Mary Beard on why Rome ruled the world

How did an insignificant little settlement by the river Tiber grow into a mighty empire encompassing the Mediterranean world and much of western Europe? Mary Beard reveals the secret that lay behind the Roman empire's extraordinary expansion...

A group of five marble busts of typical early Roman citizens. The empire expanded by absorbing the peoples it defeated, giving rights and obligations to former outsiders. (Photo by Gjon Mili/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

This article first appeared in the April 2016 issue of BBC History Magazine

The Roman empire 
at its height, in the second century AD, stretched from the Sahara to Scotland, from Syria to Spain, and was home to well over 50 million inhabitants.

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