According to Roman mythology, twin brothers played an important part in the founding of Rome. These brothers, named Romulus and Remus, were the sons of Mars, the Roman god of war. Abandoned at birth, the twins were raised by a wolf. When they became older, they decided to found a city along the Tiber River near the spot where they had been abandoned. Each chose a hill upon which to begin a settlement. As often happens among brothers, disputes led to quarreling and fighting. Angered by Remus's taunting, Romulus killed his brother in a fit of rage. Romulus went on to build the city that eventually became. As it turned out, Romulus chose a very good spot for his city. Rome was located on the Tiber River about 15 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. The Romans had easy access to the sea, and were somewhat protected from seaborne invasion. Also, Rome lay in the middle of the Italian peninsula, the boot-shaped landmass to the west of Greece. From this central position, the Romans could easily access and control all of what is today the modern country of Italy. The Italian peninsula's central location within the Mediterranean Sea made it possible for the Romans to trade and communicate with every part of the Mediterranean world. The romans went ahead to form a system of government known as a republic. This system of government has been adapted by many nations today.
It all began when the Romans overthrew their Etruscan conquerors in 509 B.C.E. Centered north of Rome, the Etruscans had ruled over the Romans for hundreds of years. Once free, the Romans established a republic, a government in which citizens elected representatives to rule on their behalf. A republic is quite different from a democracy, in which every citizen is expected to play an active role in governing the state. The aristocracy (wealthy class) dominated the early Roman Republic. In Roman society, the aristocrats were known as patricians. The highest positions in the government were held by two consuls, or leaders, who ruled the Roman Republic. A senate composed of patricians elected these consuls. At this time, lower-class citizens, or plebeians, had virtually no say in the government. Both men and women were citizens in the Roman Republic, but only men could vote. Tradition dictated that patricians and plebeians should be strictly separated; marriage between the two classes was even prohibited. Over time, the plebeians elected their own representatives, called tribunes, who gained the power to veto measures passed by the senate. Gradually, the plebeians obtained even more power and eventually could hold the position of consul. Despite these changes, though, the patricians were still able to use their wealth to buy control and influence over elected leaders. The Romans went ahead to create the 12 tables. This was the earliest attempt of the Romans to create a code of law to guide society. The Twelve Tables allegedly were written by 10 commissioners at the insistence of the plebeians, who felt their legal rights were hampered by the fact that court judgments were rendered according to unwritten custom preserved only within a small group of learned patricians. Beginning work in 451, the first set of commissioners produced 10 tables, which were later supplemented by 2 additional tables. In 450 the code was formally posted, likely on bronze tablets, in the Roman Forum. The written recording of the law in the Twelve Tables enabled the plebeians both to become acquainted with the law and to protect themselves against patricians’ abuses of power.
Furthermore, Rome often found herself in warfare against other civilizations. The people of Carthage (a city in what is today Tunisia in North Africa) were a successful trading civilization whose interests began to conflict with those of the Romans. The Romans and the Carthaginians fought three bloody wars known as the Punic wars, over the control of trade in the western Mediterranean Sea. In the second war, Hannibal, a Carthaginian general, successfully invaded Italy by leading an army — complete with elephants — across the Alps. He handed the Roman army a crushing defeat but was unable to sack the city of Rome itself. After occupying and ravaging Italy for more than a decade, Hannibal was finally defeated by the Roman general Scipio at the Battle of Zama in 202 B.C.E. By the Third Punic War, Rome was ready to end the Carthaginian threat for good. After a successful several-year siege of Carthage, the Romans burned the city to the ground. Legend has it that the Romans then poured salt into the soil so that nothing would ever grow there again. Carthage was finally defeated, and the Roman Republic was safe.
Long before Julius Caesar became a dictator and subsequently stabbed to death, the Roman economy was in tremendous decline. Slavery was on the rise as the rich got richer, and the poor got poorer. Attempts to reform the situation by two brothers, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, were met with opposition that eventually resulted in their deaths. A new practice developed in which the army was paid with gold and land. Soldiers no longer fought for the good of the Republic but fought instead for tangible rewards. Gradually, soldiers became more loyal to the generals who could pay them than to the Roman Republic itself. It was within this changing atmosphere that military leaders such as Julius Caesar were able to seize control of and put an end to the Roman Republic. Caesar made himself dictator and absolute ruler of Rome and its territories. During his rule, he enacted several reforms. Caesar founded many colonies in newly conquered territories and provided land and opportunity for poor Romans who chose to migrate there. He reduced the number of slaves and opened citizenship up to people living in the provinces. Finally, he created a new calendar named the Julian calendar. This very calendar, with a few minor adjustments, is the same one used around the world today. In 44 B.C.E., Julius Caesar ordered the Senate to make him dictator for life. Typically, dictators served for a limited time (usually six months), then stepped down. Caesar's actions threatened to end the Republic once and for all. Fearing this change, a group of senators plotted and executed the murder of Caesar on the Ides of March. Although the senators succeeded in ending Caesar's life, they did not realize at that time that the Republic had died with him. Rome would now become an empire. The Pax Romana was a state of comparative tranquility throughout the Mediterranean world from the reign of Augustus (27 bc–ad 14) to that of Marcus Aurelius (ad 161–180). Augustus laid the foundation for this period of concord, which also extended to North Africa and Persia. The empire protected and governed individual provinces, permitting each to make and administer its own laws while accepting Roman taxation and military control.
The quality of life in the Roman Empire depended upon where one fell within society. During the Pax Romana, the wealthy built huge, lavishly decorated houses and usually had servants or slaves to tend to their every need. Roman family life was a patriarchy — that is, the oldest male wielded considerable power over the rest of the family. The patriarch made all of the major decisions for the family. He had the power to divorce his wife or even kill her if she committed adultery. The wife of the patriarch was expected to manage the household and to remain loyal and obedient to her husband. Women could not hold political office, but in later years of the Empire women gained more rights, such as the right to own property. One of the many factors that contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire was the rise of a new religion, Christianity. The Christian religion, which was monotheistic ran counter to the traditional Roman religion, which was polytheistic. At different times, the Romans persecuted the Christians because of their beliefs, which were popular among the poor. In 313 C.E., Roman emperor Constantine the Great declared toleration for Christianity. Later that century, Christianity became the official state religion of the Empire. This drastic change in policy spread this relatively new religion to every corner of the Empire. Romans considered their emperor a god. But the Christian belief in one god — who was not the emperor — weakened the authority and credibility of the emperor. The split of the Roman Empire into east and west also led to the fall of the Roman Empire. Over time, the east thrived, while the west declined. In fact, after the western part of the Roman Empire fell, the eastern half continued to exist as the Byzantine Empire for hundreds of years. Therefore, the "fall of Rome" really refers only to the fall of the western half of the Empire. The military was transformed into a mercenary army with no real loyalty to Rome. As money grew tight, the government hired the cheaper and less reliable Germanic soldiers to fight in Roman armies. By the end, these armies were defending Rome against their fellow Germanic tribesmen.
In addition, after the fall of the Shang dynasty in 1111 B.C.E., the succeeding dynasties of the Chou (1111-221 B.C.E.) and the Ch'in (221-206 B.C.E.) continued the great advances made by the early Chinese. Building techniques improved, and the use of iron became common. A system of hydraulics was used to dig riverbeds deeper, reducing the number of floods that destroyed farmland and endangered lives. However, during these dynasties there were also times of great disunity. Feudalism became popular during the Chou dynasty, a practice in which the king shared his power with lords, who in turn paid the king for their lands and titles. As the Chou dynasty weakened, lords fought among themselves. This Warring States period (403-221 B.C.E.) only ended when all of northern China was united under the Ch'in regime. The Han dynasty immediately restored feudal lords to their positions of power. The Chinese people prospered in peace once again. Paper and porcelain were invented during the Han dynasty, as was the wheelbarrow. Legend states that paper was first created in 105 C.E., but archaeological evidence suggests that it was in use up to 200 years earlier. In comparison, paper was not widely circulated in the West until 1150 C.E., over one thousand years later. Wu Ti had heard rumors of powerful and wealthy lands to the west. In 138 B.C.E. the emperor sent the explorer Chang Ch'ien with a party of 100 men to search the western frontier. Thirteen years later, Chang Ch'ien returned with only one of the original 100 men and told amazing stories of capture and imprisonment in central Asia. Although he did not succeed in reaching the lands of Persia, Arabia, or the Roman Empire, Chang Ch'ien did learn plenty about them. Wu Ti sent Chang Ch'ien to central Asia again a few years later, this time to make alliances using gifts of cattle, gold, and silk. Wu Ti's chief historian, Ssu-ma Ch'ien, later kept a record of these journeys and much more in his work called the Shiji (Records of the Historian). The Shiji chronicles the history of China from the Xia dynasty up to the reign of Wu Ti. Chang Ch'ien's journeys began the widespread use of the trade route known as the Silk Road. Reaching as far west as the Caspian Sea, goods such as ivory, glass, wool, tapestries, exotic fruits and vegetables, precious metals and stones, even animals such as elephants and lions were imported into China. In return, foreign traders received furs, spices, jade, iron, ceramic, and bronze objects, as well as the much sought after silk. By the 1st century C.E., silk clothing became the style and obsession of Roman citizens. Arguably the greatest achievement in all of Chinese history continued during the Han dynasty — the construction of the Great Wall of China. Originally begun during the Ch'in dynasty, Wu Ti restored the wall, and continued it another 300 miles into the Gobi Desert to protect against attacks from central Asia. Acupuncture, the piercing of needles into the skin, became popular in the 2nd century C.E. along with herbal medicine as a treatment for common illnesses. The Han also studied in astronomical matters. They believed comets, eclipses, and other unusual celestial events were ominous signs that could be used to predict future disasters. They created atlases depicting the shapes of 29 different types of comets as well as the accurate positions of Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn. Sunspots and exploding stars called nova were also first discovered during the Han dynasty. With only a short interruption by the reformer Wang Mang from 9-24 C.E., the Han dynasty lasted for well over 400 years. But by the beginning of the 3rd century C.E., the corruption in government that signaled the decline of nearly every Chinese dynasty had taken its toll. This corruption combined with political struggles and an increasing population, making a unified China impossible. The Han dynasty of China finally lost its Heavenly Mandate in 220 C.E., beginning nearly 400 years of political chaos.
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