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How did Rome get its name?

Rome is now the capital cityof Italy. 2,000 years ago it was the centre of the Roman Empire. Building started in 753 BC. The Romans had a story to explain how Rome began. Twin boys, Romulus and Remus, were the sons of Mars (the Roman god or war). An evil uncle took them as babies from their mother and threw them into the River Tiber to drown. The babies floated to land, and a mother wolf fed and cared for them. Later a herdsman looked after the twins until they grew up.

Years later, Mars told his twin sons to build a city where they had been found. The city was Rome. One day, Remus made fun of the wall Romulus had built around the city. The twins argued, fought, and Romulus killed Remus. Today, historians and archaeologists agree that people were living in Rome long before 753 BC, but the legend is one of the most famous in world history.


How was Rome ruled?

The people of Rome were farmers and herders. For a time, they were under the control of their neighbours, the Etruscans. Rome became a rich city, ruled by kings. In 509 BC, the Romans drove out their last king, Tarquin the Proud. Rome then became a republic.

The republic was ruled by a Senate. Rich men, called senators, ran the government. Poor men (called plebeians) had much less power. The plebeians fought for fairer treatment. A plebeian, who was a free man (someone who was not a slave), could be a Roman citizen. People in lands conquered by the Romans could become citizens too. Women and slaves though, could not be citizens - so they could not vote in elections.

The Senate could not always control the Roman army. Army generals sometimes fought one another. Rome´s best general was Julius Caesar. He lived in the 1st century BC and invaded Britain twice. Caesar came close to being emperor of Rome, but he was murdered in 44 BC. By then, Rome was more than a city. It was the capital of an empire. The Romans ruled lands from France to North Africa. You can see this in our map in the ´Photos´ section on the right.


Who were the Roman emperors?

A Roman emperor was the man who ruled over the empire. The first Emperor ruled Rome after years of fighting between rival leaders. His name was Octavian. He took a new name, Augustus, when he became Emperor in 27 BC. Augustus brought peace after years of fighting. Not all the emperors were good and wise. Some were terrible. Some wanted to be gods.

The emperor had a troop of special soldiers to protect him. They were called the Praetorian Guard. However, some of the bad emperors were so unpopular that their Praetorian Guards killed them!


Who was in the Roman army?

Only men could be in the Roman Army. No women. Every Roman soldier was a Roman citizen. He had to be at least 20 years old. He was not supposed to get married while he was a soldier. Most soldiers in the Roman Empire came from countries outside Italy. There were Roman soldiers from Africa, France, Germany, the Balkans, Spain and the Middle East.

Soldiers had to stay in the army for at least 25 years! Then they could retire, with a pension or a gift of land to farm. Old soldiers often settled down to old age together, in a military town or colonia.


What was a legion?

There were about 30 legions in the Roman army. Each legion had between 4,000 and 6,000 soldiers, called legionaries. Each legion had ten cohorts. Each cohort was made up of six troops of about 80 legionaries, called centuries. Each century was led by a centurion. A centurion carried a short rod, to show his importance. He could also use his stick to beat any soldier who disobeyed an order. The officer commanding the whole legion was called a legate.


What other soldiers did the Romans have?

Legionaries were the best Roman soldiers, and the best paid. There were other soldiers though. An auxiliary was a soldier who was not a Roman citizen. He was paid a third as much as a legionary. Auxiliaries guarded forts and frontiers, but also fought in battles, often in the front lines, where it was the most dangerous.

Some soldiers had special skills. They shot bows and arrows, flung stones from slingshots, or could swim rivers to surprise an enemy - like modern commandos.

Artillery soldiers fired giant catapults, called onagers in Latin, machines that fired rocks or balls of burning tar. The Romans used big wind-up crossbows, called ballistas in Latin, too.

Usually, Romans liked to fight on foot. They used cavalry (soldiers riding horses) to chase a fleeing enemy. In a battle, the cavalry often lined up either side of the infantry (foot-soldiers).


What armour and weapons did the Romans have?

We know about Roman armour and weapons from Roman pictures and statues, and from finds by modern archaeologists.

A Roman soldier wore armour made from strips of iron and leather (lorica segmentata in Latin). On his head was a metal helmet (galea). He carried a rectangular shield (scutum), curved so it protected his body. The shield was made of wood and leather.

The soldier´s main weapons were a short sword for stabbing (gladius) and a long spear, or javelin (pilum) for throwing. The javelin had a sharp iron point, and a thin, bendy shaft. When it hit an enemy´s shield, the point stuck in, but the shaft bent. This made it difficult to pull out. The long spear shaft got in the way, so the enemy soldier had to throw away his shield.

How well-trained were Roman soldiers?

Roman soldiers kept fit by running, marching and practice-fighting. They could march 20 miles (30 km) a day wearing armour. They could swim or cross rivers in boats, build bridges, and smash their way into forts. Each man carried his weapons and shield, some food and camping equipment (such as spare clothes, cooking pot and an axe or spade).

Roman soldiers almost always obeyed orders. They usually fought in lines, marching forward with their shields facing the enemy. If they were being fired at from above (with arrows or rocks), the men would lift their shields over their heads for protection. They looked like a tortoise, so they called this formation the testudo (Latin for tortoise).


Why did Hadrian build his wall?

After the Romans invaded southern Britain, they had to defend it. They built roads, so that soldiers could march quickly to deal with trouble. They also built three very large army forts, and lots of smaller camps, for soldiers to live in. At first these forts were built of wood, later they were built of stone.

Scotland was not part of Roman Britain, although in A.D. 84, the Romans won a big battle against the Picts who lived in Scotland. In A.D. 122 the Emperor Hadrian ordered his soldiers to build a wall between Roman Britain and Scotland. The wall ran from Wallsend in the east to Bowness on the Solway Firth. You can still walk along parts of Hadrian´s Wall today. In A.D. 140, the Romans added another wall further north. It´s called the Antonine Wall.

In the third century A.D. there was fighting along Hadrian´s Wall. Emperor Septimius Severus had to come to Britain to fight tribes invading from Scotland. Although his soldiers won the battles, he got sick and died at York in A.D. 211.


Why did the Romans build roads?

Roman soldiers needed to march from one part of the country to another quickly. So the Romans built roads. Roman roads were made from stones, and were better than muddy tracks for travel on foot or in carts. So they made travelling around Britain easier for everyone. You can still see the remains of some Roman roads today.


How did Roman Britain defend itself?

Britain was on the edge of the Roman Empire. People living outside the empire sometimes tried to attack Roman Britain. Some were pirates in ships. The Romans kept a navy to defend Britain. They also built forts on the coast.

Soldiers kept watch at the forts, and fought any enemies who tried to land in Britain. The forts are called Saxon Shore forts, because many of the people attacking Britain at this time were Saxons. The Saxons were people living in north Germany.

The Romans also had to defend Hadrian´s Wall, against attacks by Picts and other tribes These people lived in northern Britain, outside the Roman part. Soldiers sent to defend the wall lived in forts and camps.

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