For centuries, Rome stood in the shadow of her Etruscan neighbors. The Etruscans in turn were outclassed by the political experiments underway to the east and south. The early classical Mediterranean belonged to the Greeks and Phoenicians. While Rome was still a village of letterless cattle rustlers, the Greeks were writing epic and lyric poetry, experimenting with democracy, and inventing drama, philosophy, and history as we know them. On nearer shores, the Punic peoples of Carthage built an ambitious empire, before the Romans knew how to rig a sail. Fifteen miles inland, along the soggy banks of the Tiber River, Rome was a backwater, a spectator to the creativity of the early classical world.
- From The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, & The End of an Empire by Kyle Harper