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ROME STAGGERS to EMPIRE (3 of 9)

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Strength after Defeat by the Gauls

By the end of the 400s BCE, the city of Rome occupied an area about 32 by 48 kilometers. Around this time, several tribes of Celts – whom the Romans called Gauls – ventured southward from their homeland to the Po River Valley in northern Italy. They threatened the Etruscan city of Clusium, about a hundred miles north of Rome. Clusium requested help from Rome, and Rome sent three commissioners to investigate. One commissioner asked the Gauls why they thought they could take lands that belonged to others. The Gauls replied that the people of Clusium had more land than they needed and that "all things belong to the brave."

The Roman commissioners joined the Etruscans in a skirmish to defend Clusium, and one of the commissioners killed a Gallic chieftain. In 390 BCE, the Gauls headed for Rome to seek revenge. The Gauls outnumbered Rome's defenders two to one, and the Gauls shattered Rome's spear carrying phalanx formations. Many of Rome's defenders fled across the Tiber River to the nearby city of Veii, and some fled to the countryside. Other soldiers rushed into the city to its citadel, as non-combatants were fleeing the city through the same gates. These gates remained open, and the Gauls poured into the city, where they slaughtered old men, women and children and looted and burned. They attempted an uphill attack on the citadel but failed to dislodge the soldiers there.

For seven months the Gauls remained and fought around Rome. Then they gave up and returned north, leaving Rome in ruins. The Romans rebuilt and gathered lessons from their military defeat. They adopted new weaponry, dropping the spear in favor of a two-foot long sword. They adopted helmets, breastplates and a shield with iron edges. They reorganized their army, putting in the front rank of their battle line not the wealthy soldiers as before but the youngest and strongest.

From the year 367 through the following eighty years, the Senate approved a variety of reforms, including laws that allowed commoners to become consuls, praetors, or quaestors – the latter being money managers connected to various aspects of government or military campaigns. Bills were passed that, for the sake of greater equality, limited the size of lands that were distributed by the state. Debt payment was reformed. And in 326 a law was passed that protected the personal freedom of commoners by outlawing the practice of debtors being made serfs to their creditors.

War in Italy erupted again on the plains of Campania, near Neapolis (Naples). Samnite warrior-herdsmen from nearby hills had begun using grasslands for their animals – lands that people of Campania had fenced. The people of Campania sought help from Rome. Roman envoys went to leaders among the hill people for discussions and were rudely treated. War between Rome and the Samnites followed – the First Samnite War. The war lasted two years, ending in 345 with Rome triumphant and the Samnites willing to make peace.

Rome's Latin allies began making forays against the Samnites. The Samnites asked Rome to control its allies, and Rome called upon the Latins to leave the Samnites alone. Seeing itself as the responsible power in the region, Rome went to war against its Latin neighbors and some non-Latin cities. Rome won these wars. It disbanded the Latin League, and it took land from the defeated and distributed it among its commoners. There was not the slaughter or dispersals that accompanied military defeat elsewhere in ancient times. This leniency, rather than weakening Rome, strengthened it by winning respect and gratitude from its former adversaries.

Rome now dominated all the Latins, and it controlled an area from just north of Rome southward almost to Neapolis. This was a heavily populated area relative to ancient times, and the area would be the base from which Rome would spread its power and influence over the whole of Italy.

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