Roman Empire

This is a good article. Click here for more information.
Page semi-protected
Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Roman Empire
  • Ancient Greek)
    Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn
27 BC–AD 395 (unified)[2]
AD 395–476/480 (Western)
AD 395–1453 (Eastern)
Flag of Roman Empire
with the imperial aquila
Imperial aquila of Roman Empire
Imperial aquila
The Roman Empire from the rise of the city-state of Rome to the fall of the Western Roman Empire
The Roman Empire from the rise of the city-state of Rome to the fall of the Western Roman Empire
Official languages
Common languagesRegional languages
Romulus Augustus[f]
• 527–565
Justinian I
• 610–641
• 780–797
Constantine VI[g]
• 976–1025
Basil II
• 1143–1180
Manuel I
• 1449–1453
Constantine XI[h]
Historical era
Fall of Trebizond
15 August 1461
25 BC[16]2,750,000 km2 (1,060,000 sq mi)
AD 117[16][17]5,000,000 km2 (1,900,000 sq mi)
AD 390[16]3,400,000 km2 (1,300,000 sq mi)
• 25 BC[18]
Currencysestertius,[i] aureus, solidus, nomisma
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Roman Republic
Western Roman Empire
Eastern Roman Empire

The Roman Empire (

Latin: Imperium Romanum [ɪmˈpɛri.ũː roːˈmaːnũː]; Greek: Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, translit. Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Republican period of ancient Rome. As a polity, it included large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia, and was ruled by emperors. From the accession of Caesar Augustus as the first Roman emperor to the military anarchy of the 3rd century, it was a Principate with Italia as the metropole of its provinces and the city of Rome as its sole capital. The Empire was later ruled by multiple emperors who shared control over the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire. The imperial seat moved from Rome to Byzantium and following the collapse of the West in AD 476, it became its sole capital as Constantinople. The adoption of Christianity as the state church of the Roman Empire in AD 380 and the fall of the Western Roman Empire to Germanic kings conventionally marks the end of classical antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages. Because of these events, along with the prevalence of Greek instead of Latin, some historians distinguish the medieval Roman Empire that remained in the Eastern provinces as the Byzantine Empire

The predecessor state of the Roman Empire, the

provinces except Italy, which continued to serve as a metropole.


Due to the Roman Empire's vast extent and long endurance, the institutions and culture of Rome had a profound and lasting influence on the development of language, religion, art, architecture, literature, philosophy, law, and forms of government in the territory it governed. The Latin language of the Romans evolved into the Romance languages of the medieval and modern world, while Medieval Greek became the language of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Empire's adoption of Christianity led to the formation of medieval Christendom. Roman and Greek art had a profound impact on the Italian Renaissance. Rome's architectural tradition served as the basis for Romanesque, Renaissance and Neoclassical architecture, and also had a strong influence on Islamic architecture. The rediscovery of Greek and Roman science and technology (which also formed the basis for Islamic science) in Medieval Europe led to the Scientific Renaissance and Scientific Revolution. The corpus of Roman law has its descendants in many modern legal systems of the world, such as the Napoleonic Code of France, while Rome's republican institutions have left an enduring legacy, influencing the Italian city-state republics of the medieval period, as well as the early United States and other modern democratic republics.


post-classical era

Transition from Republic to Empire

Caesar Augustus

(early 1st century AD)

Rome had begun expanding shortly after the founding of the Roman Republic in the 6th century BC, though it did not expand outside the Italian peninsula until the 3rd century BC. Then, it was an "empire" (i.e., a great power) long before it had an emperor.[20] The Republic was not a nation-state in the modern sense, but a network of towns left to rule themselves (though with varying degrees of independence from the Roman Senate) and provinces administered by military commanders. It was ruled, not by emperors, but by annually elected magistrates (Roman consuls above all) in conjunction with the Senate.[21] For various reasons, the 1st century BC was a time of political and military upheaval, which ultimately led to rule by emperors.[22][23][24] The consuls' military power rested in the Roman legal concept of imperium, which literally means "command" (though typically in a military sense).[25] Occasionally, successful consuls were given the honorary title imperator (commander), and this is the origin of the word emperor (and empire) since this title (among others) was always bestowed to the early emperors upon their accession.[26]

Rome suffered a long series of internal conflicts, conspiracies, and

constitutional machinery remained in place, Augustus came to predominate it. Although the republic stood in name, contemporaries of Augustus knew it was just a veil and that Augustus had all meaningful authority in Rome.[27] Since his rule ended a century of civil wars and began an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity, he was so loved that he came to hold the power of a monarch de facto if not de jure. During the years of his rule, a new constitutional order emerged (in part organically and in part by design), so that, upon his death, this new constitutional order operated as before when Tiberius
was accepted as the new emperor.

In 117 AD, under the rule of Trajan, the Roman Empire, at its farthest extent, dominated much of the Mediterranean Basin, spanning three continents.

Pax Romana

The so-called "
Five Good Emperors" of 96–180 AD

The 200 years that began with Augustus's rule is traditionally regarded as the

Five Good Emperors": Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and the philosophically-inclined Marcus Aurelius

Fall in the West and survival in the East

The Barbarian Invasions consisted of the movement of (mainly) ancient Germanic peoples into Roman territory. Even though northern invasions took place throughout the life of the Empire, this period officially began in the 4th century and lasted for many centuries, during which the western territory was under the dominion of foreign northern rulers, a notable one being Charlemagne. Historically, this event marked the transition between classical antiquity and the Middle Ages

In the view of the Greek historian

Dio Cassius, a contemporary observer, the accession of the emperor Commodus in 180 AD marked the descent "from a kingdom of gold to one of rust and iron"[29]—a famous comment which has led some historians, notably Edward Gibbon, to take Commodus' reign as the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire.[30][31]

In 212 AD, during the reign of

In defining

Late Antiquity. Aurelian (r. 270–275) brought the empire back from the brink and stabilized it. Diocletian completed the work of fully restoring the empire, but declined the role of princeps and became the first emperor to be addressed regularly as domine ("master" or "lord").[33] Diocletian's reign also brought the empire's most concerted effort against the perceived threat of Christianity, the "Great Persecution"

Diocletian divided the empire into four regions, each ruled by a separate emperor, the

official religion of the empire.[35]


By placing himself under the rule of the Eastern Emperor, rather than naming a puppet emperor of his own, Odoacer ended the Western Empire. He did this by declaring Zeno sole emperor, and placing himself as his nominal subordinate. In reality, Italy was now ruled by Odoacer alone.[38][39][41] The Eastern Roman Empire, also called the Byzantine Empire by later historians, continued to exist until the reign of Constantine XI Palaiologos. The last Roman emperor died in battle on 29 May 1453 against Mehmed II "the Conqueror" and his Ottoman forces in the final stages of the siege of Constantinople. Mehmed II would himself also claim the title of caesar or Kayser-i Rum in an attempt to claim a connection to the Roman Empire.[42]

Geography and demography

The Roman Empire was

epic poem the Aeneid, limitless empire is said to be granted to the Romans by their supreme deity Jupiter.[45] This claim of universal dominion was renewed and perpetuated when the Empire came under Christian rule in the 4th century.[k] In addition to annexing large regions in their quest for empire-building, the Romans were also very large sculptors of their environment who directly altered their geography. For instance, entire forests were cut down to provide enough wood resources for an expanding empire.[47]

The cities of the Roman world in the Imperial Period.[48]

In reality,

census, and the meticulous keeping of written records were central concerns of Roman Imperial administration.[51]

A segment of the ruins of Hadrian's Wall in northern England, overlooking Crag Lough

The Empire reached its largest expanse under Trajan (r. 98–117),[52] encompassing an area of 5 million square kilometres.[16][17] The traditional population estimate of 55–60 million inhabitants[53] accounted for between one-sixth and one-fourth of the world's total population[54] and made it the largest population of any unified political entity in the West until the mid-19th century.[55] Recent demographic studies have argued for a population peak ranging from 70 million to more than 100 million.[56] Each of the three largest cities in the Empire – Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch – was almost twice the size of any European city at the beginning of the 17th century.[57]

As the historian Christopher Kelly has described it:

Then the empire stretched from

mare nostrum—'our sea'.[53]

Trajan's successor Hadrian adopted a policy of maintaining rather than expanding the empire. Borders (fines) were marked, and the frontiers (limites) patrolled.[52] The most heavily fortified borders were the most unstable.[23] Hadrian's Wall, which separated the Roman world from what was perceived as an ever-present barbarian threat, is the primary surviving monument of this effort.[58]


The language of the Romans was

Balkan peninsula.[65]

A 5th-century papyrus showing a parallel Latin-Greek text of a speech by Cicero[66]

Romans who received an elite education studied Greek as a literary language, and most men of the governing classes could speak Greek.[67] The Julio-Claudian emperors encouraged high standards of correct Latin (Latinitas), a linguistic movement identified in modern terms as Classical Latin, and favoured Latin for conducting official business.[68] Claudius tried to limit the use of Greek, and on occasion revoked the citizenship of those who lacked Latin, but even in the Senate he drew on his own bilingualism in communicating with Greek-speaking ambassadors.[68] Suetonius quotes him as referring to "our two languages".[69]

In the Eastern empire, laws and official documents were regularly translated into Greek from Latin.[70] The everyday interpenetration of the two languages is indicated by bilingual inscriptions, which sometimes even switch back and forth between Greek and Latin.[71] After all freeborn inhabitants of the empire were universally enfranchised in 212 AD, a great number of Roman citizens would have lacked Latin, though Latin remained a marker of "Romanness."[72]

Among other reforms, the emperor

Justinian engaged in a quixotic effort to reassert the status of Latin as the language of law, even though in his time Latin no longer held any currency as a living language in the East.[74]

Local languages and linguistic legacy

Bilingual Latin-Punic inscription at the theatre in Leptis Magna, Roman Africa
(present-day Libya)

References to interpreters indicate the continuing use of local languages other than Greek and Latin, particularly in Egypt, where

dialect of Aramaic for inscriptions, in a striking exception to the rule that Latin was the language of the military.[77]


province of Arabia and dating from 93 to 132 AD, mostly employ Aramaic, the local language, written in Greek characters with Semitic and Latin influences; a petition to the Roman governor, however, was written in Greek.[78]

The dominance of Latin among the literate elite may obscure the continuity of spoken languages, since all cultures within the Roman Empire were predominantly oral.

Indo-European origin. Commonalities in syntax and vocabulary facilitated the adoption of Latin.[79][80]

After the decentralization of political power in late antiquity, Latin developed locally into branches that became the

Pharaoh of Egypt on the same gate, together with Egyptian hieroglyphs. Dendera, Egypt.[83]

Although Greek continued as the language of the Byzantine Empire, linguistic distribution in the East was more complex. A Greek-speaking majority lived in the

Illyrian, although this hypothesis has been challenged by some linguists, who maintain that it derives from Dacian or Thracian.[85] (Illyrian, Dacian, and Thracian, however, may have formed a subgroup or a Sprachbund; see Thraco-Illyrian.) Various Afroasiatic languages—primarily Coptic in Egypt, and Aramaic in Syria and Mesopotamia—were never replaced by Greek. The international use of Greek, however, was one factor enabling the spread of Christianity, as indicated for example by the use of Greek for the Epistles of Paul.[84]

Several references to Gaulish in late antiquity may indicate that it continued to be spoken. In the second century AD there was an explicit recognition of its usage in some legal manners,[86] soothsaying[87] and pharmacology.[88] Sulpicius Severus, writing in the 5th century AD in Gallia Aquitania, noted bilingualism with Gaulish as the first language.[87] The survival of the Galatian dialect in Anatolia akin to that spoken by the Treveri near Trier was attested by Jerome (331–420), who had first-hand knowledge.[89] Much of historical linguistics scholarship postulates that Gaulish was indeed still spoken as late as the mid to late 6th century in France.[90] Despite considerable Romanization of the local material culture, the Gaulish language is held to have survived and had coexisted with spoken Latin during the centuries of Roman rule of Gaul.[90] The last reference to Galatian was made by Cyril of Scythopolis, claiming that an evil spirit had possessed a monk and rendered him able to speak only in Galatian,[l] while the last reference to Gaulish in France was made by Gregory of Tours between 560 and 575, noting that a shrine in Auvergne which "is called Vasso Galatae in the Gallic tongue" was destroyed and burnt to the ground.[92][90] After the long period of bilingualism, the emergent Gallo-Romance languages including French were shaped by Gaulish in a number of ways; in the case of French these include loanwords and calques (including oui,[93] the word for "yes"),[94][93] sound changes,[95] and influences in conjugation and word order.[94][93][96]

Proto-Basque language or Aquitanian survived the Roman conquest, and evolved with Latin loans to present day Basque language.[97] Recent discoveries as the hand of Irulegi shows that this language was also written during the Roman conquest,[98] but only proper names are known from the Roman Empire times.


A multigenerational banquet depicted on a wall painting from Pompeii
(1st century AD)

The Roman Empire was remarkably multicultural, with "a rather astonishing cohesive capacity" to create a sense of shared identity while encompassing diverse peoples within its political system over a long span of time.

racetracks and baths—helped foster a sense of "Romanness".[100]

Roman society had multiple, overlapping

equestrian who exercised greater power than a senator.[105]

The blurring or diffusion of the Republic's more rigid hierarchies led to increased

sodalitates) formed for various purposes: professional and trade guilds, veterans' groups, religious sodalities, drinking and dining clubs,[109] performing arts troupes,[110] and burial societies.[111]

Legal status

Fayum mummy portrait

According to the

ius Latinum, "Latin right"), but were entitled to legal protections and privileges not enjoyed by those who lacked citizenship. Free people not considered citizens, but living within the Roman world, held status as peregrini, non-Romans.[113] In 212 AD, by means of the edict known as the Constitutio Antoniniana, the emperor Caracalla extended citizenship to all freeborn inhabitants of the empire. This legal egalitarianism would have required a far-reaching revision of existing laws that had distinguished between citizens and non-citizens.[114]

Women in Roman law

Left image: Roman fresco of an auburn maiden reading a text, Pompeian Fourth Style (60–79 AD), Pompeii, Italy
Right image: Bronze statuette (1st century AD) of a young woman reading, based on a Hellenistic
Dressing of a priestess or bride, Roman fresco from Herculaneum
, Italy (30–40 AD)

Freeborn Roman women were considered citizens throughout the Republic and Empire, but did not vote, hold political office, or serve in the military. A mother's citizen status determined that of her children, as indicated by the phrase ex duobus civibus Romanis natos ("children born of two Roman citizens").[m] A Roman woman kept her own family name (nomen) for life. Children most often took the father's name, but in the Imperial period sometimes made their mother's name part of theirs, or even used it instead.[117]

The archaic form of manus marriage in which the woman had been subject to her husband's authority was largely abandoned by the Imperial era, and a married woman retained ownership of any property she brought into the marriage. Technically she remained under her father's legal authority, even though she moved into her husband's home, but when her father died she became legally emancipated.[118] This arrangement was one of the factors in the degree of independence Roman women enjoyed relative to those of many other ancient cultures and up to the modern period:[119] although she had to answer to her father in legal matters, she was free of his direct scrutiny in her daily life,[120] and her husband had no legal power over her.[121] Although it was a point of pride to be a "one-man woman" (univira) who had married only once, there was little stigma attached to divorce, nor to speedy remarriage after the loss of a husband through death or divorce.[122]

Girls had equal inheritance rights with boys if their father died without leaving a will.[123] A Roman mother's right to own property and to dispose of it as she saw fit, including setting the terms of her own will, gave her enormous influence over her sons even when they were adults.[124]

As part of the Augustan programme to restore traditional morality and social order,

ius trium liberorum

Because of their legal status as citizens and the degree to which they could become emancipated, women could own property, enter contracts, and engage in business,[127] including shipping, manufacturing, and lending money. Inscriptions throughout the Empire honour women as benefactors in funding public works, an indication they could acquire and dispose of considerable fortunes; for instance, the Arch of the Sergii was funded by Salvia Postuma, a female member of the family honoured, and the largest building in the forum at Pompeii was funded by Eumachia, a priestess of Venus.[128]

Slaves and the law

At the time of Augustus, as many as 35% of the people in

Italy were slaves,[129] making Rome one of five historical "slave societies" in which slaves constituted at least a fifth of the population and played a major role in the economy.[n][129] Slavery was a complex institution that supported traditional Roman social structures as well as contributing economic utility.[130] In urban settings, slaves might be professionals such as teachers, physicians, chefs, and accountants, in addition to the majority of slaves who provided trained or unskilled labour in households or workplaces. Agriculture and industry, such as milling and mining, relied on the exploitation of slaves. Outside Italy, slaves made up on average an estimated 10 to 20% of the population, sparse in Roman Egypt but more concentrated in some Greek areas. Expanding Roman ownership of arable land and industries would have affected preexisting practices of slavery in the provinces.[131]

Although the institution of slavery has often been regarded as waning in the 3rd and 4th centuries, it remained an integral part of Roman society until the 5th century. Slavery ceased gradually in the 6th and 7th centuries along with the decline of urban centres in the West and the disintegration of the complex Imperial economy that had created the demand for it.[132]

Slave holding writing tablets for his master (relief
from a 4th-century sarcophagus)

Laws pertaining to slavery were "extremely intricate".

legal personhood. They could be subjected to forms of corporal punishment not normally exercised on citizens, sexual exploitation, torture, and summary execution. A slave could not as a matter of law be raped since rape could be committed only against people who were free; a slave's rapist had to be prosecuted by the owner for property damage under the Aquilian Law.[134] Slaves had no right to the form of legal marriage called conubium, but their unions were sometimes recognized, and if both were freed they could marry.[135]

Following the Servile Wars of the Republic, legislation under Augustus and his successors shows a driving concern for controlling the threat of rebellions through limiting the size of work groups, and for hunting down fugitive slaves.[136]

Technically, a slave could not own property,[137] but a slave who conducted business might be given access to an individual account or fund (peculium) that he could use as if it were his own. The terms of this account varied depending on the degree of trust and co-operation between owner and slave: a slave with an aptitude for business could be given considerable leeway to generate profit and might be allowed to bequeath the peculium he managed to other slaves of his household.[138] Within a household or workplace, a hierarchy of slaves might exist, with one slave in effect acting as the master of other slaves.[139]

Over time slaves gained increased legal protection, including the right to file complaints against their masters. A bill of sale might contain a clause stipulating that the slave could not be employed for prostitution, as prostitutes in ancient Rome were often slaves.[140] The burgeoning trade in eunuch slaves in the late 1st century AD prompted legislation that prohibited the castration of a slave against his will "for lust or gain."[141]

Roman slavery was not based on

race.[142] Slaves were drawn from all over Europe and the Mediterranean, including Gaul, Hispania, Germany, Britannia, the Balkans, Greece... Generally, slaves in Italy were indigenous Italians,[143] with a minority of foreigners (including both slaves and freedmen) born outside of Italy estimated at 5% of the total in the capital at its peak, where their number was largest. Those from outside of Europe were predominantly of Greek descent, while the Jewish ones never fully assimilated into Roman society, remaining an identifiable minority. These slaves (especially the foreigners) had higher mortality rates and lower birth rates than natives, and were sometimes even subjected to mass expulsions.[144] The average recorded age at death for the slaves of the city of Rome was extraordinarily low: seventeen and a half years (17.2 for males; 17.9 for females).[145]

During the period of republican expansionism when slavery had become pervasive, war captives were a main source of slaves. The range of ethnicities among slaves to some extent reflected that of the armies Rome defeated in war, and the

conquest of Greece brought a number of highly skilled and educated slaves into Rome. Slaves were also traded in markets and sometimes sold by pirates. Infant abandonment and self-enslavement among the poor were other sources.[146] Vernae, by contrast, were "homegrown" slaves born to female slaves within the urban household or on a country estate or farm. Although they had no special legal status, an owner who mistreated or failed to care for his vernae faced social disapproval, as they were considered part of his familia, the family household, and in some cases might actually be the children of free males in the family.[147]

Talented slaves with a knack for business might accumulate a large enough peculium to justify their freedom, or be manumitted for services rendered. Manumission had become frequent enough that in 2 BC a law (Lex Fufia Caninia) limited the number of slaves an owner was allowed to free in his will.[148]


Rome differed from

Greek city-states in allowing freed slaves to become citizens. After manumission, a slave who had belonged to a Roman citizen enjoyed not only passive freedom from ownership, but active political freedom (libertas), including the right to vote.[149] A slave who had acquired libertas was a libertus ("freed person," feminine liberta) in relation to his former master, who then became his patron (patronus): the two parties continued to have customary and legal obligations to each other. As a social class generally, freed slaves were libertini, though later writers used the terms libertus and libertinus interchangeably.[150][151]

A libertinus was not entitled to hold public office or the highest state priesthoods, but he could play a

cult of the emperor. He could not marry a woman from a family of senatorial rank, nor achieve legitimate senatorial rank himself, but during the early Empire, freedmen held key positions in the government bureaucracy, so much so that Hadrian limited their participation by law.[151]
Any future children of a freedman would be born free, with full rights of citizenship.

The rise of successful freedmen—through either political influence in imperial service or wealth—is a characteristic of early Imperial society. The prosperity of a high-achieving group of freedmen is attested by inscriptions throughout the Empire, and by their ownership of some of the most lavish houses at Pompeii, such as the House of the Vettii. The excesses of nouveau riche freedmen were satirized in the character of Trimalchio in the Satyricon by Petronius, who wrote in the time of Nero. Such individuals, while exceptional, are indicative of the upward social mobility possible in the Empire.

Census rank

The Latin word ordo (plural ordines) refers to a social distinction that is translated variously into English as "class, order, rank," none of which is exact. One purpose of the

decurions, also known as curiales
(Greek bouleutai), were the top governing ordo of an individual city.

Fragment of a sarcophagus depicting Gordian III
and senators (3rd century)

"Senator" was not itself an elected office in ancient Rome; an individual gained admission to the Senate after he had been elected to and served at least one term as an

census.[152] Nero made large gifts of money to a number of senators from old families who had become too impoverished to qualify. Not all men who qualified for the ordo senatorius chose to take a Senate seat, which required legal domicile at Rome. Emperors often filled vacancies in the 600-member body by appointment.[153] A senator's son belonged to the ordo senatorius, but he had to qualify on his own merits for admission to the Senate itself. A senator could be removed for violating moral standards: he was prohibited, for instance, from marrying a freedwoman or fighting in the arena.[154]

In the time of Nero, senators were still primarily from Rome and other parts of

Italy, with some from the Iberian peninsula and southern France; men from the Greek-speaking provinces of the East began to be added under Vespasian.[155] The first senator from the most eastern province, Cappadocia, was admitted under Marcus Aurelius.[o] By the time of the Severan dynasty (193–235), Italians made up less than half the Senate.[157] During the 3rd century, domicile at Rome became impractical, and inscriptions attest to senators who were active in politics and munificence in their homeland (patria).[154]

Senators had an aura of prestige and were the traditional governing class who rose through the

procurators within the Imperial administration.[162]

The rise of provincial men to the senatorial and equestrian orders is an aspect of social mobility in the first three centuries of the Empire. Roman aristocracy was based on competition, and unlike later

European nobility, a Roman family could not maintain its position merely through hereditary succession or having title to lands.[163] Admission to the higher ordines brought distinction and privileges, but also a number of responsibilities. In antiquity, a city depended on its leading citizens to fund public works, events, and services (munera), rather than on tax revenues, which primarily supported the military. Maintaining one's rank required massive personal expenditures.[164] Decurions were so vital for the functioning of cities that in the later Empire, as the ranks of the town councils became depleted, those who had risen to the Senate were encouraged by the central government to give up their seats and return to their hometowns, in an effort to sustain civic life.[165]

In the later Empire, the dignitas ("worth, esteem") that attended on senatorial or equestrian rank was refined further with titles such as vir illustris ("illustrious man").[166] The appellation clarissimus (Greek lamprotatos) was used to designate the dignitas of certain senators and their immediate family, including women.[167] "Grades" of equestrian status proliferated. Those in Imperial service were ranked by pay grade (sexagenarius, 60,000 sesterces per annum; centenarius, 100,000; ducenarius, 200,000). The title eminentissimus, "most eminent" (Greek exochôtatos) was reserved for equestrians who had been Praetorian prefects. The higher equestrian officials in general were perfectissimi, "most distinguished" (Greek diasêmotatoi), the lower merely egregii, "outstanding" (Greek kratistos).[168]

Unequal justice

As the republican principle of citizens' equality under the law faded, the symbolic and social privileges of the upper classes led to an informal division of Roman society into those who had acquired greater honours (honestiores) and those who were humbler folk (humiliores). In general, honestiores were the members of the three higher "orders," along with certain military officers.

Execution, which had been an infrequent legal penalty for free men under the Republic even in a capital case,

Government and military

Forum of Gerasa (Jerash in present-day Jordan), with columns marking a covered walkway (stoa
) for vendor stalls, and a semicircular space for public speaking

The three major elements of the Imperial Roman state were the central government, the military, and the provincial government.[175] The military established control of a territory through war, but after a city or people was brought under treaty, the military mission turned to policing: protecting Roman citizens (after 212 AD, all freeborn inhabitants of the Empire), the agricultural fields that fed them, and religious sites.[176] Without modern instruments of either mass communication or mass destruction, the Romans lacked sufficient manpower or resources to impose their rule through force alone. Cooperation with local power elites was necessary to maintain order, collect information, and extract revenue. The Romans often exploited internal political divisions by supporting one faction over another: in the view of Plutarch, "it was discord between factions within cities that led to the loss of self-governance".[177]

Communities with demonstrated loyalty to Rome retained their own laws, could collect their own taxes locally, and in exceptional cases were exempt from Roman taxation. Legal privileges and relative independence were an incentive to remain in good standing with Rome.[178] Roman government was thus limited, but efficient in its use of the resources available to it.[179]

Central government

Jove, holding scepter and orb (first half of 1st century AD).[citation needed][180]


Imperial cult of ancient Rome identified emperors and some members of their families with the divinely sanctioned authority (auctoritas) of the Roman State. The rite of apotheosis (also called consecratio) signified the deceased emperor's deification and acknowledged his role as father of the people similar to the concept of a pater familias soul or Manes being honoured by his sons.[181]

The dominance of the emperor was based on the consolidation of certain powers from several republican offices, including the inviolability of the

censors to manipulate the hierarchy of Roman society.[182] The emperor also made himself the central religious authority as pontifex maximus, and centralized the right to declare war, ratify treaties, and negotiate with foreign leaders.[183] While these functions were clearly defined during the Principate, the emperor's powers over time became less constitutional and more monarchical, culminating in the Dominate.[184]

Antoninus Pius (reigned 138–161), wearing a toga (Hermitage Museum

The emperor was the ultimate authority in policy- and decision-making, but in the early Principate, he was expected to be accessible to individuals from all walks of life and to deal personally with official business and petitions. A bureaucracy formed around him only gradually.

Plotina exercised influence on both her husband Trajan and his successor Hadrian. Her influence was advertised by having her letters on official matters published, as a sign that the emperor was reasonable in his exercise of authority and listened to his people.[189]

Access to the emperor by others might be gained at the daily reception (salutatio), a development of the traditional homage a client paid to his patron; public banquets hosted at the palace; and religious ceremonies. The common people who lacked this access could manifest their general approval or displeasure as a group at the games held in large venues.[190] By the 4th century, as urban centres decayed, the Christian emperors became remote figureheads who issued general rulings, no longer responding to individual petitions.[191]

Although the Senate could do little short of assassination and open rebellion to contravene the will of the emperor, it survived the Augustan restoration and the turbulent Year of the Four Emperors to retain its symbolic political centrality during the Principate.[192] The Senate legitimated the emperor's rule, and the emperor needed the experience of senators as legates (legati) to serve as generals, diplomats, and administrators.[193] A successful career required competence as an administrator and remaining in favour with the emperor, or over time perhaps multiple emperors.[194]

The practical source of an emperor's power and authority was the military. The legionaries were paid by the Imperial treasury, and swore an annual military oath of loyalty to the emperor (sacramentum).[195] The death of an emperor led to a crucial period of uncertainty and crisis. Most emperors indicated their choice of successor, usually a close family member or adopted heir. The new emperor had to seek a swift acknowledgement of his status and authority to stabilize the political landscape. No emperor could hope to survive, much less to reign, without the allegiance and loyalty of the Praetorian Guard and of the legions. To secure their loyalty, several emperors paid the donativum, a monetary reward. In theory, the Senate was entitled to choose the new emperor, but did so mindful of acclamation by the army or Praetorians.[196]


Winged Victory, ancient Roman fresco of the Neronian era from Pompeii

After the

conscripts had exercised their responsibilities as citizens in defending the homeland in a campaign against a specific threat. For Imperial Rome, the military was a full-time career in itself.[197] The Romans expanded their war machine by "organizing the communities that they conquered in Italy into a system that generated huge reservoirs of manpower for their army... Their main demand of all defeated enemies was they provide men for the Roman army every year."[198]

The primary mission of the Roman military of the early empire was to preserve the Pax Romana.[199] The three major divisions of the military were:

The pervasiveness of military garrisons throughout the Empire was a major influence in the process of cultural exchange and

papyri preserving military documents; monuments such as Trajan's Column and triumphal arches, which feature artistic depictions of both fighting men and military machines; the archeology of military burials, battle sites, and camps; and inscriptions, including military diplomas, epitaphs, and dedications.[201]

Through his military reforms, which included consolidating or disbanding units of questionable loyalty, Augustus changed and regularized the legion, down to the hobnail pattern on the soles of army boots. A legion was organized into ten cohorts, each of which comprised six centuries, with a century further made up of ten squads (contubernia); the exact size of the Imperial legion, which is most likely to have been determined by logistics, has been estimated to range from 4,800 to 5,280.[202]

Relief panel from Trajan's Column in Rome, showing the building of a fort and the reception of a Dacian

In 9 AD, Germanic tribes wiped out three full legions in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. This disastrous event reduced the number of legions to 25. The total of the legions would later be increased again and for the next 300 years always be a little above or below 30.[203] The army had about 300,000 soldiers in the 1st century, and under 400,000 in the 2nd, "significantly smaller" than the collective armed forces of the territories it conquered. No more than 2% of adult males living in the Empire served in the Imperial army.[204]

Augustus also created the Praetorian Guard: nine cohorts, ostensibly to maintain the public peace, which were garrisoned in Italy. Better paid than the legionaries, the Praetorians served only sixteen years.[205]

The auxilia were recruited from among the non-citizens. Organized in smaller units of roughly cohort strength, they were paid less than the legionaries, and after 25 years of service were rewarded with Roman citizenship, also extended to their sons. According to Tacitus[206] there were roughly as many auxiliaries as there were legionaries. The auxilia thus amounted to around 125,000 men, implying approximately 250 auxiliary regiments.[207] The Roman cavalry of the earliest Empire were primarily from Celtic, Hispanic or Germanic areas. Several aspects of training and equipment, such as the four-horned saddle, derived from the Celts, as noted by Arrian and indicated by archaeology.[208]


North Atlantic coasts, and the Black Sea. Nevertheless, the army was considered the senior and more prestigious branch.[209]

Provincial government

An annexed territory became a

imperial provinces, most notably Roman Egypt.[212] A governor had to make himself accessible to the people he governed, but he could delegate various duties.[213] His staff, however, was minimal: his official attendants (apparitores), including lictors, heralds, messengers, scribes, and bodyguards; legates, both civil and military, usually of equestrian rank; and friends, ranging in age and experience, who accompanied him unofficially.[213]

Other officials were appointed as supervisors of government finances.

procurators, whose authority was originally "extra-judicial and extra-constitutional," managed both state-owned property and the vast personal property of the emperor (res privata).[213] Because Roman government officials were few in number, a provincial who needed help with a legal dispute or criminal case might seek out any Roman perceived to have some official capacity, such as a procurator or a military officer, including centurions down to the lowly stationarii or military police.[215]

Roman law

Roman portraiture frescos from Pompeii, 1st century AD, depicting two different men wearing laurel wreaths, one holding the rotulus (blondish figure, left), the other a volumen (brunet figure, right), both made of papyrus

Roman courts held

ius gentium, the "law of nations" or international law regarded as common and customary among all human communities.[217] If the particulars of provincial law conflicted with Roman law or custom, Roman courts heard appeals, and the emperor held final authority to render a decision.[102][216][r]

In the West, law had been administered on a highly localized or tribal basis, and

private property rights may have been a novelty of the Roman era, particularly among Celtic peoples. Roman law facilitated the acquisition of wealth by a pro-Roman elite who found their new privileges as citizens to be advantageous.[102] The extension of universal citizenship to all free inhabitants of the Empire in 212 required the uniform application of Roman law, replacing the local law codes that had applied to non-citizens. Diocletian's efforts to stabilize the Empire after the Crisis of the Third Century included two major compilations of law in four years, the Codex Gregorianus and the Codex Hermogenianus, to guide provincial administrators in setting consistent legal standards.[218]

The pervasive exercise of Roman law throughout Western Europe led to its enormous influence on the Western legal tradition, reflected by the continued use of

Latin legal terminology
in modern law.


Taxation under the Empire amounted to about 5% of the Empire's

indirect taxes, some paid in cash and some in kind. Taxes might be specific to a province, or kinds of properties such as fisheries or salt evaporation ponds; they might be in effect for a limited time.[221] Tax collection was justified by the need to maintain the military,[222] and taxpayers sometimes got a refund if the army captured a surplus of booty.[223] In-kind taxes were accepted from less-monetized areas, particularly those who could supply grain or goods to army camps.[224]

The primary source of direct tax revenue was individuals, who paid a

poll tax and a tax on their land, construed as a tax on its produce or productive capacity.[220] Supplemental forms could be filed by those eligible for certain exemptions; for example, Egyptian farmers could register fields as fallow and tax-exempt depending on flood patterns of the Nile.[225] Tax obligations were determined by the census, which required each head of household to appear before the presiding official and provide a headcount of his household, as well as an accounting of property he owned that was suitable for agriculture or habitation.[225]

A major source of indirect-tax revenue was the portoria, customs and tolls on imports and exports, including among provinces.[220] Special taxes were levied on the slave trade. Towards the end of his reign, Augustus instituted a 4% tax on the sale of slaves,[226] which Nero shifted from the purchaser to the dealers, who responded by raising their prices.[227] An owner who manumitted a slave paid a "freedom tax", calculated at 5% of value.[s]

An inheritance tax of 5% was assessed when Roman citizens above a certain net worth left property to anyone but members of their immediate family. Revenues from the estate tax and from a 1% sales tax on auctions went towards the veterans' pension fund (aerarium militare).[220]

Low taxes helped the Roman aristocracy increase their wealth, which equalled or exceeded the revenues of the central government. An emperor sometimes replenished his treasury by confiscating the estates of the "super-rich", but in the later period, the resistance of the wealthy to paying taxes was one of the factors contributing to the collapse of the Empire.[54]


Western Han tomb in Guangzhou, dated to the early 1st century BC, and ostensibly came via the maritime route through the South China Sea[228]


castrum), throughout the province, and across provincial borders.[233] The Empire is perhaps best thought of as a network of regional economies, based on a form of "political capitalism" in which the state monitored and regulated commerce to assure its own revenues.[234] Economic growth, though not comparable to modern economies, was greater than that of most other societies prior to industrialization.[235]

Socially, economic dynamism opened up one of the avenues of social mobility in the Roman Empire. Social advancement was thus not dependent solely on birth,

collegia) and corporations (corpora) provided support for individuals to succeed through networking, sharing sound business practices, and a willingness to work.[169]

Currency and banking

The early Empire was monetized to a near-universal extent, in the sense of using money as a way to express prices and debts.[236] The sestertius (plural sestertii, English "sesterces", symbolized as HS) was the basic unit of reckoning value into the 4th century,[237] though the silver denarius, worth four sesterces, was used also for accounting beginning in the Severan dynasty.[238] The smallest coin commonly circulated was the bronze as (plural aes or asses), one-tenth denarius.[239] Bullion and ingots seem not to have counted as pecunia ("money") and were used only on the frontiers for transacting business or buying property. Romans in the first and second centuries counted coins, rather than weighing them – an indication that the coin was valued on its face, not for its metal content. This tendency towards fiat money led eventually to the debasement of Roman coinage, with consequences in the later Empire.[240] The standardization of money throughout the Empire promoted trade and market integration.[236] The high amount of metal coinage in circulation increased the money supply for trading or saving.[241]

Currency denominations[242]
211 BC AD 14 AD 286–296
Denarius = 10 asses Aureus = 25 denarii Aurei = 60 per pound of gold
Quinarius = 5 asses Denarii = 16 asses Silver coins (contemporary name unknown) = 96 to a pound of silver
Sestertius = 2.5 asses Sesterces = 4 asses Bronze coins (contemporary name unknown) = value unknown
As = 1 As = 1

Rome had no


Solidus issued under Constantine II, and on the reverse Victoria, one of the last deities to appear on Roman coins, gradually transforming into an angel under Christian rule[243]

A professional

public debt had to fund deficits from cash reserves.[246]

Emperors of the

fiduciary currency, general economic anxieties came to a head under Aurelian, and bankers lost confidence in coins legitimately issued by the central government. Despite Diocletian's introduction of the gold solidus and monetary reforms, the credit market of the Empire never recovered its former robustness.[240]

Mining and metallurgy

The main mining regions of the Empire were the Iberian Peninsula (gold, silver, copper, tin, lead); Gaul (gold, silver, iron); Britain (mainly iron, lead, tin), the

underground mining—took place from the reign of Augustus up to the early 3rd century AD, when the instability of the Empire disrupted production. The gold mines of Dacia, for instance, were no longer available for Roman exploitation after the province was surrendered in 271. Mining seems to have resumed to some extent during the 4th century.[247]

tonnes.[249] Copper was produced at an annual rate of 15,000 t,[248][250] and lead at 80,000 t,[248][251][252] both production levels unmatched until the Industrial Revolution;[250][251][252][253] Hispania alone had a 40% share in world lead production.[251] The high lead output was a by-product of extensive silver mining which reached 200 t per annum. At its peak around the mid-2nd century AD, the Roman silver stock is estimated at 10,000 t, five to ten times larger than the combined silver mass of medieval Europe and the Caliphate around 800 AD.[252][254] As an indication of the scale of Roman metal production, lead pollution in the Greenland ice sheet quadrupled over its prehistoric levels during the Imperial era and dropped again thereafter.[255]

Transportation and communication

The Roman Empire completely encircled the Mediterranean, which they called "our sea" (

mare nostrum).[256] Roman sailing vessels navigated the Mediterranean as well as the major rivers of the Empire, including the Guadalquivir, Ebro, Rhône, Rhine, Tiber and Nile.[57] Transport by water was preferred where possible, and moving commodities by land was more difficult.[257] Vehicles, wheels, and ships indicate the existence of a great number of skilled woodworkers.[258]

Land transport utilized the advanced system of

Roman miles, and tended to grow into villages or trading posts.[260] A mansio (plural mansiones) was a privately run service station franchised by the imperial bureaucracy for the cursus publicus. The support staff at such a facility included muleteers, secretaries, blacksmiths, cartwrights, a veterinarian, and a few military police and couriers. The distance between mansiones was determined by how far a wagon could travel in a day.[260] Mules were the animal most often used for pulling carts, travelling about 4 mph.[261] As an example of the pace of communication, it took a messenger a minimum of nine days to travel to Rome from Mainz in the province of Germania Superior, even on a matter of urgency.[255] In addition to the mansiones, some taverns offered accommodation as well as food and drink; one recorded tab for a stay showed charges for wine, bread, mule feed, and the services of a prostitute.[262]

Trade and commodities

Greco-Roman Periplus

Roman provinces traded among themselves, but trade extended outside the frontiers to regions

as far away as China and India.[263] The main commodity was grain.[264] Chinese trade was mostly conducted overland through middle men along the Silk Road; Indian trade, however, also occurred by sea from Egyptian ports on the Red Sea. Along these trade paths, the horse, upon which Roman expansion and commerce depended, was one of the main channels through which disease spread.[265] Also in transit for trade were olive oil, various foodstuffs, garum (fish sauce), slaves, ore and manufactured metal objects, fibres and textiles, timber, pottery, glassware, marble, papyrus, spices and materia medica, ivory, pearls, and gemstones.[266]

Though most provinces were capable of producing wine,

Crete. Alexandria, the second-largest city, imported wine from Laodicea in Syria and the Aegean.[268] At the retail level, taverns or specialty wine shops (vinaria) sold wine by the jug for carryout and by the drink on premises, with price ranges reflecting quality.[269]

Labour and occupations

of Veranius Hypsaeus in Pompeii