Roman Empire

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Gaius Julius Caesar played a critical role in the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire succeeded the 500 year-old Roman Republic (510 BC - 1st century BC), which had been weakened by the conflict between Gaius Marius and Sulla and the civil war of Julius Caesar against Pompey the Great. Several dates are commonly proposed to mark the transition from Republic to Empire, including the date of Julius Caesar's appointment as perpetual dictator (44 BC), the victory of Caesar's heir Octavian at the Battle of Actium (September 2, 31 BC), and the Roman Senate's granting to Octavian the honorific Augustus. (January 16, 27 BC).

Contents

History

Roman legionaries practicing for battle. The Roman Legion conquered and maintained large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean in Europe, Africa, and Asia.[1]

The Latin term Imperium Romanum (Roman Empire), probably the best-known Latin expression where the word "imperium" denotes a territory, indicates the part of the world under Roman rule. From the time of Augustus to the Fall of the Western Empire, Rome's dominion covered all of the following: England and Wales; most of Europe (west of the Rhine and south of the Alps); coastal northern Africa, together with the adjacent province of Egypt; the Balkans, the Black Sea, and Asia Minor; and also much of the Levant. Hence the Imperium Romanum subsumed, west-to-east, modern day Portugal, Spain, England and France, Italy, Albania and Greece, the Balkans, and Turkey; southward it embraced parts of the Middle East: present day Syria, Lebanon, and more; thence southwestward it included the whole of ancient Egypt, then swept westward to contain the coastal regions of what are today Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, out to the longitudes just west of Gibraltar. Most of the people living there called themselves Romans, and lived under Roman law. Roman expansion began long before the state was changed into a monarchy and reached its zenith under Emperor Trajan with the conquest of Dacia (i.e., modern Romania and Moldova, as well as parts of Hungary, Bulgaria and Ukraine), in AD 106, and Mesopotamia in 116 (subsequently returned by Hadrian). At this territorial peak, the Roman Empire controlled approximately 5 900 000 km² (2,300,000 sq.mi.) of land surface, and so encompassed the Mediterranean Sea that the Romans called it "mare nostrum" - Latin for "our sea". Rome's influence upon the culture, law, technology, arts, language, religion, government, military, and architecture of the civilizations that arose from this ancient ancestor continues to this day.

The end of the Roman Empire is traditionally, if not strictly accurately, placed at 4 September AD 476, when the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire, Romulus Augustus, was deposed of by the Germanic chieftan Odoacer, the leader of the Germanic soldiers in the Roman army, and therefore terminating the western Roman Empire. However, Diocletian, who retired in AD 305, was the last sole Emperor of an undivided Empire whose capital was the City of Rome.

After the division of the Empire by Diocletian into East and West, each branch continued to style itself as "The Roman Empire." The Western Roman Empire declined and fell apart in the course of the 5th century. The Eastern Roman Empire, centered on Nova Roma (founded by Constantine I on the Greek city of Byzantion), which would later adopt Greek as its main language, and is known today as the Byzantine Empire, preserved Greco-Roman legal and cultural traditions along with Hellenic and Orthodox Christian elements for another millennium, until its eventual collapse with the conquest of Constantinople, as Constantine's city become known, at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in 1453.

"The older generations, trained for centuries in the statesmanship and sense of moral responsibility that had given Rome its position as a world power, were to a large extent exterminated. The Roman Sertorius attempted to found a rival state in Spain with the aid of the barbarous races there, and Spartacus roused the slaves of Italy to wipe out all that Rome meant. The war against Jugurtha and the Catilinarian Conspiracy revealed the deterioration of the ruling classes themselves, whose uprooted elements were prepared at any moment to appeal to the country's enemy and the mob of the Forum in support of their sordid financial interests. Sallust was perfectly right - it was for the sake of cash, whereof the mob and the rich speculators were equally greedy, that the honour and greatness of Rome, its race and its idea, went down in ruin."Oswald Spengler in The Hour Of Decision

Decline and fall of the Roman Empire

Map of the Roman Empire and Magna Germania in the early 2nd century

Marcomanni and Quadi

The Roman empire is attacked for the first time by Warriors of the north in 167 by the Germanic Quadi and Marcomanni. In 169 it was invaded by northern Germanics, although Rome could not be taken yet and these first advances were partially pushed back.

The Visigoths

The next Germanic people to penetrate the frontiers of the empire were the West Goths, or Visigoths. The Goths had originally lived in southern Scandinavia, northern Germany and around the Baltic. But moving south in the second century they had split into two groups, the East Goths, or Ostrogoths, who had remained in southern Russia to live off the land as an army of conquerors, and the West Goths, or Visigoths, who drove the Romans out of Dacia (modern Rumania). The Goths were receptive to Roman ways of life, developed a taste for Roman luxuries, and adopted the Arian form of Christianity. Many were recruited into the Roman army, and even took offices of state in Constantinople itself. Thus, when the westward drive of a Mongolian people called the Huns from the steppes of Russia overwhelmed the Ostrogoths, the emperor Valens of Constantinople was not unwilling to permit the Visigoths to move into the empire in 376 to defend its Danube frontier. Apparently outraged at the treatment they had received from imperial officials, the Visigoths took up arms against the emperor, who was defeated and killed at the battle of Adrianople in 378. His successor Theodosius I placated the Visigoths with gifts of land and payment of tribute, and they in return furnished recruits to the imperial army. Relations with the Visigoths deteriorated after the death of Theodosius I in 395, when the empire was divided again between his two sons, Arcadius (reigned 395-408) who inherited the Eastern Roman Empire and Honorius (reigned 395-423) who inherited the Western Roman Empire. Furious at the conditions of military service imposed on his people, Alaric, the leader of the Visigoths, led his troops against Constantinople in 395, but was persuaded to divert his army into Greece, capturing Athens. Alaric, after declaring himself king of the Visigoths, led them north into Illyricum (Yugoslavia). In Italy, Honorius sought seclusion and luxury in the city of Ravenna, which was well protected by broad marshes, leaving his regent, the Germanic soldier Stilicho from the Vandals, to deal with Alaric's invasion of Italy after 403. Stilicho used strategic cunning as well as bribery to keep the Visigoths away from Rome; but, after Stilicho was unjustly executed on charges of treason, Alaric was able to besiege and finally in August 410 to capture and sack Rome. It was eight hundred years since a foreign invader had broken through the walls of Rome. "The world sinks into ruin," wrote St. Jerome.[2] "Yes! but shameful to say our sins still live and flourish. The renowned city, the capital of the Roman Empire, is swallowed up in one tremendous fire; and there is no part of the earth where Romans are not in exile." Fortunately, Jerome was exaggerating. Few people were killed; the houses of nobles were plundered. The Forum was set ablaze, but all the churches were spared. Alaric even organized a fine procession to Saint Peter's to present the treasures he had saved for the pope. Alaric died shortly afterwards, and a river was temporarily diverted to provide a secure grave for him in its bed. The Visigoths then moved on to southern France and Spain , where they finally settled. Although they were tolerant of the Catholic worship in the areas they controlled, they were isolated from the Latin population for almost two centuries by their refusal to give up Arianism. They were finally converted toward the end of the sixth century.

"At first I wanted to erase the Roman name and convert all Roman territory into a Gothic Empire: I longed for Romania to become Gothia, and Athaulf to be what Caesar Augustus had been. But long experience has taught me that the ungoverned wildness of the Goths will never submit to laws, and that without law, a state is not a state. Therefore I have more prudently chosen the different glory of reviving the Roman name with Gothic vigour, and I hope to be acknowledged by posterity as the initiator of a Roman restoration, since it is impossible for me to alter the character of this Empire." – Athaulf[3], King of the Visigoths[4]

The Vandals

Even before the Goths sacked Rome, another Germanic tribe, the Vandals, had pushed into the empire over the Rhine. Crossing France, they settled for a short while in Spain, from which the Visigoths expelled them. They then crossed the Straits of Gibraltar, conquered the rich province of North Africa, built themselves a fleet, and in 455 sacked Rome with greater thoroughness than the Visigoths. They took the treasures from the emperor's palaces on Palatine hill and even the tile from the roofs of the temples, and returned with their spoil to their new capital of Carthage.

The Ostrogoth

Talented Germanic leader of the Roman Empire Theoderic the Great (German: Theoderich der Große)

Once they had broken loose from Hun control, the Germanic Ostrogoth moved slowly toward northern Italy. Their leader was Theoderic, one of the most talented leaders of all the Germanic peoples. He had spent ten years in Constantinople as a hostage, knew both Latin and Greek, and had developed a profound admiration for the ancient civilization he had been forcibly acquainted with. He had not, however, lost his tribal skills, for after conquering most of northern Italy , he demonstrated his ability with the broad- sword by slicing in two his rival for control of Italy and his ruthlessness by exterminating the rival's family. Theodoric then showed constructive statesmanship. From 493 till his death in 526, he governed Italy and large parts of the Balkans as the regent of the emperor in Constantinople and as King of the Goths, establishing both in title and in actuality a successful policy of racial coexistence. The Goths took one-third of the land and houses and all military duties. The Romans kept the rest, and devoted themselves to peaceful pursuits. Gothic law applied to Goths, Roman law to Romans. Intermarriage[5] was forbidden, Germanics kept their blood pure, just like Tacitus reported in his Germania. Although Theodoric was an Arian Christian, he tolerated the Catholic religion and even the Jewish and other faiths. "Religion is not something we can command," he said. "No one can be forced into a faith against his will." He showed great concern for Roman culture. He restored monuments that had fallen into ruin, including the Coliseum in Rome , where circuses were still presented. But it was at the capital of Ravenna that the Ostrogothic king showed the heights of civilization that could be achieved with the fusion of Germanic and Roman skills.

Ravenna had been made the capital of the western part of the Roman Empire because of its excellent harbor and because it was protected by wide marshes. It was a city of islands, canals, bridges, and causeways, looking across lagoons to the Adriatic Sea . Here Theodoric found that the Roman artists had brought to perfection one of the most demanding and un- compromising of all artistic forms, the art of mosaic; and it was for this achievement that his Ravenna would be principally remembered. In mosaic the artist must set enormous numbers of tiny bits of marble, enamel, glass, and colored stone into damp cement. He cannot produce those subtleties of expression possible in an oil painting, but must seek an overall effect usually visible only from a distance. But in return he is able to use the play of light not only upon the many different angles of the tiny mosaic stones but within the mosaic itself. In Ravenna , the artists were developing new materials for this art, applying gold leaf to glass cubes and covering them again with a thin film of glass, using metallic oxides to produce variations of color, or employing mother of pearl to produce just the right effect of creamy perfection. In the windows, they often used thick sheets of alabaster, so that the entering light already had a soft opacity before playing upon the planes of yellow marble and the complexity of the mosaic surface. In Ravenna, they constructed buildings as though they were galleries meant to display mosaics, with bare walls designed to permit the artist to create the largest, most complex compositions yet attempted in that exacting form of art. One last advantage is still evident today; the process is almost permanent. Unlike frescoes, which fade fairly rapidly, many of the mosaics in Ravenna have required no restoration, and shine as brightly today as in the sixth century.

The building that turned Theodoric to the use of mosaic for his churches and palaces was the tiny mausoleum of Gaila Placidia, probably the tomb of an emperor's daughter who had been married to a Visigothic prince. The architecture was simple, a cross of unadorned brick with very small windows. Its mosaics however are the loveliest possible introduction to the art that was the glory of Ravenna and later of Constantinople itself. The mosaic over the entrance to the mausoleum represents the good shepherd, a kindly protector, not feeding his sheep but patting them benevolently on the nose. He is dressed in a stunning robe with red piping and deep blue stripes that could appear unchanged at a present-day fashion show. In the center of the tiny chapel, one turns to look upward to the dome, the Dome of Heaven, lit up by almost eight hundred golden stars; these become smaller as the dome rises, increasing the sensation of the swirling distance wherein a gold cross symbolizes Redemption. Theodoric called on the skilled mosaic artisans to decorate one of the most beautiful basilicas in Europe, Sant' Apollinare Nuovo. The church consists of a central aisle, with a narrow nave on each side separated by a line of columns, with a small semicircular apse at the east end. As one steps inside the central nave one at once feels the rushing, forward motion built up by the long line of columns surmounted by the figures in the mosaics above. On each side are twelve columns of Greek marble, topped by delicately carved capitals. The mosaic carries on the forward motion of the pillars. On the north side is a procession of twenty-two virgin martyrs, pre- ceded by a very lifelike group of the three Wise Men bringing gifts to the Madonna and the child Jesus. Again the clothes are amazingly modem. The three kings seem to be wearing stretch pants decorated with the most imaginative designs in orange and deep vermilion. Indeed, King Caspar seems to be wearing a pair of leopard-skin tights. We are a long way from the impersonality of Greek sculpture, and the three men, one brown-bearded, one white-bearded, and one clean-shaven, are hardly idealized pictures of piety. On the opposite side of the church, above a line of twenty-two male martyrs, there is a whole panoply of scenes, each one worth looking at in detail. Perhaps most moving of all is the scene of the paralytic being lowered on ropes from a roofless building to be healed by Christ below.

Theodoric died in 526.The Visigoths, the Ostrogoths, and the Vandals, who were largely responsible for the disappearance of the Roman Empire in the West, left little lasting trace and returned to their sacred Germania north of the Alps. The Germanic tribes of Franks and the Anglo- Saxons, however, were to become the principal creators of medieval civilization and are considered the fathers of modern-day Europe.

The Franks

The Roman Empire and the Germanic Tribes 285-451

The Germanic Franks lived between the North Sea and the upper Rhine, and they never gave up this territory but expanded from it both westward and east- ward. Most of France was in the hands of the Visigoths and another Germanic tribe, the Burgundians, when the Franks began their conquests in the fifth century. Under their powerful king, Clovis (reigned 481-511), they defeated both the Visigoths and the Burgundians, and established control over most of modern France. The crucial event in the reign of Clovis occurred in 496, during one of his many battles. Apparently influenced by his wife, who was Catholic, Clovis promised to give up his paganism and to become Christian if he were victorious. He kept his promise, and took three thousand of his warriors with him to be baptized in the local shrine. By his con- version to Catholicism, Clovis accepted the ecclesiastical structure of Gaul based upon the original Roman administration, won the alliance of the Catholic clergy, and took for the Frankish armies the task of crusader against non-Catholic barbarians. At the same time, he made possible the intermingling of the Germanic tribesmen with the original Romanized population of France . Once the religious barrier was removed, intermarriage was permitted. The Germanic language slowly gave way to the rough Latin that was to turn gradually into French. The constitutional ideas of Romans and Germans were combined, usually to the benefit of the absolutism of the Germanic kings. Roman agricultural practices were taken up by the Germans, who contributed their ability to open up the heavy clay soils that appeared once the forests had been cleared. What distinguished the Frankish kingdom was not the height of its culture. Clovis was no Theodoric, and his capital city of Paris was no Ravenna. The Franks were creating a new people whose culture would be a genuine fusion of Roman and Germanic elements.

The Anglo-Saxons

Whereas in France, the original Romanized inhabitants vastly outnumbered the invading Germanic Franks, into Roman Britain the Germanic conquerors, the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes from what is today the Jutland Peninsula (northern Germany and Denmark), established a group of kingdoms known as the Heptarchy on the majority of the island. The only Brythonic realms which continued to exist after the Earl Middle Ages were the kingdoms in Wales and for a short while the South-West of England (Dumonia), while the Gaels, arriving a little before the Germanics, conquered the Picts and founded Scotland. These post-Roman Germanic peoples, whom for convenience we call the Anglo-Saxons, ignored most of the Roman achievements they found. They disliked the land already being farmed, which was mostly light chalky soil on the hilltops, and preferred the clay lands of the river valleys. They paid no attention to Roman law, but introduced a wholly Germanic tribal system of government. They arrived as pagans, and were converted to Christianity partly by the work of Irish missionaries and partly by St. Augustine's mission sent directly from Rome. The Anglo-Saxons thus received what cultural Romanization they had from the Catholic Church. From the Roman Empire itself, they acquired only the roads. By contrast even with Clovis's Paris, life in Anglo-Saxon England was rough, drab, and dangerous.reference required

Under the impact of these Germanic invaders, the control of the Roman Empire in Western Europe disappeared. The last emperor in the West was the boy ruler Romulus Augustulus, who was killed in 476 by the Germanic chieftain Odoacer, a mercenary in the service of Rome and the leader of the Germanic soldiers in the Roman army. Odoacer however did not officially declare that he had put an end to the western Roman Empire, although this was the outcome. He sent the insignia of the emperor back to Constantinople with the message that the empire needed only one emperor, and that he would act as the representative of Constantinople in Italy. Odoacer felt, in short, that he had reunited the Roman Empire . However, the Roman Empire in the West had fallen. Britain, France, the Low Countries, Spain , north Africa, and Italy itself were all in the hands of the Germanic people.

Aftermath

In 488, Emperor Zeno of the Byzantine Empire sent Theodoric's Ostrogoths (still settled in Pannonia) to conquer Italy, which they do in 493. The whole tribe settled there afterwards.

In 500, Rome‘s population has declined to less than 100,000 people.

In 800, Charlemagne (German: Karl der Große), Germanic king of the Franks, is crowned emperor by Pope Leo III and founds the Holy Roman Empire later known as the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.

See also

Literature

  • Simon Baker: Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of An Empire, BBC Books (2007), ISBN 978-1846072840
  • Edward Gibbon: History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, FQ Books (2010)
  • Peter Heather: The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians, Oxford University Press (2007), ISBN 978-0195325416
  • Herwig Wolfram: The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples, University of California Press (2005), ISBN 978-0520244900 [6]

External links

References

  1. Only men could be in the Roman Army. No women. Every Roman soldier was a Roman citizen. He had to be at least 20 years old. He was not supposed to get married while he was a soldier. Most soldiers in the Roman Empire came from countries outside Italy. There were Roman soldiers from Africa, Germany, the Balkans, Spain and the Middle East. Soldiers had to stay in the army for at least 25 years! Then they could retire, with a pension or a gift of land to farm. Old soldiers often settled down to old age together, in a military town or colonia.
  2. Saint Jerome (c. 347 – 30 September 420) was a Roman Christian priest, confessor, theologian and historian, and who became a Doctor of the Church. He was the son of Eusebius, of the city of Stridon, which was on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia. He is best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate), and his commentaries on the Gospel of the Hebrews. His list of writings is extensive.
  3. Ataulf (sometimes Athavulf, Atawulf, or Athaulf — "noble wolf" or "Father-wolf" — Latinized as Ataulphus) was the Germanic king of the Visigoths from 410 to 415
  4. In: Orosius, Adversum Paganos, translated in Stephen Williams, Diocletian and the Roman Recovery, Routledge, 1985, 2000, p.218
  5. Theodoric led the Ostrogothic invasion of Italy (supported by elements of the Rugii). During the course of four years of fighting, the invasion swept away Odoacer's Post-Imperial Romano-Gothic kingdom. In its place Theodoric created an Ostrogothic kingdom which held much of Italy until Byzantium began a re-conquest of the western empire in southern Italy. Despite the fact that the invasion had been devised by Emperor Zeno, the Ostrogoths ruled independently, and Theodoric and Zeno addressed each other as equals. Overtures to Byzantium were only made by some Ostrogoth leaders after Theodoric's death. A Roman consul was given nominal authority, and the two peoples lived together amicably, with Roman culture greatly influencing the barbarians. The Goths took one third of the land while the Romans retained the rest. Each side observed their own laws and intermarriage between Roman and Goth was forbidden. One area in which they didn't agree was in Christianity. The Ostrogoths were confirmed Arians, something that the Catholics of the Roman Church found hard to stomach. Not all the Ostrogoths pursued this path into Italy and eventual Italianisation. A branch known as the Tauric Ostrogoths ventured further eastwards, ending up in Crimea by the end of the fifth century. They settled in the region and established an Eastern Germanic Gothic principality which was later known as Doros. Additionally, some elements of the Gothic peoples in southern Germany formed part of the Bavarii confederation at the start of the sixth century. Germanic Tribes: Goths
  6. The names of early Germanic warrior tribes and leaders resound in songs and legends; the real story of the part they played in reshaping the ancient world is no less gripping. Herwig Wolfram's panoramic history spans the great migrations of the Germanic peoples and the rise and fall of their kingdoms between the third and eighth centuries, as they invaded, settled in, and ultimately transformed the Roman Empire. As Germanic military kings and their fighting bands created kingdoms, and won political and military recognition from imperial governments through alternating confrontation and accommodation, the "tribes" lost their shared culture and social structure, and became sharply differentiated. They acquired their own regions and their own histories, which blended with the history of the empire. In Wolfram's words, "the Germanic peoples neither destroyed the Roman world nor restored it; instead, they made a home for themselves within it." This story is far from the "decline and fall" interpretation that held sway until recent decades. Wolfram's narrative, based on his sweeping grasp of documentary and archaeological evidence, brings new clarity to a poorly understood period of Western history.
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