and 400 AD with major cities. During this time only Dacia and Mesopotamia were added to the Empire but were lost before 300.]]
The Roman Empire is the term conventionally used to describe the Roman state in the centuries following its reorganization under the leadership of Caesar Augustus. Although Rome possessed a collection of tribute-states for centuries before the autocracy of Augustus, the pre-Augustan state is conventionally described as the Roman Republic. The difference between the Roman Empire and the Roman Republic lies primarily in the governing bodies and their relationship to each other.
For many years, historians made a distinction between the Principate, the period from Augustus until the Crisis of the Third Century, and the Dominate, the period from Diocletian until the end of the Empire in the West. According to this theory, during the Principate, from the Latin word princeps , meaning "the first," the only title Augustus would permit himself, the realities of dictatorship were cleverly hidden behind Republican forms, while during the Dominate, from the word dominus, meaning "Master", imperial power showed its naked face, with golden crowns and ornate imperial ritual. We now know that the situation was far more nuanced: certain historical forms continued until the Byzantine period, more than 1000 years after they were created, and displays of imperial majesty were common from the earliest days of the Empire.
Over the course of its history, the Roman Empire controlled all of the Hellenized states that bordered the Mediterranean sea, as well as the Celtic regions of Western Europe. The administration of the Roman Empire eventually evolved into separate Eastern and Western halves, more or less following this cultural division. By the time that Odoacer took power of the West in 476, the Western half was clearly evolving in new directions, with the Church absorbing much of the administrative and charitable roles previously filled by the secular government. The Eastern half of the Empire, centered around Constantinople, the city of Constantine the Great, remained the heartland of the Roman state until 1453, when the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Turks.
The Roman Empire's influence on government, law, and monumental architecture, as well as many other aspects of Western life remains inescapable. Roman titles of power were adopted by successor states and other entities with imperial pretensions, including the Frankish kingdom, the Holy Roman Empire, the Russian/Kiev dynasties (see czars), and the German Empire (see Kaiser). See also: Roman culture
The reign of Augustus marks an important turning point, though. By the time of Actium, there was no one left alive who could recall functional Republican institutions or a time when there was no civil war in Rome. Forty-five years later, at Augustus's death, there would have been few living who could recall a time before Augustus himself. The average Roman had a life expectancy of only forty years. The long reign of Augustus allowed a generation to live and die knowing no other form of rule, or indeed no other ruler. This was critically important to creating a mindset that would allow hereditary monarchy to exist in a Rome that had killed Julius Caesar for his regal pretensions. Whether or not the people of Rome welcomed one man rule, in the Age of Augustus, it was all they knew, and so it would remain for many centuries.
Augustus's reign was notable for several long-lasting achievements that would define the Empire:
The creation of a hereditary office which we refer to as Emperor of Rome.
The fixing of the payscale and duration of Roman military service marked the final step in the evolution of the Roman Army from a citizen army to a professional one.
The creation of the Praetorian Guard, which would make and unmake emperors for centuries.
Expansion to the natural borders of the Empire. The borders reached upon Augustus's death remained the limits of Empire, with minimal exceptions, for the next four hundred years.
The lex Julia of 18 BC and the lex Papia Poppaea of AD 9, which rewarded childbearing and penalized celibacy.
The promulgation of the cult of the Deified Julius Caesar throughout the Empire, and the encouragement of a quasi-godlike status for himself in his own lifetime in the Hellenist East. This tradition lasted until the time of Constantine, who was made both a Roman god and "the Thirteenth Apostle" upon his death.
Though primary accounts of this period are few, works of poetry, legislation and engineering from this period provide important insights into Roman life. Archeology, including maritime archeology, aerial surveys, epigraphic inscriptions on buildings, and Augustan coinage, has also provided valuable evidence about economic, social and military conditions.
The early years of Tiberius' reign were peaceful and relatively benign. Tiberius secured the power of Rome and enriched the treasury. However, Tiberius's reign soon became characterized by paranoia and slander. In 19, he was blamed for the death of his nephew, the popular Germanicus. In 23, his own son Drusus died. More and more, Tiberius retreated into himself. He began a series of treason trials and executions. He left power in the hands of the commander of the guard, Aelius Sejanus. Tiberius himself retired to live at his villa on the island of Capri in 26, leaving Sejanus in charge. Sejanus carried on the persecutions with relish. He also began to consolidate his own power; in 31, he was named co-consul with Tiberius and married Livilla, the emperor's niece. At this point, he was hoist by his own petard; the Emperor's paranoia, which he had so ably exploited for his own gain, was turned against him. Sejanus was put to death, along with many of his cronies, the same year. The persecutions continued apace until Tiberius's death in 37.
Claudius had long been considered a weakling and a fool by the rest of his family. He was, however, neither paranoid like his uncle Tiberius, nor insane like his nephew Caligula, and was therefore able to administrate with reasonable ability. He improved the bureaucracy and streamlined the citizenship and senatorial rolls. He also proceeded with the conquest and colonization of Britain (in 43), and incorporated more Eastern provinces into the empire. In Italy, he constructed a winter port at Ostia, thereby providing a place for grain from other parts of the Empire to be brought in inclement weather.
On the home front, Claudius was less successful. His wife Messalina cuckolded him; when he found out, he had her executed and married his niece, Agrippina the younger. She, along with several of his freedmen, held an inordinate amount of power over him, and very probably killed him in 54. Claudius was deified later that year. The death of Claudius paved the way for Agrippina's own son, the 16-year-old Lucius Domitus, or, as he was known by this time, Nero.
Initially, Nero left the rule of Rome to his mother and his tutors, particularly Lucius Annaeus Seneca. However, as he grew older, his desire for power increased; he had his mother and tutors executed. During Nero's reign, there were a series of riots and rebellions throughout the Empire: in Britain, Armenia, Parthia and Judaea. Nero's inability to manage the rebellions and his basic incompetence became evident quickly and in 68, even the Imperial guard renounced him. Nero committed suicide, and the year 69 (known as the Year of the Four Emperors) was a year of civil war, with the emperors Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian ruling in quick succession. By the end of the year, Vespasian was able to solidify his power as emperor of Rome.
Vespasian was a remarkably successful Roman general who had been given rule over much of the eastern part of the Roman Empire. He had supported the imperial claims of Galba; however, on his death, Vespasian became a major contender for the throne. After the suicide of Otho, Vespasian was able to hijack Rome's winter grain supply, placing him in a good position to defeat his remaining rival, Vitellius. On December 20, 69, some of Vespasian's partisans were able to occupy Rome. Vitellius was murdered by his own troops, and the next day, Vespasian was confirmed as Emperor by the Senate.
Vespasian was quite the autocrat, and gave much less credence to the Senate than his Julio-Claudian predecessors. This was typified by his dating his accession to power from July 1, when his troops proclaimed him emperor, instead of December 21, when the Senate confirmed his appointment. He would, in later years, expel dissident senators.
Vespasian was able to liberate Rome from the financial burdens placed upon it by Nero's excesses and the civil wars. By increasing tax rates dramatically (sometimes as much as doubling them) he was able to build up a surplus in the treasury and embark on public works projects. It was he who first commissioned the Roman Colosseum; he also built a forum whose centerpiece was a temple to Peace.
Vespasian was also an effective emperor for the provinces. His generals quelled rebellions in Syria and Germany. In fact, in Germany he was able to expand the frontiers of the empire, and a great deal more of Britain was brought under Roman rule. He also extended Roman citizenship to the inhabitants of Spain.
Another example of his monarchical tendencies was his insistence that his sons Titus and Domitian would succeed him; the imperial power was not seen as hereditary at this point. Titus, who had some military successes early in Vespasian's reign, was seen as the heir presumptive to the throne; Domitian was seen as somewhat less disciplined and responsible. Titus joined his father in the offices of censor and consul and helped him reorganize the senatorial rolls. Upon Vespasian's death in 79, Titus was immediately confirmed as Emperor.
Titus' short reign was marked by disaster: in 79, Vesuvius erupted in Pompeii, and in 80, a fire decimated much of Rome. His generosity in rebuilding after these tragedies made him very popular. Titus was very proud of his work on the vast amphitheater begun by his father. He held the opening ceremonies in the still unfinished edifice during the year 80, celebrating with a lavish show that featured 100 gladiators and lasted 100 days. However, it was during Domitian's reign that the Colosseum was completed. Titus died in 81, at the age of 41; it was rumored that his brother Domitian murdered him in order to become his successor.
The Severan dynasty includes the increasingly troubled reigns of Septimius Severus (193–211), Caracalla (211–217), Macrinus (217–218), Elagabalus (218–222), and Alexander Severus (222–235). The founder of the dynasty, Lucius Septimius Severus, belonged to a leading native family of Leptis Magna in Africa who allied himself with a prominent Syrian family by his marriage to Julia Domna. Their provincial background and cosmopolitan alliance, eventually giving rise to imperial rulers of Syrian background, Elagabalus and Alexander Severus, testifies to the broad political franchise and economic development of the Roman empire that had been achieved under the Antonines. A generally successful ruler, Septimius Severus cultivated the army's support with substantial remuneration in return for total loyalty to the emperor and substituted equestrian officers for senators in key administrative positions. In this way, he successfully broadened the power base of the imperial administration throughout the empire. Abolishing the regular standing jury courts of Republican times, Septimius Severus was likewise able to transfer additional power to the executive branch of the government, of which he was decidedly the chief representative.