Book Review: The Rise of Rome: From the Iron Age to the Punic Wars


by Kathryn Lomas

Cambridge, Ma.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2018. Pp. xxii, 408. Illus., maps, tables, append., chron., notes, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN: 0674659651

Rome, From Village to Great Power

Few, if any, foundation stories are as improbable – and arguably disreputable – as that of Rome, though the tale of the city’s rise to domination of the larger Mediterranean world is almost a match. For that reason, the origins of Rome have long attracted scholarly attention, as historians from earliest times to the present have tried to find the reality behind the mythic history of the city.

Noting that a number of excellent scholarly works on the origins of Rome exist, such as T.J. Cornell, author of the masterful The Beginnings of Rome (1995), in this new work, Dr. Lomas (Durham University), who has specialized in the history of early Greek and Roman Italy, retells the story of Rome’s origins, growth, and rise to dominance in Italy “in a way that is accessible to the non-specialist”. She divides her treatment into four chronological sections.

The first part opens with an overview of the mythic history of the city. Lomas then looks at the early history of Iron Age Italy, the various peoples and their migrations, and the unification – “synoikismos” – of several settlements on the hills around what became the Forum that gave rise to “Rome”. She follows with an account of the new city’s interactions with the other peoples of central Italy, especially the Etruscans, and the city’s history down to about 600 B.C.

The second part covers the reign of the last kings through to the overthrow of the monarchy and creation of the Republic. Lomas then covers the initial internal problems of the new republic, and it interactions with the rest of Italy, through Rome’s rise to dominance in Latium and on to the Gallic sack of about 390 B.C.

Part III covers Rome’s recovery from the Gallic disaster and the city’s subsequent conquest of Italy, a feat by no means easy, and apparently involving a number of setbacks neglected in the traditional record. Most notably of these were the many wars with the Samnites, as well as the several wars with virtually every other people in Italy. This period also saw what was perhaps the most important factor in Rome’s rise, the development of its unique mode of conquest, which offered the conquered movement from subject-allies, to partial citizens, to full citizens. This policy – quite different from that of most empires, who turned the conquered into slaves or serfs –expanded Roman influence and manpower enormously. As a result, the end of the Pyrrhic War (280–275 BC), the city counted among the great powers of the Mediterranean world.

The final part examines the state of Rome and Italy on the eve of the First Punic War (264-241 BC).

In telling this story, Lomas weaves in evidence from the most recent scholarly work, touching on linguistics, burials, shipwrecks, climate studies, inscriptions, trade drift, ecology, and so forth, including the ongoing reassessment of the work of earlier scholars, and she by no means neglects to consider the implication of those mythic tales as well.

A useful read for the serious scholar of Roman history, Lomas’s The Rise of Rome, a volume in Belknap’s series “History of the Ancient World”, is, of course, intended to be of interest to the armchair student of Roman history.


Note: The Rise of Rome is also available in paperback and e-editions.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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