What was the Roman Empire?

What Does Roman empire Mean

The Roman Empire ( Imperium romanum in Latin, which translates to "rule of the Romans") was the period of maximum expansion of the Roman State in Classical Antiquity. It operated as an autocratic political system and existed between 27 BC. C. and 476 d. C .



It is one of the most important political and historical entities of all antiquity, especially for the West. Throughout its history, it laid many of the foundations of the world as we understand it today, and left a significant legacy in political, judicial, cultural and social matters.

In fact, it was in the times of the Roman Empire that many of the great European cities were founded or acquired their geographical significance, such as:

  • Paris (originally Lutetia),
  • Vienna (Vindobona),
  • Barcelona (Barcino),
  • Zaragoza (Cesaraugusta),
  • Merida (Augusta Emerita),
  • Milan (Medioanum),
  • London (Londinum),
  • Lyon (Lugdunum).

It was so important that after its fall there were numerous attempts to reunify and refound it, thus giving rise to the Carolingian Empire (at the hands of Charlemagne) and the Holy Roman Empire. However, when we speak of the Roman Empire, we are referring to its highest historical point, around 117 AD. C .

Its apogee is prior to the political and geographical division carried out during the government of Diocletian (284-305) and after Theodosius I (379-395), when the Roman Empire of the West and the Roman Empire of the East thus became, the latter later known as the Byzantine Empire. The western half was the first to fall, due to the economic and military weakening, while the eastern half continued its political life for almost a millennium.

Life in the Roman Empire was generally cosmopolitan and complex. The Roman culture, strongly influenced by the Greek (they inherited practically all its philosophy and mythology), knew how to take an interest in the products and cultures of the colonized territories . However, it imposed its language and religion , as well as granting Roman citizenship.

The flowering of its culture is usually located around the year 27 BC. C. Subsequently, was the scene of the emergence and popularization of Christianity, a cult that ended up being the official religion of the Empire in the fourth century.

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Early Roman Empire

Augustus made Rome an Empire after winning the civil war.

When Rome was still a Republic, Senator Julius Caesar (100 - 44 BC), was assassinated by those who saw him as a tyrant in the making. The irony is that after his death a bloody civil war broke out for political control of the Republic. The victory went to the side of Augustus (63 BC - 14 AD), Marco Antonio and Lepido.

Thus a military dictatorship known as the Second Triumvirate was established. Already exercising power autocratically, Augustus (also called Gaius Octavio Turino and great-nephew of Julius Caesar) faced the other two triumvirs. However, he managed to exile Lepidus and defeated Marco Antonio in the naval battle of Accio in 31 BC. C.

Then Augustus returned his powers to the Senate, restoring the Republic, only for it to beg him to assume the leadership of power, granting him the title of Caesar ( Imperator Cesar Augustus ), or emperor. Thus ended the republican life of Rome and the Roman Empire formally began in 27 BC. C.

Such was the devotion of the Roman people to their first emperor that their successors used the names Caesar and Augustus as their real names, and the sixth month of the calendar then, called Sextillis, was named "August" in his honor.

Location of the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire reached an area of ​​more than 7 million km2.

The Roman Empire arose from the territory of the Roman Republic, present-day Italy and its capital was Rome. His main historical interests were always oriented to the Mediterranean Sea, since it connects Europe with North Africa and the Middle East. In that territory, the Empire expanded to an area of ​​more than 7 million km2.

Thus, the location of the Roman Empire changed greatly over time , as it gained territory and toward the end of its time lost it. At its peak, it encompassed:

  • Almost all of Western Europe .
  • The Balkans .
  • The shores of the Black Sea .
  • Almost all of today's Turkey, Syria, and Cyprus .
  • The entire Levant of the Middle East (Palestine, Israel, Jordan).
  • The North Africa (from Egypt to Morocco).

Such a territory was difficult to navigate and required to be divided into provinces, which initially numbered 46 (117 AD) but through subdivisions ended up being 96 (285 AD). Many of the names of these provinces begot the current names of countries and regions , such as Britannia, Germania, Baetica, Iudaea, Gaul, etc.

Characteristics of the Roman Empire

Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century.

The Roman Empire was characterized by the following:

  • It arose from the Roman Republic with Octavian or Augustus as the first monarch in 27 BC. C., and lasted until the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 , or until the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire in 1453, as seen.
  • Its extension became enormous, encompassing a good part of Europe, Africa and Asia Minor, with the Mediterranean Sea at its center. Its territory was divided into provinces , each with its own name and an imperial ruler.
  • Much of Roman culture consisted of a local translation of Greek culture , to the point that they shared philosophical principles, classical values , and the same polytheistic religion. But since their language was Latin and not Greek, the Greek gods were renamed in the Roman language: Zeus as Jupiter, Aphrodite as Venus, Hermes as Mercury, Hera as Juno, Hephaestus as Vulcan, Poseidon as Neptune, etc., and the Greek heroes the same: Odysseus as Ulysses, Heracles as Hercules, etc.
  • The Roman Empire witnessed the birth within its bosom of Christianity , a reworking of the ancient Jewish religion. Such was the influence of this new cult on its population that from the fourth century it became the official religion of the Empire, spreading throughout Europe.
  • The capital of the Empire was Rome , but also at different times were Milan, Ravenna, Nicomedia and Constantinople. Likewise, the Roman coins were the denarius, sesterce and Byzantine solid.
  • The Empire had a powerful army , made up of different legions (30 different in their best moments), each one made up of 10 cohorts, each endowed with a banner, divisible in turn into five or six centuries of eighty soldiers. Each century could be subdivided into ten conspiracies, which was the minimum unit of 8 legionaries who shared their tent. Each legion numbered between five and six thousand infantrymen.
  • Given that it was a colonial empire , in Rome there was a plurality of products from different latitudes , multiple popular languages ​​were spoken and there was a vast trade network , thanks to the system of roads that allowed the connection of the different Roman provinces.

Stages of the Roman Empire

The history of the Roman Empire is usually divided into two stages or periods:

  • The High Empire (27 BC to 284 AD). This is the boom stage of the Roman Empire, in which its territorial expansion and most of its military conquests take place, at the hands of four different dynasties: the Julio-Claudia, the Flavia, the Antonina and the Severa. It begins with the pax romana of Augustus and ends in the so-called crisis of the third century, with the rise of Diocletian to the power of the Empire.
  • The Lower Empire (284 AD until its fall in 476). Stage of political and economic decline of the empire, which began with the governance crisis that led to the assassination of Emperor Alejandro Severo in 235, the first ruler of a string of 19 emperors also assassinated until the year 285. During this period the idea of ​​separately managing the western and eastern wing of the Empire, first put into practice by Theodosius I, who gave each of his sons one of the two newly created thrones. However, no restructuring succeeded in bringing peace to the Empire again.

Roman architecture

The Roman Empire carried out great engineering works such as aqueducts.

One of the great legacies of Roman culture is its architecture , a reinterpretation of that inherited from classical Greek culture, with its own original additions to Roman thought.

Roman architecture flourished during the Roman Republic and even more so during the Empire . At that time great engineering works were carried out, such as the famous Roman aqueducts and coliseums that still exist, the public baths, the underfloor heating, or the great religious temples that later Christianity inherited.

Most of the current Roman ruins date from 100 AD. C. This peculiar style of the Romans was the standard in the West until the fourth century, when Byzantine architecture emerged, and then reappeared in Western Europe in the tenth century, under the name of Romanesque architecture.

Roman economy

Oil was extracted from the olive trees, which was stored and transported in amphorae.

The economy of the Roman Empire was typical of a slave state , which used slave labor for agricultural production , with no other remuneration than a portion of land for its own cultivation. Life and commerce were centered in large cities , interconnected by a vast road network, which also allowed the movement of troops.

The Romans developed agriculture and livestock , introducing new techniques and harvesting very diverse foods , since the Empire was so extensive that it allowed them different types of soils , climates and resources. The most important crops were the vine, wheat, barley and olive trees, from which they obtained oil, as well as other fruit trees, vegetables and legumes.

Roman law

Another of the great legacies of the Roman Empire to the West was its legal and legislative system , from which many of the current codes of justice are inspired . The so-called " Roman Law " ( Ius romanum ) formed the basis of modern law and still survives in the form of fundamental principles and sentences, often presented in the Roman language, Latin.

Roman law was complex, practical, and of technical quality. It was first compiled by Emperor Justinian I (of the Eastern Roman Empire) in the 6th century: the Corpus Juris Civilis .

In general lines it was divided into private law and public law , depending on whether it had to do between individuals or had to do with the State. He looked and branches specific such as criminal law , the tax law and administrative law .

More in: Roman law

The fall of the Roman empire

The fall of the Western Roman Empire occurred in the year 476 , when the King of Heruli, Odoacer, deposed Romulus Augustulus, the last of the Roman emperors. This took place in the framework of a series of barbarian invasions from Germany.

The barbarians, driven in turn by the invasions of the Huns, had to enter Roman territory en masse. To their surprise, they found him poorly defended and in a state of disarray. These peoples settled in each of the Roman provinces and there they founded new independent kingdoms, thus inaugurating the Middle Ages and ending the Ancient Ages .

The Eastern Roman Empire survived these events , and throughout its thousand years of survival it was renamed the Byzantine Empire, reclaiming its Greek heritage and embracing Orthodox Christianity.

From 395 to 1453 its territory changed enormously, expanding westward and then gradually losing territory, until its capital, Byzantium (the former Constantinople) fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 , founding Istanbul in its place and thus ending the Empire. Roman at all.

List of Roman Emperors

The Roman Empire had different dynasties of emperors, of which the first four are the most recognized:

Julio-Claudian dynasty . Composed of the descendants of Julius Caesar and Augustus, it featured particularly despotic and eccentric emperors:

  • Augustus , of 27 a. C. to 14 d. C.
  • Tiberio , from 14 to 37.
  • Caligula , from 37 to 41.
  • Claudio , from 41 to 54.
  • Nero , from 54 to 68.

Flavian dynasty . Inaugurated with Vespasian, they were the first to grant Roman citizenship to the inhabitants of the empire's provinces, and they excelled in public works and constructions:

  • Vespasian , from 69 to 79.
  • Tito , from 79 to 81.
  • Domitian , from 81 to 96.

Antonine dynasty . The first five were known as "The five good emperors", they were the ones who led the Empire to its territorial, cultural and social apogee:

  • Nerva , from 96 to 98.
  • Trajano , from 98 to 117.
  • Adriano , from 117 to 138.
  • Antonio Pío , from 138 to 161.
  • Marco Aurelio , from 161 to 180.
  • Comfortable , from 180 to 192.

Severe Dynasty . The last emperors before the Crisis of the third century, had governments with a strong presence of their women, the Empresses Julia Domna, Julia Mesa, Julia Soemias and Julia Mamea, who led their parallel dynasty. In addition, some of them were co-emperors:

  • Septimius Severus , from 193 to 211.
  • Caracalla , from 211 to 217.
  • Geta , from 211 to 212.
  • Macrino , from 217 to 218.
  • Diadumeniano , from 217 to 218.
  • Heliogábalo , from 218 to 222.
  • Alejandro Severo , from 222 to 235.

Apart from these four dynasties, there were later other emperors inside and outside of dynastic pictures:

Emperors of the Crisis of the 3rd century . Those who succeeded each other in vain trying to bring the Empire to their waist. Many had to deal with usurpers to the throne:

  • Maximinus the Thracian , 235-238.
  • Gordiano I , during 238.
  • Gordiano II , during 238.
  • Pupieno Máximo , during 238.
  • Balbino , during 238.
  • Gordiano III , from 238 to 244.
  • Filipo el Árabe , from 244 to 249.
  • Decio or Trajano Decio , from 249 to 251.
  • Etruscan Herenius , during 251.
  • Hostilian , during 251.
  • Treboniano Galo , from 251 to 253.
  • Emiliano , during 253.
  • Valeriano , from 253 to 260.
  • Galieno , from 260 to 268.

The Illyrian Emperors . Mostly from Illyria, a late Romanized Roman Balkan province, whose soldiers had a good reputation.

  • Claudio II , from 268 to 270.
  • Quintilo , during 270.
  • Aureliano , from 270 to 275.
  • Claudio Tácito , from 275 to 276.
  • Floriano , during 276.
  • Probus , from 276 to 282.

The Lower Roman Empire . With the rise in 284 of Diocletian, new models of administration were tried in the Empire, putting the power in the hands of two and sometimes four simultaneous emperors (the Tetrarchy):

  • Diocletian , from 284 to 305.
  • Maximiliano , from 286 to 310.
  • Constancio I , from 305 to 306.
  • Galerius and Severus II , from 306 to 307.
  • Constantine I, the Great , from 306 to 307.
  • Licino , from 308 to 324.
  • Maximino Daya , from 310 to 313.
  • Valerio Valente , from 316 to 317.
  • Mariniano , during 324.
  • Constantine II , from 337 to 340.
  • Constantius II , from 337 to 361.
  • Constant , from 337 to 350.
  • Magnencio , from 350 to 353.
  • Julian "the apostate" , from 361 to 363.
  • Joviano , from 363 to 364.

Valentinian dynasty . In 364, Valentinian ascends to the throne, who decides to divide the empire with his brother Valente:

  • Valentinian I (in the West), from 364 to 375.
  • Valente (in the East), from 364 to 378.
  • Flaviano Graciano (in the West), from 375 to 383.

Theodosian dynasty . After the death of Valente in battle against the Goths in Adrianople, the son of a general of Caesar was claimed as emperor, starting the government of Theodosius I:

  • Theodosius I , from 379 to 392 (in the East) and from 392 to 395 (in the West).
  • Arcadio, from 385 to 395.
  • Honorius , from 393 to 395 (in the East) and from 395 to 423 (in the West).

Last Emperors of the West . The last Caesars lived through turbulent times, besieged by the barbarians.

  • Joannes , from 423 to 425.
  • Valentinian III , from 425 to 455.
  • Petronio Máximo , during 455.
  • Avito , from 455 to 456.
  • Majorian , from 456 to 461.
  • Libio Severo , from 461 to 465.
  • Antemio , from 467 to 472.
  • Olibrio , during 472.
  • Glicerio , from 473 to 474.
  • Julio Nepote , during 475.
  • Romulo Augustulo , from 475 to 476.
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