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| Roman Empire |
| Motto: SENATVS·POPVLVSQVE·ROMANVS (SPQR) (Latin)|
"The Senate and People of Rome"
The Roman Empire at its greatest extent, around 117 AD
|Capital||Rome (44 BC – 286 AD)|
|Religion||Roman polytheism, later Christianity|
|- 27 BC – AD 14||Augustus|
|- 379 – 395||Theodosius I|
|- 475 — 476||Romulus Augustus|
|History||27 BC – 476 AD|
|- Battle of Actium||September 2, 31 BC|
|- Formation||27 BC|
|- Fall||476 AD|
|- Total||5,000,000 km² |
1,930,511 sq mi
| - 117 AD116 AD|
4120 AM estimate
|- Density||17.6 km⁻²45.584 mi⁻²|
The Roman Empire (Latin: IMPERIVM·ROMANVM) was a period of ancient Rome characterized by the rule of emperors and an autocratic form of government from the time of Augustus (27 BC) until 476 AD. The Roman Empire was permanently divided into the Western and Eastern Empires after the death of Emperor Theodosius I in 395 AD. Beginning from the rule of Augustus to the Fall of the Western Empire, Rome controlled much of Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. Rome had started gaining territory long before it became an empire. At the peak of expansion (as seen to the left), Rome controlled 1,930,511 square miles of land. Roman culture, including arts, architecture, theater, religion, government, and military had much influence, and continues to have influence today.
The Julio-Claudian Dynasty
The Julio-Claudian dynasty (27 BC-68 AD), refers to the beginning period in the Roman Empire's history, and it's first five Roman emperors; Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. These emperors ruled the empire from 27 BC to 68 AD. In 68 AD, the last emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Nero, committed suicide. These five emperors were all linked through adoption and marriage. Caesar Augustus is recognized as the founder. After Nero's suicide, Rome fell into another period of civil war, the first since Mark Antony's death in 31 BC. This period of civil war was know as the year of four emperors. Political and military disorder were a direct result of the civil war. A direct result of the military and political disorder was the Batavian rebellion. The Batavian rebellion was quelled, but only after huge losses had been inflicted on the Roman military. After the year of four emperors came the Flavian Dynasty.
The Flavian Dynasty
The Flavian dynasty lasted from 69-96 AD. The Flavian emperors; Vespasian, Titus, and Domitan, all helped restore order and stability to the empire. The Flavians created reforms that developed a stable empire that would remain strong well into the 3rd Century. After the Flavian Dynasty, the Antonine Dynasty came to power.
The Antonine Dynasty
The Antonine Dynasty (96–180 AD) was know as the period "the five good emperors". The succession during this dynasty was peaceful, though it was not succession of rulers that all belong to the same family for generations (dynastic). The empire was very affluent during this period. The emperors of the Antonine Dynasty were Nerva (96–98), Trajan (98–117), Hadrian (117–138), Antoninus Pius (138–161) and Marcus Aurelius (161–180). The period of the "five good emperors" was ended during the rule of Commodus, from 180 to 192. Commodus was the son of Marcus Aurelius, the last of the five good emperors. This made Commodus the first direct successor in a century. Commodus did not make a particularly good emperor, breaking the line of "the five good emperors. You can see an example of the man Commodus was in the film Gladiator. Afterwards, the Severan Dynasty began.
The Severan Dynasty
The Severan Dynasty (193–235 AD) was much more unstable than the Antonine dynasty. This period included the particularly tumultuous reigns of Septimius Severus (193–211), Caracalla (211–217), Macrinus (217–218), Elagabalus (218–222), and Alexander Severus (222–235). Progressively becoming more and more erratic and autocratic, Caracalla was assassinated by Macrinus in 217, who then briefly took power. He was the first emperor that was not of senatorial rank. However, Rome's Imperial Court was gripped by daunting women. These women arranged the succession of Elagabalus in 218, and Alexander Severus, the last ruler of the dynasty, in 222. Alexander Severus's death initiated a resulting period of "soldier-emperors", and nearly 50 years of civil war and animosity, which contributed and led into the Crisis of the Third Century. It is estimated that two-thirds of the Roman army were killed in the battle.
Crisis of the Third Century
After the Severan Dynasty, the Roman Empire suffered a near collapse. This is known as the Crisis of the Third Century. This crisis took place between 235 and 284. The causes of the crisis were three concurring problems; external invasion, internal civil war and economic collapse. This time in history is viewed as the turning point marking the difference between the classical world (long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea), and the early medieval world (middle period in a traditional schematic division of European history into three "ages": the classical civilization of Antiquity, the Middle Ages and Modern Times).
The problems arose in 235, when the emperor, Alexander Severus, was murdered by soldiers at only 27 years of age. This came after Roman soldiers were defeated in a campaign against Sassanid Persia which was the fourth Iranian dynasty. Roman generals wrestled for control of the empire and neglected borders. This allowed many outside forces, including the Sassanids to raid and attack frequently.
By 258, the attacks were coming from within as well as from the outside. The Empire split into three separate rival states. Gaul, Britannia and Hispania split from the empire to form the Gallic Empire. In 260, two years later, the eastern provinces of Syria, Palæstina, and Ægyptus became the Palmyrene Empire. The Palmyrene Empire received backing form the Sassanids. This left the original Roman Empire in the middle.
During this crisis, the Empire should have collapsed. It was only kept alive through a number of tough soldier emperors, and Diocletian's initiative in 284. Dicletian's initiative split the empire in half. He also put forward many other reforms, which essentially allowed The Roman Empire to stay alive and eventually enter a new phase known as the "Dominate," the "Tetrarchy (the leadership of four)," and the "Later Roman Empire". Diocletian is mainly responsible for bringing an end to the Crisis of the Third Century. During the crisis, the empire was ruled by 20 to 25 individuals, who ruled an average of 2 to 3 years each. The core problems would abide and bring about eventual downfall of the western empire.
Dissolution of the Empire
After, and during the latter stages of the Crisis of the Third Century, the Roman Empire slowly began to divide into Eastern and Western empires. After defeating rival Emperor Carinus, Diocletian briefly became emperor of the Roman Empire. Diocletian recognized that the vast empire could not be ruled by one man. He proceeded to split the Empire in half just east of Italy, and appointed two equal Emperors that were to rule under the title of Augustus. He appointed an old friend, Maximian, to rule the western half while he himself ruled the east.
These empires became known as the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire. The Western Roman Empire would breakdown not but 200 years later. The Eastern Roman Empire would become the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire's capital was the Greek city of Byzantium, which would later be renamed Constantinople. This empire would stand for another 1000 years. The empire continued to split as it entered a Tetrarchy, which was leadership by four. With the death of Constantius Chlorus on July 25, 306, the Tetrarchy would collapse. After the death of Constantius Chlorus, there was a series of appointments, which left the empire with 6 leaders, and by the end of 307, the empire had 5 leaders. From 337–361, the empire was ruled by the Sons of Constantine. From 361–364, Julian and Jovian ruled the empire. Julian would essentially put an "unofficial persecution" on Christians and dispel the persecution of pagans.
The Valentinian Dynasty
The Valentinian Dynasty lasted from 364–392. After the rule of Julian, who appointed no successor, the responsibility of appointing a new Augustus was upon the army officers. Pannonian officer Valentinian I was elected Augustus on the 28 of February, 364. Following the system established by Diocletian, Valentinian appointed his younger brother Valens to rule the Eastern Empire, while Valentinian would rule the Western Empire. Valens's election was later conteded.
On August 4, 367, a third Augustus was appointed. His uncle Valens and father Valentinian chose Gratian, who was 8 years old, as a co-ruler. This was believed to be done as a way to secure succession. Valentinian suffered from a burst blood vessel in the skull while he was viciously yelling at the people gathered. This took place during a campaign against the Quadi, a Germanic tribe. The injury eventually led to his death on November 17, 375. Troops in Pannonia appointed Gratian's infant half-brother emperor under the title Valentinian II. Gratian did not dispute the decision, but took control of the Gallic province of the Western Roman Empire. While the Western Roman Empire went through its transition, the Eastern Roman Empire was having a much more difficult time.
Battle of Adrianople
The Battle of Adrianople took place in 378. The Thervingi were an East Germanic tribe. They had been attacked by the Huns, and fled their former lands. Alavivus and Fritigern, their leaders, led them to the Eastern Roman Empire to take refuge from the ruthless Huns. Valens allowed them to take refuge, but would later regret his decision. The Thervingi had problems other than the Huns. They had endured corrupted commanders and a many hardships. Their anger and discontent sparked them to revolt against their Roman hosts led the fight in 378. Valens proceeded to campaign against the Thervingi. His nephew, Gratian provided him with reinforcements from the Western Roman Empire.
The conflict lasted for 2 years and proved to be disastrous for The Roman Empire as a whole. The two armies began battle at Adrianople, a city in the westernmost part of Asia Minor, near the borders of Greece and Bulgaria. Valens impatiently and prematurely rushed into battle, resulting in a massacre of the Romans and the death of Valens. After Valens's death, Gratian and Valentinian II were left as the sole two Augusti. Gratian then became responsible for the whole of the Empire. Shortly after, Gratian chose Theodosius I to rule the Eastern Empire on January 19, 379.
His appointment would prove to be a pivitol moment in the Empire.
The Following Years
Gratian ruled the Western Empire with peace and success for a number years following the Battle of Adrianople, but gradually became dormant. As a result of his dormancy, and by prohibiting paganism and abandoning his title of Pontifex Maximus, he lost favor with portions of the Roman Senate.
Valens began to lose favor as well. His own troops began to lose respect for him due to his association with the "barbarians." It is said that Valens recruited Alans (an Iranian nomadic group among the Sarmatian people) to his personal service. He also assumed the disguise of a Scythian warrior for his public appearances.
Back in the Western Empire, Valentinian II, Gratian, and Theodosius appointed a fourth Augustus. Arcadius, Theodosius's eldest son, who was only around 5 years of age, was proclaimed Augustus in January, 282. This was done to secure succession. Later in 383, the Hispano-Celtic general, Magnus Maximus, was proclaimed Augustus by his troops. They rebelled against the unpopular Gratian and invaded Gaul. Gratian fled, but was assassinated on August 25, 383. He was 25 years old. Maximus had to deal with Valentinian II after Gratian's death. Valentinian II was only 12 years of age. The Alps served as borders for the two contending Western Empire emperors. Britannia, Gaul, Hispania, and Africa were under Maximus's control. Maximus began negotiation with the other Western Empire Augusti, trying to gain their recognition as emperor. These negotiations failed and Maximus proclaimed his own infant son, Flavius Victor, as Augustus. This left the Western Empire with 5 Augusti.
Three years later, in 386, Maximus and his son Victor did gain recognition as emperors by Theodosius, but not Valentinian. Maximus took initiative and attempted to kill his rival. He crossed the Alps and threatened Milan, a city under Valentinian's control. Valentinian fled and looked for the support of Theodosius. Theodosius did give his support and campaigned against Maximus in 388 where he was ultimately victorious. Maximus was captured and executed on July 28, 388. Orders were then sent to kill Flavius Victor. Theodosius restored Valentinian to and in the resulting gratitude from Valentinian, Theodosius converted him to Christianity. Through this both emperors became close allies.
Reunion of the Empire
After years of protecting Valentinian, Theodosius lost the battle, Valentinian was eventually murdered in 392. Eugenius was then appointed as emperor. Theodosius rejected recognizing him as emperor and then proceeded to invade the Western Empire, killing Eugenius. He then reunited the whole Roman Empire under his sole rule. Theodosius appointed his daughter's son, Valentinian III, as Emperor of the West. Theodosius was the final emperor to rule over the entire Empire. He died in 395, and appointed the two halves of the empire to his sons, Arcadius and Honrius. Honrius ruled in the west while Arcadius ruled in the east. Though the empire was governed in two halves, it was generally recognized as the same, or one state.
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
The actual rulers of the empire were military strongmen who took the title of magister militum, the emperors were seen as figureheads more than rulers. These magister militum, in succession, were; Stilicho from 395 to 408, Constantius from about 411 to 421, Aëtius from 433 to 454 and Ricimer from about 457 to 472.
Julius Nepos became the Western Emperor in June 474. The magister militum during his reign was Orestes. Orestes rebelled and appointed his son Romulus Augustus as the emperor. The Eastern Emperor, Zeno, did not recognize Romulus Augustus as the emperor, since he was a usurper. Though Juius Nepos was still the legal emperor, Romulus Augustus is known as the last Western Roman Emperor. The fall of the Western Roman Empire is generally accepted to have occurred in 476. In 476, Orestes rejected the appeal of Germanic mercenaries within his service for lands in Italy, the mercenaries revolted. They were led by Odoacer. They captured and killed Orestes. Weeks later, Ravanna was captured, and Romulus Augustus was deposed.
Romulus's deposition is the event generally considered to be the fall of the Roman Empire. Odoacer went on to conquer the remaining provinces of Italy. Zeno was informed by the Roman Senate that he was emperor of what was left of the empire. Two requests were sent to Zeno, one from Odoacer requesting to be recognized as having control of Italy. The other was from Nepos, asking for support to regain the throne. Zeno granted Odoacer his request. Nepos never regained the throne.
Following Nepo's death, what was left of the Western Empire was claimed for the East. This is also recognized as the end of the Western Roman Empire. Odoacer attacked Dalmatia, and the ensuing war concluded with Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths, conquering Italy under Zeno's authority. The Western Empire was unable to support itself mainly because of population concerns. More than 80% of Rome's population was in the Eastern Empire. A plague killed of much of the remaining population of the Western Empire, leaving it in desperate condition. The Western Empire also lacked military strength to secure its borders. On top of all this, and economic crisis later fell upon the empire. In northern Gaul, a Roman Kingdom remained for a number of years, but in the northwest, and invasion by the Suevi (group of Germanic peoples) wiped out the last links to Roman culture in 409. Roman culture in Britain collapsed in the same year, and waves of violence ensued as the last legions evacuated, the final legionary most likely fell in the same year of 409.
The Eastern Empire - Byzantine Empire
- Main Article: Byzantine Empire
The Eastern Roman Empire was spared much of the destruction faced by the Western Empire. In the 6th century, under the rule of emperor Justinian I, they reconquered much of their former kingdom. The Emperor Heraclius came to power and made sweeping reforms, that forever changed the empire. Greek was reinstituted as the language of government and the influence of Latin decreased. The Eastern Roman Empire had come under Greek influence and became what many modern historians now call the Byzantine Empire by 610. The Byzantines continued to call themselves Romans until their fall to Ottoman Turks in 1453. That year the Eastern Roman Empire was completely ended by the Fall of Constantinople. Constantine XI, emperor during 1453, is considered the last Roman Emperor.
- Illustrated History of the Roman Empire
- Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
- Lecture 13: A Brief Social History of the Roman Empire The History Guide
- Roman History Overview UNRV History: Roman Empire
- Roman History Timeline West Chester University