Ancient Rome

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Ancient Rome
753 BC–476 AD
Roman Republic Empire map.gif
Territories of the Roman civilisation:
Tarquin the Proud
509 BC
• Octavian proclaimed Augustus
27 BC
476 AD

In modern historiography, ancient Rome refers to Roman civilisation from the founding of the city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. It encompasses the Roman Kingdom (753–509 BC), Roman Republic (509–27 BC) and Roman Empire (27 BC–476 AD) until the fall of the western empire.[1]

Ancient Rome began as an

Etruscan culture and acquired an Empire that took in much of Europe and the lands and peoples surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. It was among the largest empires in the ancient world, with an estimated 50 to 90 million inhabitants, roughly 20% of the world's population at the time.[a] It covered around 5 million square kilometres (1.9 million square miles) at its height in AD 117.[2]

The Roman state evolved from an elective monarchy to a

Arabia. It is often grouped into classical antiquity together with ancient Greece, and their similar cultures and societies are known as the Greco-Roman world

Ancient Roman civilisation has contributed to modern language, religion, society, technology, law, politics, government, warfare, art, literature, architecture and engineering. Rome professionalised and expanded its military and created a system of government called

, as well as more grandiose monuments and facilities.


Persian Empire and became involved in history's longest-running conflict, the Roman–Persian Wars, which would have lasting effects on both empires. Under Trajan, Rome's empire reached its territorial peak, encompassing the entire Mediterranean Basin, the southern margins of the North Sea, and the shores of the Red and Caspian Seas. Republican mores and traditions started to decline during the imperial period, with civil wars becoming a common prelude to the rise of a new emperor.[4] Splinter states, such as the Palmyrene Empire, would temporarily divide the Empire during the Crisis of the Third Century before some stability was restored in the Tetrarchy
phase of imperial rule.

Plagued by internal instability and attacked by various migrating peoples, the western part of the empire broke up into independent barbarian kingdoms in the 5th century.[b] The eastern part of the empire remained a power through the Middle Ages until its fall in 1453 AD.[c]

Early Italy and the founding of Rome

A fresco from Pompeii depicting the foundation of Rome. Sol riding in his chariot; Mars descending from the sky to Rhea Silvia lying in the grass; Mercury shows to Venus the she-wolf suckling the twins; in the lower corners of the picture: river-god Tiberinus and water-goddess Juturna
. 35-45 CE.

Agriculture appeared in Italy c. 4000 BC, with copper tools appearing c. 2000 BC followed by the Bronze Age through to end of the second millennium BC.[6] Cities started developing in the 9th century BC with the Villanovan culture in Etruria. A culture specific to Latium – called the Latial culture – appears in the archaeological record c. 1000 BC, which was related to the larger Villanovans.[7] From the middle of the 8th century to the 5th century BC, city-states became the dominant form of political organisation in Italy;[8] they also started to build organised cityscapes and religious cult centres.[9] By the 7th century BC, large organised city-states had emerged in Etruria; their influence over Italy was such that later Roman writers believed many of their core traditions were of Etruscan origin.[10]

Archaeological evidence of settlement around Rome starts to emerge c. 1000 BC.[11] Large-scale organisation appears only c. 800 BC, with the first graves in the Esquiline Hill's necropolis, along with a clay and timber wall on the bottom of the Palatine Hill dating to the middle of the 8th century BC. Starting from c. 650 BC, the Romans started to drain the valley between the Capitoline and Palatine Hills, where today sits the Roman Forum.[12] By the sixth century, the Romans were constructing the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline and expanding to the Forum Boarium located between the Capitoline and Aventine Hills.[13]

The Romans themselves had a

founding myth. They attributed their city to a dispute in the ruling family of the mythical city of Alba Longa: when its king was deposed, one of its princesses was forced to become a virgin priestess of Vesta but was impregnated by Mars and bore two twins, Romulus and Remus.[14] The sons, sentenced to death, were rescued first by a she-wolf and thence by farmers, before returning to restore the deposed Alban king and founding a city where they had been rescued. After a dispute, Romulus killed Remus and became the city's sole founder. The story dates at least to the third century, and the later Roman antiquarian Marcus Terentius Varro placed the city's foundation to the well-known date 753 BC.[15]

Another legend, recorded by Greek historian

Tiber River. Not long after they landed, the men wanted to take to the sea again, but the women who were travelling with them did not want to leave. One woman, named Roma, suggested that the women burn the ships out at sea to prevent their leaving. At first, the men were angry with Roma, but they soon realised that they were in the ideal place to settle. They named the settlement after the woman who torched their ships.[16]

The Roman poet

Alban kings
were descended from Aeneas, and thus Romulus, the founder of Rome, was his descendant.

Byzantine EmpireRoman EmpireRoman RepublicRoman KingdomWestern Roman Empire


Literary and archaeological evidence is clear on there having been kings in Rome, attested in fragmentary 6th century BC texts.[17] Long after the abolition of the Roman monarchy, a vestigial rex sacrorum was retained to exercise the monarch's former priestly functions. The Romans believed that their monarchy was elective, with seven legendary kings who were largely unrelated by blood.[18]

Evidence of Roman expansion is clear in the sixth century BC; by its end, Rome controlled a territory of some 300 square miles with a population perhaps as high as 35,000.

Jus Latii – along with shared religious festivals, further indicate a shared culture. By the end of the 6th century, most of this area had become dominated by the Romans.[22]


By the end of the sixth century, Rome and many of its Italian neighbours entered a period of turbulence. Archaeological evidence implies some degree of large-scale warfare; many neighbouring cities in Etruria also shifted to non-monarchical institutions.[23] While Roman traditions believed that the overthrow of the Roman monarchy inaugurated a new and concrete republic, it is implausible the transition could have been so sharp.[24] The Romans believed that from the birth of the republic, they established a two-man magistracy taking over the king's powers: the consulship. These magistrates had short one-year terms and held office with colleagues that could check each others actions. The prevalance in both Rome and other cities at this time of replacing monarchs with elected officials suggests that Italian aristocratic families "never bec[a]me fully reconciled to the rule of one man".[24] Through the following centuries, the Romans experimented with different offices and constitutional regimes before settling on the two consuls in the fourth century BC.[24]

According to tradition and later writers such as

magistrates and various representative assemblies was established.[26] A constitution set a series of checks and balances, and a separation of powers. The most important magistrates were the two consuls, who together exercised executive authority such as imperium, or military command.[27] The consuls had to work with the Senate, which was initially an advisory council of the ranking nobility, or patricians, but grew in size and power.[28]

Other magistrates of the Republic include

comitia tributa (tribal assembly), which elected less important offices.[31]

In the 4th century BC, Rome had come under attack by the

Brennus, met the Romans on the banks of the Allia River ten miles north of Rome. Brennus defeated the Romans, and the Gauls marched to Rome. Most Romans had fled the city, but some barricaded themselves upon the Capitoline Hill for a last stand. The Gauls looted and burned the city, then laid siege to the Capitoline Hill. The siege lasted seven months. The Gauls then agreed to give the Romans peace in exchange for 1000 pounds of gold.[32] According to later legend, the Roman supervising the weighing noticed that the Gauls were using false scales. The Romans then took up arms and defeated the Gauls. Their victorious general Camillus remarked "With iron, not with gold, Rome buys her freedom."[33]

The Romans

gradually subdued the other peoples on the Italian peninsula, including the Etruscans.[34] The last threat to Roman hegemony in Italy came when Tarentum, a major Greek colony, enlisted the aid of Pyrrhus of Epirus in 281 BC, but this effort failed as well.[35][34] The Romans secured their conquests by founding Roman colonies in strategic areas, thereby establishing stable control over the region of Italy they had conquered.[34]

Punic Wars

The Roman siege of the Celtiberian stronghold of Numantia in present north-central Spain by Scipio Aemilianus in 133 BC[36]

In the 3rd century BC Rome faced a new and formidable opponent: Carthage. Carthage was a rich, flourishing Phoenician city-state that intended to dominate the Mediterranean area. The two cities were allies in the times of Pyrrhus, who was a menace to both, but with Rome's hegemony in mainland Italy and the Carthaginian thalassocracy, these cities became the two major powers in the Western Mediterranean and their contention over the Mediterranean led to conflict.[37][38]

The First Punic War began in 264 BC, when the city of Messana asked for Carthage's help in their conflicts with Hiero II of Syracuse. After the Carthaginian intercession, Messana asked Rome to expel the Carthaginians. Rome entered this war because Syracuse and Messana were too close to the newly conquered Greek cities of Southern Italy and Carthage was now able to make an offensive through Roman territory; along with this, Rome could extend its domain over Sicily.[39]

Although the Romans had experience in land battles, defeating this new enemy required naval battles. Carthage was a maritime power, and the Roman lack of ships and naval experience made the path to the victory a long and difficult one for the Roman Republic. Despite this, after more than 20 years of war, Rome defeated Carthage and a peace treaty was signed. Among the reasons for the Second Punic War[40] was the subsequent war reparations Carthage acquiesced to at the end of the First Punic War.[41]

Generals on both sides of the Second Punic War were brilliant planners: on the Punic side were

guerrilla war of attrition, a strategy propounded by Quintus Fabius Maximus, who would be nicknamed Cunctator ("delayer" in Latin), and whose strategy would be forever after known as Fabian
. Due to this, Hannibal's goal was unachieved: he could not bring enough Italian cities to revolt against Rome and replenish his diminishing army, and he thus lacked the machines and manpower to besiege Rome.

Naples National Archaeological Museum (Inv. No. 5634),
dated to mid 1st century BC[42]
Excavated from the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum by Karl Jakob Weber, 1750–65[43]

Still, Hannibal's invasion lasted over 16 years, ravaging Italy. Finally, when the Romans perceived the depletion of Hannibal's supplies, they sent Scipio, who had defeated Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal in modern-day Spain, to invade the unprotected Carthaginian hinterland and force Hannibal to return to defend Carthage itself. The result was the ending of the Second Punic War by the decisive Battle of Zama in October 202 BC, which gave to Scipio his agnomen Africanus. At great cost, Rome had made significant gains: the conquest of Hispania by Scipio, and of Syracuse, the last Greek realm in Sicily, by Marcellus.

More than a half century after these events, Carthage was humiliated and Rome was no more concerned about the African menace. The Republic's focus now was only to the

Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam
" ("Furthermore, I think that Carthage must be destroyed").

As Carthage fought with Numidia without Roman consent, the Third Punic War began when Rome declared war against Carthage in 149 BC. Carthage resisted well at the first strike, with the participation of all the inhabitants of the city. However, Carthage could not withstand the attack of Scipio Aemilianus, who entirely destroyed the city and its walls, enslaved and sold all the citizens and gained control of that region, which became the province of Africa. Thus ended the Punic War period. All these wars resulted in Rome's first overseas conquests (Sicily, Hispania and Africa) and the rise of Rome as a significant imperial power and began the end of democracy.[44][45]

Late Republic

After defeating the

Macedonian and Seleucid Empires in the 2nd century BC, the Romans became the dominant people of the Mediterranean Sea.[46]
The conquest of the Hellenistic kingdoms brought the Roman and Greek cultures in closer contact and the Roman elite, once rural, became a luxurious and cosmopolitan one. At this time Rome was a consolidated empire—in the military view—and had no major enemies.

latifundia reduced the availability of paid work.[47]

Income from war booty,

equestrians.[48] The lex Claudia forbade members of the Senate from engaging in commerce, so while the equestrians could theoretically join the Senate, they were severely restricted in political power.[48][49] The Senate squabbled perpetually, repeatedly blocked important land reforms
and refused to give the equestrian class a larger say in the government.

Violent gangs of the urban unemployed, controlled by rival Senators, intimidated the electorate through violence. The situation came to a head in the late 2nd century BC under the


Marius and Sulla

Metelli family, soon become a leader of the Republic, holding the first of his seven consulships (an unprecedented number) in 107 BC by arguing that his former patron Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus was not able to defeat and capture the Numidian king Jugurtha
. Marius then started his military reform: in his recruitment to fight Jugurtha, he levied the very poor (an innovation), and many landless men entered the army; this was the seed of securing loyalty of the army to the General in command.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla was born into a poor family that used to be a patrician family. He had a good education but became poor when his father died and left none of his will. Sulla joined the theatre and found many friends there, prior to becoming a general in the Jugurthine war.[51]

At this time, Marius began his quarrel with Sulla: Marius, who wanted to capture Jugurtha, asked

, who were threatening Rome.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla

After Marius's retirement, Rome had a brief peace, during which the Italian socii ("allies" in Latin) requested Roman citizenship and voting rights. The reformist

Social War. At one point both consuls were killed; Marius was appointed to command the army together with Lucius Julius Caesar and Sulla.[52]

By the end of the Social War, Marius and Sulla were the premier military men in Rome and their partisans were in conflict, both sides jostling for power. In 88 BC, Sulla was elected for his first consulship and his first assignment was to defeat

Mithridates VI of Pontus, whose intentions were to conquer the Eastern part of the Roman territories. However, Marius's partisans managed his installation to the military command, defying Sulla and the Senate, and this caused Sulla's wrath. To consolidate his own power, Sulla conducted a surprising and illegal action: he marched to Rome with his legions, killing all those who showed support to Marius's cause and impaling their heads in the Roman Forum. In the following year, 87 BC, Marius, who had fled at Sulla's march, returned to Rome while Sulla was campaigning in Greece. He seized power along with the consul Lucius Cornelius Cinna and killed the other consul, Gnaeus Octavius, achieving his seventh consulship. In an attempt to raise Sulla's anger, Marius and Cinna revenged their partisans by conducting a massacre.[52][53]

Marius died in 86 BC, due to age and poor health, just a few months after seizing power. Cinna exercised absolute power until his death in 84 BC. After returning from his Eastern campaigns, Sulla had a free path to reestablish his own power. In 83 BC he made his second march in Rome and began a time of terror: thousands of nobles, knights and senators were executed. Sulla also held two dictatorships and one more consulship, which began the crisis and decline of Roman Republic.[52]

Caesar and the First Triumvirate


In the mid-1st century BC, Roman politics were restless. Political divisions in Rome became identified with two groupings,

Marcus Tullius Cicero
quickly arrested and executed the main leaders of the conspiracy.

Onto this turbulent scene emerged

his daughter. He formed them into a new informal alliance including himself, the First Triumvirate ("three men"). This satisfied the interests of all three: Crassus, the richest man in Rome, became richer and ultimately achieved high military command; Pompey exerted more influence in the Senate; and Caesar obtained the consulship and military command in Gaul.[55]
So long as they could agree, the three were in effect the rulers of Rome.

In 54 BC, Caesar's daughter, Pompey's wife, died in childbirth, unravelling one link in the alliance. In 53 BC, Crassus invaded Parthia and was killed in the Battle of Carrhae. The Triumvirate disintegrated at Crassus' death. Crassus had acted as mediator between Caesar and Pompey, and, without him, the two generals manoeuvred against each other for power. Caesar conquered Gaul, obtaining immense wealth, respect in Rome and the loyalty of battle-hardened legions. He also became a clear menace to Pompey and was loathed by many optimates. Confident that Caesar could be stopped by legal means, Pompey's party tried to strip Caesar of his legions, a prelude to Caesar's trial, impoverishment, and exile.

To avoid this fate, Caesar


Octavian and the Second Triumvirate

Caesar's assassination caused political and social turmoil in Rome; without the dictator's leadership, the city was ruled by his friend and colleague,

In 42 BC, the Senate

Divus Iulius; Octavian thus became Divi filius,[59] the son of the deified. In the same year, Octavian and Antony defeated both Caesar's assassins and the leaders of the Liberatores, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, in the Battle of Philippi. The Second Triumvirate was marked by the proscriptions of many senators and equites: after a revolt led by Antony's brother Lucius Antonius, more than 300 senators and equites involved were executed on the anniversary of the Ides of March, although Lucius was spared.[60] The Triumvirate proscribed several important men, including Cicero, whom Antony hated;[61] Quintus Tullius Cicero, the younger brother of the orator; and Lucius Julius Caesar, cousin and friend of the acclaimed general, for his support of Cicero. However, Lucius was pardoned, perhaps because his sister Julia had intervened for him.[62]

The Triumvirate divided the Empire among the triumvirs: Lepidus was given charge of

Queen of Kings", and to Antony's and Cleopatra's children the regal titles to the newly conquered Eastern territories, war between Octavian and Antony broke out. Octavian annihilated Egyptian forces in the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide
. Now Egypt was conquered by the Roman Empire, and for the Romans, a new era had begun.

Empire – the Principate

In 27 BC and at the age of 36, Octavian was the sole Roman leader. In that year, he took the name

Lucius Mummius. Officially, the government was republican, but Augustus assumed absolute powers.[64][65] His reform of the government brought about a two-century period colloquially referred to by Romans as the Pax Romana

Julio-Claudian dynasty


gens Claudia, family of Tiberius. The Julio-Claudians started the destruction of republican values, but on the other hand, they boosted Rome's status as the central power in the Mediterranean region.[66] While Caligula and Nero are usually remembered in popular culture as dysfunctional emperors, Augustus and Claudius are remembered as emperors who were successful in politics and the military. This dynasty instituted imperial tradition in Rome[67] and frustrated any attempt to reestablish a Republic.[68]


The Augustus of Prima Porta, 1st century AD, depicting Augustus, the first Roman emperor

Augustus (r. 27 BC – AD 14) gathered almost all the republican powers under his official title, princeps: he had the powers of consul, princeps senatus, aedile, censor and tribune—including tribunician sacrosanctity.[69] This was the base of an emperor's power. Augustus also styled himself as Imperator Gaius Julius Caesar divi filius, "Commander Gaius Julius Caesar, son of the deified one". With this title he not only boasted his familial link to deified Julius Caesar, but the use of Imperator signified a permanent link to the Roman tradition of victory.

He also diminished the political influence of the

Under Augustus' reign, Roman literature grew steadily in what is known as the

Maecenas, he sponsored patriotic poems, as Virgil's epic Aeneid and also historiographical works, like those of Livy. The works of this literary age lasted through Roman times, and are classics. Augustus also continued the changes to the calendar promoted by Caesar, and the month of August is named after him.[74] Augustus brought a peaceful and thriving era to Rome, known as Pax Augusta
or Pax Romana. Augustus died in 14 AD, but the empire's glory continued after his era.

From Tiberius to Nero

Extent of the Roman Empire under Augustus. The yellow legend represents the extent of the Republic in 31 BC, the shades of green represent gradually conquered territories under the reign of Augustus, and pink areas on the map represent client states; areas under Roman control shown here were subject to change even during Augustus' reign, especially in Germania

The Julio-Claudians continued to rule Rome after Augustus' death and remained in power until the death of Nero in 68 AD.

Livia Drusilla, Augustus appointed her son from another marriage, Tiberius, as his heir.[76]

The Senate agreed with the succession, and granted to Tiberius the same titles and honours once granted to Augustus: the title of princeps and

Pater patriae, and the Civic Crown. However, Tiberius was not an enthusiast for political affairs: after agreement with the Senate, he retired to Capri in 26 AD,[77] and left control of the city of Rome in the hands of the praetorian prefect Sejanus (until 31 AD) and Macro (from 31 to 37 AD). Tiberius was regarded as an evil and melancholic man, who may have ordered the murder of his relatives, the popular general Germanicus in 19 AD,[78] and his own son Drusus Julius Caesar in 23 AD.[78]

Tiberius died (or was killed)

Thrace; his most important deed was the beginning of the conquest of Britannia.[83] Claudius was poisoned by his wife, Agrippina the Younger in 54 AD.[84] His heir was Nero, son of Agrippina and her former husband, since Claudius' son Britannicus
had not reached manhood upon his father's death.

Nero sent his general,

crushed by Paulinus.[88] Boadicea, like Cleopatra before her, committed suicide to avoid the disgrace of being paraded in triumph in Rome.[89] The fault of Nero in this rebellion is debatable but there was certainly an impact (both positive and negative) upon the prestige of his regime.[citation needed

Nero is widely known as the first persecutor of Christians and for the Great Fire of Rome, rumoured to have been started by the emperor himself.[90] In 59 AD he murdered his mother and in 62 AD, his wife Claudia Octavia. Never very stable, he allowed his advisers to run the government while he slid into debauchery, excess, and madness. He was married three times, and had numerous affairs with both men and women, and, according to some rumours, even his mother. A conspiracy against Nero in 65 AD under Calpurnius Piso failed, but in 68 AD the armies under Julius Vindex in Gaul and Servius Sulpicius Galba in modern-day Spain revolted. Deserted by the Praetorian Guards and condemned to death by the senate, Nero killed himself.[91]

Flavian dynasty

Bust of Vespasian, founder of the Flavian dynasty

The Flavians were the second dynasty to rule Rome.[92] By 68 AD, the year of Nero's death, there was no chance of a return to the Roman Republic, and so a new emperor had to arise. After the turmoil in the Year of the Four Emperors, Titus Flavius Vespasianus (anglicised as Vespasian) took control of the empire and established a new dynasty. Under the Flavians, Rome continued its expansion, and the state remained secure.[93]

The most significant

John of Giscala
. Many fled to areas around the Mediterranean. Titus reportedly refused to accept a wreath of victory, as there was "no merit in vanquishing people forsaken by their own God".


Vespasian had been a general under

Naturalis Historia to Titus, son of Vespasian. Vespasian sent legions to defend the eastern frontier in Cappadocia, extended the occupation in Britannia (modern-day England, Wales and southern Scotland
) and reformed the tax system. He died in 79 AD.

Titus and Domitian

Titus had a short-lived rule; he was emperor from 79 to 81 AD. He finished the Flavian Amphitheater, which was constructed with war spoils from the First Jewish-Roman War, and promoted games celebrating the victory over the Jews that lasted for a hundred days. These games included

totalitarian characteristics,[97] thought he could be a new Augustus, and tried to make a personal cult of himself. Domitian ruled for fifteen years, and his reign was marked by his attempts to compare himself to the gods. He constructed at least two temples in honour of Jupiter, the supreme deity in Roman religion. He also liked to be called "Dominus et Deus" ("Master and God").[98]

Nerva–Antonine dynasty

The Roman Empire reached its greatest extent under Trajan
in AD 117


Augustus. Nerva had a noble ancestry, and he had served as an advisor to Nero and the Flavians. His rule restored many of the liberties once assumed[clarification needed] by Domitian[100]
and started the last golden era of Rome.


The Justice of Trajan (fragment) by Eugène Delacroix

Nerva died in 98 AD and his successor and heir was the general

Five Good Emperors, the first being Nerva. Trajan was greeted by the people of Rome with enthusiasm, which he justified by governing well and without the bloodiness that had marked Domitian's reign. He freed many people who had been unjustly imprisoned by Domitian and returned private property that Domitian had confiscated; a process begun by Nerva before his death.[101]

Nabatea to form the province of Arabia Petraea, which included the lands of southern Syria and northwestern Arabia.[102] He erected many buildings that survive to this day, such as Trajan's Forum, Trajan's Market and Trajan's Column. His main architect was Apollodorus of Damascus; Apollodorus made the project of the Forum and of the Column, and also reformed the Pantheon. Trajan's triumphal arches in Ancona and Beneventum are other constructions projected by him. In the Second Dacian War, Apollodorus made a great bridge over the Danube for Trajan.[103]

Trajan's final war was against Parthia. When Parthia appointed a king for Armenia who was unacceptable to Rome (Parthia and Rome shared dominance over Armenia), he declared war. He probably wanted to be the first Roman leader to conquer Parthia, and repeat the glory of Alexander the Great, conqueror of Asia, whom Trajan next followed in the clash of Greek-Romans and the Persian cultures.[104] In 113 he marched to Armenia and deposed the local king. In 115 Trajan turned south into the core of Parthian hegemony, took the Northern Mesopotamian cities of Nisibis and Batnae, organised a province of Mesopotamia (116), and issued coins announcing that Armenia and Mesopotamia were under the authority of the Roman people.[105] In that same year, he captured Seleucia and the Parthian capital Ctesiphon (near modern Baghdad).[106] After defeating a Parthian revolt and a Jewish revolt, he withdrew due to health issues. In 117, his illness grew and he died of edema. He nominated Hadrian as his heir. Under Trajan's leadership the Roman Empire reached the peak of its territorial expansion;[107] Rome's dominion now spanned 5.0 million square kilometres (1.9 million square miles).[2]

From Hadrian to Commodus

Many Romans emigrated to Hispania (modern-day Spain and Portugal) and stayed for generations, in some cases intermarrying with Iberians; one of these families produced the emperor Hadrian.[108] Hadrian withdrew all the troops stationed in Parthia, Armenia and Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), abandoning Trajan's conquests. Hadrian's army crushed a revolt in Mauretania and the Bar Kokhba revolt in Judea. This was the last large-scale Jewish revolt against the Romans, and was suppressed with massive repercussions in Judea. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed. Hadrian renamed the province of Judea "Provincia Syria Palaestina," after one of Judea's most hated enemies.[109] He constructed fortifications and walls, like the celebrated Hadrian's Wall which separated Roman Britannia and the tribes of modern-day Scotland. Hadrian promoted culture, especially the Greek. He also forbade torture and humanised the laws. His many building projects included aqueducts, baths, libraries and theatres; additionally, he travelled nearly every province in the Empire to check the military and infrastructural conditions.[110] Following Hadrian's death in 138 AD, his successor Antoninus Pius built temples, theatres, and mausoleums, promoted the arts and sciences, and bestowed honours and financial rewards upon the teachers of rhetoric and philosophy. On becoming emperor, Antoninus made few initial changes, leaving intact as far as possible the arrangements instituted by his predecessor. Antoninus expanded Roman Britannia by invading what is now southern Scotland and building the Antonine Wall.[111] He also continued Hadrian's policy of humanising the laws. He died in 161 AD.

The Pantheon, Rome, built during the reign of Hadrian, which still contains the largest unreinforced concrete dome
in the world

Five Good Emperors. He was a stoic philosopher and wrote the Meditations. He defeated barbarian tribes in the Marcomannic Wars as well as the Parthian Empire.[112] His co-emperor, Lucius Verus, died in 169 AD, probably from the Antonine Plague, a pandemic that killed nearly five million people through the Empire in 165–180 AD.[113]

From Nerva to Marcus Aurelius, the empire achieved an unprecedented status. The powerful influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces. All the citizens enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth. The image of a free constitution was preserved with decent reverence. The Roman senate appeared to possess the sovereign authority, and devolved on the emperors all the executive powers of government.[clarification needed] The Five Good Emperors' rule is considered the golden era of the Empire.[114]

Commodus, son of Marcus Aurelius, became emperor after his father's death. He is not counted as one of the Five Good Emperors. Firstly, this was due to his direct kinship with the latter emperor; in addition, he was militarily passive compared to his predecessors, who had frequently led their armies in person. Commodus usually participated in gladiatorial combats, which were frequently brutal and rough. He killed many citizens, and Cassius Dio identifies his reign as the beginning of Roman decadence: "(Rome has transformed) from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust."[112]

Severan dynasty

Commodus was killed by a conspiracy involving

Helvius Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Pescennius Niger, Clodius Albinus and Septimius Severus held the imperial dignity. Pertinax, a member of the senate who had been one of Marcus Aurelius's right-hand men, was the choice of Laetus, and he ruled vigorously and judiciously. Laetus soon became jealous and instigated Pertinax's murder by the Praetorian Guard, who then auctioned the empire to the highest bidder, Didius Julianus, for 25,000 sesterces per man.[115] The people of Rome were appalled and appealed to the frontier legions to save them. The legions of three frontier provinces—Britannia, Pannonia Superior, and Syria—resented being excluded from the "donative" and replied by declaring their individual generals to be emperor. Lucius Septimius Severus Geta, the Pannonian commander, bribed the opposing forces, pardoned the Praetorian Guards and installed himself as emperor. He and his successors governed with the legions' support. The changes on coinage and military expenditures were the root of the financial crisis that marked the Crisis of the Third Century

Septimius Severus

Severus was enthroned after invading Rome and having

Machiavelli said that Severus was "a ferocious lion and a clever fox".[117]

Severus attempted to revive totalitarianism and, addressing the Roman people and Senate, praised the severity and cruelty of Marius and Sulla, which worried the senators.

. After many casualties in the army due to the terrain and the barbarians' ambushes, Severus himself went to the field. However, he became ill and died in 211 AD, at the age of 65.

From Caracalla to Alexander Severus

Upon the death of Severus, his sons

Geta were made emperors. During their youth, their squabbles had divided Rome. In that same year Caracalla had his brother, a youth, assassinated in his mother's arms, and may have murdered 20,000 of Geta's followers. Like his father, Caracalla was warlike. He continued Severus' policy and gained respect from the legions. A cruel man, Caracalla was pursued by the guilt of his brother's murder. He ordered the death of people of his own circle, like his tutor, Cilo, and a friend of his father, Papinian

Knowing that the citizens of Alexandria disliked him and were denigrating his character, Caracalla served a banquet for its notable citizens, after which his soldiers killed all the guests. From the security of the temple of Sarapis, he then directed an indiscriminate slaughter of Alexandria's people.[120] In 212, he issued the Edict of Caracalla, giving full Roman citizenship to all free men living in the Empire, with the exception of the dediticii, people who had become subject to Rome through surrender in war, and freed slaves.[121] and at the same time raised the inheritance tax, levied only on Roman citizens, to ten per cent. A report that a soothsayer had predicted that the Praetorian prefect Macrinus and his son were to rule over the empire was dutifully sent to Caracalla. But the report fell into the hands of Macrinus, who felt he must act or die. Macrinus conspired to have Caracalla assassinated by one of his soldiers during a pilgrimage to the Temple of the Moon in Carrhae, in 217 AD.

The incompetent Macrinus assumed power, but soon removed himself from Rome to the east and Antioch. His brief reign ended in 218, when the youngster Bassianus, high priest of the temple of the Sun at Emesa, and supposedly illegitimate son of Caracalla, was declared Emperor by the disaffected soldiers of Macrinus. Bribes gained Bassianus support from the legionaries and they fought against Macrinus and his Praetorian guards. He adopted the name of Antoninus but history has named him after his Sun god

Persia and also the Germanic peoples, who invaded Gaul. His losses generated dissatisfaction among his soldiers, and some of them murdered him during his Germanic campaign in 235 AD.[122]

Crisis of the Third Century

The Roman Empire suffered internal schisms, forming the Palmyrene Empire and the Gallic Empire

A disastrous scenario emerged after the death of

Alexander Severus: the Roman state was plagued by civil wars, external invasions, political chaos, pandemics and economic depression.[123][44] The old Roman values had fallen, and Mithraism
and Christianity had begun to spread through the populace. Emperors were no longer men linked with nobility; they usually were born in lower-classes of distant parts of the Empire. These men rose to prominence through military ranks, and became emperors through civil wars.

There were 26 emperors in a 49-year period, a signal of political instability.

Persia, the first Roman ruler to be captured by his enemies; it was a humiliating fact for the Romans.[124] The crisis began to recede during the reigns of Claudius Gothicus (268–270), who defeated the Gothic invaders, and Aurelian (271–275), who reconquered both the Gallic and Palmyrene Empires.[126] The crisis was overcome during the reign of Diocletian

Empire – The Tetrarchy


A Roman follis depicting the profile of Diocletian

In 284 AD, Diocletian was hailed as Imperator by the eastern army. Diocletian healed the empire from the crisis, by political and economic shifts. A new form of government was established: the Tetrarchy. The Empire was divided among four emperors, two in the West and two in the East. The first tetrarchs were Diocletian (in the East), Maximian (in the West), and two junior emperors, Galerius (in the East) and Flavius Constantius (in the West). To adjust the economy, Diocletian made several tax reforms.[127]

Diocletian expelled the Persians who plundered Syria and conquered some barbarian tribes with Maximian. He adopted many behaviours of Eastern monarchs, like wearing pearls and golden sandals and robes. Anyone in the presence of the emperor had now to prostrate himself—a common act in the East, but never practised in Rome before.[128] Diocletian did not use a disguised form of Republic, as the other emperors since Augustus had done.[129] Between 290 and 330, half a dozen new capitals had been established by the members of the Tetrarchy, officially or not: Antioch, Nicomedia, Thessalonike, Sirmium, Milan, and Trier.[130] Diocletian was also responsible for a significant Christian persecution. In 303 he and Galerius started the persecution and ordered the destruction of all the Christian churches and scripts and forbade Christian worship.[131] Diocletian abdicated in 305 AD together with Maximian, thus, he was the first Roman emperor to resign. His reign ended the traditional form of imperial rule, the Principate (from princeps) and started the Tetrarchy.

Constantine I
(r. 306–337 AD)

Constantine and Christianity

Alamanni during 306–308. In 324 he defeated another tetrarch, Licinius, and controlled all the empire, as it was before Diocletian. To celebrate his victories and Christianity's relevance, he rebuilt Byzantium and renamed it Nova Roma ("New Rome"); but the city soon gained the informal name of Constantinople ("City of Constantine").[133]

The reign of

Julian, who under the influence of his adviser Mardonius attempted to restore Classical Roman and Hellenistic religion, only briefly interrupted the succession of Christian emperors. Constantinople served as a new capital for the Empire. In fact, Rome had lost its central importance since the Crisis of the Third Century—Mediolanum was the western capital from 286 to 330, until the reign of Honorius, when Ravenna was made capital, in the 5th century.[134] Constantine's administrative and monetary reforms, that reunited the Empire under one emperor, and rebuilt the city of Byzantium changed the high period of the ancient world

Fall of the Western Roman Empire

In the late 4th and 5th centuries the Western Empire entered a critical stage which terminated with the

Eastern Roman Empire, ruled by Arcadius and the Western Roman Empire, commanded by Honorius, both of which were Theodosius' sons.[citation needed

Ending invasions on Roman Empire between AD 100–500. Visigoths entering Athens. The Sack of Rome by the Barbarians in 410 by Joseph-Noël Sylvestre

The situation became more critical in 408, after the death of Stilicho, a general who tried to reunite the Empire and repel barbarian invasion in the early years of the 5th century. The professional field army collapsed. In 410, the Theodosian dynasty saw the Visigoths sack Rome.[137] During the 5th century, the Western Empire experienced a significant reduction of its territory. The Vandals conquered North Africa, the Visigoths claimed the southern part of Gaul, Gallaecia was taken by the Suebi, Britannia was abandoned by the central government, and the Empire suffered further from the invasions of Attila, chief of the Huns.[138] General Orestes refused to meet the demands of the barbarian "allies" who now formed the army, and tried to expel them from Italy. Unhappy with this, their chieftain Odoacer defeated and killed Orestes, invaded Ravenna and dethroned Romulus Augustus, son of Orestes. This event of 476, usually marks the end of Classical antiquity and beginning of the Middle Ages.[139] The Roman noble and former emperor Julius Nepos continued to rule as emperor from Dalmatia even after the deposition of Romulus Augustus until his death in 480. Some historians consider him to be the last emperor of the Western Empire instead of Romulus Augustus.[140]

After some 1200 years of independence and nearly 700 years as a great power, the rule of Rome in the West ended.[141] Various reasons for Rome's fall have been proposed ever since, including loss of Republicanism, moral decay, military tyranny, class war, slavery, economic stagnation, environmental change, disease, the decline of the Roman race, as well as the inevitable ebb and flow that all civilisations experience. At the time many pagans argued that Christianity and the decline of traditional Roman religion were responsible; some rationalist thinkers of the modern era attribute the fall to a change from a martial to a more pacifist religion that lessened the number of available soldiers; while Christians such as Augustine of Hippo argued that the sinful nature of Roman society itself was to blame.[142]

The Eastern Empire had a different fate. It survived for almost 1000 years after the fall of its

conquest of the Levant, the conquest of Armenia and the conquest of Egypt during the Arab–Byzantine wars, and soon presented a direct threat to Constantinople.[144][145] In the following century, the Arabs also captured southern Italy and Sicily.[146]
On the west, Slavic populations were also able to penetrate deep into the Balkans.

The Byzantines, however, managed to stop further Islamic expansion into their lands during the 8th century and, beginning in the 9th century, reclaimed parts of the conquered lands.

Mehmed the Conqueror conquered Constantinople on 29 May 1453.[150]


The Roman Forum, the political, economic, cultural, and religious center of the city during the Republic and later Empire

The imperial city of Rome was the largest urban center in the empire, with a population variously estimated from 450,000 to close to one million.[151] The public spaces in Rome resounded with such a din of hooves and clatter of iron chariot wheels that Julius Caesar had once proposed a ban on chariot traffic during the day. Historical estimates show that around 20 per cent of the population under jurisdiction of ancient Rome (25–40%, depending on the standards used, in Roman Italy)[152] lived in innumerable urban centers, with population of 10,000 and more and several military settlements, a very high rate of urbanisation by pre-industrial standards. Most of those centers had a forum, temples, and other buildings similar to Rome's. Average life expectancy was about 28.[153][timeframe?]


The roots of the legal principles and practices of the ancient Romans may be traced to the Law of the Twelve Tables promulgated in 449 BC and to the codification of law issued by order of Emperor Justinian I around 530 AD (see Corpus Juris Civilis). Roman law as preserved in Justinian's codes continued into the Byzantine Empire, and formed the basis of similar codifications in continental Western Europe. Roman law continued, in a broader sense, to be applied throughout most of Europe until the end of the 17th century.

The major divisions of the law of ancient Rome, as contained within the Justinian and Theodosian law codes, consisted of Jus civile,

praetores peregrini
(sg. Praetor Peregrinus) were the people who had jurisdiction over cases involving citizens and foreigners. Jus naturale encompassed natural law, the body of laws that were considered common to all beings.

Class structure

The Orator, c. 100 BC, an Etrusco-Roman bronze statue depicting Aule Metele (Latin: Aulus Metellus), an Etruscan man wearing a Roman toga while engaged in rhetoric; the statue features an inscription in the Etruscan language

Roman society is largely viewed as

plebeians, who could not. This became less important in the later Republic, as some plebeian families became wealthy and entered politics, and some patrician families fell economically. Anyone, patrician or plebeian, who could count a consul as his ancestor was a noble (nobilis); a man who was the first of his family to hold the consulship, such as Marius or Cicero, was known as a novus homo
("new man") and ennobled his descendants. Patrician ancestry, however, still conferred considerable prestige, and many religious offices remained restricted to patricians.


, sometimes translated "knights"), originally those who could afford a warhorse, and who formed a powerful mercantile class. Several further classes, originally based on the military equipment their members could afford, followed, with the proletarii, citizens who had no property other than their children, at the bottom. Before the reforms of Marius they were ineligible for military service and are often described as being just above freed slaves in wealth and prestige.

Voting power in the Republic depended on class. Citizens were enrolled in voting "tribes", but the tribes of the richer classes had fewer members than the poorer ones, all the proletarii being enrolled in a single tribe. Voting was done in class order, from top down, and stopped as soon as most of the tribes had been reached, so the poorer classes were often unable to cast their votes.

Women in ancient Rome shared some basic rights with their male counterparts, but were not fully regarded as citizens and were thus not allowed to vote or take part in politics. At the same time the limited rights of women were gradually expanded (due to emancipation) and women reached freedom from pater familias, gained property rights and even had more juridical rights than their husbands, but still no voting rights, and were absent from politics.[156]

Allied foreign cities were often given the

Social War of 91–88 BC, and full Roman citizenship was extended to all free-born men in the Empire by Caracalla in 212, with the exception of the dediticii, people who had become subject to Rome through surrender in war, and freed slaves.[121]


In the early Republic, there were no public schools, so boys were taught to read and write by their parents, or by educated

paedagogi, usually of Greek origin.[157][158][159] The primary aim of education during this period was to train young men in agriculture, warfare, Roman traditions, and public affairs.[157] Young boys learned much about civic life by accompanying their fathers to religious and political functions, including the Senate for the sons of nobles.[158] The sons of nobles were apprenticed to a prominent political figure at the age of 16, and campaigned with the army from the age of 17 (this system was still in use among some noble families into the imperial era).[158] Educational practices were modified after the conquest of the Hellenistic kingdoms in the 3rd century BC and the resulting Greek influence, although Roman educational practices were still much different from Greek ones.[158][160] If their parents could afford it, boys and some girls at the age of 7 were sent to a private school outside the home called a ludus, where a teacher (called a litterator or a magister ludi, and often of Greek origin) taught them basic reading, writing, arithmetic, and sometimes Greek, until the age of 11.[158][159][161]

Beginning at age 12, students went to secondary schools, where the teacher (now called a grammaticus) taught them about Greek and Roman literature.[158][161] At the age of 16, some students went on to rhetoric school (where the teacher, usually Greek, was called a rhetor).[158][161] Education at this level prepared students for legal careers, and required that the students memorise the laws of Rome.[158] Pupils went to school every day, except religious festivals and market days. There were also summer holidays.


Initially, Rome was ruled by kings, who were elected from each of Rome's major tribes in turn.[162] The exact nature of the king's power is uncertain. He may have held near-absolute power, or may also have merely been the chief executive of the Senate and the people. At least in military matters, the king's authority (Imperium) was likely absolute. He was also the head of the state religion. In addition to the authority of the King, there were three administrative assemblies: the Senate, which acted as an advisory body for the King; the Comitia Curiata, which could endorse and ratify laws suggested by the King; and the Comitia Calata, which was an assembly of the priestly college that could assemble the people to bear witness to certain acts, hear proclamations, and declare the feast and holiday schedule for the next month.

Representation of a sitting of the Roman Senate: Cicero attacks Catilina
, from a 19th-century fresco


class struggles of the Roman Republic resulted in an unusual mixture of democracy and oligarchy. The word republic comes from the Latin res publica, which literally translates to "public business". Roman laws traditionally could only be passed by a vote of the Popular assembly (Comitia Tributa). Likewise, candidates for public positions had to run for election by the people. However, the Roman Senate
represented an oligarchic institution, which acted as an advisory body.

In the Republic, the Senate held actual authority (

Sulla, quaestors
were made automatic members of the Senate, though most of his reforms did not survive.

The Republic had no fixed

tax farming. Government positions such as quaestor, aedile, or praefect were funded by the office-holder. To prevent any citizen from gaining too much power, new magistrates were elected annually and had to share power with a colleague. For example, under normal conditions, the highest authority was held by two consuls. In an emergency, a temporary dictator could be appointed. Throughout the Republic, the administrative system was revised several times to comply with new demands. In the end, it proved inefficient for controlling the ever-expanding dominion of Rome, contributing to the establishment of the Roman Empire

In the early Empire, the pretense of a republican form of government was maintained. The

decline of the Roman Empire


The early Roman army (c. 500 BC) was, like those of other contemporary city-states influenced by Greek civilisation, a citizen militia that practised hoplite tactics. It was small (the population of free men of military age was then about 9,000) and organised in five classes (in parallel to the comitia centuriata, the body of citizens organised politically), with three providing hoplites and two providing light infantry. The early Roman army was tactically limited and its stance during this period was essentially defensive.[163][164][165]

By the 3rd century BC, the Romans abandoned the hoplite formation in favour of a more flexible system in which smaller groups of 120 (or sometimes 60) men called maniples could manoeuvre more independently on the battlefield. Thirty maniples arranged in three lines with supporting troops constituted a legion, totalling between 4,000 and 5,000 men.[163][164]

The early Republican legion consisted of five sections, each of which was equipped differently and had different places in formation: the three lines of manipular heavy infantry (hastati, principes and triarii), a force of light infantry (velites), and the cavalry (equites). With the new organisation came a new orientation toward the offensive and a much more aggressive posture toward adjoining city-states.[163][164]

At nominal full strength, an early Republican legion included 3,600 to 4,800 heavy infantry, several hundred light infantry, and several hundred cavalrymen.[163][166][167] Legions were often significantly understrength from recruitment failures or following periods of active service due to accidents, battle casualties, disease and desertion. During the Civil War, Pompey's legions in the east were at full strength because they were recently recruited, while Caesar's legions were often well below nominal strength after long active service in Gaul. This pattern also held true for auxiliary forces.[168][169]

Until the late Republican period, the typical legionary was a property-owning citizen farmer from a rural area (an adsiduus) who served for particular (often annual) campaigns,[d] and who supplied his own equipment and, in the case of equites, his own mount. Harris suggests that down to 200 BC, the average rural farmer might participate in six or seven campaigns. Freedmen, slaves, and urban citizens served only in rare emergencies.[171]

After 200 BC, economic conditions in rural areas deteriorated as manpower needs increased, so that the property qualifications for compulsory service were gradually reduced. Beginning with Gaius Marius in 107 BC, citizens without property and some urban-dwelling citizens (proletarii) were enlisted and provided with equipment, although most legionaries continued to come from rural areas. Terms of service became continuous and long—up to twenty years if emergencies required although six- or seven-year terms were more typical.[172]

Beginning in the 3rd century BC, legionaries were paid a

donatives from their commanders to reward successful campaigns and, beginning at the time of Marius, could be granted allotments of land on retirement.[163][173] The cavalry and light infantry attached to a legion (the auxilia) were often recruited from the areas where the legion served. Caesar formed a legion, the Fifth Alaudae, from non-citizens in Transalpine Gaul to serve in his campaigns in Gaul.[174] By the time of Augustus, the ideal of the citizen-soldier had been abandoned and the legions had become fully professional. Ordinary legionaries received 900 sesterces a year and could expect 12,000 sesterces on retirement.[175]

At the end of the

Civil War, Augustus reorganised Roman military forces, discharging soldiers and disbanding legions. He retained 28 legions, distributed through the provinces of the Empire.[176] During the Principate, the tactical organisation of the Army continued to evolve. The auxilia remained independent cohorts, and legionary troops often operated as groups of cohorts rather than as full legions. A new and versatile type of unit, the cohortes equitatae, combined cavalry and legionaries in a single formation. They could be stationed at garrisons or outposts and could fight on their own as balanced small forces or combine with similar units as a larger, legion-sized force. This increase in organizational flexibility helped ensure the long-term success of Roman military forces.[177]

The Emperor

vexillationes for cavalry. Nominal strengths may have been 1,200 men for infantry regiments and 600 for cavalry, but actual troop levels could have been much lower – 800 infantry and 400 cavalry.[178]

Many infantry and cavalry regiments operated in pairs under the command of a comes. Field armies included regiments recruited from allied tribes and known as foederati. By 400 AD, foederati regiments had become permanently established units of the Roman army, paid and equipped by the Empire, led by a Roman tribune and used just as Roman units were used. The Empire also used groups of barbarians to fight along with the legions as allies without integration into the field armies, under overall command of a Roman general, but led by their own officers.[178]

Military leadership evolved over the course of the history of Rome. Under the monarchy, the hoplite armies were led by the kings. During the early and middle Roman Republic, military forces were under the command of one of the two elected consuls for the year. During the later Republic, members of the Roman Senatorial elite, as part of the normal sequence of elected public offices known as the cursus honorum, would have served first as quaestor (often posted as deputies to field commanders), then as praetor.[179][180] Julius Caesar's most talented, effective and reliable subordinate in Gaul, Titus Labienus, was recommended to him by Pompey.[181]

scuta and a cavalryman with his horse. All are shown wearing chain mail