Why did Rome come to power?
City foundation out of political calculation
"Seven-five-three: Rome crawled out of the egg" is the motto from history lessons. What is meant is the founding date 753 BC. Archaeological research shows, however, that the first settlements emerged as early as the 10th century BC on two of the seven hills of Rome.
First on the Palatine and the Esquiline. The area in between is swampy. 200 years later another hill was built: the Capitol. By the middle of the 8th century BC, the accumulation of poor peasant huts finally emerged into a small, walled town.
However, the development into a city is not, as the legend says, due to Romulus. As the first Roman ruler, he probably doesn't play a role. It was the Etruscans who ruled central Italy at this time and made Rome the strategic center of central Italy. You design the city according to your own and based on the Greek model.
The Etruscan rulers build the so-called "Cloaca maxima", a sewer system to drain the marshland between the hills, and at this time they are already laying out the main town square, later the Roman Forum. It becomes the place of sanctuaries, assemblies, and justice.
Center of the Roman Empire
In the next few centuries, too, urban development will not be determined by flourishing handicrafts and trade, as elsewhere, but by politics. Rome is a largely representative city, financed by spoils of war and tributes.
That does not change with the expulsion of the last Etruscan king Tarquinius Superbus around 510 BC. Rome now becomes a republic: the consulate, senate and popular assemblies determine politics for centuries.
More and more areas in Italy are subject to a systematic expansion policy. The city of Rome is the political, social and cultural center of an ever-growing Roman Empire.
For the expansion of the metropolis, however, the money continues to flow from the subject areas. In the year 433 BC the Temple of Apollo was built on the Field of Mars and the Circus Maximus below the Palatine Hill, initially as a large meadow framed by wooden stands.
The road network is being expanded: the Via Sacra, on which the dead had been buried until then, will continue to the Roman Forum and end at the Capitol. As an axis, it now connects the most important city centers.
The Roman Forum becomes the center of the star-shaped arteries. The most famous, the Via Appia, leads south-east to what is now Apulia. The first 17-kilometer aqueduct was built in 312 BC. A large part of the population is no longer supplied with the polluted water of the Tiber, but with fresh spring water.
There is no uniform Roman cityscape, it is constantly changing. The city is constantly being renovated, old buildings are being torn down or simply built over. The "Eternal City" was subject to constant modernization in antiquity.
Roads, bridges, ports and art theft
Around 270 BC the political and economic importance of Rome grew increasingly. This can be seen in the construction of new plants and buildings. The temple of Juno Moneta with a minting workshop for coins is built on the Capitol.
Dirt roads are paved and bridges built over the Tiber. Market halls are built. A state archive, the so-called Tabularium, is being built in the Roman Forum. A trading port is being expanded at the Forum Boarium and a naval port on the Marsfeld.
Representative buildings are being built by Greek architects, such as the first marble temple dedicated to the gods Jupiter Stator and Juno Regina.
Since the native marble has not yet been discovered near Carrara, the noble material is imported by sea from conquered Greece. On this occasion, a number of Greek works of art are deported to Rome. In order to rebuild the burnt-out temple of Jupiter on the Capitol, even the original columns of Olympion are stolen from Athens.
Tenements, functional and magnificent buildings
With the conquests in Greece and Asia Minor, the city grew rapidly around 200 BC. The first tenements are built. A hundred years later, sanitary and traffic problems are already plaguing the city. Then there are fires, famines, floods of the Tiber and a shortage of housing. Construction and rental speculation make the situation worse.
In the middle of the first century BC, the Roman Emperor Caesar tried to solve the problems through laws. Pavement, repair and cleaning of the streets are regulated. The food supply is decreed in a socially just manner. Low rents are canceled for one year, rental rates are generally reduced.
The glorification of oneself is not neglected with so much social engagement. Generals such as Sulla, Pompey and Caesar have their deeds of fame immortalized through representative magnificent buildings.
Caesar, for example, has a large area bought up next to the Roman Forum in order to build his Forum Julianum there. These so-called imperial forums are becoming a tradition. The most splendid is the Forum of Trajan, which was completed as the last imperial forum in 143 AD.
Urban redevelopment in the Caesarean style
During the reign of Emperor Augustus between 31 BC and 14 AD, the city is to get a new face. The emperor reformed the city's administration by dividing it into 14 districts. A professional fire brigade is set up and a guard of several thousand men. The Tiber is regulated to avert the risk of flooding.
The sanitary conditions are improved: The first public, heated thermal baths are built. Public libraries are set up for intellectual education. The building height of the tenements is limited to 20 meters. Cattle for slaughter may only be driven through the streets at night to prevent traffic jams.
Private car traffic is also prohibited during the day. Only building materials for public buildings may be transported. The Circus Maximus is expanded in the first century AD. Now it offers space for around 250,000 spectators to watch horse and chariot races. From 80 AD, gladiator fights can be followed in the Colosseum on around 50,000 places.
Emperor Augustus boasts of having found a city made of adobe bricks, but left one of marble. In fact, he has 82 existing temples restored and clad with marble, but most of the buildings are still made of wood, as the Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus reports. The advantage: wood is easy to obtain, transport and work with.
The disadvantage: wood burns quickly and the fires spread quickly. Indeed: the tenements are only built of stone on the lower floors, with a connection to the water and sewer system. For structural reasons, the upper floors are made of light wood. One lives in constant fire danger.
No wonder that in AD 64, rumors suggest that Nero could set Rome on fire so easily. The city is on fire for six days. Of the 14 districts, three are destroyed to the ground, seven are burned down.
His supposed ulterior motive: He wants to redesign the city according to his own plans and thereby ensure more security. In fact, he orders the streets to be widened, prescribes the use of fireproof building materials and the observance of house distances.
Inventory of public institutions
During the time of Emperor Constantine, from 306 to 337 AD, Rome reached its greatest extent. There are eleven aqueducts with a daily capacity of over a million cubic meters of water. With around one million inhabitants, this is a daily per capita consumption of more than 1000 liters: used for 1,352 public water points, 856 small baths and eleven thermal baths.
There are 254 large bakeries, 290 warehouses, 1,790 private residences, 46,602 tenement houses, eight large squares, eleven forums, eight bridges, 190 granaries, 254 mills, 28 public libraries, 22 circuses, two amphitheaters, three theaters, 36 triumphal arches and 46 brothels.
But Rome no longer has the political importance it had in the days of Emperor Augustus. The decadence of the upper classes, domestic power struggles and numerous selfish or weak emperors have run down the city. When Emperor Constantine moved his residence to Constantinople, today's Istanbul, in 330 at the latest, the decline of the ancient world metropolis began.
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