TIMELINE: ANCIENT ROME

Provides a chronological index of the history of Ancient Rome with extensive links to internet resources. Emphasis is placed upon the use of primary source material, numismatics, and a focus upon the roles of women in ancient time.

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The timeline is divided chronologically into eight sections:

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There can be nobody so petty or so apathetic in his outlook that he has no desire to discover by what means and under what system of government the Romans succeeded in...bringing under their rule almost the whole of the inhabited world. Polybius Histories 1.1.5

 

c. 2nd Millennium BCE || Archeological Remains

Archeology reveals human remains, elk bones, bronze artifacts (rings, axes, etc.) The relationship, if any, of these people to the Romans is unclear.

c. 1st Millennium BCE || The Etruscans

A sedentary people who inhabited the Italian Peninsula prior to the Romans. They are often described as a mysterious people, as our sources for them are scarce. Many questions remain to be answered regarding the Etruscan culture, its origins, and its relation to the beginnings of Rome.

 

| Etruscan Home | Stone and Sod | Etruria | c. 1000 BCE |

753 BCE || Legendary Founding of Rome

| The Life of Romulus: by Plutarch

[Coin of Antoninus Pius Augustus 138-161] Reverse: TR POT COS III Wolf standing right, suckling Remus and Romulus; cave ceiling above.

While most would have it that Rome was named for Romulus who outwitted his brother Remus for control of the new settlement, Plutarch is clear that:

"from whom, and for what reason, the city of Rome, a name so great in glory, and famous in the mouths of all men, was so first called, authors do not agree..."

The fact is that the origin for the name of the new settlement of Rome is as likely a woman as it is a man. Plutarch explains:

"at the taking of Troy, some few that escaped and met with shipping, put to sea, and driven by winds, were carried upon the coasts of Tuscany, and came to anchor off the mouth of the river Tiber, where their women, out of heart and weary with the sea, on its being proposed by one of the highest birth and best understanding amongst them, whose name was Roma, burnt the ships. With which act the men at first were angry..."

 

[Coin of Titus Augustus 79-81] Reverse: ROMA SC Helmeted Roma standing left, holding Nike Goddess of Victory in right hand; spear in left.

then later:

"things in a short while succeeded far better than they could hope, in that they found the country very good, and the people courteous, they not only did the lady Roma other honours, but added also this, of calling after her name the city which she had been the occasion of their founding...."

The early history of Rome is mythical and legendary, and our sources come centuries after the facts.

c. 7th Cen. BCE || The Vestal Virgins

 

From the time of our earliest records, women were highly involved in a direct and important way with systems of worship. During Pagan times, before the rise of a male dominated Christian theological infrastructure, women played a leading role in spiritual activities.

[Coin of Nero Augustus 54-68 CE] Reverse: VESTA Temple of Vesta, with six columns, Vesta within, holding patera and scepter.

Superstition permeated the daily life of the ancient Roman. They believed, for instance, that present events could be observed and interpreted to reveal future events. This is called augury. Women were often involved with divination practices at temples.

It is important to note the systematic, sacred, and ritualized form of the interpretive process. While now understood as fallacy, the disciplined observation of data nevertheless laid roots for future arts and sciences. Augury was a form of scholarship.

[Coin of Empress Julia Domna b. ca.170 - d.217] Reverse: VESTA Vesta standing left, holding palladium and scepter.

Another sacred role held by women was that of the Vestal Virgin. One of the Vestal's sacred duties was to keep alive the vesta "fire of Rome", for if it were to be extinguished, it was believed that great evil would befall Rome and its people.

Plutarch tells us that:

"At first they say that Gegania and Verenia were made priestesses by Numa, and next Canuleia and Tarpeia. Later Servius added two more... The king set the term of service for the holy virgins at thirty years; in the first decade they learn their duties, in the middle decade they do what they have learned, and in the third they teach others. .. After that a virgin is free to marry if she wishes to or to adopt another style of life..."

and further...

"...Numa gave them significant honours, one of which is the right to make a will during their father's lifetime and to conduct their other business affairs without a guardian, like the mothers of three children... if they accidentally happen to meet a criminal being led to execution, his life is spared. The virgin must swear that the meeting was involuntary and accidental and not planned. Anyone who goesunderneath a Vestal's litter when she is being carried is put
to death.

[Coin of Caligula Augustus 37-41 CE] Reverse: VESTA SC Vesta seated left, holding patera and scepter.

The Virgins' minor offences are punished by beating, which is administered by the Pontifex, with the offender naked, and in a dark place with a curtain set up between them. A Virgin who is seduced is buried alive near what is known as the Colline gate. ..."On more than one occasion, Vestals were found to be sexually active, and priests are known to have been responsible. These Vestals were buried alive.

509 BCE || The Republican Revolution: The Etruscan monarchy is overthrown and the Republic is established

The historical record of the early kings of Rome is hostile, the early monarchy was overthrown and banished. The history of this period is a mixture of myth and fact, passed on as oral tradition until recorded centuries later by historians such as Livy and Diodorus. Apparently, Rome was ruled by seven kings from 753 BCE until 509 BCE, when Tarquinius Superbus was defeated in a popular rebellion. The idea of the Republic became an icon, the honour of which all future leaders would have to publicly ascribe.

The Republican Revolution established principles of self government which Romans would nostalgically emulate even in the Augustan age. That the primary sources recording this important event are largely historical myth is frustrating to the modern scholar, they are more valuable for what they reveal towards the Roman idea of virtue, morality, and the Roman perception of the ideal woman, than actual events.

The cause of the revolution is said to be the rape of Lucretia.

509 BCE || The Rape of Lucretia

According to numerous historians, as well as Roman notables such as Cicero, the spark which ignited the Republican Revolution was the indignation incited when Sextus Tarquin, the son of the reigning Etruscan monarch Tarquinius Superbus, raped the virtuous Lucretia, who Romans idolized as the perfect wife and ideal woman.

Livy explains how Roman men came to prove Lucretia as the ideal woman:

"The royal princes sometimes spent their leisure hours in feasting and entertainments, and at a wine party given by Sextus Tarquinius at which Collatinus, the son of Egerius, was present, the conversation happened to turn upon their wives, and each began to speak of his own in terms of extraordinarily high praise. As the dispute became warm Collatinu said that there was no need of words, it could in a few hours be ascertained how far his Lucretia was superior to all the rest. "Why do we not," he exclaimed, "if we have any youthful vigour about us mount our horses and pay your wives a visit and find out their characters on the spot?"

While other wives were found in various states of lewdness, Lucretia was:

"very differently employed from the king's daughters-in-law, whom they had seen passing their time in feasting and luxury with their acquaintances. She was sitting at her wool work in the hall, late at night, with her, maids busy round her. The palm in this competition of wifely virtue was awarded to Lucretia."

Her virtue only served to make her the target of Sextus Tarquin. Livy goes on to say that:

"Sextus Tarquin, inflamed by the beauty and exemplary purity of Lucretia, formed the vile project of effecting her dishonour."

Sextus Tarquin "went in the frenzy of his passion with a naked sword to the sleeping Lucretia, and placing his left hand on her breast, said, "Silence, Lucretia! I am Sextus Tarquin, and I have a sword in my hand; if you utter a word, you shall die." When the woman, terrified out of her sleep, saw that no help was near, and instant death threatening her, Tarquin began to confess his passion, pleaded, used threats as well as entreaties, and employed every argument likely to influence a female heart...he threatened to disgrace her, declaring that he would lay the naked corpse of the slave by her dead body, so that it might be said that she had been slain in foul adultery. By this awful threat, his lust triumphed over her inflexible chastity, and Tarquin went off exulting in having successfully attacked her honour. Lucretia, overwhelmed with grief at such a frightful outrage, sent a messenger to her father at Rome and to her husband at Ardea, asking them to come to her..."

Her husband and father at her side, they attempted to console her, philosophically explaining that: "it is the mind that sins not the body, and where there has been no consent there is no guilt."

Nevertheless, Lucretia could not bear to live with her honour forsaken. "She had a knife concealed in her dress which she plunged into her, heart, and fell dying on the floor. Her father and husband raised the death-cry."

Later "They carried the body of Lucretia from her home down to the Forum, where, owing to the unheard-of atrocity of the crime, they at once collected a crowd. Each had his own complaint to make of the wickedness and violence of the royal house..."

Incited by the sight of the dead Lucretia, and spurned on by speeches advocating revolution, the crowd successfully overthrew Tarquinius Superbus, and established a republican government headed by two consuls.

Cicero said that: "Lucretia having been ravished by force by the king's son, having invoked the citizens to revenge her, slew herself. And this indignation of hers was the cause of liberty to the state."

Diodorus recorded that Lucretia "who renounced life of her own will in order that later generations might emulate her deed we should judge to be fittingly worthy of immortal praise, in order that women who choose to maintain the purity of their persons altogether free from censure may compare themselves with an authentic example."

494 BCE || The protest of the plebeians and the establishment of the plebeian tribunate

In what the Roman annalists cited as the first of three organized class protests by the plebeians, their demands of establishing a political council, called the plebeian tribunate, led by two plebeian tribunes, was realized.

Rome's class divisions were clearly identifiable and institutionalized, yet attempting to fit them to a modern parallel only provides unsatisfactory anachronisms. The plebeians, as a class, were, in the beginning at least, the less wealthy, and fought for political rights, many of which they gained over time. The patricians were the aristocratic class whose leading families supplied Rome with it's political and military leaders. Those families whose wealth allowed them to support and provide a horse in a military campaign, came to be called the equestrians, or equites. Beginning in 443 BCE these distinctions were recorded by two censors, upon the taking of the census. One's status was an important factor in voting rights, as votes were not counted on an individual basis, but derived from from groups, usually called tribes. The censor determined the group to which one would belong.

The foundation of both the Republic and Empire was not based solely upon the forces of conquest, but also upon the forces of labour. Rome's slaves played an enormous role in daily activities, and ultimately Rome's success. Slaves themselves occupied a wide spectrum spanning class divisions from the Greek tutor who would initiate Patrician youth in the sophistications of Hellenism, to the gladiator whose life was at the mercy of the mob.

471 BCE || Lex Publilia Voleronis Recognizes Concilium of the Plebeians and Tribunes

This ancient law granted further political rights to the plebeians. In this year the number of Plebeian tribunes was raised from two to five.

 

The timeline is divided chronologically into eight sections:

This symbol indicates a link to a primary source text

Click here to learn the real story

behind the events and characters portrayed in the movie Gladiator.

Kindly report any suggestions, problems, errors, or dead links by emailing david(at)exovedate.com

Copyright © David Neelin: All Rights Reserved

Using info from this site?

For detailed copyright information and bibliographic citation, click here

contact the author by emailing david(at)exovedate.com (note: replace (at) with the @ symbol)

 

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