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The first Greek settlements in Italy were established in the early 8th century BC first on the island of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples, then along the peninsula's southern coast and in Sicily. What became known as Magna Graccia (Greater Greece) was really a group of independent city-states, established by colonists from different Greece cities. The founders of the colonies at Ischia and Cuma were from the island of Euboea, the great Sicilian city of Syracuse was founded by the Corinthians, and Spartan exiles founded the wealthy city of Taranto.

The civilisation of Magna Graecia spanned about six centuries, and flourished in Sicily and in the coastal settlements of southern Italy. The ruins of magnificent Doric temples in Italy's south (at Paestum) and on Sicily (Agrigento, Selinunte and Segesta) and other monuments, such as the Greek theatre oat Syracuse, stand as testimony to its splendour.

Syracuse's power was such that Athens came to regard the city as a rival and despatched a fleet to tame it. The ill-fated expedition, prompted in part also by Athenian dreams of creating a western empire (after reports of fabulous wealth in the Greek Sicilian cities), resulted in a long siege that ended only in 413 BC. when Syracuse routed the Athenian fleet and put its troops on land to flight.

By the end of the 3rd Century BC, Magna Graecia had succumbed to the might of the advancing Roman  Republic. The Romans in turn had largely succumbed to the sparkle of Hellenistic culture, in philosophy, literature, art, architecture and coinage.


Aeneas, a refuge from Troy whose  mother was the goddess Venus, is said to have landed in Italy in 1184BC. Through alliances and warfare, the Trojans established a kingdom based at Alba Longa. The last of this line produced the twins Romulus and Remus, allegedly sired by Mars himself.

The traditional date of the foundation of Rome by Romulus is 753 BC. The next seven kings were elected from the ranks of the nobles. Most notably, Numa Pompilus is credited with the creation of the legal and religious framework of early Roman society. The Etruscan Sevfius Tullius built the first walls around the city-state and established the basic organisation of the political and military system.

Servius Tullius was assassinate by a rival, Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud). It is said the misdeeds of Tarquinius, and those of his son, were sufficient to provoke rebellion and the overthrow of the monarchy. It is more likely that the king had managed to alienate the noble classes, anxious for a greater share of power in the administration of the Roman city-state and the adjacent territories it by now controlled. /tarquinius was unseated in 509 BC and replace by the Roman Republic (see the following section for detail so f how the Republic was organized). Around the same time the first temple was erected on the Capitoline Hill (Campidoglio).

Initially the Republic ran into problems as in-fighting among the nobles weakened Rome. The city had come to lord it over the Latin League, a loose federation of city-states in Latium and its other member snow sought to challenge that authority. In 496  BC Rome defeated a coalition of them in battle and the city's hegemony was formally recognised. Meanwhile, Rome spent much of the century in fire fights to ward off attacks by the land hungry Aequi and Volsci tribes. Conflict with the Etruscans to the north was also a constant thorn in Rome's side but, in 396 BC, the important Etruscan city of Veii fell to them. Two years later, an invading force of marauding Gauls, who had already inflicted considerable damage on Etruscan towns to the north, assaulted and sacked Rome.

The Romans eventually managed to pay the Gauls (who headed back to the Po Valley) to go away. They then repaired their city and embarked on a policy of expansion that by 265 BC had brought the peninsula south of the River Arno and the Apennines under roman control.


After ousting their kings, the patricians (noble class) of  Rome established a new system of rule: the Republic. The Imperium, or regal power, was placed into the hands of two consuls (with the right of veto over one another) who acted as political and military leaders. Also known by the general title of "magistrates" (a term applied to all those who exercised political, military, judicial and religious office), the  consuls were elected for non renewable one-year terms by an Assembly of the People. The Senate, whose member were appointed for life (by the consuls!), advised (a loose term) the consuls.

For a long time the patricians, less than 10% of the population of Rome, monopolised power. Although from the beginning monuments and the like were emblazoned with the initials SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus; the Senate and People of Rome), the "people" had precious little say in affairs. (The initials are still used and many Romans would argue that little has changed). Known as plebs ("the many"), the  disenfranchised majority became increasingly restive and wrested considerable concessions from the patrician class in the more than two centuries that followed the foundation of the Republic. By the 3rd century BC, Rome's basic laws had been codified and published as the Twelve Tables, a Council of Plebs acquired considerable importance, and, increasingly, plebs were being appointed as consuls and entering the Senate (it was customary for ex-consuls to be enrolled in the Senate upon completion of their term). The magistracy had become more complex, with a variety of offices (quaestors, aediles, praetors and censors) forming part of the executive with the consuls.

The Romans also developed a unique system for dealing with the other peoples in the region (the Sabines and Etruscans to the north and the Oscans, Samnites and Greek colonies to the south). Defeated city-states were not taken over but instead became allies. They were allowed to retain their own government and lands, but they were required to provide troops on demand to serve in the Roman army alongside native soldiers. This naturally increased the Republic's military strength and the protection offered by Roman hegemony induced many cities to become allies voluntarily.


For all its military success and their complexity of their political system the Romans remained a rough people and force ruled much of the life of the Republic. A mostly agrarian society, Rome was slow to take off commercially and did not bother to mint coins until 269 BC even though the neighbouring (and later conquered/allied) Etruscans and Greeks had long had their own currencies in circulation.  The Etruscans and Greeks also brought writing to the attention of Romans, who found it terribly useful for documents and technical affairs but hardly glowed in the literature department at this stage. Even in religion they were rather unoriginal, mixing and matching outside influences with their own animisti beliefs. Eventually the Greek pantheon of gods formed the bedrock of Roan worship.


While Rome consolidated its power on the peninsula, another military and commercial power flourished in the Mediterranean. The Kingdom of Carthage, based in modern Tunisia, had trading colonies and basics funds across the Mediterranean from Spain to Sicily. And it was the latter  that it would come to clash with Rome, for while the island's western cities were under Carthage's sway, those in the east were linked to Rome.

The first Punic (from Phoenicia, the eastern Mediterranean trading power that originally founded Carthage in 814 BC) War (264-241 BC) broke out when squabbling factions in the city of Messina appealed to both the Romans and Carthaginians for help. The grinding conflict brought hard-won victory to Rome, which spread its control to Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, and taught the Republic the importance of naval power.

In the meantime other conflicts brewed. Illiyrian pirates from the eastern Adriatic allied to the Greek Kingdom of Macedonia, harassed Italian cities to the extent that they turned to their federate ally and head, Rome, for help. Rome launched a heavy assault that earned it victory and Macedonia's enmity. Thus Rome entered the cortex of Greek squabbles and a series of complex wars in which Rome's allies and enemies on the Greek mainland and throughout the eastern Mediterranean changed with bewildering rapidity.

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