lesson image

The little Phoenician trading post of Kart-hadshat stood on a low hill which overlooked the African Sea, a stretch of water ninety miles wide which separates Africa from Europe. It was an ideal spot for a commercial center. Almost too ideal. It grew too fast and became too rich. When in the sixth century before our era, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Tyre, Kart-hadshat, now called Carthage, broke off all further relations with the Mother Country and became an independent state—the great western advance-post of the Semitic races.

Unfortunately the city had inherited many of the traits which for a thousand years had been characteristic of the Phoenicians. It was a vast business-house, protected by a strong navy, indifferent to most of the finer aspects of life. The city and the surrounding country and the distant colonies were all ruled by a small but exceedingly powerful group of rich men, The Greek word for rich is "ploutos" and the Greeks called such a government by "rich people" a "Plutocracy." Carthage was a plutocracy and the real power of the state lay in the hands of a dozen big ship-owners and mine-owners and merchants who met in the back room of an office and regarded their common Fatherland as a business enterprise which ought to yield them a decent profit. They were however wide awake and full of energy and worked very hard.

As the years went by the influence of Carthage upon her neighbors increased until the greater part of the African coast, Spain and certain regions of France were Carthaginian possessions, and paid tribute, taxes and dividends to the mighty city on the African Sea.

Of course, such a "plutocracy" was forever at the mercy of the crowd. As long as there was plenty of work and wages were high, the majority of the citizens were quite contented, allowed their "betters" to rule them and asked no embarrassing questions. But when no ships left the harbor, when no ore was brought to the smelting-ovens, when dockworkers and stevedores were thrown out of employment, then there were grumblings and there was a demand that the popular assembly be called together as in the olden days when Carthage had been a self-governing republic.

To prevent such an occurrence the plutocracy was obliged to keep the business of the town going at full speed. They had managed to do this very successfully for almost five hundred years when they were greatly disturbed by certain rumors which reached them from the western coast of Italy. It was said that a little village on the banks of the Tiber had suddenly risen to great power and was making itself the acknowledged leader of all the Latin tribes who inhabited central Italy. It was also said that this village, which by the way was called Rome, intended to build ships and go after the commerce of Sicily and the southern coast of France.

Carthage could not possibly tolerate such competition. The young rival must be destroyed lest the Carthaginian rulers lose their prestige as the absolute rulers of the western Mediterranean. The rumors were duly investigated and in a general way these were the facts that came to light.

The west coast of Italy had long been neglected by civilization. Whereas in Greece all the good harbors faced eastward and enjoyed a full view of the busy islands of the Aegean, the west coast of Italy contemplated nothing more exciting than the desolate waves of the Mediterranean. The country was poor. It was therefore rarely visited by foreign merchants and the natives were allowed to live in undisturbed possession of their hills and their marshy plains.

The first serious invasion of this land came from the north. At an unknown date certain Indo-European tribes had managed to find their way through the passes of the Alps and had pushed southward until they had filled the heel and the toe of the famous Italian boot with their villages and their flocks. Of these early conquerors we know nothing. No Homer sang their glory. Their own accounts of the foundation of Rome (written eight hundred years later when the little city had become the center of an Empire) are fairy stories and do not belong in a history. Romulus and Remus jumping across each other's walls (I always forget who jumped across whose wall) make entertaining reading, but the foundation of the City of Rome was a much more prosaic affair. Rome began as a thousand American cities have done, by being a convenient place for barter and horse-trading. It lay in the heart of the plains of central Italy The Tiber provided direct access to the sea. The land-road from north to south found here a convenient ford which could be used all the year around. And seven little hills along the banks of the river offered the inhabitants a safe shelter against their enemies who lived in the mountains and those who lived beyond the horizon of the nearby sea.

The mountaineers were called the Sabines. They were a rough crowd with an unholy desire for easy plunder. But they were very backward. They used stone axes and wooden shields and were no match for the Romans with their steel swords. The sea-people on the other hand were dangerous foes. They were called the Etruscans and they were (and still are) one of the great mysteries of history. Nobody knew (or knows) whence they came; who they were; what had driven them away from their original homes. We have found the remains of their cities and their cemeteries and their waterworks all along the Italian coast. We are familiar with their inscriptions. But as no one has ever been able to decipher the Etruscan alphabet, these written messages are, so far, merely annoying and not at all useful.

Our best guess is that the Etruscans came originally from Asia Minor and that a great war or a pestilence in that country had forced them to go away and seek a new home elsewhere. Whatever the reason for their coming, the Etruscans played a great role in history. They carried the pollen of the ancient civilization from the east to the west and they taught the Romans who, as we know, came from the north, the first principles of architecture and street-building and fighting and art and cookery and medicine and astronomy.

But just as the Greeks had not loved their Aegean teachers, in this same way did the Romans hate their Etruscan masters. They got rid of them as soon as they could and the opportunity offered itself when Greek merchants discovered the commercial possibilities of Italy and when the first Greek vessels reached Rome. The Greeks came to trade, but they stayed to instruct. They found the tribes who inhabited the Roman country-side (and who were called the Latins) quite willing to learn such things as might be of practical use. At once they understood the great benefit that could be derived from a written alphabet and they copied that of the Greeks. They also understood the commercial advantages of a well-regulated system of coins and measures and weights. Eventually the Romans swallowed Greek civilization hook, line and sinker.

They even welcomed the gods of the Greeks to their country. Zeus was taken to Rome where he became known as Jupiter and the other divinities followed him. The Roman gods however never were quite like their cheerful cousins who had accompanied the Greeks on their road through life and through history. The Roman gods were State Functionaries. Each one managed his own department with great prudence and a deep sense of justice, but in turn he was exact in demanding the obedience of his worshippers. This obedience the Romans rendered with scrupulous care. But they never established the cordial personal relations and that charming friendship which had existed between the old Hellenes and the mighty residents of the high Olympian peak.

The Romans did not imitate the Greek form of government, but being of the same Indo-European stock as the people of Hellas, the early history of Rome resembles that of Athens and the other Greek cities. They did not find it difficult to get rid of their kings, the descendants of the ancient tribal chieftains. But once the kings had been driven from the city, the Romans were forced to bridle the power of the nobles, and it took many centuries before they managed to establish a system which gave every free citizen of Rome a chance to take a personal interest in the affairs of their town.

Thereafter the Romans enjoyed one great advantage over the Greeks. They managed the affairs of their country without making too many speeches. They were less imaginative than the Greeks and they preferred an ounce of action to a pound of words. They understood the tendency of the multitude (the "plebe," as the assemblage of free citizens was called) only too well to waste valuable time upon mere talk. They therefore placed the actual business of running the city into the hands of two "consuls" who were assisted by a council of Elders, called the Senate (because the word "senex" means an old man). As a matter of custom and practical advantage the senators were elected from the nobility. But their power had been strictly defined.

Rome at one time had passed through the same sort of struggle between the poor and the rich which had forced Athens to adopt the laws of Draco and Solon. In Rome this conflict had occurred in the fifth century B. C. As a result, the freemen had obtained a written code of laws which protected them against the despotism of the aristocratic judges by the institution of the "Tribune." These Tribunes were city-magistrates, elected by the freemen. They had the right to protect any citizen against those actions of the government officials which were thought to be unjust. A consul had the right to condemn a person to death, but if the case had not been absolutely proved the Tribune could interfere and save the poor person's life.

But when I use the word Rome, I seem to refer to a little city of a few thousand inhabitants. And the real strength of Rome lay in the country districts outside her walls. And it was in the government of these outlying provinces that Rome at an early age showed her wonderful gift as a colonizing power.

In very early times Rome had been the only strongly fortified city in central Italy, but it had always offered a hospitable refuge to other Latin tribes who happened to be in danger of attack. The Latin neighbors had recognized the advantages of a close union with such a powerful friend and they had tried to find a basis for some sort of defensive and offensive alliance. Other nations, Egyptians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, even Greeks, would have insisted upon a treaty of submission on the part of the "barbarians," The Romans did nothing of the sort. They gave the "outsider" a chance to become partners in a common "res publica"—or common-wealth.

"You want to join us," they said. "Very well, go ahead and join. We shall treat you as if you were full-fledged citizens of Rome. In return for this privilege we expect you to fight for our city, the mother of us all, whenever it shall be necessary."

The "outsider" appreciated this generosity and he showed their gratitude by their unswerving loyalty.

Whenever a Greek city had been attacked, the foreign residents had moved out as quickly as they could. Why defend something which meant nothing to them but a temporary boarding house in which they were tolerated as long as they paid their bills? But when the enemy was before the gates of Rome, all the Latins rushed to her defense. It was their Mother who was in danger. It was their true "home" even if they lived a hundred miles away and had never seen the walls of the sacred Hills.

No defeat and no disaster could change this sentiment. In the beginning of the fourth century B.C. the wild Gauls forced their way into Italy. They had defeated the Roman army near the River Allia and had marched upon the city. They had taken Rome and then they expected that the people would come and sue for peace. They waited, but nothing happened. After a short time, the Gauls found themselves surrounded by a hostile population which made it impossible for them to obtain supplies. After seven months, hunger forced them to withdraw. The policy of Rome to treat the "foreigner" on equal terms had proved a great success and Rome stood stronger than ever before.


Study the lesson for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the story.
  • Review the synopsis.
  • Study the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.
  • Answer the review questions.


The city of Carthage became very rich and very successful. It was a plutocracy, whereby a dozen big ship-owners and mine-owners and merchants hoarded the riches and power for themselves and cared mostly for profit. The Carthaginian influence expanded until it collected taxes and tributes from Africa, Spain, and France. The plutocracy worked as long as people remained employed and wages were high. However, whenever people lost their work and livelihoods, they would demand rule by popular assembly. The rich and powerful therefore strove to keep business brisk and people employed. This worked for 500 years, until Rome arose as a business competitor. The Romans had learned many practical things from the Greek traders and even took the Greek gods as their own. The Romans preferred action to words, an advantage over the Greeks given the Greek fondness for speeches. The Romans gave their partners in neighboring districts the chance to become citizens in exchange for fighting Rome's enemies, building loyalty. When the Gauls conquered Rome, the people outside of Rome drove them back out, saving the city.


Trading Post: A place where trading of goods takes place.
Plutocracy: Government by the wealthy.
Profit: Total income or cash flow minus expenditures.
Stevedores: A dockworker involved in loading and unloading cargo, or in supervising such work.
Republic: A state where sovereignty rests with the people or their representatives, rather than with a monarch or emperor.
Homer: Ancient Greek poet who authored the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Prosaic: Straightforward or matter-of-fact.
Loyalty: Faithfulness or devotion to some person, cause, or nation.
Gaul: A Roman-era region roughly corresponding to modern France and Belgium.


Activity 1: Narrate the Lesson

  • After you read or listen to the lesson, narrate the events aloud using your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Story Picture

  • Study the story picture and describe how it relates to the story.

Activity 3: Map the Story

  • Find Rome and Carthage on the map.
  • On which continent is Rome?
  • On which continents is Carthage?

Activity 4: Complete Copywork, Narration, Dictation, and Art   

Click the crayon above. Complete pages 49-50 of 'World History Copywork, Narration, Dictation, and Art for Third Grade.'


Question 1

Who rules in a plutocracy such as Carthage?
1 / 4

Answer 1

The rich rule in a plutocracy such as Carthage.
1 / 4

Question 2

What is required to maintain a successful plutocracy?
2 / 4

Answer 2

Available jobs and high wages for the people is necessary for a successful plutocracy.
2 / 4

Question 3

From where did the Romans get their gods?
3 / 4

Answer 3

The Romans adapted the gods of the Greeks.
3 / 4

Question 4

What two advantages did the Romans have over the Greeks?
4 / 4

Answer 4

The Romans preferred taking action over making speeches and the Romans enabled anyone willing to fight for them to become a citizen.
4 / 4

  1. Who rules in a plutocracy such as Carthage? The rich rule in a plutocracy such as Carthage.
  2. What is required to maintain a successful plutocracy? Available jobs and high wages for the people is necessary for a successful plutocracy.
  3. From where did the Romans get their gods? The Romans adapted the gods of the Greeks.
  4. What two advantages did the Romans have over the Greeks? The Romans preferred taking action over making speeches and the Romans enabled anyone willing to fight for them to become a citizen.


  1. 'Mediterranean at 218 BC by Megistias. ({CC0 1.0})' Wikipedia. commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:218BCMAPMEDITERRANEAN.jpg. n.p.