The Romans shared the Italian peninsula with other peoples. Among them were Greek colonists whose city-states dotted southern Italy and the Etruscans (ih TRUHS kuhnz), who lived mostly north of Rome. The origins of the Etruscan civilization are uncertain. One theory says they migrated from Asia Minor, while another suggests they came from the Alps. What is certain is that, for a time, the Etruscans ruled much of central Italy, including Rome.

The Romans learned much from Etruscan civilization. They adapted the alphabet that the Etruscans had earlier acquired from the Greeks. The Romans also learned from the Etruscans to use the arch in construction, and they adapted Etruscan engineering techniques to drain the marshy lands along the Tiber. Over time, the Romans adopted some Etruscan gods and goddesses who became merged with Roman deities.

The Early Roman Republic

In 509 B.C., the Romans drove out their Etruscan king. This date is traditionally considered to mark the founding of the Roman state. Determined never again to be ruled by a monarch, the Romans set up a new government in which officials were chosen by male citizens. They called it res publica, or “that which belongs to the people.” This form of government, in which people choose their officials, is today called a republic. In a republic, Romans thought, no single individual would be able to gain too much power.

Structure of Rome's Republic

In the early republic, the most powerful government body was the senate. It made the laws and controlled the government. At first, its 300 members were all patricians, or members of the landholding upper class.

Each year, the senators nominated two consuls from the patrician class. Their job was to supervise the business of government and command the armies. Consuls, however, could serve only one term and were expected to approve each other's decisions.

They were also expected to consult with the senate. By limiting their time in office and making them responsible to each other, Rome had a system of checks on the power of government.

A map shows ancient Italy, circa 500 B C.
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Various ancient civilizations lived on the Italian peninsula around 500 B.C. What was one of Rome's geographical advantages?

In the event of war, the senate might choose a dictator or ruler who has complete control over a government.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments