By far the greatest power and influence of the ancient world, the Roman Empire at one time extended across vast areas of what is today’s Europe, including the United Kingdom, and ruled over some 70 million people – an astonishing one fifth of the worlds population at the time.
Evolving from the so called “Roman Republic” an establishment that ran for some 450 years before and ending with the death of Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire began with the long reign of Emperor Augustus in 27 BC. This was a period of considerable prosperity that showcased to the world a kaleidoscope of Roman art, literature, and architecture, together with a wealth of legal and military knowledge, all of which had a profound international influence.
After the death of the revered Augustus in 14 AD, a succession of lesser Emperors followed including Claudius (AD 41 to 45) who despite possessing only moderate leadership skills still managed to direct the conquest of Britain. The fortunes of Rome ebbed and flowed somewhat over the following centuries depending largely on the whims of the emperors, with cycles of warfare and internal instability occurring from time to time. However, largely because of the well-recruited and superbly led Roman Armies, the Empire continued to expand.
Becoming vast and unwieldy, in 285 AD Emperor Diocletian divided it into “East and West” and 39 years later Emperor Constantine declared the Greek City of Byzantium the new capital of the Roman Empire. He then renamed the city Constantinople in his own honour. Constantine was also responsible for making Christianity the official religion of Rome, replacing the old pagan god system of the previous centuries.
From around 400 AD, the Western Empire began to falter under the onslaught of several different forces – high level corruption, repeated battles with invading Germanic tribes and the stretching of its extent well beyond the range and control of the available military forces.
On the 4th September 476 AD, the last Emperor, Romulus Augustus, was deposed by the Germanic King Odoacer, in an act seen by many historians as the symbolic end of the Roman Empire. However the eastern chapter, also known as the Byzantine Empire, survived and remained a force in the ancient world for many years thereafter.
Recently other factors have been suggested as being significant in Rome’s demise. Lead water pies were used in Rome and the theory has been advanced that this could have resulted in widespread lead poisoning and a reduction in the mental capacity of key citizens. However this claim has been discounted by many modern scientists.
The “malaria theory” has also been advanced, suggesting that the malaria parasite reached mainland Italy through international maritime trade and then spread through to Rome creating increasingly frequent and deadly outbreaks of “Roman fever”. This theory has also been criticised by various scientists and scholars.
However one thing is certain. The legacy of the Roman Empire remains with us today,
as modern citizens from all around the world continue to be entranced and amazed by the massive Roman footprint left behind for all to see.
Image: This is a derivative work of a 3D, Computer generated image of the Roman forum by the model maker, Lasha Tskhondia, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.