All you need to know about the history of ancient Rome.
Greetings, and welcome to my website, where you’re free to think about the Roman Empire for as much as you want! Here, we will be exploring the fascinating history of one of the greatest empires in the world, enjoying every step along the way as we keep ancient Rome alive.
From its humble beginnings in 753 BC as a small settlement on the banks of the Tiber River, to its eventual demise in 476 AD, this empire has left an indelible mark on Western civilization.
Through wars, conquests, and cultural achievements, the Roman Empire has shaped the course of history in countless ways. Join me as we delve into this rich and complex civilization, and discover what made it such a dominant force in the ancient world.
On this page, you’ll find short introductions to some of the most important people, periods and topics of this era. I will be placing links where you can navigate to articles that cover the different topics in more detail, so I would encourage you to just follow your interest and see where it takes you.
So let’s begin our journey through time, and explore the rise and fall of the Eternal City, one of the most awe-inspiring and powerful empires to ever exist on Earth!
Table of Contents
The Foundation of Rome (753 BC)
According to legend, Rome was founded in 753 BC by the twin brothers Romulus and Remus on the Palatine Hill. They were originally born in Alba Longa, a city north of what would come to be Rome.
Their mother was Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin and the daughter of the city’s former king, Numitor, who had been ousted by his brother Amulius. Amulius, seeking to secure his throne from being taken over by Romulus and Remus, ordered that the baby twins were to be drowned in the Tiber River.
As they floated down the river in the basket they were placed into, however, they drifted ashore, where they were discovered by a she-wolf. This she-wolf suckled the twins and brought them up, before they were found by the shepherd Faustulus and his wife.
Eventually learning about how their grandfather Numitor had been ousted by Amulius, they fought to regain the throne of Alba Longa for their grandfather. They would then go on to found Rome, in the place where they had drifted ashore when they were only babies.
Their common story met a tragic end, however, when Romulus and Remus got into a fight about how the city wall was to be made. Their tale as brothers ended with Romulus killing Remus, thus taking the throne as sole king of Rome, ushering in an era of the seven Roman kings.
On a different note, archaeological evidence suggests that a small settlement did exist on the site before this time. So although we can never be sure about the truth behind how Rome was founded, this origin story gives a fascinating glimpse into how the Romans viewed their distant past.
Overview of the Roman Empire (753 BC – 476 AD)
Now before we dive deeper into specific topics related to the Roman Empire, let’s first get a general overview of the different periods that make up its history.
The Roman Kingdom (753 – 509 BC)
Believed by historians to have been founded in 753 BC by the mythical figure Romulus, the Roman Kingdom was the earliest period of Roman history.
Each of these kings are said to have made their own unique contributions to the legal, religious, political and social institutions that would come to define Rome. Under their reign, the kingdom saw significant developments in agriculture, trade, and military conquests.
The Roman Republic (509 – 27 BC)
After the fall of the Roman Kingdom, Rome transitioned into a republic form of government, where power was shared between elected officials in the Senate and the people.
This period saw the expansion of Roman territory through conquests and the rise of powerful generals such as Julius Caesar, who conquered what is roughly modern-day France and Belgium.
The Roman Empire (27 BC – 476 AD)
In 27 BC, Augustus became the first Emperor of Rome, marking the beginning of the Roman Empire. This period saw unprecedented expansion, with the empire reaching its peak in terms of size and power under Emperor Trajan in 117 AD.
(Yes, I’ve been mentioning expansion quite a few times now, so that kinda tells you something about where the Romans focused their efforts!)
The Empire also witnessed significant further advancements in trade, architecture, literature, and art, building upon the achievements of earlier periods.
Religion in the Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was a melting pot of religions and beliefs, influenced by the diverse cultures and traditions of the conquered territories. The Romans themselves were polytheistic, meaning they worshiped multiple gods.
This belief system played an important role in shaping the daily lives and rituals of the people living within the empire.
Roman Gods and Mythology
The Romans had an extensive pantheon of gods and goddesses, each with their own distinct personalities, spheres of influence, and myths.
These deities were believed to control various aspects of nature and human life, and the Romans worshiped them through rituals, sacrifices, and festivals.
One interesting aspect of Roman mythology was its syncretism – the blending of deities from different cultures. As the empire expanded, more Roman gods were added to the pantheon by adopting Greek gods and deities from other civilizations such as Egypt.
For example, Jupiter was identified with the Greek god Zeus, and Neptune with the Greek god Poseidon. And so it was for most other gods.
Temples and Worship
Temples were an essential part of religious life in the Roman Empire. These grand structures were built as homes for the gods and served as places for worship, offerings, and sacrifices.
The most famous temple in Rome was the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, dedicated to the supreme god of the Roman pantheon.
Worship in the Roman Empire was both a public affair and private, with ceremonies and rituals performed in temples, public spaces, and homes.
The Romans believed that their gods required constant appeasement, and worship was seen as a way to maintain favor with them.
Emperors as Gods
One unique aspect of religion in the Roman Empire was the deification of emperors. After death, some emperors were declared gods by the Senate and worshiped in temples alongside traditional Roman deities.
This practice helped to legitimize the rule of the emperor and solidify their status as a divine ruler.
Emperor Vespasian was acutely aware of this tradition at the point of his passing, as his final words are said to have been “Oh dear, I think I’m becoming a god!”
Rise of Christianity
While polytheism was the dominant religion in the Roman Empire, Christianity began to gain a following in the 1st century AD. This monotheistic religion, centered around the teachings of Jesus Christ, was seen as a threat to traditional Roman beliefs and values.
Christians faced persecution under several emperors such as Nero and Diocletian, until Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 AD, making it a tolerated and eventually official religion within the empire.
Notable Emperors in the Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was ruled by a long line of emperors, each with their own distinctive achievements, legacies, and controversies. In this section, we will take a look at some of the most notable emperors in the history of Rome.
Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD)
Octavian, also known as Augustus, was the first Emperor of Rome and the adopted son of Julius Caesar. Under his rule, the Roman Empire experienced a period of peace and prosperity known as the Pax Romana (Roman Peace).
Augustus also initiated numerous building projects, including the construction of roads, aqueducts, and temples. In the course of one year alone, he restored more than 80 temples that needed to be taken care of.
So it’s not without merit that he famously exclaimed, “I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of Marble.”
Nero (54 – 68 AD)
Nero is often remembered as one of the most infamous emperors in Roman history. He was known for his extravagance, persecution of Christians, and suspected involvement in the Great Fire of Rome (notoriously playing the fiddle while Rome burned, if the tale is true). His rule ended with his forced suicide after a revolt by the Senate.
Trajan (98 – 117 AD)
Emperor Trajan is often considered one of the greatest Roman emperors. During his reign, the empire reached its peak in terms of size and prosperity, expanding into territories such as Dacia (modern-day Romania) and Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq).
In fact, if you have ever seen a map of the Roman Empire at its peak, you have probably been looking at the empire under Trajan, or alternatively, Hadrian.
Trajan was also known for his public building projects and social welfare programs.
Marcus Aurelius (161 – 180 AD)
Marcus Aurelius is remembered as the last of the Five Good Emperors, a group of rulers who were known for their fair and just rule.
He was also a philosopher and is best known for his work “Meditations,” which reflects on Stoic philosophy and his role as an emperor.
Tragically, the prosperous period of the Pax Romana ended with his passing, as his son Commodus took the throne – a man who would go down as one of the worst emperors through the 500 years of the Roman Empire.
Commodus (180 – 192 AD)
Commodus is remembered for his tyrannical and indulgent behavior. He often spent lavishly on himself and neglected the needs of the empire, earning him criticism from both citizens and senators.
For one, he styled himself in the image of Hercules, the demigod, and orchestrated gladiatorial battles where he himself was fighting. After each victory, he celebrated in glory and pompous pride, having vanquished his opponents who were often greatly handicapped before the battle. (He would sometimes fight people who only had one arm, so you get what I mean.)
His reign ended with his assassination by a group of conspirators.
Constantine (306 – 337 AD)
Emperor Constantine is credited with being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity and for issuing the Edict of Milan, which granted religious toleration to all religions in the empire.
He also moved the capital of the empire from Rome to Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), ensuring its longevity even after the fall of Rome.
The Legacy of Roman Emperors
The emperors of Rome left a lasting legacy on the empire and its people, shaping politics, culture, and religion for centuries to come.
While some were remembered as great rulers, others were viewed as tyrants or incompetent leaders. Nevertheless, their impact on the Roman Empire and the world cannot be denied.
As the empire continued to expand and evolve, so too did its list of notable emperors, each leaving their mark on history in their own unique way.
Architecture and Monuments of the Roman Age
The architecture and monuments of the Roman Age were grand, impressive, and highly influential. From temples and triumphal arches to aqueducts and amphitheaters, these structures not only served practical purposes but also reflected the power, wealth, and cultural identity of Rome.
Temples and Religious Structures
Religion played a significant role in Roman society, so it’s no surprise that temples and other religious structures were abundant throughout the empire.
As mentioned earlier, the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus was one of the most famous and grandiose temples in Rome. It was a massive structure with Corinthian columns, intricate friezes, and marble decorations, including several of the key elements we associate with antiquity.
Other notable temples include the Pantheon, built by Emperor Hadrian in 126 AD, and the Temple of Venus and Roma, built by Emperor Hadrian in 135 AD. These temples were not only places of worship but also served as symbols of Roman power and divine favor.
Amphitheaters were another prominent architectural feature in the Roman Age. These massive oval or circular structures were used for gladiatorial games, animal hunts, and other forms of entertainment.
The most famous of these is the Colosseum, with the construction being begun in 72 AD under Emperor Vespasian, and completed in 80 AD under his son, Emperor Titus. It could hold 50,000 to 80,000 spectators and was a symbol of both Roman engineering and social hierarchy.
The Romans were known for their advanced engineering skills, particularly in building aqueducts to supply water to their cities. These impressive structures utilized gravity and arches to transport water over long distances as far as 90 kilometers, often spanning valleys and rivers.
The most famous of these is the Pont du Gard in southern France, which was built in the 1st century AD and still stands today.
Triumphal arches were monumental structures that commemorated military victories or significant events in the history of Rome. The most well-known of these is the Arch of Titus, built in 82 AD to celebrate Emperor Vespasian’s triumph over the Jewish rebellion.
Another one is the Arch of Constantine. It featured elements taken from previous emperors such as Marcus Aurelius, Trajan and Hadrian (who were all among the Five Good Emperors), and was possibly built to associate Constantine with these grand figures.
These arches were often decorated with intricate reliefs and sculptures, showcasing the wealth and power of Rome.
Cultural Contributions from the Roman Empire
The Roman Empire not only left a lasting political and architectural legacy but also made significant contributions to culture, art, literature, and philosophy. Here are some of the most notable cultural achievements from the Roman Age.
Literature and Language
Roman literature was heavily influenced by Greek literature, with many works being translations or adaptations of Greek texts. However, writers such as Virgil, Ovid, and Cicero also made significant contributions to Roman literature, creating works that reflected the values and ideals of their society.
The Romans were also responsible for the development of Latin as a written language. This language would go on to influence many modern European languages, including Spanish, French, Italian, and English.
Roman art was a blend of different styles from various cultures, including Etruscan and Greek. However, it also had its own distinct characteristics, such as its emphasis on realism and portraiture.
Roman art was often used to depict historical events, mythological scenes, and portraits of emperors and other prominent figures.
Another notable contribution is the technique of mosaic, where small pieces of colored tiles or glass are used to create intricate designs and images.
As mentioned earlier, Roman architecture was grandiose and highly influential. The use of arches, vaults, and domes allowed for larger and more impressive structures to be built, such as the Pantheon and the Colosseum.
The Romans also perfected concrete, a durable building material that allowed for the construction of massive structures without having them crumble under their own weight.
Philosophy and Law
The Romans were heavily influenced by Greek philosophy, but they also developed their own schools of thought.
Stoicism, founded by Zeno of Citium in the 3rd century BC, emphasized the importance of living in harmony with nature and accepting fate.
The Roman thinker Cicero also had a significant influence on Roman philosophy, particularly through his works on rhetoric and politics.
The Romans also left a lasting legacy in the field of law. They developed a complex legal system that influenced many modern legal systems, including common law and civil law.
The Twelve Tables, a set of laws codified in 450 BC, formed the basis of the Roman legal system and were considered one of the earliest examples of written law.
Engineering and Technology
The Romans were master engineers and made significant contributions to technology during their reign. In addition to aqueducts, they also built advanced road networks that connected all corners of the empire.
They were also skilled in building bridges, harbors, and other infrastructure that supported the growth and expansion of their empire.
The Romans also made advancements in military technology, such as the invention of the scorpion catapult and the corvus (a boarding bridge used in naval warfare).
They also utilized siege engines and other innovative weapons to conquer new territories and defend their borders.
What Made the Roman Empire So Vast?
There were many factors that contributed to the vastness and longevity of the Roman Empire. Here are some key reasons why the empire was able to expand and maintain its power for centuries.
The Roman government was highly efficient and organized, with a complex system of checks and balances to prevent any one individual from gaining too much power. This allowed for stable leadership and effective decision-making, which contributed to the empire’s success.
The Roman army was one of the most powerful and disciplined in the ancient world. They utilized advanced weapons and tactics, and their soldiers were well-trained and highly motivated. The military played a crucial role in expanding and maintaining the empire’s borders.
As mentioned earlier, the Romans built an impressive network of roads, bridges, and aqueducts that connected their vast empire. This infrastructure not only allowed for efficient transportation but also facilitated trade and communication within the empire.
The Romans were skilled at incorporating conquered peoples into their society, allowing them to retain some of their customs and traditions while also adopting Roman culture. This assimilation, known as Romanization, helped to maintain unity and stability within the empire.
The Romans were avid traders, and their vast empire allowed for extensive trade networks to develop. This generated wealth for the empire and fostered cultural exchange, further solidifying its power and influence.
The Fall of the Roman Empire
Despite its impressive accomplishments, the Roman Empire eventually fell in 476 AD. There were many factors that led to its decline and eventual collapse, including:
- Economic issues and overreliance on slave labor
- Political instability and corruption
- Military overspending and constant warfare
- Invasions by barbarian tribes
- Decline in moral values and loss of civic virtue
The fall of the Roman Empire had a significant impact on Western civilization, leading to the Dark Ages and ultimately shaping the course of history.
However, its contributions in art, architecture, literature, philosophy, law, engineering, and technology continue to influence modern society.
The legacy of the Roman Empire will forever be remembered as one of the greatest civilizations in human history. So while the empire may have fallen, its impact on the world will never truly end.
And with websites such as this one, and history enthusiasts such as you, the memory of Rome will never truly disappear!
What were some of the biggest contributions of the Roman Empire to Western civilization?
The Roman Empire made significant contributions in art, architecture, literature, philosophy, law, engineering, and technology. Some notable examples include the development of concrete and the use of arches and vaults in architecture, the codification of laws in the Twelve Tables, and advancements in military technology.
Why did the Roman Empire eventually fall?
There were many factors that led to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, including economic issues, political instability, military overspending, invasions by barbarian tribes, and a decline in moral values. It is believed that a combination of these factors ultimately weakened the empire to the point of collapse.
What happened in 753 BC in Rome?
According to legend, Rome was founded by two brothers, Romulus and Remus, in 753 BC. The city of Rome would go on to become the center of one of the most powerful and influential empires in history. However, there is debate among historians about the exact founding date – some argue that it may have been established earlier or later than 753 BC. So while the exact date may be uncertain, it is generally accepted that Rome was founded in the 8th century BC.
Who ruled Rome in 753 BC?
According to legend, Rome was ruled by Romulus, who founded the city with his brother Remus. However, there is no historical evidence to support this claim and much of early Roman history is shrouded in myth and legend. It is likely that Rome was initially ruled by a monarchy until it transitioned to a republic in 509 BC. So while we may not know the exact rulers in 753 BC, we do know that the Roman Republic was established shortly after.
Who was the last Roman emperor?
The last Roman emperor was Romulus Augustus, who was deposed in 476 AD by the Germanic leader Odoacer. This event marked the official end of the Western Roman Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages in Europe. However, the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire) continued to thrive until its eventual fall in 1453 AD.
Who was Rome’s greatest emperor?
There is no clear answer to this question as opinions vary among historians and scholars. Some argue that Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, was the greatest due to his role in establishing the empire.
Others believe that Trajan or Hadrian were the greatest due to their military successes and contributions to art and architecture.
Ultimately, it is up to individual interpretation and debate. Nonetheless, there is no denying the immense impact and legacy of the Roman Empire and its emperors on Western civilization.
So while there may be differing opinions, it is safe to say that all of Rome’s emperors played a significant role in shaping history.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You can officially call yourself a Roman Empire fanatic! Now, I want to encourage you to further explore any topics that caught your interest. And if you have any questions or something else you want to tell me about, feel free to reach out.
Here’s to keeping Rome alive!
P.S. People often ask me, if I had to pick just ONE book to read on Roman history, which one would it be? My answer is always SPQR by Mary Beard. This is THE BEST BOOK to get an engaging and comprehensive overview of the Romans, covering 1,000 years of their EPIC history. Whether you’re new to the topic or a seasoned expert, I’m certain you’ll LOVE IT. Click here to grab it today!
Disclosure: If you decide to go for it and get the book after having clicked the link above, I am going to receive a tiny commission. AND… Most of the time, you will receive an offer. Win/Win! The books that I recommend are the ones I have personally read and truly believe you’ll love!
Cite this article: F. Osen. “Roman Empire.” Romanempirehistory.com. Retrieved from: https://romanempirehistory.com/ (Downloaded: Reading date).
Roman Empire is also available in the following languages:
- Norwegian: Romerriket
- Swedish: Romarriket
- Danish: Romertiden
- German: Römisches Reich
- Dutch: Romeinse Rijk
- Italian: I Romani
- Spanish: El Imperio Romano
- French: Empire romain
- Portuguese: Imperio Romano
Last Updated on December 3, 2023 by Frode Osen