“Rome's great achievement was to transcend the narrow political orientation of the city-state and to create a world-state that unified the different nations of the Mediterranean world” (Perry, 104).

            “The Romans were...a practical people.  Unlike the Greeks, who reserved their citizenship for small, select groups, the Romans offered their citizenship to the peoples they conquered, thus laying the basis for a strong, integrated empire.  The Romans knew that they were inferior to the Greeks in the intellectual sphere and did not hesitate to borrow ideas and culture from them.  Roman strength lay in government, law, and engineering.  The Romans knew how to govern people, establish legal structures, and construct the roads that took them to the ends of the known world.  Throughout their empire, they carried their law, their political institutions, their engineering skills, and their Latin language.  And even after the Romans were gone, those same gifts continued to play an important role in the continuing saga of Western civilization” (Spiel.4th Ed 115).

            One should never underestimate the Roman intellectual achievement:  “The Romans adopted and transformed the intellectual and cultural achievements of the Greeks and combined them with their own outlook and historical experience.  They produced that Graeco-Roman tradition in literature, philosophy, and art that served as the core of learning for the Middle Ages and the inspiration for the new paths taken in the Renaissance.  It remains at the heart of Western Civilization today” (Kagan 115).

   The Romans' ancestors like the Greeks, were Indo-European.  The Italian peninsula, in fact, was being settled by a western wing of the Indo-European migration that was invading the Aegean area (reached Italian peninsula during the second half of the second millennium BC.  Later, as in Greece, a further migration of iron-working Indo-Europeans occurred.  A group of these invaders settled in the plain of Latium, in the valley south of the Tiber River.  But these people languished in relative obscurity for centuries.  "By the first millennium BC, other peoples had also settled in Italy--the two most notable being the Greeks and the Etruscans (Spiel.4th Ed., 115)."  [Greeks during Age of Colonization, 750-550 BC).  It was the obscure Etruscans, who lived just N of Rome, whose civilization would first flourish (also the Greeks in southern Italy).


I.                    The Etruscans

1.    They flourished in the 8th c. BC, but to this day they are an enigma because, until recently, historians were not positive about who they were, where they came from, or  what language they spoke.  The Greeks and Romans thought they came from Lydia in Asia Minor (cf. Herodotus 1.94 vs. Dionysius of Halicarnassus who argued for Italian origins). 

2.    By 700 BC they were established in Tuscany.  “They were a city-dwelling people who established their towns in commanding positions and fortified them with walls...By their transformation of villages into towns and cities, they brought urbanization to northern and central Italy (the Greeks brought urbanization to southern Italy)” (Spiel.4th Ed 116-17).  Etruscan civilization has many characteristics with the East (Asia Minor) but also with predecessors in Italy.  But no other culture related to Etruscan's has ever been found!  So, “Many scholars now believe that the archaeological evidence is best interpreted as showing an unbroken evolution from earlier native, non-Indo-European-speaking peoples known as the Villanovans” (Spiel.4th Ed. 116).

3.    “As is clear from the ornate funerary objects found in their tombs, the Etruscans were a rich and technologically sophisticated people” (Greaves 110). They showed outstanding sophistication and technological ability early on; e.g., gold treasures buried in their tombs show superb craftsmanship.  They had commercial contact over most of the Western Mediterranean.    The Etruscan cities of Cerveteri and Tarquinia especially developed rich artistic traditions.  The characteristics they shared with the East could be explained by the fact that they were influenced by Greek and Orientalizing styles.

4.    During the 7th and 6th c. BC the Etruscans extended their territory so that they occupied Rome from 616-510 BC!  Their influence on the Romans would be enormous:

1)      engineering [1] drained a large marshy area (previously uninhabitable) which became the future Roman Forum, the community's center. [2] roads

2)      architecture:  built temples and shrines (learned about the arch!

3)      crafts: metallurgy, ceramics, portrait sculpture (bronze workers, gold smiths, carpenters)

4)       “The Romans were also indebted to the Etruscans for the alphabet.  The Etruscan alphabet was derived form the Greeks although historians are unsure whether it was from the Greek settlements in Italy or the mainland Greeks.  The Latin alphabet was a modification of the Greek-derived Etruscan one” (Spiel.4th Ed. 117). The best guess for the source of the Greek alphabet is the Euboean Greeks who had trading posts at Al Mina in Phoenicia as well as Pithekoussai on Ischia off the coast of Etruria.

5)      the Etruscans are responsible for Rome for the first time coming into contact with the larger Mediterranean world.

6)      Religion:  Things we typically think of as Roman: dress ( toga); public games like chariot racing; but the greatest influence was probably in aspects of religion:  divination or prophecy by the flight of birds and by examining entrails of animals; -some of their gods.  "The insignia of the Etruscan kings became the insignia of Roman magistrates in the Republic.  Most impressive was the fasces, an axe surrounded by a bundle of rods used as a symbol for the power to scourge and execute, hence to rule.  In the Republic, the consuls as chief magistrates were preceded by twelve lictors bearing the fasces” (Spiel.4th Ed. 117). (see fasces on U.S. dime)


5.    The Roman patricians (landowning aristocracy) expelled the Etruscans from Rome in 510 and eventually took over the Etruscan territory.  By the 3rd c. BC, having been defeated by Celts, Greeks, and Romans, they ceased to exercise any political power in Italy. 

In the first c. BC they automatically received the right of Roman citizenship and became absorbed into the Roman Empire. 




            1.  According to tradition, Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus and Remus, who were exposed as infants by Amulius who usurped their uncle's throne.  They were suckled by a she-wolf until a shepherd found them and they eventually established a city (composed at first of runaway slaves and debtors) near the spot by the river where they were left as infants.  The brothers argued and Remus was killed, cf. Livy I, 7.  (City named after Romulus.)  "Of course, the Romans invented this story to provide a noble ancestry for their city.  After all, the twins' father was supposed to have been the god Mars, the most important deity in early Roman religion.  Archaeologists have found, however, that by the eighth century BC there was a settlement consisting of huts on the tops of Rome's hills.

2.      Rome was ruled by seven kings, the last two being Etruscan from 616-509 BC (though Etruscan influence seems to have begun around 625 BC).  It probably was a small country town until Etruscan occupation.  "The Etruscans were responsible for an outstanding building program.  They constructed the first roadbed of the chief street through Rome--the Sacred Way--before 575 BC and oversaw the development of temples, markets, shops, streets, and houses.  By 509 BC, supposedly when the monarchy was overthrown, a new Rome had emerged, essentially a product of the fusion of Etruscan and native Roman elements (Spiel.4th Ed.  117).

During this period, there were only two classes of Roman citizens:  the land-owning aristocrats or patricians and the commoners or plebeians.  The government consisted of a king, a centuriate assembly (the Roman army acting in a political capacity the basic unit of which was the century, theoretically 100 fighting men classified according to their weapons, armor and equipment), and the senate.



Send comments and questions to Dr. Richard Baldwin, Gulf Coast State College.
This page last updated 3/17/12