Ancient Rome

 Roman Empire at its greatest extent
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The City State
The legendary foundation of the city of Rome was in 753 BCE. The founding myth represented the founders as orphaned brothers Romulus and Remus, suckled by a wolf. Just as the Britons had a legend of the founding of Britain by Brutus from Troy (supposed to have landed at Totnes) the Romans had a legend of foundation from Troy by Aeneas (written up in the time of Augustus by Virgil in his Aeneid but perhaps this legend was a literary invention of the early Empire period). Years in official documents were dated from the Foundation of the City (AUC - Anno Urbis Conditae).

We should note that it is because official documents still exist that we know more about Rome than other empires of ancient times. Latin remained the official language of Europe until the 17th century.

Rome began as a city state in the region of Italy on the borders of Etruria and Latium. The dominant people of that area are supposed to have been Etruscans. Their language is unknown as all literary texts have been lost. It is possible that they did not speak an Indo-European language, but their origin according to Herodotus was from the kingdom of Lydia in western modern Turkey according to recent archaeology - an area curiously near to historic Troy. The ancient Lydian language is reported to be Indo-European of the Anatolian branch. They used an alphabet based on the Greek letters but even the pronunciation of the few remaining inscriptions (on tombstones) is not certain. Ancient history is much disputed among those who study it. This article indicates the extent of disputes and uncertainties

Romans spoke Latin and were the descendants of an Indo-European migration into Italy. Theirs was an Italic language. Several other Italic languages were spoken in the peninsula. Their influence lives on in the various dialects of Italian still spoken in modern Italy. The arrival of Indo-Europeans into Italy is lost in the mists of time - there is no documentary evidence of any kind about their early history, other than what might be discerned from the study of early Latin.

The early kings seem to have been Etruscans but the exact relations between Latin speakers and Etruscans in the early days is difficult to be certain about. Knowledge of the Etruscan language probably died out in the days of the early empire (Claudius, a historian as well as emperor, is supposed to have been able to read the Etruscan texts. His 20 volume History of the Etruscans has been lost.).

Romans prided themselves on the fact they had no king. Instead they had an elected leadership consisting of two Consuls. Their official legends speak of a revolution in 509 BCE when they drove out the (Etruscan speaking) king Tarquin and replaced him with a Republic (Res publica) - the word itself means "Public Thing" or "Public Business". Power was in fact in the hands of the aristocrats - families whose names continue to be seen in the records until the time of the Empire - and it would be accurate to call it an oligarchy. These were represented in the Senate - assembly of old men, the equivalent in some respects of the British House of Lords when it was hereditary. From the beginning the two consuls - one to balance the other to prevent single rule - were elected annually by the Senate. The constitution also recognised the need in an emergency to elect a single commander, for six months, known as dictator. There was also a popular assembly which provided, at least in the early days, a restraint on the oligarchy. This popular element weakened towards the end of the republic, after the rise of slavery - especially after the defeat of Carthage and its final destruction in 146 BC. However, throughout the period of the Republic there were struggles between the ordinary people (Plebs) and the aristocrats (Optimates). The people demanded elected representatives - Tribunes - who played a role in government along with the Consuls and other officials and had a veto. They also demanded that one of the Consuls be a Pleb. At the end of the Republic those who wanted reform got themselves elected as Tribunes giving them immunity against arrest, before taking away the power of the people.

Unlike in a modern state it was not clearly defined who had the right to make laws. Although the Consuls were considered to be the highest officials, and perhaps were the equivalent of a modern Head of State, several other officials, elected in various ways, were powerful. For example, the Censor could use his office for purposes other than his stated duties: maintaining the lists of citizens. The process of becoming a Consul was recognised as the Cursus honorum (Course of Honors), by which a young aristocrat progressed through a series of offices (honors) and only rose if he performed well in earlier offices. A similar arrangement operated in the British Empire. Some modern republics might do well to imitate this process and so improve the quality of those who reach the top.

What was the secret of Rome's expansion?
The city probably began as a trading center but at some time developed a strong military system. Every male citizen was expected to serve in the military, at his own expense. The custom of enslaving the people conquered and taking all their property made the city rich - and feared. A military culture grew up in which the soldierly qualities were valued above those of commerce and crafts.

This popular army ceased to work as the city controlled larger and larger areas. Gaius Marius reorganised the army in about 100 BCE. He created what was in effect an entirely mercenary army - soldiers who fought for pay rather than patriotism. He recruited poorer men - previously excluded. The soldiers then became answerable to their commanders rather than to the Republic.

Decline of the Republic
It was in the time of Marius that the Republic began to deteriorate. As a successful military leader he had six successive consulships, something hitherto forbidden by the constitution. It was in his time that the great men began to fight each other for office. (See Plutarch) Marius fought a war, was exiled and returned for a seventh consulship, behaving with brutality. He was followed by Sulla who called himself dictator and whose regime was like many modern tyrannies marked with assassinations and mass murders.

Great Power
Gradually the state expanded by conquest and alliance with neighboring states until by 241 BCE it controlled the whole of Italy and Sicily. In the process it defeated, conquered and destroyed (146 BCE) the Carthaginian empire based on Carthage in North Africa. This empire (also a city republic) had been founded by emigrants and traders from Phoenicia - they were speakers of a Semitic language related to modern Arabic (see modern Maltese). The Carthaginians had controlled much of North Africa and had colonies in Sicily and southern Spain. They traded all over the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic at least as far as Britain (mainly for tin). The stories that they or their Phoenician cousins had sailed round Africa may well be true.

Rome conquered these lands, and acquired a flood of slaves from the defeated armies and settlers.

Roman forces also expanded into Iberia - now Spain and Portugal - from the Carthaginian and Greek colonies on the Mediterranean coast. Then there were conquests in Greece itself and the Adriatic coasts - Illyria (now modern Yugoslavia). Julius Caesar led the conquest of Gaul - roughly modern France and Switzerland and visited Britain (without success).

The difference between the wealth of the aristocrats and the ordinary people became a problem. The wars of conquest which expanded the area ruled by Rome also created huge numbers of slaves as war prisoners to work on the estates of the aristos and in the state-owned mines. In effect this drove wages down and made large numbers of "free citizens" unemployed. The slaves were put to work on the Latifundia - agricultural estates run like the slave worked plantations of the southern states of the United States before the Civil War, and many of the Spanish colonies in the Americas. The response by the oligarchy was to pay the unemployed with free food and provide free tickets to the rather degraded spectacles of the Games (panem et circenses - bread and circuses). Of course, the long term effect of these policies was to make the city of Rome a parasite on the empire, no longer able to feed itself from local farms. Rome became dependent on the grain from Egypt and North Africa (Libya). This is the sort of situation commented on by Ibn Khaldun who observed that a kingdom that allowed its necessities of life to be provided by others would inevitably fall under their control. Rome did not pay for Egyptian wheat, which was supplied as a tribute or "tax".

One resulting problem was revealed when Marcus Antonius, in his attempt to become Julius Caesar's successor, seized control of Egypt. This was the equivalent of a hostile regime controlling the main oil fields, supplying a modern society dependent on imported oil. Thus, even at the height of Rome's power there were long term problems building up.

Civil Wars
Two kinds of civil war occurred. One was a war of rich against poor - the Plebs wanted a share of government. That was largely lost when the Gracchi (organising a sort of Labour Party) were assassinated. The other was the struggle between families of the super-rich. It was the latter struggle that produced the Empire. This only brought the civil wars to an end for a time, as a frequent occurrence in the time of the empire was the head of an army attempting to seize the top job in competition with others.

Interesting Reading

Steven Saylor - Roma

A useful and entertaining novelisation of the history of Rome up to the founding of the Empire.

Roma: The epic novel of ancient Rome

Lays of Ancient Rome - Thomas Babington Macaulay

Lays of Ancient Rome

The traditional stories of early Roman history, such as Horatius's heroic defence of the Tiber bridge, and How the sacred geese saved the Capitol (at the time of the Celtic capture of the city in 389 BCE).
Oxford history of Roman Britain - Collingwood

The Oxford History Of England - Roman Britain And The English Settlements

Klaus Bringmann - history of the Roman republic

Römische Geschichte: Von den Anfängen bis zur Spätantike

Robert Graves - I, Claudius

Ich, Claudius, Kaiser und Gott

Moi, claude

The Empire
By the time the Romans controlled the whole Mediterranean area the old political arrangements didn't work. The institutions of a small city state were failing to control the vast area of what could be described as an empire (imperium = area of command). The Senate appointed governors to the new provinces. Governing a province became part of the Course of Honors that led to higher offices in the state. The governors of Provinces were usually ex-Consuls (Proconsuls).

There were civil wars between interest groups and between the great men - the super-rich who actually controlled the state. The outcome of the civil wars was the coming to power of Octavius Caesar the adopted son of the assassinated Julius Caesar who had been trying to re-establish a monarchy. Octavius gave himself the title Augustus - respected. After defeating his rivals in battle he established a new office in the state: Princeps with a variety of old titles. Thus he assumed the title Imperator (Commander in Chief); Pontifex Maximus (chief priest); Censor (chief social secretary, regulator of citizenship); Tribune (representative of the ordinary people). At the beginning he gave the impression of this new office being a kind of first citizen or president of the Republic (but abrogating the original principle that required two consuls to avoid personal rule). However, in practice this First Citizen had enormous power with the use of the judicial authority but he also used: bribery, blackmail, quiet assassinations. He would send "suggestions" for legislation to the Senate which seldom rejected them. Eventually an emperor's suggestions (constitutiones) had the force of law. After Augustus's long reign the power became less and less constrained in the hands of the relatives who inherited the office, each one worse than the previous until it came into the hands of Caligula and Nero.

Tiberius was his step-son of his wife Livia.

The annual Consuls continued to be appointed, and indeed the list of consuls continues until 643. The custom was to name a year by the names of the Consuls. The later consuls were nearly always the reigning emperors. However, the post had become honorary - they had no function, unless to spend their money and hold Games. By the time of Justinian it was difficult to find rich men willing to take on the honorary post and it ceased a few years later.

Until the assassination of Nero all the emperors were members of the Julio-Claudian family with the surname Caesar. The name then became in itself a title which all subsequent emperors held, even if they were not members in any way of the Caesar family. In the later empire indeed the title of the top ruler became "Augustus" and the "Caesar" was a deputy or vice-emperor. The latest development was when the ruler of Russia called himself Tsar (he regarded Moskva as the successor to Rome after Byzantium and called it the Third Rome). The German rulers of the Holy Roman Empire (see below) also became known as Kaiser - a title that became extinct only in 1918 in Germany and Austria.

In the time of the Republic there were many offices of state and no single person could control the whole system. The two Consuls had to agree with each other; the Tribunes and the popular assembly also had to agree. There were term limits. This was in practice a principle similar to the Separation of Powers, now seen in the Constitution of the United States after the Founders of the United States had studied, among other things, the Roman Republic. After Augustus seized power one man had acquired all the power. Unaccountable arbitrary power became the rule until the end, tempered only by riots and army rebellions. It is not surprising that Mussolini modelled his authoritarian fascist state on the Roman Empire.

In theory, the Princeps was appointed by the Senate; in practice it became hereditary, tempered by the fact that the army, or any part of the army, could declare their commanding officer to be Imperator. Augustus himself was "reappointed" by the Senate every ten years. In theory the ruler could be appointed by the Senate until the end.

The Roman Empire can be considered to have two main periods. The first period is sometimes called the "Principate": the emperors continued to be thought of as subordinate to the Senate (even if in practice the Senate had little power or influence over what they did, or even to do with the initial appointment). In reality in this period the emperors were usually appointed by a part of the army. Within this period there are two periods: the emperors from Augustus to Nero, increasingly dictatorial and corrupt (except, perhaps, for Claudius); the Flavian emperors from Vespasianus to Commodus, an efficient family of military rulers, with Marcus Aurelius as the outstanding philosopher king, succeeded by his brutal and incompetent son.

There was then a period of increasing chaos with a series of short lived emperors, some extremely eccentric, such as Elagabulus, the 17 year old high priest of a Lebanese temple, who brought his god with him - a black stone.

However this period can be considered as coming to an end with the arrival of Aurelianus (270-275). He began the habit of behaving like a Persian king.

It was Diocletianus (284-305), believed to have been Illyrian (Albanian) in language (with Latin as his working language), who modeled himself on the practices of the Persian empire, illustrating how in a two power conflict the two sides come to resemble each other. These "oriental" emperors transformed the empire into a ritualized state, with for example an elaborate hierarchy of titles and court ceremonial. The emperors came to sit on a throne, wearing a Diadem modelled on that of the Persian king of kings. Economic paralysis occurred. Diocletian tackled inflation by fixing the price of everything and making every position in society hereditary. Presumably he did not understand economics and the process by which gold was passing out of the empire to import luxuries from the east. Town councillors (Decuriones) could not resign but had to hand over the position to their sons (along with the taxes required); tradesmen had to hand on their professions. Anyone with money fled the towns to live on their rural estates (archaeology shows this in Britain with the growth of country houses - Villas - and the decay of towns - big townhouses being subdivided into apartments for the poor. Deurbanisation of course was a feature later found in feudalism and it may be one of the contributory causes. It was to take about 800 years to reverse the trend and rebuild city life in Europe.

Diocletian also split the empire into two administrative units. Legally, it remained one state, but it is from this point that the western, Latin-speaking part increasingly declined, while the eastern, Greek-speaking part, flourished. The border between the two parts remains of significance today in Yugoslavia where Croatia is Catholic and westernised; Serbia is eastern and Orthodox. Belgrade is the site of Diocletian's line. He retired to the area of modern Yugoslavia.

Diocletian also marks the rise of Religion as an official feature of the ruling system. He favored a cult of the Sun, oriental rather than traditional religion, and persecuted the Christians, apparently not noticing how strong they were - perhaps because he dealt mainly with the Army where Mithraism was common.

Constantinus (also believed to have been Illyrian) removed all prohibitions of Christianity in 307 (though he himself was not a Christian) for political reasons - the church, under his control, played the role of a modern Single Political Party in a dictatorship. (See the Papacy).

Briefly, Julianus attempted to end the Christian monopoly by restoring freedom of thought to pagans and philosophers but he was killed in battle. (Try Gore Vidal - Julian, a novelised biography.) After him Christianity became compulsory and a part of the state.

There was an end of rational intellectual debate after the imposition of Christianity - disputes were about the various Christian "heresies" after scientific thought had been attacked as "pagan" by "saint" Cyril of Alexandria (see the murder of Hypatia). Boethius's "Consolations of Philosophy" was perhaps the last rational literary work of the western empire as it collapsed. Was Gibbon right when he argued that it was Christianity and its culture of irrationality that fatally weakened the Empire, causing the rulers to concentrate on theology rather than practical statesmanship?

It can be speculated that ordinary people became interested in religion after the fall of the Republic when they had lost all ability to influence the government.

Constantine moved the capital of the empire to Byzantium, a Greek city on the strait between Europe and Asia, renaming it Constantinopolis. From this time the empire became Greek rather than Latin in language and culture, and its main interests moved to the east. This was the beginning of the abandonment of the Latin west and the beginning of the Middle Ages. Following his time there were nearly always two or more emperors who mostly worked together, or at least consulted each other. However, the western emperor did not usually for example supply soldiers to assist the eastern emperor, nor vice versa. The east had constant needs for soldiers to fight its major enemy in the Persian Sassanian empire in a continuing war covering the provinces of the Middle East. Both parts of the empire had to meet the migrating German, Slavic and Turkic tribes which attacked both parts but permanently weakened more the west than the east.

The definitive division occurred in 395 when the last great emperor of both parts, Theodosius the Great, died and his son Honorius became emperor in the west and his brother Arcadius emperor in the east. Honorius was only 11 and was dominated by Stilicho the partly German general, the actual ruler. Arcadius was 17 and had a weak intellect and was dominated by his prime minister, Rufinus originally from Aquitaine. There was never again an emperor ruling both parts.

Divided empire

Western Empire
The empire in the west extended into the former Celtic lands: Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Britain, Belgium but not Germany (except briefly).

The area of modern Yugoslavia was disputed. Diocletian's line passed through Belgrade. Each side valued this area - Illyria - for its soldiers.

The western emperor did not usually live in Rome, which by this time had declined into a lesser city (like modern Detroit, the city was a ruin). His capital might be Mediolanum (Milano). Diocletianus had settled in Nicomedia near Istanbul. If an emperor made a rare visit to Rome for a ceremonial Triumph it was recorded in the chronicles.

The population in the west tended to decline. Fighting the invading tribes, possibly the exhaustion of the soil, waves of infection, bad economic policy (Diocletian) led to general decline.

Lack of taxable production made for a spiral: inability to pay an army; inability to resist invaders; decay of government. The final result was Feudalism.

The outer provinces, such as Britannia could not be supported - especially after local commanders (such as Magnus Maximus who removed the British troops in an invasion of Italy in 387) had tried to seize the power and took the soldiers away, leaving the land unprotected from the Scots (Irish) and the Saxons).

The final abandonment of Britain was in 410, but the Britons may not have finally realised it until their request to Aëtius the Consul for assistance against the Picts and Scots in 446 (the Groans of the Britons) received no reply. Hengist and Horsa are supposed to have landed in Kent in 449 - apparently at the invitation of Vortigern who may have thought they would just be another group of Auxiliaries - useful German mercenaries. That was the beginning of English history as they owed no allegiance to Rome and avoided the old Roman cities.

The state finally faded away in the west, to be replaced by tribal kingdoms. The last person to claim the title of emperor was Romulus Augustulus (little Augustus), a rather joking name, considering that he was the puppet of a German king - Orestes. He was deposed in 476 by Odoacer another German king. The last emperor to be recognised by Constantinople was Julius Nepos (474-5).

In theory the western empire then became united with the east, but until the time of Justinian the eastern emperors made no attempt to rule it. Instead German kingdoms with shifting borders replaced Roman order.

One factor in the final decline may have been the climate disturbances in the time of Justinian (see Speculations) making a reconquest from the east impossible. The Britons were wiped out by the Plague and the Anglo-Saxons advanced into the empty cities and undefended lands.

Justinian's general Belisarius (probably an Illyrian from what is now modern Bulgaria) was making progress towards reincorporating Italy and north Africa into the empire when the plague which may have been a result of the climate disturbance recorded by the court historian Procopius made further progress impossible. In any case the taxes of the eastern empire were not enough to support this reconquest, and the reconquered lands themselves did not produce enough taxes to pay for the troops.

North Africa, Spain and Sicily were lost to the Arabs when Islam exploded on the scene. Italy reverted to German control.

Eastern Empire
The empire in the east covered what is now the Levant, North Africa and at its greatest extent reached as far as Armenia and Iraq.

The working language became Greek. It had become more the legacy of Alexander the Great and his Hellenistic world than of Rome.

Justinianus (527-565)
The last great emperor of the east was probably Justinian, the nephew of Justin, an illiterate Illyrian soldier who rose in the army. During his long reign he tried to reconquer the West, and nearly succeeded, at least in Italy and North Africa, thanks to his army commander, the Illyrian Belisarius. He was probably the last Latin speaking emperor. But the task proved impossible, not only because of insufficient resources but perhaps because of the Plague - an epidemic, probably similar to the 14th century Black Death which occurred in 541-2 (see also Volcano). Thus large areas were depopulated.

In the time of Justinian a compendium of Roman law was issued in Latin - the corpus iuris civilis - the last major government document in Latin - and the foundation of law throughout the former empire, even in Europe. After Justinian the language of state became Greek, a language almost unknown in western Europe (except in Ireland) - though the peoples spoke many others, including Aramaic, Arabic, Coptic and Berber. The title of the emperor became Basileus - King - a taboo in Rome itself dating back to the original Revolution. He was also known as Autokrator, Ruler, a title that descended to the Tsars of Russia, implying absolute power - though the Senate in Constantinople still had a role, and also the people.

The rise of Islam reduced the Byzantine empire greatly. Muslims found it easy to conquer the southern parts: modern Egypt, Palestine, north Africa, Syria and the old enemy in Persia. This was partly because of a lack of loyalty (group feeling) by many of the dissident (Monophysite) Christians of the area who had often been persecuted by the government in the capital.

Byzantium was reduced to a core area of Greece, Anatolia and the Balkans. These areas too were conquered losing the ability to recruit soldiers in Anatolia. In the west their territories in Italy were conquered by the rising power of the Normans at about the same time as these were conquering England. In the east they were conquered by the rising power of the Seljuk Turks. The battle of Manzikert lost them Anatolia and its taxes and fighting men. The sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204 weakened the empire so much that its end in 1453 was inevitable.

The Byzantine empire declined eventually to a single city - Constantinopolis - and was so weakened by the Crusades that it was conquered by the Muslim Ottoman Turks in 1453, becoming as Istanbul the capital of that vast empire. The last emperor was Constantine the fourteenth. See map of Byzantium empire by 1400.

 What was the cause of the fall of the empire?
This question has been discussed for centuries. Perhaps Ibn Khaldun has a useful explanation. He regarded the secret of a strong nation as being "group feeling". Early Rome seems to have had a strong sense of patriotism shared by all classes. But later this feeling of solidarity began to dissipate as the interests of the aristocrats - the Senatorial families - diverged from those of the ordinary people. The turning point was perhaps as early as the campaigns of the Gracchi brothers - Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus - to reform the institutions of the state in the mid-second century BC, and especially the distribution of land. The conquered cities and states produced empty lands and lots of slaves.

In the early days of the Republic captured land was distributed to ordinary people as well as the aristocrats. From the time of the victory over Carthage land went to the aristocrats who caused it to be worked by slaves in the form of Latifundia - plantation estates. The result was that the displaced "free" farmers had to move to the city where they became largely unemployed, while the work on the Latifundia was done by enslaved captives from the conquered countries. Already this was the root of the later feudalism that became the pattern of life in Europe from about 600 years later.

The Gracchi brothers, grandsons of the Roman general who had finally destroyed Carthage, Scipio Africanus, campaigned for the rights of ordinary people. Their campaign failed and they were assassinated. This might be considered a turning point in the path taken by Rome. If they had succeeded perhaps there would have been more free men with farms and businesses and a better distribution of wealth. But the big money - the Senatorial class - fought back and decisively won. From then on the decline of the Republic would seem to have become inevitable. The empire that succeeded it demanded not solidarity but Obedience. It had become a military dictatorship. To replace the group feeling of the old Republic were new religions which justified obedience to the powers in charge - an ideology of submission. After Constantinus Christianity became compulsory and freedom of thought vanished.

Politically the mass of unemployed had little solidarity with the Senatorial class who controlled the state. The Senatorial class began to see the free citizens in much the same light as they saw their slaves. Solidarity had broken down. Already, before the change in the political system, Rome was on the way to the complete autocracy of the Empire.

Economically, the city of Rome became dependent on imported grain from north Africa, and especially Egypt. Here, we might remember the way western countries are at the present day dependent on using oil from countries they do not control. Rome of course did not pay for the grain which was a Tax or tribute from the conquered province. Thus ultimately it depended not on economic exchange but on military force.

We might also think about the way the modern western nations get their consumer goods from China.

From the time of Marius the Legions were not formed from free citizens but were paid mercenaries with allegiance not to the City, or the Republic, but to their commanding officer. Throughout the time of the Empire the soldiers became the main choosers of the Emperor - a tradition carried on in the former Spanish colonies of the Americas where the Pronunciamiento has been a common method of changing the ruler. There were frequent occasions when an army declared their commander the Emperor, and then went on to fight other "Roman" armies. Towards the end, the armies consisted of German tribesmen, Illyrians (Albanians), Isaurians (from Cilicia, which is now southern Turkey see Wikipedia) and Slavs from modern Serbia. These had no idea of the ancient loyalties of the Republic.

It was not a large transition from these "official" armies to the armies of barbarians, no longer officered by people with any connection to Rome.

Did the use of Lead have any role in the decline of Rome? It is suggested that the Romans ingested so much lead from their water pipes and cooking pots that their brains were poisoned. Barbarians would not have been affected and so remained intelligent.

Engineering and Economy
The Romans are considered to have been good engineers in that they built thousands of miles of Roads which were not equalled until the 19th century, as well as aqueducts and other large scale constructions, such as defensive walls. This article suggests that they were not very innovative in their engineering and merely perfected what other cultures had already invented. Moreover the criticism of the roads is that they were used for military purpose but perhaps did not stimulate the economy, thus did not pay for themselves but consumed taxes. In fact this points to the biggest weakness of Rome. It was a military culture, good at conquering and enslaving others, but not good at generating wealth. While it was easy to steal others' wealth Rome was successful, but that is not the basis of a long lasting civilisation - as Britain and Europe may be discovering.

How much should modern people admire the Roman empire? Here is an article suggesting it was a cultural disaster.Counterpunch.

Remember Simone Weil's hatred of the Roman Empire and what it did to Europe's cultural richness and diversity: "If we consider the long centuries and the vast area of the Roman Empire and compare these centuries with the ones that preceded it and the ones that followed the barbarian invasions, we perceive to what extent the Mediterranean basin was reduced to spiritual sterility by the totalitarian State." As Weil's biographer, Simone Pétrement, comments, "The Roman peace was soon the peace of the desert, a world from which had vanished, together with political liberty and diversity, the creative inspiration that produces great art, great literary works, science, and philosophy. Many centuries had to pass before the superior forms of human life were reborn."

Caroline Taggart - A Classical Education

 Augustus  30 BCE
 Tiberius  14
 Gaius (Caligula)  37
 Claudius  41
 Nero  54

 Galbus  68
 Vespasianus  69
 Titus  79
 Domitianus  81
 Nerva  96
 Traianus  98
 Hadrianus  117
 Antoninus Pius  138
 Marcus Aurelius  161
 Commodus  180
 three emperors  193

Mary Beard - Pompeii: the life of a Roman town

Decline begins
 Septimius Severus  193
 Caracalla  211
 Macrinus  217
 Elagabulus  218
 Alexander Severus  222
 Maximin  235
 5 emperors  238
 Gordian  238
 Philip the Arab  244
 Decius  249
 Gallus  251
 Valerianus & Gallus  253
 Gallienus alone  260
 Claudius II  268
 Aurelianus  270
 Tacitus  275
 Probus  276
 Carus  282

Oriental period
 Diocletianus  284
 Maximianus (assoc.)  287
 Constantius  305
 Constantinus  306
 Constantius II  337
 Julianus  361
 Jovianus  363
 Valentinianus  364
 Gratianus  375
 Theodosius I  379

End game (W)
 final division  395
 Honorius  395
 Constantius  421
 Valentinianus III  425
 Maximus  455
 Avitus  455
 Majorianus  457
 Severus  461
 Ricimer  465
 Anthemius  467
 Olybrius  472
 Glycerius  473
 Julius Nepo  474
 Romulus Augustulus  475

End game (E)
 Arcadius  395
 Theodosius II  408
 Marcianus  450
 Leo  457
 Leo Junior  474
 Zeno  475
 (Basiliscus)  475
 Anastasius  491
 Justinus  518
 Justinianus  527
 Justinus II  564

John Julius Norwich - Short History of Byzantium


 Manzikert  1071
First crusade  1096
Sack of C'ople  1204
Fall of C'ople  1453

Gore Vidal - Julian

Julian. Roman.


Richard Miles - Carthage Must Be Destroyed

Carthage Must be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization (Allen Lane History)

Robert Harris - Lustrum

Review of Lustrum by Robert Harris

Plutarch - Fall of the Roman Republic

Plutarch: Fall of the Roman Republic


From the fall of the empire - or its transformation by the Germanic tribes who invaded the western area - Rome became a distant legend. The language spoken by ordinary people became the various dialects of modern Europe which include French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian and minor languages such as Romansch and Ladino. The political system was entirely replaced by feudalism and the modern states that grew out of it.

Outside the former empire grew the various non-Roman languages: varieties of German (including English, Dutch, Scandinavian etc.) and the non-Indo-European Hungarian and Turkish.

This is because literacy became rare, remaining only with monks in the monasteries, whereas the popular languages evolved unchecked by literary usage. French seems to have been based on the ordinary Latin spoken by the soldiers and working people, influenced by the native Celtic languages (gaulish) and German - in fact it was a form of pidgin. In Iberia several new languages came into being, represented now as Castilian (Spanish), Catalan/Provencal and Portuguese. These were influenced by the mixture of languages spoken in Iberia, including Greek, the native languages (mostly unknown to us) and the later Arabic of the invaders. All these successor (Romance) languages retained a common vocabulary and some aspects of Latin grammar.

In the Byzantine empire Latin fell out of use even for government purposes and was replaced by Greek. The Aramaic speaking provinces and North Africa were conquered by the Arabs.

Nevertheless in the west written Latin remained the common language of the Church and scholars well into the 17th century. Only from the late 17th century did scientific texts come to be written in successor languages such as English and French - Isaac Newton was perhaps the last major scientist to publish in Latin.

The final fall of Constantinople in 1453 released Greek books from the libraries into Europe, partly fuelling the Renaissance of intellectual life there. Soon they were translated and printed.

Holy Roman Empire
The numerous kingdoms founded by the German tribes were gradually conquered by the kingdom of the Franks, especially after it was taken over by a dynasty founded by Charles Martel (Charles the Hammer) which superseded the Merovingian dynasty.

The Franks were based in Gaul. At first they were headed by the Merovingian dynasty, a tribal family whose origins were in the period of migration. They split and recombined into numerous combinations of kingdoms until they lost their power to a hereditary prime minister whose title was "Mayor of the Palace". The most famous of these was Charles Martel who, still as Mayor, led the armies of the Franks against the invading Muslims and defeated them near modern Poitiers in 732 - preventing the Muslim conquest of the north (but Muslims did conquer and hold for some years enclaves in the south of France as far north as modern Switzerland). Pepin the first became king himself in 751, ending the Merovingian dynasty in name as well as power, and then spread the kingdom into Germany and Italy, thus reuniting large parts of the former western Empire, as well as areas that had never been Roman. In return for saving his own skin from the Lombards the Pope Adrian the first crowned him King of the Franks in 774. It was Pope Leo the third who decided that what Carolus Magnus, Charles the Great or Charlemagne needed was to become Emperor of the west. Thus he crowned him in 800. What the pope wanted was to have the prestige of balancing the authority of the Emperor in Constantinople with one of his own.

Was this in fact the re-creation of the Roman Empire in the West? No, of course it wasn't. It was a new type of state - if indeed it was a state at all - the most one could say for it was that it evoked for the people at the time the false memory of an Empire they did not understand.

However, to the Pope it may not have seemed entirely different. Charlemagne was a German, but he probably spoke some Latin, quite probably in an early form of proto-French. The later emperors had been semi-barbarians and had inter-married with the Romans. If there was a real authority in the west it was the Pope and not the Emperor who wielded it, but one of the themes of medieval history was a contest between Popes and Emperors for supremacy that was never really resolved, except that the position of emperor became less and less significant.

The state eventually became known as the "Holy" Roman Empire but its emperors never had the power and authority of the old emperors. From the beginning the title was symbolic, and became less and less real as the centuries passed. When it was ended Kaiser was just a title of the rulers of the Austrian Empire. The ruler of the new (1871) German empire under Bismarck adopted the title Kaiser. The three versions of Caesar ended in 1917 (Russia) and 1918 (Germany and Austria).

In Preparation, often being added to
Edward Gibbon - Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Verfall und Untergang des Römischen Reiches

Histoire du déclin et de la chute de l'Empire romain d'Occident

J.P.Bury - Later Roman Empire

Stephen Mitchell - A History of the Later Roman Empire

Last revised 19/07/12

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