Not much is known about the prehistoric peoples who lived in Italy. We do know that Indo-European peoples moved into Italy during the second half of the second millennium B.
Other peoples had also settled in Italy, the two most notable being the Greeks and the Etruscans.
Before examining these peoples, however, we need to consider the influence geography had on the historical development of the peoples on the Italian peninsula.
Geography of the Italian Peninsula Geography had a major impact on Roman history.
Italy is a narrow peninsula extending about 750 miles from north to south but averaging only about 120 miles across.
The Apennine Mountains traverse the peninsula from north to south, forming a ridge down the middle that divides west from east. Nevertheless, Italy has some fairly large fertile plains ideal for farming.
To the east of the Italian peninsula is the Adriatic Sea, and to the west, the Tyrrhenian Sea and the large islands of Corsica and Sardinia.
Sicily lies just west of the toe of the boot-shaped peninsula.
Although the Apennines bisect Italy, they are less rugged than the mountain ranges of Greece and so did not divide the peninsula into many small isolated communities.
Italy also possessed considerably more productive farmland than Greece, enabling it to support a large population.
Rome’s location was favorable from a geographic point of view.
Located 18 miles inland on the Tiber River, Rome had access to the sea but was far enough inland to be safe from pirates.
Built on seven hills, it was easily defended, and because it was situated where the Tiber could be readily forded, Rome became a natural crossing point for north-south traffic in west-ern Italy.
All in all, Rome had a good central location in Italy from which to expand.
Once Rome had unified Italy, involvement in Mediterranean affairs was natural.
And after the Romans had conquered their Mediterranean empire, Italy’s central location made their task of governing that empire considerably easier.
The Greeks arrived on the Italian peninsula in large numbers during the age of Greek colonization.
Initially, the Greeks settled in southern Italy.
They founded Cumae on the Bay of Naples, Naples itself, and Tarentum and then crept around the coast and up the peninsula as far as Brindisi.
Ultimately, the Greeks had considerable influence on Rome. While Greek influence initially touched Rome indirectly through the Etruscans, the Romans’ conquest of southern Italy and Sicily brought them into direct contact with the Greeks.
In politics and law, as in conquest, the Romans took a practical approach and fashioned political institutions in response to problems as they arose.
POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS - The Romans had a clear concept of executive authority, embodied in their word imperium, or ‘‘the right to command.
Two consuls, chosen annually, administered the government and led the Roman army into battle.
He was in charge of the civil law as it applied to Roman citizens, reflecting Rome’s growth, another praetor was added to judge cases in which one or both parties were noncitizens.
As Rome expanded into the Mediterranean, additional praetors were established to govern the newly conquered provinces.
But as the number of provinces continued to grow, the Romans devised a new system in which ex-consuls and ex-praetors who had served their one-year terms were given the title of proconsul and proprietor, respectively, and sent out as provincial governors.
This demonstrates once again the Romans’ practical solution to an immediate problem.
The Roman senate came to hold an especially important position in the Republic.
The Roman Republic possessed a number of popular assemblies.
By far the most important was the centuriated assembly, essentially the Roman army functioning in its political role.
The government of the Roman Republic, then, consisted of three major elements.
During the Punic Wars, Rome had become acutely aware of the Hellenistic states of the eastern Mediterranean when the king of Macedonia made an alliance with Hannibal after the Roman defeat at Cannae.
But the Romans were preoccupied with the Carthaginians, and it was not until after the defeat of Carthage that Rome became involved in the world of Hellenistic politics as an advocate for the freedom of the Greek states.
This support of the Greeks brought the Romans into conflict with both Macedonia and the kingdom of the Seleucids.
Roman military victories and diplomatic negotiations rearranged the territorial boundaries of the Hellenistic kingdoms and achieved the freedom of the Greek states in 196 B.
Macedonia was made a Roman province in 148 B. to teach the Greeks a lesson, and Greece was placed under the control of the Roman governor of Macedonia.
the king of Pergamum deeded his kingdom to Rome, giving Rome's first province in Asia.
Rome was now master of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Romans did not have a master plan for the creation of an empire. Indeed, the Romans liked to portray themselves as declaring war only for defensive reasons or to protect allies.
By that same time, as the destruction of Corinth and Carthage indicates, Roman imperialism had become more arrogant and brutal as well.
Rome’s foreign success also had enormous repercussions for the internal development of the Roman Republic
One of the most noticeable aspects of Roman society and culture is the impact of the Greeks. The Romans had experienced Greek influence early on through the Greek cities in southern Italy.
By the end of the third century B., however, Greek civilization played an ever-increasing role in Roman culture. Greek ambassadors, merchants, and artists traveled to Rome and spread Greek thought and practices.
After their conquest of the Hellenistic kingdoms, Roman military commanders shipped Greek manuscripts and art back to Rome. Roman households used multitudes of educated Greek slaves.
Greek models affected virtually every area of Roman life, from literature and philosophy to religion and education.
Wealthy Romans hired Greek tutors and sent their sons to Athens to study.
As the Roman poet, Horace said, ‘‘Captive Greece took captive her rude conqueror".
Roman Religion Every aspect of Roman society was permeated with religion. Eventually, a complete amalgamation of Greek and Roman religion occurred, giving the Romans and the Greeks essentially the same ‘‘Greco-Roman’’ religion.
Initially three in number, by the first century B. At the head of the pontiffs was the pontifex Maximus, a powerful figure who controlled the state religion.
The pontiffs were in charge of what the Romans called the divine law, maintaining the right relationship between the state and the gods.
The pontiffs performed all public religious acts and supervised magistrates in the correct ritual for public political acts.
If the rituals were performed correctly, the Romans would obtain the ‘‘peace of the gods. ’’
The Romans’ success in creating an empire was no doubt taken as confirmation of divine favor.
Through contact with the Greek world, Roman education took on new ideals in the third and second centuries B.
The wealthy classes wanted their children exposed to Greek studies and were especially attracted to the training in rhetoric and philosophy that would prepare their sons for a successful public career.
Since knowledge of Greek was a crucial ingredient in education, schools taught by professional teachers emerged to supply this need.
Those who could afford to provide Greek tutors for their children, but less well-endowed families could turn to private schools where most of the instructors were educated slaves or freedmen, usually of Greek origin.
Values and Attitudes
The Romans were by nature a conservative people.
The Romans emphasized parental authority and, above all, their obligations to the state.
Some felt that after the destruction of Carthage, the Romans no longer had any strong enemies to challenge them.
Others believed that the Romans had simply been overwhelmed by the affluence created by the new empire.
And finally, there were those who blamed everything on the Greeks for importing ideas and practices baneful to the Romans.
The senate had become the effective governing body of the Roman state.
As always, it comprised some three hundred men drawn primarily from the landed aristocracy who remained senators for life and held the chief magistracies of the Republic.
The advice of the senate to the consuls had come to have the force of law.
The nobles were essentially the men whose families were elected to the more important political offices of the Republic.
These were not political parties or even individual cliques but leaders who followed two different approaches to politics.
Optimates and Populares were terms of political rhetoric that were used by individuals within the aristocracy against fellow aristocratic rivals to distinguish one set of tactics from another.
The Role of Sulla
This war resulted from Rome’s unwillingness to deal constructively with the complaints of its Italian allies.
These allies had fought loyally on Rome’s side but felt they had not shared sufficiently in the lands and bonuses given to Roman veterans.
The Italians rebelled and formed their own confederation.
Two years of bitter fighting left Italy devastated and took an enormous number of lives.
The Romans managed to end the rebellion but only by granting full rights of Roman citizenship to all free Italians. ‘‘Rome was now Italy, and Italy Rome. ’’
The influx of new voters into the popular assemblies drastically altered the voting power structure in favor of the popular, who had earlier favored the enfranchisement of the Italians.
Sulla had been made a consul for 88 B. ’’ After conducting a reign of terror to wipe out all opposition, Sulla revised the constitution to restore power to the senate.