History of the Roman Empire

History of the Roman Empire

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The history of the Roman Empire followed that of the Roman Republic. Its vast expanse included territories along the Mediterranean Sea and in Europe, northern Africa, and the Near East. From the rise of Julius Caesar to the onset of military chaos in the 3rd century, Rome existed as a principate, with Italy as locus of the empire and Rome as its capital. After the military crisis, the empire was ruled by the many emperors of both the Western Roman Empire and Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire). Rome remained the capital of both halves until AD 476, when the government was relocated to Constantinople after the capture of Italy by Odoacer and the overthrow of Romulus Augustulus. Then, Christianity was adopted as the state religion of the Roman Empire in AD 380, and Christians gained power and influence in the 4th century following the Edict of Milan. Soon, widespread invasions by Germanic peoples and the Attila the Hun led to the decline of the Western Roman Empire. With the fall of Italy to barbarian kings and the overthrow of Romulus Augustus in AD 476 by Odoacer, the Western Roman Empire finally collapsed. But the Eastern Roman Empire endured for another thousand years, until its capital Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

The first two centuries of the Empire brought a period of peace and prosperity known as the Pax Romana (“Roman Peace”), and the empire reached its greatest extent during the rule of Trajan (AD 98–117). But increasing trouble and decline began to set in under Commodus (177–192). In the 3rd century the empire experienced an existential crisis when the Gallic and Syrian provinces broke away from the Roman state. After this, a series of short-lived emperors, who often served at the pleasure of the imperial guard, ruled the empire. Aurelian reunified the empire in 270, and in an effort to stabilize it, Diocletian set up two separate imperial courts in the Eastern and Western Roman Empires in 286.

The culture and institutions of Rome exerted a long-lasting influence on language, religion, art, architecture, literature, philosophy, law, and governance. The Latin of the Romans evolved into the Romance languages of the medieval world, while Medieval Greek became the language of the Byzantine Empire. The Empire’s adoption of Christianity led to the formation of medieval Church, the only unifying government through the thousand years of the Dark Ages.

Roman architecture served as the basis for several styles, including the Romanesque, Renaissance, and Neoclassicism, and also strongly influenced Islamic architecture. Both Greek and Roman science formed the basis for Islamic science and Europe’s Scientific Revolution. The precepts of Roman law have formed the foundation of many more modern legal systems, including the Napoleonic Code. In all, the institutions of the Roman Republic left an enduring legacy, influencing the medieval Italian city-state republics as well as the founding of a democratic republic in the United States.

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Empire Index | Governance: Structure | Augustus: SocietyPowerGovernance: ProgressionAugustan ReformationJulian LawsAugustan StimulusForeign AffairsPax Romana | Julio-Claudian Dynasty: TiberiusCaligula: GovernanceClaudiusNero: Governance | Three Emperors | Flavian Dynasty: VespasianDomitian: Governance: Foreign Affairs | Titus | Antonine Dynasty: HadrianAntoninus PiusMarcus Aurelius: GovernanceForeign AffairsCommodus: GovernanceDemiseSeptimius SeverusTrajan: Governance | Nerva | CaracallaElagabalus | Aurelian | Diocletian: Governance | Severus Alexander | Anarchy: Economic AnarchyPolitical Anarchy | Constantine: SocietyCultureGovernance | Lesser Lights | Theodoric | Romulus Augustulus

Empire: Index

Power: Governance

Governance: Structure


Augustus: Society

Augustus: Power

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Augustus: Governance

Governance: Progression

Governance: Augustan Reformation

Augustan Reformation: Julian Laws

Governance: Augustan Stimulus

Governance: Foreign Affairs

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Governance: Pax Romana

Power: Julio-Claudian Dynasty

Julio-Claudian Dynasty: Tiberius

Julio-Claudian Dynasty: Caligula

Caligula: Governance

Julio-Claudian Dynasty: Claudius

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Julio-Claudian Dynasty: Nero

Nero: Governance

Julio-Claudian Dynasty: Three Emperors

Power: Flavian Dynasty

Flavian Dynasty: Vespasian

Flavian Dynasty: Domitian

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Domitian: Governance

Governance: Foreign Affairs

Flavian Dynasty: Titus

Power: Antonine Dynasty

Antonine Dynasty: Hadrian

Antonine Dynasty: Antoninus Pius

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Antonine Dynasty: Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius: Governance

Governance: Foreign Affairs

Antonine Dynasty: Commodus

Commodus: Governance

Commodus: Demise

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Antonine Dynasty: Septimius Severus

Antonine Dynasty: Trajan

Trajan: Governance

Antonine Dynasty: Nerva

Power: Caracalla

Power: Elagabalus

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Power: Aurelian

Power: Diocletian

Diocletian: Governance

Power: Severus Alexander

Power: Anarchy

Anarchy: Economic

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Anarchy: Political

Power: Constantine

Constantine: Society

Constantine: Culture

Constantine: Governance

Power: Lesser Lights

Power: Theodoric

Power: Romulus Augustulus

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