History of Rome for kids
The founding of Rome goes back to the very early days of civilization. It is so old, it is today known as ‘the eternal city’. The Romans believed that their city was founded in the year 753 BC. Modern historians though believe it was the year 625 BC
A speech in the Roman senate
Early Rome was governed by kings, but after only seven of them had ruled, the Romans took power over their own city and ruled themselves.
They then instead had a council known as the ‘senate’ which ruled over them. From this point on one speaks of the ‘Roman Republic’.
The word ‘Republic’ itself comes from the Latin (the language of the Romans) words ‘res publica’ which mean ‘public matters’ or ‘matters of state’.
The senate under the kings had only been there to advise the king. Now the senate appointed a consul, who ruled Rome like a king, but only for one year. – This was a wise idea, as like that, the consul ruled carefully and not as a tyrant, for he knew that otherwise he could be punished by the next consul, once his year was up.
Rome knew four classes of people. This division was very important to the Romans.
The lowest class were the slaves. They were owned by other people. They had no rights at all.
The next class were the plebeians. They were free people. But they had little say at all.
The second highest class were the equestrians (sometimes they are called the ‘knights’). Their name means the ‘riders’, as they were given a horse to ride if they were called to fight for Rome. To be an equestrian you had to be rich.
The highest class were the nobles of Rome. They were called ‘patricians’. All the real power in Rome lay with them.
The Roman Republic was a very successful government. It lasted from 510 BC until 23 BC – almost 500 years. In comparison the United States of America only exist since 1776 – less than 250 years.
The greatest challenge the Roman Republic faced was that of the Carthaginians. Carthage was a very powerful city in North Africa which, much like Rome, controlled its own empire. The fight between the two sides was a long one and took place on land and on sea.
The most famous incident came when the great Carthaginian general Hannibal crossed the mountain chain of the Alps to the north of Italy with all his troops, including his war-elephants !, and invaded Italy.
Though Rome in the end won and Carthage was completely destroyed in the year 146 BC.
Hannibal, the great
Rome’s most famous citizen was no doubt Julius Caesar. He was a Roman politician and general who, without having any orders to do so, conquered the vast territory of the Gauls to the north of his province in France.
In the year 49 BC Caesar crossed the small river between his province and Italy, called the river Rubicon, and conquered Rome itself which he then ruled as a dictator.
His military campaigns also took him to Egypt where he met the famous Cleopatra.
His life though was ended as he was infamously murdered in the senate in Rome.
So famous and respected was Caesar that a month of the year is still named after him and his heirs today, July (after Julius Caesar). Also the great English poet Shakespeare wrote a famous play called Julius Caesar about his famous murder.
After Caesar followed the many emperors of Rome – and there were truly very many of them.
So, here are some of the most famous ones.
Augustus Rome’s first emperor. He also added many territories to the empire.
Claudius He conquered Britain.
Nero He was insane. He murdered his mother and his wife and threw thousands of Christians to the lions.
Titus Before he was emperor he destroyed the great Jewish temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.
Trajan He was a great conqueror. Under his rule the empire reached its greatest extent.
Hadrian He built ‘Hadrian’s Wall’ in the north of Britain to shield the province from the northern barbarians.
Diocletian He split the empire into two pieces – a western and an eastern empire.
Constantine He was the first Christian emperor. He united the empire again chose his capital to be the small town Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople.
Romulus Augustus He was the last emperor of Rome, nicknamed Augustulus which means ‘little Augustus’.
Justinian He was the last ‘great’ emperor. He conquered many territories, created the ‘Justinian Code’ and built the fantastic church Santa Sophia.
Constantine XI The last emperor of Constantinople. He died defending his great city against the Turks.
The Roman empire in the end was overrun by millions of barbarians from the north and east of Europe. It is believed to have happened two or three times in history that huge migrations took place across Europe, where peoples moved to settle in new territories. The great migration proved too much for the Romans to stem. Their armies were designed to defeat other armies, not entire folks and peoples flooding toward them. The collapse was completed when Rome itself was conquered by the Visigoth Odoacer and his men in the year AD 476.
But what is generally referred to as ‘the Fall of Rome’ doesn’t include the eastern empire. This, with its centre in Constantinople, managed to cling on for almost another thousand years until it was eventually conquered by the Turks under their leader Mohammed II in the year AD 1453.