Legend has it that Rome was founded in 771 B.C. by the twin brothers Romulus and Remus [source: Hooper]. But they arrived at the party pretty late. As early as the 19th century B.C., people lived and farmed in the region now called Latium.
As in much of Italy, the first inhabitants of Latium were Etruscans. Though they were responsible for the first settlements, the region gets its name from another local Italic tribe, the Latins [source: Wine Country].
By the third century B.C., the city called Rome had come to dominate the area - because of civil engineering as much as military might. The Romans built massive aqueducts and sturdy stone roads, some of which survive today. Under the Romans, farming improved and trade expanded, with goods coming from distant regions of Europe, Africa and the Middle East [source: Wine Country]. The metropolis flourished, gradually becoming the seat of an empire.
Of course, we know how that story ends. Invading barbarian tribes from the north -- the Vandals, Visigoths and Lombards -- eventually brought the empire to its knees.
When the Roman Empire fell, much of Rome's splendid civil order collapsed with it. Diseases like malaria spread, as did poverty. Fertile farmlands turned into marshy breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
The central government of the Catholic Church remained in Rome, and most of Latium was part of the papal state. But other forms of government collapsed. Surrounding towns were under the control of local feudal lords or, occasionally, communal rule [source: Wine Country].
In the Renaissance, the pope's court at Rome became one of the centers of the newly flourishing Italian arts. The Church amassed artistic treasures from across Europe and commissioned the works of art and architecture -- St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, Bernini's fountains -- that continue to define Roman art and culture.
When Italy unified in the 1870s, Rome became its new capital. The Pontine marshes were drained, and the ancient farmlands became fertile once more.
What did Roman farmers cultivate on their new land? Read on.