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Ancient Rome—Early Republic

(510 B.C. to 275 B.C.)

Establishment of Republic — Conquest of Italy


 Coriolanus yields to the entreaty of his wife and mother

The early years of the republic lasted from the overthrow of Tarquin Superbus in 510 B.C. to the conquest of southern Italy in 275 B.C. During this time, Rome fought wars against the Etruscans, Gauls, Latins, and Samnites, eventually bringing all of Italy, from the Arno River north of Tuscany to the Grecian dominated southern coast, into an alliance with Rome at its head. It is from this vigorous period that many of Rome's romantic legends and hero stories spring. The city of Rome was at this time still largely uninfluenced by eastern decadence and the corruptions of wealth; and the Republican virtues of courage, patriotism, and piety were at their peak. The most important historian of this era, is Livy, and most of his writings pertaining to this period are still extant.

The Roman republican government was composed of a group of three hundred senators. Each year, two consuls were selected, usually from among the senators, to administer the state and lead the army in times of war. By selecting two consuls and limiting their service to a single year, the Romans hoped to avoid the emergence of a single powerful tyrant. Junius Brutus and Publicola were early consuls and heroes of the republic. Their courageous leadership helped foster unity during the first rocky years, and both made great personal sacrifices for the good of the state. During these first few critical years, Rome's enemies allied themselves with the exiled Tarquin Superbus and marched against Rome, with the object of restoring him to the throne. Horatius and Mucius Scaevola were both heroes of the war against Lars Porsena, an Etruscan general who was allied with Tarquin. After many years of struggle, the Tarquin's family was finally defeated at the Battle of Regillus.

Once the threat from Tarquin was resolved, Rome was still surrounded by enemies. Rome was a cosmopolitan town, with citizens from throughout Italy, but its primary population and language was Latin, and by the time of the republic Rome was the foremost city in Latium. It had not yet, however, established dominance over the surrounding tribes of Etruscans, Volscians, and Aequilians. Coriolanus and Cincinnatus were both patrician heroes of early wars against these enemies during the first century of the republic. The second century produced Camillus, an even greater hero. In addition to conquering Rome's perennial enemy, Veii, he reorganized the army into its famous legions and was instrumental in rebuilding Rome after it was Gallic Invasion of Italy in 390 B.C. The Gauls were a tribe of war-like barbarians from the north, who threatened Rome for the next three centuries. Their first encounter at the disastrous Battle of Allia, which resulted in the sack of the city, was long remembered as the worst defeat in Roman history. The year 390 B.C. marked that last time that the city of Rome was invaded by barbarians for 800 years.

In addition to the on-going wars with its Italian neighbors, Rome needed to resolve several internal disturbances that threatened it during the early years. From the beginning of the Republic, there was continual strife between the patrician class, who held all of the political power, and the plebeians, who were far more numerous, but without a hand in government. The trouble between them was resolved after a peaceful "walk-out" by the plebeians during one of Rome's wars. The patricians, lead by Menenius, submitted to the idea of establishing a tribune  to represent the interests of the plebeians. Eventually, there were six tribunes, elected from among the plebeians, who had the power to veto all legislations proposed by the patrician senate.

In 452 BC, ten Decemvirs  were selected to write and promulgate the laws of Rome. Their leader was Appius Claudius, but he abused his power and tried to enslave Virginia, resulting in the overthrow of the Decemvirs. However, the laws of Rome written on the twelve tablets  did become the foundation of Roman jurisprudence.

By time the republic was 200 years old, its armies had acquired a reputation for bravery and discipline thanks to the notable deeds of such heroes as Marcus Curtius, Valerius Corvus, Decius Mus, and Manlius Torquatus. The latter were heroes of the Latin and Samnite Wars,which dominated the period 340 to 290 B.C. Caius Pontius was a Samnite general who trapped the Roman army but did not use his victory wisely and was eventually defeated. Fabius Rullianus was the hero of the Battle of Sentium, which was a decisive victory for the Romans over the Samnites and brought the Samnite wars, which had lasted for nearly fifty years, to a close.

The last unsubdued region of Italy was the southern coast, called Magna Graecia, (Greater Greece) because it was populated with Greek colonies. In 280 B.C. the city of Tarentine brought in Pyrrhus, the most famous general of the age, to oppose the Romans. Though he met with early success, at the Battles of Heraclea and Asculum, his fortune turned for the worse at the Battles of Beneventum and the Pyrrhic Wars in Italy ended in victory for Rome.

As Rome dominated more and more of Italy, its own security was greatly enhanced, and it began a series of building projects including roads and aqueducts. Appius Claudius, an important peacetime administrator, was responsible for much of this planning, and the famous Roman road, Via Appia, bears his name. In addition to roads, Appius Claudius initiated the building of Rome's first aqueduct, and several important public buildings. By the time Rome conquered all of Italy, it was at its height of civic rectitude, and public morality. Enemies who had attempted to gain the influence of various senators found all of their bribes returned. Enemies who encountered the army found a disciplined and relentless foe. The city of Rome was prosperous, but had not given in to the luxurious vices.


Year Event
510The last king of Rome, Tarquin Superbus, is expelled; Roman republic is founded.
510-496    Wars against Tarquin and his allies.
508Horatius repels the army of Lars Porsena at theBattle of Sublican Bridge.
496   —Final defeat of Tarquin at the Battle of Lake Regillus.
494   Office of the tribune is established to protect plebian rights.
491Coriolanus is sent into exile but returns with an army to threaten Rome.
458Cincinnatus rescues a Roman army caught in a trap.
451Decimvirs create ten tablets; Virginia is killed to keep her out of the hands of a tyrant.
443   Censorship established.
396Romans under Camillus conquer Veii, their great Etruscan foe.
390   Battle of Allia, Gauls invade and sack Rome.
343-341   First Samnite War—Etruria and Campania annexed to Rome.
326-304   Second Samnite War—Roman humiliation at Battle of Caudine Forks.
312   Via Appia—famous Roman road started.
312   Aqueduct building project started.
298-290   Third Samnite War—Roman victory at the Battle of Sentium.
280-275   Pyrrhic Wars in southern Italy—First encounter between Greek and Roman armies.
269   First Roman coins minted.

Years War Outcome
753–391 BCRise of RomeThe rise of Rome from a small Latin city to the dominant power in Italy.
389–121 BCGallic Invasion of ItalyEarly Gallic invasions into Northern Italy
342–298 BCSamnite WarsRome vies with Samnites for control of Italy
282–275 BCPyrrhic Wars in ItalyThe Greek colonies in southern Italy resist Roman domination.


CharacterDates Short Biography
fl. 508 BC Etruscan king, and supporter of the Tarquins who raised an army to march against Rome.
died 509 BC First Consul of Rome; executed sons for plotting against the republic.
died 508 BC Consul of Rome during the wars with Porsena.
535–509 BC Hero who held the Sublican Bridge against Porsena's entire army.
535–509 BC Hero who burned his right hand to defy Porsena.
fl. 503 BC Roman noble who negotiated with the plebeians after their walk-out during a war.
500–450 BC Hero, provoked to turn traitor. Convinced by his mother to spare Rome from destruction.
519–439 BC Called to be dictator when Roman army was trapped. Saved them, and then returned to his farm.
died 452 BC Evil law giver who usurped power, then attempted to enslave Virginia.
died 451 BC Heroine slain by her father to rescue her from slavery and dishonor.
446–365 BC Great military leader; conquered Veii, saved Rome from Gauls, organized legions.
died 384 BC Defended the capitol from the Gauls.
died 390 BC Leader of the Gauls who sacked Rome in 390 B.C.
died 362 BC Rode horse into a large chasm in Roman market-place.
370–270 BC Defeated a gigantic Gaul in one-on-one combat; lived to be 100.
died 384 BC Consul who slew his son for a minor disobedience.
died 291 BC Hero of the Battle of Sentinum, against the Gauls and Samnites.
fl. 321 BC Samnite general who captured the Romans at Caudium Pass.
340–273 BC Built first auqeduct, public buildings, and "Appian Way", the great Roman road to Capua.
318–272 BC Renowned general, won victories in Macedon, Italy, and Greece, but failed to follow up wins.


Book TitlechapsSelected Chapters
Famous Men of Rome  by  Haaren   9   Junius Brutus   to   Appius Claudius Caecus
The Story of Rome  by  Macgregor   29   Sons of Brutus   to   Pyrrhus Is Defeated
Story of the Romans  by  Guerber   20   Stern Father   to   Elephants Routed
Historical Tales - Roman  by  Morris   11   How Brave Horatius Kept the Bridge   to   Caudine Forks
Stories From Livy  by  Church   13   Brutus   to   Passes of Caudium
Stories from Ancient Rome  by  Church   8   Beginnings of a State  to   Master of Strategy
Old World Hero Stories  by  Tappan   1    Cincinnatus, the Man from the Plough
Children's Plutarch - Romans  by  Gould   4   Why the Romans Bore Pain   to   How a Woman Saved Rome
Young Folks Plutarch  by  Kaufman   2   Publicola   to   Caius Marcius Coriolanus
Young Folks Plutarch  by  Kaufman   1    Camillus


Map Description
Map of Ancient Italy, Northern Part
Map of Ancient Italy, Southern Part
Vicinity of Rome
Growth of Roman Power in Italy to 218 B.C.
Italia Septentrionalis
Italia Meridionalis
Republican Forum