History of Roman Europe

Introduction

Timeline

Timeline of Ancient Europe
3000-2000 BC 2000-1000 BC 1000 BC-0 0-500
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11
1 Pre-Palace age ca. 3000-2000 BC Aegean age
2 Palace age ca. 2000-1400 BC
3 Mycenaean age ca. 1400-1200 BC
4 Greek Dark Age ca. 1200-800 BC
5 Archaic age ca. 800-500 BC Greek age
6 Classical age ca. 500-330 BC
7 Hellenistic age ca. 330 BC-0
8 Early Republic ca. 500-250 BC
9 Late Republic ca. 250 BC-0
10 Early Empire (Pax Romana) ca. 0-200
11 Late Empire ca. 200-500
Summary of Roman Europe
Roman Republic
ca. 500 BC-0
(formative age of Roman civilization)
Early Republic (ca. 500-250 BC):
Roman territory expands slowly across Italy
Late Republic (ca. 250-27 BC):
Roman territory expands rapidly across Mediterranean lands
Roman Empire
ca. 0-500
(great age of Roman civilization)
Pax Romana (ca. 27 BC-180 AD):
flourishing of the Roman Empire
Late Empire (ca. 180-500):
gradual decline of the Roman Empire

Celts and Etruscans

ca. 800 BC-0

While Greek civilization flourished in the Mediterranean, the Celts thrived as the most widespread culture of inner Europe. The great age of the Celts was roughly contemporary with the age of Greek civilization (ca. 800 BC-0). Celtic territory, initially limited to Austria and southern Germany, expanded across most of Western and Central Europe.31,34

Celtic Territory during the 'Celtic Age'

The Celts, who remained a non-urban people throughout the Celtic age, were a constant threat to the Romans (who called them "Gauls") and once even managed to sack Rome. Yet while the Celts were united by language and religion, they never achieved political union, leaving their vast territory vulnerable to conquest. The Celtic age drew to a close with the expansion of the Roman Republic (from Italy) and the Germanic tribes (from northern Germany/southern Scandinavia) across Europe. Celtic culture was eventually reduced to a few pockets in northwest Europe, namely Brittany, Ireland, and parts of Great Britain.B55,31,34

Also simultaneous with the Greek age (ca. 800 BC-0) was Etruscan civilization, which emerged in central Italy ca. 800 BC. Prior to the Etruscans, Italy was ruled by a patchwork of Italic tribes. It remains unclear whether the Etruscans (a non-Italic people) originated as a local tribe or immigrated from distant lands.61,101

Etruscan Territory

The Etruscans flourished in the early part of the Greek age, then declined to the Roman Republic. They were strongly influenced by Greek culture, which spread northward from the Greek colonies of southern Italy. (Indeed, it was from these colonies that urban life diffused to the Etruscans in the first place.) Etruscan civilization, like that of the Greeks, tended to feature independent city-states.B59,H186,120

Main Article

Roman Republic

ca. 500 BC-0

Etruria, the core territory of the Etruscans, was bordered to the south by the Tiber River. Two of the Italic peoples south of the Tiber, the Latins and Sabines, had established settlements along this river. Some of these settlements were built upon the future site of Rome: a cluster of seven hills, with Palatine Hill roughly at the centre. Rome came into existence when these settlements were conquered and amalgamated into a city by the expanding Etruscans, traditionally in 753 BC but more likely ca. 600 BC.18,19,20

The Seven Hills of Rome

Thus began the first phase of Roman history, the Roman Kingdom (ca. 600-500 BC), during which the city formed part of Etruscan civilization (i.e. a distinct Roman culture had yet to emerge). Latins, Sabines, and Etruscans mingled to become the Roman people, though the language of the former prevailed. During this period, politics were dominated by the king and his senate, an advisory body comprised of patricians (nobles).A111,17,19,49

The Roman people eventually overthrew the Etruscan monarchy, thereby establishing the Republic (ca. 500-27 BC), under which a distinct Roman civilization emerged. The Republic featured a legislature (comprised of various assemblies representing different sections of the population) which elected two consuls (the supreme executive-branch statesmen of the Republic). The senate was retained, its members now appointed by the consuls.20,27,50,55

Thus did democracy emerge, roughly simultaneously, in both Rome and Greece (see History of Democracy).55 The governing authority of Rome's legislature and elected officials, however, was constantly frustrated by the ambitious senate. Senators, while officially mere advisers, exercised a great deal of influence given their social connections and permanent appointments.49

Roman Territory by the end of the Republic

Roman territory expanded slowly across Italy during the Early Republic (ca. 500-250 BC), then rapidly across the Mediterranean Basin during the Late Republic (ca. 250-27 BC).27,92 The Roman army became the greatest fighting force the world had ever known, swelling to hundreds of thousands of soldiers (dwarfing Alexander's tens of thousands).A130,K114-115 The conquest of Greece accelerated the Roman absorption of Greek culture (see History of Greek Europe).

The foremost military campaign of the Late Republic was the Punic Wars, a series of three conflicts with the Carthaginian Empire, which ruled the western Mediterranean. Its capital was Carthage, a city founded by Phoenician settlers on the north African coast (in present-day Tunisia) several centuries prior to the formation of the city of Rome (see History of the Ancient Middle East).24,57 The Punic Wars ended in Roman victory and the utter destruction of Carthage.26

Carthaginian Empire

A central preoccupation of the Roman Republic was class struggle, which divided Roman politics into the popular (reformist) party and the conservative party. Class tensions became increasingly violent throughout the Republic period, fuelling a slew of assassinations (including those of the reformist Gracchi brothers) and rebellions (including the slave revolt led by Spartacus). The final century of the Republic featured constant civil war, in which generals (of both political leanings) sidestepped the political process altogether, amassing private armies and seizing power. By awarding themselves the title of "consul", these general-dictators maintained a thin veneer of democratic legitimacy.A134,20,26,52

The most successful general-dictator, and the foremost statesman of the Republic, was Julius Caesar. Rising through the ranks of the popular party, Caesar attained governorship of Gaul (a Roman province), which he greatly expanded by defeating the region's native Celts. Following various successes abroad (including a scouting expedition to Britain), Caesar marched home and conquered the city of Rome.26

Though Caesar proved a skilled administrator, the senate struggled against him, ultimately resorting to assassination. Another period of civil war ensued, from which Octavius (Caesar's nephew and heir) emerged victorious. Octavius led the final major expansion of the Republic: the conquest of Egypt, in which Cleopatra (the last ruler of the Ptolemaic Empire) was defeated.26,59

Appeasing the senate and the Roman people, Octavius finally halted the vicious cycle of civil war. The age of democracy (limited though it had been) was over, however; Rome had become a permanent dictatorship. From 27 BC, when the senate awarded Octavius with the title Augustus ("revered one"), he is considered the first Roman emperor.26

Pax Romana

ca. 27 BC-180 AD
Summary of Roman Europe
Roman Republic
ca. 500 BC-0
(formative age of Roman civilization)
Early Republic (ca. 500-250 BC):
Roman territory expands slowly across Italy
Late Republic (ca. 250-27 BC):
Roman territory expands rapidly across Mediterranean lands
Roman Empire
ca. 0-500
(great age of Roman civilization)
Pax Romana (ca. 27 BC-180 AD):
flourishing of the Roman Empire
Late Empire (ca. 180-500):
gradual decline of the Roman Empire

The Republic was Rome's age of political and cultural growth and development; by the end of this period, Roman civilization had matured. The Pax Romana (ca. 27 BC-180 AD) witnessed the apex of Roman power, wealth, stability, and cultural achievement. Roman territory swelled to its maximum extent, reaching about half the land area of the modern United States. As founder of the Pax Romana, Augustus is often cited as the greatest of all Roman emperors.28

Territory of the Roman Empire

Latin became the lingua franca throughout much Roman territory.12 (A "lingua franca" is any common tongue used for communication between peoples with different native languages.) Though scholars maintained a standard form of Latin known as Classical Latin, in general usage the language evolved into local dialects; these are known collectively as Vulgar Latin.A139,K110-111

The Romans excelled in practical affairs, including both physical engineering (roads, aqueducts, architecture, mechanical devices) and social engineering (administration, law, communication, trade). Practical Roman advances are woven through modern Western society, including the Latin alphabet (which was derived from the Greek alphabet), many aspects of government and law, and the Western calendar. The Romans held little interest in mathematics or science, however, given their lack of immediate practical application.A141,H200

The chief barbarian threats to the Empire were the Germanic tribes (of central Europe) and Steppe tribes (of eastern Europe; see History of the Steppe). The only civilized threat lay in Southwest Asia, which was dominated successively by the Parthians and Second Persian Empire (ca. 200-650).12 Roman borders were defended by walls, towers, ditches, forts, and encampments. The mightiest border defence was Hadrian's Wall, which protected Roman Britain from the barbarians of Scotland.A147

The Roman-Germanic relationship was not entirely belligerent; on condition of alliance, some tribes were allowed to immigrate peacefully. Such tribes provided countless ferocious warriors for the Roman army.A148

Late Empire

ca. 180-500
Summary of Roman Europe
Roman Republic
ca. 500 BC-0
(formative age of Roman civilization)
Early Republic (ca. 500-250 BC):
Roman territory expands slowly across Italy
Late Republic (ca. 250-27 BC):
Roman territory expands rapidly across Mediterranean lands
Roman Empire
ca. 0-500
(great age of Roman civilization)
Pax Romana (ca. 27 BC-180 AD):
flourishing of the Roman Empire
Late Empire (ca. 180-500):
gradual decline of the Roman Empire

The Late Empire (ca. 180-500) was an age of accelerating decline, eventually splitting the Empire into East and West. While the Western branch collapsed ca. 500, the Eastern branch survived to the end of the Middle Ages. Nonetheless, the Roman age is considered to end ca. 500, given that the Eastern branch had by this time evolved into a distinct new state (the Byzantine Empire, ca. 500-1453).84

Division of the Roman Empire

The most notable emperor of the Late Empire period is Constantine, who granted official tolerance to Christianity in 313, thus opening the floodgates to the Christianization of Europe. He eventually converted to the religion personally, and became the first emperor to order the construction of churches. Constantine's integration of the clergy with politics set the stage for Church involvement in state affairs during the Middle Ages.A150,20,29

A key milestone in the decline of Western Europe was Constantine's decision to move the empire's capital to Byzantium (now Istanbul), renaming it Constantinople.29 This city, originally a Greek settlement, lies on the west side of the Bosporus, the strait that divides Thrace (European Turkey) and Asia Minor (Asian Turkey).84

The final blow to the Western Roman Empire came with the barbarian invasions, in which Germanic tribes swept across Western Europe in unprecedented numbers. This sudden mass migration, which took place mainly over the fifth century, was driven largely by the Huns, a confederation of Steppe tribes (see History of the Steppe) that invaded Eastern Europe in the late fourth century and established a short-lived (several decades) but vast empire.12,74

Peak Territory of the Huns
The Barbarian Invasions
The Germanic States that Succeeded the Western Roman Empire

The Germanic invaders spent the fifth century conquering most of Western Europe, becoming the ruling elite over native populations. The main Germanic tribes were the Anglo-Saxons, who took England; the Franks, who took France and Germany; the Goths, who took Iberia (Visigoths) and Italy (Ostrogoths); and the Vandals, who took much of the North African coast.

Early Christianity

As noted earlier, Greco-Roman culture serves as the foundation of Western civilization. The other primary cultural component of this foundation is Christianity.

Christianity originated as a sect of Judaism (see Religion), one of history's few monotheistic (single-god) religions. The Jews, initially a nomadic herding people, established a kingdom in Palestine (present-day Israel) ca. 1000 BC (see History of the Ancient Middle East). The ensuing age of independent Jewish civilization spanned ca. 1000-550 BC.

As this period drew on, Palestine was gradually absorbed by Mesopotamia. With the rise of the First Persian Empire (ca. 550 BC), Jewish independence came to a decisive end. Eventually, Persian overlords were succeeded by the Romans.

Under foreign rule, Jews often experienced ethnic and religious persecution. One extreme form was mass exile, in which great numbers of Jews were forced to emigrate to distant lands. This strategy, enforced by various empires throughout history, was intended to diffuse the risk of rebellion by subjugated peoples.B95

Jewish discontent was fierce under Roman rule, prompting Roman authorities (and Jewish authorities sympathetic to Rome) to watch carefully for potential revolutionaries.B93 This was the environment into which Jesus was born, in the final decade BC. Though born in Bethlehem (a town near Jerusalem), his family moved to Nazareth (a town in the region of Galilee, northern Palestine), where he grew up and became a tradesman.122

Jesus spent the final few years of his life wandering Galilee as a preacher. He attained considerable fame, with many Jews viewing him as a prophesied leader who would deliver them from Roman oppression. Condemned by some Jewish leaders, Jesus was eventually seized in Jerusalem (where he had travelled to commemorate Passover, a Jewish holiday) and brought before Pontius Pilate (the Roman governor), who ordered his execution.A137,B101,122

Initially, Christians were simply a sect of Jews who believed in Jesus' divinity. The emergence of Christianity as a mature, distinct religion (with its own scripture, theology, ceremony, administration, etc.) occurred gradually, over the first few centuries AD. Thanks to the political stability and linguistic unity of the Roman Empire, Christianity spread rapidly; by the reign of Constantine (who legislated official tolerance of Christianity), about a tenth of the Empire's population had joined the new religion, with the pace of conversion accelerating greatly thereafter.A138-43,B101

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