Roman Empire

period of Imperial Rome following the Roman Republic (27 BC–395 AD)

The Roman Empire was the largest empire of the ancient world.[n 8] Its capital was Rome, and its empire was based in the Mediterranean area. The Empire started in 27 BC, when Octavian became the Emperor Augustus. It fell in 476 AD. Its fall marked the end of the Ancient World and the beginning of the Middle Ages, or Dark Ages.[8]

Roman Empire
27 BC – 476 AD (traditional dates)[1][2]
395 AD - 480 AD (Western)
395 AD – 1453 AD (Byzantine)

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]
Common languages
GovernmentSemi-elective, functionally absolute monarchy
• 27 BC – 14 AD
Augustus (first)
• 98 AD – 117 AD
• 270 AD – 275 AD
• 284 AD – 305 AD
• 306 AD – 337 AD
Constantine I
• 379 AD – 395 AD
Theodosius I[n 3]
• 474 AD – 480 AD
Julius Nepos[n 4]
• 475 AD – 476 AD
Romulus Augustus
• 527 AD – 565 AD
Justinian I
• 780 AD – 797 AD
Constantine VI[n 5]
• 976 AD – 1025
Basil II
• 1449 – 1453
Constantine XI[n 6]
Historical eraClassical era to Late Middle Ages
32 BC – 30 BC
30 BC – 2 BC
• Constantinople
becomes capital
11 May 330 AD
• Final East-West divide
17 January 395 AD
4 September 476 AD
• Murder of Emperor Julius Nepos
25 April 480 AD
12 April 1204
• Reconquest of Constantinople
25 July 1261
29 May 1453
• Fall of Trebizond
15 August 1461
25 BC[4][5]2,750,000 km2 (1,060,000 sq mi)
117 AD[4][6][7]5,000,000–6,500,000 km2 (1,900,000–2,500,000 sq mi)
390 AD[4]4,400,000 km2 (1,700,000 sq mi)
• 25 BC[4][5]
CurrencySestertius,[n 7] Aureus, Solidus, Nomisma
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Roman Republic
Western Roman Empire
Byzantine Empire

The Empire was the third stage of Ancient Rome. Rome was first ruled by Roman kings, then by the Roman Republic, then by an emperor.

Many modern lands were once part of the Roman Empire, for example Britain (not Scotland), Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Germany, Egypt, Levant, Crimea, Switzerland, and the north coast of Africa. The main language of the Roman Empire was Latin with Greek as an important secondary language, especially in the Eastern provinces of the Empire.

The western half of the Roman Empire lasted for about 500 years till the barbarian general Odoacer defeated its final emperor Romulus Augustus. On the other hand, the eastern half, consisting of the Balkans, Anatolia, The Levant and Egypt, continued for about a thousand years more (though the Levant and Egypt were lost to the Arabs in the 8th century). The eastern part was called the Byzantine Empire. Its capital was Constantinople, now called Istanbul.

Governing the EmpireEdit

In order to control their large empire, the Romans developed ideas about law and government. They developed the best army in the world at that time, and ruled by force. They had fine engineering, and built roads, cities, and outstanding buildings. The Empire was divided into provinces, each with a governor plus civil and military support. Letters, both official and private, went constantly to and from Rome.

Trade was most important for Rome, a city of more than a million people, by far the largest city in the world. They needed, and got, wheat from Egypt, tin from Britannia, grapes from Gaul, and so on. In return, the Romans built provincial capitals into fine cities, protected them from raids by barbarians, and provided education and career opportunities for young people in the provinces, such as jobs in the Roman Army.

In principle, emperors had absolute control, and could do as they pleased. In practice, they faced some difficult problems. They had a staff of what we call 'civil servants' and the advice of the Roman Senate. The emperor had to decide what were the most important issues facing the Empire, and what should be done about them. Most of them tried to do two things. One was to do things to improve the life of Romans in peacetime. The other was to fight and defeat Rome's enemies. A wealthy empire always has enemies.

With kings and emperors, a big problem is the order of succession. Kings were sometimes followed by their eldest son, if he was capable of ruling. For Roman emperors, more often it would be an adopted son. It worked like this. The emperor would notice an outstanding young man from one of the best families. He would adopt him as his son. Before he died he would make clear whom he thought should succeed him, by making him a Roman consul, or by stating in his will that the younger man should succeed him. Sometimes this worked; sometimes it did not. Every now and then there would be a civil war between claimants to the throne.

An adopted son or two gave the emperor more choices. Some emperors had no son; some had sons who did not survive. Later on, emperors grew so weak that the Roman army would just pick one of their generals to be the next emperor. This often led to civil war. The life stories of the emperors can be found in List of Roman emperors.

The Romans fought many wars against other countries, and against barbarians several times. They enjoyed watching violent sports. They watched chariots races, and fights between gladiators (men using weapons). Unlike in modern sports, the fighters were often killed in fights. Romans enjoyed these shows in the Colosseum.

The Romans had great civil engineering. They built many large public buildings and villas, aqueducts to carry water, stone bridges and roads. Some of these things can still be seen today. Many famous writers were Romans, including Cicero and Virgil.

The New Testament of the Bible tells about the Romans in the life of Jesus Christ. During Jesus' life, the Romans, who were pagans, ruled his country. Later, several emperors tried to destroy Christianity but they did not succeed. By 312 AD the emperor Galerius allowed people freedom to follow Christianity, and the next year, a general, Constantine, became emperor and converted to Christianity.

The city of Rome was taken over several times by barbarians, notably in 410 AD when the Goths sacked the city (looting). The last Western Roman emperor, Romulus Augustus, resigned in 476 AD. The Roman Empire would last another 1,000 years as the Byzantine Empire in the east.

The main coin of the Roman Empire was the silver denarius. Later denarii were smaller.

Various reasons have been given for the fall of Rome. Edward Gibbon wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in which he investigated various ideas. Chief among them was (in his opinion) was the effect of Christianity on the ability of the Empire to defend itself militarily.

Other historians blame the unstable system of leadership. In one later 50-year period, only 2 out of 22 emperors died a natural death. Most of the emperors were assassinated.[9]


  1. Morley, Neville (2010). The Roman Empire: Roots of Imperialism. Pluto Press. ISBN 978-0-7453-2870-6.
  2. Diamond, Jared (2011). Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed: revised edition. Penguin. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-101-50200-6.
  3. Bennett, Julian (1997). Trajan: Optimus Princeps : a life and times. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-16524-2.. Fig. 1. Regions east of the Euphrates river were held only in the years 116–117.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Taagepera, Rein (1979). "Size and Duration of Empires: Growth-Decline Curves, 600 B.C. to 600 A.D". Social Science History. Duke University Press. 3 (3/4): 125. doi:10.2307/1170959. JSTOR 1170959.
  5. Durand, John D. (1977). "Historical estimates of world population: an evaluation". Population and Development Review. 3 (3): 253–296. doi:10.2307/1971891. JSTOR 1971891.
  6. Turchin, Peter; Adams, Jonathan M.; Hall, Thomas D (2006). "East-West orientation of historical empires" (PDF). Journal of World-systems Research. 12 (2): 222. ISSN 1076-156X. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  7. Parker, Philip (2009). The Empire stops here: a journey along the frontiers of the Roman World. London: Pimlico. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-84595-003-3.
  8. Kelly, Christopher (2007). The Roman Empire: a very short introduction. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280391-7.
  9. Iorwerth Eiddon & others, ed. (2005). The Cambridge Ancient History: Volume 12, The Crisis of Empire, AD 193–337. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-30199-2.
  1. Other ways of referring to the "Roman Empire" among the Romans and Greeks themselves included Res publica Romana or Imperium Romanorum (also in Greek: Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων – ["Dominion (Literally 'kingdom' but also interpreted as 'empire') of the Romans"]) and Romania. Res publica means Roman "commonwealth" and can refer to both the Republican and the Imperial eras. Imperium Romanum (or "Romanorum") refers to the territorial extent of Roman authority. Populus Romanus ("the Roman people") was/is often used to indicate the Roman state in matters involving other nations. The term Romania, initially a colloquial term for the empire's territory as well as a collective name for its inhabitants, appears in Greek and Latin sources from the 4th century onward and was eventually carried over to the Eastern Roman Empire (see R.L. Wolff, "Romania: The Latin Empire of Constantinople" in Speculum 23 (1948), pp. 1–34 and especially pp. 2–3).
  2. Between 1204 and 1261 there was an interregnum when the Empire was divided into the Empire of Nicaea, the Empire of Trebizond and the Despotate of Epirus, which were all contenders for rule of the Empire. The Empire of Nicaea is considered the legitimate continuation of the Roman Empire because it managed to re-take Constantinople.
  3. The final emperor to rule over all of the Roman Empire's territories before its conversion to a diarchy.
  4. Officially the final emperor of the Western empire.
  5. Final ruler to be universally recognized as Roman Emperor, including by the papacy and the Western European powers.
  6. Last emperor of the Eastern (Byzantine) empire.
  7. Abbreviated "HS". Prices and values are usually expressed in sesterces; see #Currency and banking for currency denominations by period.
  8. Latin: Imperium Rōmānum, Classical Latin: [ɪmˈpɛ.ri.ũː roːˈmaː.nũː]; Koine and Medieval Greek: Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, tr. Basileia tōn Rhōmaiōn

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