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History of Rome

The glorious Roman civilization had its origins in small groups of farmers and shepherds who settled along the banks of the Tiber, on the Palatine hills and the surrounding areas.

The most famous myth regarding Rome’s origins recounts the Trojans' escape from their ruined city of Troy. With Aeneas as their guide, they reached Lazio, settled there and intermarried with the Latin people. Ascanius, son of Aeneas, founded Albalonga. His ancestor, Amulius took the throne from his older brother, Numitore and forced his daughter Rhea Silvia to become a vestal virgin. However, Silvia was loved by the god Mars and bore him twin sons, Romulus and Remus, who were thrown into the Tiber. The twins survived and were washed up close to the Palatine hills. A she-wolf raised the newborn babies, who were later found and adopted by a shepherd and his wife. An argument between the two brothers over who was the founder of the city was decided when Romulus murdered his brother, and Rome is said to have been established in 753 BC.

The Roman republic was characterized by internal struggles that eventually led to the success of the plebeians (lower class Romans) and a new order of ruling class. The city expanded and gradually, the whole of Lazio, the Italic peninsula and the Mediterranean basin were conquered. For almost four centuries, Rome concentrated her energies on building a strong, solid empire. Mighty conquests came thick and fast: from Sannitic and Tarantine wars, to clashes with Carthage and Syracuse. Rome expanded over land and sea and managed to accomplish what no other civilization had managed, the unification of the East and West.

In the first two centuries of the empire, Rome reached the height of its power, but the first signs of its downfall were already apparent towards the end of the second century. The imperial age opened with a long period of peace, and the unity of the empire was secure during the period between Emperors Octavian and Caracallus. However, this unity became increasingly unstable and eventually dissolved.

The fall of the Roman Empire is dated at 476 BC. The causes of Rome’s decline are numerous: the empire was unable to control its many subjects, and social and economic changes made for an unstable climate as did the forceful arrival of the Barbarians. Christianity also began to spread and emperors tried to unite the empire using religion. Emperors wanted to have their titles sanctified and became Holy Roman Emperors. Emperor Constantine sanctioned the freedom and tolerance of Christians in his edict of 313 but he unwisely decided to move the capital of the empire to Constantinople undermining the empire’s power. The pontificate was re-established in Rome with Gregory XI in 1377. The power of the Popes increased as they were able to assign public offices, which led to clashes and schisms.

The centralizing of the papacy and the church's power made a cultural impact. Rome became the centre of artistic life. The face of the city changed, as palaces, villas, piazzas and churches were built. New streets were created and the basilica of Saint Peter was restored. The sack of Rome occurred in 1527, and although the effects were disastrous (all the artists abandoned the city), the wounds were soon healed and a new spirit of rebirth and development enveloped the city. More new districts and streets were created and the population began to move back to the city.

In the 17th century, Rome also had a period of expansion and beautification, largely due to the work of two major artists, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini. Clashes continued between the nobility and the populace. Rome’s fortune waxed and waned under Napoleonic rule: the church’s estates were confiscated and divided amongst French officials and Italian laymen. The city was subject to French rule until the fall of Napoleon III and the annexation of Italy.

Rome became the capital of Italy in 1870 and the city received a huge influx of immigrants; this led to the rapid, and disordered creation of new dwellings. The situation did not become any better with the advent of fascism. During WWII, the city was bombarded heavily by America, causing major damage, particularly in the areas of Verano and Porta Maggiore. The city was attacked during the period of German occupation until the end of the war. From June 2, 1946 Italy chose to be a republic, ousting its monarchy and Rome was chosen as the capital.