Ancient Rome presided over one of the most forward thinking, intelligent, often cruel and all conquering empires in history, while this great power lasted for hundreds of years. So how did the Roman Empire come about? Who were its greatest leaders plus when and how did the fall of the Roman Empire take place? Here we take a look at all these questions and more!
The Legend of How Rome Began
Romulus and Remus
The building of Rome began in 753 BC when twins Romulus and Remus who were said to be the sons of the God Mars were instructed to build a city to mark the area where they were found after being placed in the River Tiber to die by their uncle. The babies were saved by a wolf that suckled them, while they were then brought up by a local farmer. Legend has it that Romulus and Remus fought and Romulus killed his twin brother, while factually it is known that people did indeed live in Rome around 753 BC.
Two thousand years ago most of the world was ruled by Rome including Britain, Africa and Syria through to Spain and beyond. In fact most of Western Europe, the Middle East and North Africa came under Roman rule. During the early years of the empire Rome clashed with Carthage many times and fought lengthy campaigns in order to eventually defeat the Carthaginians to become the premier power in the Mediterranean. The Romans were an ambitious lot and did not stop at conquering their neighbours but travelled all over the world in order to subjugate nations and take control of their lands.
The Republic and Julius Caesar
Rome became a republic in 509 BC and remained so for almost four hundred years until Julius Caesar defeated Pompey during the civil war to become the first dictator of Rome. The twelve month calendar we see today was established by Caesar, while in 44 BC he was assassinated by his own senators, including Brutus, who wished to bring back the republic to Rome. This action did not however bring back the republic but heralded the start of civil war!
The Empire Emperors and Christianity
St Peter's Basilica in Rome
The empire began in 27 BC when Octavius declared himself emperor or "Augustus", of Rome a title that was also agreed by the Roman Senate. During the reign of Augustus Rome prospered and was relatively peaceful with Augustus implementing a system that saw a combination of traditional republican ways joined with the rule of monarchy. The senate remained in power although Augustus himself held total power and his word was final.
Augustus's rule was so successful that he became revered as a god with all the following emperors attaining the same accolade following their deaths. There were good and bad emperors as there are good and bad leaders in modern times. Octavian Augustus, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius were all deemed to be good emperors, while Caligula and Nero were considered to be evil rulers who were swathed in decadence earning the hatred of the Roman people.
During the rule of Tiberius 14 AD to 37 AD Jesus Christ was crucified and his followers, who became known as Christians, were hounded, captured, tortured and put to death in shocking ways such as thrown to the lions in the arena or burned at the stake in the circus. Constantine was the first ruler to declare religious tolerance should be observed, while by 320 AD Christianity became the premier religion in Rome.
The Romans had always worshipped the gods and it was believed that once a person was dead that was the end of life totally unless they were declared a god. Christianity had a huge draw for the ordinary citizens of Rome as it promised an afterlife for the masses meaning that once a person died they would move onto another life in heaven with God. This must have appealed greatly to people who hoped their life would continue after death and so the Christian church was eventually established in Rome.
The last emperor to rule over a united Rome was Theodosius I from 379 to 395 AD, while following his death Rome split into Eastern and Western empires. Rome was attacked and almost destroyed by the Visigoths people of German origin in 410 AD. Rome fell in 476 AD when the last western emperor Romulus Augustulus was deposed by Odoacer the German Chieftain, while the east became the Byzantine Empire
Famous Roman Buildings
The Colosseum in Rome was built in 70 AD and was a site dedicated to entertainment, celebrations, sporting events and famously bloodshed events. The completion of the amphitheatre that measures 620 x 513 feet was celebrated with one hundred days of games such as gladiatorial contests, animal fights and entertaining tableaux. The building seated up to fifty thousand spectators who were protected from the glare of the Mediterranean sun by awnings that draped across the roof. The colosseum can be still seen today, albeit a shadow of its former self, but none the less a spectacular structure to behold!
The Pantheon that may still be seen in all its glory today was built by Emperor Hadrian, as a temple to the Roman Gods, around 118 AD. By the seventh century the building had been transformed into a church and now plays host to many honoured tombs.
The Roman Forum Ruins
The Ancient Roman Forum was the meeting place for business, social and legal citizens of Rome and was a large complex of temples, arches and basilicas.
Built in 122 AD Hadrian's wall is a fine example of Roman construction prowess, eighty four miles long from coast to coast, that graces the land between Scotland and England in Northumberland. Hadrian built the wall to separate his army from the "Barbarian Scots".
Arch of Constantine
We can still see today many great buildings and monuments that have survived from Roman times. One such edifice, as we have noted above, that can still be viewed is Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland. Emperor Hadrian built the wall in 122 AD in order to draw a border line between England and Scotland. Another is the Arch of Canstantine built to honour the great leader. Their road building was second to none and is recognised for the way their construction heralded fast transportation routes. Everyone benefitted from farmers, the army and pedestrians through to the Roman mail services.
Their building of homes that possessed central heating, windows and even conveniences was nothing less than inspired and well ahead of its time. Indeed we would not see central heating in Britain until the nineteenth century some two thousand years after the Romans first built heating systems. The Romans are also remembered for their great army that was powerful and well trained bringing the Romans much success and admiration as well as being much feared by its enemies..
The Romans created many laws and were superb at town and city planning along with local government. As law makers they were intelligent bringing in intricate or complicated legislation we would be proud of even today. They took on board and adopted the best that other countries offered too conserving cultures such as the Greeks. Town planners were superb bringing plumbing, sewage disposal and water aqueducts to the masses, while as a result standards of hygiene were amazing!
We only have to look at what remains of Roman buildings to appreciate the fine architecture that dominated Ancient Rome. The Romans built spectacular structures such as the Colosseum along with awesome arches to commemorate past triumphs and rulers.
The Timeline of Ancient Rome
- The City of Rome is founded in 753 BC
- Rome is declared a republic in 509 BC
- Hannibal crosses The Alps to invade Italy in the 2nd Punic War 218 BC
- Spartacus the famous gladiator leads an uprising in 73 BC
- Julius Caesar becomes supreme ruler and dictator of Rome in 45 BC
- Caesar is murdered by the senate in 44 BC sparking civil war
- Caesar Augustus becomes first Roman emperor heralding the start of the Roman Empire in 27 BC
- Jesus Christ is crucified in 32 AD
- Rome burns under Emperor Nero, while it was said that Nero played his fiddle while watching the flames engulf the city in 64 AD
- The Colosseum is built in 80AD
- Hadrian's Wall is built in 121 AD
- Constantine becomes emperor in 306 AD
- Theodosius I declared Christianity the sole religion of the Roman Empire in 380 AD
- Rome is divided into west and eastern separate empires in 395 AD
- The Visigoths sack Rome in 401 AD
- The fall of Ancient Rome in 476 AD and the beginning of the Dark Ages