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"Go," he said, "and tell the Romans that by heaven's will my Rome shall be capital of the world. Let them learn to be soldiers. Let them know, and teach their children, that no power on earth can stand against Roman arms." -Livy, History I, xvi
During the period of the first kings around 509 BC there were actually very many cities in Italy and Rome was just one of them. The Italian Peninsula is located right in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea. Rome is located right in the heart of Italy on a large plain known as Latium. (see The Geography of Italy)
This area was a very fertile area with great weather and many places for farmers to settle and grow various crops such as wheat, grapes, and olives. There have been many discoveries made by archaeologists of people living back as far as 1100 BC who were farmers and herders just like most of their neighbors around the Mediterranean. The people of Latium were called Latins and they all spoke the same language.
In the north were the Etruscan city-states, and in the south were the Greeks. Together the Etruscans and the Greeks traded with other cultures from all over the whole Mediterranean Sea. They were very rich and the area was perfect for their lifestyles.
Rome was right located between them. Rome lay 12 miles inland from the sea on the Tiber River, the border between Latium and Etruria and the Latium plain was ideal for them as well. In fact the ancient Roman historian Livy who lived from 59 BC to 17 AD said some interesting things about Rome, that it was placed in the center of the world, and when he described the area he said that there was a good reason that men and the gods chose this spot. He went on to say that it was a very well protected area from any attackers because it was situated on seven hills and the famous Tiber River was very close by, around 15 miles, and if you went down the river it wouldn't take long to journey right into the big Mediterranean Sea.
Rome was truly an ideal location, being near the mouth of the Tiber where they could cross its narrow yet firm banks easily. Her steep hills and marshy valleys made each area very isolated and the whole area a hard place to attack. Flocks and herds could graze in the wooded slopes in peace.
Italy was indeed close to all their big neighbors, Spain in the west, Greece in the east, and Africa in the south. Over the centuries Rome expanded its borders all the way to each of these places believing that "the gods destined Rome to rule the world." They even gave the Mediterranean Sea a new name, "Mare Nostrum" which means "our sea."