According to legend, Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus, who with his brother Remus, had been saved and fed as infants by a wolf after being sent in a basket down the Tiber River by an evil king. In fact, Rome was settled by people drawn to the Tiber River and the seven hills adjacent to it by at least as early as 800 BC. Now known as Latins, these early settlers were under Etruscan rule until 509 BC when they rose up against the Etruscan King and founded the Republic of Rome.
In the ensuing centuries up to 264 BC, Rome continued to fight against various enemies, including other neighboring Italian peoples, the Gauls, and the Greek city-states in the south. Meanwhile, the Romans were fast becoming a major military power, building the roads and frontier outposts known as coloniae, which would eventually become the foundation of their empire. In 264 BC, Rome fought against the Phoenicians, who were the other emerging military and colonial power in the Mediterranean during the so-called Punic Wars. The last of these wars ended in 146 BC with the destruction of Carthage, the Phoenicians western capital. This same year also marked the Romans’ final subjugation of Macedonia and Greece with the annexation of Corinth. By the end of the Punic Wars, Rome had effectively become the master of the Mediterranean.
Although nominally a republic, Rome was hardly a democracy in the modern sense. Most Romans, after all, were farmers and, with the passage of time, the wealthy senate class effectively dominated society. The catalyst for the shift to an empire was none other than Julius Caesar who, after his military victories in Spain, Gaul, and Britain, returned to Rome in 49 BC thereafter eliminating his rivals and becoming the ruler of Rome and its territories. In the power struggle that followed Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC, his grand-nephew and appointed successor, Octavian, avenged him and took the title of Augustus in 27 BC, being granted absolute power over the Roman state and its people for 56 years. This was when Rome was changed from a republic to an empire.
During its first 200 years as an empire, Rome thrived both economically and culturally. In the city of Rome, massive structures such as the Colosseum were erected, its military had conquered lands as far as the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, and Roman language, law, and culture had spread across Europe. In the following two centuries, Rome also became synonymous with extravagance and eventually decadence. In 395 AD, the Roman Empire was divided into the West Roman Empire and the East Roman Empire with its capital at Constantinople. The once great city of Rome entered an age of strife, due to barbarian invasions from the north and internal competition by Italian families.
The Roman Empire started to shift from polytheism to Christianity in 313 when Emperor Constantine officially recognized the new religion and ended the persecution of Christians. In the following years, the bishop of Rome gradually came to be recognized as the first among equals and it was during the papacy of Leo the Great (440-461) when the Pope was truly established as the supreme leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
In the 15th century, Rome re-emerged as a prominent city. During the Renaissance, the Popes and their favored families patronized many scholars, artists and architects; and sponsored the construction of numerous great churches and public works. Napoleon’s forces overtook Rome in 1798 and, in 1809, Napoleon actually annexed it to France, but the Papacy regained control of the city in 1814. The Kingdom of Italy was founded in 1862, but the Pope continued to claim Rome as the church’s territory until Italian troops moved in and made Rome the capital of the new nation in 1871.
Under Mussolini in the 1920s and 30s, Rome became the capital of his Fascist dictatorship. Several new buildings, including the modern railroad station where sponsored during this time. During World War II, the Allies recognized Rome as an open city and refrained from bombing its structures before entering it on June 4, 1944.
Today, Rome is a modern metropolitan city and one of the most important tourist destinations in the world, hosting millions of visitors every year who come to feast their eyes upon the magnificence of the eternal city.