Of all of Italy's historic cities, Rome summons the most compelling fascination. There is more to experience in
Rome began as an Iron Age hut village founded in the mid-eighth century B.C. In 616 B.C. , the Romans' neighbors, the Etruscans, seized power but were ousted in 509 B. C. when Rome became a Republic. By the time Rome entered into the first of the three Punic wars in 264 B.C. , its power in Italy spanned the whole peninsula as far north as Ariminum. The driving motivation behind all three Punic wars was for Rome to defeat the African city of Carthage and gain Mediterranean dominance. In 241 B.C. the Romans won Sicily. In the Second Punic War (218–201 B.C. ), they defeated General Hannibal of Carthage (247–182 B.C. ), and in the Third Punic War (149–146 B.C. ) they seized the city of Carthage itself. Rome then went on to conquer Syria and Macedonia to gain dominance over the western Hellenistic world.
The expansion of the empire provided opportunity for individuals to gain power and rule. However, leaders became abusive of their power, and the clashing of egos led to the crashing of democracy. Julius Caesar (c. 100–44 B.C. ) ruled for a time as dictator, but the Roman Republic came to an end when he was assassinated in 44 B.C. Taking his place was the famous triumvirate: Mark Antony (c. 80–30 B.C. ), Aemilius Lepidus (d. 13 B.C. ), and Octavian Caesar (63 B.C.–A.D. 14). Octavian defeated Lepidus in 39 B.C. and Antony in 31 B.C. to become emperor of the Roman world. He then gave all his power to the Senate in an effort to create a "restored republic." The Senate placed him in control of nearly all Rome's military strength, and he was given the title Augustus. Upon Octavian's death in A.D. 14, his chosen heir, Tiberius (42 B.C.–A.D. 37), took the throne. It was during the reign of Tiberius that Jesus Christ was crucified. Within a few years, the followers of Christ became legendary in Rome, but their teachings were perceived as a threat to public order, and many Christians were executed. Even so, the new religion spread through all levels of Roman society. By the time the apostles Peter and Paul had arrived in Rome, a small Christian community had been established, and in spite of persecution by the state, Christianity flourished.
Having little success with the Senate, Tiberius withdrew himself from office and was succeeded by a medley of emperors, including Caligula (12–41), Claudius (10 B.C.–A.D. 54), and Nero (37–68). Nero's suicide in A.D. 68 ended the Augustus reign of emperors, and Rome entered into a state of constant civil war. Sulpicius Galba (3 B.C.–A.D. 69), governor of Spain, seized control, but the throne changed hands four more times. It wasn't until Diocletian (A.D. 245–313), a traditional militaristic Roman, took control in A.D. 284 that Rome was restored to order. He divided the empire in half and appointed two rulers for both east and west Rome. In A.D. 302, Diocletian banned Christians from the Roman Army, brought religion into the office of emperor, and made the position a "divine monarchy."
In A.D. 313, the Emperor Constantine (c. 274–337; r. 306–337), proclaimed ruler by Britiain, issued an edict granting Christians freedom of worship, and he founded the city of Constantinople as the new capital. Even after securing Rome's position as the center of Christianity, its political importance waned in the fifth century, and the city fell to Goths and other invaders. For a while, Rome was reduced to a few thousand residents and little power. But the next couple centuries uncovered a newfound strength. The growing importance of the papacy revived the city and rejuvenated its power. Conversely, ongoing conflict between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor undermined the papacy. The tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries were among the bleakest in Roman history: violent conflict with invaders left Rome poverty stricken, and constant warring tore apart the city. In 1309, the papacy moved to Avignon, leaving Rome to slide further into squalor and strife.
The city recovered spectacularly in the mid-fifteenth century. Pope Nicholas V (1397–1455; r. 1447–1455) came to power and groomed Rome to be a city worthy of the papacy and the center of Renaissance culture. Successors followed his lead, and the city's appearance was transformed. The Classical ideals of the Italian Renaissance (1450–1600) inspired artists, architects, and craftsmen, such as Michelangelo, Bramante, and Raphael. A newly confident Rome was nurturing a massive papal patronage of the arts.
By the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church had accumulated extensive wealth and was therefore criticized by other reformed religions. Displays of grandeur and extravagance by the papal court contrasted vividly with the poverty of the people. Galileo (1564–1642), a physicist/astronomer, was condemned to death for heresy (beliefs opposed to the traditionally accepted beliefs of the church). Rome was also discovering a new style of its own in Baroque (1600–1750).
Under Napoleon, Italy tasted unity but by 1815 was again divided into many small states, and papal rule was restored in Rome. The next 50 years experienced patriots struggling to create an independent, unified Italy, and Rome was briefly declared a Republic, but forces were driven out by French troops. The French continued to protect the Pope while the rest of Italy united as a kingdom under Vittorio Emanuel of Savor. In 1870, troops stormed the city, and Rome became the capital of the newly unified Italy.
Twentieth-century Rome endured the dictator Benito Mussolini (1883–1945; r. 1922–1945) and his dreams of recreating the immense order and power of the Roman Empire. In 1922, the fascist leader was appointed prime minister. In 1929, the Lateran Treaty brought over a century of tension between Church and State to an end by creating a separate Vatican State. During the World War II (1939–45), British forces captured much of Italy's colonial empire. From 1947 to the early 1990s, Italy had no less than 57 governments, and the first non-Italian pope since the sixteenth century, Pope John Paul II (b. 1920), was appointed in 1978.
Rome is in many ways the ideal capital of Italy. Each era in history added its own layer of culture to create a city unparalleled by any other in the world.