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Rome Dominates the Italian Peninsula

Latin-speaking Indo-Europeans are believed to have migrated across the Alps and down into the Italian Peninsula around the mid-700s BCE, and some of them settled in the area that would be called Rome, where they farmed and raised animals. Like others, they were divided between aristocrats and commoners. The Romans were conquered by the Etruscans from north of them. An Etruscan ruled the Romans as their king until overthrown by conspiring Roman nobles in 509. Rome became a republic. Roman power was with a council of aristocrats called the Senate. There were two chief executives so as not to give too much power to one man. And there was a judiciary.

The Roman Republic made peace with their fellow Latins — good for trade. And for strength they created an alliance as an equal with their Latin neighbors. In the year 390 the Romans defeated an attempt against them by Celtic warrior-nomads from the north called Gauls. Rome was benefitting from its alliances, and there were more wars later that century from which Rome emerged dominant among all the peninsula's Latins. With this, Rome controlled an area from just north of Rome southward almost to Neapolis (Naples), a heavily populated area and a base from which Rome would spread its power and influence over the whole of Italy.

Rome used its prestige to regulate relations among various Italian cities. It created colonies, giving land in these colonies to common Romans and other Latins. The grant of land was accepted with the obligation of military service, each colony serving as a keeper of peace in its area. Rome grew in manpower by extending citizenship to people in its colonies and to cities it trusted, and there were people who wished to identify with what had become Rome's prestige, and they were willing to go to war as Romans.

Romans and their allies on the peninsula won a series of victories from 327 to 311 against both the Etruscans in the north and the Samnites of south-central Italy. There were more wars, and by 282 BCE Rome was dominant in all of the Italian peninsula except for the Greek cities in Italy's extreme south and in the north along the Po River Valley, inhabited by Gauls.

The Greek city of Tarentum in southern Italy was afraid of Rome and hostile. Rome sent diplomats to Tarentum, but Tarentum broke off the talks. The Roman ambassador was insulted and mocked, and Rome's Senate declared war. Tarentum call for help from King Pyrrhus of Epirus. He agreed to command the troops of Tarentum and the troops of other Greek cities in Italy combined with his own force. He was a former kinsman of Alexander the Great and saw war against Rome as an opportunity to extend Hellenistic authority over Italy as Alexander had planned. He saw opportunity to win for himself glory that Alexander. Illusions were stronger than a sober understanding of the recent past, and like many others in the Hellenistic east he underestimated Rome.

In 280, Pyrrhus landed 25,000 troops in Italy, including some 3,000 horsemen, 2,000 archers and the first elephants brought to Italy. He engaged the Romans in the Battle at Heraclea, using the elephants to drive through Roman lines, creating panic among the Roman soldiers. Pyrrhus won this and more battles against the Romans, but he found Rome's armies more ferocious than those he had faced in the East. His victories against the Romans came with enormous casualties, giving rise to the expression "Pyrrhic victory." Pyrrhus tried to win over to his side some of Rome's allies, but without success. Pyrrhus gave up, and in 272 Tarentum surrendered to Rome. Rome had become undisputed master of the lower three-quarters of the Italian peninsula.

CONTINUE READING: More Stupid Stuff: The Punic Wars and Imperialist Expansion

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