According to the legend, Rome was founded in 753BC by twin brothers called Romulus and Remus. The babies were raised by a she-wolf, having been abandoned by their uncle on the banks of the River Tiber. They were eventually rescued by a shepherd.

By 509BC the original Etruscan inhabitants of Rome had been driven out, and by 275BC Rome controlled most of Italy. The Phoenicians were great rivals of Rome, and they were finally defeated by the Romans in the Punic Wars (261 – 146BC). After this, the Romans were able to extend their empire with little organized resistance. The Celts, the Seleucid kings, the Greeks and the Egyptians all fell before Roman power. Only the Parthians in the east and the Germanic tribes in northwest Europe defied the mighty Roman army.

At its peak, the Roman army extended all around the Mediterranean Sea and most of the rest of Europe. Much of what is now England and France, Belgium and the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, part of Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Syria, Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco was ruled by the Romans from their base in Italy.

A huge army was needed to maintain control over these regions, and the costs were tremendous. There were continual minor wars and skirmishes along the edges of the Empire, which meant that large garrisons of soldiers had to be maintained.