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Vatican Museum Ancient Marble Statue
Vittoriano Altare della Patria Rome
Castle Saint Angel Rome & Vatican City
Vatican Museum Statue Head Pigna Garden
Imperial Fora Rome Ruins
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Old Roman Aqueduct Rome Italy
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Rome History

the beginning


Ancient Romans believed their city had been founded on April 21, 753 BC, and more recent archaeological discoveries substantiate this. According to myth, Rome (Roma) was founded by the twin sons of Mars, god of war, and Rhea Silvia, princess and (until meeting Mars) vestal virgin. The twins, Romulus and Remus, were abandoned on the shores of the Tiber and brought up by a she-wolf. Romulus killed his brother in a battle over who should govern, and then established the so-called Rome (Roma) Quadrata, above the east shore of the River Tiber, which was to become the city that bears his name. Romulus was not only the founder of Rome, but also its first King.

From this legendary beginning, Rome grew to become the most important city in the ancient western world, and later the most powerful empire of its time. At its height, Rome governed the lives of 60 million people, one-fifth of the world's population, all of whom obeyed its laws, paid taxes to its emperor, and were familiar with its language, religions, and customs. Rome was quite literally the "superpower" of the ancient world. Rome, in the 1st century AD, with a population of over one million, was the largest city on earth. Not until London, in the year 1800, would another city reach a population density of one million.


Rome became dominated by the well-established Etruscan civilization to the North, from 616 to 510 BC. The Romans adopted many elements of the Etruscan and Greek cultures. Gladiator fights and chariot racing, for example, were Etruscan in origin; Roman art, architecture, and literature were heavily borrowed from the Greeks. Although the Etruscans had much to offer, the Romans came to resent this domination and in 509 BC, Roma's last Etruscan King was dethroned and the Roman Republic was founded. Two consuls who were elected each year by the Senate then ruled Roma, and a familiar logo of ancient Roma came into being"S P Q R"(Senatus Populusque Quiritum Romanorum), meaning the "Senate and People of Roma".

In 390 BC, the City of Rome was attacked and pillaged by the "Gauls",  invaders from what is now France, in alliance with the Etruscan people who dwelt north of Rome.

After the sacking of Rome in 390 BC, it was resolved that the Roman Republic should never again be subject to invasion. An army of better-trained and more disciplined soldiers replaced the disorganized and unevenly equipped civilian militias. Military conquest and colonization brought the rest of Italy under Roman rule by 268 BC. First to be absorbed were the Latins, Samnites, and other Latin tribes followed by the great Etruscan civilization in the North and the Greek colonies in the South.


the punic wars


After taking over the Italian Peninsula, the Romans soon came into conflict with the Carthaginians, who then had control of the Island of Sicilia. Carthage, on the north coast of Africa, in modern day Tunisia, was the "superpower" of the Mediterranean region, and Roma's principal competition for trade and control in and around the Mediterranean Sea. The fight between the two sides was a long one and took place on land and on sea. The most famous incident came when the great Carthaginian general Hannibal crossed the mountain chain of the Alps to the north of Italy with all his troops, including his war elephants and invaded Italy.

Carthage was a great seafaring nation, while Rome had no navy. The Romans, however, embarked on building an armada of war galleys based on the design of a wrecked Carthaginian ship. Carthage was finally defeated in 146 BC, after the three Punic Wars (264-241 BC, 218-201 BC, 149-146 BC) fought over a period of 100 some years.


Following the conclusion of the final Punic War, it was realized that a larger "standing army" of even better trained and more career-oriented soldiers was needed. Gaius Marius, a general who had returned from victories over the Germanic Tribes, became a consol in the Senate and decided to open the legions to all Roman citizens, whether they owned land or not. Consol Marius thus became the "Father of the Roman Army",  and under his guidance, the Roman Legions undertook strict training programs and lifestyles and adopted standard and proven rules of combat. The legionaries came to be known as "Mar's Mules" and the Roman Army evolved into the first truly professional army in history to be paid for with taxes levied on the people by its civil government, which then supported and supplied the Army with standardized weapons, equipment, training, wages, and benefits.


the emperor julius caesar


Further conquests followed. Roma's most famous citizen was Julius Caesar. He was a Roman politician and general who, without having any orders to do so, conquered the vast territory of the Gauls (now modern France) in 51 BC. He then returned to Rome with his legions in 49 BC.

This was considered an act of war, as no commander was to take his soldiers outside his province without the permission of the Senate. The Senators opposed to Caesar, fled to Dyrrhachium, in Greece, where they assembled an army under the command of Caesar's archrival, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great). Caesar besieged Dyrrhachium, but Pompey and his army escaped. In 48 BC, the two armies finally met at Pharsalus, in Thrace in central Greece where Caesar won a decisive victory; Pompey fled to Egypt where he was murdered.

Caesar continued on to Egypt and defeated the ruling pharaoh, placed Cleopatra on the throne in early 47 BC, and then returned to Rome later that year. Meanwhile the remains of Pompey's army had regrouped in North Africa and in 46 BC, Caesar defeated them again, at Thapsus, south of the previously conquered Carthage.

After a final victory in 45 BC, over Pompey's sons at Munda, in southern Hispania (Spain), the last of Caesar's enemies were removed.

In the year 49 BC Caesar crossed the small river between his province and Italy, called the river Rubicon, and conquered Rome itself and established himself as sole ruler. When in 44 BC, he proclaimed himself "dictator for life" and was murdered on the Ides of March (March 15) by a conspiracy of Senators, who were strongly opposed to a "one-man rule".


In the 20 plus years of power struggle that followed, Caesar's adopted son, Octavian, finally defeated all his political and military rivals to become Augustus Caesar, the first proclaimed Emperor of Roma in 27 BC. Thus, the Republic of Roma came to an end and the vaunted Empire of Roma came into being. Until its fall four hundred years later, 86 Emperors, some wise and just; others insane and corrupt ruled the Roman Empire.

Upon becoming emperor in 312 AD, Constantine the Great instituted many reforms. Persecution of the Christians ceased. His Edict of Milan established freedom of religious worship. Another decree called for religious observance of the Sabbath, prayers in the army, abolishment of gladiatorial combat, and the discontinuance of execution by crucifixion. Under Constant's rule, Christianity was made the official Roman religion and the Empire became tranquil and prospered. In 323, he overcame Licinius, the Emperor of the East, and thereby reunited the Eastern and Western domains of the Roman Empire. Constantine had many Christian churches erected throughout the reunited Empire, two of the grandest being the original St. Peters church in Rome and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.


the influence of the church


With the rise of Christianity in the 4th century, Rome lost much of its secular power but became the center of a new empire, Christendom. The Bishop of Rome was named successor to Saint Peter, or, in other words, Pope. Many of the Christian's large basilicas, such as Santa Croce, Santa Maria Maggiore, San Pietro, and San Sebastiano were built around this time.

In the late 8th century, Pope Stephen II backed up the claims of Frankish king Pepin the Short that he was the chosen of God, and in return received a parcel of land around Rome. The alliance became known as the Holy Roman Empire, combining the power of church and state.

From the 9th to the 12th centuries the power of the popes grew, although it was under constant attack from the city's various aristocratic houses. The papacy splurged its wealth on several new churches dedicated to the Virgin, the Santa Marias of Cosmedin, Trastevere (with its spectacular mosaic), Aracoeli, and Santa Maria sopra Minerva.


By the 15th century, with some of It's greatest artists, Raphael, Bernini, Borromini, and their wealthy patrons, the Medicis, Farneses, and Borgheses, the papacy transformed Rome into a wonderland of Renaissance and Baroque piazzas, churches, and fountains. Money poured in as pilgrims came from all over Europe to see the wonders of the Holy See. The only real interruption to papal power came in the form of the Roman Commune, whose republican constitution and classical-style senate were instituted during the Roman revolution of 1143.

Charle's sack of Rome in 1527, the French Revolution, Napoleon's march across Europe and the Franco-Prussian War weakened the papal power. In 1870 Rome became capital of the newly united Italy, and in 1929 the pope was made sovereign of Vatican City.


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