Roman Kingdom-Regnum Romanum 753 BC–509 BC
The site of the founding of the Roman Kingdom and eventual Republic and Empire had a ford where the Tiber could be crossed. The Palatine Hill and hills surrounding it presented easily defensible positions in the wide fertile plain surrounding them. All of these features contributed to the success of the city.The kings, excluding Romulus, who according to legend held office by virtue of being the city’s founder, were all elected by the people of Rome to serve for life, with none of the kings relying on military force to gain or keep the throne.
The king was invested with supreme military, executive, and judicial authority through the use of imperium, formally granted to the king by the Comitia Curiata with the passing of the Lex curiata de imperio at the beginning of each king’s reign.Another power of the king was the power to either appoint or nominate all officials to offices. The king would appoint a tribunus celerum to serve as both the tribune of Ramnes tribe in Rome and as the commander of the king’s personal bodyguard, the Celeres. The king was required to appoint the tribune upon entering office and the tribune left office upon the king’s death. The tribune was second in rank to the king and also possessed the power to convene the Curiate Assembly and lay legislation before it.
According to legend, Romulus established the Senate after he founded Rome by personally selecting the most noble men to serve as a council for the city. As such, the Senate was the King’s advisory council as the Council of State. The Senate was composed of 300 Senators, with 100 Senators representing each of the three ancient tribes of Rome: the Ramnes (Latins), Tities (Sabines), and Luceres (Etruscans) tribes. Within each tribe, a Senator was selected from each of the tribe’s ten curiae. The king had the sole authority to appoint the Senators, but this selection was done in accordance with ancient custom
Legendary kings of Rome
Romulus 753–717 BC
Numa Pompilius 716–673 BC
Tullus Hostilius 673–642 BC
Ancus Marcius 640–616 BC
Tarquinius Priscus 616–579 BC
Servius Tullius 578–535 BC
Tarquinius Superbus 535–509 BC
The legendary Romulus was Rome’s first king and the city’s founder. After he and his twin brother Remus had deposed King Amulius of Alba and reinstated the king’s brother and their grandfather Numitor to the throne, they decided to build a city in the area where they had been abandoned as infants. After Remus was killed in a dispute, Romulus began building the city on the Palatine Hill. His work began with fortifications. He permitted men of all classes to come to Rome as citizens, including slaves and freemen without distinction. He is credited with establishing the city’s religious, legal and political institutions.
After Romulus died, there was an interregnum for one year, during which ten men chosen from the senate governed Rome as successive interreges. Eventually, the senate chose the Sabine Numa Pompilius, to succeed Romulus, on account of his reputation for justice and piety.Numa reformed the Roman calendar by adjusting it for the solar and lunar year, as well as by adding the months of January and February to bring the total number of months to twelve.
Tullus Hostilius was warlike like Romulus, and completely unlike Numa in his lack of respect for the gods. Tullus waged war against Alba Longa, Fidenae and Veii and the Sabines. During Tullus’s reign, the city of Alba Longa was completely destroyed and Tullus integrated its population into Rome.Tullus is attributed with constructing a new home for the Senate, the Curia Hostilia, which survived for 562 years after his death.
Following the mysterious death of Tullus, the Romans elected a peaceful and religious king in his place, Numa’s grandson, Ancus Marcius. Much like his grandfather, Ancus did little to expand the borders of Rome and only fought war to defend the territory. He also built Rome’s first prison on the Capitoline Hill.
Lucius Tarquinius Priscus was the fifth king of Rome and the first of Etruscan birth. After immigrating to Rome, he gained favor with Ancus, who later adopted him as son. Upon ascending the throne, he waged wars against the Sabines and Etruscans, doubling the size of Rome and bringing great treasures to the city.Priscus initiated great building projects. The most famous is the Circus Maximus, a giant stadium for chariot races.
Priscus was succeeded by his son-in-law Servius Tullius, Rome’s second king of Etruscan birth, and the son of a slave. Like his father-in-law, Servius fought successful wars against the Etruscans. He used the booty to build the first wall all around the Seven Hills of Rome, the pomerium. He also reorganized the army.
The seventh and final king of Rome was Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. He was the son of Priscus and the son-in-law of Servius whom he and his wife had killed.Tarquinius waged a number of wars against Rome’s neighbours, including against the Volsci, Gabii and the Rutuli. He also secured Rome’s position as head of the Latin cities. He also engaged in a series of public works, notably the completion of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, and works on the Cloaca Maxima and the Circus Maximus.
The End of Monarchy
The Overthrow of the Roman monarchy was a political revolution in ancient Rome in around 509 BC, which resulted in the expulsion of the last king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, and the establishment of the Roman Republic.The Roman histories tell that while the king was away on campaign, his son Sextus Tarquinius raped a noblewoman Lucretia. Afterwards, she revealed the offence to various Roman noblemen, and then committed suicide. The Roman noblemen, led by Lucius Junius Brutus, obtained the support of the Roman aristocracy and the people to expel the king and his family and to institute a republic. The Roman army supported Brutus, and the king went into exile. Despite a number of attempts by Lucius Tarquinius Superbus to reinstate the monarchy, the republic was established and two consul were elected annually to rule the city.
Roman Republic-Senatus populusque Romanus
509 BC–27 BC
It all began when the Romans overthrew their Etruscan conquerors in 509 B.C.E. Centered north of Rome, the Etruscans had ruled over the Romans for hundreds of years.Once free, the Romans established a republic, a government in which citizens elected representatives to rule on their behalf. A republic is quite different from a democracy, in which every citizen is expected to play an active role in governing the state.
During the early Roman Republic, important new political offices and institutions were created, and old ones were adapted to cope with the changing needs of the state. According to the ancient historians, these changes and innovations resulted from a political struggle between two social orders, the patricians and the plebeians, that began during the first years of the republic and lasted for more than 200 years. The discrepancies, inconsistencies, and logical fallacies in the account of Livy, one of Rome’s greatest historians, make it evident that this thesis of a struggle of the orders is a gross oversimplification of a highly complex series of events that had no single cause.
Roman government was headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and advised by a senate composed of appointed magistrates. As Roman society was very hierarchical by modern standards, the evolution of the Roman government was heavily influenced by the struggle between the patricians, Rome’s land-holding aristocracy, who traced their ancestry to the founding of Rome, and the plebeians, the far more numerous citizen-commoners. Over time, the laws that gave patricians exclusive rights to Rome’s highest offices were repealed or weakened, and leading plebeian families became full members of the aristocracy.
The Roman army was made up of groups of soldiers called legions. There were over 5,000 soldiers in a legion. Each legion had its own number, name, badge and fortress. There were about 30 legions around the Roman Empire, three of which were based in Britain at Caerleon, Chester and York.Tombstones at Chester indicate that some men joined the legions young; two men had been only fourteen when they had joined up.A legion had commanders, officers and ordinary soldiers. There were also doctors, engineers and other workers.
A standard Republican legion before the reforms of Gaius Marius (“the early Republic”) contained about 4500 men divided into the velites, the principes, and the hastati — of 1200 men each — also the triarii, of 600 men, and the equities, of 300 men. The first three types stood forward in battle; the trial ii stood back. The Levites and the equities were used mainly for various kinds of support.
The Roman army was divided into legions of about 5,000 men.Contubernium: consisted of 8 men.Centuria: (century) was made up of 10 contubernium with a total of 80 men commanded by a centurion.Cohorts: (cohort) included 6 centurie, a total of 480 men.Legio: (Legion) consisted of 10 cohorts, about 5,000 men.Eques Legionis: Each legio had a cavarly unit of 120 attached to them.
The Rise of Rome
The first Roman republican wars were wars of both expansion and defence, aimed at protecting Rome itself from neighbouring cities and nations and establishing its territory in the region.Initially, Rome’s immediate neighbours were either Latin towns and villages, or else tribal Sabines from the Apennine hills beyond. One by one Rome defeated both the persistent Sabines and the local cities, both those under Etruscan control and those that had cast off their Etruscan rulers. Rome defeated the Latin cities in the Battle of Lake Regillus in 496 BC, the Battle of Mons Algidus in 458 BC, the Battle of Corbione in 446 BC, the Battle of Aricia, and especially the Battle of the Cremera in 477 BC wherein it fought against the most important Etruscan city of Veii.
By 390 BC, several Gallic tribes were invading Italy from the north as their culture expanded throughout Europe. The Romans were alerted to this when a particularly warlike tribe invaded two Etruscan towns close to Rome’s sphere of influence. These towns, overwhelmed by the enemy’s numbers and ferocity, called on Rome for help. The Romans met the Gauls in pitched battle at the Battle of Allia River around 390–387 BC. The Gauls, led by the chieftain Brennus, defeated the Roman army of approximately 15,000 troops, pursued the fleeing Romans back to Rome, and sacked the city before being either driven off or bought off. The Romans and Gauls continued to war intermittently in Italy for more than two centuries.
Roman expansion into Italy (343–282 BC)
The First Samnite War from 343 BC to 341 BC was relatively short: the Romans defeated the Samnites in two battles, but were forced to withdraw before they could pursue the conflict further due to the revolt of several of their Latin allies in the Latin War.
The Second Samnite War, from 327 BC to 304 BC, was much longer and more serious for both the Romans and Samnites. The fortunes of the two sides fluctuated throughout its course. But the Romans won the Battle of Bovianum, and the tide turned strongly against the Samnites from 314 BC onwards, leading them to sue for peace with progressively less generous terms.
Seven years after their defeat, with Roman dominance of the area looking assured, the Samnites rose again and defeated a Roman army in 298 BC, to open the Third Samnite War. Following this success they built a coalition of several previous enemies of Rome.At the Battle of Populonia in 282 BC Rome finished off the last vestiges of Etruscan power in the region.
Pyrrhic War (280–275 BC)
When a diplomatic dispute between Rome and a Greek colony in Italy erupted into open warfare in a naval confrontation, the Greek colony appealed for military aid to Pyrrhus, ruler of the northwestern Greek kingdom of Epirus. Motivated by a personal desire for military accomplishment, Pyrrhus landed a Greek army of some 25,000 men on Italian soil in 280 BC.
Despite early victories, Pyrrhus found his position in Italy untenable. Rome steadfastly refused to negotiate with Pyrrhus as long as his army remained in Italy. Facing unacceptably heavy losses from each encounter with the Roman army, Pyrrhus withdrew from the peninsula (hence the term “Pyrrhic victory”). In 275 BC, Pyrrhus again met the Roman army at the Battle of Beneventum. While Beneventum was indecisive, Pyrrhus realised his army had been exhausted and reduced by years of foreign campaigns. Seeing little hope for further gains, he withdrew completely from Italy.
The conflicts with Pyrrhus would have a great effect on Rome. Rome had shown it was capable of pitting its armies successfully against the dominant military powers of the Mediterranean, and that the Greek kingdoms were incapable of defending their colonies in Italy and abroad. Rome quickly moved into southern Italia, subjugating and dividing the Greek colonies. Now, Rome effectively dominated the Italian peninsula, and won an international military reputation.
Punic Wars (264–146 BC)
The First Punic War began in 264 BC when inhabitants of Sicily began to appeal to the two powers between which they lay – Rome and Carthage – to resolve internal conflicts. The war saw land battles in Sicily early on, but the theatre shifted to naval battles around Sicily and Africa. Before the First Punic War there was no Roman navy to speak of. The new war in Sicily against Carthage, a great naval power, forced Rome to quickly build a fleet and train sailors.The first few naval battles were disasters for Rome. However, after training more sailors and inventing a grappling engine,a Roman naval force was able to defeat a Carthaginian fleet, and further naval victories followed. The Carthaginians then hired Xanthippus of Carthage, a Spartan mercenary general, to reorganise and lead their army. He cut off the Roman army from its base by re-establishing Carthaginian naval supremacy. The Romans then again defeated the Carthaginians in naval battle at the Battle of the Aegates Islands and left Carthage with neither a fleet nor sufficient financial means to raise one. For a maritime power the loss of their access to the Mediterranean stung financially and psychologically, and the Carthaginians sued for peace.
Continuing distrust led to the renewal of hostilities in the Second Punic War when Hannibal Barca attacked an Iberian town which had diplomatic ties to Rome. Hannibal then crossed the Italian Alps to invade Italy. Hannibal’s successes in Italy began immediately, and reached an early climax at the Battle of Cannae, where 70,000 Romans were killed.The Romans held off Hannibal in three battles, but then Hannibal smashed a succession of Roman consular armies. By this time Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal Barca sought to cross the Alps into Italy and join his brother with a second army. Hasdrubal managed to break through into Italy only to be defeated decisively on the Metaurus River. Unable to defeat Hannibal on Italian soil, the Romans boldly sent an army to Africa under Scipio Africanus to threaten the Carthaginian capital. Hannibal was recalled to Africa, and defeated at the Battle of Zama.
Carthage never recovered militarily after the Second Punic War, but quickly did so economically and the Third Punic War that followed was in reality a simple punitive mission after the neighbouring Numidians allied to Rome robbed/attacked Carthaginian merchants. Treaties had forbidden any war with Roman allies, and defence against robbing/pirates was considered as “war action”: Rome decided to annihilate the city of Carthage. Carthage was almost defenceless, and submitted when besieged.However, the Romans demanded complete surrender and removal of the city into the (desert) inland far off any coastal or harbour region, and the Carthaginians refused. The city was besieged, stormed, and completely destroyed.
Ultimately, all of Carthage’s North African and Iberian territories were acquired by Rome. Note that “Carthage” was not an ’empire’, but a league of Punic colonies (port cities in the western Mediterranean) like the 1st and 2nd Athenian (“Attic”) leagues, under leadership of Carthage. Punic Carthage was gone, but the other Punic cities in the western Mediterranean flourished under Roman rule.
Rome’s preoccupation with its war with Carthage provided an opportunity for Philip V of the kingdom of Macedonia, located in the north of the Greek peninsula, to attempt to extend his power westward. Philip sent ambassadors to Hannibal’s camp in Italy, to negotiate an alliance as common enemies of Rome. However, Rome discovered the agreement when Philip’s emissaries were captured by a Roman fleet. The First Macedonian War saw the Romans involved directly in only limited land operations, but they ultimately achieved their objective of pre-occupying Philip and preventing him from aiding Hannibal.
Fearing this increasingly unstable situation, several small Greek kingdoms sent delegations to Rome to seek an alliance. The delegation succeeded, even though prior Greek attempts to involve Rome in Greek affairs had been met with Roman apathy. Our primary source about these events, the surviving works of Polybius, do not state Rome’s reason for getting involved. Rome gave Philip an ultimatum to cease his campaigns against Rome’s new Greek allies. Doubting Rome’s strength Philip ignored the request, and Rome sent an army of Romans and Greek allies, beginning the Second Macedonian War. Despite his recent successes against the Greeks and earlier successes against Rome, Philip’s army buckled under the pressure from the Roman-Greek army. In 197 BC, the Romans decisively defeated Philip at the Battle of Cynoscephalae, and Philip was forced to give up his recent Greek conquests. The Romans declared the “Peace of the Greeks”, believing that Philip’s defeat now meant that Greece would be stable. They pulled out of Greece entirely, maintaining minimal contacts with their Greek allies.
In 179 BC Philip died.His talented and ambitious son, Perseus, took the throne and showed a renewed interest in conquering Greece. With her Greek allies facing a major new threat, Rome declared war on Macedonia again, starting the Third Macedonian War. Perseus initially had some success against the Romans. However, Rome responded by sending a stronger army. This second consular army decisively defeated the Macedonians at the Battle of Pydna in 168 BC and the Macedonians duly capitulated, ending the war.
Convinced now that the Greeks (and therefore the rest of the region) would not have peace if left alone, Rome decided to establish its first permanent foothold in the Greek world, and divided the Kingdom of Macedonia into four client republics. Yet, Macedonian agitation continued. The Fourth Macedonian War, 150 to 148 BC, was fought against a Macedonian pretender to the throne who was again destabilizing Greece by trying to re-establish the old kingdom. The Romans swiftly defeated the Macedonians at the Second battle of Pydna.
The Achaean League chose this moment to fight Rome but was swiftly defeated. In 146 BC (the same year as the destruction of Carthage), Corinth was besieged and destroyed, which led to the league’s surrender. After nearly a century of constant crisis management in Greece, which always led back to internal instability and war when she withdrew, Rome decided to divide Macedonia into two new Roman provinces, Achaea and Macedonia.
Jugurthine War (111–104 BC)
The Jugurthine War of 111–104 BC was fought between Rome and Jugurtha of the North African kingdom of Numidia. It constituted the final Roman pacification of Northern Africa, after which Rome largely ceased expansion on the continent after reaching natural barriers of desert and mountain. Following Jugurtha’s usurpation of the throne of Numidia, a loyal ally of Rome since the Punic Wars, Rome felt compelled to intervene. Jugurtha impudently bribed the Romans into accepting his usurpation. Jugurtha was finally captured not in battle but by treachery.
Internal unrest (135–71 BC)
Between 135 BC and 71 BC there were three “Servile Wars” involving slave uprisings against the Roman state. The third and final uprising was the most serious, involving ultimately between 120,000 and 150,000 slaves under the command of the gladiator Spartacus. In 91 BC the Social War broke out between Rome and its former allies in Italy when the allies complained that they shared the risk of Rome’s military campaigns, but not its rewards. Although they lost militarily, the allies achieved their objectives with legal proclamations which granted citizenship to more than 500,000 Italians.
The internal unrest reached its most serious state, however, in the two civil wars that were caused by the clash between generals Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla starting from 88 BC. In the Battle of the Colline Gate at the very door of the city of Rome, a Roman army under Sulla bested an army of the Marius supporters and entered the city. Sulla’s actions marked a watershed in the willingness of Roman troops to wage war against one another that was to pave the way for the wars which ultimately overthrew the Republic, and caused the founding of the Roman Empire.
Conflicts with Mithridates (89–63 BC)
Mithridates the Great was the ruler of Pontus,a large kingdom in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), from 120 to 63 BC. Mithridates antagonised Rome by seeking to expand his kingdom, and Rome for her part seemed equally eager for war and the spoils and prestige that it might bring. In 88 BC, Mithridates ordered the killing of a majority of the 80,000 Romans living in his kingdom. The massacre was the official reason given for the commencement of hostilities in the First Mithridatic War. The Roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla forced Mithridates out of Greece proper, but then had to return to Italy to answer the internal threat posed by his rival, Gaius Marius. A peace was made between Rome and Pontus, but this proved only a temporary lull.
The Second Mithridatic War began when Rome tried to annex a province that Mithridates claimed as his own. In the Third Mithridatic War, first Lucius Licinius Lucullus and then Pompey the Great were sent against Mithridates and his Armenian ally Tigranes the Great. Mithridates was finally defeated by Pompey in the night-time Battle of the Lycus.
The Gallic Wars (59–50 BC)
The Gallic Wars were a series of military campaigns waged by the Roman proconsul Julius Caesar against several Gallic tribes. Rome’s war against the Gallic tribes lasted from 58 BC to 50 BC and culminated in the decisive Battle of Alesia in 52 BC, in which a complete Roman victory resulted in the expansion of the Roman Republic over the whole of Gaul (mainly present-day France and Belgium). While militarily just as strong as the Romans, the internal division between the Gallic tribes guaranteed an easy victory for Caesar, and Vercingetorix’s attempt to unite the Gauls against Roman invasion came too late.The wars paved the way for Julius Caesar to become the sole ruler of the Roman Republic.
Although Caesar portrayed this invasion as being a preemptive and defensive action, most historians agree that the wars were fought primarily to boost Caesar’s political career and to pay off his massive debts. Still, Gaul was of significant military importance to the Romans, as they had been attacked several times by native tribes both indigenous to Gaul and farther to the north. Conquering Gaul allowed Rome to secure the natural border of the river Rhine. The Gallic Wars are described by Julius Caesar in his book Commentarii de Bello Gallico, which remains the most important historical source regarding the conflict.
In 62 BC, Pompey returned victorious from Asia. The Senate, elated by its successes against Catiline, refused to ratify the arrangements that Pompey had made. Pompey, in effect, became powerless. Thus, when Julius Caesar returned from a governorship in Spain in 61 BC, he found it easy to make an arrangement with Pompey. Caesar and Pompey, along with Crassus, established a private agreement, now known as the First Triumvirate. Under the agreement, Pompey’s arrangements would be ratified. Caesar would be elected consul in 59 BC, and would then serve as governor of Gaul for five years. Crassus was promised a future consulship.
Caesar became consul in 59 BC. His colleague, Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, was an extreme aristocrat. Caesar submitted the laws that he had promised Pompey to the assemblies. Bibulus attempted to obstruct the enactment of these laws, and so Caesar used violent means to ensure their passage. Caesar was then made governor of three provinces. He facilitated the election of the former patrician Publius Clodius Pulcher to the tribunate for 58 BC. Clodius set about depriving Caesar’s senatorial enemies of two of their more obstinate leaders in Cato and Cicero. Clodius was a bitter opponent of Cicero because Cicero had testified against him in a sacrilege case. Clodius attempted to try Cicero for executing citizens without a trial during the Catiline conspiracy, resulting in Cicero going into self-imposed exile and his house in Rome being burnt down. Clodius also passed a bill that forced Cato to lead the invasion of Cyprus which would keep him away from Rome for some years. Clodius also passed a law to expand the previous partial grain subsidy to a fully free grain dole for citizens.
Period of transition (49–29 BC)
A period of reform occurred between 49 BC, when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and 29 BC, when Octavian returned to Rome after Actium. During this period the previous century’s gradual unravelling of republican institutions accelerated rapidly. By 29 BC, Rome had completed its transition from a city-state with a network of dependencies to the capital of a world empire.Near the end of his life, Caesar began to prepare for a war against the Parthian Empire. Since his absence from Rome would limit his ability to install his own consuls, he passed a law which allowed him to appoint all magistrates in 43 BC, and all consuls and tribunes in 42 BC. This transformed the magistrates from representatives of the people to representatives of the dictator
Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44 BC. The assassination was led by Gaius Cassius and Marcus Brutus. Most of the conspirators were senators, who had a variety of economic, political, or personal motivations for carrying out the assassination. Many were afraid that Caesar would soon resurrect the monarchy and declare himself king. Others feared loss of property or prestige as Caesar carried out his land reforms in favor of the landless classes. Virtually all the conspirators fled the city after Caesar’s death in fear of retaliation. The civil war that followed destroyed what was left of the Republic.
After the assassination, Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) formed an alliance with Caesar’s adopted son and great-nephew, Gaius Octavianus (Octavian). Along with Marcus Lepidus, they formed an alliance known as the Second Triumvirate.They held powers that were nearly identical to the powers that Caesar had held under his constitution. As such, the Senate and assemblies remained powerless, even after Caesar had been assassinated. The conspirators were then defeated at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC. Eventually, however, Antony and Octavian fought against each other in one last battle. Antony was defeated in the naval Battle of Actium in 31 BC, and he committed suicide with his lover, Cleopatra. In 29 BC, Octavian returned to Rome as the unchallenged master of the Empire and later accepted the title of Augustus (“Exalted One”). He was convinced that only a single strong ruler could restore order in Rome.
Roman Empire-Imperium Romanum
27 BC – 395 AD
395 – 476 Western 395 – 1453 Eastern
Following the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE, Gaius Octavian Thurinus, Julius Caesar’s nephew and heir, became the first emperor of Rome and took the name Augustus Caesar. Although Julius Caesar is often regarded as the first emperor of Rome, this is incorrect; he never held the title `Emperor’ but, rather, `Dictator’, a title the senate could not help but grant him, as Caesar held supreme military and political power at the time. In contrast, the senate willingly granted Augustus the title of emperor, lavishing praise and power on him because he had destroyed Rome’s enemies and brought much needed stability.
Augustus established a form of government known as a principate, which combined some elements from the republic with the traditional powers of a monarchy. The Senate still functioned, though Augustus, as princeps, or first citizen, remained in control of the government. Under Augustus, Rome began to prosper once again, and the emperor came to be looked upon as a god. Thereafter, all good emperors were worshiped as gods after death. Among the beloved rulers of Rome were Trajan (reigned 98–117), Hadrian (117–138), Antoninus Pius (138–161), and Marcus Aurelius (161–180). Decadent, cruel men also rose to power: Caligula (37–41) and Nero (54–68) were so loathed that their reigns were struck from the official Roman records.
It was during the rule of Tiberius (14–37) that Jesus Christ was crucified. Thereafter, Christians were tolerated at best—but often tortured or killed—until the reign of Constantine I (312–337). In 313 an edict of toleration for all religions was issued, and from about 320 Christianity was favoured by the Roman state rather than persecuted by it. But the empire was dying. The last of Constantine’s line,Theodosius I (379–395), was the last emperor to rule over a unified Roman Empire. The Western Empire, suffering from repeated invasions and the flight of the peasants into the cities, had grown weak compared with the East, where spices and other exports virtually guaranteed wealth and stability. When Theodosius died, in 395, Rome split into Eastern and Western empires.
The West was severely shaken in 410, when the city of Rome was sacked by the Visigoths, a wandering nation of Germanic peoples from the northeast. The fall of Rome was completed in 476, when the German chieftain Odoacer deposed the last Roman emperor of the West, Romulus Augustulus. The East, always richer and stronger, continued as the Byzantine Empire through the European Middle Ages.
Architecture and engineering
The chief Roman contributions to architecture were the arch, vault and the dome. Even after more than 2,000 years some Roman structures still stand, due in part to sophisticated methods of making cements and concrete. Roman roads are considered the most advanced roads built until the early 19th century. The system of roadways facilitated military policing, communications, and trade. The roads were resistant to floods and other environmental hazards. Even after the collapse of the central government, some roads remained usable for more than a thousand years.
Roman bridges were among the first large and lasting bridges, built from stone with the arch as the basic structure. Most utilized concrete as well. The largest Roman bridge was Trajan’s bridge over the lower Danube, constructed by Apollodorus of Damascus, which remained for over a millennium the longest bridge to have been built both in terms of overall span and length.
The Romans constructed numerous aqueducts. A surviving treatise by Frontinus, who served as curator aquarum (water commissioner) under Nerva, reflects the administrative importance placed on ensuring the water supply. Masonry channels carried water from distant springs and reservoirs along a precise gradient, using gravity alone. After the water passed through the aqueduct, it was collected in tanks and fed through pipes to public fountains, baths, toilets, or industrial sites. The main aqueducts in the city of Rome were the Aqua Claudia and the Aqua Marcia. The complex system built to supply Constantinople had its most distant supply drawn from over 120 km away along a sinuous route of more than 336 km. Roman aqueducts were built to remarkably fine tolerance, and to a technological standard that was not to be equalled until modern times. The Romans also made use of aqueducts in their extensive mining operations across the empire, at sites such as Las Medulas and Dolaucothi in South Wales.
The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators,having an average audience of some 65,000; it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles (for only a short time as the hypogeum was soon filled in with mechanisms to support the other activities), animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.
A triumphal arch is a monumental structure in the shape of an archway with one or more arched passageways, often designed to span a road. In its simplest form a triumphal arch consists of two massive piers connected by an arch, crowned with a flat entablature or attic on which a statue might be mounted or which bears commemorative inscriptions. The main structure is often decorated with carvings, sculpted reliefs, and dedications. More elaborate triumphal arches may have multiple archways.
Trajan’s Column is a Roman triumphal column in Rome, Italy, that commemorates Roman emperor Trajan’s victory in the Dacian Wars. It was probably constructed under the supervision of the architect Apollodorus of Damascus at the order of the Roman Senate. It is located in Trajan’s Forum, built near the Quirinal Hill, north of the Roman Forum. Completed in AD 113, the freestanding column is most famous for its spiral bas relief, which artistically describes the epic wars between the Romans and Dacians (101–102 and 105–106). Its design has inspired numerous victory columns, both ancient and modern.
The Division of the Empire
This period, also known as The Imperial Crisis, was characterized by constant civil war, as various military leaders fought for control of the empire. The crisis has been further noted by historians for widespread social unrest, economic instability (fostered, in part, by the devaluation of Roman currency by the Severans), and, finally, the dissolution of the empire which broke into three separate regions. The empire was reunited by Diocletian (ruled 284-305 CE) who established the Tetrarchy (the rule of four) to maintain order throughout the empire. Even so, the empire was still so vast that Diocletian divided it in half in 285 CE to facilitate more efficient administration. In so doing, he created the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire). Since a leading cause of the Imperial Crisis was a lack of clarity in succession, Diocletian decreed that successors must be chosen and approved from the outset of an individual’s rule. Two of these successors were the generals Maxentius and Constantine. Diocletian voluntarily retired from rule in 305 CE, and the tetrarchy dissolved as rival regions of the empire vied with each other for dominance. Following Diocletian’s death in 311 CE, Maxentius and Constantine plunged the empire again into civil war.
The Fall of the Roman Empire
From 376-382 CE, Rome fought a series of battles against invading Goths known today as the Gothic Wars. At the Battle of Adrianople, 9 August 378 CE, the Roman Emperor Valens was defeated, and historians mark this event as pivotal in the decline of the Western Roman Empire. Various theories have been suggested as to the cause of the empire’s fall but, even today, there is no universal agreement on what those specific factors were. Edward Gibbon has famously argued in his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that Christianity played a pivotal role, in that the new religion undermined the social mores of the empire which paganism provided. The theory that Christianity was a root cause in the empire’s fall was debated long before Gibbon, however, as Orosius argued Christianity’s innocence in Rome’s decline as early as 418 CE. Orosius claimed it was primarily paganism itself and pagan practices which brought about the fall of Rome. Other influences which have been noted range from the corruption of the governing elite to the ungovernable vastness of the empire to the growing strength of the Germanic tribes and their constant incursions into Rome. The Roman military could no longer safeguard the borders as efficiently as they once had nor could the government as easily collect taxes in the provinces. The arrival of the Visigoths in the empire in the third century CE and their subsequent rebellions has also been cited a contributing factor in the decline.
The Western Roman Empire officially ended 4 September 476 CE, when Emperor Romulus Augustus was deposed by the Germanic King Odoacer (though some historians date the end as 480 CE with the death of Julius Nepos). The Eastern Roman Empire continued on as the Byzantine Empire until 1453 CE, and though known early on as simply `the Roman Empire’, it did not much resemble that entity at all. The Western Roman Empire would become re-invented later as The Holy Roman Empire, but that construct, also, was far removed from the Roman Empire of antiquity and was an `empire’ in name only.
Following Theodoric’s death in 526, the Western half of the Empire was now fully controlled by Germanic tribes (though many of them continued to recognize Roman law and made claims to continuity), while the Eastern half had established itself under the Justinian dynasty. While the East would make some attempts to recapture the West, the Roman Empire was never reunited.