert the natives to Christianity. The language of the Catholic Church was Latin (the Bible was not translated into English until the late fourteenth century), and Latin words therefore became as much a part of people's lives as worship.

4. Under the leadership of William the Conqueror, the Normans, people of northern France (Normandy), won the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and subsequently occupied England during the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. The Norman dialect of French (a Romance language) was the language of the government during the occupation. This time period marked the greatest influx of Latinate words into English.

5. A further group of Latinate words came into English during the Renaissance. Scholars throughout Europe communicated in the one language, Latin, that was familiar to all educated people. They borrowed words from Latin to express ideas for which no word existed in their native languages. Thus, an ancient, "dead" language was used to describe new things, and more Latinate words enriched the English language and thought.


Rome's Origins according to the Ancients

The Romans did not know about the Indo-Europeans; what they believed to be their ancient history is more properly called mythology or legend. The history of Rome's first three centuries of existence is difficult to know for certain. The ancient historians who wrote about Rome's beginnings frequently themselves did not know what had happened, because the Romans did not start writing their history until centuries after Rome was founded. The historians also were not critical of their sources in the same way that historians today would be; frequently they were more concerned about the moral and patriotic value of history than about historical truth, and sometimes they cared more about writing well and praising their ancestors than about writing truthfully. Still another problem is the loss of much Latin literature: In the days before photocopiers and cheap paper, books had to be copied by hand (the English word manuscript means "handwritten" in Latin) onto expensive papyrus, which was made by pasting together reeds that grew in Egypt, or onto vellum (also known as parchment), which was made from the skin of cattle, sheep, and goats. Consequently few copies were made of most books. Many of these copies perished over the centuries, and in many cases no copies at all of a particular work survive. Such works are known today only by mentions or excerpts in other works. When our literary sources fail, we have recourse to other sources of information. From archaeology we learn much by studying the myriad objects that the ancients dropped, lost, abandoned, threw away, or forgot about; we can also study the monuments and buildings they erected in praise of the gods (or in praise of themselves) or in memory of key victories or important people. Despite these problems with sources, it is possible to piece together the early history of Rome in such a way as to show the development of Roman society and government and the beginnings of civilization in western Europe. We can also study the Romans as people: What values did they cherish? What did they want their past to be?


Ancient writers, both Greek and Roman, found a noble ancestry for the Latin people and for Rome's power in the figure of Aeneas, a Trojan prince. When Troy was sacked by the Greeks in 1200 B.C., Aeneas fled with his son Ascanius, his father Anchises, and friends to found a new Troy; Aeneas' wife Creusa did not live to accompany her husband on his journey.

Aeneas was not one of the outstanding heros in Homer's Iliad, which tells the tale of Troy; the few references to him, however, attest both to his pietas (a Latin word meaning "fulfillment of the obligations placed upon a person by family, community, and gods") and to his valor in war; he was respected equally with Hector, the great Trojan warrior whom only Achilles could conquer. The two ideas of pietas and valor in battle were very important to the Romans, and the poets writing about Rome's past found in Aeneas an ancestor who embodied these values: while fighting valiantly against Achilles, Aeneas is saved from certain death because he has worshipped the gods.

The Latin poet Vergil's epic poem The Aeneid (written from 26 to 19 B.C.) tells the story of Aeneas' wanderings. According to Vergil, Aeneas left Troy, knowing that it was his destiny to found a city from which a great empire would eventually arise. Because he did not know where to go to found his city, he traveled through the Mediterranean region in search of his destiny. During his travels he met Dido, queen of Carthage, a city in northern Africa.

Because the goddess Venus, Aeneas' mother, feared for her son's safety in Carthage, she caused Dido to fall passionately in love with him. Aeneas likewise fell in love with Dido and stayed in Carthage with her, until he was reminded by the god Mercury that his duty and destiny—to establish what would become the Roman empire–were more important than his love for Dido. Aeneas sadly left Africa, abandoning Dido and breaking her heart. Dido, who had thought that Aeneas was going to marry her, committed suicide as Aeneas and his allies sailed away, but first she cursed Aeneas and all his descendants, saying: "Carthaginians, hound his descendants and all his future race with your hatred! Give this gift to my ashes: no love, no treaties between our peoples. Arise, some avenger, from my bones to pursue the Trojan settlers with fire and the sword, now, later, whenever you have the power to do so. I beg our shores to be against theirs, our seas against theirs, swords against swords. Let our descendants and theirs fight it out!" (Aeneid IV.622–627).

In Vergil's poem, Dido's curse explains the savage wars, called the Punic Wars, that Rome and Carthage fought in the third and second centuries B.C.

Aeneas landed in Italy, where he visited the Underworld and heard his father (who died shortly after leaving Troy) prophesy of Rome's coming greatness: "My son, behold—with Mars' blessing—that renowned Rome will make an empire as great as the Earth, and a spirit that will rival Olympus, and will surround the seven hills within one wall: Rome, blessed with her generations of men" (Aeneid VI.781–784).

Later on during the visit, Anchises tells Aeneas of his and his descendants' mission: "Some people will be better at shaping bronze statues that seem to breathe; others will produce living faces from a marble block, while still others will deliver cleverer speeches or plot the movements of the heavens or explain the risings of the stars. You, Roman, remember to rule peoples with your power, for that is what you do best: accustom them to peace, spare the conquered, and war down the proud" (Aeneid VI.847–853).

Having now a clearer understanding of his purpose in life, and inspired by his father's words, Aeneas heroically fought wars with the hostile natives of Italy and founded the town Lavinium, naming it after his new, Italian wife, Lavinia. Aeneas' son Ascanius founded the town Alba Longa.

After his death Aeneas was deified and was later worshiped as Aeneas Indiges, "the native-born."


Romulus and Remus Found Rome

Long after Alba Longa was founded by the son of Aeneas, the king of the city, Numitor, was deposed by his brother Amulius and driven into exile. Fearing that the descendants of Numitor would rob him of the throne that he had just stolen, Amulius murdered Numitor's sons and made his only daughter, Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin. For a Vestal Virgin to break her vows of chastity in service of the goddess Vesta (the goddess of the hearth) would earn her the punishment of being buried alive. In spite of her special status, Rhea Silvia became pregnant by the god Mars; she bore twin sons, Romulus and Remus.

Amulius learned of the twins' existence and ordered that they be put in a basket and thrown into the Tiber River, so they could not rob him of his throne. The Tiber happened to be unusually high, however, and the attendant was not able to put the basket into the river proper, as he could not reach it. Instead he left the basket floating in the shallow water near the shore. The water then magically receded and left the twins safe on land. A passing she-wolf heard the babies' cries and nursed them until Faustulus, the shepherd of the royal flock, found the boys under a fig tree (called ficus Ruminalis, "the fig tree of Rumina," a minor goddess, perhaps of nursing), and brought them home.

Romulus and Remus grew up and quickly distinguished themselves from other young men of their age with their bravery and daring. Other young men followed the two, and together they fearlessly hunted wild beasts and robbed robbers of their loot, distributing it among their fellow shepherds.

The robbers, angry at losing their loot, ambushed the twins during a festival; Romulus managed to escape, but Remus did not, and the robbers took him to King Amulius, claiming that the brothers had made raids on Numitor's lands. Numitor suspected that the two were his grandsons, and was just about to acknowledge Remus as his grandchild (by this time Faustulus had already told Romulus the truth about his origins). Before Amulius could eliminate the brothers, Romulus and his fellow shepherds attacked and killed him, rescued Remus, and restored Numitor to his rightful throne. Romulus and Remus then decided to found a city on the banks of the Tiber, where they had been abandoned, rescued, and raised.

Since they were the same age, it was not possible to tell who was older, and thus who would rule the new city. They agreed to use augury, the practice of looking for signs of approval or disapproval from the gods, usually by birds, to decide who should rule. Remus stood on the Aventine Hill, and Romulus on the Palatine, each watching for signs from the gods; Remus had no sooner seen six vultures than Romulus saw twelve, and the followers of each saluted their leader as king. During the argument that followed, Romulus killed Remus. Another version of the story has Remus mockingly jump over Romulus' half-built walls, to demonstrate that the walls were too low; Romulus then kills him, saying, "And the same goes for any other person who jumps over my walls!" Romulus became king and named the city after himself. The traditional date for the founding of Rome is April 21, 753 B.C.

The city on the Palatine Hill grew, and King Romulus established customs and laws that would unify the new citizens into a harmonious political body and imbue them with respect for the king's power. One custom was for the king to be accompanied by twelve lictors (attendants, more or less, who announced his coming and cleared all citizens but Vestal Virgins and matrons from his path) so the people would respect his power and authority; each lictor carried a fascis (a bundle of sticks wrapped around an axe, which symbolized the king's ability to punish citizens, either with a beating using the sticks or with decapitation using the axe). Romulus wore a toga with a purple border, purple being the color of royalty. He also created the Senate, a council of elders; the word senatus is derived from senex, which means "old." The one hundred members of the Senate were called patres, "fathers," since they were the fathers of the different clans, and their descendants were called patricians. The patricians were the leading citizens of Rome and constituted the nobility. The common people were the plebs (from which comes the English word plebeian, "common, vulgar").

To attract more people to the new city, Romulus established a sanctuary (asylum, "place where one cannot be seized") to which men fled from their troubles in their native cities. The city, however, lacked one essential element for population growth: women. Romulus sent envoys to the neighboring cities to solicit an alliance, with the privilege of intermarriage between the citizens of the two communities. The other cities wanted to curb the growth of the new rival, and accordingly rejected Romulus' offers, even telling the Romans that the only way they would be able to get women was to have a sanctuary for women, too. The young Romans were very bitter at that insult.


Excerpted from Ancient Rome by Paul A. Zoch. Copyright © 1998 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations
List of Maps
1. A Linguistic Introduction
2. Rome's Origins according to the Ancients
3. Romulus and Remus Found Rome
4. Kings after Romulus
5. Tarquin's Coup d'Etat and the End of Monarchy
6. The RES PUBLICA: "Senatus Populusque Romanus"
7. Traitors and Heroes of the Early Republic
8. Class Conflict in Rome
9. Coriolanus, Cincinnatus, and Camillus
10. The Gauls Sack Rome
11. The Wars with the Samnites
12. King Phyrrhus' Pyrrhic Victories
13. The First Punic War
14. The Second Punic War
15. Rome Encounters the East

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