Roman Empire

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The Roman empire at its greatest extent

The Roman Empire (Latin: Imperium Romanum, Greek: Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων) was the post-Republican period of ancient Rome. As a polity it included large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia ruled by emperors. From the accession of Caesar Augustus to the military anarchy of the 3rd century, it was a principate with Italy as metropole of the provinces and the city of Rome as sole capital (27 BC - AD 286). The adoption of Christianity as the state church of the Roman Empire in AD 380 and the fall of the Western Roman Empire to Germanic kings conventionally marks the end of Classical antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages.

Due to the Roman Empire's vast extent and long endurance, the institutions and culture of Rome had a profound and lasting influence on the development of language, religion, art, architecture, literature, philosophy, law, and forms of government in the territory it governed, and far beyond.


  • Looking back on Rome's success, it is all too easy to conclude that its victories were preordained. It is almost as if Rome arose with consummate certainty from the seven hills, gaining such a height that seemingly it could not be challenged. But in almost every phase of Rome's history there were crises.
  • Few empires in history have achieved either the geographical size or the integrative capacities of the Roman commonwealth. None have combined scale and unity like the Romans—not to mention longevity. No empire could peer back over so many centuries of unbroken greatness, advertised everywhere the eye wandered in the forum.
    • Kyle Harper, Prologue to The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the Fate of an Empire] (2017), p. 2 of 2019 pbk edition
  • What an awful book the Corpus Juris is, this Bible of selfishness! I've always found the Roman code as detestable as the Romans themselves. These robbers want to safeguard their swag, and they seek to protect by law what they have plundered with the sword; hence the robber became a combination of the most odious kind, soldier and lawyer in one. Truly, we owe the theory of property, which was formerly a fact only, to these Roman thieves.
    • Heinrich Heine, Memoiren, 1884 in the magazine Die Gartenlaube. Translated in Max Brod, Heinrich Heine: The Artist in Revolt, New York University Press, 1957 (p.77).
  • When the Germans invaded the Roman Empire they did not intend to destroy it. They were coming for plunder, to get the best lands and to settle down and enjoy the good things of life. They were happy to acknowledge the emperor’s rule. But the trouble was that in the 400s so many Germans came, and took so much land, there was nothing left for the emperor to control. In effect the Roman Empire came to an end because there was nothing left to rule.
  • By the time of Augustine (354-430 AD), the Roman Empire had become an Empire of lies. It still pretended to uphold the rule of law, to protect the people from the Barbarian invaders, to maintain the social order. But all that had become a bad joke for the citizens of an empire by then reduced to nothing more than a giant military machine dedicated to oppressing the poor in order to maintain the privileges of the rich. The Empire itself had become a lie: that it existed because of the favor of the Gods who rewarded the Romans because of their moral virtues. Nobody could believe in that anymore: it was the breakdown of the very fabric of society; the loss of what the ancient called the auctoritas, the trust that citizens had toward their leaders and the institutions of their state.
  • The history of the Roman Empire is also the history of the uprising of the Empire of the Masses, who absorb and annul the directing minorities and put themselves in their place. Then, also, is produced the phenomenon of agglomeration, of "the full." For that reason, as Spengler has very well observed, it was necessary, just as in our day, to construct enormous buildings. The epoch of the masses is the epoch of the colossal.
  • The terror of the Roman arms added weight and dignity to the moderation of the emperors. They preserved peace by a constant preparation for war; and while justice regulated their conduct, they announced to the nations on their confines, that they were as little disposed to endure, as to offer an injury.
  • By the time Augustus died on 19 August AD 14, at the grand old age of seventy-five, the Roman Empire had been vastly and dramatically expanded, pacified and extensively reformed. Although Britain was still an untapped wilderness (Caesar had blanched at the prospect of a full invasion when he visited in 55-54 BC, and his son left the Britons alone too), the early Roman Empire included the entire Italian and Iberian peninsulas, Gaul (modern France), transalpine Europe as far as the Danube, most of the Balkans and Asia Minor, a thick slice of the Levantine coast from Antioch in the north to Gaza in the south, the vastly wealthy province of Egypt (Aegyptus), won by Augustus in a famous war against the last Ptolemaic pharaoh, Cleopatra, and her lover Mark Antony, and a continuous stretch of north Africa as far as Numidia (modern Algeria). And the stage was set for even greater expansion during the century that followed. Rome was the only power in history to rule every shore of the Mediterranean basin, and it added to this an exceptionally deep fringe of territory reaching many miles inland. At its peak under Trajan (r. AD 98-117), who conquered Dacia (modern Romania) the empire covered some 5 million square kilometers, from Hadrian’s Wall to the banks of the river Tigris. A quarter of earth’s human population lived under Roman rule. This huge conglomerate of imperial territory was not just seized, but reorganized and imprinted with the defining features of Roman civilization. Colossal, centrally commanded, fiercely defended at the fringes and closely governed (if not exactly free and tolerant) within its borders, technologically advanced and efficiently connected to itself and the world beyond, Rome’s imperial apogee had arrived.
    • Dan Jones, Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages (2021), p. 16
  • The Romans introduced into all their provinces a system of law so fair and so strong, that almost all the best laws of modern Europe have been founded on it. Everywhere the weak were protected against the strong; castles were built on the coast with powerful garrisons in them; fleets patrolled the Channel and the North Sea. Great roads crossed the island from east to west and from north to south.
    • Rudyard Kipling and C. R. L. Fletcher, School History of England, 1911. Quoted in Butler, Sarah J., Britain and Its Empire in the Shadow of Rome, A&C Black, 2012, (p.56).
  • For all its material impressiveness and occasional grossness, the core of the explanation of the Roman achievement was the idea of Rome itself, the values it embodied and imposed, the notion of what was one day to be called Romanitas.
  • Latin philosophers took over Greek theories. To the end, Rome was culturally parasitic on Greece. The Romans invented no art forms, constructed no original system of philosophy, and made no scientific discoveries. They made good roads, systematic legal codes, and efficient armies; for the rest they looked to Greece.
  • In the heyday of Roman power, a certain Lauricius, otherwise unknown but probably a Roman soldier, carved a graffito on a rock in a desolate corner of what is now southern Jordan: “The Romans always win.” This sentiment, which curtly echoed Virgil’s famous and more eloquent vision that Jupiter had given the Romans “empire without end,” held true for a very long time, well beyond actual Roman history. Empires in general did tend to win, at least for a while, before they fell apart only to be succeeded by others: in that sense, they were indeed without end. For untold generations, they imposed tributary rule and prevented stable state systems from forming and building a dif­ferent world. Our lives today are dif­ferent only because in the end, “the Romans”—the empire builders—did not, as it happened, always win, even if they came close. Their failure to do so may well have been our biggest lucky break since an errant asteroid cleared away the dinosaurs 66 million years earlier: there was no way to “get to Denmark”—to build societies that enjoy freedom, prosperity, and general welfare—without “escaping from Rome” first.
    • Walter Scheidel, Escape from Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity (2019), p. 19
  • The Hellenization of Rome was, of course, the most important cultural conquest that the Hellenes ever achieved at any stage of their history.
  • Your task, Roman, and do not forget it, will be to govern the peoples of the world in your empire. These will be your arts – and to impose a settled pattern upon peace, to pardon the defeated and war down the proud.
    • Virgil, The Aeneid, Book 6.850-3. Quoted in Simon Baker, Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire. Random House, 2010 (pg. 7)
  • The Roman Empire was a world-wide confederation of aristocracies for the perpetuation of human servitude.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Encyclopedic article on Roman Empire on Wikipedia