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Tiber island from above: Roman geography

Rome geography: Tiber island

Tiber river and trade

The city of Rome itself has tremendous environmental advantages, which made it easier for Rome to become an important city. Rome is located at the first place that people can easily cross the Tiber river, so it is the natural location of the main north-south road in Italy.

Stone Age Italy
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a satellite view of italy with the roads and river on it

Geography of Rome: the ancient city of Rome was located where the north-south road crossed the Tiber river.

The reason you can cross the Tiber at Rome is that there is an island in the river there (this is the same as at Paris, and many other cities). Probably the first Romans made a lot of profit from charging people to let them use the island to cross the river – charging tolls.

Salt flats near the city of Rome

There are also big salt flats near the city.Because salt was so valuable in the ancient world for preserving meat and fish, selling the salt made Romans rich.

History of salt

Also the riverboats going up and down the Tiber, from east to west and back again, could stop at Rome. So right from the beginning, the ancient Roman environment helped the Romans get rich.

Roman empire’s many climate zones

Pine trees and a lake

Black Forest in Northern Europe

As the Romans expanded their empire, they encountered many different climate zones. There were desertsmountains, wetlands, forests, and everything else.

More about the Alps
Northern Europe’s environment
Africa and the Sahara

The great variety of environments helped the Romans get lots of different food and materials. They could get tin from England, and wood from Germany, and cotton from Egypt, and silver from Spain. There was plenty of gold. The Romans produced and sold wool and linen, glass and wine.

What is tin? 
All about silver
History of cotton

A warm, mild climate

A Ribat, or fort, in North Africa

A Ribat, or fort, in North Africa

The Romans also had the advantage of a good climate. During most of the time of the Roman Empire, Europe and the Mediterranean were unusually warm, about as warm as they are right now. That weather seems to have been good for Roman farming. The Romans brought Mediterranean crops like wine grapes and olives much further north than they normally grew.

History of wine
More about olive oil

Climate change and the fall of Rome

Roman carving of a harvesting machine

Roman carving of a harvesting machine

But during the 200s AD, the weather got cooler. The cooler weather forced wine and olive growers to move south. It may even have made it harder to grow wheat and barley. The cooler weather made it harder to heat houses in the north.

History of wheat
What is barley?
How did Romans heat houses?

This may have helped cause problems for the Romans. The cold weather may have encouraged the Germans and the Sassanians to invade the Roman Empire. It may have encouraged many people to revolt inside the Empire as well.

Who were the Sassanians?
The fall of Rome

The fall of Rome in the 400s AD may also be related to this cooler climate, which lasted into the Early Middle Ages, until the 600s AD.

Did you find out what you needed about Rome’s geography and the Roman climate? Let us know in the comments!

Learn by doing: a Roman mosaic
More about African weather
The Medieval Warming period

Bibliography and further reading about the Mediterranean environment and the Roman Empire:

Roman Economy
Roman Food
Ancient Rome home