Geography was a major factor in Rome's early development. Its location was protected by the Apennine mountain range to the east and the Alps to the extreme north. The city itself was situated on the Tiber River, about 20 miles from the coast, and the Italian Peninsula provided a relatively central position in the Mediterranean world. With access to Mediterranean trading routes and relative safety from raids and invasions, Rome was in an ideal spot to develop into the capital of a great empire.

Tiber River

One of the biggest factors leading to Rome’s development is the shape of the Tiber River, which flows through the center of the city. The river makes a horseshoe-shaped bend, where there is a small island. Around 900 B.C., prior to the Roman Kingdom, this part of the Tiber was one of very few places where travelers, traders and herders of livestock could ford the river. It made that area of Rome an early meeting point for Latin and Sabine tribes as well as the Etruscans, who ruled over much of the Italian peninsula before Rome was built.

Seven Hills

The ancient city was made of seven hills on which various local tribes settled during the reign of the Etruscans prior to 700 B.C. The hills provided steady ground for residence as well as a certain degree of protection from invasion from below. Palatine Hill, surrounded by the other six hills, is located just to the east of the island at the river ford, and traditionally is said to be home to the first Romans. The city and culture began with the integration of various peoples living atop each of the hills when they began building permanent residences and common civic spaces around 500 B.C.

Agriculture and Empire

Despite its practicality as a meeting place and point of transit, early Rome also needed local agriculture to sustain its growing population. Agricultural techniques such as irrigation and the draining of swampland made much of the land around Rome suitable for farming. Livestock could survive the winter in the relatively mild lowlands, while cooling off in the mountains during the warmer months. Local agriculture alone was not enough to sustain the great city Rome would become. In the time it took to grow from small city-state to capital of an empire, Rome depended on importing necessary goods from its conquered provinces, which ultimately stretched from Asia to the British Isles.

Myth and Reality

According to ancient legend, Rome was founded and built by Romulus after being abandoned with his brother Remus on the banks of the Tiber River. There, after the two brothers were raised and nursed to health by a motherly wolf, Romulus killed Remus and built the city in his own name. Despite the mythology, the story of Romulus and Remus reflects two pillars of Roman growth: political and imperial dominance, reflected by the murder of Remus, and the natural blessings of the region itself, represented by the mother wolf who raised the two young brothers.