Take a tour of Ancient Rome….

… and much more in the rise of this glorious Empire. This is The Augustus, and today we’ll be talking about the industrialisation of a small Latin community into an thriving urban superpower, and what it was like to live in the “city of marble”.

Rome is believed to have been founded in the year 753BC, and experienced a succession of seven Kings before the Republic was founded in 509BC with Tarquinius Superbus being removed from the throne.

Much of what we see in the fairly well preserved streets of Ancient Rome today was stolen from the northernly neighbour of Romulus’ people – the Etruscans. Rome began as a community of mud huts, presumably surrounded by a wooden or dirt wall.

Each ruling King added something to the city; consequently the introduction of aqueducts appeared in the city when the wells providing water to the people became insufficient; the first one built was called Aqua Appia, and this creation was almost certainly stolen from the Etruscans. Moreover, the architectural style that popularised during the Republican period came from the same people.

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Name one reason why we can be so sure? Architects have uncovered parts of the little known Etruscan civilisation and discovered how advanced and developed their settlements were.

Rome saw a huge population growth and spread outside its initial walls in much the same way as the city of Alba Longa did – having to rebuild new walls and fortify old.

Spread out across seven hills, Palatine; Capitoline; Caelian; Aventine; Esquiline; Quirinal; Viminal, the Latin people had access to the fords crossing the valleys. Initially a farming community, Rome quickly admitted Etruscans, Sabines and different Greek settlers into its population.

It also lured criminals and outlaws into the city by the dedication of a safe garden which was free from accusing hands. By utilising the important trade route that had existed for years between the Greeks in the South and their friends the Etruscans in the North, the city grew in wealth and size. Yet again, the Romans learnt from them by copying the style of the city of Etruria and catalysing a rapid trade movement in the Italian peninsula.

During this time, the forum and temple of Jupiter were built. Approximately ten miles out from the centre of the city – the forum – were groups of farmers that only occasionally travelled into the city: maybe to sell their produce or for social activities. The forum quickly became a centre of political campaigns and ambition, a marketplace and a space to meet your friends and chat.

An urban planning style of straight roads, corners and alleyways was used in Rome, however it is a misconception that there was a great gap between the rich patricians and the poor plebeians in the city. Rather, they mingled together, villa next to apartment, the poor man’s street next to the rich man’s highway.

The Romans called their towering, brick apartment complexes “insulae” meaning “island” and often they could stretch up to six or more floors high. These were the real shanty towns of Rome – living spaces within insulae could be only several metres by several metres, with limited access to water and heating at the very best.

There was a general lack of furniture; it was expensive, hard to purchase and not to mention a waste of space for many people who barely had space to pace up and down their room.

During the estimated years of 70AD to 80AD, a massive undertaking of construction was commissioned to build the greatest amphitheatre in Rome; it was named the colosseum in later centuries, but the Romans called it the Flavian Amphitheatre.

Entertainment was a central industry in Ancient Rome – festivals, games and celebrations were held by either the Emperor or administrators/governor of said city or town. Mind that Emperors only appeared after the end of the Republic.

Rome was built upon slavery – pure and simple. Every well-off person had a few, and they were used excessively for all kinds of labour. Huge armouries ran by slaves provided legions with armour and weapons (however some recruits that were forced into the army by conscription had to pay for their own). These “workhouses” were paid for by military contractors.

Instead of a “city of marble”, Rome was a bustling commercial and social centre, with shop entrances covering every street, marketplaces, temples and villas and apartments.

Rome was not a perfectly planned and laid out city – not at all. It spread rapidly and disorganised, spewing into the surrounding countryside and filling fields and hills with its wonderful arches, brick buildings and cobbled streets.

Also, it was probably a rather rude society as well! Tight roads and heavy traffic made it difficult for people not to get angry. It has been said that Nero’s father deliberately ran over a boy when he was enraged at the slow moving crowds in the streets of Rome.

The first Emperor of Rome, Octavian (or Augustus as his changed name) was forced to make a law preventing residential buildings getting too tall.

Shown is the first, remaining floor of a block of apartments in Ostia

For the richer folk, life could still be hard. You may have a fancy villa, but space was still limited and you would have to deal with the same congestion problems as everyone else. Wealthy residents rode in litters, carried by slaves at the front and back.

Mosaics were popular in expensive homes – colourful, artistic depictions and thousands of tiny coloured tiles. Villas could be heated from beneath the floor with systems known as “hypocausts”. Essentially, the floor was held up by many little pillars and a large fire was lit underneath the ground, and the heat from smoke would make the room above warm.

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