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Western Civilization I, HIS 101


Roman culture and history evolved for more than 1200 years from its legendary founding in 753 BCE to the dismissal of the last Roman Emperor of the West in 476 CE.  The Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire, which was finally conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, added another 1000 years.  Roman Civilization was a direct ancestor of our own Western Civilization.

The Romans left us not only their own legacy but also preserved for us the legacy of the Hellenistic World, the Hellenic (Classical Greek) Civilization, and, indeed, all of our memories of classical and ancient civilizations dating back to the Egyptians and Mesopotamians.

Rome started as a single city-state in the Latin Plain of Central Italy and grew to be an empire ruling the entire Mediterranean coastal region.  Its long history can be broadly divided into the Republican Period of 500 years and the Empire lasting another 500 years.  The Empire divides into the principate (from 27 BCE to 180 CE) and the autocracy or dominate from 284 to 395 CE.  During the autocracy, Christianity replaced what Christians labeled paganism.  The traditional, polytheistic cults were replaced by a new monotheistic belief system.  The significance of this transformation cannot be overstated:  it brought to an end the classical age and ushered in the medieval period of history; it resulted in a complete transformation of culture from the way people married, raised their children, and died; it resulted in a trans-valuation of all values.

But this Christian Rome marks only the tail end (the last 100 years) of a united Eastern and Western Roman Empire. Roman Civilization was founded and expanded by Rome and Roman values that long pre-dated Christianity.  Indeed, after our study of Pagan Rome, we may ask whether the Romans helped to alter Christianity as much as the Christians changed Rome.

A brief outline of Roman history is given below.


Rome is located near the center of Italy.  Italy is a large peninsula in the shape of a boot.  At its toe is a large island called Sicily.

Neolithic Period

Primitive agricultural settlements were in existence in Italy by 5000 B.C.  Bronze Age cultures developed by 2000 B.C. and iron was introduced around 1000 B.C.

The Romans set the founding of their city-state at 753 B.C. and modern historians agree that a small settlement may well have existed at that date.  At this time, the eighth century before the Common Era, the Greeks were colonizing Southern Italy and Sicily and a people known as the Etruscans developed their civilization between the Arno and Tiber rivers.  Greeks and Etruscans were culturally more advanced than the Romans at this time.

Periods of Roman History


Formative Period:  753 - 613 B.C.


Legend of Romulus and Remus


Legend of the Rape of the Sabine Women



Epic Poem of Virgil's Aeneid written in the first century before the common era creates a mythical foundation of Rome.


Etruscan Rome:  613 - 509 B.C.


Legend of Lucretia


Roman Senate declares a Republic



Roman Republic:  509 - 27 B.C.


Early Republic:  509 - 264 B.C.


Imperial Republic:  264 - 133 B.C.


Late Republic:  133 - 27 B.C.



Roman Empire:  27 B.C. - 395 A.D.


Principate:  27 B.C. - 180 A.D.


Third Century Decline:  180 A.D. - 284 A.D.


Autocracy:  284 - 395 A.D.



Western Roman Empire:  395 A.D. - 476 A.D.


Eastern Roman Empire or Byzanine Empire:  395 A.D. - 1453


After 565 A.D., the death of the Emperor Justinian, the Eastern Roman Empire is usually called the Byzanine Empire.


The Byzanine Empire is conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453.  The Turks are Muslims.


Early Roman Republic:   509 - 264 B.C.

A Republic is any governmental system which is not governed by a monarch or some other hereditary ruler.  A republic entails some form of election of the rulers and thus opens the door towards democracy.  But republics and democracies are not identical.

During the early period of the Republic, there were two main movements:


The Struggle of the Orders:  Patricians and Plebeans.


Tribunes are officially recognized by the patricians as protectors of plebean interests.


Law of the Twelve Tables 450 B.C.


Law forbidding intermarriage between patricians and plebeans is repealed:  445 B.C.


Plebeans become eligible to run for the office of consul: 367 B.C.


Assembly of the Tribes replaces Assembly of the Centuries as the most important law making body in Rome.  Each male citizen had one vote in the Assembly of the Tribes.  Therefore Rome has become a democracy in law.  In fact, the Senate and the wealthier segment of society continue to run the show.


Roman Military Expansion  until, by the end of the period, Rome gained control over the entire Italian Peninsula in a Series of Defensive Wars.  But as late at 390 B.C., the Gauls destroy Rome and it has to be rebuilt.

Roman Government

Roman Magistrates (City Officials):  They were elected by various popular assemblies generally for one-year terms and could not be re-elected.

    Consuls, two:  Highest political authority having the imperium.

    Praetors:  Judges having the imperium.
            Praetor urbanus
            Praetor peregrinus

    Censors maintain citizenship rolls, keeping the census, and maintaining public morality, censorship.

    Questors:  In charge of public finance, the treasury.

    Aediles:  In charge of public works, roads and aquaducts (water supply).

    Tribunes:  elected by the Plebean Assembly in order to protect the interests of the plebean order against arbitrary decisions by Rome's magistrates, all of whom originally belonged to the patrician class.  Tribunes were sacrosanct.  Anyone harming a tribune could be instantly put to death.  This gave tribunes security to do their job.

   The Cursus honorum or ladder of offices.  Young Roman men who came from the Senatorial class and had political ambitions followed a career ladder.  “After ten years of military service beginning about age twenty, he would seek election as a questor, a financial administrator.  Continuing to climb the ladder, he would next be elected to the board of aediles, officials overseeing the city’s streets, sewers, aqueducts, temples and markets. Each rung up the ladder was more competitive, and few men reached the next office, that of praetor, which performed judicial and military command duties.  The most successful praetors then reached for the gold ring of Roman public office, the consulship.

“Ex-consuls could also compete to beome one of the censors, prestigious senior officials elected every five years to conduct censuses of the citizen body and select new members of the three-hundred man Senate, which advised the consuls (as it had the kings)”  (Lynn Hunt, et. al.  The Making of the West:  Peoples and Cultures:  A Concise History, Volume One To 1740, 2nd Ed Boston:  Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007, p. 145.  See also, Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, s.v. Cursus honorum.” Available online at Accessed on June 20, 2009.)

Popular Assemblies

     Curiate Assembly
            The curia were 30 groups of patrician families or clans into which Rome was divided.    This is the oldest assembly dating back to the time before the Roman Republic.  It lost power during the Republican period.

    Assembly of the Centuries
            Centuries were military groupings into which Rome was divided.

    Assembly of the Tribes
            These were geographic districts into which Rome was divided.

    Assembly of the Plebeans elected the tribunes and passed plebicites.  This was actually the plebean subgroup of the Assembly of Tribes

    Bloc Voting; not Individual Voting in Roman Assemblies.

 “Only a block of voters (Century, Tribe or Curia), and not the individual electors, cast the formal vote (one vote per block) before the assembly.  The majority of votes in any Century, Tribe, or Curia decided how that Century, Tribe, or Curia voted.”  Voting generally favored the patricians, the rural element, and the well-to-do.  Rome, even during the Republic, never developed the full blown direct democracy that characterized Athens.  It could be said that the failure of the reforms of the Gracchi brothers also marks the decline of the democratic impulse within Rome.  Rome was never a mass democracy or radical democracy.


“The Curiate Assembly (comitia curiata) was the principal assembly during the first two decades of the Roman Republic. During these first decades, the People of Rome were organized into thirty units called "Curia". The Curia were ethnic in nature, and thus were organized on the basis of the early Roman family, or, more specifically, on the basis of the thirty original Patrician (aristocratic) clans. The Curia assembled into an assembly, the Curiate Assembly, for legislative, electoral, and judicial purposes. The Curiate Assembly passed laws, elected Consuls (the only elected magistrates at the time), and tried judicial cases. Consuls always presided over the assembly. While Plebeians (commoners) could participate in this assembly, only the Patricians (the Roman aristocrats) could vote.”  Wikipedia, The Free Enclyclopedia, s.v. “Curiate Assembly.”  Available online at Accessed on June 20, 2009.)  It lost most of its powers to the Assembly of the Centuries and the Tribal Assembly during the Struggle of the Orders.


The Century Assembly was divided into 193 (later 373) Centuries, with each Century belonging to one of three classes: the officer class, the infantry, and the unarmed adjuncts.  During a vote, the Centuries voted, one at a time, by order of seniority. The president of the Century Assembly was usually a Roman Consul (the chief magistrate of the republic).   Only the Century Assembly could elect Consuls, Praetors and Censors, only it could declare war, and only it could ratify the results of a census.  While it had the power to pass ordinary laws (leges), it rarely did so.


“The organization of the Tribal Assembly was much simpler than was that of the Century Assembly, in contrast, since its organization was based on only thirty-five Tribes. The Tribes were not ethnic or kinship groups, but rather geographical divisions (similar to modern U.S. Congressional districts).  The president of the Tribal Assembly was a usually Consul, and under his presidency, the assembly elected Quaestors, Curule Aediles, and Military Tribunes. While it had the power to pass ordinary laws (leges), it rarely did so.


“The assembly known as the Plebeian Council was identical to the Tribal Assembly with one key exception: only plebeians (the commoners) had the power to vote before it. Members of the aristocratic patrician class were excluded from this assembly. In contrast, both classes were entitled to a vote in the Tribal Assembly. Under the presidency of a Plebeian Tribune (the chief representative of the people), the Plebeian Council elected Plebeian Tribunes and Plebeian Aediles (the Plebeian Tribune's assistant), enacted laws called plebiscites, and presided over judicial cases involving Plebeians. Originally, laws passed by the Plebeian Council only applied to Plebeians. However, by 287 BC, laws passed by the Plebeian Council had acquired the full force of law, and from that point on, most legislation came from the council.”  (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v “Roman Assemblies”  Available online at  Accessed on June 20, 2009).


The Roman Senate.  The Roman Senate evolved over 1300 years.  It began as a Council of Elders or clan leaders common to Indo-European tribal people.  Ex consuls generally became members of the Roman Senate, but were selected by the Censors.  The Senate was an advisory body, but its advise was almost always taken.  They were the real power center during the Roman Republican period and remained important even under the Empire.  During the principate, senators could be appointed by the emperor.

During the principate under Tiberius, the powers of the popular assemblies were transferred to the Roman Senate thereby ending whatever democratic element had existed within the Roman government.


The chart below is from Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Constitution of the Roman Republic.”  Available online at Accessed on June 20, 2009.


Imperial Republic:  264 - 133 B.C.

Having gained control of the Italian peninsula in a series of essentially defensive wars, the Romans now become openly aggressive.  The Republic acquires a taste for empire, that is conquering more and more people and bringing them under your domination and exploitation.

The term "empire" has two related meaning.  It can refer to a state which is ruled by an emperor, a king of kings.  The Roman Imperial Republic or the Athenian Empire were not ruled by a single person.  But they were empires in the second sense of the term that is when one city-state or one kingdom has conquered many other city-states or other kingdoms.  The Roman Empire was largely an empire of many city-states all of whom were ruled by the city-state of Rome.

Imperialism is when a people and their rulers actively seek to conquer and subordinate other peoples, cities, and kingdoms.  After 264, the Romans are becoming imperialistic.  They wage aggressive wars of conquest for the profits and glory they bring to Rome.

In a series of aggressive wars, the Romans come to dominate the Western Mediterrinean and then, after 201 B.C., they begin the process of conquering the Eastern Mediterranean.

The Wars Between Rome and Carthage
for Control of the Western Mediterranean

Carthage was a mercantile city located in what is today Tunesia in North Africa.  It was originally founded by the Phoenecians (modern day Lebanon).  By 264 B.C., Rome and Carthage had become rivals for the domination of the Western Mediterranean.

First Punic War:  264 - 241.  Rome gains control of Sicily, which becomes Rome's first overseas province.  Carthage suffers a setback but remains a powerful state.  After the war, Carthage builds up a new trading empire centered on Spain.  Roman envy leads to the next war.

Second Punic War:  218 - 201 B.C.  Carthage takes the initiative and its great general Hannibal leads an army, including war elephants, over the Alps, Brenner Pass, into Italy.  For ten years, Hannibal ravages the Italian countryside.  Rome is repeatedly defeated.  Most serious defeat is the battle of Cannae in 216, which is still studied at war colleges throughout the world.  But despite his victories, Hannibal is unable to bring the war to a successful conclusion.  Unable to defeat Hannibal, the Romans decide to contain him and counterattack against Spain and Carthage.  The Roman General Scipio Africanus defeats the Carthaginians in Spain, crosses over into North Africa, and threatens Carthage itself.  The Carthaginians recall their most famous general to lead the defense of their city.  Scipio defeats Hannibal at the battle of Zama in 202.  Carthage surrenders to the Romans in 201 B.C.  Rome has won a decisive victory over Carthage.  Rome has become the dominant power in the Western Mediterranean.   Carthage is allowed to remain as a small, weak city-state without a navy or an empire.

Third Punic War:  149 - 146 B.C.  This was a mopping up operations.  The Romans did not want to be reminded that Carthage had once been their equal and had almost defeated them.  Cato the Elder kept demanding:  "Carthago delenda est."  So they did.

Wars Between Rome and the Hellenistic Kingdoms
of the Eastern Mediterranean
Antigonids of Macedonia
Seleucids of Syria

Even while the wars agains Carthage were still raging, the Romans were already beginning their next quest:  the domination of the Eastern Mediterranean.  Between 215 B.C. and 146 B.C., the Romans fought four wars against Macedonia and several against Syria.  Greece and Macedonia were added to the Roman Empire.  

Late Republic:  133 - 27 B.C.

The very successes of Rome during the period of the Imperial Republic produced the circumstances which led to the collapse of the republican form of government and its replacement by a thinly disguised military dictatorship.

Tiberius Gracchus is elected Tribune of the People in 133 B.C.  He ran on a program of land reform, hoping to restore the Plebean class of small farmers to its former prominence.  The plebean order was dying out from attrition in war.  They were the backbone of the Roman armies.  But the further away they fought, the less they could tend to their farms.  These farms were sold by their widows to the patrician order, who were, in effect, the officers of Rome's military.
    Tiberius wanted to limit the size of the large latifundia estates, which were developing.  Tiberius was a republican who wanted to make Rome into a real Democratic Republic.

Gaius Gracchus, younger brother of Tiberius, was elected Tribune of the People in 123 B.C. on a similar platform.  Reelected in 122; lost in 121 and was murdered in the ensuing riot.
    He favored land reform, free grain distribution for the poor, public works projects, and the extension of citizenship rights to Rome's allies.  The latter idea was unpopular to most Romans who cherished their privileges as Roman citizens and did not want to share them.
    Gaius death marks the end of restoring the vitality of the Roman Republic through a strengthening of the plebeans.  The plebean family farm could not be saved.

Marius, born ~157 - 86 B.C.
    Self-made man, came from the equestrian order.
    Elected Consul seven times:  107; 104 - 100; 86 B.C.
    Transformed the traditional citizen army into a professional mercenary army.
    Waived traditional property requirements for enlistment, but this means that the army had to be paid.  Traditional Senate did not like this innovation.  Marius' army gave loyalty to their general, not to the Roman Republic. This laid the basis for the later  military dictatorship.
    Marius defeated Jugurtha, King of Numidia.
    Marius ousted invading Tutoni and Cimbri tribes from Italy.
    Marius fought against Mithridates VI of Pontus.

Social War (91 – 88 BCE)
Rome’s Italian allies had long provided men to serve in Rome’s armies.  In return, the allies had shared in the plunder of the conquests.  When the growing greed of the Roman Senatorial class had altered these relationships, growing antagonism developed between Rome and its allies.  The allies sought Roman citizenship, which brought with it the benefit of the spoils of war.

            One of Gaius Gracchus’ reform planks had been the extension of citizenship to the allies.  Another tribune, Marcus Livius Drusus, proposed extending citizenship to allies in 91 BCE.  This and other actions led to his assassination.  Shortly thereafter, many of Rome’s allies revolted against Rome.  Rome managed to defeat the uprising militarily, but secured the peace by granting concessions including, what had been contested, rights of citizenship.  Sulla was one of the generals fighting for the Romans in this war.

Sulla, born ~138 - 78 B.C.
    Questor under Marius in 105 had captured Jugurtha.
    Had command of Roman armies during the Social War from 90 - 89 B.C.
    Roman citizenship extended to most of Rome's Italian allies.
    Consul in 88 B.C.
    Conflict between Marius and Sulla from 88 to 86 B.C. when Marius died.
    Completed war against Mithridates VI.
    Sulla returned to Rome and took it by force in 82 B.C.
    Sulla issued a Proscription List against his enemies, the populares, and had them killed.  Senate granted him the title of Dictator and legalized the murders.  Sulla rewrote Roman laws to vest power in the traditional Senatorial class.
    Sulla was a conservative, an optimate.  Populares and Optimates become the terms used to describe the political divisions of Rome in place of the older terms describing the class distinctions between  plebeans and patricians. 
    Consul again in 80 B.C.  Retired after his term believing he had restored the republic.  Died shortly thereafter.
    After Sulla's death, the Senate went back to its ways of corruption, greed, bought political offices, and ineptitude.  Sulla's solution of saving the Republic by restoring the old patrician class to unquestioned power had failed as badly as the Gracchi brothers' effort to restore the plebeans.  The way out of the crisis of government was in the direction of military dictatorship.  The next group of strong men leads to the dictatorship of Julius Caesar and the establishment of the principate by Octavian/Augustus.

War of Spartacus or Third Service War (73 – 71 BCE)
Spartacus was a Roman slave and gladiator who led a small group of 70 gladiators into a slave rebellion that grew to 120,000 rebels and briefly threatened Roman rule in Italy.  This was the third slave rebellion of the Roman republic and was by far the most successful.  It was ultimately crushed by Cassius with mop-up operations by Pompey.  6000 captured slave-rebels were brutally crucified by lining their corpses along the Appian Way.  Fear of future slave uprising haunted the Roman elites throughout their history.

Pompey the Great, born 106 -48 B.C.
    Important general during the Social Wars in Italy from 90 - 89 B.C.

    Personal alliance between Pompey, Crassus, and Julius Caesar.
    Julius Caesar had married his daughter Julia to Pompey.  After Julia's death, this alliance broke down and led to civil war from 49 to 48 B.C.

Crassus, born 115 - 55 B.C.
    Crassus was considered the richest man in Rome.  Aspired for military glory.  
    Crassus put down the Spartacus slave revolt on Sicily in 72 B.C.
    Crassus and Pompey were consuls in 70 B.C. and again in 55 B.C.
    Crassus gained command over an army to invade the Parthian Empire.  He was killed in battle and several Roman standards (flags) are lost to the Parthians.  This was a great humiliation to Rome.   

Julius Caesar, born 100 to March 15, 44 B.C.
    Was appointed governor of Gaul
    Conquered the remainder of Gaul between 58 - 51 B.C.
    Crossed the Rubicon in 49 B.C. and takes Italy.
    Senate declares him Dictator for the year 49 B.C. and again for 48 B.C.
    Civil War between Caesar and Pompey in 48 - 47
    Caesar defeats Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalus in August 48 B.C.
    Pompey flees to Egypt where he is murdered in 48 B.C.
    Caesar follows to Egypt.  He becomes involved in the politics of the Ptolemies.  In an Egyptian ceremony, he married Cleopatra, while still married to his Roman wife, and makes her Queen.  She bears him a son named Caesarion. 
    Caesar declared dictator for ten years in 46 B.C. 
    Further civil wars against Pompey's sons end by 45 B.C.
    Caesar made dictator for life in 44 B.C.
    Caesar held the consulship in 48 and from 46 to 44 B.C.
    Caesar is murdered by Cassius and Brutus on the Senate steps on the Ides of March (March 15, 44).  What were Caesar's plans?  Was he a great Roman or a great dictator?  Were his murderers craven cowards or brave patriots?  If Cassius and Brutus sought to save the Republic, they failed.  A new crop of military men and a new round of civil wars ensued.

    Personal alliance between Mark Antony , Octavian and Lepidus.
    The primary purpose of this alliance was to avenge the death of Julius Caesar on the Senators who supported Cassius and Brutus.    This was achieved by the Battle of Philippi in 42 B.C. where Mark Antony defeated the two conspirators and their armies.
After Philippi, the triumvirs divided the Roman Empire among themselves.
They shared the administration of Italy.  Mark Antony took the East including Egypt;  Lepidus got North Africa; and Octavian took Spain and Gaul.
    The alliance broke down when Mark Antony married Cleopatra in 37 B.C.  Mark Antony was also married to Octavia, the sister of Octavian.
    Lepidus was easily removed from North Africa by Octavian.  Thereafter Civil war broke out between Mark Antony and Octavian.    Octavian won the power struggle at the naval Battle of Actium in September 31 B.C.  Mark Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide in Egypt.  

Mark Antony, born ~83 - 31 B.C.
    Caesar's right hand.  Fought with him at Pharsalus in 49 B.C.
    Was consul with Caesar in 44 B.C.
    In 43 B.C., he unleashed a proscription against suspected conspirators during which Cicero was killed.
    Primarily responsible for the military victory over Cassius and Brutus at the Battle of Philippi in 42 B.C.
    Mark Antony formed an alliance with Cleopatra VII of Egypt in 41 B.C.  She becomes his wife in 37 B.C..  They lose to Octavian at the naval battle of Actium in 31 B.C. Commit suicide.

Lepidus, elderly Senator.  Ousted from North Africa by Octavian in 36 B.C.  Dies peacefully in bed, rare for Romans, in 13 B.C.

Octavian, born 63 B.C. to 14 A.D.
He was the grandnephew of Caesar.  Caesar designated him has his heir in his political testament.  This gave him tremendous prestige.  He had Caesar's son, Caesarion, murdered.
    Slowly outmaneuvered Lepidus and  Mark Antony.  By 31 B.C., Octavian was master of the Roman World.
    In 27 B.C., in a carefully stage-managed show, he surrendered his powers to the Senate and received them all back from the Senate.  He created the political system called the Principate.  Octavian assumed the name of Augustus and became the first emperor of Rome.

Reasons for the End of the Roman Republic



The Roman Republican form of government was designed to govern a single city-state.    It was not designed to rule a huge empire stretching around the entire Mediterranean Sea.


The small farmer (plebean) social class was in decline.  His numbers were declining due to war, pressures from large estate owners, and the attractions of urban life in Rome.


Crisis in the Roman Army.  Insufficient manpower.  The numerical decline of the small farmer class was undermining the citizen army of Rome.  Army needed more soldiers.


Senatorial class, formerly the patricians, was becoming more corrupt and greedy.  Loss of Roman virtue.  


Growth of latifundia system.  Large estates worked by slaves undermined the small farms of former times.


Impact of Slavery on Rome.  


Bread and Circuses for the Masses


Loss of traditional values, virtues.


Greed, tax farming, and corrupt administration in the Roman provinces.


Perennial uprisings by subject peoples driven to desperation by confiscatory taxes and Roman repression.


Generally inefficient government


Civil Wars in Italy due to growing inequality between Rome and its allies.


Political infighting in Rome:  Gracchi brothers, Marius, Sulla, First Triumvirate, Julius Caesar, Second Triumvirate, Octavian.


The trend toward military dictatorship.


Augustus and the Establishment of the Principate.


Principate:  27 B.C. - 180 A.D.

Julio-Claudian Emperors

            Augustus 27 B.C. - 14 A.D.

            Tiberius 14 - 37

            Caligula (Gaius) 37 - 41

            Claudius  41 - 54

            Nero 54 - 68

Flavian Emperors

            Vespasian 69 - 79

            Titus 79 - 81

            Domitian 81 - 96

Good Emperors

            Nerva 96 - 98

            Trajan 98 - 117

            Hadrian 117 - 138

            Antoninus Pius 138 - 161

            Marcus Aurelius 161 - 180

Third Century Decline:  180 A.D. - 284 A.D.

            Commodus 180 - 192

            Brief Civil War

            Severan Dynasty was a Military Monarchy  193 - 235

                Septimius Severus 193 - 211

                Caracalla 211 - 217

            Military Anarchy 235 - 284

                22 emperors in these 49 years

                                    Decius 249 - 251

                                    Valerian 253 - 260

                                    captured by Persians and died in captivity.

                                    Aurelian 270 - 274

                                    restored some degree of order; gave up Dacia

Autocracy or Dominate:  284 A.D. - 395 A.D.

The anarchy and collapse of Roman government was brought to an end under the general Diocletian.  He created a new political system that is generally called the autocracy or the dominate.  Diocletian and his fellow generals centralized absolute power in their own hands.  The principate with its residue of republican values had died during the civil wars of the Third Century.

Diocletian was not the first man of Rome (princes).  He was the dominus:  the master.  Centralization and regimentation with growing repression was to stem the tide of collapse and maintain law and order, that is civilization, in the face of the barbarian threats at the frontiers.

Diocletian reorganized the empire.  He created the tetrarchy.  .  The empire was divided into an eastern and a western half; each half was further split into two.  Diocletian ruled the Eastern half from Nicomedia.  Each half was ruled by an “augustus” with the assistance of a “caesar”:  Two augusti and two caesars.  If one of the generals died, there would be a rotation in office.  This would solve the succession problem.   Four generals, with himself at the top, would rule four prefectures.  With each in complete command, order would be restored.  The tetrarchy never worked as intended, not even once.  When Diocletian and Maximian stepped down as joint augusti after 20 years of rule in 305, a second tetrarchy was initiated but broke down almost immediately and civil war erupted once again until Constantine became the new ruler. (See Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Tetrarchy.”  Available online at: Accessed on June 21, 2009).

The four capital cities of the tetrarchy were: Nicomedia (modern Izmit in Turkey); Sirmium (near Belgrade); Milan; and Trier.  These cities were near the frontier region and served as military bases for the ongoing war efforts.  Rome ceased to be the capital city of the empire.

While it worked, the tetrarchy was more like a Joint Chiefs of Staff or a college of generals working together to figtht wars in for regional theaters under the overall command of Diocletian.  Each of the four tetrarchs in his geographic theater of operation (prefecture) was assisted by a praetorian prefect.  The prefect was the civil administrator.

In addition to the four prefectures, Diocletian divided the civil administration of the empire into twelve dioceses headed by a vicar.  This organizational structure of prefects and vicars survived the tetrarchy and became a permanent aspect of the autocracy.

Diocletian did restore order.  He enlarged the army; raised taxes; froze people in their occupations; and attempted to create a uniform religion around the traditional gods of Rome.  The Great Persecution of Christians took place during his rule.  This, however, was one area where Diocletian failed.  Even his empire-wide persecution could not break the spirit of the Christians.

Constantine made the monumental decision to embrace the Christians.  He legalized Christianity with the Edict of Milan (313 CE) and favored it.  By the end of the fourth century, Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire.  In 325, Constantine presided over the Council of Nicea where Arianism was declared a heresy and the orthodox definition of the trinity was established.  The Romans became Christians and the Christians became Romans.  A new partnership was begun between Church and State.  Constantine created caesaropapism.  The State defends the official teachings of the Church and the Church legitimizes the authority of the Christian ruler.

Constantine built a new capital city called Constantinople at the site of the old Greek city of Byzantium.  He, too, ruled the Roman Empire from the East. His victories ended the experiment of four man-rule.  It is also with Constantine that Rome becomes a monarchy with sons succeeding their father.

During the autocracy, Rome is no longer the capital of the Empire.  The Bishops of Rome, later to become the Popes, inherit the mantle of the emperors.


            Diocletian, 284 – 305 (abdicated; had co-ruled with Maximian

            Tetrarchy breaks down.  Constantine becomes sole ruler in 324 CE

            Constantine I, 306 - 337

            Constantine II, 337 – 340               These are the sons of Constantine I and
            Constantius II, 337 – 361               co-ruled together
            Constans, 337 - 350

            Julian the Apostate 360 - 363        Cousin of Constantius II

            Jovian 363 – 364

Valentinian Emperors

            Valentinian I, 364 – 375

            Valens, 364 - 378                             Brother of Valentinian I.  Killed in battle
                                                                        by Visigoths at Adrianople in 378

            Gratian, 367 – 383                           Son of Valentinian I

            Valentinian II,, 375 – 392               Son of Valentinian I

Theodosian Emperors

Theodosius "The Great", 378 – 395 became sole ruler after 392

Upon his death, the Empire split permanently into a Western and Eastern Empore.  It was divided by his two sons.

Honorius,, 393 – 423 CE took the West.  Ravenna becomes the Capital

Arcadius, 383 – 408 CE took the East     Constantinople is the Capital

[For a complete list of Roman Emperors see:  Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia s.v. “List of Roman Emperors”.  Available online at:  Accessed on June 22, 2009.]


Map of the Roman Empire in 395 CE

(Source:  Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Roman Empire about 395.jpg”,  Available online at: Accessed on June 21, 2009.)         


Western Roman Empire:  395 A.D. - 476 A.D.

            476 Odoacer deposes last Roman Emperor of the West Romulus Augustulus


Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire:  395 A.D.  - 1453 A.D.

            Justinian 527 - 565 and his wife Theodora

            Corpus Juris Civilis 529 - 533  

                        Completion of Hagia Sophia 537  

                        Justinian's famous generals are Belisarius (~505 - 565)

            Reconquest of Italy 535 - 554  

                        Destruction of Vandal Kingdom in North Africa (533 - 534)

                        Partial Conquest of Visigothic Kingdom in Spain

                        Overextended the Eastern Roman Empire

        Heraclius (ruled 610 - 641)

                        Fought against the Persian Empire and the Avars, Slavs, and Bulgars

        Forces of Islam conquer Palestine and Syria (641); Alexandria in Egypt (642); besiege Constantinople between 673 and 677.

        Iconoclastic Controversy 726 - 843

        Ottoman Turks finally conquer Byzantium with the use of cannons in 1453 C.E.


The Legacy of Rome


Roman society, their culture and history, evolved over 1300 years from the legendary founding of Rome in 753 BCE to the, almost equally mythical, ending of the Roman Empire in the West in 476 CE.  If we add the history of the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire, we must add another thousand years to 1453 CE when the Ottoman Turks finally captured Byzantium.  If the Holy Roman Catholic Church is viewed as a successor institution to the Roman Empire, then Rome lives still.  How is one to summarize the legacy of Rome.

The Romans were a practical people.  They excelled in the arts of government, military organization, public administration, law, engineering, and architecture.  They were pragmatic and not particularly theoretical or philosophical.  The Romans borrowed their art, philosophy, and literature from the Greeks and the Hellenistic world of the Eastern Mediterranean.  They borrowed, copied, and adopted.  Without the Romans, Greek and Hellenistic culture would, most likely, have been lost to the West and, perhaps, to the world.  It was the Roman empire that preserved ancient and classical culture for the medieval and modern ages.

It was within the Roman Empire that Christianity developed, spread, faced persecution, and triumphed.  The Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity with the Edict of Milan in 313 CE, favored it, and set in motion the process whereby Christianity became the State Religion of Rome during its waning years of the autocracy.  The transvaluation of values from traditional polytheistic cults to monotheistic Christianity marked the change from the classical age to the medieval age.  Christianity is the final legacy of the Roman Empire.

Looking at the legacy of Rome, we must discuss both its practical and its theoretical contributions.  On the practical side, we must mention the Roman language, religion, government and administration, the military legacy, Roman law, Roman engineering and architecture.   On the theoretical side, we must mention Roman literature, philosophy, and art.  In these areas, the Romans borrowed from the Greeks and continued Hellenic traditions.

Cultural Legacy of Rome

Roman Language:  Latin
            Latin became the common language of the Western Roman Empire.  After the Germanic Invasions of the 4th and 5th centuries, Latin formed the common root for the Romance Languages:  Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French.  Latin remained the language of the Roman Catholic Church until Vatican Council II in the 1960s.  Throughout the Middle Ages, the educated spoke, read, and wrote in Latin.  Medieval Latin was a living language.  Latin influenced the Germanic languages in that many medical, legal, philosophical, and scientific terms have Latin roots.

Roman Law
            From the Law of the Twelve Tables through the Corpus Juris Civilis, there was a 1000 years of legal evolution.  The Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church is based on Roman Law.  The University of Bologna taught the Corpus Juris during the Middle Ages.  Roman law forms the basis of most of the legal traditions of the Continent of Europe.  English and American Law are not directly based on Roman Law, but are influenced by it indirectly.

Roman Government
            The Romans developed the Republican form of government with its mixed constitution.  Many of our legal and governmental terms derive from Roman practices.  Roman Senate, consul, praetors, tribune, plebeans, patricians, imperium, res publica, pontifex maximus etc.
            The Romans also developed the principate and the autocracy.  Caesar, Augustus. Diocese, Vicar.

Roman Engineering and Architecture
            The Romans were excellent engineers.  Their road system and water systems were tremendous improvements over previous civilizations.  Viaduct, Aquaduct, concrete, roman baths, triumphal arch, coliseum, stadium, basilica, vault, rounded arch, dome;  much was copied from the Greeks.

Roman Religion
    Roman Religion went through many stages but it always served the interests of Rome.   As in most other things, the Romans were practical in their approach to the gods.  The function of the gods was to provide prosperity and security. For most of Rome's history, the Romans worshipped multiple gods and spirits.  The Romans were polytheistic.  They copied ideas from the Etruscans (divination) and the Greeks (pantheon of gods headed by Jove).  During the principate, emperor worship became an important aspect of their religion.  Only at the end of their history did the Romans adopt Christianity as their official religion.  The adoption of Christianity marked a profound transformation of culture from the classical period to the medieval period.

Roman Art and Literature
    In art and literature, the Romans copied the models of the Greeks.  They decorated their villas with mosaics depicting themes from Greek literature.  Only in portraiture were the Romans creative.  Instead of the idealized statues of human beings, the Romans were starkly realistic in their depiction of human faces.

Roman Philosophy
    The Romans copied Greek models.  They conquered the Hellenistic world that had developed in the aftermath of Alexander the Great's conquest of the Persian Empire.  The Romans continued the traditions of the people's whom they had conquered.  Greco-Roman Civilization is an apt description of the Roman legacy.
    Culturally the Roman's were at their height between 200 BCE and 200 CE.  The dominant philosophies at that time derived from Plato and Aristotle.  But while Plato and Aristotle had looked at the city-state and political engagement in the affairs of the city as the highest calling for human beings, the Hellenistic period with its large kingdoms fostered a new individualism and cosmopolitanism.
    The dominant philosophies were:

Roman Religion

The Roman religion was practical.  In its earliest forms, the religion appears to have been animistic.  The world was full of spirits or noumena.  These spirits were neither good nor bad; they were indifferent to humans, amoral, and could be either.  With proper ritual, these noumena could be appeased.  It was like a contract:  do this for me and I'll do that for you.   Some of the most important noumena were Vesta, the spirit which guarded the hearth fire; Lares, which guarded the house and its boundaries; Penates, the spirit of the larder; Janus, guarded boundaries or doorways. 

The head of the household, the paterfamilias, performed the various rituals to keep these spirts friendly.  These household gods were also the gods of Rome.  The Vestal Virgins, for example, tended the eternal flame of Rome.

The Etruscans brought more complex ritual to the Romans.  Divination and augury became important.  Several colleges of priests and priestesses formed, headed by the pontifex maximus.   Under the influence of the Greeks, these spirits took human form and were anthropomorphized.

Animism was a central feature of early Roman religion

Noumena or Numen


Anthropomorphic Gods

 Early triad of Gods was




            worshiped at open-air altars on the hill called Quirinal

After Etruscan influence a new triad of Gods was established

Jupiter Optimus Maximus (similar to Zeus) became the chief god of Rome

            Juno (like Hera)

            Minerva, goddess of craftsmen (like Athena)

Other Gods are mainly taken from the Greek

            Greek Hermes became the Roman Mercury

            Demeter                                 Ceres



Fertility Religions.

186 B.C. Romans outlaw orgiastic cult of Bacchus (Dionysus)        

State Religion

            College of Priests or Pontiffs (originally 3 later 16)

            Pontiffs were in charge of the jus divinum

            College of Augurs  who interpreted the signs (auspices) or warnings that the Gods gave to man.  Before every important act of state, a magistrate with imperium took the auspices to make sure the gods approved.  Auspices were taken by observing the flights of birds, lightning, and the behavior of certain animals.

            Exact performance of ritual, not morals, mattered in Roman religion

            Emperor Worship became important after the fall of the Republic


Families had their Household Cults

            Janus, the spirit of the doorway

            Vesta, goddess of the hearth

            Penates, the spirits of the storehouse

The paterfamilias was responsible for proper performance of these rituals. 

            Purification was very important.  

Romans were concerned about public morality: 

The Mos maiorum  were the customs and traditions of their ancestors.

Highest virtue was pietas, the dutiful execution of one's obligations to one's fellow citizens, to the gods, and to the state.  


                                    GREEK NAME        ROMAN NAM                    E

                                    ZEUS                                      JUPITER

                                    HERA                                     JUNO

                                    ARES                                      MARS

                                    POSEIDON                           NEPTUNE

                                    ATHENA                               MINERVA

                                    APOLLO                               APOLLO

                                    ARTEMIS                              DIANA

                                    DIONYSUS                            BACCHUS

                                    APHRODITE                        VENUS

                                    DEMETER                             CERES

                                    HEPHAESTUS                      VULCAN

                                    HERMES                                MERCURY

            The Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills on which Rome was built, was the religious center of the city.  The Capitoline Temple was the oldest of many temples there.  It was divided into three sections, one each for the worship of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva.  Mars was also an important Roman deity.  He was not only the god of war, but also of the state, and of agriculture.  The Romans may have adopted Greek names, but their gods were profoundly different from those of the Greeks.  There was none of the charm and ribaldry of the Greek immortals.

            The Romans were not creative.  In the arts, literature, and philosophy, they imitated Greek models and rarely succeeded in equaling the original.  The influence of Greek did, however, enrich the Latin language and that enrichment has come down to us.  Latin has been the doorway through which we have come to understand the ancient world.  Their language is another of their great legacies to us.  Latin was the language of the Roman Catholic Church until the 1960s.  Latin was the language of all the educated during the Middle Ages and remained influential until well into the modern age.   The Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French languages derive directly from Latin.  English is a Germanic language but it has borrowed many Latin words.    

Roman Law

Roman law developed for a thousand years from the Law of the Twelve Tables (450 B.C.) through the Corpus Juris Civilis (527 A.D.).  In ancient times, law was not territorial but communal.  Two Athenians in Rome would be covered by Athenian law.  Any Roman in conflict with a foreigner would obviously be treated according to Roman law.  But what if an Athenian came into conflict with someone from Alexandria?  What law should apply.  A special judge, the praetor peregrinis, handled these cases and came to develop a special kind of law, the jus gentium.  The jus gentium was a common law which derived from legal principles common to different legal systems.  In all legal traditions, murder is prohibited, so is theft.  There are common commercial practices.  The Romans came to identify this jus gentium with the jus naturale. Natural law is the idea that there are universal moral principles inherent in human nature and in the divine order of nature.


The Romans were a practical people.  They were good soldiers, administrators, lawyers, and engineers.  Their achievements as engineers and architects were formidable.

For over five centuries, they built one of the greatest road systems of antiquity, whose total length would have encircled that earth ten times at the equator. The phrase "all roads lead to Rome" derives from the fact that Roman roads began at the Forum Romanum and each mile was marked with a six foot circular pillar measuring the distance from Rome.  These roads were usually straight, using tunnels and viaducts to cut through hills and bridge valleys.  Some of these roads are in use today. 

The Romans built elaborate water systems to supply their cities with water for fountains, public baths, and to flush the sewers.  Aqueducts ported water from more than 100 miles away to supply the water needs of ancient Rome. 

The Romans invented concrete, made of lime and sand, and built four story apartment buildings to house the million inhabitants of their city.  Their public buildings like the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Baths of Caracalla were immense structures.

Engineering skills link naturally to the development of architecture.  Vitruvius wrote a ten volume book on architecture which remained important to our own age.  It inspired much of the Renaissance revival of classical building styles. The Romans continued to build temples using various types of columns to support the building.  They also built basilicas, large rectangular buildings surrounded on all sides by a colonnaded gallery.  They developed the triumphal arch for the commemoration of the great victories of their generals.  The Romans used the round arch, vault, and dome effectively so that very large buildings could be constructed.


Use of the arch


Developed concrete           


Roman Roads, aqueducts, public baths, amphitheaters



Roman Literature


     Fabius Pictor  was the first Roman historian, but he wrote in Greek.  His history written about 200 BCE covered  the founding of Rome through the Punic Wars.

   Livius Andronicus, a Greek ex-slave, wrote a Latin adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey shortly after the first Punic War.  This is some of the earliest Latin writing known.

   Other early Latin writers were the poet Naevius (d. 201 BCE) who came from Campania in Southern Italy and the poet Ennius (d. 169 BCE) from Calabria.  Ennius wrote an epic poem on Roman history called Annals.  While clearly based on Greek epic poetry, the subject matter and content was clearly Roman.  Borrowing from a foreign culture is generally a first step in creating your own adaptations.  

    Plautus (~254- 184) was a playwright who based himself on Greek New Comedy.  He used  stock characters like  dirty old men, clever slaves, prostitutes, and foolish young men in love for his slapstick humor.  He came from Umbria, north of Rome.

    Terence (~185 – 159) was born in Carthage, brought to Rome as slave, and  freed.  He  wrote six plays also in the  New Comedy style but with  less slapstick.  His comedy was more refined since he wrote for aristocracy. His comedies were performed between 170 and 160 BCE.  He was a member of what is known as the Scipionic Circle. (See below).

    Cato the Elder (234 – 149) was one of the first self-made men of Rome.  From plebean stock, he rose to the highest public offices of Rome.  He successively held the offices of Tribune (214 BC), Quaestor (204 BC), Aedile (199 BC), Praetor (198 BC), and Consul (195 BC).  He ultimately held the position of Censor (184 BC).   Perhaps as befits a censor defending traditional morals, he was critical of the Greek influence on Rome and the frivolous, foreign-born playwrights.  He is the man telling the Roman Senate to eradicate Carthage (“Cartago delendam est”).   Despite his conservative position, he had visited Greece and learned the Greek language.  He sent his son to study at the schools of Athen. 

Cato wrote some of the earlest Latin prose.  His Origins was the first history of Italy, not just Rome, written between 164 and 149 BCE.  He is also famous for writing a treatise On Agriculture. This was a manual on how to run a large farm and was written about 160 BCE.  It is the only work that has survived intact.  He gave many speeches during his public career some of which were written down and circulated in manuscript during the days of the Roman republic.  Most of his writings have been lost or remain as quotations in other writers.  Some credit Cato with preventing Greek from becoming the literary language of Rome.  Latin was his native language.

   Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Numantinus (185 - 129 BC), “also known as Scipio Aemilianus or Scipio Africanus the Younger, was a leading general and politician of the ancient Roman Republic. As consul he commanded at the final siege and destruction of Carthage in 146 BC, and was a leader of the senators opposed to the Gracchi in 133 BC. . . . A group of scholars and philosophers that he gathered around him in his house in Rome” is known as the Scipionic Circle.  “He was a patron and friend of the historian Polybius, the grammarian Lucilius, the playwright Terence, Panaetius, and others.”  He was a Philhellene.  (Wikipedia, The Free Enclyclopedia, s.v. “Scipio Aemilianus.”  Available online at

   Polybius (~203–120 BCE)  was a Greek, lived many years in Rome as a prisoner of war, and became an advisor to the Scipio clan. He is noted for his book called The Histories covering in detail the period of 220–146 BC.  While not writing in Latin, his works significantly influenced later Roman historians writing in Latin.

   Lucilius (c.160s - 103/2 BC), is the earliest Roman satirist.  Only fragments remain of his writings.  He was a Roman citizen of the equestrian class, which allowed him to mingle and mock the Senatorial class.

    Panaetius of Rhodes (~180 – 111) introduced Stoicism to Rome.


Period of the Late Republic

    Lucretius, ~99 - 55 B.C., was a poet.
        De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) is a long poem which developed the ideas of Epicurus and Democritus.  He developed the Epicurean ideas that there are no gods; when we die, there is no afterlife; all things are made of atoms; a purely materialistic theory.

    Cautullus, ~ 84 - 54 B.C., was a poet.
     Personal poems.  No message.  Just witty. Aristocratic.

    Cicero, 106 - 43 B.C.
        Orations, Private Letters,
        Treatises on rhetoric, ethics, and politics
        He believed in a world governed by divine and natural law which reason could discern.
        De Legibus

    Sallust, 86 - 35 B.C.
        Wrote a history of the years 78 to 67 B.C.  Much of it lost.
        A pamphlet on the Jugurthine War  and on the Catalinarian Conspiracy of 63 B.C. remain.

    Julius Caesar (100 – 44 BCE)
            In addition to his great political achievements, Caesar was also an important prose writer.  He wrote an important history on the Wars in Gaul (Commentarii de Bello Gallico).  This work is in simple, but polished, Latin prose and was used by generations of Latin students in the West during their first and second years of Latin training.

Golden Age of Augustus

Gaius Cilnius Maecenas (70 BCE – 8 BCE) was a very wealthy Roman and a friend of Augustus.  He patronized an entire circle of poets who praised the new princeps.  His name has become synonymous with a patron of the arts.

    Vergil, 70 - 19 B.C. was a poet.
        Ecologues or Bucolics are pastoral idylls.
        Georgics are patterned after Hesiod's Works and Days, but much more somber.  "It pays homage to the heroic human effort to forge order and social complexity out of an ever hostile and sometimes brutal natural environment.  It was also a hymn to the cults, traditions, and greatness of Italy." (Kagan, The Western Heritage, 7th Ed., p. 152)
        Aeneid.  An epic poem which seeks to imitate Homer.  Purely a fictional account, it seeks to link the history of Rome to that of Greece.  It tells the story of the Trojan hero Aeneas, who, after the fall of Troy, escapes, has many adventures during his travels, and finally settles near Rome to become a progenitor of the Romans.  
        Vergil glorified the new Augustan order.

    Horace, 65 - 8 B.C. was a poet.
        Satires are humorous satire.
        Odes are lyric poems which skillfully adapt Greek meters to the Latin.

    Ovid, 43 B.C. - 18 A.D., was a poet.  He wrote love elegies.  He was exiled by Augustus in 8 A.D.   Ovid seems to have become mixed up in a scandal involving Augustus’ granddaughter, but the emperor also did not like the immoral tone of Ovid’s poems.  They angered the dictator.
        Ars Amatoria is a poetic textbook on the art of seduction.
        Fasti is a poetic treatment of Roman religious festivals.
        Metamorphoses is a mythological epic which turns Greeks myths into charming stories.

    Livy, 59 B.C. - 17 A.D., was a historian.
        History of Rome covers the period from Rome's beginnings to 9 B.C.

Seneca the Elder (ca. 54 BC – ca. 39 AD) was a great Roman rhetorician and writer.  He belonged to the equestrian order and was born in Cordoba.  He wrote he Controversiae (imaginary legal cases) and the Suasoriae (exercises in hortatory or deliberative oratory). The whole forms the most important authority for the history of Roman oratory.

 Seneca, Seneca the Younger or  Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4 BC – AD 65) was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and humorist.  He was a political advisor to the emperor Nero, who later accused him of treason and forced him to commit suicide.  His most famous work is the Consolations.

Petronius or Gaius Petronius Arbiter (ca. 27–66)  lived during the time of Nero and was another of his favorites.  He advised and aided the emperor in his immoral excesses. He is believed to be the author of the Satyricon, a satirical novel with references to Nero.

 Silver Age

    Tacitus, (~56 - 120 A.D., was a historian.
        Annals was a history of the Julio Claudian Emperors, including Augustus.  It illustrated the ruthlessness which which Augustus had gained power.

    Juvenal, (~65 - ~130 A.D.) was a satirical poet, who mocked overbearing Romans and greedy provincials and exposed what it meant to be poor in Rome.

   Apuleius (~125 – 170) wrote The Golden Ass. This is a sex-filled novel about a man who is turned into donkey.  The Egyptian goddess Isis finally restores his soul and his human body. 


Electronic Resources
Resource on Roman History

Encyclopaedia Brittanica Online

A free, user-created, and not copyright protected encyclopedia is:  Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

On origins of Rome and the Etruscan Kings  see:

On the Etruscan Civilization see:

On the history of the Roman Republic see:

On the history of the Roman Empire see:

For various links dealing with Roman culture see:

For information on Pompeii see:



Copyright Dr. Harold Damerow
Updates June 23, 2009
Updated May 2006