Rome’s early history is shrouded in legend. According to Roman tradition, the city was founded by the twins Romulus and Remus on 21 April 753 BC. Archaeological evidence supports the view that Rome grew from pastoral settlements on the Palatine Hill built in the area of the future Roman Forum. While some archaeologists argue that Rome was indeed founded in the middle of the 8th century BC, the date is subject to controversy. The original settlement developed into the capital of the Roman Kingdom (ruled by a succession of seven kings, according to tradition), and then the Roman Republic (from 510 BC, governed by the Senate), and finally the Roman Empire (from 27 BC, ruled by an Emperor). This success depended on military conquest, commercial predominance, as well as selective assimilation of neighbouring civilisations, most notably the Etruscans and Greeks. From its foundation Rome, although losing occasional battles, had been undefeated in war until 386 BC, when it was briefly occupied by the Gauls. According to the legend, the Gauls offered to deliver Rome back to its people for a thousand pounds of gold, but the Romans refused, preferring to take back their city by force of arms rather than ever admitting defeat, after which the Romans recovered the city in the same year.
Roman dominance expanded over most of Europe and the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, while its population surpassed one million inhabitants. For almost a thousand years, Rome was the most politically important, richest, and largest city in the Western world, and remained so after the Empire started to decline and was split, even as it lost its capital status to Milan and then to Ravenna, and was surpassed in prestige by the Eastern capital Constantinople.
The Seven Kings of Rome
Tarquinius Priscus, Lucius
Tarquinius Superbus, Lucius
What eventually became the Roman Empire began as settlements around the Palatine Hill along the river Tiber in Central Italy. The river was navigable up to that place. The site also had a ford where the Tiber could be crossed. The Palatine Hill and hills surrounding it presented easily defensible positions in the wide fertile plain surrounding them. All these features contributed to the success of the city.
The traditional account of Roman history, which has come down to us through Livy, Plutarch, Dionysius of Halicarnassus and others, is that in Rome’s first centuries, it was ruled by a succession of seven kings. The traditional chronology, as codified by Varro, allots 243 years for their reigns, an extraordinary average of almost 35 years , which, since the work of Barthold Georg Niebuhr, has been generally discounted by modern scholarship. The Gauls destroyed all of Rome’s historical records when they sacked the city after the Battle of the Alliain 390 BC (Varronian, according to Polybius the battle occurred in 387/6), so no contemporary records of the kingdom exist, and all accounts of the kings must be carefully questioned.