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From Hutton Webster's, Early European History (1917); edited for this on-line publication, by ELLOPOS
IV. THE RISE OF ROME TO 264 B.C.
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The triangular-shaped island of Sicily is separated from Italy by the strait of Messina, a channel which, at the narrowest part, is only two miles wide. At one time Sicily must have been joined to the mainland. Its mountains, which rise at their highest point in the majestic volcano of Aetna, nearly eleven thousand feet above sea level, are a continuation of those of Italy. The greater part of Sicily is remarkably productive, containing rich grainfields and hillsides green with the olive and the vine. Lying in the center of the Mediterranean and in the direct route of merchants and colonists from every direction, Sicily has always been a meeting place of nations. In antiquity Greeks, Carthaginians, and Romans contended for the possession of this beautiful island.
INFLUENCE OF GEOGRAPHICAL CONDITIONS
On Italian history, as on that of Greece, we are able to trace the profound influence of geographical conditions. In the first place, the peninsula of Italy is not cut up by a tangle of mountains into many small districts. Hence it was easier for the Italians, than for the Greeks, to establish one large and united state. In the second place, Italy, which has few good harbors but possesses fine mountain pastures and rich lowland plains, was better adapted to cattle raising and agriculture than was Greece. The Italian peoples, in consequence, instead of putting to sea, remained a conservative, home-staying folk, who were slow to adopt the customs of other nations. Finally, the location of Italy, with its best harbors and most numerous islands on the western coast, brought that country into closer touch with Gaul, Spain, and northwestern Africa than with Greece and the Orient. Italy fronted the barbarous West.
Cf. The Ancient Greece * The Ancient Rome
Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) * Western Medieval Europe * Renaissance in Italy