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According to legend, Aeneas, the heroic founder of Rome, was the son of Venus. Such divine origins helped to give credence to the city’s grandiose destiny and its position as the “capital of the world”.

The decadence of the Empire led to the rise and fall of Rome, and despite becoming the cornerstone of the Christian world, the city was repeatedly sacked by barbarian tribes during the early Middle Ages. Restored to its former splendour during the era of the Papal States, Rome was finally declared the capital of a united Italy in 1870.

Origin and Growth

Before the Empire, before even the Etruscans, the peninsula was home to elephants, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses – and the first Italians. Homo erectus roamed this landscape from around 200 000 BC.

By 10 000 BC, more advanced humans displaced Neanderthals; most likely Cro-Magnons, who had fire, but no herds or agriculture. They dabbed crude art onto their cavern-homes, including the Grotto Polesini near Tivoli.

In Neolithic times, farmers and herders built clusters of huts, wove fabrics and cast pots. They were recognizably Mediterranean: short and narrow-headed. After 2 000 BC, this stock mixed with round-headed alpine people from central Europe.

Regional cultures emerged between 1 000–800 BC. The southern Villanovans occupied the site of Rome. They hammered bronze armour, fought with iron weapons and lived in round homes. Other tribes – mostly speaking Indo-European dialects – dwelt nearby, including the Oscans, Sabines, Latins and Umbrians.

The Tiber’s left bank – eroded lava-flows from the Alban Hills (Monti Albani) – provided excellent defensive positions: particularly the Palatine. It rose steeply from the surrounding marsh with a clear view of the Tiber. This site was, more­over, an ideal staging post on the salt road (Via Salaria) .

Rome‘s Legendary Origins

According to Livy in his Roman History and the Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus in his Early Roman History , Aeneas, son of the goddess Venus and the mortal Anchises, fled from Troy as it fell. He landed at the Tiber’s mouth and married Lavinia, the king of Latium’s daughter. After his death, his son Ascanius (or lulus) left to found Alba Longa. The last king of this Alban dynasty was Amulius, who deposed his brother Numitor and forced the latter’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, to become a Vestal Virgin. Raped by the god Mars, she birthed the twins Romulus and Remus, whom Amulius set adrift on the Tiber. The basket carrying the infants washed up at the foot of the Palatine where they were nursed by a wolf and brought up by shepherds.

As ambitious adults, they decided to found a city. A dispute about sites and bird omens led to fratricide. Romulus alone founded the city on 21 April 753 BC, and populated it with outlaws who settled on the Capitoline. Females were in short supply. So the first king threw a party, invited the local tribes and stole their daughters; this “Rape of the Sabine Women” later became an overly popular theme in classical art.

A succession of kings followed, alternately Sabine and Latin, until the arrival of the Etruscans.

The Etruscans

A band of 12 city states flourished from the 8C–3C BC. Brilliant urban planners, they transformed villages into city grids with temples, roads and drained fields. Their rock-cut theatres, tunnels and tombs honeycomb central Italy.

The Etruscans’ origin is much disputed; some even suggest this high civilization was Atlantis. Skilful jewellers, they cast metal sculptures (including the Capitoline Wolf, Rome’s symbol ), as well as painting frescoes and black clay pots.

The last three rulers were Etruscan and steadied the upstart city, at least initially. Lucius Tarquinius Priscus introduced drainpipes and games. Servius Tullius reorganized the army, bolstered the middle classes and encouraged a basic political assembly. This peace exploded in 510, when Romans expelled the tyrant Tarquin Superbus . The trigger for this was unclear: power struggles or grain shortage, perhaps. Legend points the finger at his son’s rape of a pious wife, who then committed suicide (The Rape of Lucretia).

Try as they might, the Etruscans couldn’t retake Rome. Unable to reach their southern settlements, the city-states dwindled. A 474 BC defeat at Cumae crushed their naval supremacy. Bullied by Celtic tribes to the north, the Etruscans were conquered by the Romans; Volsinii fell last in 265 BC.

Greek and Latin accounts claim moral superiority over the “debauched” people. Yet politics probably undermined the Etruscan League: internecine strife, cruelty towards peasants, elite snobbery and perhaps just a little ruling-class corruption towards the end.

Many mourn the passing of this quicksilver artistic empire, which once nearly united the Italian peninsula. DH Lawrence, author of the classic 1932 travelogue Etruscan Places , rhapsodized about “the long-nosed, sensitive-footed, subtly smiling Etruscans, who made so little noise outside the cypress groves”.

“Italy to-day is far more Etruscan in its pulse than Roman: and will always be so. The Etruscan element is like the grass of the field and the sprouting of the corn, in Italy: it will always be so. Why try to revert to the Latin-Roman mechanism and suppression?”

The Monarchy (753–509 BC)

753 Legendary foundation of Rome by Romulus on the Palatine Hill.

715–616 Reigns of three Sabine kings Numa Pompilius, Tullus Hostilius and Ancus Martius.

616–509 Etruscan hegemony: Tarquin the Elder, who laid out the Forum, Servius Tullius and Tarquin the Proud.

The Republic (510–27 BC)

Tradition dates the Republic to 510 BC. Citizens expelled the ruling Tarquins, and granted executive and military power to two consuls, elected annually. The Senate , formed by the old patrician families, had a purely advisory role.

Praetors bore judicial power, while aediles and quaestors carried out administrative and financial tasks; all these officials served for one year.

The city divided into two ordines: the patricians (aristocrats “able to trace their ancestors”) and the plebeians , who were forbidden to assume political or priestly office, or to marry “up”.

Inevitably, these groups clashed. The patricians saw their privileges gradually reduced over the years and a new mixed ruling class, known as the nobilitas , formed at the end of the 4C. The last prohibitions to fall were those relating to censorship and religious offices.

The patricians controlled many slaves, who formed the most wretched section of society, but who could be freed and become liberti . A boss–supplicant system – known as clientela – emerged during this period. A patron gave his clients financial or political assistance, and they returned this support during elections and tribunals.

This period saw Roman expansion within the Italian peninsula and across the Mediterranean. As the army grew in importance, so did the power of the men behind it. Its generals struggled for dominance throughout the late Republican period.

Proconsuls administered – and often plundered – the conquered provinces. During the Empire, the consuls’ powers were united in one person, an emperor. Many later claimed divinity to reinforce their right to rule.

494 Rome leaves the Latin League. First plebeians’ secession. They obtain a magistrature to defend their rights (tribunate of the plebeians).

451–449 The city codifies civil and penal laws in the Twelve Tables , described by Cicero as “the very height and pinnacle of the law”.

396 Romans capture Etruscan Veia, which controlled the River Tiber, after a 10-year siege.

390 Invasions by the Gauls and Roman defeat on the River Allia. Sacking and burning of Rome.

367 Plebeians granted access to consulship, reform of magistrature of censorship, and proposal for the distribution of territorial areas to citizens (ager publicus) .

343 341 Rome forms alliances with Greek cities of the Campania region. This leads to the First Samnite War .

326 304 Second Samnite War . Rome suffers the famous defeat of the Claudine Forks . Tactical reform of the legions (into groups of 60 men) guarantees Rome a partial victory.

312 Appius Claudius Caecus, writer and orator, becomes censor. Construction of the first section of the Appian Way.

298 290 Third Samnite War ; Rome defeats the combined armies of the Samnites, Etruscans, Gauls and Umbrians at the battle of Sentinum, in the present-day Marche region. The victory brings central Italy under Roman control.

282 272 The capture of Tarentum – the last powerful Greek polis on the peninsula – brings the Romans into contact with the Hellenic culture.

264 241 First Punic War between Rome and Carthage . After fierce fighting on land and at sea, Rome captures Sicily, with its prosperous cities, and the island becomes the first province governed by a propraetor . A few years later, Rome conquers Sardinia.

218 201 Second Punic War and march by Hannibal from Spain to Italy (elephants over the Alps!). Hannibal defeats the Romans in Ticinus, Trebia, Lake Trasimene, and Cannae, not far from Venosa. The Roman counter-offensive chases the Carthaginians out of Spain and prevents supplies from reaching Hannibal’s army. Scipio Africanus (a young general from the noble Cornelii Scipiones family) settles in Sicily; from here he extends the fighting to Africa. Hannibal, summoned home, is defeated by the army of Scipio Africanus at Naraggara-Zama. The peace treaty gives the Romans control over the western section of the Mediterranean basin. The destructive war has far-reaching consequences in Italy, such as an influx of slaves, the destruction of small peasant farms, and an increase in the urban population, as food funnelled into Rome.

201 The first comedies of Plautus.

197 168 War in the east against the Hellenistic states of Macedonia, the Seleucids in Asia Minor and the Syrian Mesopotamian region.

179 Construction of a wooden theatre. (Pompey builds the first stone version in 55.)

148 146 Third Punic War : capture and destruction of Carthage.

133 121 The brothers Tiberius and Caius Gracchus , both plebeian tribunes, inspire social and economic reforms. Angered, the Senate orders their assassinations.

111 105 War against Jugurtha of Numi­dia. The continuous strife and probable corruption of senators weakened the Roman republic. Two famous generals are victorious: Caius Marius , consul for the first time in 107, and Lucius Sulla .

91 88 War between Rome and its Italian allies, who demanded Roman citizenship. After much violent fighting, the tough­est rebels are defeated, although citizenship is awarded to all Italian peoples.

88 First Civil War between the Senate (nobility) and people (populares) . Lucius Sulla, supporter of the Senate and the nobilitas , is deprived of supreme command of the war against Mithridates in favour of Marius , a supporter of the populares . After marching on Rome to silence the populares , Sulla earns the war command.

87 Sulla departs. Caius Marius and Cornelius Cinna establish the rule of the populares .

84 Sulla returns and defeats Cinna (Marius was killed in 86). The following year, Sulla assumes dictatorial powers: exiles have no recourse to law, and their killers can claim their property. Fear, loathing and bloodshed ensue.

82 79 Sulla reforms the Republic. The Senate is strengthened and the powers of the plebeian tribunes reduced. Sulla retires from public life and dies the following year. He was described by one of his biographers as a frustrated monarch: unlike Augustus, he did not actually abolish the Republican political system.

73 70 Licinius Crassus , a rich businessman, is elected consul in 70 with Pompey , after putting down the slave revolt led by Spartacus (6 000 prisoners crucified). Pompey is away fighting Mithridates and pirates until 62.

63 Catiline Conspiracy , secretly supported by Caesar. The conspiracy is put down by the consul, Cicero, the champion of the agreement drawn up between senators and equites (which included businessmen and speculators). Catiline is killed in battle near Pistoia.

60 First Triumvirate , a private agreement between Crassus, Pompey and Caesar is signed at Lucca. The following year Casear is elected consul.

58 52 Caesar’s campaign against the Gauls , followed by his conquest of Britain and fighting against Germanic tribes. Troubles in Asia Minor, where in 54 Crassus is defeated and killed by the Parthians near Carrhae in Upper Mesopotamia.

49 45 Civil war between Caesar and Pompey.

49 Caesar becomes dictator.

48 Assassination of Pompey, who had taken refuge at the court of the Ptolemy in Egypt.

44 Assassination of Caesar on the Ides of March (15 March).

Veni, Vidi, Vici

Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BC)

Soldier and statesman, orator and writer ( The Gallic Wars and The Civil War ) – was instrumental in the establishment of the Roman Empire. A supporter of the populares , he proved his outstanding political abilities while he was still very young. In 58 Caesar became Governor of Cisalpine Gaul and of Provincia (now Provence); by 51 he had conquered the whole of Gaul, at the cost of perhaps a million lives. In January 49, he crossed the Rubicon (the boundary across which armies were not supposed to tread) and marched on Rome and its officials; Pompey, who had been sole consul since 52, and the Senate fled. Civil war followed. Pompey’s army was defeated at Pharsalus in Thessaly, Pompey himself was murdered in Alexandria and his supporters fell in Africa and Spain.

Early in 44, Caesar appointed himself consul and dictator for life; he gave his name to the month of his birth (July), pardoned his enemies and weakened the power of the senators by reducing their number to 900. On 15 March 44 BC (the Ides of March), while planning a campaign against the Parthians, he was stabbed to death by a group of senators in the Curia Pompeia.

43 Second Triumvirate established: the young Octavian (Caesar’s great-nephew and adopted heir, who took the name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian – later “Augustus”), Mark Antony (Caesar’s fellow consul) and Lepidus . Antony is assigned the east, Octavian the west and Lepidus Africa. Assassination of Cicero, who had attacked Antony in public debates.

31 Battle of Actium (not far from Patras) between the troops of Octavian and those of Mark Antony (aligned politically – and romantically – with Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt). The lovers commit suicide; Octavian annexes Egypt to Rome and proclaims himself successor to the Ptolemy dynasty.

The Roman Empire

Julio–Claudian Dynasty (27 BC–AD 69)

27 The Senate grants Octavian the title Augustus (from the Latin “ augere” – “to grow”).

14 BC Augustus dies at Nola having witnessed the premature death of many family members. He is succeeded by Tiberius , the son of his wife Livia, distinguished for his military achieve­ments in Germany and Pannonia. Proud of his family tradition (he belonged to the noble Claudian family), this introvert retired to Capri towards the end of his life (27 AD). The historian Tacitus was one of his most fierce detractors.

AD 30 Jesus of Nazareth , known as Christ, is condemned to death.

37 41 Caligula as princeps (head of State). He suffers from bouts of madness, but is determined to wield absolute power as Emperor, moving away from the compromise with Republican ideals achieved by Augustus. He is assassinated.

41 54 Claudius , Caligula’s uncle and a scholar of the Etruscan civilisation, assumes power. Britain annexed to the Empire. Some of Claudius’s freed slaves, very loyal to him, are appointed in official posts. The reaction of the Senate is violent. Seneca is one of the victims of repression and is exiled to the island of Corsica.

54 68 Nero as Emperor. Declared Emperor after Caligula, Claudius wed Agrippina, then adopted her son Nero . Rumour claims she assassinated her husband, making her dotty offspring princeps . Nero’s tutor Seneca succeeded in controlling the young Emperor’s behaviour for the first five years, tempering his more absolute tendencies. The repression of a senatorial conspiracy led to the suicide of Seneca and to violent and authoritarian behaviour by the Emperor. His diplomatic successes (the annexing of Armenia to the Roman Empire) did nothing to dispel the general level of discontent. Violent persecution of the Christians took place in 64, followed by the famous fire. The German legions rebelled and imposed Sulpicius Galba as the new Emperor. Following this, Nero committed suicide.

69 Succession disputed. Galba is followed by the prefect of Lusitania, Otho, who is in turn defeated and forced to commit suicide by Vitellius. Vitellius is challenged by Flavius Vespasian and civil war breaks out in the city of Rome. The Campidoglio fire damaged the Temple of Jupiter: a highly sacrilegious act.

Flavian Emperors (AD 70–96)

69–79 After much destruction and a year of civil war, Flavius Vespasian – head of a troop responsible for putting down the Jewish revolt – is proclaimed Emperor. This skilful administrator restores the finances of the state and promulgates the Lex de imperio, which sets out the powers of the princeps (head of State) for the first time. He promotes the construction of public works, such as the huge Flavian Amphitheatre, now known as the Colosseum .

79–81 Titus , Vespasian’s eldest son, becomes Emperor. In 79, Vesuvius erupts, destroying Herculaneum, Stabia and Pompeii. Pliny the Elder dies while valiantly attempting to rescue the victims.

81–96 Titus’s brother, Domitian , becomes Emperor. He advocates anti-Senate policies, carries out military offensives in the Germanic regions and in Dacia with little success, and instigates the persecution of the Christians in 93. A conspiracy leads to his assassination.

Antonine Emperors and adopted heirs

96–98 Nerva , a former senator, becomes Emperor. Nerva is responsible for inaugurating the procedure of emperors to nominate their successor.

98–117 Marcus Ulpius Trajan is elected Roman Emperor.

117–38 Hadrian becomes Emperor. He promotes peace, abandoning Mesopotamia and fortifying the boundaries (limes) of the Empire. A cultured and passionate Hellenist, he travelled widely, spending time in Africa and Asia Minor. His reign was blighted by a serious Jewish revolt in Palestine, Egypt and Cyrene (131 35).

138–61 A long period of peace under the reign of Antoninus Pius . During this period Rome had a population of around one million, a figure exceeded only by imperial Peking.

161–80 Reign of Marcus Aurelius , a Stoic philosopher and statesman who wrote a philosophical work in Greek, entitled Meditations . After a campaign against the Parthians, he faced the German tribes (Quadi and Marcomanni) in the Upper Danube region.

180–92 Reign of Commodus , son of Marcus Aurelius. Commodus was immature and not very capable; he was killed by a conspiracy of the Senate.

Severan Emperors and military anarchy (3C)

193–211 The African general Septimius-Severus becomes Emperor after the civil war between Albino and Nigro. He starts the offensive against the Parthians and the Scots. Government assumes the form of a military autocracy.

211–17 Rule of Aurelius Antoninus, known as Caracalla , a fierce and unstable character. In 212 he publishes the Constitutio Antoniniana de civitate, which granted citizenship to all free men in the Empire, probably for tax purposes. High inflation begins and continues until the early 4C.

218–22 Reign of Elagabalus , high priest of the sun god, El-Gabal, from the city of Emesa in Syria. His outrageous behaviour leads to his assassination.

222–35 Severus Alexander attempts to work with the Senate to prevent German tribes invading. He is killed by Maximinus from Thracia, an uncouth professional soldier. Military anarchy follows, along with German and Persian threats.

256–60 Persecution of Christians under Valerian . The Emperor and his army are defeated by the Persians and Valerian is held prisoner. He is succeeded by his son Gallienus, protector of the famous philosopher Plotinus , who opened a school in Rome.

270–75 Aurelian , a skilful general, takes Palmyra, a Syrian capital. Preoccupied by the invasion of Germanic tribes on Italian soil, Aurelian has a new wall built around Rome, later reinforced by Honorius. The wall had 16 gates and 383 towers.

Imperial autocracy (4C–5C)

The Empire was reorganised under Diocletian and Constantine. Italy and Rome lost some of their importance, imperial power became autocratic, and administrative and fiscal reforms replaced the old Augustinian laws. Christianity became the religion of the Emperor and his family, and the seat of power shifted east, with the founding of Constantinople in 331.

284–305 Diocletian , a high-ranking official, becomes Emperor. He attempts to harness inflation with fixed prices and devises a system that splits the Empire administratively, at the same time guaranteeing a peaceful succession.

The tet­rarchy , or rule by four, creates two leaders under the title of Augustus, assisted by two Caesars (who were also heirs). In 286 Maximian becomes Augustus in Milan; Galerius is given the title of Caesar and control of the east in Mitrovizza, assisting Diocletian, and Constantius-Chlorus assists Maximian as his Caesar and settles in Trier, governing Gaul and Britain. Rome is no longer the capital, but assumes a symbolic value as the original home of the Empire.

303 Systematic persecution of Christians by Diocletian.

311 Galerius grants permits to eastern Christians to worship.

306–37 Chlorus’s son, Constantine , takes advantage of the dissolution of the tetrarchy and proclaims himself Augustus. He routs enemies, including the pagan, Maxentius, supported by the Senate.

337–60 The Empire is divided among Constantine’s three sons who soon begin fighting. Constantinus II , supporter of the Arian faith, emerges victorious. He visits Rome.

360–63 Julian as Emperor. Cousin of Constantius II, he was a very cultured man. He embraces paganism and attempts to reinstate this ancient religion. Christian teachers are refused work, although there are no real acts of hostility towards the Church. He leads a successful campaign against the Persians, but dies near Ctesiphon, in Mesopotamia.

378 Disastrous Roman defeat at Adrianopolis (Thracia). The Emperor Valentian is killed and the Goths establish themselves in the Balkans, often acting as mercenaries for the Roman army.

382 Leo the Great proclaims the Pope “Head of the Church” and the fount of episcopal authority, reinforcing the supre­macy over Constantinople. During this period, Gratian, a pupil of Ambrose, renounces the traditional and pagan title of Pontifex Maximus , once the prerogative of all Emperors after Augustus.

379–95 Theodosius I resolves the problem of the Goths and reigns as sole Emperor (the last in Roman history). In 380 Nicean Christianity is proclaimed the state religion by the Emperor in Thessalonica. In 392, at the suggestion of Ambrose of Milan, paganism is outlawed. Following Theodosius’ death, the Empire is divided between his sons: Arcadius in the east and Honorius , whose guardian was the Vandal general Stilicho, in the west.

403 After the invasion of the Po Plain by the Visigoth, Alaric (later defeated by Stilicho), Honorius leaves Milan and settles in Ravenna, defended by marshland. A conspiracy murders Stilicho in 407.

410 Alaric sacks Rome for three days. A huge outcry follows. Jerome and Augustine write pages on the desecration of the city. The previous year, various Germanic tribes had invaded Gaul. The west is on the verge of collapse.

430 Aurelius Augustine , a Christian writer and philosopher, dies at Ippona (in present-day Algeria), attacked by Vandals. He wrote the Confessions and a major work on the civilisation and decadence of Rome, De Civitate Dei .

455 Genseric , king of the Vandals, sacks Rome from his African territory with extreme ferocity. Just four years earlier, the Roman general Ezio had stop­ped the Huns in Gaul, and in 452 Attila had turned back at the Po Plain, either as a result of the intervention of the Pope, or from fear of an outbreak of plague in Italy.

476 The barbarian Odoacer deposes the last Emperor of the west, Romulus Augustus . The Emperor of the east is now universally recognised as the legitimate ruler.

Papal Power (6C–15C)

493 The Arian Ostrogoths settle in Italy. Their educated king, Theodoric, initiates a period of collaboration.

527–65 Justinian becomes Emperor of Byzantium. In 540, he orders his general Belisarius to invade Sicily. This leads to the disastrous Gothic War, which devastated parts of Italy and marks the ancient era’s end. Belisarius captures, then loses Rome. In 552, the eastern Empire annexes Italy.

568 Invasion by the Lombards , a Germanic people more unruly than the Visigoths. Rome, officially part of the Byzantine Empire, is, in fact, defended and sustained by the Pope. The Byzantine exarch has his residence in Ravenna. The disappearance of the Senate and the destruction of the city signals the beginning of Rome’s decay.

590–604 Papacy of Gregory the Great , known as Consul Dei because of his political ability. A writer and theologian, he was respon­sible for the evangelisation of Britain. Under his Papacy, the Bishop of Rome becomes a moral and political force of European importance. In spite of this, records of the time (many of which are pilgrims’) show Rome to be a small city, with a population of less than 20 000. The influx of monks from the east and the Greek language influences the city for two centuries.

752 Lombards threaten Rome. Pope Stephen II appeals for help from the king of the Franks, Pepin the Short (the Franks were Catholics, unlike the other Germanic tribes, who were Arian), marking the beginning of the alliance between the French and the Pope. The latter had little faith in Byzantium, involved in iconoclasm conflicts.

758 Donation of Querzy-sur-Oise. The Pope acquires Sutri and other territories, leading to the birth of the Patrimonium Petri , otherwise known as the Papal States .

800 Charlemagne , who had conquered the Lombards in 776, is crowned Emperor by Pope Leo III, despite the opposition of Byzantium, reviving the Roman Empire of the west. Rome is the seat of this Republica Christiana .

824 Ludovic the Pius, son and successor to Charlemagne, passes his Constitutio stating that no Pope could be elected without first swearing allegiance to the Emperor.

846 The Moors, landing at Ostia, sack the Basilica of St Peter’s. As a result, the Leonine Walls are built around the Vatican basilica in 852.

9C–10C Unsettled period for the Papacy. The social-climbing aristocratic families of Rome (the Theophylacti, Crescenzi and later the Tuscolani) all push for the election of their family members, who are often weak and dissolute.

962 John XII calls Otho I , king of Germany, to Rome and crowns him Emperor. Otho imposes major reforms on the Papacy, establishing that a Pope could not be elected without the consent of the Emperor. In 963 Pope John XII is deposed and Leo VIII, a German prelate loyal to the Emperor, elected.

996 Otho III resides in Rome, on the Aventine, and dreams of restoring Rome to its ancient grandeur. The Pope is the scholar Sylvester II . In 998 the Emperor issues a Privilegium attesting the pre-eminence of Rome above all other cities in the Empire. Otho’s death cuts short the city’s renaissance in 1002.

1057 Stephen IX elected Pope without the Emperor’s approval.

1075 Gregory VII , a strong advocate of absolute theocracy, confirms the superiority of the Papacy over the Empire and declares that laymen cannot make ecclesiastical appointments (the Investiture Controversy ). He also denounces the sale and acquisition of Church goods and the marriage of priests. In his Dictatus Papae the Pope sets out the holy and political power of the Papacy, which exceeds that of all bishops and other Christians, including the Emperor. The Emperor Henry IV, angered by this statement, captures Rome. He is then expelled by the Norman army of Robert Guiscard, called upon by Gregory VII. Rome is violently sacked and its population massacred; many of those inhabitants not killed are sold as slaves.

1122 Concordat of Worms . The Pope and the Emperor reach a compromise to end the Investiture Controversy. At the suggestion of the canonist, Yves (Ivo) of Chartres, the Pope will from now on invest future bishops spiritually with a ring and pastoral staff; the Emperor will concede temporal power with a sceptre.

1130–55 Arnaldo da Brescia, a monk who was a pupil of the philosopher Abelard, attempts to reform the papacy and institute a republic in Rome, divided into Comune .

1153 Pope protected by Frederick Barbarossa under the Treaty of Constance. Arnaldo da Brescia captured and hanged. New conflict between the Pope and the Emperor. Rome fortified with towers ( Roma turrita) built by powerful aristocratic families.

1198–1216 Papacy of Innocent III . Medieval papal theocracy culminates in this period.

1309–77 Avignon captivity . As a result of the influence of the French monarchy, the Popes (most of whom were French) move to Avignon. The Pope returns to Rome following the protests and prayers of Catherine of Siena, Bridget of Sweden and the poet Petrarch.

1347 Rome dominated by Cola di Rienzo , a notary of the city and ardent admirer of ancient history, who is eager to return the city to its former glory. His attempt fails miserably because of the hostility of the aristocratic families. After only three years, he exits the city. He returns with the Pope’s support, but is soon forced to flee once more and is tragically slaughtered. The anonymous The Life of Cola di Rienzo captures his sad tale in the vulgar Roman dialect.

1357 Cardinal Egidio di Albornoz publishes his Constitutiones Aegidianae , laws with which the Papal States were ruled until the 19C.

1378–1417 Great Schism of the West . Two Popes reign simultaneously, one in Rome and one in Avignon. A third emerges in Pisa in 1409. Pope Martin V brings the seat of the Papacy back to Rome and rules.

1447–55 Nicholas V founds the Vatican Library , which today has around 500 000 books and 60 000 manuscripts. Rome becomes a centre of the European Humanist movement.

1453 Turks capture Constantinople, ending the eastern Empire. Humanist Pope Pius II (Enea Silvio Piccolomini) issues a protest over the apathy of western sovereigns.

The Modern Era

1494 The French king, Charles VIII , enroute to Naples, enters Rome. This marks the beginning of foreign intervention in central and northern Italy.

1508–12 After a period of fighting to subjugate the aristocratic families to the power of the Church, Julius II goes to war to retain Romagna, to weaken the Venetian Republic and to expel the French king, Louis XII.

1517 Luther , who had visited Rome and been shocked by the immorality of the Curia, nails his 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenberg. The Medici Pope Leo X underestimates the danger of Luther’s gesture.

6 May The sack of Rome by the Pro-

1527 testant Swiss and Spanish troops under Emperor Charles V, who holds the city for seven months. Only 32 000 of the 55 000 inhabitants remain. The later influx of central Italians distanced the Roman dialect from other southern strains. In November Clement VII surrenders to the imperial troops, promising a council to reorganise Catholicism.

1543–63 Council of Trent and birth of the Counter-Reformation.

1585–90 Pontificate of Sixtus V , during which crime and brigandry are rife. The Church and State are divided into 15 congregations at this time; a cardinal administers each. Sixtus V erected the obelisks of Piazza dell’Esquilino, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza San Pietro and Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano. He constructed the Via Sistina, partially linked the main churches and numerous districts of Rome with wide roads, rebuilt the Lateran and constructed the Scala Santa, replaced the statue of the Emperor on Trajan’s Column with that of St Peter and had a chapel built to house his own tomb in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

1600 The philosopher Giordano Bruno is burnt at the stake in Campo dei Fiori.

1631 Urban VIII obtains the duchy of Urbino. The Papal States reach their greatest extent.

1791 Renunciation by the Papacy of Avignon and the Comtat-Venaissin, French annexes.

1798 Rome is occupied by the French troops of Napoleon ; the Jacobin Roman Republic proclaimed. Pius VI dies in exile in Valence.

1800 The new Pope, Pius VII, is elected in Venice and returns to Rome, where the Republic is defeated. The following year the Pope signs a concordat with Napoleon.

1808 Rome occupied by the French. Following political disagreements (Pius VII refused to blockade Britain), the Papal States are invaded by Napoleonic troops and the Pope banished to Savona, then Fontainebleau. Pius VII returns to Rome in 1814.

1820–61 Struggle for the unification of the Italian States.

1848 Pius IX sends troops to fight the Austrians, during the First War of Independence. The Pope’s conservative stance leads to the proclamation of the Roman Republic, defended by Garibaldi against the French troops, who ensure the return of the Pope.

Capital of Italy

1870 Rome captured by the Italian army, ending the Pope’s temporal authority. Pius IX retires to the Vatican. The State proposes the Law of Guarantees, to safeguard the Pope’s liberty, which is refused by the Pope. Rome becomes the Italian capital.

1915 Italy enters World War I on side of Allies.

28–29 October 1922 Fascist march on Rome. Mussolini named Prime Minister.

1929 Mussolini and Cardinal Gasparri sign the Lateran Treaty (re-newed in 1984). Foundation of the Vatican City State.

1936 Mussolini forms an axis with Nazi Germany.

1937 Creation of Cinecittà film studio and the Istituto Luce.

1940 Italy enters World War II on the German side.

1943 San Lorenzo bombardment. King Victor Emmanuel III imprisons Mussolini. Armistice with Allies. Italy declares war on Germany.

1944 British and American forces liberate Rome.

1946 Republic Proclaimed . Rome becomes the administrative centre of the Lazio region.

1948 New constitution. Christian Democrats win elections.

1957 Treaty of Rome sets up the Common Market (now the European Union). Rome also becomes the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a United Nations organisation.

1960 Olympic Games held in Rome.

1963 Italian Socialist Party joins Christian Democrat-led coalition under Prime Minister Aldo Moro.

1963–65 Second Vatican Council , called by John XXIII (1958–63) and completed by Paul VI (1963–78). The Church tries to enter the modern world. Liturgical reform abolishes Latin in services.

1968 Clashes between students and police near Villa Giulia.


Right- and left-wing terrorists jostle. Citizens cower inside during the “Years of Lead”.

1972 Giulio Andreotti becomes prime minister, a post he will hold seven times.

1975 Holy Year celebrated.

1978 Former PM Aldo Moro kidnapped and killed by the Red Brigades. Paul VI dies and is succeeded by John Paul I, pope for just 33 days.

The Archbishop of Cracow, Karol Wojtila, is elected and takes the name John Paul II . Abortion is legalised.

1984 Renewal of the Lateran Pact between the Holy See and the Italian Government. Roman Catholicism loses status as state religion.

1990 Football World Cup held in the Eternal City.

1992 Mafia probes spark several years of arrests and investigations. Top anti-crime prosecutor, Giovanni Falcone, his wife and three bodyguards killed in car bomb attack.

2000 Celebration of the Jubilee .

2001 Silvio Berlusconi wins the general election, backed by a centre-right coalition. First constitutional referendum since 1946 creates greater autonomy to the country’s 20 regions in tax, education and environment policies.

2002 Inauguration of the Rome Auditorium by Renzo Piano. Euro replaces the lira.

2003 PM Berlusconi appears in court on corruption charges.

2005 Death of John Paul II ; election

of the new pope Benedict XIII . Parliament ratifies EU constitution. Berlusconi resigns, then reforms government.

2006 Prodi becomes PM. Giorgio Napolitano, a former communist, is elected as president.

2007 Romano Prodi resigns after a defeat on a foreign policy vote, but continues with a re-formed coalition government.

2007 Prodi resigns as PM. in January after losing a vote of confidence in the Senate. Elections in April result in a victory for Berlusconi’s Freedom People coalition.

2009 Tremors felt in Rome during an earthquake in L’Aquila, 80 km (50 miles) northeast of the city.

Influential Families

Many of Rome’s powerful families funded monumental works, commissioned artistic treasures and occupied high levels of government.


This Roman family, originally from Tuscany, produced Pope Urban VIII (1623 44). He funded the Barberini Palace on the Quirinal, upon which both the young Bernini and Borromini worked: it contains a magnificent picture gallery. He commissioned the Triton Fountain and the Fountain of the Bees in Piazza Barberini. A friend of Galileo, he was the first to employ Bernini – for a bust of himself and the baldaquin above the high altar in St Peter’s Basilica.


This noble family from Siena settled in Rome when one of its members was elected Pope Paul V (1605 21). The family has left its mark in the Palazzo Borghese, in the city centre, and in the Villa Borghese to the north of Rome. During his Papacy, the Villa became a museum and houses many important art works collected over the years by generations of the family. Paul V also commissioned the Pauline Fountain (Fontana Paolina) on the Janiculum. He is buried in the Pauline Chapel in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore.


This Spanish family produced two Popes: Calixtus III (1455 58) and Alexander VI (1492 1503). During the latter’s reign, America was discovered. He used Peruvian gold to decorate the ceiling of Santa Maria Maggiore; his coat of arms is shown there. Alexander VI also decorated the Vatican’s Borgia Apartments. His son, Cesare , inspired Machiavelli to write The Prince ; his daughter, Lucrezia , was the victim of family political intrigue.


Originally came from Siena, these bankers became more important from the 15C through Agostino Chigi , who commissioned the young Raphael to decorate the Villa Farnesina. The Chigi Palace, official residence of the president of the Council of Ministers, owes its name to Alexander VII (1655 67), a member of the illustrious family who acquired it in the 17C. The Pope commissioned Bernini to build the colonnades of St Peter’s. The Chigi coat of arms also appears on the fountain in Piazza d’Aracoeli.


This ancient noble family was very powerful from the 13C to the 17C. The election of one of its members, Martin V (1417 31), as Pope during the Council of Constance ended the Great Schism of the West. When the papacy returned to Rome, Martin concentrated totally on reinstating the primacy of the Vatican.

Della Rovere

Two great Popes were born into this family from Savona: Sixtus IV and Julius II. Sixtus IV (1471 84), whose secular name was Francesco della Rovere, was a scholarly and industrious man. He wrote a thesis on the blood of Christ and a study on the Immaculate Conception. He also rebuilt Sante Maria del Popolo and constructed the Santa Maria della Pace and the Sistine Chapel. Sixtus IV called upon some of the greatest artists of the day – including Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Perugino – to decorate the chapel. Having appointed his nephews Gerolamo and Pietro Riario as Bishop and Archbishop of Imola, he came into conflict with Lorenzo de’ Medici and was involved in the Pazzi conspiracy, which led to the assassination of Giuliano de’ Medici (Lorenzo’s brother) in Florence Cathedral, and to the massacre of the conspirators by the mob. Like his nephew Giuliano della Rovere (the future Pope Julius II), Sixtus IV was a warrior Pope; he fought against other Italian states and was victorious against Muhammad II, who had landed at Otranto and massacred many of the local inhabitants.

Julius II (1503 13) was blessed with great gifts both as a politician and as a generous patron: the implementation of Bramante’s design for St Peter’s, the painting of the Vatican Rooms by Raphael, the designing of his mausoleum, which remained unfinished, by Michelangelo (in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli) , and the collection of antique sculptures in the Vatican. He was also responsible for the building of Via Giulia, a long, straight thoroughfare between the bend in the Tiber and the island downstream.


This aristocratic family from Umbria, already famous by the 12C, came to Rome through Paul III (1534 49), the Pope who convened the Council of Trent (1545 63). He was the driving force behind major projects. While still a cardinal, he commissioned Sangallo to build the Farnese Palace, finished by Michelangelo. When he became Pope, he turned again to the Florentine master for the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel and put him in charge of work on St Peter’s Basilica.


This Florentine merchant and banking family ruled Florence and the whole of Tuscany from the 15C to the 18C. It produced several Popes: Leo X (1513 21), son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, a man of letters and patron of the arts, who put Raphael and Giulio Romano in charge of the Loggias in the Vatican: Clement VII (1523 34), an ally of François I, who was not able to prevent the sack of Rome or the Lutheran reforms which erupted during his Papacy; Pius IV (1559 65) who presided over the closure of the Council of Trent (1545 63); and Leo XI , who died a few days after he was elected in 1605, but who, while still a cardinal, had acquired the Villa Medici, which later became the French Academy in Rome.


Originally from Umbria, the family settled in Rome during the 15C. In 1461 its members were honoured with the title of Counts of the Holy Roman Empire. In the 16C Giovanni Battista became Pope Innocent X (1644 55). He was responsible for many changes in Piazza Navona: the rebuilding of the Pamphili Palace, the transformation into a family chapel of the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone and the building of the Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) which he commissioned from Bernini. He turned, however, to Borromini, a rival of Bernini, for the Palace for the Propagation of the Faith and the rebuilding of St John Lateran. The Villa Doria Pamphili was built for the Pope’s nephew, whose wife inherited the palace known as Palazzo Doria Pamphili.

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