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7th Grade Social Studies / Lesson 2 - Roman World take shape

  What will we be learning in this unit?
  • How did geography shape the early world of Rome?
  • What were the major characteristics of government and society in the Roman republic?
  • Why was Rome's expansion in Italy successful?

Geography and People in Italy
  • The Italian peninsula looks like a boot, jutting into the Mediterranean Sea. The peninsula is centrally located in the Mediterranean, and the city of Rome is in the center of Italy. That location helped the Romans as they expanded, first in Italy, and then into lands around the Mediterranean. 
  • Because of its geography, Italy was much easier to unify than Greece. Unlike Greece, Italy is not broken up into small, isolated valleys. In addition, the Apennine Mountains, which run like a backbone down the length of the Italian peninsula, are less rugged than the mountains of Greece. Finally, Italy has the advantage of broad, fertile plains, both in the north under the shadow of the Alps, and in the west, where the Romans settled. These plains supported a growing population

Geography and People in Italy
  • The ancestors of the Romans, the Latins, migrated into Italy by about 800 b.c. The Latins settled along the Tiber River in small villages scattered over seven low-lying hills where they herded and farmed. Those villages would in time grow into Rome, the city on seven hills. 
  • The Romans shared the Italian peninsula with other peoples. Among them were Greek colonists whose city-states dotted southern Italy and the Etruscans who lived north of Rome. For a time, the Etruscans ruled much of central Italy, including Rome itself. 
  • The Romans learned much from Etruscan civilization. They adapted the alphabet that the Etruscans had earlier acquired from the Greeks. They also learned to use the arch in building and adapted Etruscan engineering techniques to drain the marshy lands along the Tiber. Etruscan gods and goddesses merged with Roman deities.

Roman Republic

  • The Romans drove out their Etruscan ruler in 509 b.c. This date is traditionally considered to mark the founding of the Roman state. 
  • The Romans set up a new government in which some officials were chosen by the people. They called it a republic, or "thing of the people. A republic, Romans thought, would keep any individual from gaining too much power. 
  • In the early republic, the most powerful governing body was the senate. Its 300 members were all patricians, members of the landholding upper class. Senators, who served for life, made the laws.


Roman Republic

  • Each year, the senators elected from the patrician class two consuls. Their job was to supervise the business of government and command the armies. Consuls, however, could serve only one term. They were also expected to consult with the senate. By limiting their time in office and making them responsible to the senate, Rome had a system of checks on the power of government. 
  • In the event of war, the senate might choose a dictator, or ruler who has complete control over a government. Each Roman dictator was granted power to rule for six months. Then, he had to give up power. Romans admired Cincinnatus as a model dictator. Cincinnatus organized an army, led the Romans to victory over the attacking enemy, attended victory celebrations, and returned to his farmlands - all within 16 days.


Roman Republic
  • At first, all government officials were patricians. Plebeians, the farmers, merchants, artisans, and traders who made up the bulk of the population, had little influence. The efforts of the plebeians to gain power shaped politics in the early republic. 
  • The plebeians' first breakthrough came in 450 b.c., when the government had the laws of Rome inscribed on 12 tablets and set up in the Forum, or marketplace. Plebeians had protested that citizens could not know what the laws were, because they were not written down. The Laws of the Twelve Tables made it possible for the first time for plebeians to appeal a judgment handed down by a patrician judge.

Roman Republic
  • In time, the plebeians gained the right to elect their own officials, called tribunes, to protect their interests. The tribunes could veto, or block, those laws that they felt were harmful to plebeians. Little by little, plebeians forced the senate to choose plebeians as consuls, appoint plebeians to other high offices, and finally to open the senate itself to plebeians.

Roman Republic
  • Although the senate still dominated the government, the common people had gained access to power and won safeguards for their rights without having to resort to war or revolution. More than 2,000 years later, the framers of the United States Constitution would adapt such Roman ideas as the senate, the veto, and checks on political power.

 Roman Society
  • The family was the basic unit of Roman society. Under Roman law, the male head of the household, usually the father, had absolute power in the family. He enforced strict discipline and demanded total respect for his authority. His wife was subject to his authority and was not allowed to administer her own affairs. The ideal Roman woman was loving, dutiful, dignified, and strong.

  Roman Society
  • Roman women played a larger role in society than did Greek women. In later Roman times, women from all classes ran a variety of businesses, from small shops to major shipyards. Those who made their fortunes earned respect by supporting the arts or paying for public festivals. Most women, though, worked at home, raising their families, spinning, and weaving. 
  • Over the centuries, Roman women gained greater freedom and influence. Patrician women went to the public baths, dined out, and attended the theater or other public entertainments with their husbands. Some women, such as Livia and Agrippina the Younger, had highly visible public roles and exercised significant political influence.

Roman Society
  • Girls and boys alike learned to read and write. Even lower-class Romans were taught to write, as can be seen from the jokes and other graffiti that archaeologists found scrawled on walls around the city. 
  • By the late republic, many wealthy Romans were hiring private tutors, often Greeks, to supervise the education of their children. Under their guidance, children memorized major events and developments in Roman history. Rhetoric was an important subject for boys who wanted to pursue political careers.

Roman Society
  • Roman gods and goddesses resembled those of the Etruscans and Greeks. Like the Greek god Zeus, the Roman god Jupiter ruled over the sky and the other gods. Juno, his wife, like the Greek goddess Hera, protected marriage. Romans also prayed to Neptune, god of the sea, whose powers were the same as those of the Greek god Poseidon. On the battlefield, they turned to Mars, the god of war. 
  • The Roman calendar was full of feasts and other celebrations to honor the gods and to ensure divine favor for the city. As loyal citizens, Romans joined in these festivals, which inspired a sense of community. Throughout Rome were dozens of temples where statues of the gods were housed. Inside these temples, Romans worshiped and asked for divine assistance.

 Expansion in Italy
  • As Rome's political and social systems evolved at home, its armies expanded Roman power across Italy. Roman armies conquered first the Etruscans and then the Greek city-states in the south. By about 270 b.c., Rome controlled most of the Italian peninsula. 
  • Rome's success was due to skillful diplomacy and to its loyal, well-trained army. The basic military unit was the legion, made up of about 5,000 men. As in Greece, Roman armies consisted of citizen-soldiers who fought without pay and supplied their own weapons. Roman citizens often made good soldiers because they were brought up to value loyalty, courage, and respect for authority. 
  • To ensure success, Roman commanders mixed rewards with harsh punishment. Young soldiers who showed courage in action won praise and gifts. If a unit fled from battle, however, 1 out of every 10 men from the disgraced unit was put to death.

Expansion in Italy
  • Rome generally treated its defeated enemies with justice. Conquered peoples had to acknowledge Roman leadership, pay taxes, and supply soldiers for the Roman army. In return, Rome let them keep their own customs, money, and local government. 
  • To a few privileged groups among the conquered people, Rome gave the highly prized right of full citizenship. Others became partial citizens, who were allowed to marry Romans and carry on trade in Rome. As a result of such generous policies, most conquered lands remained loyal to Rome even in troubled times

Expansion in Italy
  • To protect its conquests, Rome posted soldiers throughout the land. It also built a network of all-weather military roads to link distant territories to Rome. As trade and travel increased, local peoples incorporated Latin into their languages and adopted many Roman customs and beliefs. Slowly, Italy began to unite under Roman rule.