The Government At the head of the Roman Republic were two consuls (kon' suhlz) who were chosen each year. They were administrators and military leaders. Each had the power to veto, or say no to, the acts of the other. Both had to agree before any law was passed.
Reading Check-How long did the consuls hold power? How did the veto prevent a consul form becoming too powerful?
Next in importance was the Senate. It was made up of 300 men called senators who were chosen for life. The Senate handled the daily problems of government. It advised the consuls. It discussed ways to deal with other countries, proposed laws, and approved public contracts for building roads and temples.
Judges, assemblies, and tribunes (trib' yūnz), or government officials who protected the rights of plebeians, were also part of the Roman government. All Roman citizens belonged to the assemblies, which could declare war or agree to peace terms.
Reading Check- What role did the tribunes play in Roman government?
Until about 450 B.C., Roman laws were not written down. In that year laws were carved on 12 bronze tablets known as the Twelve Tables. These were placed in the Forum. The laws applied to both patricians and plebeians. Most were about wills, property rights, and court actions. The laws on the Twelve Tables became the foundation for all future Roman law.
The election of the tribunes and recording of laws were the first steps to a more democratic government. Later, more plebeian demands were met. By about 250 B.C., no one could be sold into slavery because of debt. Plebeians could hold public office.
Roman Expansion Once the Romans had set up a republic, they worked to protect it. They were afraid that the Etruscans would try to get back control of Rome. To prevent this, the Romans crossed the Tiber River and conquered several Etruscan cities. Roman land now bordered that of other Italian people. To protect their new boundaries, the Romans either conquered their neighbors or made alliances with them. By 290 B.C., Rome was the leading power in central Italy. By 275 B.C., it ruled the whole peninsula. By 146 B.C., Rome ruled most of the Mediterranean world.
The Romans were able to gain territory because they had a strong army that was organized into legions (lē' juhnz). Each legion contained some 5,000 soldiers called legionaries (lē' juhner ēz) and was divided into groups of 60 to 120 soldiers.
The legion had several advantages over the phalanx. The legion was smaller and could move faster. Soldiers in a phalanx fought as a group and attacked from only one direction. Each legionary depended on his own fighting ability. The groups within a legion could split off from the main body and attack from the sides and the rear as well as the front.
Reading Check- How did Roman legions differ from the phalanx? How many legionaries were in each legion?
Legionaries were well trained. They spent hours practicing with their double-edged iron swords. They went on long marches every day. Before going to sleep, they had to build complete fortified camps, even when the legion would stay in an area only one night. They built roads out of lava blocks so soldiers and supplies could move forward more rapidly.
The Romans were mild rulers. At first, they did not tax the people they conquered. They let the conquered people keep their own governments and take care of their own affairs. Some were even allowed to become Roman citizens. In return, the conquered people were expected to serve in the Roman army and to support Rome's foreign policy. As a result, many enemies of Rome became loyal Roman allies.
The Punic Wars
By 264 B.C., the Romans had conquered some Greek city-states in southern Italy. This brought them into contact with the Phoenician city of Carthage. Carthage controlled most of North and West Africa, most of what is now Spain, and some islands off the coast of Italy. Carthage also ruled the western half of Sicily (sis' uh lē), a large island at the toe of the Italian "boot." The Romans felt threatened by the Carthaginians (kar thuh jin ē uhnz). They also wanted Sicily's granaries.
The First Punic War In 264 B.C., the Romans and Carthaginians clashed. The war that broke out lasted for 23 years. It was the first of three wars between Rome and Carthage that came to be known as the Punic (pyū' nik) Wars.
Carthage's military strength lay in its navy, while Rome's lay in its army. At first, the Romans had no navy. They built their first fleet to fight the Carthaginians. The Romans modeled their ships after a Carthaginian warship they found abandoned on a beach. They made one improvement on the Carthaginian model. They added a corvus (kor'vuhs), or a kind of movable bridge, to the front of each ship. The Romans knew they could not outsail the Carthaginians, but believed they could outfight the. The corvus allowed soldiers to board an enemy ship and fight hand-to-hand on its decks. In a sense, it changed a sea war into a land war.
The Romans lost many ships and men in storms during the First Punic War. Yet, in the end, they defeated the Carthaginians. In 241 B.C., the Carthaginians agreed to make peace and left Sicily.
Hannibal and the Second Punic War In 218 B.C., the Second Punic War began. At that time, the Carthaginians, led by General Hannibal Barca (han' uh buhl bar' ka), attacked the Roman army by land from the north. Hannibal and his troops surprised the Roman army by marching from Spain through southern Gaul (gol), or present-day France, and then crossing the Alps into Italy. They brought elephants with them across the snow-covered mountains to help break through the Roman lines.
Winning victory after victory, Hannibal's army fought its way to the gates of Rome. When the Carthaginian army got to Rome, however, it did not have the heavy equipment needed to batter down the city's walls. It could not get more supplies because the Roman navy controlled the sea.
Unable to capture Rome, Hannibal and his troops roamed the countryside of southern Italy for 15 years. They raided and burned towns and destroyed crops. Then, the Romans attacked Carthage, and Hannibal was called home to defend it. Hannibal lost his first battle--and the war--at the town of Zama (zā' muh). The power of Carthage was broken.
In 201 B.C., Carthage agreed to pay Rome a huge sum of money and to give up all its territories, including Spain. The Spanish Resources of copper, gold, lead, and iron now belonged to the Romans.
The Third Punic War Following the Second Punic War, there was peace for about 50 years. Then, Carthage began to show signs of regaining power. To prevent this, the Romans attacked in 149 B.C., the Third Punic War. They burned Carthage and plowed salt into its fields so nothing would grow. They killed the Carthaginians or sold them into slavery.
That same year, 146 B.C., the Greek city-state of Corinth (kor' inth) and some of its allies refused to obey a Roman order. The Romans attacked Corinth and burned it to the ground. Rome already controlled Macedonia and Syria. Now, it added Greece to the areas under its rule. Thus, Rome became the leading power of the Mediterranean world.
Section 3 Assessment
- What territory did Carthage control in 264 B.C.?
- What happened to Carthage in the Third Punic War?
- How did Rome become the leading power of the Mediterranean world?
Effects of Conquest
The conquests and the wealth that came with them changed Rome's economy and government. Among the changes were the replacement of small farms by large estates, the coming of slavery, a movement from the farms to cities, and the decline of the Roman Republic.
Agricultural Changes Rome's conquest brought changes in agriculture. One change was in the size and purpose of farms. Most Romans had been small farmers who believed in hard work and service to Rome. Now, the small farms