Startup Societies Through History: Rome

According to the Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro, on the 21st of April 751 BC, Romulus, believed to be the son of Mars and a descendant of Aeneas of Troy, carved a rut around Palatine Hill to mark the boundaries of his new city. And that city was Rome. Most probably that is not how things actually happened. But the notion is an important aspect in Roman history indicating the way roughness and pragmatism are combined with myths and legends.

The historian Dionysus notes that Romulus, after founding the city, asked his people what kind of government they would prefer. It was then that they proclaimed him king. He then divided the Roman people into classes based on their ancestry. The first class was the Patricians, who held political power as they were in charge of religious, legal and civil institutions. The rest of the people, who formed the majority of the population, were the Plebeians and practiced all the other functions and trades in the city. Most of them were herdsmen and farmers.

The city of Rome was populated by Latin settlers from many parts of Italy. This is evident from the noted differences in the burial techniques used. The Latins were an Italic tribe who lived in the Alban Hills and later on spread to the valleys. The geographical area of Rome offered many advantages. The seven hills provided defense and the river provided fresh water and access to the sea. Thus, the settlement soon gained control over commercial traffic.

Rome rapidly expanded. Its initial boundaries were just the beginning of a great Empire that would stretch from the British Isles to the depths of Egypt and from the Atlantic Ocean to Persia. In its early years, Rome was ruled despotically by kings, who were overthrown in approximately 509 BC. For nearly five centuries after that, Rome was a Republic.

During the Republican years Rome was ruled by a complex democratic system dominated by the aristocracy. The patricians, a class of nobles supposedly descended from Rome’s founders, democratically elected two consuls that wielded extensive executive powers for a year. After many reforms, representatives of the plebeians got the right to a veto in the Senate. People lead a peaceful life under the protection of Roman law. They were free to worship any god they wished and follow any trade they wanted, but in most cases they chose to follow the trade of their fathers. Women had limited rights and their lives were orchestrated by their fathers and later their husbands while slaves were considered property.

The Senate during the Monarchy was a council with advisory jurisdictions. In the Republic however, the Senate of the Roman Republic passed decrees, which in form constituted "advice" from the senate to a magistrate. While these decrees were not legally binding, they usually were obeyed in practice. [Byrd] The senators were not allowed to trade or leave Italy without the Senate's permission. Senators were also not paid to participate in the Senate.

During the Republican period, Rome began its expansion and collided with other major forces. Initially the Romans forced the Carthaginians out of Sicily. Then Macedon became a Roman province and after that the Romans annexed North Africa and notably Carthage. Many regions followed as Crete, Syria, Pontus and Cyprus all became part of the Roman Empire by the first half of the first century BC.

Julius Caesar was a military commander and consul very popular among the Plebeians, who comprised the majority of Rome’s population. After a winning a civil war against his rivals, Caesar was assassinated in the Senate. That was a last attempt of the remaining aristocrats to save the Roman Republic. The general upheaval that followed Caesar’s assassination tuned into another civil war, one Caesar’s nephew and adoptive son, Octavian, won. Shortly afterwards he proclaimed his uncle Julius a god and himself Emperor, thus playing the final note of the Republic's requiem.

The Roman Empire extended its reach across the Mediterranean. Once inhabited by a variety of peoples and states, now the Mediterranean became to them what the Romans called “Mare nostrum«, »our sea”. Using their military forces against Germanic tribes, Persian armies but remarkably against very few internal rebellions, the Romans expanded even further in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Yet, the most important part of the Empire's heritage to this date remains primarily its codes of laws. The Roman laws to this day serve as the basis of modern western law. Another great and important achievement of Rome achieved was its unity. The sense of belonging to a single, uniform entity was strong across the empire and the idea of citizenship played a great part in this. In the year 212 AD the Emperor Caracalla issued the Edict of Caracalla, declaring that all free men in the Empire were given full citizenship. Accordingly, all women in the Empire gained the same rights as Roman women held.

On the other hand, there is a different point of view of the edict. In the words of Cassius Dio, one of Caracalla’s critics:

"This was the reason why he made all the people in his empire Roman citizens [...] his real purpose was to increase his revenues by doing so, inasmuch as aliens did not have to pay most of these taxes."

Nonetheless the Edict of Caracalla gave many rights to people across the Empire and made them feel that they belonged in a common structure. They were all judged by the same codes of law, and held the “Ius commercii”: The right to make legal contracts and the right to hold property. Great cities like Alexandria acquired privileges and a great deal of autonomy through this right.

Most of all the Roman Empire was a multicultural amalgam of civilizations, united by the iron will of the Latins. Western civilization is still affected by this culture because it consisted of a thousand influences of varying strength by different cultures. Cultures that were neither suppressed nor promoted, but were tested freely and openly one against the other. As long as one’s beliefs were not threatening the stability of the Empire that guaranteed order and Pax, everyone was able to follow his own way of life, his own gods and follow his own destiny.

The Roman Empire was a mosaic of nations and cultures that together made something greater. Just as a free economy for goods and services promotes the general interest, so did this open forum of civilizations that respected each other and yet antagonized each other, as in the manner of a free market of cultures, create the equilibrium that was Roman Civilization.

By the time the equilibrium moved towards monotheism and away from polytheism, when the tribes of the north moved south, by the time when the capital of the empire moved to Constantinople, Rome meant something different.  Partly because of this change in identity there are many theories concerning the date of “The Fall of Rome”. Many argue that Rome fell when the emperor Romulus Augustulus abdicated in 476. Others claim that Rome fell in the year 1453, when Constantinople fell at the hands of the Ottomans.

Many Empires in the world thought of themselves as Rome’s continuity. Many followed similar practices, names and institutions. Rome inspired the American Founding Fathers, the Czars, the British traditionalists and even the German modernists. As such, it may be argued that in a way, Rome never fell. Rome was immortalized in the same way Augustus and Julius Caesar were. In the imaginations of the people, in the realm of myth. A myth that speaks of a small village near a swamp that conquered the world.

Alexander Pardalis

Alex Pardalis is an entrepreneur with experience in financing, business development and management and president of a mutli-million dollar real estate development company.