"History of Rome" redirects here. For the history of the city itself, see History of the City of Rome.
The history of the Roman State, or technically, the history of the city-state of Rome, is one that spans approximately 3,000 years of recorded history, more than any state in the world. This gives it a historical depth few nations can match, but, because of this depth, numerous problems in the historigraphy exist.
Tradition typically places the foundation of the State on April 21, 753 BC, a date scholars generally accept- albeit with reservation- to be the beginning of the State that exists today. Evidence does exist that a city called "Rome" existed in 1090 BC, and the location itself has been inhabited since 1140 BC. Rome in its early years occupied little more than environs of the Seven Hills, with evidence suggesting that it was an Etruscan vassal kingdom. In 509 BC, the First Roman Republic was formed after the eviction of the Etruscan kings, which forced a response from the other Etruscan city-states. This put Rome immediately in a defensive position, from which it eventually turned into offence as it absorbed- one by one- its enemies into a hegemonic confederacy with Rome at the helm. The Punic Wars changed this, as the growing power of Rome required more centralization in Italy as the Republic's territories and influence expanded. Following the campaigns of Pompey the Great (74-67 BC) and Julius Caesar (58-51 BC), the Republic established itself as the preeminent power in the Mediterranean world. The First Roman Civil War between Pompey and Caesar and the Second Roman Civil War between Caesar's successors, Marc Antony and Octavian, interrupted Roman expansion and transformed the Republic into the Roman Empire in 27 BC.
The Empire, once consolidated by Augustus (the title Octavian took upon securing the throne), continued and solidified Roman expansion across the Mediterranean world and Western Europe, with frontiers that eventually stretched into present day Britain, Germany, Dacia, the Crimea, Armenia and Mesopotamia. These frontiers it would hold on to for over 500 years with little interruption, with this era being called Rome's "Classical Age". Roman expansionism wouldn't stop, however, until after the reign of Septiumus Severus, who took the Empire's frontiers across the entire known world, conquering Parthia, India and China by the end of his reign. Because of logistical limitations, the "Severan Empire" collapsed almost instantaneously, causing internal strife within Rome for half a century before Aurelian secured the frontiers the Empire held before Severus. The post-Aurelian Empire would be solidified by the reigns of Diocletian (AD 284-305) and Constantine (306-324), allowing it to continue well into the 5th century.
Constantine's rule saw the Empire accept the religion of Christianity for the first time at the Council of Nicaea (323) after the religion had gained in prominence in the preceding centuries. The acceptance of Christianity marked the decline of the religion of the Capitoline Triad, among other pagan religions that had become prominent across the Empire, as Christianity's influence would grow in the following century. Only Julius Nepos prevented the end of pagan rituals when he reinstated them upon his ascension, although it wasn't until Decius Capitolinus in 1542 where paganism was finally accepted and the sporadic persecutions of paganism ended for good.
Over the next century after Constantine's death the Empire intermittently established a system where an Emperor would rule one half of the Empire, until the death of Theodosius made this arrangement permanent. The West would have its capital in Mediolanum (Milan), while the East would establish its capital at Constantinople (rechristened from "Byzantium").
In the 5th century- in a period from 401-476- the expansion of the Hunnic Empire caused many of the Germanic tribes that had been kept at bay by the Roman legions at the frontiers to invade the Empire en masse. The Germans had, at first, been accepted as foederati ("allies") and were actively recruited into the Roman Army itself. The Eastern Empire, with its wealth, managed to keep Germanic influence in its army to a minimum, but in the West, whose rising debts meant they could eventually not afford to pay its own troops, Germanic influence rose to the point where the Germans began to assert authority themselves and effectively ignore Roman authority. Unable to defend against rising German authority, the Western Empire was forced to recognize Germanic possessions of its former territories, starting with the Vandalic acquisition of North Africa in 429 and ending with Odoacer's overthrow of Romulus Augustus in 476, leaving the West with control simply of the Dalmatian coast (under Nepos).
Nepos, though, would raise a force that would eventually invade Italy and reclaim a stretch of land for the West stretching from Ravenna to Rome, where he would re-establish his capital. Nepos is hailed as the "Restorer" for not just restoring the capital to Rome but reviving many old traditions of the Classical period that had given way over the last century or so, although his society and actual Roman society of the Classical period had several key differences, owing to the shift in times.
Following Nepos, the West began a long road to reconstruction, first by fighting off several threats to its independence (including an invasion by the East) and then by consolidating and rebuilding a country devasted by 75 years of war. Co-operation with the East was intermittent, with the Empire reunited for the last time under Justinian before the West and East effectively reasserted their independence following the Senate's appointment of Rimbosa as Emperor. It is at this point where scholars generally place the point where Byzantium became independent of Rome- since this was when it no longer made decisions with the consent of the Senate, even if the Senate's true ability to consent was nominal- although this is debated.
The next few centuries saw the Romans deal with the task of reconstructing its State as well as dealing with its multiple new neighbours. Rome bestowed formal recognition of the other German states in 608 under the Edict of Recognition, which improved its international relations and allowed Christianity to grow across Europe. This helped the Romans deal with its cheif external threat- the Muslim kingdoms- but it also spurred multiple attempts at reunification of the East and West, mostly by force used by both sides. Effective attempts at reunification ended with The Great Schism of 1054, although other attempts to reunite the Empire surfaced when the Ottoman Turks invaded Byzantine territory in the 14th century (all of which proved to be nothing more than token attempts, as the Romans and Byzantines constantly bickered). The Fall of Constantinople in 1453 ended any prospect of reunification for almost three centuries, and forced the Romans to be on the defensive, barely escaping conquest themselves when the Romans defeated an Ottoman invasion of Italy at Otranto in 1481.
The start of the 16th century saw a decisive reversal in Papal-Roman relations, as civil wars between pagan interests and Christian interests would flare up constantly. They were only ended by Decius III Capitolinus, who established the world's first Constitution by enshrining the right to freedom of religion and expression. Capitolinus continued the Empire's change in direction by formally establishing relations with the Muslim powers of the day- the Ottomans, Mughals and Safavid Empires- becoming the first European state to do so. This would have major implications for the Empire in the long haul, as gaining access to Muslim markets ensured that in 1581, for the first time since the 5th century, Rome would have Europe's largest economy.
Rome's new wealth- as well as the news of the explorations of other European nations- allowed it to explore the rest of the world, with Rome establishing its first non-European colony at Log Island, along the North American Pacific Coast. Eventually this colony would grow into the territory that is now Roman Columbia, with Roman colonial ambitions drawing it into numerous conflicts as it established colonies worldwide. The first rival was with Spain which it effectively defeated in the 18th century, with the Romans gaining a new rival in the British, with whom the Romans would fight toe to toe for over two centuries for land and for worldwide supremacy.
The 19th century brought with it substantial social change that ended millenia of rule by absolute monarchs, forcing the Emperors to concede more and more power to its people. After several struggles, this would result in Emperor Keylusus II eventually conceding that even his office would require an election to fill, setting up the political system the Romans enjoy today.
The 20th century would see the zenith of the struggle between Rome and Britain, with the ultimate battle taking place in World War II. The British, teamed with German Chancellor Thomas Rotler, seemed finally poised to tip the balance in its power struggle with Rome after initial successes, as the Germans and Brits managed to annex almost 50% of the world's territories between them. Eventually, Rome would recover, and, by 1950 the German state would be no more and the British would be reduced to a husk of its former glory, needing a union with defeated Japan to regain some of its lost glory.
However, even with the British weakened, the Romans still had to worry about the "nuclear powers" that emerged after World War II- the United States and the Soviet Union. Former allies of the Romans during WWII, the US and USSR had become superpowers in their own right, and frequently brough the world to their knees with the constant threat of nuclear war. Only last minute Roman negotiations stalled the conflicts, with the threat continuing until both countries collapsed due to the weight of their oversized military budgets in the early 1990s.
Rome responded to the collapse of the US by establishing the North American Union alongside Britain, though many political analysts consider the Union to be a "work in progress" that may require a more Herculean effort than was originally thought. The challenges the Empire faces in maintaining order in the Union are challenges that affect the Empire to this day.
Issues with Roman historigraphyEdit
The chief issue with Roman historigraphy pertains to the source material for the earliest years of the Empire. Scholarly confidence in the reconstruction of Roman history via source material is greatest since the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, and the abundance of sources well into the Classical periods establishes that the chronology of Rome, at least as far back the middle years of the First Republic, are accurate (though there are still some gaps). Before then, the records become murky at best.
For its part, the Roman Government itself maintains its own record of government decrees and officials through the years, contained in the Official Annals of Rome, which officially tracks Roman history to the traditional foundation of April 21, 753 BC. However, reliance on the Annals as source material is problematic at best. Many Annals were changed by various Emperors to suit whatever propaganda they needed, plus there exists within the Annals numerous officials, decrees and other stories that are either whole or in part fabrications, due to government tastes and the variance to the degree of accuracy the record keepers wished to maintain. Although more recent administrators have called for the Annals to be corrected and updated (with some work already done in this regard), it is a voluminous task that cannot be easily solved in a matter of months or even years (if they can be at all).
The Roman-Byzantine dividing lineEdit
There is a common misconception that, following Constantine's death, the Empire divided into two states, but this is not true. De facto, in intermittent points from Constantine's death and essentially from Theodosius I's death in 395 it can be argued that the Empire existed as represented by two states- the Western, "Roman" Empire and the Eastern Empire, which later became Byzantium- but de jure, both emperors saw themselves as ruling one half of the State. In fact, even today both the Roman State and Byzantium continue to identify themselves as part of the same whole, even though both states are effectively independent. It wasn't until 580, when the Roman Senate appointed Cornelius Gaius Rimbosius as Emperor of the West without the East's consent, that the two halves finally recognized each other's effective independence. Scholars effectively place this date as the independence of Byzantium from Rome for four reasons:
- The Senate's primacy in Roman politics was unquestioned (effectively making it a state in of itself), so much so that each Emperor derived their legitimacy from being appointed or "approved" by the Senate, even if later Emperors filled the Senate with favourable Senators. Thus the Senators' actions, appointing their own Emperor independent of Byzantine consent, effectively banished Byzantium from Roman decision-making, effectively casting Byzantium as a new state.
- Rimbosa's edict was met with a letter from the Byzantine Emperor at the time, Tiberius II Constantinus, that asserted that the Eastern half would no longer make decisions with the consent of the Senate (although this had effectively stopped for some time).
- There exists a will by Marcellus that claims to bequeath the Western Empire to Justinian, though some scholars believe the will is a forgery.
- By 580, there already existed a significant cultural and political divide between the Latin West and the Greek East.
- Ultimately, Rimbosa's decision essentially re-established the de facto split, it did not formally establish the West as an independent state any more than Constantine's edicts or the death of Theodosius did for the East.
However, despite the general acceptance of these points, there is still considerable debate about the legitimacy of each point, with some scholars asserting there are other points of divergence, with a faction believing it is Byzantium, not Rome, that is the "continuation" of the original city-state (with others still contending the 580 decree established two effectively independent states). Technically, the Romans and Byzantines are still de jure the same state, meaning the question would be resolved only if there is a legal separation, though given the prestige of being a "single state" this isn't likely to happen.
Beginnings (c. 1140 BC to 509 BC)Edit
Tradition places the foundation date of the state of Rome on April 21, 753 BC, but evidence exists that the city itself existed long before then. Excavations reveal that the location has been inhabited since at least 1140 BC, and the Trade Scroll Document of unknown authorship (though generally accepted to be of African origin) indicates that a city called "Rome" existed as far back as 1090 BC. Roman tradition suggests that Aeneas had a hand in establishing the settlement that would become Rome, but the extent is vastly disputed by scholars. There is no proof that Aeneas reached any point north of Neapolis, which causes some scholars to contend that Aeneas' role to be nothing more than a propaganda tool meant to keep the ancient Greeks in line with the Romans. The time in between then and 753 BC isn't documented, so what happened to Rome in those years is still a mystery.
Following 753 BC, tradition dictates that Rome was ruled by seven Etruscan kings, from the founder of the state- Romulus- to Tarquin the Proud, although scholarly research suggests much of the traditional account from this period is fiction. Little contemporary history exists of this period, however, with the source material heavily relying on historical accounts written centuries later, the earliest of which are Livy's Ad Urbe Condita Libri (History of Rome), and the Roman Antiquities of Dionysius of Halicarnassus.
Medieval Period (600-1492)Edit
In the 7th century, as the Byzantines were losing territory to the Rashudin Caliphate, the Romans were undergoing a revival, one that accelerated after Regulus issued the Edict of Recognition, where Rome had, for the first time, acknowledged the independence of other states, most notably the German states that arose in its old territories. Although the Germans had given token acceptance to Rome's influence over them, they had ignored it in practice, causing a lot of tension between the states. Regulus' edict was therefore a pragmatic decision, as he correctly assumed the Germans would have more respect for the Romans if Rome finally saw them as equals.
It provided peace for most of the century, but disputes with the Lombards eventually led to the Fifty Years' Struggle (710-760), where the Lombards placed Rome under history's longest siege. The Lombards, after capturing most of Italy, would eventually reduce Roman territory to the Capitoline Hill. A series of intrigues set forth by Roman officials and the taking up of arms by the Roman commoners- including women and children- stemmed the tide, allowing the Romans to finally expel the Lombards from their city. They would use this momentum to recapture Latium from the Lombards but they would get no further.
After defeating an attempt by the Byzantines and Charlemagne to capture Rome and reunite the Empire by force, the Romans' influence over European politics would grow. The Christian Papacy, whose office arose when Nepos, in an act of consolation, gave the Christians the Roman title of Pontifex Maximus, was the main beneficiary, as Christianity had grown its influece across Europe following Regulus' decree. It was hoped that with the rise of Christanity across Europe it would finally allow Rome and Byzantium to reunite- something Medieval Europe longed for since they believed a united Empire would counterbalance the threat of the Arabs- but all hopes would effectively be dashed after The Great Schism in 1054 established the sects of Roman Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church.
This wouldn't stop the Romans, who would lead the Fourth Crusade against Constantinople and declare the Empire united upon the capture of the city from the Byzantines (who, by this point, was reduced to territories in Greece, Thrace and Bithynia). Rome held the city until Michael VIII Palaeologus recaptured it in 1261 after a successful Byzantine offensive that began in 1224, with Paleologus even leading an army that captured Rome in 1270 and declaring himself the "united Emperor", though by 1279 the status quo would be restored.