The story of early Rome can be summed up in many ways, but perhaps the most obvious is as a story of expansion. From its humble origins as ‘Romulus’ asylum’, the literature records that each of Rome's reges expanded the city in some way. Even Numa Pompilius, the famously religious and non-violent rex, was credited by Livy with ‘enlarging the community’ through peace, just as Romulus had by war (ita duo deinceps reges, alius alia via, ille bello, hic pace, civitatem auxerunt). Expansion seems to have been written into Rome's DNA from the start.
Rome continued to expand during the early Republic, supposedly subjugating Veii at the turn of the fourth century and ultimately incorporating all of Latium by 338, before moving on to realise even greater ambitions. By the start of the second century, when Rome's first native historians sat down to write the history of the city, Rome was already master of the western Mediterranean and within another two centuries would control the entirety of the basin. And whether or not one believes the details of the literature as it relates to early Rome – and certainly a range of positions exists – most scholars generally agree on the broad outline of this expansion narrative. We know Rome expanded. The real questions are the when, why, and how.
Frustratingly, of course, the explicit literary narrative for expansion in the regal and early Republican periods is difficult to trust, having been written so many years after the fact. While the exploits of Rome's reges and early consuls, including the conquest and incorporation of various areas, communities, and populations, are related in detail in the surviving literary accounts, this sort of evidence is notoriously problematic. Although at least some Romans do seem to have been literate in the early period, with epigraphic evidence and a tradition of record-keeping going back to (perhaps?) the regal period, Roman historical writing only began c. 200. The Romans’ first written narrative of their expansion therefore represented the view from ‘the top of the mountain’, not the journal of the climb.