In the space of about three centuries (c. 330–30 BC), Rome grew from a city-state, much like Athens or Sparta, to a giant superpower stretching from Spain to Syria. As the Romans projected their military power on their more cultivated neighbors, they quickly realized the importance of soft power and the need to build up their own arts and literature to rival those of the Greeks and Etruscans. Soon, poets such as Gnaeus Naevius and Ennius were composing epic poems in Latin glorifying Rome's rise to prominence and military exploits.

Sadly, like almost all the literature that the Romans produced during the first two centuries of their rise to power, these early epics have been lost. We have a huge amount of texts from the last fifty years of the Republic (c. 80–31 BC). Cicero, Caesar, Sallust, Catullus and Lucretius are all writing during this period. And we have equally many writings from the early Empire (Horace, Vergil, Livy, Propertius, Ovid etc). By contrast, for the earlier period of Rome's rise to power, we can't hear Roman voices directly. All of our information about those times comes from much later authors or fragmentary evidence.

In this episode, we examine the evidence from this fascinating yet elusive early period, when Rome was a powerful Republic, but there were still other powerful states around, all competing for cultural prestige. Our guest on the show is someone who has spent years studying the early fragments as well as the later complete epics of the empire.

Rhiannon Evans lectures in Classics and Ancient History at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. She is also a veteran podcaster, being one of the lead voices on the Emperors of Rome podcast and having published several of her lecture series as free podcasts as well.

The intro to this episode was provided by Brandon Huebner of the Maritime History Podcast, a show exploring the major naval powers of history and how their destinies were shaped by the sea. Check out the Maritime History Podcast on your podcast app of click here.