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The world of ancient Rome (Adapted from worldbookonline.com)

The city of Rome was founded next to the Tiber River in central Italy. The valleys had fertile soil and good irrigation, as well as materials necessary for building. The Italian Peninsula, which Rome controlled for much of its history, extends far into the Mediterranean Sea and occupies a central position among the Mediterranean lands.

The people. The Roman Empire had over 50 million people. In the east, Rome controlled Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt, and Greece. In the west, Rome dominated Britain and Gaul (now France, Belgium, and part of Germany).

Latin and Greek were the official languages of the empire. Government officials and members of the upper classes spoke those two languages. But most people in the empire continued to use their native languages.

People belonged to one of three groups in ancient Rome: (1) citizens, (2) noncitizens, and (3) slaves. Roman law recognized citizens and noncitizens as free. Slaves were treated as property. Citizenship gave protection under Roman law, and only a citizen could become a senator or government official.

The citizens of Rome were also divided into different social classes. At the top were members of the Senate, who were often wealthy landowners. Next were the equites rich businessmen and merchants. Under the Roman emperors, equites had important government positions and assisted in the running of the empire. The majority of Roman citizens belonged to the lower classes. They were farmers, city workers, and soldiers.

At first, only those born in Rome could become citizens, so the majority of people were noncitizens. As Rome expanded, it granted citizenship to more people in the empire. Women and children could become citizens, but they could not vote.

Slaves were considered property by Romans. They performed tasks ranging from heavy labor to teaching the young nobles. Most slaves were captured in war. A wealthy Roman family might have hundreds of slaves working on its farm and in its home.

A series of kings ruled ancient Rome at the beginning of its history. Each king was advised by a Senate made up of the heads of Rome's leading families. Ordinary citizens had little say in the government.

The Roman Republic was established in 509B.C. Under this new government, the Senate became the most powerful body. It decided foreign and financial policy and passed decrees (official orders). The highest position was consul. There were two consuls, elected annually, who headed the government and took command of the army in times of war.

Originally, only patricians (the upper class) could be elected. The plebeians formed their own assembly and elected leaders known as tribunes who defended their causes. By 287B.C., plebeians had won the right to hold any public or religious office and had gained equality under the law. However, the richest families continued to control the assemblies and the Senate.

The Roman Empire was established in 27B.C. The emperors had supreme authority. They nominated the consuls and appointed new senators. The citizen assemblies had little power. Emperors headed the army and directed the making of laws.

The army was composed of three groups: (1) the legions, (2) the auxiliaries, and (3) the Praetorian Guard. Only Roman citizens could join the legions. Although the chief purpose of the legions was military, legions also built roads, aqueducts, walls, and tunnels.

Noncitizens joined the auxiliaries, which fought alongside the legions. Auxiliaries were made up of specialized troops, such as archers or cavalry.

The Praetorian Guard was an elite group of soldiers who served as the emperor’s personal bodyguard. It was the only army group in the city of Rome.

City life.

Cities in the Roman Empire served as centers of trade and culture. Roman engineers planned cities carefully. They set public buildings in central locations and provided efficient sewerage and aqueduct systems. Emperors and other wealthy individuals paid for the construction of public buildings, such as baths, arenas, and theaters. At the heart of the Roman city was the forum, a large open space surrounded by markets, government buildings, and temples.

Most people in Roman cities lived in apartment buildings that were three to five stories high. Many of these buildings had unsanitary conditions. Wealthy Romans lived in houses built around two courtyards

Rural life. The first Romans were shepherds and farmers. As Rome expanded, small farmers spent longer periods away fighting. Many were forced to sell their land. This led to the development of large estates known as latifundia,

For the slaves and most small landholders, rural life involved hard physical labor. Most rural people lived in simple dwellings. Wealthy landowners lived in luxurious villas, which were larger than houses in the city.

Family life. The head of the Roman family was the father. Legally, he had power over his entire household, which included his wife, children (even if adults), slaves, and freedmen. As long as his father lived, a son could not own property or have legal authority over his own children. However, in practice, adult sons ruled their own families.

Girls could legally marry when they were 12 years old, and boys when they were 14. However, a man might not marry until he was in his 20’s and had already begun his career. Among the upper classes, parents arranged most marriages for the economic or political benefits that the unions would bring the families. During the republic, marriage made a woman and everything she owned her husband’s property. During the empire, the woman kept her legal rights and her own property.