Introduction to Ancient Rome
Rome was at the center of the ancient world for more than a thousand years. At its largest, the empire spanned across three continents, a total of two million square miles. Over 70 million people resided inside its borders, around 20% of the global population. Roman history can be divided into three periods: the Roman Kingdom (753 BCE to 509 BCE), the Roman Republic (509 BCE to 27 BCE) and the Roman Empire (27 BCE to 476 CE).
753 BCE to 509 BCE
Rome was founded by the legendary Romulus, the first king. The city was small, and much of its population consisted of criminals and ex-slaves; who came to the city to escape their pasts. Over the next two centuries, there were seven kings, each of which continued to expand Rome’s holdings. The monarchy fell in 509 BCE when Brutus led a successful uprising against the last king, Tarquin the Proud.
509 to 27 BCE
Ancient Rome was now governed by the Senate rather than a king. This gave way to a period of rapid change. In the first decades of the republic, Rome fought a series of wars against the Etruscan and Latin Leagues. The basis for Roman law was also written, and the plebeian class rebelled for better political representation.
By the start of the fourth century BCE, the Senate looked towards the expansion of Rome's territories. War after war was fought and by the end of the second century BCE, Rome had conquered the entirety of Italy, Greece, much of northern Africa and the Middle East.
The first century BCE saw the Roman Republic fall into anarchy. Several civil wars were fought between some of Rome’s most famous generals. Gaius Marius would face off against Sulla, Julius Caesar would overcome Pompey the Great and Octavian (Augustus) would rage a war against Mark Antony and Cleopatra that would bring an end to the Roman Republic.
27 BCE to 476 CE
Augustus founded the Roman Empire in 27 BCE following his victory over Mark Antony at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE. This brought to an end a century of civil wars and began an era known as the ‘Pax Romana’, an unparalleled period of peace within Rome's borders lasting more than two-hundred years.
The Roman Empire was strongest between 96 CE and 180 CE, a period known as the ‘Five Good Emperors’. The empire was at its largest; the political and economic landscape was secure, and Rome's sphere of influence was unmatched. However, Rome did not escape the first two centuries unscathed, suffering through the reigns of several incompetent emperors.
Following the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 CE, the empire was on a path of decline. In 235 CE, the ‘Crisis of the Third Century’ began, lasting for fifty years. This was a period filled with civil wars, barbarian invasions, plague and economic crisis. It only ended in 285 CE when Diocletian became emperor and divided the empire into four parts to make it more manageable. However, this would not prevent the eventual demise of Rome. In 476 CE, the Western Roman Empire fell.