Rome is in the middle of Italy on the Tiber River. Rome is history itself for the western world. It is romantic. Actually, ‘romantic’ means ‘like Rome’. That’s how romantic it is.

Too Much History

It goes way back to BC. It was the capital of the Roman Empire for over seven hundred years. Those were not all good years for the Empire, by the way.

So the name, Roma may have come from Romulus. The story is that in 753 BC, Romulus and Remus decided to build a city. After an argument, Romulus killed his brother Remus. The original settlement developed into the capital of the Roman Kingdom (ruled by a succession of seven kings), and then the Roman Republic, and finally the Roman Empire.


Gauls Ask Ransom

Around 400 BC, the Gauls took it over but, get this, the Gauls offered to give it back for a thousand pounds of gold! I don’t think it was about the money but the Romans refused to pay up and took their city back by force. It was a matter of honor.

The Roman Republic of 500 BC took a while to become a great empire. To do this, they had to conquer. They conquered the Sabines, the Etruscans, and the Samnites. They conquering Carthage and added Sicily and Corsica. Conquering felt good to the Romans so after Spain they took on the Greek world.


When did the Greeks give way to Rome?

It’s 168 BC, and Antiochus IV Epiphanes is attacking Egypt. It wasn’t the first time. If he can’t whip the Egyptians, he can stomp on the Jews on his way back home. This always made him feel better.

Rome had been observing this back and forth attacking among the divided Greek Empire for some time and decided it had to stop. They needed some world left for them to conquer.

Antiochus is giving Egypt another chance to be conquered and is hot-footing it towards Alexandria. All of a sudden, his way is blocked by an old guy who is surely a Roman. Antiochus pulls up short.

The guy is a Roman ambassador named Gaius Popillius Laenas and his terse message comes straight from the Roman Senate: “Lay off on Egypt and go home.”

Well, Antiochus is not used to taking orders from anybody about anything. In fact, anyone who’s ever crossed him is dead. “What if I don’t?” says Antiochus. “Then you will be at war with the Roman Republic,” says Gaius. “Well, I’ll have to discuss this with my councillors,” says Antiochus, playing for time to think this over.

The Roman envoy drew a line in the sand around Antiochus and said, “You can council all you want but I need your reply to the Roman Senate before you cross this circle.” Antiochus realizes that Gaius is not kidding around here and that no answer is the wrong answer.

Antiochus mulls this over a bit and decides conquering Egypt may not be worth it. Popillius smiles and reaches out to shake his hand and says, “Now you’re talking sense.”

That’s where the saying started about ‘drawing a line in the sand’.


No Empire Without an Emperor

The Roman Empire was big. But when Octavian changed his name to Emperor Augustus in 27 BC, everyone noticed the change, especially the Emperor part. He also said he was Emperor For Life. He even changed the name of a month to August! This was not enough for Julius Caesar. He added the title Dictator For Life. He also had to have a month named after him, July. The ‘For Life’ part may have stirred up his enemies because they assassinated him on March 15, 44 BC. He did get to keep the month name, though.


The Reformer

Emperor Augustus was a reformer. He did social, political and economic reforming. He even started to rebuild the city of Rome itself. New buildings, palaces, and gardens. You could hardly recognize the place after he got done. Augustus like art especially poetry. This was great for guys like Virgil and Horace. Everything was peaceful now so they called it the Pax Romana for about 200 years. Emperors like Caligula, Nero, Trajan, and Hadrian followed. Because Roman Emperor Nero was an extravagant, cruel tyrant, they made up the story that he “fiddled while Rome burned” in 64 AD. Whether or not he did any fiddling, he was a heartless tyrant who did own a lot of expensive fiddles.


How the Pope Became Pope

The Bishop of Rome had lot of pull with Emperor Constantine. He became The Pope and made Rome the headquarters of the Catholic Church. This job paid a lot of money so Popes became patrons of the arts. This paid the bills for guys like Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, and Cosimo Rosselli. Michelangelo’s ceiling is in the Sistine Chapel. They cleaned it recently and it really brought out the colors.


Popes and Art

All this Pope Patronage went on until they had to call it something so they called it The Renaissance. Works like the Pietà by Michelangelo and the frescoes of the Borgia Apartment were financed by Popes. It went on until Rome was one of the greatest centers of art in the world. The Pope wanted his own sovereign, so inside Rome is Vatican City. A state within a city!


Seven Hills

Originally, Rome developed on hills that faced onto a ford beside the Tiber. The Rome of the Kings was built on seven hills: the Aventine Hill, the Caelian Hill, the Capitoline Hill, the Esquiline Hill, the Palatine Hill, the Quirinal Hill, and the Viminal Hill. Memorize them. There will be a test.


What’s the Weather Like?

Rome enjoys a Mediterranean climate being on the Mediterranean as it is. Spring and autumn are mild to warm, and the “beautiful October days” are known for being sunny and warm. There may be snow in the winter but don’t count on it.


Stuff You Might Like to Know

St Peter and St Paul were martyred in the city.

The Colosseum could hold 60,000 spectators. You were lucky if you could get a seat to see the gladiators fight. It was that popular.

You like water? Rome had a lot of fountains. They provided drinking water and they spruced up the plazas, I mean, the piazzas. Rome had 9 aqueducts that fed 100 fountains. That’s a lot of serious drinking fountains. They were open all the time. Two different aqueduct systems made sure of this. One could be shut down for repair and you still had water.

You like bridges? You can cross the Tiber five times without using the same ancient Roman bridge.

One unusual feature of Rome, or rather under Rome, is the ancient catacombs. These underground burial places are most famous for Christian burials, but they include pagan and Jewish burials, as well.

The Vatican Library got started in 1475. I don’t even think books were invented then. But as soon as they got them, they built shelves.


Why is Rome So Romantic?

People like Rome. Tourists are charmed by Rome. You can’t say enough about it. The beauty. I mean, you can just see the history. The aqueducts, the fountains, the fabulous buildings and the monuments. I have to say that some of the stuff looks a bit run down, though. Then somebody says, “It’s 2500 years old!” I know, they’ve had plenty of time to fix it up.

When the Roman Empire was big they spoke Latin. Not so much now, except for the priests. Latin turned into several European languages like French and Spanish. Not to mention Italian and Portuguese. And possibly Romanian. Even modern English has a lot of Latin. Rome ruled England for a short time. As soon as they confused all the measuring and Hadrian built that wall, they went home. And the Roman alphabet is the most widely used writing system in the world.


All Roads Lead to Rome

It’s true. Rome is still the center of a network of roads that roughly follow the lines of the ancient Roman roads. They all end up at the Capitoline Hill and connected Rome with its vast empire.


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