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Rise of Rome
Date: 390-275 BC
Place: Italy
Outcome: Roman victory
Major Battles: Samnite Wars
Pyrrhic War

Julii Roman Republic

Epirus Epirus
Burgundy Samnites
Carthage Carthage
25px Syracuse




The Rise of Rome was a period that took place from 390 BC, when they started their military reforms following the Battle of the Allia, until 275 BC, when they defeated the Epirotes under Pyrrhus. 


Rome's First Victories

The Appian Way

The Romans began building the first of their famed military roads, the Via Appia, during the second Samnite War in 312 BCE. The road allowed legionaries to be moved swiftly south from Rome.

The dominant people in Italy during the early years of Rome were the Etruscans. Rome was merely one of many small Latin communities of central Italy whose warrior bands fought one another over land or livestock. 

By the 5th century BCE, under the influence of the Greeks, who had founded cities in southern Italy, the Romans had adopted a new style of warfare. Their citizen militia fought as armored hoplites with thrusting spear and shield in an infantry phalanx. By the early 4th century they had established their independence of the Etruscans and their dominance over other Latin cities. With their allies they would now have to face more formidable enemies, including the Greeks, who had flourishing colonies in southern Italy.


In 387 or 390 BC - the date is disputed - a Roman army was defeated at the Allia River by the Gauls, fierce warriors who had invaded northern and central Italy. Rome was occupied and the Gauls left only after being paid a large sum of gold. This humiliation revealed the defects not only of Rome's city walls but also its battle tactics, modeled upon the Greek phalanx. In the course of the 4th century military reforms produced a more flexible and effective army that would win the Romans a far-flung empire.

The Roman army was a militia of part-time soldiers, structured according to the social status and age of the citizens in its ranks. Since citizen-soldiers had to supply their own equipment, the richest formed the cavalry, being able to afford a horse, and the poorest served as light armed skirmishers, with the armored heavy infantry in between. Two anually elected magistrates - the consuls - shared overall command. That such an amateur arrangement should have proved an empire-winning force was partly due to weapons and tactics. Instead of the hoplite thrusting spear, the heavy infantry were equipped with a throwing spear and a sword for close combat. The legions into which troops were organized, each 4,500-5,000 strong, were subdivided into maniples of 120 men, which could maneuver independently on the battlefield. The soldiers accepted rigorous discipline and training, forming a tight-knit, highly committed force. The legions were supported by auxiliaries recruited from Rome's subordinate Italian allies.

Roman aggression


Statue of Pyrrhus

From around 343 to 275 BCE the Roman legions fought a series of wars that established Rome's domination over southern Italy. The fiercest of their enemies at first were the Samnites of the Apennine mlountains, who often fought in an alliance with other peoples resisting Roman expansion, such as the Gauls and the Umbrians. There were three Samnite Wars: in 343-341, 327-304, and 298-290.

The Romans were not always victorious. At the battle of the Caudine Forks in 321, a Roman army was ambushed in the mountain terrain and forced to surrender as Samnite warriors rained missiles down upoin the trapped legionaries from impregnable heights. Typically, having accepted humiliating peace terms to secure the soldiers' release, the Romans then refused to carry out the terms once the men were freed. Rome was sometimes beaten on the battlefield but it never accepted defeat. A hard-fought victory over the Samnites and Gauls at Sentinum opened the way for the Roman pacification of the mountain tribes. The Samnites eventually took a place as allied auxiliaries of the Roman legions.


Pyrrhus of Epirus at the Battle of Asculum

Rome's next targets were the Greek colonies of southern Italy. In 281 BCE the Romans attacked Tarentum (modern-day Taranto). The city appealed for help to one of the most experienced war leaders in the Greek world, King Pyrrhus of Epirus. The army with which he arrived in Italy was typical of the post-Alexander era in the eastern Mediterranean. Most of his troops were spear-wielding infantry, but he also had light and heavy cavalry, several thousands archers, and a score of war elephants. At Heraclea and Asculum in 280-279, Pyrrhus twice defeated the Roman legions through the impact of his elephants and cavalry. Yet the battles were won at such a heavy price - Pyrrhus is alleged to have said, "One more such victory and I am lost". After a final drawn battle at Beneventum in 275, Pyrrhus went home, allowing Rome to complete its domination of southern Italy. The Roman legions had successfully stood up to one of the most advanced professional armies of the day.


Roman control of southern Italy brought conflict with the Carhaginians in Sicily. In 264 BC this led to the first of the Punic Wars. The Second Punic War of 218-201 ended with Rome dominating the whole of the western Mediterranean. In the 2nd century BCE victories over the Antigonid rulers of Macedonia and the Seleucids in Syria extended Roman rule into the eastern Mediterranean.

The creation of such an extensive empire put pressure on the extisting Roman military system. An army of part-time citizen-soldiers was ill-suited to lengthy overseas campaigns and providing garrisons in far-flung territories. The legions would eventually have to become a full-time professional force.

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