Roman Empire

Roman Empire

27 BC – 476 AD (traditional dates)[1][2]
395 AD – 480 AD (Western)
395 AD – 1453 AD (Eastern)

Imperial aquila of Roman Empire
Imperial aquila
The Roman Empire at its greatest extent, 117 AD, the time of Trajan's death (with its vassals in pink).[3]
The Roman Empire at its greatest extent, 117 AD, the time of Trajan's death (with its vassals in pink).[3]
Capital
Common languages
Religion
GovernmentSemi-elective, functionally absolute monarchy
Emperor 
• 27 BC  – 14 AD
Augustus (first)
• 98–117
Trajan
• 270–275
Aurelian
• 284–305
Diocletian
• 306–337
Constantine I
• 379–395
Theodosius I[n 3]
• 474–480
Julius Nepos[n 4]
• 475–476
Romulus Augustus
• 527–565
Justinian I
• 780–797
Constantine VI[n 5]
• 976–1025
Basil II
• 1449–1453
Constantine XI[n 6]
LegislatureSenate
Historical eraClassical era to Late Middle Ages
32–30 BC
30–2 BC
• Constantinople
becomes capital
11 May 330
• Final East-West divide
17 Jan 395
4 Sep 476
• Murder of Emperor Julius Nepos
25 Apr 480
12 Apr 1204
• Reconquest of Constantinople
25 Jul 1261
29 May 1453
• Fall of Trebizond
15 August 1461
Area
25 BC[4][5]2,750,000 km2 (1,060,000 sq mi)
117 AD[4][6]5,000,000 km2 (1,900,000 sq mi)
390 AD[4]4,400,000 km2 (1,700,000 sq mi)
Population
• 25 BC[4][5]
56,800,000
CurrencySestertius,[n 7] Aureus, Solidus, Nomisma
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Roman Republic
Western Roman Empire
Eastern Roman Empire

The Roman Empire (Latin: Imperium Rōmānum, Classical Latin: [ɪmˈpɛ.ri.ũː roːˈmaː.nũː]; Koine Greek: Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, tr. Basileia tōn Rhōmaiōn) was the post-Republican period of ancient Rome, consisting of large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean sea in Europe, North Africa and West Asia ruled by emperors. From the accession of Caesar Augustus to the military anarchy of the third century, it was a principate with Italy as metropole of the provinces and its city of Rome as sole capital (27 BC – 286 AD). The Roman Empire was then ruled by multiple emperors and divided into a Western Roman Empire, based in Milan and later Ravenna, and an Eastern Roman Empire, based in Nicomedia and later Constantinople. Rome remained the nominal capital of both parts until 476 AD, when it sent the imperial insignia to Constantinople (Byzantium in Ancient Greek) following the capture of Ravenna by the barbarians of Odoacer and the subsequent deposition of Romulus Augustus. The fall of the Western Roman Empire to Germanic kings, along with the hellenization of the Eastern Roman Empire into the Byzantine Empire, is conventionally used to mark the end of Ancient Rome and the beginning of the Middle Ages.

The previous Roman Republic, which had replaced Rome's monarchy in the 6th century BC, became severely destabilized in a series of civil wars and political conflict. In the mid-1st century BC Julius Caesar was appointed as perpetual dictator and then assassinated in 44 BC. Civil wars and proscriptions continued, culminating in the victory of Octavian, Caesar's adopted son, over Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. The following year Octavian conquered Ptolemaic Egypt, ending the Hellenistic period that had begun with the conquests of Alexander the Great of Macedon in the 4th century BC. Octavian's power was then unassailable and in 27 BC the Roman Senate formally granted him overarching power and the new title Augustus, effectively making him the first emperor.

The first two centuries of the Empire were a period of unprecedented stability and prosperity known as the Pax Romana ("Roman Peace"). It reached its greatest territorial expanse during the reign of Trajan (98–117 AD). A period of increasing trouble and decline began with the reign of Commodus. In the 3rd century, the Empire underwent a crisis that threatened its existence, but was reunified under Aurelian. In an effort to stabilize the Empire, Diocletian set up two different imperial courts in the Greek East and Latin West. Christians rose to power in the 4th century following the Edict of Milan in 313 and the Edict of Thessalonica in 380. Shortly after, the Migration Period involving large invasions by Germanic peoples and the Huns of Attila led to the decline of the Western Roman Empire. With the fall of Ravenna to the Germanic Herulians and the deposition of Romulus Augustulus in 476 AD by Odoacer, the Western Roman Empire finally collapsed and it was formally abolished by emperor Zeno in 480 AD. The Eastern Roman Empire, known in the post-Roman West as the Byzantine Empire, collapsed when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks of Mehmed II in 1453.

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, architecture, philosophy, law, and forms of government in the territory it governed, particularly Europe. 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. Its adoption of Christianity led to the formation of Christendom during the Middle Ages. Greek and Roman art had a profound impact on the late medieval Italian Renaissance, while Rome's republican institutions influenced the political development of later republics such as the United States and France. The corpus of Roman law has its descendants in many legal systems of the world today, such as the Napoleonic Code. Rome's architectural tradition served as the basis for Neoclassical architecture.

History

The Augustus of Prima Porta
(early 1st century AD)

Rome had begun expanding shortly after the founding of the 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" long before it had an emperor.[7][8][9][10] The Roman 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.[11] For various reasons, the 1st century BC was a time of political and military upheaval, which ultimately led to rule by emperors.[8][12][13][14] The consuls' military power rested in the Roman legal concept of imperium, which literally means "command" (though typically in a military sense).[15] 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.[16]

Rome suffered a long series of internal conflicts, conspiracies and civil wars from the late second century BC onward, while greatly extending its power beyond Italy. This was the period of the Crisis of the Roman Republic. Towards the end of this era, in 44 BC, Julius Caesar was briefly perpetual dictator before being assassinated. The faction of his assassins was driven from Rome and defeated at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC by an army led by Mark Antony and Caesar's adopted son Octavian. Antony and Octavian's division of the Roman world between themselves did not last and Octavian's forces defeated those of Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, ending the Final War of the Roman Republic. In 27 BC the Senate and People of Rome made Octavian princeps ("first citizen") with proconsular imperium, thus beginning the Principate (the first epoch of Roman imperial history, usually dated from 27 BC to 284 AD), and gave him the name "Augustus" ("the venerated"). Though the old 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.[17] 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.

The so-called Five Good Emperors (from left to right): Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius.

The 200 years that began with Augustus's rule is traditionally regarded as the Pax Romana ("Roman Peace"). During this period, the cohesion of the empire was furthered by a degree of social stability and economic prosperity that Rome had never before experienced. Uprisings in the provinces were infrequent, but put down "mercilessly and swiftly" when they occurred.[18] The success of Augustus in establishing principles of dynastic succession was limited by his outliving a number of talented potential heirs. The Julio-Claudian dynasty lasted for four more emperors—Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero—before it yielded in 69 AD to the strife-torn Year of Four Emperors, from which Vespasian emerged as victor. Vespasian became the founder of the brief Flavian dynasty, to be followed by the Nerva–Antonine dynasty which produced 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"[19]—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.[20][21]

In 212, during the reign of Caracalla, Roman citizenship was granted to all freeborn inhabitants of the empire. But despite this gesture of universality, the Severan dynasty was tumultuous—an emperor's reign was ended routinely by his murder or execution—and, following its collapse, the Roman Empire was engulfed by the Crisis of the Third Century, a period of invasions, civil strife, economic disorder, and plague.[22] In defining historical epochs, this crisis is sometimes viewed as marking the transition from Classical Antiquity to Late Antiquity. Aurelian (reigned 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".[23]. 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 Tetrarchy.[24] Confident that he fixed the disorders that were plaguing Rome, he abdicated along with his co-emperor, and the Tetrarchy soon collapsed. Order was eventually restored by Constantine the Great, who became the first emperor to convert to Christianity, and who established Constantinople as the new capital of the eastern empire. During the decades of the Constantinian and Valentinian dynasties, the empire was divided along an east-west axis, with dual power centres in Constantinople and Rome. 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. Theodosius I, the last emperor to rule over both East and West, died in 395 AD after making Christianity the official religion of the empire.[25]

The Roman Empire by 476

The Western Roman Empire began to disintegrate in the early 5th century as Germanic migrations and invasions overwhelmed the capacity of the Empire to assimilate the migrants and fight off the invaders.[citation needed] The Romans were successful in fighting off all invaders, most famously Attila,[citation needed] though the empire had assimilated so many Germanic peoples of dubious loyalty to Rome that the empire started to dismember itself.[citation needed] Most chronologies place the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476, when Romulus Augustulus was forced to abdicate to the Germanic warlord Odoacer.[26][better source needed] By placing himself under the rule of the Eastern Emperor, rather than naming himself Emperor (as other Germanic chiefs had done after deposing past emperors), Odoacer ended the Western Empire by ending the line of Western emperors.[citation needed]

The empire in the East—often known as the Byzantine Empire, but referred to in its time as the Roman Empire or by various other names—had a different fate. It survived for almost a millennium after the fall of its Western counterpart and became the most stable Christian realm during the Middle Ages. During the 6th century, Justinian I reconquered the Italian peninsula from the Ostrogoths, North Africa from the Vandals, and southern Spain from the Visigoths. But within a few years of Justinian's death, Byzantine possessions in Italy were greatly reduced by the Lombards who settled in the peninsula.[27] In the east, partially resulting from the destructive Plague of Justinian, the Romans were threatened by the rise of Islam, whose followers rapidly conquered the territories of Syria, Armenia and Egypt during the Byzantine-Arab Wars, and soon presented a direct threat to Constantinople.[28][29] In the following century, the Arabs also captured southern Italy and Sicily.[30] Slavic populations were also able to penetrate deep into the Balkans.[citation needed]

The Roman (Byzantine) Empire c. 1025.

The Romans, 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.[31] In 1000 AD, the Eastern Empire was at its height: Basil II reconquered Bulgaria and Armenia, culture and trade flourished.[32] However, soon after, the expansion was abruptly stopped in 1071 with the Byzantine defeat in the Battle of Manzikert. The aftermath of this battle sent the empire into a short period of decline. Two decades of internal strife and Turkic invasions ultimately paved the way for Emperor Alexios I Komnenos to send a call for help to the Western European kingdoms in 1095.[28] Under the Komnenian restoration the state regained its strength.

In 1204, participants in the Fourth Crusade took part in the Sack of Constantinople. The conquest of Constantinople in 1204 fragmented what remained of the Empire into successor states, the ultimate victor being that of Nicaea.[33] After the recapture of Constantinople by Imperial forces, the Empire was little more than a Greek state confined to the Aegean Sea coast. The Eastern Roman Empire finally collapsed when Mehmed the Conqueror conquered Constantinople on 29 May 1453.[34]