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The Roman Empire was an accident. No one planned it. It "happened." No famous general or statesman or cutthroat ever got up and said "Friends, Romans, Citizens, we must found an Empire. Follow me and together we shall conquer all the land from the Gates of Hercules to Mount Taurus."

Rome produced famous generals and equally distinguished statesmen and cutthroats, and Roman armies fought all over the world. But the Roman empire-making was done without a preconceived plan. The average Roman was a very matter-of-fact citizen. He disliked theories about government. When someone began to recite "eastward the course of Roman Empire, etc., etc.," he hastily left the forum. He just continued to take more and more land because circumstances forced him to do so. He was not driven by ambition or by greed. Both by nature and inclination he was a farmer and wanted to stay at home. But when he was attacked he was obliged to defend himself and when the enemy happened to cross the sea to ask for aid in a distant country then the patient Roman marched many dreary miles to defeat this dangerous foe and when this had been accomplished, he stayed behind to administer his newly conquered provinces lest they fall into the hands of wandering Barbarians and become themselves a menace to Roman safety. It sounds rather complicated and yet to the contemporaries it was so very simple, as you shall see in a moment.

In the year 203 B.C. Scipio had crossed the African Sea and had carried the war into Africa. Carthage had called Hannibal back. Badly supported by his mercenaries, Hannibal had been defeated near Zama. The Romans had asked for his surrender and Hannibal had fled to get aid from the kings of Macedonia and Syria, as I told you in my last chapter.

The rulers of these two countries (remnants of the Empire of Alexander the Great) just then were contemplating an expedition against Egypt. They hoped to divide the rich Nile valley between themselves. The king of Egypt had heard of this and he had asked Rome to come to his support. The stage was set for a number of highly interesting plots and counter-plots. But the Romans, with their lack of imagination, rang the curtain down before the play had been fairly started. Their legions completely defeated the heavy Greek phalanx which was still used by the Macedonians as their battle formation. That happened in the year 197 B.C. at the battle in the plains of Cynoscephalae, or "Dogs' Heads," in central Thessaly.

The Romans then marched southward to Attica and informed the Greeks that they had come to "deliver the Hellenes from the Macedonian yoke." The Greeks, having learned nothing in their years of semi-slavery, used their new freedom in a most unfortunate way. All the little city-states once more began to quarrel with each other as they had done in the good old days. The Romans, who had little understanding and less love for these silly bickerings of a race which they rather despised, showed great forbearance. But tiring of these endless dissensions they lost patience, invaded Greece, burned down Corinth (to "encourage the other Greeks") and sent a Roman governor to Athens to rule this turbulent province. In this way, Macedonia and Greece became buffer states which protected Rome's eastern frontier.

Meanwhile right across the Hellespont lay the Kingdom of Syria, and Antiochus III, who ruled that vast land, had shown great eagerness when his distinguished guest, General Hannibal, explained to him how easy it would be to invade Italy and sack the city of Rome.

Lucius Scipio, a brother of Scipio the African fighter who had defeated Hannibal and his Carthaginians at Zama, was sent to Asia Minor. He destroyed the armies of the Syrian king near Magnesia (in the year 190 B.C.) Shortly afterwards, Antiochus was lynched by his own people. Asia Minor became a Roman protectorate and the small City-Republic of Rome was mistress of most of the lands which bordered upon the Mediterranean.


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 Roman Empire didn't form via some grand plan to build an empire. Rome haphazardly acquired new territory as it defended itself and helped its neighbors. When the Macedonians and Syrians plotted against Egypt and Egypt asked the Romans for help, the Romans defeated the Macedonian and Syrian armies. Although the Romans freed the Greeks from the Macedonians, the unwise Greeks squandered this opportunity by once again squabbling among their city-states. The Romans tired of this quarreling and sent a Roman governor to rule Athens.


Statesman: A man who is a leader in national or international affairs.
Cutthroat: An unscrupulous, ruthless or unethical person.
Hercules: The Roman name for the Greek divine hero Heracles, a celebrated hero who possessed exceptional strength.
Mount Taurus: Mountain in southern Turkey.
Attica: A periphery where Athens, the capital of Greece, is located.


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.
  • What is happening to Carthage on the map?
  • Trace the movement of the Roman armies to Macedonia and Syria.

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

Click the crayon above. Complete pages 53-54 of 'World History Copywork, Narration, Dictation, and Art for Third Grade.'


Question 1

Was the formation of the Roman Empire strategic or unplanned?
1 / 3

Answer 1

The formation of the Roman Empire was unplanned.
1 / 3

Question 2

Did the Romans set out to conquer the world?
2 / 3

Answer 2

No, the Romans acquired new territory by defending itself and helping its neighbors.
2 / 3

Question 3

Why did the Romans install a Roman leader in Athens?
3 / 3

Answer 3

The unwise Greeks continued to squabble among their city-states, so the Romans stepped in.
3 / 3

  1. Was the formation of the Roman Empire strategic or unplanned? The formation of the Roman Empire was unplanned.
  2. Did the Romans set out to conquer the world? No, the Romans acquired new territory by defending itself and helping its neighbors.
  3. Why did the Romans install a Roman leader in Athens? The unwise Greeks continued to squabble among their city-states, so the Romans stepped in.