The Romans Beginnings 1000 b.c.- 500 b.c.

Italy is a boot-shaped peninsula that extends south from Europe into the Mediterranean Sea. On the west coast of the peninsula is the mouth of the Tiber (ti' buhr) River. Fifteen miles upstream is a group of seven hills. On the hill known as the Palatine (pal' uh tin), and early people called the Latins founded a settlement later known as Rome. This settlement would one day become the center of a great empire, whose achievements still influence life today.

Ancient Rome

SECTION 1-Founding of Rome

Romans have a legend about the founding of their city. After the fall of Troy, the gods ordered a Trojan prince called Aeneas (uh nē' uhs) to lead his people to a promised land in the West. When Aeneas's group reached Italy, they joined forces with a people known as Latins (lat' nz).

About 800 B.C., a Latin princess gave birth to twin sons fathered by the god Mars. The princess had taken an oath never to have children. Because she broke her word, she was punished. Her sons, Romulus (rom ū luhs) and Remus (rē' muhs), were taken from her and left to die on the bank of the flooding Tiber.

Romulus and Remus were found by a she-wolf, which fed and cared for them. One day a shepherd killed the she-wolf and discovered the babies. He took them to his home.

When the boys grew older, they decided to build a city on the Tiber. The brothers, however, could not agree on which one should rule the city. They decided to let the gods choose between them.

Each brother climbed to the top of a different hill to watch for a sign from the gods. Then 12 vultures flew over the Palatine. Since Romulus stood atop the Palatine, he claimed to be king. He and Remus then fought, and Remus was killed. Romulus became king of the city, which he named Rome.

The Founding of Rome

Experts have learned that about 1000 B.C., groups of people with iron weapons began invading the lands around the Mediterranean. One group invaded Egypt and brought down the New Kingdom. Another group moved into the Balkan Peninsula. A third group, the Latins, settled on the Palatine. Romans belonged to this group.

Palatine Hill Ancient Rome

The area where the Latins settled had a pleasant climate and fertile soil. Nearby were dense forest that supplied the Latins with timber. They built gravel roads to bring salt and other items from the coast.

By 776 B.C., the settlement on the Palatine had become a village of about 1,000 people. Most of the people were farmers who lived in wooden huts and worked the land. Their main crops were wheat and barley.

Map of Palatine


  1. According to legend, how was Rome founded?
  2. What natural resources existed in the area settled by the Latins?
  3. How did the Latins live?
ROMULUS- C.800 B.C. - 715 B.C.

Founder of Rome-Romulus

Romulus and his twin brother Remus founded Rome around 753 B.C. Quarrels over the kingship of Rome led to the death of Remus. According to legend, Romulus populated Rome with people fleeing harsh rule elsewhere. After a long reign, he vanished in a thunderstorm. Romans later worshiped him as the war god Quirinus.

Painting of the Etruscans

SECTION 2-The Etruscans

Around 800 B.C., a people called Etruscans (ē truhs' kuhnz) settled in Eturia (ē trur' ēuh), the rolling hill country north of the Latin Village on the Palatine. The Etruscans wrote in an alphabet borrowed from the Greeks. They spoke a language different from any other in the ancient world. Many historians believe they came from the kingdom of Lydia in Asia Minor.

7 Hills of Rome

The Etruscans dug tunnels and built dams to drain their marshy fields. High on hilltops, they built a number of cities, each surrounded by a thick wall.

Etruscan Walled Town

The Etruscans were Italy's first highly civilized people. They were known as "the people of the sea." As pirates, they were feared and envied throughout the Mediterranean. As traders, they were admired and respected.

Etruscan farmers used mostly iron tools to grow barley, millet, wheat, grapes and other fruits. They raised pigs, goats, sheep, ducks, chickens, and cattle. The farmers used cattle for food and to pull plows and wagons.

Etruscan miners dug copper, lead, iron, and tin. Etruscan metalworkers and sculptors turned these metals into weapons, utensils, and jewelry. Etruscan merchants exchanged both metals and finished goods for luxury items of gold, silver, and ivory from Syria, Greece, and other eastern Mediterranean countries.

Etruscan Jewelry

The Etruscans had a strong army. The soldiers learned much about weapons and battle techniques from the Greeks. Their infantry formed a phalanx much like the one used by the Greeks. However, the Etruscans had one "weapon" no one else had--their shoes. They wore heavy leather shoes that laced firmly around the ankle. This gave them better footing than their enemies on rough or hilly ground.

Etruscan Sandals
Etruscan Wooden Shoes

Over time, the Etruscan cities grew in size and power. The Etruscans became rich. By 600 B.C., they dominated all of northern Italy, including the Latin village on the Palatine.

Etruscan Civilization Map

Daily Life The Etruscans enjoyed bright colors, riches, and a good time. They gambled with ivory dice or played games similar to chess and backgammon. They often watched or took part in such sports as wrestling, running, boxing, and horse racing.

Ivory Dice

Most of all, the Etruscans loved music and dancing. Sounds from a double flute or a stringed lyre (līr) accompanied most of their activities. Much of their dancing was connected to religion. Dances were done to gain favor from the gods.

Both Etruscan men and women danced. Dancing was just one of the freedoms enjoyed by Etruscan women. Unlike Greek or Latin women, Etruscan women took part in public celebrations. They could also own property.

The Etruscans had a strong sense of social order, or the way groups of people are classed. At first, there were no great class differences among them. Only acrobats and enslaved people, who were captives of war, were thought inferior. Later, people were divided into three classes. The upper class consisted of wealthy landowners nobles, and priest. The middle class had farmers, traders, and city workers. The lower class was enslaved people.

A few wealthy families owned most of the land. They also owned most of the enslaved people, who tended the land and did other work. The rich lived in rectangular, one-story homes made of sun-dried brick on a frame of heavy timbers. A pitched roof covered with clay tiles extended beyond the house. Stone-lined drains led from each house into the main drains that ran along the pebble-paved streets. Most homes also had broad, walled courtyards open to the sky. During the day, the center room was often used for talking about business. At night, it was the scene of entertainment.

Religious Beliefs The Etruscans had many gods, most of whom were modeled after those of the Greeks. At first, the Etruscans worshiped their gods outdoors on platforms of stone or earth. Later, they built temples of wood, mud-brick, and clay on stone foundations. The temples had peaked, tiled roofs adorned with sculptures.

The Etruscans believed the universe was divided into provinces. Each province was ruled by different gods. Humans lived in the center of the universe, facing south towards the gods of nature and Earth. To the right lay the West, which was ruled by the gods of death and of the underworld. To the left lay the East, which was ruled by the gods of the heavens. Because of this, Etruscans planned their cities and built their temples to face east.

The Etruscans also believed humans were powerless before the gods. More than anything else, the Etruscans wanted to please their gods. First, however, they had to discover what their gods willed. They did this though a priestly group of aristocrats called soothsayers (sūth' sā uhrz), or people who can predict events.

Soothsayers read certain omens (ō' muhnz), or signs of what is to happen. One group of soothsayers read omens from the livers of sacrificed animals. Another group of soothsayers explained the will of the gods by studying the direction and sounds of thunder and lighting and the flights of birds.

Tombs of Gold When an Etruscan noble dies, a great banquet was held. At the banquet, two of the nobles slaves fought one another to the death. The spirit of the slave who was killed went with the noble's spirit to the underworld.

The dead were buried in tombs underneath the ground called catacombs (kat' uh kōmz). Much of what is known about Etruscan life comes from such tombs, whose inside walls were brightly painted with pictures of daily life. The tombs had chairs and beds. The bodies of the dead rested on the beds.

Etruscan Catacombs

The Etruscans believed that life after death lasted longer and was more important than life on Earth. So, they carved their tombs out of natural rock, which would last for a long time. They filled their tombs with works of art and treasures of gold, silver, bronze, and ivory. Because of this, Etruscan tombs are known as "tombs of gold."

Outside each Etruscan city was a necropolis ( nek rop' uh luhs), or cemetery, made up of acres of these tombs. The necropolis outside the city of Caere (sir'ē) is one of the largest Etruscan cemeteries. There, great mounds of soil are piled in the shape of a dome on top of a base. Some of the mounds measure 100 feet, or 30 meters, across.

Etruscan Tombs outside Caere

Section 2 Assessment

  1. Define: social order, soothsayers, omens, catacombs, necropolis.
  2. How did the Etruscan social order change over time?

SECTION 3-Etruscans and Romans

In 616 B.C., Lucius Tarquinius (lū' shuhs tar kwin' ē uhs) became the first Etruscan ruler of Rome. No one is certain whether Tarquinius took the throne from the Latin king by force or by cleverness. Nevertheless, his dynasty ruled Rome for more than 100 years.

Lucius Tarquinius

The Etruscans were more culturally advanced than the Latins. They made many contributions to Roman civilization. In the area of architecture, the Etruscans taught the Latins how to use the arch in the building bridges. The Etruscans also laid the foundations of Rome's first sewer system. They drained the swamp at the foot of the Palatine. This later became the place where Rome's Forum (fōr' uhm), or the public square, was built. The Forum housed a palace, government buildings, and law courts.

Roman Forum

The Etruscans made a contribution in the area of language as well. They borrowed the Greek alphabet and made some changes in it. The Romans, in turn, borrowed the Etruscan alphabet.

Etruscan sign list

The Romans also borrowed some Etruscan customs. One was the fights of enslaved people held at Etruscan funerals. These were models for the gladiatorial (glad' ē uh tōr ē uhl) games with which the Romans amused themselves. These games were fights between armed men, between men and animals, between women and dwarfs, and between animals. Another custom borrowed from the Etruscans was the triumph (trī' uhmf), or the parade-like welcome given a Roman hero returning from battle.


In addition, the Romans borrowed Etruscan symbols of authority. One of these was the fasces (fas' ēz), or a bundle of rods bound around an ax. It became the symbol of a Roman ruler's power to beat or execute other people.

Etruscan fasces

The Etruscans also introduced the Romans to certain religious beliefs. These included soothsayers and gods with human forms. The Etruscans built the first temple on the Capitoline (kap' uh tuh līn), one of the seven hills of Rome. Today, it is the center of Rome's municipal (myū nis' uh puhl), or city, government.

Capitoline Temple

The Romans founded their cities according to a ritual borrowed from the Etruscans. Soothsayers read omens that told where the city's boundaries should be. A ditch was dug to mark the boundaries. The plow used to dig the ditch had a bronze blade and was pulled by a white bull and cow yoked together. Workers then dug a trench at the center of the city. After each of the city's founders had tossed a handful of earth into the trench, the priest took over. They laid out the main street and determined the principal cross street. The place where the two streets met was marked by a stone.

The Etruscans beleived that the stone covered a shaft leading to the underworld. Three times a year, an Etruscan priest lifted the stone to allow the souls of the dead to return to Earth. The Romans believed the place where the two streets met was the mundus (muhn' duhs), or the meeting point for the worlds of the living and the dead.

Etruscans were not the first to develop or use many of the ideas and practices the Romans borrowed from them. They were, however, the people who brought these ideas to the notice of the Romans. Thus, they played an important role in the development of Roman civilization.


  1. Define: Forum, gladiatorial games, triumph, fasces, municipal, mundus.
  2. What contributions did the Etruscans make to the Roman language?
  3. How did the Etruscans and Romans establish their cities?
Created By
J. Miller


Created with images by geralt - "arc de triomphe rome ancient" • jbsinger - "colosseum rome sunset" • patrizio1948 - "rome monument arena" • hkavas - "Celsus Library,built in AD 110-135 by Romans at Ephesus."

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