Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Ancient Roman History 101

This post is meant as a refresher on ancient Roman history. I always loved ancient history when I was at school, and Roman history was probably my favourite era. So here is a bunch of stuff I've summarised / plagiarised from around the web.

Rome was the centre of western civilisation for over a thousand years, generally split into two sections, The Roman republic for the first 500 years, then the Roman Empire for the second 500 years. Here is a general time line of the major events in Roman history (I'm sure I've left a couple off, a thousand years is a very long time...)

  • 600 BC  The Etruscans establish cities from northern to central Italy
  • 509 BC  The start of the Roman republic  
  • 282 BC  282-272: War with Pyrrhus  
  • 264 BC  264-241: First Punic War (War with Carthage) 
  • 218 BC  Hannibal invades Italy  
  • 135BC  135-132 BC slave revolts (First Servile War)  
  • 73 BC   73 - 71 BC Slave uprising led by the gladiator Spartacus  
  • 64 BC   Pompey captures Jerusalem  
  • 45 BC   Julius Caesar defeats Pompey. Becomes the first dictator of Rome.  Start of the Roman Empire
  • 44 BC   Julius Caesar assassinated on the 15th of March
  • 44 BC   The Triumvirate of Marc Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian (later known as Caesar Augustus) become the rulers of Rome  
  • 31 BC   Antony and Cleopatra are defeated by Octavian  
  • 27 BC   Octavian becomes Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor until 14AD  
  • 14AD   Death of Augustus. Tiberius, the stepson of Caesar Augustus, becomes emperor.
  • 33 AD  Crucifixion of Jesus in the Roman province of Jerusalem  
  • 37 AD  Gaius (Caligula) crowned Emperor  
  • 41 AD  Caligula is killed and Claudius proclaimed Emperor  
  • 54 AD  Emperor Claudius is murdered and Nero is proclaimed Emperor. A classic case of “be careful what you wish for”
  • 64 AD  Fire destroyed much of Rome. (Did Nero do it ? Did the Christians do it ? or did someone just forget they left the chips on....)  
  • 68 AD  Death of Nero. End of the infamous Julio-Claudian dynasty. 
        The fact the Roman empire survived Tiberius, Caligula and Nero is somewhat of a miracle.

  • 75 AD  The Roman emperors start to build the Coliseum.

Start of the period of the “5 Good Emperors”. This period had considerable expansion of the empire, from northern Britain to Dacia and to Arabia and Mesopotamia. The empire was consolidated, its defences were perfected, and a tolerably uniform provincial system covered the whole area of the empire. The client states had one by one been reconstituted as provinces

  • 96–98 Nerva 
  • 98–117 Trajan  
  • 117–138 Hadrian   (the Pantheon was completed during his reign)
  • 138–161 Antoninus Pius 
  • 161–180 Marcus Aurelius 

At around 117, This is generally held to be the peak of Roman rule, 5 million square kilometres under the rule of one empire, covering 40 countries under modern borders. The empire has a population of about 60 million people, about 1/4 the worlds population at this point. When you hear the comment “Pax Romana” it generally refers to this period,  which literally translated means "Roman peace".

  • 180 Commodus succeeds his father Marcus Aurelius and gains imperial power. 

And it was all downhill from here…..

  • 284   Diocletian, seized power and declared himself emperor. Split the Roman Empire in two. He kept the eastern part and gave the western half to Maximian. This above anything else was probably the first nail in the coffin for the Roman empire.
  • 305 Constantine becomes the first Christian emperor  
  • 380 Christianity is declared the sole religion of the Roman Empire by Theodosius I  
  • 410 The Visigoths, led by Alaric, sack Rome heralding the total decline of the Roman Empire in the west.  
  • 455 The Vandals, led by Gaiseric, sack Rome  
  • 476 The last Roman Emperor was Romulus Augustulus who was defeated by Odoacer

The Easter Roman Empire, survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. This was then known as the Byzantium period.

The worst Emperors are generally considered to be :-

14AD-37AD Tiberius
37-41AD         Caligula
54-68AD        Nero
81-96AD        Domitian
177-192AD Commodus
198-217AD Caracalla
218-222AD Elagabalus
283-285AD Carinus

So what did the Romans ever do for us ?

  • Aqueducts
  • Sanitation, Sewers and Baths
  • Roads
  • Indoor Plumbing 
  • Concrete
  • Arches
  • Roman Law 

Why Did Rome Fall?

Easily the most argued question about the Fall of Rome is Why? The Roman Empire lasted over a thousand years and represented the height of civilisation in the west (There was great stuff happening in China at this time too, but I'll cover that another day).

Some historians maintain that the split into an eastern and western empire governed by separate emperors caused Rome to fall. Most classicists believe that a combination of factors including Christianity, decadence, reliance of slavery, lead in the water supply, monetary trouble, and military problems caused the Fall of Rome. Imperial incompetence and chance could be added to the list. And still others question the assumption behind the question, and maintain that Rome adapted rather than fell.

In his masterwork, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, historian Edward Gibbon dates 476 A.D. as the year Rome ceased to exist. It's conventionally acceptable because that's when the Germanic Odoacer deposed the last Roman emperor to rule the western part of the Roman Empire.

The eastern half became the Byzantine Empire, with its capital at Constantinople (modern Istanbul).

The western half then entered the "dark ages" and didn't really recover until the renaissance period (which was centred in Florence, the next city we visit on Monday).