What factors enabled the city-state of Rome to conquer Italy and the Mediterranean world?

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The main reason Rome conquered so much territory was its military. The Romans had a powerful army that was superior to its adversaries.

One reason why its army was so strong was its use of the legion. The legion was a flexible infantry formation which proved its superiority over the...

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The main reason Rome conquered so much territory was its military. The Romans had a powerful army that was superior to its adversaries.

One reason why its army was so strong was its use of the legion. The legion was a flexible infantry formation which proved its superiority over the old phalanx at Cynoscephalae in 197 BC. In this battle, the Romans defeated Macedonia. Macedonia had been the world's strongest military power under Alexander the Great. However, the phalanx was too inflexible for combat against the wily Romans.

Rome also had outstanding military leaders. Pompey the Great won numerous victories throughout the Mediterranean area. The greatest of all commanders, however, was Caesar. Caesar was loved by his men and was a brilliant battlefield leader.

Another reason for Rome's rise was its victory in its most important conflict: the struggle with Carthage. Carthage, a city-state in North Africa, was Rome's archenemy. The two countries fought three wars. Carthage was led by the great Hannibal, but Scipio vanquished him in the second—and decisive—war. After Carthage lost the third war in 146 BC, it was completely destroyed. This victory made Rome the master of the Mediterranean Sea. Had Rome lost its struggle against Carthage, the history of Europe and North Africa would have been very different.

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The transformation of Rome from a seemingly insignificant city-state into the greatest empire of its time really is impressive. There are several factors that led to this success. Let us look at some of the most significant factors.

First of all, Rome incorporated many different peoples into its society. This was true of the early kingdom, the republic, and the empire. At its start, the city of Rome had a very small population. In order to grow, the city let in pretty much anyone who would join. During later periods, any nation that was willing to abide by Roman laws and support the Roman state was welcomed into the empire. Many new Romans joined the military. As a result, its army grew with every new nation it absorbed. The benefits and protections of Rome were also very appealing to many. This allowed Rome to take control of many territories, as there were many who were eager to enjoy the benefits of the Romans.

When conquest could not be achieved through peaceful means, the Romans were adept at expanding their territorial holdings through warfare. In the fourth century BC, Rome waged a series of wars with the neighboring Etruscans and Samnites. In the third century, Rome completed its conquest of Italy after winning the Pyrrhic Wars. The conquered nations were usually given partial or full Roman citizenship.

After having conquered Italy and absorbing its large population, Rome had enough manpower to successfully challenge any other Mediterranean nation. In 264 BC, Roman armies made their first serious expedition outside of the boot of Italy when they attacked the Carthaginians in Sicily. This began the Roman conquest of the entire Mediterranean region.

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This is a great question. As you state, Rome did not start off as a great power. Rome start off small and far less powerful than their neighbors. However, as you also know, Rome ended up a superpower. What happened? 

First, Rome was surprisingly well at incorporating other people groups. For example, in Livy, the Roman historian, we read of the rape of the Sabine women. It is a tale that shows that the Sabines were incorporated with the Romans to a certain extent. In short, the Romans were able to absorb other groups and for this reason became more powerful. 

Second, the Romans also possessed great military abilities as well as good statesmanship. According to Polybius, it was their constitution that allowed them to form into a great people. 

Third, this is an important point that is not emphasized enough. The Romans believed that the gods appointed them to rule. We might call this a self-fulfilling prophecy, but in any case, the Romans were dead serious that this was their destiny. 

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