Growth of Roman Territory and Trade

Essential Question

How did the Romans expand territorially and economically?

Growth of Territory

After about 400 BC the Roman Republic grew quickly, both geographically and economically. Within 200 years the Roman army had conquered nearly all of Italy. Meanwhile Roman traders had begun to ship goods back and forth around the Mediterranean in search of new products and wealth.

Roman territory grew mainly in response to outside threats. In about 38 7 BC a people called the Gauls attacked Rome and took over the city. The Romans had to give the Gauls a huge amount of gold to leave the city.

Inspired by the Gauls' victory, many of Rome's neighboring cities also decided to attack. With some difficulty, the Romans fought off these attacks. As Rome's attackers were defeated, the Romans took over their lands. As you can see on the map, the Romans soon controlled all of the Italian Peninsula except far northern Italy.

One reason for the Roman success was the organization of the army. Soldiers were organized in legions (LEE-juhnz), or groups of up to 6,000 soldiers. Each legion was divided into centuries, or groups of 100 soldiers. This organization allowed the army to be very flexible. It could fight as a large group or as several small ones. This flexibility allowed the Romans to defeat most enemies.

As Rome's power grew other countries came to see the Romans as a threat to their own power and declared war on them. In the end the Romans defeated their opponents, and Rome gained territory throughout the Mediterranean.

The fiercest of the wars Rome fought were the Punic (PYOO-nik) Wars, a series of wars against Carthage, a city in northern Africa. The word Punic means "Phoenician" in Latin. The Phoenicians were an ancient civilization that had built the city of Carthage. Rome and Carthage went to war three times between 264 and 146 BC. The wars began when Carthage sent its armies to Sicily, an island just southwest of Italy. In response, the Romans also sent an army to the island. Before long, war broke out between them. After almost 20 years of fighting, the Romans forced their enemies out and took control of Sicily.

In 218 BC Carthage tried to attack Rome itself. An army led by the brilliant general Hannibal set out for Rome. Although he forced the Romans right to the edge of defeat, Hannibal was never able to capture Rome itself. In the meantime, the Romans sent an army to attack Carthage. Hannibal rushed home to defend his city, but his troops were defeated.

By the 140s BC many senators had grown alarmed that Carthage was growing powerful again. They convinced Rome's consuls to declare war on Carthage, and once again the Romans sent an army to Africa and destroyed Carthage. After this victory, the Romans burned the city, killed most of its people, and sold the rest of the people into slavery. They also took control of northern Africa.

During the Punic Wars, Rome took control of Sicily, Corsica, Spain, and North Africa. As a result, Rome controlled most of the western Mediterranean region.

In the years that followed, Roman legions marched north and east as well. In the 120s Rome conquered the southern part of Gaul. By that time, Rome had also conquered Greece and parts of Asia.

Although the Romans took over Greece, they were greatly changed by the experience. We would normally expect the victor to change the conquered country. Instead, the Romans adopted ideas about literature, art, philosophy, religion, and education from the Greeks.

Roman Farming and Trade

Before Rome conquered Italy, most Romans were farmers. As the republic grew, many people left their farms for Rome. In place of these small farms, wealthy Romans built large farms in the countryside. These farms were worked by slaves who grew one or two crops. The owners of the farms didn't usually live on them. Instead, they stayed in Rome or other cities and let others run the farms for them.

Roman trade also expanded as the republic grew. Rome's farmers couldn't grow enough food to support the city's increasing population, so merchants brought food from other parts of the Mediterranean. These merchants also brought metal goods and slaves to Rome.

In many cases these peoples had goods that the Romans wanted. Thinking that there would be a market for these products in Rome, merchants began to travel all over the empire, as you can see on the map.

People in the city of Rome needed raw materials that they couldn't produce themselves. Many of the materials could be found, though, in Rome's provinces, the areas outside of Italy that the Romans controlled. Traders brought metals, cloth, and food from the provinces to the city. They also brought more exotic goods, like spices from Asia and animals from Africa. In return the Romans sent goods made by artisans to the provinces. These goods included jewelry, glass, and clothing.

Some Roman traders also traveled beyond the empire's borders. They sailed as far as eastern Africa, India, and what is now Vietnam to find goods they couldn't get in the empire. Others traveled overland into Asia to meet merchants bringing goods from China on the Silk Road. Silk was especially popular in Rome. Wealthy Romans were willing to pay high prices for it.

To pay for their trade goods, Romans used currency, or money. They traded coins made of gold and silver for the items they wanted. These coins allowed the Romans to trade with people even if they had no items their trade partners wanted. Nearly everyone accepted Roman coins, which helped trade grow even more. Roman coins began to appear in markets all around the Mediterranean.

Discussion Questions

  • How did the Romans gain territory?

  • Why did the Romans conquer their neighbors?

  • How did the growth of territory help increase Roman trade?

  • Why do you think the Romans borrowed many ideas from Greek culture?

Activity 1: How did the Romans expand territorially and economically?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities