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Rise of the Early Roman Republic: Reflections on Becoming Roman

Rise of the Early Roman Republic: Reflections on Becoming Roman

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Dynneson provides a unique and different perspective on the issue of early Roman history by focusing primarily on the issue of civicism. The book is oriented primarily for University students. Unfortunately, he lacks expertise as a historian. This results in a volume which is particularly problematic as it relates to the historical validity of claims concerning the rise of the early Roman empire.

Thomas L. From his time as a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University, Dynneson primarily researched civism. As he describes it, civism “is a special insight into the means that states and state leaders use to influence, shape and direct the citizens understanding of their role and their identity in reference to the state” (Autobiography of Thomas L. Dynneson). Continuing this line of research in Rise of the Early Roman Republic, Dynneson examines “ancient and modern historical narratives regarding the formation of an emerging and early Roman corporate identity”(XII). Identity, Dynneson suggests, is directly related to the developing notion of citizenship in the early Roman Republic. Other factors related to the issue of identity include, civism, acculturation, urbanization, and assimilation, each of which he briefly defines.

It consists of five parts. Part One focuses on the events, especially legendary, which helped to establish the Roman mindset. Chapter One describes Numa’s (legendary) rise to power and subsequent reformation of Roman society. Chapter 2 outlines the Roman mindset as it relates to Roman religion. Defining landscape as “a three-dimensional physical setting that relates to the interpretation of culture from a context o that focuses on the relationship between humans, nature, and the use of space within an inhabited world” (35), Chapter 3 describes the landscape of ancient Rome. In particular, he attempts to show how landscape provides insight into identity, especially citizenship and communal values. In Chapter 4, Dynneson attempts to establish morals and virtues as a primary aspect of Roman identity and citizenship, especially that of manliness in service to the state. Having simplified the Roman notion of virtue to manliness in service of the state, Chapter 5 discusses how the legend of Lucretia illuminates women’s roles in the development of Roman identity. In Chapter 6, Dynneson describes Roman education. Essentially, it was rooted in a model of enculturation, wherein children were taught practical customs that strengthened their civism. He also briefly describes early Roman schools, along with a short story on how a schoolmaster sought to rape a student – an unnecessary section altogether.

Part Two considers the historical origins of Roman culture. Chapter 7 examines the foundation of myths of Rome. He presents the myths and then suggests a more ‘hístoric view’ based on village culture and tribal kinship. This chapter, though, seems more like a presentation of an anthropological model of kinship and village life than a historical description of Roman villages. Chapter 8 looks at the seven kings of Rome as a means of understanding how the early Roman constitution developed, a constitution which informed citizenship and identity. Chapter 9 tries to argue a model for social development of tribalism to urbanism. From an anthropological perspective, he connects it to issues of citizenship.

Part Three shifts to the topics of acculturation and assimilation. Focusing on the three major groups around early Rome, he considers how Etruscans, Greeks, Phoenicians, and Barbarians influenced Roman society, and therefore Roman identity. For the Etruscans, he points to a strong cultural exchange between Rome and Etruscans, especially with regard military organization, art/architecture, and religion. Concerning Greeks, Dynneson provides an overview of a few Greek settlements in Italy, suggesting that their urbanization and other advanced technologies influenced Etruscan development, and therefore indirectly influenced Roman development. Concerning the Phoenicians, he mainly considers how Carthage influenced Rome. While he presents an overview of Carthaginian history, his presentation is not very strong. The only “influence”of Carthage and Rome seems to be trade expansion. The most elusive historically, Chapter 13 describes how the Celts influenced Rome. In particular, the author describes Celtic culture and history. Then, he points to Celtic-Roman conflict as resulting in military change and reformation. This shift, he argues, led to empire building.

Dynneson uses legendary events & figures associated with legendary events in order to develop a historical model of Roman identity & citizenship.

Part Four discusses the emergence of various social classes. First, he deals with the origins of the Roman aristocracy: the Patricians (Chapter 14). Echoing another scholar’s ideas, he suggests that the patricians were originally priestly leaders. He further connects aristocratic development to a shift in military organization. He subsequently discusses the plebeians (Chapter 15). Here, he both describes the traditional narrative concerning plebeians and also looks at recent scholarship which views that history as false. So, it is unclear what he is trying to do in this chapter. Moreover, he attempts to connect the traditional narrative to issues of Roman citizenship, as in every other chapter. Next, he attempts to identify the origins of the aristocratic hoplite system on the basis of Roman social structure, urbanization, and power structure (Chapter 16). This chapter, in particular, is dense with too much Latin. Moreover, it is unclear how he contributes to understanding the rise of the Roman republic. The last chapter in this section lays out how Servius may have instituted military reforms which resulted in a new definition of citizenship and moved urbanization forward (Chapter 17).

Part Five describes the foundations of the Roman republic more generally, focusing especially on the structure of Roman political office and government. Dynneson describes this in the most detail in Chapter 18, outlining various reforms including, though not limited to, the consular system, constitutional safeguard, various government positions, nomination and election processes, and republican assemblies (for a helpful overview see the article Roman Republic by Donald Wasson). Finally, in the conclusion, he attempts to summarize the Roman mindset/mentality through the framework of Aristotle’s philosophy.

Overall, Rise of the Early Roman Republic presents an interesting perspective on early Roman history. To a certain degree, he does well in providing a general overview, whilst recognizing that the study contains “little in the way of original historical content” (XXII). His perspective is strongly informed by his extensive work in anthropology and studies on civism. His previous work, though, has primarily been done in context of contemporary, modern society - not ancient societies and cultures.

Unfortunately, his lack of expertise with history and ancient societies is clear throughout the volume, especially in terms of how historians attempt to distinguish between myth/legend and historical data in order to reconstruct history. In nearly every chapter, Dynneson references scholars of Roman history who are sceptic about the historical reality of certain narratives found in historical sources like Livy. Even though scholars tend to doubt the historical reality of certain sources and narratives within those sources, Dynneson nonetheless employs such narratives in order to demonstrate the rise of the early Roman republic from the perspective of civism.

From the outset, he states a few assumptions.

This author decided that, even though the early accounts are tainted by myths, inventions, and embellishments, they offer valuable insight into the mindset of the Romans, especially those values and virtues that were maintained to shape a shared perspective of civism as a measure of what they maintained as their ideal characteristics of their citizenship. (XII)

This study also is based on the conviction (key assumption) that early Roman citizenship was shaped by important civisim and other cultural elements that were expressed or communicated in the form of virtues and values that have evolved and have been adopted in connection with its social, political and economic institutions. (XXI)

Concerning the first assumption, Dynneson communicates that sources help us to grasp the worldview of early Roman ideas about citizenship from the perspective of civism, even if early accounts are not necessarily reliable. The second assumption expresses a similar sense: by closely analyzing cultural elements of early Rome as expressed in documentary sources, we can better understand how civism shaped Roman citizenship via expressed values and virtues.

I am inclined to agree with Dynneson, though, only to a certain degree. I am in full agreement that sources like Livy, Dionysisus of Halicarnassus, Plutarch, and others can be used to reconstruct a history of Rome and Roman citizenship; however, it must be remembered that sources like these were composed at a much later period that the early Roman Republic. As Donald L. Wasson comments concerning Livy, he wrote a remarkable history of Rome. “Much of his history, however, especially the early years, was based purely on myth and oral accounts” (Roman Republic by Donald Wasson). Dynneson recognizes this truth throughout the book, as it is stated in the introduction and throughout each chapter. Nonetheless, Dynneson uses legendary events and figures associated with legendary events in order to develop a historical model of Roman identity and citizenship. More likely, legendary stories are more reflective of notions of citizenship and identity as perceived by Romans after the third century, the period wherein documentary source material becomes more reliable.

For example, the first Chapter discusses the legendary king Numa Pompilius. As per Dynneson’s presentation, Plutarch and Livy credit Pompilius as having instituted great religious reforms, reforms which “replaced barbarian bloodshed with a new state of mind based on reason” and helped to cultivate a sense of moral behavior and justice (5). Subsequently, he uses these “reforms” in order to reflect on how Pompilius may have brought about new civil order by changing ideas of Roman citizenship during the 8th-7th centuries BCE (12-13). So, he uses acknowledged legendary material to construct a history of Roman civism. This is a trend throughout this book.

Second, the lack of interaction with primary source material is disappointing. This is a trend through the volume. For example, in Chapter 6, wherein he describes Roman education, he primarily refers to a single secondary source, only once directly interacting with Livy, the primary source. In order to make his arguments better, he should have spent more time interacting with primary source material.

Third, the manner in which Dynneson connects Roman history to issues of civism is sometimes confusing and muddled. I suspect this is because there is a disconnect between civism (as a modern, anthropological perspective) and ancient Roman history. This is supported by his statement that “It should be recalled that the Romans in their literature or in their law did not define citizenship, as a concept” (265). Even so, Dynneson attempts to use civism and citizenship as concepts and frameworks for interpreting and understanding the development of early Roman identity. It would have been more helpful if he had provided the reader with a more thorough understanding of civism as an anthropological perspective and more clearly explained how civism illuminates early Roman identity.

In conclusion, Dynneson provides a unique and different perspective on the issue of early Roman history by focusing primarily on the issue of civism. The volume itself includes some interesting stories concerning early Roman history. This results in a volume which is particularly problematic as it relates to the historical validity of certain claims concerning the rise of the early Roman empire. In short, Rise of the Early Roman Republic may have some interesting details and analyses; however, as the book regularly makes many historical claims, these historical claims should be taken with a grain of salt.

Rise of the Early Roman Republic

An audaciously daring narrative, this text presents an overview of the early history of Rome, focusing the reader’s attention to those distinctive and often hidden cultural features that contributed to create a unique ancient Roman mindset and civic outlook. Using an historical format, Thomas L. Dynneson addresses these cultural forces which ultimately shaped the Romans into the ancient world’s most powerful military city-state.

Comprised of numerous values and beliefs, the Romans sought to develop their citizens as a cohesive whole. This approach enabled a mastering of both the practical and utilitarian tactics for solving problems, an expression of classical intellectualism. Identifying this sense of idealism paralleled with the Romans embodiment of sacrifice to overcome all obstacles, the author explores several features of becoming Roman. Within this text, each section is designed to pull together the general historical elements which helped to create a unique Roman citizenship. The final section of each chapter contains further analysis, including the author’s narrative regarding the general sources used, and the second containing a review of one exceptional recommended reading. The later chapters of the book provide a special "Recent Scholarship" section, which explores the work of recent scholars’ "revisionists" perspectives related to the traditional ancient sources.

Thomas L. Dynneson

Thomas L. Dynneson is a founding faculty member of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UTPB) and is a Professor Emeritus. He began his career as a high school history teacher in Evergreen High School, Evergreen Colorado and then moved to Edina school district in Edina, Minnesota where he taught for three years in Southview Jr. High before moving to Edina High School where he taught American History, government and geography. Dynneson is a Macalester College graduate where he received a B.S. in Business Administration and then completed a teaching certificate in secondary education, with a history major and geography minor. Upon completion of his Ph.D. in education and anthropology at the University of Colorado, Dynneson taught social studies methods at Coe College for one year before moving to Odessa, Texas where he helped organize and open the education and anthropology departments. Over the course of his career, Dynneson was invited to serve as a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University where he began to organize the Citizenship Study Project with Professor Richard E. Gross of Stanford University and Professor James A. Nickel of UTPB. Dynneson has presented many papers and published many articles related to anthropology and education, citizenship instruction, social studies instruction, as well as research technologies. The publications of Dynneson are too numerous to list (for a full listing of my publications contact the author). He was the co-editor and author of Social Science Perspectives on Citizenship Education and author of Civism: Cultivating Citizenship in European History. Currently, Dr. Dynneson has published a book that explores the development civism in ancient Athens. This 2008 book is titled: City-State Civism in Ancient Athens: Its Real and Ideal Expressions. This book is now available through Amazon and most other outlets. More recent book publications include: Rise of the Early Roman Republic: Reflection on Becoming Roman (2018) and Rise of the Roman Empire: The Will to Endure (2020). Currently, Dynneson is working on a new manuscript that is tentively titled: Rise of Roman Sea Power: Alexander to Hannibal (323 BCE to 146 BCE).





The Middle Republic

Expansion in Italy

Having overcome severe early challenges and set-backs, the Romans went on to defeat many tough enemies to conquer Italy. They did this not only by dogged determination in war, but also by judicious and far-sighted treatment of beaten opponents.

Latium and Campania

Other leading cities in Latium, such as Praeneste and Tibur, used the Gallic disaster to gain leadership of the Latin cities for themselves. Over about a generation, however, the Romans regained their strength. In 381 BCE they conquered the neighboring city of Tusculum. This was a landmark in Roman history because instead of destroying it, or laying it under tribute, they incorporated the defeated inhabitants into their own state: its leaders were welcomed into the Roman senate, its leading families become members of the Roman ruling class (Rome’s famous statesman Cato, who lived about a century and a half after this time, was a native of Tusculum), and ordinary inhabitants of Tusculum becoming full Roman citizens.

By the mid-4th century Rome’s field of activity was spreading beyond Latium and its surrounding hills. The Samnites, a confederation of hill tribes in southern central Italy, were pressing in on the cities in the fertile coastal plain of Campania, to the south of Latium. The Campanians appealed to Rome for help, and reluctantly, realising that a Samnite takeover of this productive area of Italy was not in their interests, the Romans agreed to do so.

The Romans were victorious against the Samnites in battle in the First Samnite War (343-41), but a more immediate danger to Rome was becoming apparent: the Latin cities were planning to turn on Rome, supported by the Campanian cities whom the Romans were helping (who had clearly come to feel, with the Latins, that Rome was becoming rather too powerful). The Romans hurriedly made peace with the Samnites, and almost immediately found themselves at war with the Latin and Campanian cities.

In the following war (340-338 BC) the Latins and Campanians were defeated. The Romans then tried a similar peace formula to the one which they had concluded with Tusculum, forty years before. They incorporated the smaller cities nearest to Rome into their state, giving their inhabitants full Roman citizenship and giving their leading families the opportunity to become Roman equestrians and senators. To the larger cities, or the ones further away in Campania, they gave a form of “half-citizenship” (called “Latin right”). Citizens of these cities had equal rights with Roman citizens in Roman courts, but did not have voting rights in the people’s assemblies of Rome, nor were they able to stand for election as Roman magistrates or become members of the Roman senate.

These measures – together with the establishment of a number of small colonies of Roman citizens at strategic locations throughout Latium and Campania – bound the people of Latium and Campania together in a network of shared interests under firm Roman leadership. The arrangements proved enduring, and, with rare exceptions, the Latins and Campanians remained staunch allies of Rome for the next three centuries.

The Samnite Wars

Rome was now able to call on a large pool of military manpower, which she was to need over the next few decades. As we have seen, her new allies in the fertile coastal plain of Campania had been coming under pressure from the hill tribes of the interior, the Samnites and their allies. These had a reputation as tough fighters. The Romans were obliged to come to the assistance of their allies and had to endure long years of warfare in the hills and mountains of central and southern Italy (326-290 BCE). They experienced some disastrous defeats, but eventually they were able to prevail. Whilst dealing with these difficult foes they also secured their rear in the north by subduing the Etruscan cities.

In the course of these long and difficult wars, the Romans introduced major changes in the way their military forces were organised. It was now that those distinctive Roman formations, the legion and the century (and that famous figure, the Roman centurion), emerged.

In victory the Romans again used a modified version of the measures they had adopted with the Latins and Campanians in 338. In this case, however, there was no great extension of either Roman or Latin citizenship this was not appropriate given the variety of communities brought under their sway (and indeed, one of the secrets of this policy was not to be too generous with Roman or Latin citizenship, and so devalue it). Instead, the Etruscan city-states, Samnite hill tribes and others were made allies of Rome. Several small Roman colonies were planted amongst these newly new allies, along with a handful of large colonies whose people were drawn from Rome’s longer-standing Latin and Campanian allies. These were called Latin colonies, and acted as a formidable bulwark to Roman power in potentially hostile territory, as well as a channel via which Roman law and customs, as well as the Latin language, were transmitted throughout the Italian peoples. A network of roads was built along which troops could be hurried to if needed.

Rome against Pyrrhus

In this way the Romans constructed a federation of Italian states with varying degrees of “closeness” to her, from those brought lock-stock-and-barrel into her fold, to those who were merely her “Allies”. All states had their place, their own individual relationship to the leading city and, as time was to prove, the system was to prove a resilient and enduring one. Her Allies provided Rome with the manpower to defend herself and her allies against new formidable opponents and extend her sway.

The next opponent was indeed formidable. The Greek cities of southern Italy, alarmed at the growing power of Rome, called Pyrrhus, king of the northern Greek kingdom of Epirus (reigned 307-272 BCE), to come to their aid and safeguard their independence (280 BCE). Pyrrhus was one of the most famous Greek generals since Alexander the Great. He answered the call, and with one of the finest armies of the time (which, incidentally, included 20 elephants), he defeated the Romans in a number of battles. The cost to his army, however, was so great, and their manpower so apparently inexhaustible, that he came to realize that he could never overcome them. After a defeat at Rome’s hands in 275 he left Italy for home, counselling the Greek cities to come to terms with Rome. This they duly did.

The Great Punic Wars

After her conquest of Italy, Rome faced two great wars with the international maritime power of Carthage. These almost brought her to her knees, but Rome’s eventual triumph left her in control of the western Mediterranean.

The First Punic War

By 270 BCE Rome led a confederation of allies which covered all Italy south of the river Po. She now encountered the most formidable foe in her history.

Carthage was at this time the leading maritime power in the western Mediterranean. She was determined to keep this position, so when tensions arose in Sicily which drew the Romans in a clash between the two powers became inevitable. What followed was two conflicts which were the ancient world’s equivalents of two world wars of the 20th century.

In the First Punic War (264-241 BCE – called Punic because the Romans knew the Carthaginians as Phoenicians).

Carthage started by dominating the seas around Italy. Whilst this situation lasted, Rome could do little to get at her enemy. So she built a large fleet and armed her warships with a new device, a bridge with a hook on it to grapple an enemy ship and allow the Roman soldiers to stream across and attack at close quarters. After a series of discouraging defeats the Romans at last began to win victories at sea, and so eventually gained the upper hand.

At length the Carthaginians came to terms. As a result of the war, Carthage ceded some cities in Sicily to Rome paid a huge indemnity and shortly after the war’s end, a mutiny amongst Carthage’s mercenary troops handed Corsica and Sardinia over to Rome. This was the beginnings of Rome’s overseas empire.


To replace their lost overseas territories, the Carthaginians built up their power in Spain, making a network of alliances with the local tribes there. This was to a great extent the work of one of their leading families, the Barcids. As chance would have it, this family produced a commander whom historians have ever since regarded as one of the greatest generals in history. His name was Hannibal.

Marble Bust of Hannibal

He built up his family’s authority in Spain into a personal power-base, from which he was able to recruit a large, well-trained army (again with elephants). The inevitable war broke out with Rome again in 218 BCE, and Hannibal led his army on one of the most audacious marches in history, over the high Alps (elephants and all – or to begin with, at any rate there weren’t any left by the end) and down into the broad Po plains of Northern Italy. His strategy was to raise the people of Italy against their Roman masters, and thus destroy Rome’s power.

In North Italy Hannibal was able to recuperate his army and recruit many more troops from the Gauls who lived there at that time. With the approach of Hannibal, these had massacred a couple of Roman colonies established in their territory, so throwing their lot firmly in with the Carthaginians.

The Second Punic War

The Romans were suddenly confronted with the main Carthaginian army in their own backyard. This did not stop them from sending an army to Spain to fight the Barcids on their own territory, and they were well able to raise an army to send against Hannibal. This he destroyed at the battle of Trebia. They raised another one. This he led into an ambush at Lake Trasimene, and destroyed. They raised a third. At the great battle of Cannae (216 BCE) this third Roman army was also wiped out. The way was now clear for Hannibal to march on Rome, and to send out a call for her subjects to shake themselves free from Rome’s dominion.

Only a few cities answered this call, the most important of which was Capua. The rest remained firmly loyal to Rome for the next eleven years whilst Hannibal marched up and down central and southern Italy, devastating the land to try and bring the Romans to battle. Under their veteran general, Fabius “the delayer”, the Romans shadowed Hannibal’s army but avoided battle. A Carthaginian army under Hannibal’s brother Habsdrubal, which repeated Hannibal’s feat by marching over the Alps into northern Italy, was brought to battle and soundly defeated.


In Spain, meanwhile, the Roman armies had met with total defeat. The Romans then appointed a young general called Scipio to take command (another family affair – it was his father and uncle who had led the Roman armies to defeat), and he gradually retrieved the situation and gained the upper hand. By 205 BCE he had established Roman control in Spain.

The Romans then invaded the Carthaginian home territory in North Africa in 205 BCE, under the command of Scipio (later nicknamed “Africanus”). Hannibal was recalled from Italy to lead the defence of the city. The manoeuvring between the two sides lasted until 202 BCE, when they met each other at the battle of Zama. Here, Hannibal was finally defeated by the Romans. The war was over.

Mistress of the Mediterranean

After her life-and-death struggle with Carthage, Rome’s armies went on to conquer countries to West and East, so that by the end of the second century BCE she dominated the entire Mediterranean Sea.

The West

The victory over Carthage left the Romans as the dominant power in the western Mediterranean. Soon her armies were involved in trying to hold their positions in Spain, and then expanding it. The tough Iberian tribesmen, together with the difficult terrain of the peninsula, made the task of conquering what are today modern Spain and Portugal an extremely difficult one, and it took the Romans two hundred years to complete. As a by-product of this struggle, the Romans secured a stretch of southern Gaul in 133 BCE and planted Roman colonies on it to safeguard the overland route to Spain.

The East

Meanwhile Roman armies had become involved in the eastern Mediterranean. The conflicts between the Greek and Hellenistic states drew the new power inexorably into their tangled affairs. Macedonia, which dominated Greece, had sided with Carthage in the Second Punic War, and a Roman army had become involved in the Balkans before the war’s end.

After Zama, Roman involvement was expanded to the point where, after defeating the Macedonian army at the battle of Cynoscephalae (197), Rome restricted Macedonia’s hold to the south by “liberating” the Greek city states from her interference. Antiochus, king of the Seleucid kingdom, then invaded Greece to prevent further Roman involvement – which of course had exactly the opposite effect by bringing the Romans to the region again and driving him back into Asia (Battle of Magnesia, 190). A new king of Macedonia, Perseus, then decided to try his luck against the Romans, but, after some initial successes he too was defeated at the Battle of Pydna (168) and his kingdom divided into four weak republics, all allied to Rome. Again Roman forces withdrew. Finally, a widespread revolt against the Roman-sponsored regimes in Macedonia and Greece resulted in the destruction of the historic city of Corinth and the establishment of permanent Roman rule in the region (146).

Carthage again

Carthage had ended the Second Punic War with her overseas territories stripped from her, and having to pay a massive indemnity to Rome for the following 50 years. Furthermore, her neighbors, the Numidians, had played a significant role in the war as Rome’s allies, and so the Romans had also stipulated that Carthage not go to war with the Numidians except with Rome’s agreement. Despite numerous provocations from the Numidians, Rome never granted this permission.

In the half century following the war, the Carthaginians focussed on trade, and, despite the indemnity, were soon thriving again. Scarred by their near-extinction in the war, the Romans had acquired an irrational fear of Carthage, and seeing her growing prosperity did nothing to allay these fears. One of their leading statesmen, Porcius Cato, apparently began to end all his speeches in the senate with the words, “Carthago delendo est” (“Carthage must be destroyed”).

Bust of Cato

After paying off her indemnity, Carthage felt that she was now free to pursue her own quarrels with the Numidians. The Romans, however, regarded the requirement for Carthage to seek Rome’s agreement before going to war with Numidia as permanent. In 149, therefore, when Carthaginian forces invaded Numidia, the Romans went to war with their old enemy. The was was a one-sided affair, basically involving a three-year siege of Carthage. When the city fell (in 146), it was levelled to the ground and its inhabitants sold off into slavery its territory was annexed to Rome as the province of Africa.

In the later second century BCE two rulers of kingdoms in Asia Minor, Pergamum and Bithynia, having no heirs, actually bequeathed their states to Rome, laying the foundations of Roman expansion further east.

Methodology and Application: Integritas as a Guide Towards Discovering the Roman Virtues

In many of the works that have come down to us, Romans mention being ethically constant (integer) or possessing ethical consistency (integritas). From this description of “ethical consistency” the English notion of personal integrity is derived. The Romans used the word integritas as a means of describing the procession of an assortment of desirable traits held by a person. These desirable traits reflect those qualities commonly regarded as virtuous. Together these traits formed the system by which one governed themselves and self-regulated their actions. Therefore, the Roman with integrity would analyze a situation in which they were to respond based on what they knew as virtuous. In essence, the ancient Roman with integrity could determine if action XYZ is forbidden (or not) based upon their notion of what virtuous and conveyed integrity. Likewise, they could determine a virtuous response to a situation in a similar manner.

Based on the relationship between integritas and the virtuous traits, the modern scholar can deduce what was commonly regarded as a virtuous action or idea. By analyzing ancient descriptions of the traits associated with being ethically consistent, or integer a greater understanding of the Roman concept of virtue is acquired. Such a methodology can be applied by systematically evaluating the ancient literature for the words “integritas” and “integer”. When these terms are found any description of associated virtuous traits can be noted. Fascinatingly, scholar and classist Robert Kaster evaluated numerous ancient works in this manner and revealed trends in the associated virtues. In conducting this survey, it was found that descriptions of many traits are repeated across authors and time periods. Therefore, in performing this systematic evaluation the range of virtuous qualities essential to the Roman concept of ethical consistency becomes clear. We become a step closer to the actual ancient Roman definition of the virtues and how the concept was understood in antiquity. We free ourselves from the modern construct of “lists” of virtues. Instead a complex series of ideas that overlap and are closely tied together emerges. (See the diagram)

The modern Roman Republic believes that the results of this scholarly survey best describe the core qualities associated with ancient Roman cultural views on the virtues. Together when exemplified these virtues form the core of what it means to be a role model Roman. We believe this stands as true today as it did when Cato walked the streets of Rome.

Historically, some modern interpretations of the virtues have separated the traits into public and private spheres. For example, virtues applicable to private life versus public office being separate exclusive lists of traits. The Roman Republic argues that this delineation is somewhat artificial at best and confusing and misleading at worst. We believe that thinking of the virtues as strongly context specific does not reflect the views of antiquity. The ancient understanding of the virtues suggests ubiquity across both public and private life, at least in regards to the most fundamental and widely agreed-upon virtues.

Interestingly, this systematic review of the ancient literature clearly reveals two different situations in which these virtues are demonstrated. Robert Kaster’s systematic analysis revealed virtuous traits which are of a more personal nature, as well as traits that can only be exemplified in a social setting. Virtues that are of a personal quality are actions and behaviours that do not require the presence of another person in order to embody. These personal virtues could theoretically be demonstrated while stranded alone on an isolated island. For example, such traits would be self-control or being resolute. Conversely, the social virtues can only be demonstrated in the presence of one or more individuals. Some of these traits would be justice or good faith. For one to be a well-rounded individual, they must be proficient within both categories of virtue.

The Roman Republic encourages understanding the virtues as these two overlapping and inclusive categories (see diagram). Not only does this better reflect the ancient Roman understanding of virtus as reflected in the sources but it also underlines how the personal and social virtues are very much complementary to each other. To be proficient in one category requires proficiency in the other. To be an individual with integritas requires an awareness of the virtues beyond one limited and narrow category. Conversely, strength in the personal virtues strengthens one’s social virtues and vice versa. This categorization assists in understanding and teaching the virtues while also acknowledging the inseparability of the categories in practice.

Many of the virtues listed in the survey of the literature by Robert Kaster share commonalities. This is one of the reasons why lists of virtues can be misleading. Using the most frequently stated terms as titles for “themes” allows for the distillation of the virtues into eight core concepts with associated sub-virtues or qualities. These core virtues are: good faith, innocence, resolve, honour, duty, justice, restraint, and purity. Creation of these themes is a modern construct however, it reflects the most frequent terms referenced in the sources while acknowledging the breadth, and close ties between virtuous concepts listed in the literature. We find this arrangement useful in understanding the virtues and the relationships between the different qualities. It also emphasizes the close-knit relationship between many of the Roman ideas about virtue and highlights how the virtuous individual must master multiple interrelated traits in order to achieve integritas. Although distilling the virtues down in this manner is a modern decision, the Roman Republic believes that by doing so we are better reflecting the popularly understood model from antiquity.

It should be noted that the virtues derived from the systematic evaluation by Robert Kaster do not include all possible virtues. Instead, the virtues listed are those most commonly associated with civilian life. For example, some military virtues may exist that would not be easily translatable to civilian life. Furthermore, it is best to view these virtues as the foundation upon which to build one’s own Romanitas and moral compass. Like the ancients, these virtues should be viewed as the core qualities of any virtuous Roman. They are constant across generations and all situations but are not exclusive and exhaustive of all possible virtues.

Republican Wars and Conquest

By the end of the mid-Republic, Rome had achieved military dominance on both the Italian peninsula and within the Mediterranean.

Learning Objectives

Describe the key results and effects of major Republican wars

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Early Roman Republican wars were wars of both expansion and defense, aimed at protecting Rome from neighboring cities and nations, and establishing its territory within the region.
  • The Samnite Wars were fought against the Etruscans and effectively finished off all vestiges of Etruscan power by 282 BCE.
  • By the middle of the 3rd century and the end of the Pyrrhic War, Rome had effectively dominated the Italian peninsula and won an international military reputation.
  • Over the course of the three Punic Wars, Rome completely defeated Hannibal and razed Carthage to the ground, thereby acquiring all of Carthage’s North African and Spanish territories.
  • After four Macedonian Wars, Rome had established its first permanent foothold in the Greek world, and divided the Macedonian Kingdom into four client republics.

Key Terms

  • Punic Wars: A series of three wars fought between Rome and Carthage, from 264 BCE to 146 BCE, that resulted in the complete destruction of Carthage.
  • Pyrrhus: Greek general and statesman of the Hellenistic era. Later he became king of Epirus (r. 306-302, 297-272 BCE) and Macedon (r. 288-284, 273-272 BCE). He was one of the strongest opponents of early Rome. Some of his battles, though successful, cost him heavy losses, from which the term “Pyrrhic victory” was coined.

Roman Conquest of the Italian Peninsula: This map shows the expansion of Roman territory through the various wars fought during the Republican period.

Early Republic

Early Campaigns (458-396 BCE)

The first Roman Republican wars were wars of both expansion and defense, aimed at protecting Rome from neighboring cities and nations, as well as establishing its territory in the region. Initially, Rome’s immediate neighbors were either Latin towns and villages or tribal Sabines from the Apennine hills beyond. One by one, Rome defeated both the persistent Sabines and the nearby Etruscan and Latin cities. By the end of this period, Rome had effectively secured its position against all immediate threats.

Expansion into Italy and the Samnite Wars (343-282 BCE)

The First Samnite War, of 343 BCE-341 BCE, was a relatively short affair. The Romans beat the Samnites in two battles, but were forced to withdraw from the war before they could pursue the conflict further, due to the revolt of several of their Latin allies in the Latin War. The Second Samnite War, from 327 BCE-304 BCE, was much longer and more serious for both the Romans and Samnites, but by 304 BCE the Romans had effectively annexed the greater part of the Samnite territory and founded several colonies therein. Seven years after their defeat, with Roman dominance of the area seemingly assured, the Samnites rose again and defeated a Roman army in 298 BCE, to open the Third Samnite War. With this success in hand, they managed to bring together a coalition of several of Rome’s enemies, but by 282 BCE, Rome finished off the last vestiges of Etruscan power in the region.

Pyrrhic War (280-275 BCE)

By the beginning of the 3rd century BCE, Rome had established itself as a major power on the Italian Peninsula, but had not yet come into conflict with the dominant military powers in the Mediterranean Basin at the time: the Carthage and Greek kingdoms. When a diplomatic dispute between Rome and a Greek colony erupted into a naval confrontation, the Greek colony appealed for military aid to Pyrrhus, ruler of the northwestern Greek kingdom of Epirus. Motivated by a personal desire for military accomplishment, Pyrrhus landed a Greek army of approximately 25,000 men on Italian soil in 280 BCE. Despite early victories, Pyrrhus found his position in Italy untenable. Rome steadfastly refused to negotiate with Pyrrhus as long as his army remained in Italy. Facing unacceptably heavy losses with each encounter with the Roman army, Pyrrhus withdrew from the peninsula (thus giving rise to the term “pyrrhic victory”).

In 275 BCE, Pyrrhus again met the Roman army at the Battle of Beneventum. While Beneventum’s outcome was indecisive, it led to Pyrrhus’s
complete withdrawal from Italy, due to the decimation of his army following years of foreign campaigns, and the diminishing likelihood of further material gains. These conflicts with Pyrrhus would have a positive effect on Rome. Rome had shown it was capable of pitting its armies successfully against the dominant military powers of the Mediterranean, and that the Greek kingdoms were incapable of defending their colonies in Italy and abroad. Rome quickly moved into southern Italia, subjugating and dividing the Greek colonies. By the middle of the 3 rd century, Rome effectively dominated the Italian peninsula, and had won an international military reputation.


Punic Wars

The First Punic War began in 264 BCE, when Rome and Carthage became interested in using settlements within Sicily to solve their own internal conflicts. The war saw land battles in Sicily early on, but focus soon shifted to naval battles around Sicily and Africa. Before the First Punic War, there was essentially no Roman navy. The new war in Sicily against Carthage, a great naval power, forced Rome to quickly build a fleet and train sailors. Though the first few naval battles of the First Punic War were catastrophic disasters for Rome, Rome was eventually able to beat the Carthaginians and leave them without a fleet or sufficient funds to raise another. For a maritime power, the loss of Carthage’s access to the Mediterranean stung financially and psychologically, leading the Carthaginians to sue for peace.

Continuing distrust led to the renewal of hostilities in the Second Punic War, when, in 218 BCE, Carthaginian commander Hannibal attacked a Spanish town with diplomatic ties to Rome. Hannibal then crossed the Italian Alps to invade Italy. Hannibal’s successes in Italy began immediately, but his brother, Hasdrubal, was defeated after he crossed the Alps on the Metaurus River. Unable to defeat Hannibal on Italian soil, the Romans boldly sent an army to Africa under Scipio Africanus, with the intention of threatening the Carthaginian capital. As a result, Hannibal was recalled to Africa, and defeated at the Battle of Zama.

Carthage never managed to recover after the Second Punic War, and the Third Punic War that followed was, in reality, a simple punitive mission to raze the city of Carthage to the ground. Carthage was almost defenseless, and when besieged offered immediate surrender, conceding to a string of outrageous Roman demands. The Romans refused the surrender and the city was stormed and completely destroyed after a short siege. Ultimately, all of Carthage’s North African and Spanish territories were acquired by Rome.

Hannibal’s Famous Crossing of the Alps: Depiction of Hannibal and his army crossing the Alps during the Second Punic War.

Macedon and Greece

Rome’s preoccupation with its war in Carthage provided an opportunity for Philip V of the kingdom of Macedonia, located in the northern part of the Greek peninsula, to attempt to extend his power westward. Over the next several decades, Rome clashed with Macedon to protect their Greek allies throughout the First, Second, and Third Macedonian Wars. By 168 BCE, the Macedonians had been thoroughly defeated, and Rome divided the Macedonian Kingdom into four client republics. After a Fourth Macedonian War, and nearly a century of constant crisis management in Greece (which almost always was a result of internal instability when Rome pulled out), Rome decided to divide Macedonia into two new Roman provinces, Achaea and Epirus.

Why Ancient Rome Needed Immigrants to Become Powerful

How “Roman” was the Roman Empire? Well, by some measures: not very.

As the Roman emperors sought to expand and strengthen their empire, they recognized that immigration was a means for both. Although the Roman elites sneered at immigrants, the emperors welcomed them into the labor force and military, keenly understanding that for the empire to grow and thrive it had to have new blood. Not only was the populace changing but the emperors themselves came from diverse backgrounds, from Spain to Syria.

Their legions contained ever fewer Italians, let alone Romans. Rome became a melting pot, in many ways as much a Greek city as a Latin one, and with African, Celtic, Egyptian, German and Jewish populations as well. But not everyone was pleased with the emperors&apos approach to immigration.

Writing in the late first century AD, for example, the poet Juvenal invents a character who can’t bear how Greek the city of Rome had become, what with its Greek-speaking population and their customs. He complains in frustration, 𠇏or a long time now the Syrian River Orontes has flowed down into the Tiber.” For that matter, some Greeks were equally xenophobic, like the Greek satirist Lucian (second century AD), who scorned coarse Roman patrons. But snobbery could not stem the tide of change.

An ancient Roman military parade. Immigrants comprised much of the Roman army. 

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Between roughly 300 BC and AD 200, millions of immigrants came to Italy. Most arrived in chains, as slaves, the victims of Rome’s wars of expansion or of piracy. But others came of their own free will, either to seek their fortune or to lose themselves in the anonymity of a big city with a population of about a million, Rome was the largest city in Europe or the Mediterranean. In this cosmopolitan place, people of various backgrounds and skill sets saw opportunities abounding.

The emperors embraced the newcomers, less out of idealism than out of self-interest. Rome had conquered most of its empire under the Republic (509-31 BC). In those days, a narrow elite drawn from a few noble families in the city of Rome governed the empire and considered most of its millions of inhabitants as subjects to be exploited. That was not sustainable, and the Caesars knew it. They came to power with the support of people from outside the old elite, primarily from elsewhere in Italy at first and then, later, from the whole empire. The emperors (31 BC – AD 476 in the West, centuries longer in the East) proved to be much more liberal and open-minded than their predecessors.

The Roman Republic had granted citizenship to all the free people of Italy but only slowly and for the most part under duress. The nobles never really accepted other Italians as equals. The emperors extended citizenship to people in the provinces who supported the Roman government, first to elites, then to whole communities, and ultimately to all free inhabitants of the empire, who acquired citizenship in AD 212.

But the emperors did business with slaves and freedmen as well. As brutal as Roman slavery was it offered many more paths to manumission than American slavery did. Under some emperors, former slaves headed key government agencies. The freedman Narcissus, for example, was one of the emperor Claudius’s most powerful advisors. Another case is Caenis, an influential female secretary in the imperial family who helped stop a coup d𠆞tat against one emperor and eventually became the common-law wife of another. She was an ex-slave.

The Roman army represented new people as well. Men from Germany, the Danube River valley or the Balkans became the backbone of the legions. Meanwhile, soldiers from Italy were in short supply. By the third century AD, as one contemporary writer put it, “The men of Italy, long unused to arms and war, were devoted to farming and peaceful pursuits.”

Roman Emperor Constantine making a donation from the city of Rome to the Pope in support of his newfound devotion to the Christian church. (Credit: Prisma/UIG/Getty Images)

The empire was bookended, in a sense, by rulers of starkly different origins. Augustus, the first emperor, was part Roman noble his other ancestors were wealthy Italians. The first Christian emperor, Constantine, reached the throne nearly 350 year later. His father came from what is today Serbia and his mother came from today’s Turkey. In between these two men came emperors from Spain, North Africa, Croatia, Serbia, and Syria. They reflected the diversity of the empire they had made.

The Roman Empire over the centuries welcomed new and different people, recognizing that greater strength𠅌ulturally, economically, militarily— lay with a growing populace that brought ideas, influence, and brawn. Yet, the newcomers were indeed Romans and were expected to adhere to the empire’s founding principles. The Latin language, Latin literature, basic Roman values such as honor and obedience, Roman architecture and urban planning, Roman law, and, above all, the Roman army, all endured. The immigrants changed Rome but Rome changed the immigrants in turn.

Barry Strauss, professor of history and classics at Cornell University, is a leading expert on ancient military history. His latest book is Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine. He is also the creator and host of the podcast 𠆊ntiquitas: Leaders and Legends of the Ancient World.’ 

My perspective

This part of the review is from my perspective as an expert on Early Rome. I will address more general problems as well as a few specific instances where I think Dynneson’s interpretation is flawed.

My first, and perhaps most important, complaint from the perspective of a historian is that Dynneson seems to have relied heavily on modern scholars’ interpretation of primary sources, while not consulting these himself. Of course, I cannot actually speak for his process, but ancient authors are rarely cited and conclusions are drawn almost exclusively from the perspectives of modern works. This may not seem like a significant problem for some lay readers, but to a historian this is extremely problematic. Without an intimate understanding of the sources themselves, and reflective contemplation of them, it is impossible to really understand the period, or at least what later Romans thought of the period.

This culminates in worrying declarations that betray a very loose relationship between Dynneson and his source material. Statements such as this should have given peer-reviewers concern: “In addition to the ancient sources, historians have included material on [Roman] religion as early as Cicero, and many others down through the ages” (p. 33). These are compared with the earlier mentioned authors, Livy, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Plutarch. I find it absurd to describe these three authors as “the ancient sources” in comparison to Cicero who was consul before Dionysius was born and sometime around the year of Livy’s birth, and who died at least one-hundred years before Plutarch was even born!

It is surprising, in light of the reliance on secondary sources, and given the period and topic under examination, that there is not a single non-anglophone entry in the bibliography. As the author wanted to examine civic identities, I am flabbergasted to not find in the bibliography Stéphane Bourdin’s Les peuples de l’Italie préromaine. Identités, territoires et relations inter-ethniques en Italie centrale et septentrionale (VIIIe-Ier s. ac. J.-C.) (2012), or even Carmine Ampolo’s “La città riformata e l’organizzazione centuriata. Lo spazio, il tempo, il sacro nella nuova realtà urbana,” Show Now available in A. Giardina and A. Schiavone, Storia di Roma (1999), pp.49-85. among many others. Dynneson’s thinking on certain topics, especially the function of Roman gentes and the curiae would have been enhanced by consulting Christopher Smith’s The Roman Clan: The Gens from Ancient Ideology to Modern Anthropology (2006).

The reliance on modern works, rather than ancient evidence, led Dynneson to almost copy lines from the authors he read. Take for instance this passage from chapter sixteen juxtaposed to that from one of his most-cited sources. In discussing the names of the Roman gentes, Dynneson’s sentence reads “names also were associated with geographical regions and also specific geographical features (Oppius, Caelius, Vibennius, and so forth)” (p. 285). While R.E. Mitchell wrote “names are associated with obvious regions or with geographical features – Oppius, Caelius, and Vibennius – but the origins of most names remains obscure.” Show R.E. Mitchell, Patricians and Plebians: The Origin of the Roman State (1990), p. 50. It should be noted that in Dynneson’s book this line, and its paragraph, feels like a non-sequitur and that it belongs in the previous section of the chapter.

There are too many places where either confusion or misunderstanding hampers the author’s arguments to single out all of them. There are a few passages, however, that I would like to point out as examples (although I will admit these were chosen fairly arbitrarily).

The first is in the “Reflections on Becoming Roman” section of chapter eleven, The Hellenes of Magna Graecia. The third paragraph begins with “Caere (Kyme)” (p. 200). It appears that Dynneson is trying to clear up for his reader that the Etruscan city of Caere was known by other names, however Kyme is not one of them. Kyme is the Greek spelling of Cumae, a city on the Bay of Naples. Rather, Hellenic authors referred to Caere (Etruscan Cisra) as Agylla. Show e.g. by Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, etc.

In this paragraph, the author goes on to say (pp. 200-201):

Because the Tiber River was an ideal commercial highway for moving goods inland from the coast, the Romans soon realized that control of Tiber River was essential for their economic wellbeing. Rome, more than any other city, was in a position to become “the emporium” of central Italy. This recognition was exemplified when the first gifts to Olympian Zeus included some gifts from Italian cities that also established treasuries at the temple of Delphi, and also when Romans applied to the oracle at Delphi to resolve some pressing religious questions.

It could be argued that Rome’s position at a ford in the Tiber, somewhat near the coast, and on the North-South road did position it well for participating in trans-Mediterranean trade, but the evidence from the coastal cities of Etruria should make us wary of saying Rome was in a position to become the preeminent trading city. Beyond this, however, the sentence which beings “this recognition” is completely nonsensical. Assuming that the Romans did presume to be the most important traders, and in possession of the most economically valuable plot of land in central Italy, why would it be exemplified by “first gifts” to “Olympian Zeus” donated by a number of Italian cities at Delphi, a sacred complex dedicated to Apollo?

Dynneson speaks often about hoplites, at one point noting that “Early Roman aristocratic citizenship was based on a hoplite military mentality (a phalanx mentality related to the idea of a heavily armored interlocked infantry formation armed with lances, short swords, shields and armored leg grieves)” (p. 258). Given recent reconsiderations of what “hoplite warfare” was, and how warfare impacted social structure in Archaic and Classical Greece, this conclusion feels rather uninformed. No reference will be found in the bibliography to skeptical historians of Hellenic warfare (such as van Wees, Rawlings, or Krentz), or even updated studies which are more supportive of the “hoplite orthodoxy”. Show For instance, a number of the articles in D. Kagan and G.F. Viggiano (eds), Men of Bronze: Hoplite Warfare in Ancient Greece (2013).

Readers will also be confused by this passage from chapter eighteen (pp. 319-320):

The early “constitution” of Rome also reflected a confusing set of checks and balances in which decisions were easily nullified by an opposing political force. The “constitution” reflected a division of powers, which was aimed at protecting liberties, but led to military disasters such as the Battle of Cannae. In this battle the Roman forces under the dictator Fabius allowed the forces of Hannibal to defeat the Romans. The Roman forces under the dictator Fabius Maximus attempted to defeat the Carthaginians through a war of attrition, which allowed the forces of Hannibal to regroup. The strategy of Fabius created confusion and division among Roman political leaders, which then brought on a constitutional crisis in which Fabius was finally replaced.

To begin with, Fabius Maximus was not the commander at Cannae. This dishonor falls to either Gaius Terentius Varro, traditionally blamed for the disaster, or Lucius Aemilius Paullus. Show On the Roman command at Cannae, see G. Daly, Cannae: The Experience of Battle in the Second Punic War (2002), pp. 119-123. These two were the consuls at the time Fabius had not been dictator for some time. It seems that Dynneson has confused the political disagreement about Fabius’ strategy of delay and attrition for the defeat at Cannae, although I cannot say for sure. As well, it is an exaggeration to say that the aftermath of Fabius’ campaign was a “constitutional crisis” and is simply one of many examples of Roman political tensions.

Unfortunately, these are only some of the historical problems of the book, and I have neither the time nor the patience to discuss all of them.

In terms of analysis and drawing new conclusions about the development of the Roman state, civic structure, or civic identity, the volume adds little. The individual chapters are essentially just summaries of the author’s thoughts on certain topics, but without the proposition of new ideas. In fact, much of what Dynneson concludes can be seen as outdated, or at least controversial. This is because he has formed his understanding of Early Rome primarily from Richard E. Mitchell’s Patricians and Plebians: The Origin of the Roman State (1990). While this is an interesting volume, many of its theses are contentious and it should probably not be the main source of an author’s knowledge.

I had hoped that the general conclusions would provide an insightful summary and interjection of some fresh takes on early Roman history, but I was disappointed. It begins with a wandering discussion of Aristotelian philosophical and political thoughts (pp. 339-341). Dynneson then goes on to discuss some of what had been earlier in the book, such as the essential place that myth and legend played in the formation of Roman identity, the importance of religion in Early Roman life and civic culture, and the importance of military virtues to Roman identity.


Long before Cato had ever begun his illustrious political career he had represented the Roman value of virtue, which was the starting point for his ascension in Roman society. Virtue, by early Roman standards, was to epitomize manliness and selflessness. To be considered virtuous one must have been able to defend his family and community as well as to put the interests of his family, community and state ahead of his own. Plutarch describes Cato as having “a good physique,” “living temperately” and “serving in war.”[9] These were all virtuous qualities according to Roman ideals and helped Cato build his reputation early on. Plutarch also portrays Cato as being selfless by stating that “He would never refuse to be an advocate for those who needed him.”[10] This demonstrates that Cato would continuously put the interests of others above his own.

Cato the Elder displayed an uncanny level of gravity, which was the value of absolute self-control. Plutarch illustrates Cato’s gravity by stating that “For his general temperance and self-control he really deserves the highest admiration.”[11] A prime example of Cato’s gravity is how he handled himself as a leader in the military. Cato never took excessive amounts of rations for himself, nor did he travel opulently as did some of his peers.[12] Cato could have traveled luxuriously and charged his luxuries to the state, but he never did.[13] Cato truly embodied the early Roman value of gravity in his everyday life.

For his general temperance and self-control he really deserves the highest admiration.

It has been said that Cato the Elder was the embodiment of the values of early Roman society, and based on the analysis of Cato’s life as told by Plutarch he clearly did live by the values of early Rome. Cato the Elder exemplified piety, faith, virtue and gravity in his daily life.

This post is modified from an academic paper and has been used in Turn-It-In. Any information from this post used in an academic paper must be cited or it will be flagged as plagiarism. Primary and secondary sources for this post have been cited below.

Watch the video: History RE-Summarized: The Roman Republic (July 2022).


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