The Roman Empire
The Romans built an empire of gigantic proportions. At its height, it encompassed nearly the entire European continent as well as parts of the Middle East and Africa. The Roman Empire’s tentacles stretched from England to Egypt, from Spain to Iraq, and from southern Russia to Morocco. More significantly, ancient Roman civilization thrived for nearly one thousand years. The influence of the Romans over all of those peoples over that span of time defies measure.
After adopting Christianity in the 4th century C.E., the Romans spread it to every corner of their empire. They also brought their brand of law and order to all of the territories that they conquered. Latin, the language of the Romans, became the basis for several modern European languages, including Italian, French, and Spanish.
The Romans were particularly skilled in administration, organization, and engineering. They had a highly trained and disciplined military and an efficient bureaucracy. Without these qualities, the Romans would never have been able to manage their sprawling empire. They were not, however, as driven or original when it came to other intellectual pursuits.
#In fact, the Romans basically adopted and copied much of Greek art, literature, philosophy, and even religion. The Romans had the same set of gods as the Greeks, but with different names. In Roman mythology, Zeus became Jupiter, Hera became Juno, Ares changed to Mars, and Athena was Minerva, to name a few examples. The Romans did, however, spread these borrowed ideas everywhere they went.
How was Rome ruled?
The people of Rome were farmers and herders. For a time, they were under the control of their neighbours, the Etruscans. Rome became a rich city, ruled by kings. In 509 BC, the Romans drove out their last king, Tarquin the Proud. Rome then became a republic.
The republic was ruled by a Senate. Rich men, called senators, ran the government. Poor men (called plebeians) had much less power. The plebeians fought for fairer treatment. A plebeian, who was a free man (someone who was not a slave), could be a Roman citizen. People in lands conquered by the Romans could become citizens too. Women and slaves though, could not be citizens – so they could not vote in elections.
The Senate could not always control the Roman army. Army generals sometimes fought one another. Rome’s best general was Julius Caesar. He lived in the 1st century BC and invaded Britain twice. Caesar came close to being emperor of Rome, but he was murdered in 44 BC. By then, Rome was more than a city. It was the capital of an empire. The Romans ruled lands from France to North Africa. You can see this in our map in the ‘Photos’ section on the right.
Who were the Roman emperors?
A Roman emperor was the man who ruled over the empire. The first Emperor ruled Rome after years of fighting between rival leaders. His name was Octavian. He took a new name, Augustus, when he became Emperor in 27 BC. Augustus brought peace after years of fighting. Not all the emperors were good and wise. Some were terrible. Some wanted to be gods. The emperor had a troop of special soldiers to protect him. They were called the Praetorian Guard.
Romulus and Remus: The Making of the Roman Republic
According to Roman mythology, twin brothers played an important part in the founding of Rome. These brothers, named Romulus and Remus, were the sons of Mars, the Roman god of war. Abandoned at birth, the twins were raised by a wolf.
When they became older, they decided to found a city along the Tiber River near the spot where they had been abandoned. Each chose a hill upon which to begin a settlement.
As often happens among brothers, disputes led to quarreling and fighting. Angered by Remus’s taunting, Romulus killed his brother in a fit of rage. Romulus went on to build the city that eventually became Rome — named, of course, after Romulus.
As it turned out, Romulus chose a very good spot for his city. Rome was located on the Tiber River about 15 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. The Romans had easy access to the sea, and were somewhat protected from seaborne invasion. Also, Rome lay in the middle of the Italian peninsula, the boot-shaped landmass to the west of Greece. From this central position, the Romans could easily access and control all of what is today the modern country of Italy.
Finally, the Italian peninsula’s central location within the Mediterranean Sea made it possible for the Romans to trade and communicate with every part of the Mediterranean world
Mythology: A set of stories or beliefs about a particular person, institution, or situation, esp. when exaggerated or fictitious.
The Roman Republic
The Romans established a form of government — a republic — that was copied by countries for centuries In fact, the government of the United States is based partly on Rome’s model.
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.
The aristocracy (wealthy class) dominated the early Roman Republic. In Roman society, the aristocrats were known as patricians. The highest positions in the government were held by two consuls, or leaders, who ruled the Roman Republic. A senate composed of patricians elected these consuls. At this time, lower-class citizens, or plebeians, had virtually no say in the government. Both men and women were citizens in the Roman Republic, but only men could vote.Gradually, the plebeians obtained even more power and eventually could hold the position of consul. Despite these changes, though, the patricians were still able to use their wealth to buy control and influence over elected leaders.
One of the innovations of the Roman Republic was the notion of equality under the law. In 449 B.C.E., government leaders carved some of Rome’s most important laws into 12 great tablets. The Twelve Tables, as they came to be known, were the first Roman laws put in writing. Although the laws were rather harsh by today’s standards, they did guarantee every citizen equal treatment under the law.
With respect to the law and citizenship, the Romans took a unique approach to the lands that they conquered. Rather than rule those people as conquered subjects, the Romans invited them to become citizens. These people then became a part of Rome, rather than enemies fighting against it. Naturally, these new citizens received the same legal rights as everyone else.
The Punic Wars
The early Roman Republic often found itself in a state of constant warfare* with its surrounding neighbors. In one instance, when the Romans were fighting the Carthaginians, Rome was nearly conquered. The people of Carthage (Tunisia today) were a successful trading civilization whose interests began to conflict with those of the Romans.
The two sides fought three bloody wars, known as the Punic Wars (264-146 B.C.E.), over the control of trade in the western Mediterranean Sea. In the second war, Hannibal, a Carthaginian general, successfully invaded Italy by leading an army — complete with elephants — across the Alps. He handed the Roman army a crushing defeat but was unable to sack the city of Rome itself. After occupying and ravaging Italy for more than a decade, Hannibal was finally defeated by the Roman general Scipio at the Battle of Zama in 202 B.C.E.
How did the word “Punic” become an adjective meaning “relating to the people of Carthage?
“Punic” is derived from the Latin word Poenicus, meaning “an inhabitant of Carthage.” Carthage was founded by Phoenicians, and Poenicus is the Latin word for “Phoenician.”
By the Third Punic War, Rome was ready to end the Carthaginian threat for good. After a successful several-year siege of Carthage, the Romans burned the city to the ground. Legend has it that the Romans then poured salt into the soil so that nothing would ever grow there again. Carthage was finally defeated, and the Roman Republic was safe.
‘kai su, teknon?’ (“You too, my child?”).
Caesar was a politician and general of the late Roman republic, who greatly extended the Roman empire before seizing power and making himself dictator of Rome, paving the way for the imperial system.
Julius Caesar was born in Rome on 12 or 13 July 100 BC into the prestigious Julian clan. Caesar himself progressed within the Roman political system. In 61-60 BC he served as governor of the Roman province of Spain. Back in Rome in 60, Caesar made a pact with Pompey and Crassus, who helped him to get elected as consul for 59 BC. The following year he was appointed governor of Roman Gaul where he stayed for eight years, adding the whole of modern France and Belgium to the Roman empire, and making Rome safe from the possibility of Gallic invasions. He made two expeditions to Britain, in 55 BC and 54 BC.
Caesar then returned to Italy, disregarding the authority of the senate and famously crossing the Rubicon river without disbanding his army. In the ensuing civil war Caesar defeated the republican forces. Pompey, their leader, fled to Egypt where he was assassinated. Caesar followed him and became romantically involved with the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra.
Caesar was now master of Rome and made himself consul and dictator. He used his power to carry out much-needed reform, relieving debt, enlarging the senate, building the Forum Iulium and revising the calendar. Dictatorship was always regarded a temporary position but in 44 BC, Caesar took it for life. His success and ambition alienated strongly republican senators. A group of these, led by Cassius and Brutus, assassinated Caesar on the Ides (15) of March 44 BC. This sparked the final round of civil wars that ended the Republic and brought about the elevation of Caesar’s great nephew and designated heir, Octavian, as Augustus, the first emperor.
What kind of gods did Romans worship?
At first, Romans believed in many different gods and goddesses. These gods were like people, but with magical powers. The Roman gods were part of a family. People told stories or mythsabout them. Each god or goddess looked after different people or things.
These are a few of the old Roman gods:
Saturn: once king of the gods, his place was taken by his son (Jupiter). Saturn was the god of seed-sowing. A merry Roman holiday or festival, the Saturnalia, was named after him.
Jupiter: god of the sky, he was the most important god.
Juno: Jupiter’s wife, she looked after women.
Neptune: Jupiter’s brother, he was the god of the sea.
Minerva: goddess of wisdom and women’s work, such as weaving cloth.
Mars: god of war, though originally god of farming.
Venus: goddess of love, she was the lover of Mars.
Why did the Romans borrow new gods?
The Romans often borrowed new gods from people they conquered. They hoped these new gods would make them stronger. They borrowed gods from Egypt, for example, such as the goddess Isis. Roman soldiers worshipped Mithras, a god from Iran. A soldier going on a journey might ask Mercury (god of travel) for help, as well as Mithras the soldiers’ god and he might also make a sacrifice to Neptune (the sea god) if he had to travel by ship!
Gladiators, Chariots, and the Roman Games
Most people in Roman times did not have much spare time. They were too busy working. They liked games though. Soldiers often played board games with counters and dice. Counters and boards for their games have been found. Archaeologists aren’t always sure of the rules!
Hunting was also popular. People hunted animals for fun as well as for food. The Romans introduced fallow deer to Britain, just for hunting.
Some things the Romans did for fun were horrible. They enjoyed fights between gladiators, and fights between people and animals. These bloodthirsty shows were put on in front of crowds in large arenas called amphitheaters.
Roman emperors paid for free shows at theatres and amphitheaters. It was a good way to make themselves popular.
In Rome, the gladiatorial contests were held in the Coliseum, a huge stadium that first opened in 80 C.E. Located in the middle of the city, the Coliseum was circular in shape with three levels of arches around the outside. In height, the Coliseum was as tall as a modern 12-story building; it held 50,000 spectators.
The Pax Romana
The term “Pax Romana,” which literally means “Roman peace,” refers to the time period from 27 B.C.E. to 180 C.E. in the Roman Empire.
This 200-year period saw unprecedented peace and economic prosperity throughout the Empire, which spanned from England in the north to Morocco in the south and Iraq in the east. During the Pax Romana, the Roman Empire reached its peak in terms of land area, and its population swelled to an estimated 70 million people.
The Fall of the Roman Empire
The invading army reached the outskirts of Rome, which had been left totally undefended. In 410 C.E., the Visigoths, led by Alaric, breached the walls of Rome and sacked the capital of the Roman Empire.
The Visigoths looted, burned, and pillaged their way through the city, leaving a wake of destruction wherever they went. The plundering continued for three days. For the first time in nearly a millennium, the city of Rome was in the hands of someone other than the Romans. This was the first time that the city of Rome was sacked, but by no means the last.
This map of the Roman Empire in 476 C.E. shows the various people
who invaded and how they carved up the Empire.
Constantine and the Rise of Christianity
One of the many factors that contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire was the rise of a new religion, Christianity. The Christian religion, which was monotheistic ran counter to the traditional Roman religion, which was polytheistic (many gods). At different times, the Romans persecuted the Christians because of their beliefs, which were popular among the poor.
In 313 C.E., Roman emperor Constantine the Great ended all persecution and declared toleration for Christianity. Later that century, Christianity became the official state religion of the Empire. This drastic change in policy spread this relatively new religion to every corner of the Empire.
By approving Christianity, the Roman state directly undermined its religious traditions. Finally, by this time, Romans considered their emperor a god. But the Christian belief in one god — who was not the emperor — weakened the authority and credibility of the emperor.
Constantine enacted another change that helped accelerate the fall of the Roman Empire. In 330 C.E., he split the empire into two parts: the western half centered in Rome and the eastern half centered in Constantinople, a city he named after himself.
Link to information: http://www.soe.vt.edu/socialstudiesed/hicks/cjohnsto/rome.htm