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A Very Short History of the Ancient World

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Ancient Rome

According to legend, Rome was founded in 753 B.C. when twin boys (Romulus and Remus) were abandoned and suckled by a she-wolf. They grew up, founded the community & one eventually killed the other; you can guess who got the upper hand by the name of the city (FYI, it isn't called Remus).

Roman history began in that small village on the western coast of central Italy. From its start around 753 B.C., this village would grow into a large city, then conquer and control all of Italy, southern Europe, the Middle East and Egypt. Rome would find itself, by the time of Christ, the most powerful and largest empire in the world. This imperial rule, which extended from Great Britain to Egypt, from Spain to Mesopotamia, was overall a period of remarkable peace. The Romans would look to their empire as bringing law and justice to the rest of the world.

The Roman Empire became one of the largest and most enduring in world history.

The saying "All roads lead to Rome" refers to this central hub of technology, literature, culture and architecture in the ancient world. The engineers of the Roman age created an unparalleled network of ancient roads. Approximately 50,000 miles (80,000 km) of roads spread Roman civilization, influence and the mighty legions throughout the western world. The Roman engineers built strong arched bridges, and mastered the concept of "running water" using aqueducts that, among other things, supplied public baths that rival today's modern water facilities.

At the height of its power in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the Roman Empire consisted of some 2.2 million square miles (5.7 million sq. km). Some 60 million people (or as much as one-fifth of the world's population) claimed citizenship of Rome and as many as 120 million people may have lived within the borders of the empire.

The Romans ruled over this vast territory by maintaining a strong military presence in subject countries. An immensely practical people, the Romans devoted much of their brilliance to military strategy and technology, administration and law.

The Romans, who would derive much of their culture from the Greeks, including art, architecture, philosophy, and even religion (since Greeks had founded colonies not only on Sicily, but also on the Italian peninsula), adapted it to their own particular practical needs. It is this changed Greek culture, called Graeco-Roman, that was handed down to the European civilizations in late antiquity and the Renaissance.

Italy is a peninsula jutting out into the Mediterranean west of Greece. Unlike Greece, Italy is poor in mineral resources and useful harbors, but it has a much larger amount of fertile land as well as good rainfall. Because of this, the Italians began and remained largely an agrarian people.

Italy had one other significant difference from Greece: It was easily accessible from Europe to the north. The Greeks lived behind a formidable mountain range, but the Alps to the north of Italy were not quite as imposing. The Greeks also had a warlike Greek population to the north, the Macedonians, to serve as a buffer between themselves and other Europeans. The Romans had no such buffer civilization. As a result, conflict was a fairly constant affair on the Italian peninsula, so the Romans, along with other peoples who lived on the Italian peninsula, developed a military society fairly early in their history.

We know almost nothing about the earliest peoples in Italy, who were themselves displaced by a new set of migrations in the Bronze Age, which began in Italy around 1500 B.C. These new peoples came from across the Alps and across the Adriatic Sea to the east of the Italian peninsula. They were a nomadic people who were primarily herdsmen; they were also technologically superior. They worked bronze, used horses, had wheeled carts and were a war- like people. Called Italic, they include several ethnic groups: The Sabines, the Umbrians, and the Latins, along with many others.

Somewhere between 900 and 700 B C., two new groups of people began to settle the Italian peninsula. Unlike the earlier immigrants, civilization came along with these new colonists: The Greeks and the Etruscans.

The Etruscans

Somewhere between 900 and 800 B.C., the Italian peninsula was settled by a mysterious people called the Etruscans. Some archaeologists suspect that they came from the eastern Mediterranean, possibly Asia Minor. When they came to Italy, they brought civilization and urbanization with them, settling in northwestern Italy between the Appenine mountain range and the Tyrrhenian Sea. Their civilization stretched from the Arno river in the north to the Tiber river in the south and towards the center of the Italian peninsula

It was, of course, on the Tiber river where a small village of Latins that would become Rome, was located. So the Romans, who were in close contact with the Etruscans, their language, their ideas, their religion and their civilization, were greatly influenced by their neighbors to the north.

The Etruscans lived in independent, fortified city-states. Like the surrounding peoples, they were largely agrarian, but they also had a strong military, which they used to dominate the surrounding peoples. In the 7th and 6th centuries B.C., Etruscan forces had subjugated much of Italy, including Rome, as well as other regions, such as the island of Corsica.

They were a sophisticated people, with an alphabet based on the Greek alphabet, a powerfully original sculptural and painting tradition, a religion based on human-type gods that they had learned from the Greeks, and a complicated set of rituals for divining the future, which they handed down to the Romans.

While the Etruscans were busy building their power over Italy and engaging in active commerce with the east and with Africa, a city to their south began to grow precipitously, a city imitating Etruscans in many ways: Rome, capital of the Roman kingdom.

The Seven Kings of Rome

The area around Rome was settled by agrarian Italic peoples living south of the Tiber river. Legend has it that in 753 B.C. the city was founded by Romulus on the Palatine Hill, the center most of the seven hills that would eventually make up the city. According to that legend, Romulus and his twin brother Remus had been abandoned in a cradle on the Tiber River. They were found by a she-wolf who suckled them until they were discovered by a shepherd and his wife, who raised them. Growing up as bold and strong young men, they lead a warlike band of shepherds.

Deciding to found a town of their own, Romulus and Remus chose the place where the she-wolf had nursed them. Romulus began to build walls, but Remus jeered at them because they were so low. He leaped over them to prove this, and Romulus in anger killed him.

Romulus created the Roman Legions and the Roman Senate. He also added citizens to his mostly male new city by abducting the women of the neighboring Sabine tribes (the so-called "Rape of the Sabines"), which resulted in the mixture of the Sabines and Romans into one people. Romulus would become ancient Rome's greatest conqueror, adding large amounts of territory and people to its dominion.

According to tradition, for the first two-and-a-half centuries, Rome was ruled by only seven kings -- with reigns ranging from 43 to 24 years. With rulers in place for such long spans, this brought great stability of government to the fledgling city.

The early Roman government was a non-hereditary monarchy, founded on a tribal organization. The king served as a legislator, as the head of the military and the judiciary, and as a chief priest to the people. He ruled alongside a Senate and an Assembly. The Senate was a council of elders composed of the heads of various clans. The Senate could approve or veto the appointment of the king, so no individual could ascend the throne without the approval of the clan leaders. The Senate also judged the king's legislation and actions to make they agreed both with the constitution and traditional customs. The Assembly consisted of all male citizens of Rome who could demonstrate that both parents were native Romans. The Assembly was organized into thirty groups based on clan lines, with each group getting a single vote.

Very early in the city's history, Roman society was divided up into two groups: The Patricians and the Plebeians. The Patricians were the wealthiest members of society, controlling most of the money, trade, power and the military. Only Patricians were allowed to sit on the Senate or hold any appointed or elected offices. The Plebeians, who made up the majority of the population, were mainly small farmers, laborers and craftsmen. They worked mainly for the Patricians, although some small farmers worked their own lands. The Assembly was the governmental body that represented Plebeian interests.

During the monarchy, Rome greatly expanded its control over surrounding territories. As its territorial power grew, however, it attracted the notice of the powerful Etruscans to the north who, in the middle of the 6th century B.C., took over the government of Rome. The Roman kings became Etruscan, a fact that was bitterly resented by the Romans. Finally, when an Etruscan prince of the ruling family, the Tarquins, raped the wife of a Patrician in 509 B.C., the Romans rose up and threw the Tarquins out of power. While "the rape of Lucretia" and the overthrow of the Tarquins by Junius Brutus may be fictional (then again, it may not), this marked the beginning of the decline in Etruscan power and civilization.

When they had earlier come to power, the Tarquins had broken a Roman tradition that the king ruled only with the consent of the people and in conformity with the constitution. So after ousting the Etruscans, rather than reinstall a Latin monarch, the Romans established a new form of government -- a republic. Thus opened the age of the Roman Republic, an age that would see numerous wars and the greatest expansion of Roman power.

The Roman Republic

At the beginning of the Republic, the Romans had a constitution that laid down the traditions and institutions of government. However, this constitution was not a formal or even a written document, but rather a series of unwritten traditions and laws. Heading the Roman Republic were the Consuls, two Patricians elected to this office for one year. These Patricians exercised power (or "imperium" as the Romans termed it in Latin) in much the same way the kings had. They initiated legislation, served as the head of the judiciary and the military, and served as chief priests to the nation. They even dressed as monarchs, by wearing purple robes and sitting on an ivory chair traditionally reserved for the king.

However, the power of the Consuls were severely limited. First, they only served for one year, at which point they would have to be re-elected or enter into private life. Second, no Consul could act without the other's agreement. Third, the Consuls had to serve on the Senate after their term in office, which led them to cultivate the cooperation of the Senate. So although the Consuls exercised absolute power, it was severely limited by the circumstances of their office. As a result, Roman government tended to be highly conservative and cautious. In 325 B.C., the Consul system was changed to allow for Proconsuls, who were Consuls whose terms in office were extended because of military campaigns.

Beneath the Consuls were two financial officers called Quaestors, and as the Republic evolved, an official called the Praetor was added. The Praetorship was originally a judicial office, but later became a military office; Praetors were essentially the primary generals of Rome. The Praetorship, like the Consulship, was a one-year appointment, but it also could be extended in times of war. In addition, the task of classifying citizens according to wealth and tax status, originally a Consular duty, eventually fell to a new pair of officials called censors. It was the job of the censor to draw up the roll of citizens and determine their taxes. With all kinds of opportunities for bribery and corruption, after a while the office fell only to the most incorruptible and virtuous men of the Republic -- former Consuls. Eventually, the office of the censor acquired great powers, such as the power to dismiss senators from the Senate for any reason at all.

It's obvious that the power in Rome was fully concentrated in the hands of the Patricians. The Consuls were elected from the Patrician class, as were the Quaestors and the Praetors; the censors, by definition, were always Patricians. The Senate, composed only of Patricians, became the principle power in Rome. This naturally produced resentment among the Plebeians; so from its inception in 509 B.C. to its demise at the hands of Caesar in the middle of the first century B.C., the political history of the Roman Republic is a tumultuous, chaotic and often violent conflict between the two classes vying for political power.

In 494 B.C., the Plebeians withdrew about 3 miles from Rome and occupied the "Sacred Mount," a hill near the Anio River that flows into the Tiber from the southeast. There they formed a tribal Assembly, modeled after the Roman Assembly, which would be headed by Tribunes who were heads of their tribes. They declared that these Tribunes could veto any decision by a Roman magistrate or official, and could veto any decision or legislation by the Senate. The Assembly itself, like the former Assembly, voted by tribe, and its decision was binding on all Plebeians.

In 450 B.C., the class struggle produced the "Law of the Twelve Tables," which codified Roman law and its constitution. The Roman Plebeians, however, saw it as a victory for citizens' rights. In 445 B.C., Plebeians acquired the right to marry a Patrician, and, in 367 B.C., that at least one Consul be a Plebeian. After the completion of his term, the Consul became a member of the Senate, so the Patrician hold on the Senate had, in part, been broken. In 300 B.C., Plebeians were allowed to serve at all levels of the priesthood, thus making them religiously equal to the Patricians. Finally, in the greatest victory of all in terms of power and influence, in 287 B.C., the decisions and legislation of the Plebeian Assembly were made binding on the entire Roman citizenry.

Thus the Romans reformed their government as the need arose rather than pursuing any particular plan of reform or development. They also built their territorial power with the same lack of planning and purpose. Though Roman conquest was pursued largely for security purposes, the end result would be, first, the conquest of the entire Italian peninsula by 265 B.C., and then the conquest of most of the known world. The Roman Empire was an accident, so to speak; it was formed in the pursuit of other policies, namely, security. Only in its later stages was the Roman Empire a deliberate objective.

Roman Conquest of Italy

The conquest of Italy began soon after the Romans expelled the Tarquin family of Etruscans in 509 B.C. Rome steadily conquered all the Etruscan territory throughout the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. Then they began moving to gain control over other neighboring territory in order to neutralize the threat of attack.

Their expansion, however, was checked in 387 B.C. when the Gauls, a Celtic and nomadic war-like people, roared across the Alps into Italy. They soundly defeated the Roman army, and then captured and burned Rome to the ground. The Gauls looted Rome and then demanded a tribute. After they had collected a huge ransom of gold, they returned home to central Europe.

Camillus, a Roman general who arrived too late to defend the city, is reported to have said that Rome should have been "liberated with iron, not with gold!" This inspired the Romans to take up arms again and be successful in resisting further Gaulic intrusions. They also built the Servian Wall around the city, which served as a much stronger defense. The defeat at the hands of the Gauls was the last time that the city of Rome was captured by non-Roman forces until the waning days of the Roman Empire, more than seven centuries later.

By 350 B.C., Rome was sufficiently powerful enough to again begin asserting dominance over the region. Roman allies, however, began to bitterly resent the Roman hegemony and, in 340 B.C., the Latin cities rose up against Rome for their independence. It took only two years to defeat the Latins in this uprising and, in 338 B.C., Rome dismantled the Latin League and took control of all of Latium.

In 295 B.C., Rome began a war with a tough Latin people living in the Appenine mountains, the Samnites, who were joined by the remaining Etruscan cities, by Gaulic tribes, and by some rebellious Italian cities. The result of this war, in 280 B.C., was total Roman control over all of central Italy. Rome then turned its eyes to the Greek cities in the southern Italian "boot."

In 281 B.C., the Greek city of Tarantum on the Gulf of Taranto in southern Italy fell out with Rome, and was faced with a Roman attack and certain defeat. Rome was poised to subdue all the Greek cities in Magna Graecia, as that area of Greek colonization was known. So the Tarentines then asked Pyrrhus, king of Epirus (present-day Albania) to lead their war against the Romans.

Pyrrhus arrived at Tarantum in 280 B.C. with forces of 3,000 cavalry, 2,000 archers, 500 slingers, 20,000 infantry and 19 war elephants in a bid to subdue the Romans. Due to his superior cavalry and his elephants, he defeated the Romans in Battle of Heraclea soon thereafter, losing 4,000 soldiers while the Romans lost about 7,000.

After overwintering, the two armies met again in the Battle of Asculum in 279 B.C. There Pyrrhus again won a victory, but a very costly one. The Roman commander and his able force, though defeated, broke the back of Pyrrhus' Hellenistic army. The battle foreshadowed later Roman victories over more numerous and well-armed military forces. It also was the origin of the term "Pyrrhic victory," meaning a win which comes at a crippling cost. After the Battle of Asculum, in response to congratulations for his victory over the Romans, Pyrrhus is reported to have said: "Another such victory and I shall be ruined!" In the end, the Romans had lost 6,000 men and Pyrrhus 3,500, but while battered, his army was still a force to be reckoned with.

In 278 B.C., the Greek cities in Sicily asked Pyrrhus him to come and drive out Carthage. Transferring his army there, Pyrrhus was proclaimed king of Sicily and, in 277 B.C., captured the strongest Carthaginian fortress in Sicily, thus prompting the rest of the Carthaginian- controlled cities to defect to him. However, his despotic methods provoked a revolt of the Greek Sicilians and he returned to Italy where he found himself vastly outnumbered against a superior Roman army. His defeat in the battle of Beneventum in 275 B.C. resulted in the loss of all his Italian holdings and his subsequent return to Greece. Returning to his homeland, Pyrrhus made an unsuccessful attack on Sparta where he was killed in street fighting while trying to capture Argos in 272 B.C.

While he was a mercurial and often restless leader -- and not always a wise king -- he was considered one of the greatest military commanders of his time, ranked by Hannibal himself to be the second greatest commander the world had seen after Alexander the Great.

Thus by the middle of the 3rd century B.C., Rome controlled the entire Italian peninsula. And the Romans seemed to have figured out how to peacefully hold onto conquered territory. First, Rome didn't destroy conquered cities, but granted them certain rights. Some were allowed full Roman citizenship, particularly those near to Rome. Others were allowed certain Roman rights. Some were allowed complete autonomy. Some were allowed to become allies. All, however, were required to send taxes and troops to Rome. In addition, Rome settled soldiers on the captured lands as payment for their service. In this way, Rome was able to maintain a permanent military settlement in every conquered land.

In order to reinforce these settlements, the Romans began an ambitious road-building project. The response to revolt was swift and harsh. So the combination of granting conquered territories rights and citizenship (or the promise of future rights and citizenship) and the surety of a swift, harsh response to rebellion produced a lasting, peaceful empire on the Italian peninsula.

A new enemy, however, asserted itself across the Mediterranean in the south: Carthage. The next century would see the clash of these two great and powerful cities. And the end of these Punic Wars would make Rome the most powerful force in the Mediterranean.

The Carthaginian Empire

The greatest naval power in the 3rd-century B.C. Mediterranean was the North African city of Carthage near modern day Tunis. Carthage was a colony founded by the Phoenician capital city of Tyre in the 9th century B.C. But the Phoenicians were conquered by the Assyrians and then by the Persians, leaving Carthage no longer a colony but a fully functioning independent state. And, while the Romans were steadily increasing their control over Italy, the Carthaginians were extending their empire over most of North Africa, controlling the coast from western Libya to the Strait of Gibraltar. A formidable power, it also ruled most of southern Spain, as well as the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. The Punic Wars

These two mighty empires came into contact in the middle of the 3rd century B.C. when Rome's power reached the southern tip of Italy. The two peoples had been in sporadic contact before, but neither side felt threatened by the other. The Romans were perfectly aware of the Carthaginian heritage: They called them by their old name, Phoenicians. In Latin, the word is Poeni, which gives us the name for the wars between the two states, the Punic Wars.

These conflicts, as it turned out so disastrous for Carthage, were inevitable. Between Carthage and Italy lay the huge island of Sicily. Carthage controlled the western half of the island, but when the city of Messana revolted against the Carthaginians, the Romans intervened, and the first Punic War erupted.

The First Punic War: 264-241 B.C.

The First Punic War was concentrated entirely on the island of Sicily. Rome besieged many of the Carthaginian cities there, and when Carthage attempted to raise the siege with its navy, the Romans destroyed that navy. For the first time since the rise of their empire, the Carthaginians had lost power over the sea ways.

In this dire time, only one commander showed much determination -- that was Hamilcar Barca, who raided the Italian coastline. And when forced to find other means to trouble his opponents, he dug himself in on top of Mount Eryx and began launching raids into the territory held by the Romans, carrying away enough food to sustain his mercenary troops and enough booty to pay them. (It is said that Hamilcar felt the Romans had made him look silly when he eventually was forced out of Sicily, so he made his son Hannibal swear eternal hatred for the Romans.)

The war ended in 241 B.C. with no particular side winning as a treaty was signed in which Carthage had to give up Sicily and pay an indemnity. But Carthage soon faced rebellion among its mercenary troops and Rome, in 238 B.C., took advantage of the confusion by seizing the island of Corsica. By gaining Sicily, the Romans had expelled the Carthaginians from their back yard; they now wanted them out of the islands of Corsica and Sardinia west of the Italian peninsula.

The Carthaginians, furious at this, began to shore up their presence in Europe. They sent first the general Hamilcar Barca and then his son-in-law, Hasdrubal, to Spain to build colonies and an army. Both Hamilcar and Hasdrubal made allies among the native Iberians, and their armies, recruited from Iberians, grew as Carthaginian power and influence crept up in the Iberian peninsula.

By 218 B.C., Carthage had built a mighty empire in Spain. Concerned about further expansion, the Romans imposed a treaty on Carthage not to advance its empire northward beyond the Ebro River, which empties into the Mediterranean just south of the modern-day Spanish city of Barcelona. However, when Saguntum (a small Spanish city near today's Valencia, some 200 miles south of the Ebro), approached Rome asking for Roman friendship, the Romans couldn't resist having an ally right in the heart of the Carthaginian Iberian empire.

In 221 B.C., Hannibal, the 25-year-old son of General Hamilcar, assumed command over Carthaginian Spain after the death of his father by drowning in 229 B.C. and the assassination of his brother-law Hasdrubal.

After Hannibal assumed power, he gave the Saguntines wide berth because he wanted to avoid conflict with Rome. But, over-confident of their new alliance, the Saguntines began playing politics with other Spanish cities. So, in 219 B.C., despite direct threats from Rome, Hannibal attacked, conquering Saguntum after a siege of eight months. Rome complained to Carthage, demanding Hannibal's surrender; this demand was rejected, and thus began the Second Punic War.

The Second Punic War: 218-202 B.C.

Hannibal (247-183 B.C.) is universally ranked as one of the greatest military commanders and tacticians in history, alongside Pyrrhus, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon I of France, and only a few others. He was once famously christened "the father of strategy."

Hannibal is best known for his achievements in the Second Punic War in marching an army from Spain over the Pyrenees, across southern France and over the Alps into northern Italy and defeating the Romans at the battles of the river Trebia (218 B.C.), Lake Trasimene (217 B.C.) and Cannae (216 B.C.). After Cannae, the Romans refused to fight him in pitched battles, instead aiming to defeat him by attrition since they had obvious and huge advantages of supply. Following years of occupying Roman territory in a series of fits and starts, a counter invasion of North Africa by the Romans under Scipio Africanus in 204 B.C. forced Hannibal to return to Carthage, where Scipio defeated him at Zama (202 B.C.).

In the spring of 218 B.C., Hannibal had set off from Spain with an army of some 50,000 infantry, 9,000 horse and 37 elephants. After crossing the Pyrenees, he moved along the coast to Massilia (today's Marseilles), where he marched four days north before constructing rafts for the elephants and crossing the Rhone River -- a remarkable achievement. In the meantime, the Romans under Scipio the Elder had sent an army by sea to Massilia to confront Hannibal. But, arriving three days too late, Scipio sent part of the army to Spain to fight the Carthinigans there, and returned to Italy with the remainder.

Crossing the Alps in wintery weather was a formidable task and, by the time he reached northern Italy, Hannibal's force had dwindled considerably. With just 38,000 infantry, 8,000 horse and some 34 elephants, Hannibal's army successfully reached the plains along the River Po near the Italian town of Turin. There, a small victory over Roman forces under Scipio in a battle at the Ticinus River in November 218 B.C. encouraged local Gauls to join his forces, strengthening his army. (After all, this was the province of Cisalpine -- literally "Gaul south of the Alps" in Latin; now modern-day Emilia and Lombardy -- and the Gauls were eager to welcome Hannibal and throw off the Roman yoke.)

During this battle, the Romans were routed, and Scipio himself was wounded and nearly captured. Only a heroic charge led by his 17-year-old son and namesake saved the wounded Consul. That same youth would one day defeat Hannibal at Zama and earn the title "Africanus."

The next crucial battle was during a cold and snowy December in 218 B.C. at the Trebbia River, where the Romans had assembled an army of some 36,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry plus another 3,000 Gallic auxiliaries. This was the only battle in which Hannibal's elephants played a major part. And here, once more, by means of a clever ambush and wise use of his cavalry, elephants and other forces, Hannibal put the Romans to rout, killing more than a third of their forces. By the time the battle of Trebbia was over, all but one of Hannibal's elephants had died of wounds and the cold. It would not be until shortly after his great victory at Cannae that a fleet from Africa would bring a reinforcement of Numidians along with 40 additional elephants.

The news of the defeat at the Trebbia River caused a panic in Rome. The Senate elected Quintus Fabius Maximus as dictator, who adopted the "Fabian Strategy" of avoiding conflict with Hannibal -- since his supply lines were stretched thin -- until Rome could restore its military strength. After crossing the Apennines -- which run north and south through the Italian peninsula -- over the next two years Hannibal's army would blaze a historic path of one glorious victory after another over the legions of Rome in eastern Italy. Three Consuls and a master of horse were humbled and tens of thousands of Romans were slain or captured at the battles of Lake Trasimene, Geronium and Hannibal's ultimate tactical masterpiece, Cannae. Hannibal had hoped that a number of Rome's allies would desert it and come to his aid -- but this didn't happen.

So in 216 B.C., after Hannibal captured the Roman depot at Cannae in southeastern Italy, the Romans raised a huge army of more than 80,000 men under the command of two new Consuls. Hannibal now faced two formidable armies. However, he again selected ground favorable to his tactics and strong cavalry, while the Romans relied on their superior numbers and fighting skill. What followed was the Battle of Cannae, perhaps the worst defeat the Romans would suffer throughout the Second Punic War, where Hannibal's tactics were once again superior to the Roman forces.

After Cannae, when it was obvious to Hannibal that he could not effectively surround Rome with a ring of hostile ltalian states, he broadened the conflict to draw off Rome's manpower and to spread its resources thin. In 215 B.C., he made an alliance with Philip V of Macedon. He did not want Philip to invade Italy, but hoped to drain Rome's strength if the Romans had to wage war in Greece. Reinforced by the pact with Hannibal, Philip then attempted to gain control over parts of Illyria (modern-day Albania) and Greece, but without much success. What actions there were in the so-called First Macedonian War began in 211 B.C. when Rome sought allies in Greece, namely the Aetolian League in central-western Greece, south of Macedon.

Under the treaty with Rome, Aetolia was promised all conquered territory. Philip countered by allying himself with the Achaeaen League centered just south of Aetolia in the Peloponnese. The ensuing war in the years between 211 and 208 B.C. was more a series of raids and skirmishes than a confrontation between massed armies. With no decisive engagements, the war ended in a stalemate and a 205 B.C. treaty.

Although the Carthaginians would ultimately lose the Second Punic War, for 16 years Hannibal's army in Italy seemed invincible. His crossing of the Alps, which so unnerved the Romans at the start of the war, would also capture the imagination of generations to come. Hannibal had challenged not only Rome but nature itself.

Unable to defeat Hannibal in Italy, the Romans eventually were able to get the upper hand only by indirect action -- they took the fight to Spain and then to Carthage itself. In 209 B.C., the Romans under Publius Cornelius Scipio (237-183 BC), son of Scipio the Elder, who would later be called Scipio Africanus for his victory over Carthage, conquered the Iberian capital of Cartagena and forced the army of Hannibal's brother-in-law Hasdrubal out of Spain. When the Romans discovered that Hasdrubal had crossed the Alps to link up with Hannibal, they left a small force to watch and marched quickly with their main force to the Metaurus River, where they defeated Hasdrubal. Hannibal learned of the defeat when Hasdrubal's head was thrown into his camp.

Hannibal was now left high and dry in Italy as Scipio then crossed into Africa in 204 B.C. and took the war to the walls of Carthage itself. The following year Carthage sued for peace; as part of the terms, Hannibal was forced to leave the Italy with his army. Hannibal was one of the greatest strategic generals in history; all during his war with Rome he never once lost a battle. Now, however, he was forced to retreat. Despite winning every battle, he had lost the war.

Hannibal's return, however, reinforced the Carthaginian will to resist, and hostilities were soon renewed. The two armies met in 202 B.C. at Zama, about 50 miles southwest of Carthage in the desert, in a battle that decided the outcome of the war. This time Hannibal, outnumbered by a superior cavalry, lost his first and only battle.

Following the end of the war, Hannibal led Carthage for several years until 195 B.C., when the Romans forced him into exile in the court of the Seleucid Kingdom in Asia Minor. In 190 B.C., the Romans demanded that Hannibal be turned over to them and the general fled again, this time to the court of King Prusias I of Bithynia. When the Romans demanded that Prusias surrender him in 182 B.C., Hannibal left but soon committed suicide rather than submit. He died in 183 B.C. Rome, which had reduced Carthage to a dependent state, now controlled the whole of the western Mediterranean, including northern Africa.

The Third Punic War: 149-146 B.C.

In the intervening years, Rome undertook the conquest of the Hellenistic empires to the east. In the west, Rome subjugated the Iberian people who had been so vital to Roman success in the second Punic War. However, they were especially angry at the Carthaginians who had almost destroyed them. Cato the Elder, the great statesman of Rome, is reported by historians as ending all his speeches, no matter what their subject, with the statement "Carthago delenda est!" (Carthage must be destroyed!).

Although Carthage had recovered much of its prosperity through its commercial activities, it had not gained back much power. The Romans demanded that the Carthaginians abandon their city and move inland. The Carthaginians, who depended on sea trade, refused. After a three-year siege beginning in 149 B.C., the Romans stormed Carthage and its army went from house to house slaughtering the inhabitants in what is perhaps the greatest systematic execution of non-combatants before World War II. Those Carthaginians who weren't killed were sold into slavery. The harbor and the city was demolished and, according to legend, all the surrounding countryside was sown with salt in order to render it uninhabitable.

Roman Expansion Under the Republic

While Rome was engaged in internal politics and the conquest of Italy, the Macedonian Greeks under Alexander the Great first conquered the Greek mainland and peninsula, and then, literally, most of the rest of the known world. By 324 B.C., when Rome still didn't control much of Italy and the city was still looking inward with struggles between the Patricians and the Plebeians, the entire world east of Rome was under the control of a single man. While there were numerous Greek cities on the Italian peninsula -- and while Rome was heavily influenced by Greek culture -- the Romans didn't seem to give this ground-shaking development much concern. Although the Hellenistic world soon fractured into pieces, nonetheless the end of the 4th century B.C. saw three great empires controlling the world east of Rome. But at first the Romans did not view these post-Alexander Hellenistic empires as a threat.

Conquest of the Hellenistic Empire

The Second Punic War (218-202 B.C.), however, changed all that. Rome had almost been conquered by Hannibal; and the Macedonian kingdom under Philip V (221-179 B.C.) had allied itself with Carthage. Thus, the Hellenistic world had appeared on the Roman radar as a potential threat. Philip V of Macedon was an empire builder; he had eagerly sought to extend Macedonian control over more territory. Unfortunately for him, Antiochus III (223-187 B.C.), the king of the Seleucid empire, one of the other two great Hellenistic empires, also was an empire builder.

Only 100 years after the death of Alexander the Great, the Hellenistic empires entered a new era of expansion. The Seleucid ruler, Antiochus III, began seizing territories in Palestine (including Judah), wresting control from the Ptolemies in Egypt. Philip V began seizing territories in the Aegean Sea and Asia Minor. Then Philip and Antiochus decided it would be best to move in concert, contemplating the conquest of Egypt so they could split the territory between themselves.

By this time, Rome, after its bitter experience with Carthage, was deeply suspicious of any empire-building at all. Also it had fought against Philip during the Second Punic War (this first Roman war with Philip was called the First Macedonian War). So Rome demanded that he cease seizing Greek territory. When Philip refused, Rome fielded an army under the generalship of Flaminius in 200 B.C., thus starting the Second Macedonian War. Flaminius defeated Philip in Thessaly only three years later and in the next year, 196 B.C., declared all the Greek cities to be free.

Rome, so soon after the end of the Second Punic War, had limited available manpower, so the politically astute Flaminius used this to Rome's advantage. At the Isthmian games in Greece in the summer of 196 B.C., Flaminius announced that Greece would be not be garrisoned by either Roman or Macedonian troops. The Greeks would be free to live their lives under their own laws and customs, thus winning great admiration that would last for centuries. The Romans had removed all of their forces from Greece, while essentially gaining an obedient client kingdom and all the corresponding tribute that went with it.

By this time, the Romans were deeply suspicious of Antiochus as well. Seeing an opportunity, Antiochus landed an army on the Greek mainland in order to "free" them from the Romans, but he was soon driven from Greece and his army was decimated at the battle of Magnesia in Asia Minor in 189 B.C. As done in the earlier war, the Romans seized no territory, although they did demand a heavy penalty from Antiochus. By and large, the Romans regarded the Greek cities as free cities that posed no threat to them. But they also deemed Rome to be the "protector" of Greece, a role that would prevent the rise of any power that might threaten its security.

However, when Philip V died in 179 B.C., he was succeeded by Perseus, who then roused up democratic and revolutionary passions in Greece. So Rome invaded Greece once again, in the Third Macedonian War (172-168 B.C.). The results, however, were dramatically different. While the Romans did not seize territory, they did impose very stern control. The Romans embarked on hegemonic rule of allies and subject states as well in order to prevent any kind of revolutionary fervor. They had learned from their control of Italy that states were more likely to remain subject to Rome if reprisal was sure, swift and harsh.

Internal Politics and Civil War

Roman empire-building changed after the Third Macedonian War. The defeat of Perseus involved massive looting of the conquered cities; in addition, penalties imposed on the defeated states literally flooded the Roman treasury with wealth. In the west, entrepreneurial governors had been extracting harsh taxes from the subject peoples and greatly increasing both their own and Roman wealth. By the middle of the second century B.C., it had become apparent to Romans that expanding territories was a fabulously lucrative affair. However, this massive wealth awoke old tensions between the classes, and the Republic would live in a state of crisis for over a century -- a crisis that, at its conclusion, would precipitate the demise of the Republic in favor of a dictatorship.

Roman Government -- the Cursus Honorum

The cursus honorum (Latin for "succession of magistracies") or "ladder of power" was the sequential order of elective public offices held by aspiring politicians in the Roman Republic as well as during the early years of the Empire. Originally, only Patricians -- those from a noble family -- were eligible for office, but later on some offices were opened to Plebeians. Designed for men of senatorial rank, this "ladder" was comprised of a mixture of military and political administrative posts. Each office had a minimum age for election. There were minimum intervals between holding successive offices and laws forbade repeating an office. However, these rules were altered -- and flagrantly ignored during the last century of the Republic.

The cursus honorum officially began with ten years of military duty in the Roman cavalry (the Equites) or on the staff of a general who was a relative or a friend of the family. Nepotism was not condemned; rather, it was an integral part of the system. These ten years were supposed to be mandatory to qualify for political office, but, in practice, the rule was not rigidly applied. A more prestigious position was that of a military tribune, one of 24 men around the age of 20 elected to serve as commanders in the legions. There were six tribunes in each legion, with command rotating among them. Tribunes could also be appointed by the Consuls or by military commanders in the field as necessary.

From the 3rd century B.C. on, senatorial careers followed more or less the same track. After military service, one could be elected as Quaestor (age 30, a magistrate responsible for fiscal matters); Aedile (age 37, a magistrate responsible for the games and maintenance of the temples); Praetor (age 40, a magistrate responsible for the administration of justicE); and finally, one of two Consuls (age 43, a magistrate comparable to a prime minister or a president). The other office in this "ladder" was that of Censor (a former Consul, who was in charge of taxation).

A crucial role in the Roman Republic was played by Senate, which was composed solely of ex-magistrates. This was the only permanent governing body and the only body where debate was possible. The Senate controlled all finances, foreign affairs and state administration and had by far the greatest social prestige. It was composed of 600 magistrates and ex-magistrates (the minimum qualification was election as Quaestor) who served for life unless expelled by the Censors.

The Republic Ends -- a Century of Crisis

Rome had begun as a small city-state. Its constitution, its government, its social structure and its moral values were those of a small, mainly agrarian state. All of these adapted well to the governing of Italy. But expansion provoked a profound crisis in Roman society, government and morals.

In particular, the Second Punic War created vast disparities in wealth. Up until then, the Plebeians were farmers, craftsmen or laborers. They farmed land that, even though it might be small, was still their property. As laborers or craftsmen, they worked for decent wages.

However, Hannibal had razed the countryside; while the wealth sat secure within the walls of Rome, thousands of people had their farmlands and houses destroyed. With no land they had no work and so began to flood the cities. The wealthy, who had grown wealthier because of the spoils of war, bought up the farmlands. Thus, by the middle of the second century, Roman agriculture was dominated by large plantations owned by fabulously wealthy landowners. And this was only the tip of the iceberg. The Punic Wars and the Macedonian Wars flooded Rome and Roman territories with new slaves. There had been slave labor in Rome before then, but the 2nd century B.C. saw a major shift in the Roman economy from free laborers to one built on slave labor.

By the end of the 2nd century B.C., the majority of the population in Italy were slaves. This meant that the poor who were not slaves either couldn't work or had to work at below subsistence wages. It also caused massive migrations of the unemployed into cities. In Rome this meant the concentration of a large population of poor, disaffected -- and angry -- free Romans. The tinder-box was set to go off.


There are some famous names during this period of Roman history just prior to the establishment of rule by emperors. They include Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, Marius, Sulla, Pompey the Great, Crassus, Cato, Cicero, Virgil, Horace and Ovid and, of course, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra and Marc Antony.

The Gracchi Brothers

The Gracchi, though not of Patrician stock, were one of the most politically important families of Rome, very rich and well connected. Tiberius Gracchus (168-133 B.C.) was the older of two boys. His mother was the daughter of Scipio Africanus and his younger sister, Sempronia, was the wife of Scipio Aemilianus, another important general.

The poor and the wealthy had been in conflict since the overthrow of the Tarquins in 509 B.C., but that conflict largely revolved around political power and freedom. In 133 B.C., a new kind of class warfare erupted into bloodshed. In that year, Tiberius Gracchus, elected as one of the Tribunes of the Assembly, proposed that land ownership be limited to only 640 acres, thus removing much of the land from the hands of the wealthy. If a single person owned more than 640 acres, the excess would be seized by the state and given to the poor.

As you might expect, the wealthy in Rome, as well as most of the Senate, were violently opposed. They controlled one of the Tribunes, a man named Octavius, and persuaded him to consistently veto Tiberius's land reform. Fed up with the opposition, Tiberius removed Octavius from office, a manifestly unconstitutional procedure. And when his term as Tribune expired, he stood for reelection to a second term -- another unconstitutional procedure. At the elections, a riot erupted and a group of senators assassinated Tiberius: This was the first -- but not the last -- civil bloodshed in Roman history.

One can't underestimate the historical importance of Tiberius Gracchus. Although his reforms ultimately failed, he created a new political style: Appealing to the masses. Until then, political change had taken place largely in cooperation with and deference to the Patrician class. Tiberius Gracchus, however, sought to bring about political change by appealing to the general populace. This new type of Roman politicians were called the "populares" for they attempted to gain power by raising the population in their favor. Against the populares were the "optimates" ("the best"), who continued to use traditional methods.

And though Tiberius was dead, the Gracchi family was not finished. In 123 B.C. (and again the following year), his brother Gaius Gracchus (159-121 B.C.) was elected Tribune. Enormously popular, Gaius managed to push several laws through the Assembly. First, he stabilized the price of grain by building storehouses for excess grain, thus helping small farmers and also keeping grain prices from rising so high that the poor could not afford to feed themselves. His second law, which provoked even more opposition, proposed that citizenship be granted to all Italians (in order to increase his power basE).

The Senate, in 121 B.C., then passed a law that ordered the Consuls to make the Republic safe and declared Gaius Gracchus an enemy of the state. The Consuls hunted him down, and, in a final conflict, Gaius Gracchus killed himself and several thousand of his followers were killed or executed. Thus the Gracchan revolt ended.

Marius (157-86 B.C.)

After the destruction of Carthage, the most important kingdom in Africa was Numidia, an area south and west of Carthage in what is now Tunisia and Algeria. It contained a number of flourishing towns that were centers of a considerable commerce. Masinissa, the loyal Roman ally from the Punic Wars, left this kingdom to his son, who was succeeded jointly by a nephew, Jugurtha, and his cousins. Jugurtha was a brilliant and ambitious young man, who had served under Scipio in Iberia and returned to Africa steeped in honors. But when Jugurtha murdered one of his rival cousins, another cousin immediately appealed to Rome for help.

Thus in 111 B.C. began the Jugurthine War, which at first was prosecuted with so little enthusiasm that the Roman people grew suspicious of the Senate. But in 107 B.C., Gaius Marius was elected Consul and was assigned the province of Numidia by the Assembly. Marius had been one of the best military minds of the age in Rome's campaigns in Spain, where he had, incidentally, acquired vast sums of wealth from the mines there. He was a brilliant soldier and quickly handed Jugurtha a temporary defeat. But it was Marius' lieutenant, Sulla who defeated Jugurtha for good.

While Marius was mopping up in Numidia, the Cimbri who had been causing Romans problems in Macedonia and Gaul became very restive, attacking and defeating one army and then two more, resulting in the death of some 80,000 soldiers. Italy lay undefended against invasion. The senatorial elite once again had lost all credibility with the people.

The people responded to this senatorial failure of leadership by electing Marius as Consul every year from 104 B.C. through 100 B.C. (and also seem to have elected as co-Consul whomever Marius designated). This was an unprecedented achievement and gravely threatened constitutional principals designed to limit executive power -- especially since there was a law prohibiting two consecutive Consulships!

In 102 B.C., the Cimbri, now allied with two other tribes -- the Teutoni & the Tigurini -- decided to invade Italy in three separate invasions. Marius, with Sulla as his deputy, took on the Teutoni at the town of Aquae Sextae and crushed them (100,000 killed in a day). He had dispatched his colleague Catulus to deal with the Cimbri and returned home for another re-election. Catulus, however, did a lousy job (although he didn't lose his army) and the Cimbri were able to reach northern Italy. Postponing his triumph, Marius marched his army north and in 101 B.C., he and Catulus defeated the Cimbri (killing 65,000 to 100,000) at Vercellae. The Tigurni, hearing the news, decided to stay on their side of the Alps. In the popular imagination, Marius was again the hero of the day. Catulus, like Sulla, would become an enemy of Marius. But for the moment Marius was at his zenith, having earned triumphs for his victories over Jugurtha, the Cimbri and the Teutoni (which he shared with Catulus). He was again re-elected Consul in 100 B.C.

Marius had allied himself with Saturninus and another Tribune who managed domestic politics in Rome while Marius was off fighting. These Tribunes were proponents of strongly populares measures. They set up law courts that tried and convicted the incompetent generals of the last two decades. They introduced a new crime (maiestas -- doing something that would diminish the prestige of RomE), which became a permanent vehicle by which members of the elite could attack one another. They established colonies in Africa for Marius' veterans (who, remember, were landless poor). These measures were very unpopular with the optimates and small-scale riots ensued when they attempted to have their Tribunes veto the laws.

In 101 B.C., Saturninus was re-elected Tribune, even though it was rumored that he won the election by ordering the murder of one of his opponents. Some versions say that Marius ordered the murder so that he could rely on Saturninus' aid in passing another bill setting up colonies for his veterans.

Saturninus then proposed to set up colonies not simply in Africa and Gaul -- areas that Marius had subdued and could reasonably assert some influence in -- but also in Greece and Sicily -- areas where Marius had never served. The Senate fiercely objected. To gain support from the people, Saturninus first restored the Gracchan grain price support laws. The law passed and Marius settled his veterans. Marius now wanted to make up with the optimates. Saturninus, who had been re-elected Tribune, however, had his own delusions of grandeur. Rioting broke out at the elections and a candidate Marius backed was murdered. At this point, Saturninus and his ally Glaucia seized the Capitol.

But Marius had the Senate authorize him to take action against Saturninus and Glaucia. Thus, the most prominent populares in Roman history had earlier ratified the Senatorial tool used against them. Marius armed his supportors and beseiged Saturninus and Glaucia in the Capitol. Although Saturninus and Glaucia surrendered after receiving assurances of safe conduct from Marius, they were, nevertheless, killed by mobs. These deaths appeared to signal a truce between the populares and the optimates that would remain in place in Roman politics for the next decade. But several crises signaled the political problems that lay ahead.

The issue of Roman citizenship on the Italian peninsula became a controversial topic. The Senate, in 95 B.C., passed a law creating a court in which individuals with Latin rights citizenship who had been living in Rome and enjoying the benefits of Roman citizenship, could be charged and stripped of the rights they had "usurped." This move deeply offended Rome's Italian allies who had been sending their sons off to die under the command of incompetent senatorial generals for the last 30 years and who felt they were owed some greater respect (if not citizenship).

In 91 B.C., the Tribune Marcus Drusus then proposed a series of land and citizenship reforms that would have granted Italians citizenship rights. He also reformed the Equestrian courts by extending Senatorial status, but on terms that ensured that continued hegemony of the Roman Senate. Drusus, son of the man who had successfully opposed Gaius Gracchus, claimed impeccable credentials as a champion of Senatorial interest. The Senate, however, fiercely opposed his reforms, greeting any extension of the citizenship with enormous suspicion and hostility (not in the least because all the new Italian citizens would be clients of Drusus). Drusus passed his laws, but only by resorting to the kind of violence that had become routine in Roman politics, thus losing all the support he had in the Senate. Then the Consul, L. Marcius Phillipus had the Senate pass a decree declaring Drusus' laws invalid because Drusus had ignored the ill-favored auspices that had preceded his legislative efforts. Fearing a fate similar to that of Saturninus and Glaucia, Drusus gave up. Notwithstanding, he was murdered in his own home.

When news of his death reached his Italian allies, they revolted against the Roman rule they had supported for the last two to three centuries. This war between Rome and her Italian allies are called the Social Wars. The Marsi in central Italy, along with the Samnites in the south, were among the leaders of the revolt. The allies sought to create a loose federation along the lines of the old Latin League. They created a Senate and adopted a number of offices patterned along the lines of those provided by the Roman constitution.

Not all Roman allies revolted. Indeed the brunt of opposition came from the peoples who lived closest to Rome. More distant cities in Italy seemed happy to stay out of the affair. Nevertheless, the rebels, who had been serving in Roman armies, posed a profound threat to Roman rule. The Consul of 90 B.C., Lupus, took Marius to battle with him against the Marsi as an advisor. Marius disagreed with Lupus' tactics and was proven correct when first Lupus' legates and then Lupus were defeated. Marius, with the reserve, managed to defeat the Italian rebel army. The Senate hesitated giving Marius complete command of the armies in northern Italy but, faced with the disasters achieved by Senatorial generals, eventually had to. Marius, assisted by Sulla, defeated the allies in the north.

In central Italy, after some setbacks, the father of Pompey the Great also defeated rebel armies. In the south, Lupus' co-Consul, Lucius Julius Caesar, defeated the allies in Campania. Apulia remained the last region of opposition to Rome. Caesar returned to Rome and then passed a law granting Roman citizenship to any Italians allies who had not rebelled, and to rebels who would give up their arms. The war would continue for another two years with some significant Roman losses, but Caesar's law effectively broke the back of Italian opposition to Rome. The Senate named Sulla to replace Caesar in command and, through arrangement of various commands in the mopping-up operations, managed to completely ignore Marius.

Marius was an innovator and a maverick. He changed the fundamental make-up of his army by enlisting mainly volunteers. These volunteers were drawn from the poorest (and hence most disaffected and angry) classes, still bitter over the killings of the Gracchi. Marius held out the promise of the spoils of war and land-parcels as payment for their service (this on top of the guarantee of food and shelter for the length of their servicE).

Something new had occurred. Poverty now pushed vast numbers into the military; these soldiers, however, owed their loyalty and gratitude not to the state, but to their general, who served as a kind of patron. This personal loyalty gave Marius -- as well as future generals -- access to civilian power that they had never had before.

Sulla (138-78 B.C.)

Now Lucius Cornelius Sulla was of an old and well-established aristocratic family; although he was relatively poor, he was as blue-blooded as anyone in Rome. Marius, on the other hand, was a novus homo, a "new man," who was the first in his family to occupy the Consulship. These so-called "new men" were bitterly resented by the aristocracy, and Sulla felt that Marius was being given credit for work that he, Sulla, had done. The rivalry between these two men would result in civil war in 88 B.C.

In the decade of the 80's B.C., Sulla proved himself to be an astonishing general during the wars with the Italian allies. He was elected Consul in 88 B.C., finally getting the recognition he felt he deserved. He had broken bitterly with Marius and allied himself closely with the oldest and most conservative faction of the optimates. In anticipation of a threatened war with Mithridites, the king of Pontus, the Senate awarded the governorship of Greece to Sulla (to begin after his Consulship). The war promised extraordinary booty and was an office many, including Marius, desired. Marius tried to get Assembly to pass a law removing the Mithridatic command from Sulla and granting it to him.

When Sulla and his co-Consul, Q. Pompeius Rufus, opposed these efforts, widespread rioting broke out and Rufus' son was murdered. Sulla fled to Marius and promised, in exchange for his life, to drop his opposition. Marius took him at his word and (with incredible stupidity) allowed him to return to the army that had been assigned to him for the Mithridatic wars.

The Assembly then voted to give Marius command of the Mithridatic wars. But Sulla refused to turn his army over to Marius (backed strongly by his rank-and-file troops; the officer corp refused to support him). So Sulla marched his troops to Rome, took control of the city and declared Marius and a number of others as public enemies who could be killed with impunity. Marius and his son, after much adventure, escaped to North Africa where they were protected by Marius' veterans who had settled in colonies there. After taking control of Rome, Sulla declared any law henceforth passed by the Assembly that had not been pre-approved by the Senate invalid.

Sulla, however, was most anxious to take his army to Greece and so allowed the election of Octavius and Cinna, his enemy, to the Consulship in 87 B.C. He required Cinna to swear to do nothing to undermine Sulla's laws. Then Sulla went off in search of Mithridates. Once Sulla was out of town, Cinna broke his oath and tried to pass laws protecting the citizenship rights of the new Italian citizens. The Senate and Octavius opposed him and eventually drove him from Rome, declaring him a "hostes" or public enemy.

Cinna, however, took control of a legion in southern Italy that had not yet been disbanded from the Social Wars. Meanwhile, Marius had raised a legion of African veterans and returned with them to Italy. The Samnites, the last of the Italian rebels, rather than come to terms with the Senate, joined Cinna. The combined armies of Marius, Cinna and the Samnites attacked and invaded Rome. A bloody terror followed their victory. Fourteen senators, including the Consul Octavius, were killed or driven to suicide (no one knows how many people of less prestigious status died). Marius and Cinna were then elected Consuls for the year 87 B.C. Marius, however, almost immediately died of old age.

Sulla, meanwhile, was dealing with Mithridates in the East. Mithridates had begun making problems for Rome at the beginning of the Social Wars. King of Pontus, a Hellenized region in the Caucuses (governed by Persian elitE) where modern Georgia and Armenia now lie, he had been expanding his influence towards Asia Minor. Preoccupied, the Senate had sought to delay the conflict in the early 90s by means of diplomacy and by inciting their ally Bithynia to attack Mithridates. Unfortunately for Rome, Mithridates had better armies than Bithynia. And when the Romans in Asia Minor organized their limited forces against Mithridates, they were promptly wiped out.

Mithridates then swept westward and a number of Greek cities and kingdoms of Asia Minor that had tolerated Roman rule yielded to him (though others remained loyal to RomE). He took care to treat them well, but, in 88 B.C., ordered all Romans in cities under his rule to be massacred on the very day his decree was posted. More than 80,000 Romans were killed throughout Asia Minor. Romans were not simply horrified at this act only on patriotic grounds. There were also pressing financial reasons, as the Roman treasury was quite dependent on taxes that Asia Minor had been sending them.

Mithridates next sent his armies and navies into Greece. There he met resistance from Greek navies loyal to Rome and Roman legions who had been stationed in Macedonia. His general, Archelaus, however, was able to take control of Athens and the surrounding region. In 87 B.C., Sulla arrived and began a long and difficult siege of Athens during which he suffered several setbacks. Since he could not count on Rome to send him reinforcements, Sulla sent Lucullus, his deputy, to Egypt to raise a navy from Roman allies in the eastern Mediterranean.

In 86 B.C., Lucullus finally took control of Athens, permitting his troops to sack the city and burning Piraeus, Athens' port, to the ground. Sulla pursued Mithridates and swept his forces from Greece. In the meanwhile, the Roman Senate (which considered Sulla a public enemy) had sent Valerius Flaccus, who became Consul after Marius died, to Asia Minor. Flaccus had no desire to confront Sulla (who was doing a fine job in GreecE) and proceeded to go to Asia Minor overland, through Macedonia. Flaccus enjoyed his own successes against Mithridatic armies in Macedonia, but suddenly found himself usurped by his legate Fimbria, who took over the army (Flaccus having been killed) and continued to press the attack against Mithridates. He conceivably would have defeated Mithridates, had Lucullus, who had finally collected a navy, coordinated attacks with him. But Sulla wanted to come to terms. Mithridates agreed to withdraw to his borders and in fact acquired the status of "friend and ally of Rome." The sometime Roman allies who had gone over to Mithridates and killed Roman citizens, however, were required to pay a ferocious indemnity.

Sulla then surrounded Fimbria's legions, who began to desert and refuse to fight. After Fimbria committed suicide, Sulla took command of Fimbria's army (which he stationed in Asia Minor) and turned back to Rome with the Roman legions who had accompanied him.

Cinna had been attempting to govern Rome through the economic crises the Social, Civil and Mithridatic wars caused. But he did not enjoy the loyalty of the Equites or soldiers (who had been Marius' greatest adherents). He had been re-elected Consul in 84 B.C. along with Carbo and was attempting to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Sulla. Cinna, unfortunately, was murdered by a mutinous legion. That left Carbo to lead the populares forces against Sulla. Carbo was simply not up to the job and, in fact, could not even get himself re-elected Consul in 83 B.C. Norbanus, one of the new Consuls, went to face Sulla in Brundisium. Sulla defeated him twice and pushed inexorably towards Rome. Scipio Asiagenus, the other Consul, went to support Norbanus, but was of little help since his army promptly deserted to Sulla. Asiagenus and Sulla came to some sort of settlement, on which Asiagenus promptly reneged (earning him Sulla's bitter wrath). At this point, everyone with an army began to join Sulla. Pompey, son of one of the great generals of the Social Wars, showed up at the age of 19 with three legions recruited from his father's veterans. Asiagenus raised a new army to oppose Sulla; but it, too, promptly abandoned him.

Rome became an ugly place. The populares, in desperation, chose Carbo as Consul again, with Marius' son as co-Consul. Purges against those suspected of supporting Sulla began. Senatorial armies were defeated or defected to Sulla's side. The younger Marius actually fought a credible battle against Sulla, losing only when a substantial portion of his troops abandoned him in the middle of the action.

The final battle of the war was fought outside the Colline Gate of the city of Rome itself in November of 82 B.C. The forces opposing Sulla were slaughtered. They were the lucky ones; the next day Sulla summoned what left of the Senate to the temple of Belladona in the Campus Martius. As he began to speak, he arranged to have several thousand prisoners of war killed. When the Senators appeared distracted by the noise, he told them not to mind -- he was just giving malefactor their just deserts. The Senators got the message. At his request, the Senate passed a law naming Sulla "dictator for the purpose of restoring the republic." Unlike the archaic constitutional post of a six-month dictatorship (which hadn't been used in centuries), Sulla's office had no term limit.

Sulla had decided three things about Rome's problems. First, the traditional authority of the Senate needed to be restored. Second, that Sulla, himself, was a very bad example for future Romans and that the constitution needed to be rewritten so that no one would ever try to imitate him. Finally, Sulla decided that he needed to revenge himself upon his enemies, and settle land upon his troops. To accomplish this goal he began a period of proscriptions. The excesses of Cinna and Marius' regime paled in comparison to Sulla's efforts. Forty senators and 1,600 Equites were proscribed. Their lands were used to settle veterans. Their fortunes went to allies of Sulla. Opponents of Sulla either were killed, committed suicide or fled. The matter of revenge settled, Sulla turned to the job of restoring the Republic.

He passed laws that sharply limited the traditional power of Tribunes and forbade anyone who had been elected Tribune from pursuing any other political office. He returned control of the juries to the Senate (although he doubled the size of the Senate and enrolled many Equites in it). He limited the powers of provincial governors. Then, in a stunning display of power, he retired in 80 B.C. and spent the last year of his life enjoying the sun in Campania. Julius Ceasar later opined that he could not imagine why Sulla did it. But no one dared move against him while he lived.

Catiline and Cicero

In the mid 60's B.C., Lucius Sergius Catiline, a Patrician whose family had fallen on relatively hard times, was following the traditional career path of Roman politicians. At the same time, a "novus homo"(or "new man"), Marcus Tullius Cicero, was similarly climbing the same ladder.

Cicero had made an incredible name for himself in youthful lawsuits successfully attacking Verres, the corrupt governor of Sicily, and a henchmen of Sulla's in the proscription business. After these youthful forays on behalf of the little people, however, Cicero allied himself with the economic interests of the Equites and strove politically to walk a fine line. Temperamentally, he was conservative in nature and preferred the company of the optimates. He held Pompey's military genius in awe (Cicero personally hated military life and considered his limited military experience a penance), and seemed often to be driven by a desperate, sometimes resentful, desire for Pompey's approval.

He represented Pompey's political interests while trying to further his own in Rome and tried to mediate between the optimates and Pompey. Cicero deeply appreciated Julius Caesar's political, military and literary genius, and seems just genuinely to have liked the man -- but he never trusted him. Caesar always seemed capable of taking populares politics one step too far while Pompey, Cicero felt sure, never would.

Cicero had a theory that Romans ought to recognize, not gloss over their class differences -- the senatorial class had a set of interests that were not identical to the Equites. If they acknowledged these differences and worked out a mutually set of shared goals and interests, however, Rome would be sure to flourish and the Plebs would be well provided for. Cicero's theory was not a bad one, but Cicero did not have an army. Cicero believed he could persuade everyone to see the truth of the matter since he was the greatest orator of his age (and some would say of any).

Cicero and Catiline were in the same age cadre as they climbed the cursus honorum -- the succession of magistracies or "ladder of power." At one point Cicero even contemplated campaigning with him for the Consulship. The optimates, however, despised Catiline (because of his populares politics) and used every trick in the book to block his efforts to run for Consulship. Every time he was thwarted, Catiline's rhetoric got a little more radical, which made the optimates even more skittish.

In 64 B.C., Catiline ran for Consul. Cicero was one of the leading contenders in the race. Patricians might instinctively despise a novus homo, like Cicero. But in this case, when faced with Catiline as the alternative, they backed him quite gladly. Cicero accomplished the unimaginable feat of becoming Consul the first year he was eligible to run, and without any military background to speak of. Catiline was soundly defeated, which according to Cicero, drove him to revolution.

The next year's attempted military revolt by Catiline and his allies was ultimately unsuccessful. In Rome however, other conspirators were caught in the act. Several people were arrested and the Senate met to decide their fate. Cicero argued for the death penalty without trial and had most of the Senate convinced, but Caesar, as the Praetor-elect was allowed to speak and had the Senate nearly convinced that trials, and/or lighter sentences, were in order. Marcus Porcius Cato Uticencis, known as Cato the Younger to distinguish him from his great- grandfather Cato the Elder, was the ultra-conservative leader of the optimate party. Cato, who is remembered for his legendary stubbornness and tenacity as well as for his immunity to bribes and famous distaste for corruption, then swung the decision back in favor of the death penalty. The budding rivalry between Caesar and Cato was turning into outright enmity. Cicero also would forever hold a grudge against Caesar for this opposition. The optimates attempted to implicate Caesar in the whole affair, because he had many connections with the growing rebellion in Etruria and because of his outspoken opposition to the death penalty. Caesar's close ties to Crassus, who was the one to present the letters of conspiracy to Cicero in the first place, seem to have exonerated Caesar from any potential penalties. Cataline, now with rebel forces in Etruria, was soon defeated and killed, and the entire conspiracy was done with.

Crassus (115-53 B.C.) and Pompey (106-48 B.C.)

Dangerous new ground had been broken. Sulla's reforms, rather than restoring order to Rome, provoked a violent reaction. After his death, the Senate was facing armed rebellion. In 70 B.C., two highly ambitious men, Crassus and Pompey, were elected Consuls and promptly repealed Sulla's constitution. A new political order was emerging: Ambitious generals allied themselves with the Tribunes and the disaffected Assembly against the Senate and the Patricians.

Pompey gained the imperium over the entire Mediterranean region in 67 B.C. for three years, and this power was extended several more years so he could prosecute a war in Asia Minor. By the end of this period, Pompey had become the single most popular leader in Rome. Crassus, one of the richest men of the era and still ranked in the top ten list of the most wealthy historical figures, was frightened of Pompey. And, since Crassus was unpopular in both the Assembly and the Senate, he allied himself with popular leaders, the most popular of whom was a brilliant general, Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.). Julius was from an old, noble family -- it even claimed it was descended from Venus -- and had served as a brilliant military leader in Spain.

When he returned from Spain, Caesar demanded a triumph -- that is, a victory parade through Rome that was commonly accorded successful generals. Denied this triumph by the Senate, led by Cato the Younger (who feared Caesar's popularity with the masses), Caesar convinced Pompey and Crassus to reconcile; thus, the First Triumvirate was established. This was the beginning of the end of the Republic, for this alliance had as its end the control of the Roman government for the political advantage of the three men.

The First Triumvirate

The First Triumvirate, consisting of Julius Caesar, Marcus Licinius Crassus (the richest man in all of RomE) and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (commonly known as Pompey the Great) came to power in 59 B.C. when Caesar was elected Consul.

Crassus had started as a colonel in Sulla's army, and had been able to make lots of money under his regime. In 72 B.C., as Praetor, he had suppressed the slave revolt of Spartacus. Caesar, who had been in debt to Crassus, paid him back, but still had some moral obligation to the man who had secured his profitable Spanish command.

At the time, Pompey was Rome's leading general. He had started his career in Sulla's army, had later suppressed a rising of followers of Marius in Spain and had co-operated with Crassus in finishing off Spartacus' slave revolt. Later, he had defeated the pirates in the Mediterranean and, after 66 B.C., was given command against Mithridates, the king of Pontus, who he defeated decisively. After this, Pompey had annexed Syria and invaded Palestine, where he captured Jerusalem. His soldiers called him "Pompey the Great" and rightly so: He had doubled Rome's annual income and added vast territories to the empire. In 62 B.C., Pompey returned, at odds with the Senate because of its tardiness in ratifying his organization in the East.

The triumvirate gave something to all its members. First, they decided that no step would be taken that did not suit any of the three; together, they would run the Republic. The deal was sealed by intermarriage: Pompey married Caesar's daughter Julia; Caesar married Calpurnia, whose father was a close friend of Crassus. Caesar saw to the swift ratification of Pompey's oriental acts. An agrarian law passed the Senate, distributing land among the urban poor and to Pompey's soldiers.

Most important was a law assigning Caesar as governor of the provinces Cisalpine Gaul (i.e., the plains along the river Po), Illyricum (the Dalmatian coast), and Transalpine Gaul (modern-day France and Belgium) for the years 58-54 B.C. In these provinces, there were four legions -- each an army unit of some 5,000 soldiers. Protected by his office as a commander and by these troops, Caesar would be safe against his enemies. Early in 58 B.C., Caesar left Rome for his new post.

Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.)

Perhaps the most famous Roman of them all, Gaius Julius Caesar was born into a relatively poor but very Patrician family -- it claimed to be descended from the goddess Venus! Caesar changed the course of the history of the Greco-Roman world decisively and irreversibly. Caesar's name, like Alexander's, is still on people's lips throughout the Christian and Islamic worlds. Even people who know nothing of Caesar as a historic personality are familiar with his family name as a title signifying a ruler who is in some sense uniquely supreme or paramount -- such as Kaiser in German, Tsar in the Slavonic languages, and Qaysar in the languages of the Islamic world.

Raised in the Subura or common quarters of Rome among the lower citizen classes, his home was what functioned as an apartment building in the modern world, known then as an insula. The young Caesar certainly learned a great deal from his childhood experiences, as he early on realized the power in championing the common man.

Caesar was 15 when his father died in 85 B.C. His father had reached the office of Praetor prior to his death, the office just below Consul, and this at least helped set the stage for the Caesar line to return to the highest order. A more significant event in the life of Caesar was the marriage of his aunt Julia to the novus homo (new man) Gaius Marius. Through this marriage in 110 B.C. -- 10 years prior to the birth of his famous nephew -- Marius gained the political and familial connection necessary to advance his own career. Marius was certainly one of the richest men in Rome at the time and, while he gained political clout, the Caesar family gained the wealth required to finance election campaigns for Caesar's father and uncles. His uncle, Lucius Julius Caesar, rose to a prominent Consulship during the Social War of 90 to 87 B.C.

Marius' impact on Caesar must have been immense and their careers have notable similarities. Caesar, however, had the good fortune of a Patrician background, which gave him a huge advantage over Marius. Marius was the pre-eminent Roman just prior to Caesar's birth, serving seven Consulships, winning the war against Jugurtha, reforming the legions and the social order, and saving Rome from the Germanic Cimbri and Teutone threat. By the time Caesar was a young man, however, Marius had fallen out of favor. As Caesar began his own career, he would be thrust into the conflicts between Marius and his rival Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Caesar's advancement in light of the turmoil of the day is notable enough; the fact that he even survived may be even more remarkable.

As Julius Caesar moved into his early teenage years, the political climate of Rome was in turmoil. By 88 B.C., Sulla took control of the city by force, and many of Marius' supporters were put to the sword. Caesar, despite his relation to Marius, was still a boy and so was not in any danger.

But as Sulla took his legions east to fight the first Mithridatic War, Marius and a deposed Consul, Lucius Cornelius Cinna, marched on Rome. By 86 B.C., both men were elected Consul -- Marius for the seventh time -- and in retribution, carried out a bloodbath against Sulla's supporters. From the time of Caesar's birth through his formative years, all Rome seemed to know was political uncertainty and violence.

Despite this situation, from his late teens on, Caesar's most notable characteristic has to be his overwhelming "chutzpah." With an ego the size of an elephant, Caesar had supreme confidence both in himself and in his ability to force his will on others! His bravery and courage were unquestioned -- and their demonstration enabled him to overcome adversity on many occasions. But it was his indomitable will -- along with unbridled ambition -- that propelled Caesar to greatness.

Marius died shortly after his election to a record seventh Consulship in 86 B.C., leaving Cinna in charge. Caesar's family relations placed him on the side of the populares, since his aunt Julia, with whom he had a strong relationship, was married to Marius. In 87 B.C., this bond was further strengthened when Cinna gave his daughter Cornelia in marriage to Caesar.

Cinna ruled with an iron hand for the next few years, during which this time he appointed Caesar to the office of flamen dialis, or head priest of Jupiter. This priesthood was filled with many strict rules and rituals of the ancient religion. For instance, the flamen dialis could never touch metal, see a corpse, ride a horse, and was restricted in many foods, among many other things. There was also a restriction on leaving Rome for more than one night in a row, which effectively prevented a normal political career.

Just a year later, as Cinna prepared to meet Sulla's legions as they returned to Rome after victory over Mithridates, his troops mutinied and Cinna was killed. Sulla marched into Italy and within a year defeated nearly all opposition. In 81 B.C., after the battle of the Colline Gate, Sulla was the undisputed victor, and soon assumed the title of dictator.

With Sulla once more in charge of Rome, a political and brutally bloody purge of his enemies began again. Sulla began a systematic reversal of all opposition to his pro Senatorial elite, or optimate, agenda, including the nomination of Caesar as flamen dialis. Caesar also was named on the proscription lists, on which enemies were publicly listed for execution and/or confiscation of properties. So, at the age of 19, he left his young wife and family to avoid the death penalty, escaping Rome and going into hiding in the Italian countryside.

Eventually Sulla rescinded the death sentence for Caesar, who was now free to return to Rome, where Sulla demanded that Caesar divorce the daughter of his former rival Cinna. Caesar refused, but Sulla still pardoned him, confiscating Cornelia's dowry instead. In a prophetic moment, Sulla was said to comment, "Take him then, my masters, since you must have it so; but know this, that he whose life you so much desire will one day be the overthrow of the part of nobles, whose cause you have sustained with me; for in this one Caesar, you will find many a Marius." Sulla's behavior in this matter may have helped shaped Caesar's later leniency toward opposition.

Caesar in Asia

In the following decade or so, Caesar spend most of his time in Asia, pursuing a military career. In 80 B.C., he was sent on a diplomatic mission to King Nicomedes IV of Bithynia to help raise a fleet. That same year, while still serving under the Asian governor, he played a pivotal role in the siege of Miletus. During the course of the battle, Caesar showed such personal bravery in saving the lives of legionaries that he was later awarded the corona civica (oak crown). This award was the second highest Roman military honor and, when worn in public, even in the presence of the Roman Senate, all were forced to stand and applaud his presence. Caesar wore the crown whenever it was opportune as he delighted in "rubbing it in" on his enemies.

When Sulla died in 78 B.C., Caesar returned to Rome to embark on the traditional career of a young aristocrat. That year he was co-opted in the Pontifical College (the most important priestly collegE), and also was elected Tribunus Militum, one of 24 "tribunes of the soldiers" young men in their twenties with senatorial ambitions. For the next few years, he worked diligently at his oration skills by serving as a trial attorney, a position in which he excelled. He was gaining a powerful reputation as a champion of the populares by taking on several elite aristrocrats. Most notably, in 77 B.C., Caesar brilliantly prosecuted the ex-Consul Gnaeus Cornelius Dollabella for his extortion when he was governor of various Greek cities. Though Dolabella in the end, was victorious, his reputation was terribly damaged. The great orator Cicero even commented, "does anyone have the ability to speak better than Caesar?" With such a promising career well under way, Caesar next sought to continue his education in rhetoric and oration, key skills for any Roman politician.

In 75 B.C., he left Rome to study in Rhodes under the great teacher Apollonius Molon, who earlier had been an instructor of Cicero himself. While en route, however, he was waylaid by Cilician pirates and taken hostage for a second time (he had been captured by pirates -- and successfully ransomed -- just four years beforE).

Caesar and the Pirates

A Roman Patrician was a good prize and the Cilician pirates demanded 20 talents (nearly 5,000 gold coins) for his release. According to Plutarch's retelling of this incident, when the pirates told Caesar they would ransom him for 20 talents of gold, Caesar laughed and told them he was worth at least 50 talents (12,000 gold pieces)! Supposedly, this would decrease his danger of being killed, but many historians have interpreted it as the kind of self-confidence shown in his future acts as Consul. Caesar also increased his protection by joining with the pirate crews and acting like one of them, even expressed his reckless character by scolding a few when they ignored him. In all he was held for 38 days and used the time to write speeches and practice his rhetoric on his captors. Though apparently treated quite well, Caesar vowed that when he was released he would come back to capture and crucify the lot of them.

After the ransom was paid, Caesar gathered a fleet and captured the pirates. When the governor of Asia Minor province did not mete out justice to his satisfaction, Plutarch reports, "Caesar, left to his own devices, went to Pergamum (in what is modern-day western Turkey), took the robbers out of prison, and crucified them all, just as he had often warned them on the island that he would do, when they thought he was joking."

Prior to his return to Rome, Caesar again provided military service to Rome. When Mithridates VI of Pontus (an area in present-day modern Turkey on the Black Sea) again invaded Roman Asia, Caesar jumped at the chance for further military glory. He took it upon himself to raise a small army of provincials and gathered enough strength to defend several small towns. Though technically illegal to lead a military operation without Senatorial commission, this was likely ignored because of the service he provided to Rome. Now 27 years old, he began the voyage back to Rome to begin his climb up the Roman political ladder.

"Buying In" - Caesar's Political Rise

After returning to Rome in 73 B.C. as a member of the college of Pontiffs, he immediately began working on his political career. Elected a military tribune in 72 B.C., he lived well beyond his means, starting down a course of extravagance, both for political gain and personal pleasure. From expensive slaves to collectible arts, Caesar spared no expense in creating his image as an elite member of Roman society.

Though Caesar's career history during this period is limited, it's possible that this marks the beginning of his acquaintance with Marcus Licinius Crassus, the richest man in Rome. There is a high probability that he served under Crassus during his command against Spartacus' slave rebellion. But whether he served directly under Crassus, or developed a friendship though other means, this relationship would be pivotal to Caesar's career. Because of Crassus' immense wealth, Caesar was able to finance the extravagant lifestyle and political necessities required to advance the cursus honorum. His next step was that of Quaestor, to which he was elected in 69 B.C., being assigned to a post with the governor of Further Spain.

But before leaving for his post, tragedy struck, as both his aunt Julia and his wife Cornelia died. Although women generally were not granted large public funerals, Caesar used these two occasions to underline his own lineage and heritage. At the funeral of Julia he delivered a splendid eulogy and, for the first time since Sulla, displayed the popular images of Gaius Marius. Praising the deeds of Marius, Caesar publicly proclaiming his descent from the fourth King of Rome, Ancus Marcius, and the goddess Venus, actions that certainly developed considerable enmity among the conservative Senators. However, the crowd was clearly in Caesar's favor as they supported him enthusiastically. Caesar clearly had defined himself as a supporter of the populares, setting the stage for a long series of political battles to come.

Shortly after his aunt's funeral, Caesar's second personal tragedy struck with the death of his young wife Cornelia, mother of his single infant daughter, Julia. To give a laudation for such a young women was practically unspeakable, but once again Caesar rose to the occasion. In another stirring public ceremony, Caesar also honored Cornelia's father, Cinna, another hated enemy of the optimates.

Soon after the funerals, Caesar finally left for Spain. The trip was largely uneventful, but it was here that he had a famous encounter with a statue of Alexander the Great. Perhaps because of his emotional state -- coupled with a growing and now obvious personal ambition -- it was said that he either broke down and cried or at the very least was deeply saddened. When asked why, his simple response was: "Do you think I have not just cause to weep, when I consider that Alexander at my age had conquered so many nations, and I have all this time done nothing that is memorable."

After serving in Spain, Caesar returned to Rome and started to nurture friendships among the aristocracy to further his career. In 67 B.C., for political gain, he married Pompeia, a granddaughter of Sulla, but he also continued his revenge against those who had taken part in the Sullan proscriptions. His performance in the trials earned him a reputation as a brilliant orator. Caesar supported Gnaeus Pompey and helped him get an extraordinary generalship against the Mediterranean pirates, later extended to command of the war against King Mithridates VI in Asia Minor. Obviously building a relationship with Rome's great general would play into his hands later, but the rivalry between Pompey and Caesar's benefactor Crassus seemed to have little effect on Caesar. Despite Caesar's support for Pompey, Crassus continued to support Caesar's enormous debts over the course of the next few years.

Between the support of the two laws regarding Pompey's command, Caesar served as the curator of the Appian Way. The maintenance of this road, which stretched from Rome to Cumae and beyond to the heel of Italy's boot, was an important and high-profile position. While it was enormously expensive on a personal basis, it gave a great deal of prestige to a young Senator, and Crassus' support certainly made it an achievable task for Caesar.

In 65 B.C., he was elected Aedile and held lavish games and spectacles, which left him popular but deeply in debt. His games were spectacular affairs, and building projects during his term were very ambitious. In one spectacle to honor his father, Caesar displayed 320 pairs of gladiators clad in silver armor, an enormous expense. He accrued further debts in 63 B.C., when he ran for Pontifex Maximus against senior candidates. This was the highest priestly office in the Roman religious system. The Pontifex Maximus was chosen by semi-popular vote between existing members of the Pontifical College. The post was held for life and it was normally occupied by an older, accomplished ex-Consul. Yet Caesar's candidacy prevailed, partly by abundant and unscrupulous bribery.

The Catiline conspiracy erupted in 63 B.C., putting Caesar in direct conflict with the optimates once again. Soon after Catiline, a Consular candidate of the populares, was defeated by Cicero, an optimate, anonymous letters showed up at the house of Crassus, warning various Senators to leave the city to avoid an armed rebellion and coming massacre. Crassus took the letters to the Consul Cicero, who took the presumed conspiracy to the Senate.

The Senate granted Cicero the authority to deal with the conspirators. Cicero argued for the death penalty without trial and had most of the Senate convinced, but Caesar, as the Praetor- elect, was allowed to speak and, in turn, had the Senate nearly convinced that trials, and/or lighter sentences were in order. Cato, the ultra-conservative leader of the optimate party, then swung the decision back in favor of the death penalty. The optimates tried to implicate Caesar in the whole affair. But Caesar's close ties to Crassus, who was the one to present the letters of conspiracy to Cicero in the first place, seem to have protected Caesar from any potential penalties. Catiline was soon defeated and killed and the entire conspiracy was over.

The following year (62 B.C.), Caesar was elected Praetor, the second-highest annual political office, and in 61 B.C., he had to return to his province of Hispania Ulterior. Some time before his departure for Spain in 61 B.C., the rituals of the Bona Dea -- a ceremony for women only -- were performed in Caesar's house, presided over by his wife Pompeia. During the rituals, Publius Clodius Pulcher entered disguised as a woman, allegedly to meet Pompeia. But he was discovered, causing a major scandal. During the trial of Clodius, he received Caesar's support and was acquitted, probably because the jury was bribed. Caesar used the incident to divorce Pompeia, saying that "The wife of Caesar must be above suspicion," suggesting that he was so exceptional that anyone associated with him had to be free of any hint of scandal.

The length of the scandal delayed elections and provincial appointments for the next year, and Caesar was in serious jeopardy of being prosecuted for his debts. Crassus once again came to the rescue, paying off a quarter of his 20 million denarii balance. Eventually, by 61 B.C., Caesar was finally assigned to serve as the Proconsular governor of Further Spain, the province in which he had served as a Quaestor. With this appointment, his creditors backed off. Leaving Rome even before he was officially to take over, Caesar was not taking any chances.

Caesar and his staff rode hard, reaching the Rhone River in only eight days, providing a glimpse into his future ability to move his armies at remarkable speeds. On the way, several members of his entourage commented on the barbaric and wretched life in the local villages. Caesar, again showing his ambition replied, "For my part, I'd rather be the first man among these fellows than the second man in Rome."

Arriving in Spain, Caesar developed a remarkable reputation as a military commander. Between 61 and 60 B.C., he won considerable victories over the local Spanish tribes. He advanced as far as the Atlantic Ocean and subdued tribes in the northwest part of the country that had never before bowed to the Romans. His forces attacked and sacked the cities and towns. He also plundered the rich silver mines in the area. In his conquests, he secured enough spoils of war to pay off all of his debts, while giving his men a considerable share and leaving some for the Roman treasury. During one of his victories, his men hailed him as "Imperator' in the field, which was a vital consideration in being eligible for a triumph back in Rome.

Return to Rome and the Consulship

Now a rich man, Caesar was faced with a terrible dilemma.

He wanted to run for Consul for 59 B.C., but Roman law required him to be present within the city of Rome in order to do so. He also desperately wanted to receive the honor of a triumph. The optimates surely would use this against him, forcing him to wait outside the city, as was the custom, until they confirmed his triumph, in effect causing a delay that would force Caesar to miss his chance to run for Consul. Also, if he didn't become Consul, which implied immunity from prosecution, he would almost certainly have to face trial for his alleged abuse of gubernatorial powers in Spain. So he made a fateful decision. In the summer of 60 B.C., choosing power over honor, Caesar entered Rome to run for Consul -- the highest political office in the Roman Republic.

Caesar faced considerable opposition from the optimate Senators, or as Cicero dubbed them, the "boni" (good men). Even though Caesar had overwhelming popularity, he had to manipulate formidable alliances within the Senate itself in order to secure his election. In his search of allies and support for his candidacy, he approached Crassus and Pompey. Both had problems that needed solving.

Pompey was frustrated by his inability to get land reform for his eastern veterans. Crassus, on the other hand, needed a politician to support items of interest to the business- leading Equestrian families. Caesar brilliantly patched up any differences between the two powerful leaders. The Consular campaign was tough and badly scarred by the use of violence, intimidation and bribery. Caesar won, but one of the optimates, Bibulus, came in second, promising a difficult Consulship, since one could veto the other.

As Consul, Caesar's first priority was to fulfil his promises to Crassus and Pompey, in part by using his bands of hoodlums to intimidate the opposition, including his co-Consul. At the end of his tenure Caesar was expected to leave Rome to be Proconsul in a province, but the Senate tried to avoid assigning Caesar a province that would imply the command of armed forces, so he was initially given Illyricum and Cisalpine Gaul for five years. Caesar still risked being prosecuted, but his Proconsular Imperium gave him another five years of immunity.

Caesar, Crassus and Pompey now decided to continue their alliance, called "the first triumvirate." They made a private deal to divide Roman territory among them. Caesar got Transalpine Gaul in addition to Illyricum and Cisalpine Gaul and, later when its governor died, Gallia Narbonensis (southern FrancE); Crassus got command of the eastern provinces; and Pompey got Spain, but would remain in Rome to keep the optimates in check with his army. Pompey also married Julia, Caesar's daughter by Cornelia, to confirm the pact. Together they were strong enough to force this agreement on the Senate.

As 59 B.C. came to a close, Caesar had the support of the people, along with the two most powerful men in Rome (aside from himself), and the opportunity for infinite glory in Gaul. At the age of 40, while already holding the highest office in Rome and defeating his enemies at every turn, the true greatness of his career was yet to come. Marching quickly to the relative safety of his provinces to invoke his five-year imperium and avoid prosecution, Caesar was about to alter the geographic landscape of the ancient world.

The Gallic Wars

Now the Romans really had no reason to conquer northern and central Europe. The people who lived there -- the Germans and the Celts -- were a tribal, semi-nomadic people. The province of Illycrium provided a territorial buffer to defuse any threat from these people. But Caesar embarked on a spectacular war of conquest anyway. In a series of brilliant campaigns, he added a considerable amount of territory to the Roman Empire in northern France, Belgium, and even southern Great Britain, subjugating the Celts in all these territories. By the time he had finished his conquests, however, the Triumvirate had dissolved. Crassus had died in a war against the Parthians in the Middle East, and Pompey had turned against Caesar, rousing the Senate against him.

Julius Caesar took official command of his provinces in 59 B.C. In Gallia Narbonensis, the stretch of southern France connecting Spain to Italy, the Gallic people had largely been assimilated into Roman culture over the course of the past century. Beyond this territory to the north was a vast land comprising modern France, called Gallia Comata (long-haired Gaul), where loose confederations of Celtic tribes maintained varying relationships with Rome. These Celtic tribes, while primitive compared to Roman standards, had had an active trade with the Roman frontiers. For the most part, a general peace had reigned for the better part of the last century, but external pressures from Germanic tribes started unsettling the relative calm.

The Romans, however, had a long memory; fear of Gallic invasions that had led to the sacking of Rome in the early 4th century B.C. was ever present. Additional tribal migrations of the Germanic Cimbri and Teutons in the late 2nd century, though defeated by Caesar's uncle Gaius Marius, merely confirmed those fears.

Caesar's campaigns in Gaul began in 58 B.C., when the Helvetii and several neighboring Celtic peoples, under pressure from various Germanic tribes, began a mass migration from their home in Switzerland to Aquitania (western FrancE). In order to do so, however, the Helvetians would have to march not only through Roman-controlled territory, but through that of the Roman-allied Aedui tribe as well. Fearing plunder, Caesar forbade their passage. According to Caesar, nearly 370,000 tribesmen were gathered, 70 percent of whom were women, children and other non-combatants. Before leaving, the Helvetii burned their villages and destroyed what foodstuffs and other commodities could not be taken with them, thus making certain that they were committed to the endeavor.

Somewhere near the Aedui capital of Bibracte (in modern-day Burgundy), Caesar and his six legions (about 30-35,000 men) crushed the Helvetii, slaughtering the enemy wholesale with little regard for combat status. Once the Helvetii had been driven back to their homes, Caesar then turned on a former ally, Ariovistus, and his German tribe, the Sequani, who had crossed the Rhine River and begun threatening the Aeduian allies of Rome. Ariovistus was quickly defeated in a single battle, even though the Germans were ferocious fighters. To inspire his men, Caesar delivered a rousing speech in which he specifically praised his famous 10th legion, suggesting that if the others were too frightened, he would go into battle with only this one. This inspired the army, and Caesar chased the Germans back across the Rhine. Thus began eight successive years of largely successful campaigns that would secure Gaul for Roman control.

In 57 B.C., Caesar marched his troops northwards to deal with the Belgae, another Celtic tribe living in northeastern Gaul on the west bank of the Rhine (in what is now modern-day Belgium). They were apparently preparing to attack the Roman forces, as they feared Caesar might otherwise conquer all of Gaul.

To combat this threat, Caesar hurried raised two new legions (the 13th and 14th), bringing his total to eight. The Belgae began to attack the town of a tribe allied with Caesar, but Caesar moved to protect it. In an example of Caesar's brilliant ability to out-march any known army, he surprised the enemy and crushed the attack in a hard-fought affair. For Caesar, this was not only a victory in the field, but a political and propaganda win as well. By defending his "allies" from aggression, he could now claim the necessary legalities to continue the war against the Belgae.

Caesar soon learned that another Belgae tribe, the fearsome Nervii, along with three other tribes, were forming against him on the opposite side of the Sambre River. While the main part of the Roman army were making camp along the river, with the two newest legions bringing up the rear with a slow-moving baggage train, Caesar sent out his cavalry on a scouting mission, apparently unaware of the massing enemy in the surrounding forests. The Belgae, seeing the Roman cavalry away, launched a surprise attack.

Hard pressed to maintain their ground, the legions were nearly surrounded by the Nervii and their allied tribes, who threatened to destroy Caesar's army. Caesar's timely intervention, however, as he personally stood and fought with his men, helped Roman discipline maintain itself. Thus, Caesar's personal intervention (along with the timely return of the Roman cavalry and the two legions with the baggage train!) saved the day and the Belgae warriors were soon in mass flight.

Another tribe, however, arriving late to the battle, fled intact to its lands with Caesar in pursuit. Arriving at the fort, where the tribe had walled itself in, Caesar showed a strategic brilliance in siege warfare that would be highlighted at Alesia three years later. The Romans built a 12-foot high, 15-mile-long siege wall around the entire fort and constructed siege weapons to ram the fort's walls. Caesar then offered peace and freedom to maintain their lands if they would submit and give up their arms. Initially the tribe agreed, casting their weapons out of the fort and opening the gates to the legions. Caesar then ordered his men out of the fort to prevent unnecessary looting. During the night, however, thinking that the Romans had lowered their guard in light of the surrender, the Belgae warriors stormed the Roman lines. But the attempt failed. Nearly 4,000 men were killed, with the rest retreating to the fort. In the first of many perceived brutalities, Caesar would be merciless with the Belgae who betrayed him. The next day, the Romans quickly captured the fort and some 53,000 people were sold into slavery, virtually wiping out the tribe.

At this point, one of Caesar's lieutenants, Publius Licinius Crassus, returned from campaigns against various Gallic tribes, informing Caesar that this northwestern section of Gaul was completely under Roman dominion. Though this was not quite true, it served Caesar's purpose, as he next negotiated cooperation with various bordering Germanic tribes to ensure the stability of his gains. Word was sent back to Rome, and despite opposition to his politics, Cicero himself pushed through an unusual Supplicatio, or public offering of thanks, for Caesar. Typically, these lasted only five days; Pompey had received ten days for his conquest of the East. Caesar, however, received 15 days, marking a very strange concession to the man who was so reviled by the Senatorial conservatives.

Meanwhile, Politics Call

When Caesar began his Gallic campaigns, the political situation in Rome was in his favor. In 58 B.C., Clodius, who had scandalized Caesar's home just a couple of years before, was Tribune of the Plebs. An avid supporter of Caesar, he enacted new laws granting himself and the populares more power. In his greatest coup, he forced the exile of Cicero, who had prosecuted Clodius earlier, using Cicero's role in the "murder without trial" of Senators during the Catiline Conspiracy as an excuse. He also managed to remove Cato, another enemy, from the political scene by sending him off to annex Cyprus.

But Clodius' support wouldn't last long. Drunk with power and interested only in advancing his own cause, he had fallen out with Pompey. He supported armed street gangs in his interest, while Pompey used the Tribune for 57 B.C., Titius Annius Milo, to hire gangs of his own as a counter measure. Pompey and the current Consul wanted Cicero to return from exile to help stabilize the situation and Cicero was finally allowed to return by the early summer of 57 B.C. Caesar, now having fallen out with Clodius, made no opposition. On his return, Cicero was generally supportive of the Triumvirate. And his voting Caesar a 15-day period of thanks for his defeat of the Belgae seems to indicate Cicero's gratefulness for the recall.

Meanwhile, the gangs of Clodius and Milo were running out of control and both men tried to prosecute one another. By 56 B.C., Clodius and Cicero joined with the optimates of Bibulus and Cato in blaming all the problems in Rome on Caesar's Consulship of 59 B.C. Caesar's measures while in office were mercilessly attacked, and his command in Gaul was seriously threatened.

To deal with the situation, Caesar met with the two other triumvirs in April 56 B.C. in the town of Luca in Cisalpine Gaul, joined by up to 200 Senators (which indicated that the "triumvirate" was a much larger coalition than just three men). There it was decided that Caesar's governorship was to be extended for another five years (in order to ensure safety from recall and prosecution) and that Crassus and Pompey would once more be Consuls.

With the matter resolved, Crassus and Pompey returned to Rome to stand for the Consular elections of 55 B.C. Despite bitter resistance from the optimates, the two were eventually confirmed, with Pompey receiving Spain as his province and Crassus getting Syria. Pompey, jealous and likely concerned over Caesar's growing army, wanted the security of a provincial command with legions, and Crassus wanted the opportunity for military glory and plunder to the east in Parthia..

The gang wars of Clodius and Milo relaxed for a time, and Cicero relaxed his outspoken opposition. However, almost as soon as Crassus left to govern his province in late 55 B.C., things began to unravel and Pompey was forced ever closer to the optimates in order to maintain order.

Germany and Britain

Even while Caesar was in Luca meeting with Pompey and Crassus, word began to arrive of Germanic crossings of the Rhine. Caesar, concerned that the incursions would lead to renewal of war in the region, therefore set out for the Rhine "earlier than he was accustomed to do" with his legions, likely in the early spring of 55 B.C. Caesar marched quickly and when he was within a few days march, the Germans sent ambassadors, claiming only to want peace and their own land. When Caesar arrived within 12 miles of the enemy camp, another embassy arrived to beg for more time. This time Caesar partially relented, ordering his cavalry, which was scouting ahead of the main body, to stop action against the Germans.

But when the cavalry found itself under attack, Caesar then launched a full-scale assault on the German camp where some 430,000 leaderless German men, women and children were assembled. The Romans butchered indiscriminately, sending a mass of people fleeing to the Rhine, where many more succumbed to the river. In the end, Caesar claims to have not lost a single man. Of those who survived, many stayed with the Romans in service rather than face the angry Gauls.

With the situation secure on the Gallic side of the river, in June of 56 B.C., Caesar became the first Roman to cross the Rhine into Germanic territory. To do this, he built a monstrous wooden bridge in only ten days, stretching over 300 feet across the great river. This impressed both the Germans and Gauls, neither of whom had any capability in bridge building. Within a short time of his crossing, nearly all the tribes within the region sent hostages to him, along with messages of peace. Only one tribe, the Sigambri, resisted, fleeing their towns rather than submit to Caesar. The Romans burned their villages before hearing word that the Germans were planning to attack. Caesar, deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, returned across the Rhine, burning his bridge in the process, after spending just 18 days in Germanic territory. With this short diversion, Caesar secured peace among the Germans, and moved his legions north to prepare for an invasion of Britain.

The Senate, however, was angered at Caesar's flouting of the rules (as governor of Gaul, he was not entitled to take action against territory east of the RhinE). But Caesar didn't care what his enemies in the Senate thought of him. With the Germans crushed, he turned to Britain in the same year (55 B.C.).

Crossing the Channel to Britain

Aid by British Celts against the Romans in Gaul gave Caesar the excuse he needed to justify this undertaking, but his motives were probably far more personal and political. Much like his crossing of the Rhine, Caesar certainly wanted to be the first Roman to cross into Britain, the farthest reach of the known ancient world. The great mineral wealth of Britain -- metals such as silver, iron and tin -- also were a likely motivation.

In late August 55 B.C., with the 7th and 10th legions (some 10,000 men), Caesar set sail from Portus Itius (modern BoulognE), reaching the British coast off of Dover overnight. Caesar had already been in lengthy discussion with various merchants and other Celts with knowledge of Britain, and the Britons were well aware of the coming expedition. Upon the Roman's arrival, Celtic warriors lined the cliffs of Dover, making a landing impossible. The fleet, forced farther up the coast, landed on a pebbly flat shore near Deal.

Caesar probably expected very little resistance among the locals, and this first trip was very likely only intended as a short show of strength to impress the Britons and arrange for terms. Regardless, the Romans were in serious trouble and had to begin foraging for supplies. It soon became clear to the Celtic chiefs that they had an opportunity to send the Romans back across the channel. With one legion busily working on salvaging and repairing the fleet, damaged by a storm and changing tides, the second was sent out to reap corn in local fields. The British ambushed the foraging legion, and their chariots wreaked havoc. The Romans were simply unable to stand and fight in the disciplined style for which they were trained.

Caesar was impressed by the British method of warfare. In his commentaries, he wrote, "Their manner of fighting from chariots is as follows: First they drive in all directions and hurl javelins, and so by the mere terror that the teams inspire and by the noise of the wheels they generally throw the ranks of soldiers into confusion. When they have worked their way in between the troops, they leap down from the chariots and fight on foot. Meanwhile their charioteers retire gradually from the battle, and place chariots in such a fashion that, if the warriors are had pressed by the enemy, they have a ready means of retreat to their own side."

Though three days of rain allowed the Romans time to regroup, it also allowed the Britons time to share the news of its initial victory, thereby recruiting more warriors for a coming battle. Caesar was in serious jeopardy of losing his first major encounter on foreign soil. When the weather broke, a large Celtic army moved towards the Roman camp. This time, though, Caesar went on the offensive rather than allowing his men to be intimidated by the British chariots. The battle, a rather short affair, ended in victory for the Romans, who pursued the fleeing enemy around the countryside, eventually forcing the local tribes to sue for peace. Caesar then crossed back across the channel.

Though Caesar escaped mostly unharmed, his pride and dignity were surely damaged. Nevertheless, his report back to Rome for this campaign year was impressive. Having crossed the Rhine to Germania and across the sea to Britain, Caesar overcame any faults. Another 20 days of thanksgiving were granted to him for his deeds in 55 B.C., but when he returned to Cisalpine Gaul for the winter, Britain was most definitely still on his mind.

Second Invasion of Britain

At the outset of 54 B.C., Caesar had ordered a massive fleet to be built for a larger second crossing to Britain. This time, though, Caesar made modifications to the ships to allow easier landings for his legions and cavalry. By July of that year, Caesar was finally ready to go. With 800 ships, five legions and 2,000 cavalry (leaving three legions and 2,000 cavalry in Gaul), the Roman fleet was the largest naval landing operation in the history of world, remaining so until the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944.

The sheer size of the Roman force surely intimidated the Britons, who this time allowed the Romans make camp without opposition. After the Romans subdued several local tribes, the main British forces retreated inland with Caesar in pursuit. Following several minor battles, the Romans moved to the Thames, where they won a decisive victory, and the resistance of the local tribes came to an abrupt end.

By September, arrangements for peace had been made, and the Romans returned to Gaul. Though this second invasion of Britain did little more than secure some hostages, tribute and Roman awareness of Britain, it had the significance of being a dignity-saving campaign for Caesar. After virtually retreating from the first expedition a year earlier, this time Caesar was able to claim victory in a land that some Romans probably didn't even think existed.

Gaul Rises Again

On his return from Britain in the autumn of 54 B.C., Caesar faced a large revolt of the Belgae, so he spent the rest of that year and the following one subduing the rebellious tribes that had risen against him. He also received word that his daughter Julia, wife of Pompey had died in childbirth, an event that carried both personal and political ramifications. With her death, Pompey drifted ever closer to Caesar's enemies, the boni. Shortly after, Caesar also received the news of the death of his mother Aurelia. With the Gallic revolt on the horizon, and the recent tragic news, 54 B.C. was shaping as a terrible year for Caesar.

For now though, despite his personal and political losses, Caesar had to deal with revolts in Gaul and renewed trouble with Germanic tribes. Legions were scattered throughout Gaul for the winter camps. At one camp in particular, a surprise ambush dealt Caesar's legions its first major defeat and opened the door for widespread revolution. The battle against forces led by Ambiorix was a prolonged affair in which the Romans fought valiantly to nearly the last man. Fifteen cohorts, totaling nearly 7,200 men or just under a quarter of Caesar's total force, were slaughtered. Only a few were able to escape and, if not for these men, the story of the lost cohorts may have remained a complete mystery.

After this victory, the Gauls and Ambiorix found it easy to recruit, and the Gallic army swelled to as many as 60,000 warriors. They moved on the camp of Quintus Cicero, brother of the great orator, and laid siege. But Caesar, with a much smaller force of some 7,000 men, was able to defeat the poorly equipped and trained Gauls, although he found Cicero and his men in desperate straits with nine of every ten men wounded.

At the outset of 53 B.C., Caesar trained two new legions and borrowed a third from Pompey, indicating that they hadn't completely fallen out yet, though this could have been done to put Caesar into Pompey's debt. Regardless, Caesar now had ten full legions under his command and he would begin to put them to use in early March. With easy victories over the opposing tribes, northeastern Gaul was under Roman dominion once again, and Caesar was able to focus his attention on the Rhine -- source of many Gallic disruptions.

That summer, Caesar once again bridged the Rhine to pursue Ambiorix and the Eburones. In a few short weeks, the land of the Eburones was decimated, though Ambiorix escaped Caesar's grasp. By the end of the campaign year, general peace seemed to have returned to Gaul, and Caesar was able to revisit Cisalpine Gaul to attend to political and administrative matters. By this time, however, word had arrived of Crassus' disastrous defeat by the Parthians at Carrhae.

Crassus, who had received Syria as his province 55 B.C., would have had an inexhaustible source of wealth had he not also sought military glory and crossed the Euphrates in an ill-fated attempt to conquer Parthia. His legions were defeated at Carrhae (modern Harran in Turkey) in 53 B.C. by a numerically inferior Parthian force consisting mainly of armored heavy cavalry and horse archers, against which Crassus was unable to maneuver. Following the battle, he was taken prisoner by the Parthian general Surena. Noting that Crassus, the richest man in Rome, had still attacked Parthia for no other reason than to loot its wealth, Surena executed him by forcing him to swallow molten gold.

Gaius Cassius Longinus, a general under Crassus, led the 10,000 surviving soldiers from the battlefield back to Syria, where he governed for two years defending Syria from attacks. He would eventually defeat the Parthians and receive praise from Cicero for his victory. Cassius would later play a key role in the conspiracy to assassinate Julius Caesar.

(As a side note, an important implication of the battle at Carrhae was that it opened up the European continent to a new and beautiful material: Silk. The Romans who managed to survive the battle reported seeing brilliant, shimmering banners (apparently made of silk) used by the Parthians as they slaughtered the fleeing legions. Subsequently, interest in Europe grew for this material and trade routes were eventually extended from China to Western Europe. This effectively marked the beginnings of the Silk Road, one of the greatest and richest trade routes in history.)

By early 52 B.C., the situation in Rome had grown much worse. Mob violence prevailed and elections were delayed once again. The conflict between Clodius and Milo eventually resulted in the murder of Clodius and the trial of Milo, who was then exiled. In this emergency, Pompey wanted a dictatorship, but the optimates or "boni" -- still concerned over Pompey's loyalties -- instead made him sole Consul for the year. Pompey then married into the boni clan and was clearly leaning toward Caesar's enemies. A law was passed in which magistrates were once again forced to run for office only if they were present in Rome. Pompey had previously said that an exception would be made for Caesar to protect him from his enemies and allow him to regain imperium through public office at the end of his Gallic term. As the boni were anxiously awaiting his term to run out, which would force him to return to Rome without the protection of his legions, this clause was of paramount importance to Caesar. However, the exception was "accidentally" left out of the final draft and it was becoming painfully clear that the boni intended to cut down Caesar's career at any cost.

Vercingetrorix and the Siege of Alesia

In 52 B.C., Gaul arose once again in a massive revolt against its conqueror. Under the Arverni chief Vercingetorix, almost all the tribes of Gaul were allied against the Romans. At first, Vercingetorix achieved some advances. Caesar, who had spent the winter in Cisalpine Gaul, now hurried -- at great danger to himself -- to join his troops, immediately launching attacks on Vercingetorix's allies, overrunning one after the other.

Suffering a temporary setback at the fortified hill town of Gergovia, Caesar withdrew across the Allier River. Sometime in early September 52 B.C., Vercingetorix attacked the Romans with his cavalry near Divio (modern Dijon) from both the front and rear of the Roman column. Caesar countered the Gauls with his Germanic cavalry and shattered them, sending them racing back to their own infantry lines.

Vercingetorix and his Gallic army of some 80,000 men were in shock from attacks by Caesar's Germanic cavalry allies. In no condition to meet the 60,000 Roman legionaries on the open battlefield, Vercingetorix and his army retired to the well-fortified hill town of Alesia and prepared to meet Caesar's coming siege. Caesar then completely encircled the town, building walls, ditches and forts of various sizes stretching for a total length of 10 miles.

Caesar himself gave a detailed explanation of the construction: "He dug a trench 20 feet deep, with perpendicular sides, in such a manner that the base of this trench should extend so far as the edges were apart at the top. He raised all his other works at a distance of 400 feet from that ditch. Having left this interval, he drew two trenches 15 feet broad, and of the same depth; the innermost of them, being in low and level ground, he filled with water conveyed from the river. Behind these he raised a rampart and wall 12 feet high; to this he added a parapet and battlements, with large stakes cut like stags' horns, projecting from the junction of the parapet and battlements, to prevent the enemy from scaling it, and surrounded the entire work with turrets, which were 80 feet distant from one another."

Although Vercingetorix harried the Roman construction, the legions, accompanied by the fearsome Germanic cavalry, outmatched the attackers and sent them scattering back to their own fort. Caesar next ordered an elaborate system of traps and additional wall defenses. He continued to explain:

"It was necessary, at one and the same time, to procure timber. Having, therefore, cut down the trunks of trees or very thick branches, and having stripped their tops of the bark, and sharpened them into a point, he drew a continued trench everywhere five feet deep. These stakes being sunk into this trench, and fastened firmly at the bottom, to prevent the possibility of their being torn up, had their branches only projecting from the ground. There were five rows in connection with, and intersecting each other; and whoever entered within them were likely to impale themselves on very sharp stakes. The soldiers called these 'cippi.' Before these, which were arranged in oblique rows in the form of a quincunx, pits three feet deep were dug, which gradually diminished in depth to the bottom. In these pits, tapering stakes of the thickness of a man's thigh; sharpened at the top and hardened in the fire, were sunk in such a manner as to project from the ground not more than four inches; at the same time for the purpose of giving them strength and stability; they were each filled with trampled clay to the height of one foot from the bottom: The rest of the pit was covered over with osiers and twigs, to conceal the deceit. Eight rows of this kind were dug, and were three feet distant from each other. They called this a lily from its resemblance to that flower. Stakes a foot long, with iron hooks attached to them, were entirely sunk in the ground before these, and were planted in every place at small intervals; these they called spurs."

Completion of the enclosure took the Romans only three weeks. Vercingetorix ordered some of his cavalry to attempt a break out under cover of darkness to call on nearby tribes to help lift the siege. Caesar, however, is well aware of the plan and, in one of the most brilliant siege tactics in the history of warfare -- and a testament to the skill of Roman engineering -- he ordered a second wall to be built on the outside of the first. This wall, nearly identical to the first in construction and type, extended as much as 15 miles around the inner wall and left enough of a gap in between to contain the entire Roman army. Protected from sally attempts by Vercingetorix and the relief army that was sure to come, the Romans waited.

A massive army -- estimates range from 100,000 to 250,000 -- came in support of their besieged "king" to crush the Romans. Inside Alesia, however, conditions were terrible, with an estimated 180,000 people (including non-combatant women and children) running out of food and many of Vercinetorix' men on the verge of surrender. The relief force arrived just in time, setting the stage for the battle that would make or break Caesar's fortunes in Gaul.

In late September 52 B.C., the battle began. A hard-fought engagement from noon to sunset ensued, with neither side having a clear advantage. Both Romans and Gauls fought with equal valor. October 2 would prove to be the final battle for Alesia. Sometime around mid-day, a force of 60,000 Gauls outside the walls discovered a weakness in the Roman lines and the Gauls on both the outside and inside launched simultaneous attacks on all the Roman works. Overall, the Romans may have been outnumbered as many as six to one. The battle was on the brink of disaster for Caesar. Only the vaunted Roman discipline seems to have prevented a complete rout.

At the height of the battle, Caesar rode hard to aid his troops and took a terrible risk in order to inspire his men. With 13 cohorts, he left the relative safety of the walls and rode outside to attack the Gauls from the rear. Inspired by the sight of Caesar fighting on the outside, the Romans launched a full-scale attack with brilliant success. Sandwiched between Caesar's army at the rear and other legions in the front, the Gauls began to buckle.

The battle -- once very close to marking Caesar's end -- turned into an all-out rout and the Gauls outside the Roman walls were slaughtered. By the end of the action, the Germanic cavalry would virtually wipe out the retreating Gauls, leaving only Vercingetorix on the inside. Forced back into Alesia , with no hope of additional reinforcements and only the starving remnants of his own army, Vercingetorix was forced to surrender. Caesar sat at the head of his lines and waited for the approach of the Gallic chieftain. Vercingetorix and his fellow leaders laid down their arms and surrendered quietly.

Caesar, Master of Gaul

Vercingetorix was offered no mercy. Imprisoned for five years, he was paraded through the streets of Rome in Caesar's triumphal march in 46 B.C., during which he was ritually strangled. The inhabitants of Alesia and the captured Gallic soldiers fared little better. They were given as slaves to the victorious Roman soldiers, who either kept them to help carry baggage, or sold them to the slave traders who accompanied the army.

It took Caesar another year to quell Gallic resistance to Roman rule. Eventually he assembled all the tribal chiefs of Gaul and demanded their allegiance to Rome. By the end of 51 B.C., the Gallic Wars had finally come to an end.

Caesar had proven himself not only to be the greatest Roman conqueror, but had conducted the most brilliant siege tactics witnessed by history. He conquered over 350,000 square miles of territory, killed over 1 million Gauls and enslaved a nearly equal number. Of the original estimated population of 3 million Gauls, only one-third remained after the wars of Caesar.

He bridged the Rhine not once but twice, and crossed the channel to Britain the same number of times, becoming the first Roman to accomplish both things. No Roman had ever accomplished so much, and yet been so brutal to an enemy. Vast amounts of wealth and slaves were brought back to Rome, and Gaul remained from that time on a loyal and generally Romanized province of the growing empire.

When Caesar had finished his series of brilliant campaigns, he had also changed the nature of the Roman Empire from a purely Mediterranean realm into a western European empire. He had also driven the Empire's frontier up to the mighty Rhine River, a natural, easily defendable border, which would come to be the Imperial border for centuries to come.

Crossing the Rubicon

But things were heating up in Rome and, once more, Caesar was facing a dilemma. In 51 B.C., the Senate had called upon Caesar to resign his Gallic governorship and disband his army or risk being declared an "enemy of the state." The optimates despised Caesar and looked for every opportunity to strip him of his command, including prosecuting him for conducting an illegal war into Germania that the Senate had never authorized.

The optimates believed that prosecuting Caesar -- whether the goal was death, exile or just a symbolic limitation of his power -- would prevent his re-establishment of the populares agenda that he so successfully instituted during his previous Consulship. The years 50 and 49 B.C. were pivotal because Caesar's "imperium" -- or safety from prosecution -- was set to expire. Caesar badly wanted to run for the Consulship in absentia, thereby once again allowing him the transfer of protection granted by his command in Gaul to that of the actual Consulship itself.

On the other hand, the common people loved Caesar. They had little trust in the Senate and Caesar had won them over through his popular agenda while in political office. Also, Caesar's great propaganda campaign, through his books on "The Gallic Wars" that he had sent back to Rome, endeared the people to their almost mythical hero even more.

By this time, however, Pompey, had clearly sided with the optimates. As noted earlier, a law passed in 51 B.C. while Pompey was sole Consul forced a candidate running for office to be present in Rome. And an ancient Roman law forbade any general from entering Italy proper with a standing army. To do so was treason. And if Caesar entered without his legions, he faced Senatorial prosecution. Thus, the dilemma.

The situation continued in a virtual legal stalemate, with neither side willing to budge. On December 2, 50 B.C., the Consuls ordered Pompey to take up command of the legions in defense of Rome against Caesar. The Tribunes -- who represented the people of Rome -- were ignored (along with the Senate in this casE). Though Cicero tried to avert what appeared to be an imminent civil war, he was rebuffed by Pompey. Meanwhile, Caesar waited in Gaul.

Though Caesar's army threatened Rome, it was the Senate that had pushed him into this no-win situation. Caesar's only options throughout were either to surrender willingly and face certain prosecution along the end of his career and/or life, or go to war. Caesar clearly had ambition and, faced with personal ruin and disgrace versus the potential disaster that a civil war could cause the Roman state, Caesar obviously chose his own dignity above that of the eternal city. Clearly the majority of the Senate felt that Rome would hold the loyalty of the people and that Pompey could crush Caesar.

Thus, on January 1, 49 B.C., the Senate rejected Caesar's final peace proposal and declared him a public enemy. Caesar would have to give up his command completely or face war. When this word reached Caesar, he marched south with the 13th Legion from Ravenna towards the southern limit of Cisalpine Gaul's border in today's northeastern Italy. He arrived around January 11, and stopped on the northern bank of the small river border, the Rubicon.

Caesar contemplated the situation for some time before making his fateful decision. First testing the loyalty of his men, (he had only the 13th legion with him at this point) he gave a stirring speech pointing out the wrongs done to him. With the clear support of his men, Caesar added, "Even yet we may draw back; but once across that little bridge, and the whole issue is with the sword." He is then reported to have muttered the now famous phrase, from the work of the poet Menander, "Alea iacta est" quoted as "Let the die be cast" or "Let the dice fly high." The Rubicon was crossed and Caesar officially invaded Italy, thus starting a civil war.

Caesar quickly advanced to Rome, set up a rump Senate and had himself declared dictator. Throughout his campaign, Caesar practiced -- and widely publicized -- his policy of clemency (he would put no one to death and confiscate no property). Although Pompey had two legions to Caesar's one, he knew Caesar's reserve Gallic legions were on the move. So Pompey and the rest of Caesar's Senate opposition retreated to Brundisium in the Italian heel and from there sailed to the east (Pompey's base of support), abandoning Italy to Caesar.

In a bold, unexpected move, Caesar then led his legions to Spain to prevent Pompey's forces there from joining him in the east. He was said to have declared, "I am off to meet an army without a leader; when I return, I shall meet a leader without an army." After a remarkably short campaign, he returned to Rome and was elected Consul, thus seemingly legalizing his position.

The ensuing civil war was fought between two great generals, Pompey and Caesar. In 48 B.C., Caesar defeated Pompey at Pharsalus in Greece. Shortly thereafter Pompey was assassinated by the Egyptians among whom he had sought refuge. It was here that Caesar met Cleopatra, who would later bear him a son. While Caesar and Cleopatra were enjoying a trip up the Nile, however, Republican forces in Africa and Spain continued to be a threat. Making matters worse, Pharnaces II of Pontus, son of the great Roman enemy Mithridates the Great, was threatening neighboring provinces in the Roman east. So, in 47 B.C., Caesar turned his forces towards Asia Minor in a conquest that was so swift that he described it in three words: "Veni, vidi, vici" ("I came, I saw, I conquered").

After returning to Rome in September 47 B.C., Caesar attended to a variety of domestic issues. Marc Antony, his second in command or "master of horse," who had been governing Rome in Caesar's absence, had done little to contain the continuing violence in the city. Caesar also had to secure elections as Consul for 46 B.C., as his six-month dictatorship was running out. He also had to quell a revolt of his famed 10th legion, which he again accomplished through his charismatic charm.

The next order of business was Africa, a Republican stronghold. Having fallen out with Marc Antony, his heir apparent, Caesar was ready to take his 16-year-old grand nephew, Gaius Octavius, under his wing. Unfortunately, the young man was in poor health and unable to accompany Caesar as he set off for Africa in December of 47 B.C.

After a brief stop in Sicily, Caesar arrived with seven legions totaling about 30,000 men and 2,600 cavalry. Africa had been a stronghold of Republican resistance since Caesar had crossed the Rubicon. Marcus Porcius Cato, Caesar's bitterest opponent, had been joined there by Titus Labienus, Caesar's former legate; Quintus Metellus Scipio, who had escaped Pompey's defeat at Pharsalus; and King Juba of Numidia. Although the Republicans greatly outnumbered Caesar, their commands were split and no man wanted to yield overall command.

After several minor battles, Caesar -- with a mostly veteran army with unquestionable loyalty -- routed the Republicans. Both Labienus and Scipio managed to escape, Scipio fleeing to Utica kin Sicily, where Cato commanded the garrison. Caesar followed immediately and, when news of the Republican defeat reached Cato on April 9, 46 B.C., he retired to his private chambers and fell on his own sword, rather than bow down to Caesar. Although attempts were made to save his life, it was said that Cato, the bulwark of Roman Republican ideals, ripped out his own organs in order to ensure death. Caesar was later quoted by Plutarch as saying, "Cato, I must grudge you your death, as you grudged me the honor of saving your life."

Over the next two months, African resistance was squashed. King Juba, who had fled with his 30,000 men before the battle of Thapsus, committed suicide. Scipio was killed in a naval engagement and Labienus went to Spain. By July 46 B.C., Caesar, having conquered Africa and Numidia, arrived back in Rome -- once again victorious.

The first order of business, before forcing through various reforms, was his long-awaited triumphs. The four triumphs of Julius Caesar marked his victories over Gaul, Egypt, Pontus and Africa, and were the greatest that Rome had ever seen. Spectacularly elaborate, the celebration lasted ten full days at the end of September 46 B.C. It was estimated that the display of spoils in the processions totaled over 300 million sesterce, which was partially doled out to Caesar's veterans and the population of Rome. His veteran soldiers received 5,000 denarii (20,000 sestercE) each, centurions received 10,000 and tribunes 20,000 denarii each. Roman citizens received 300 sesterce each, were treated to a lavish dinner and were additionally given a free grain and oil dole. The games, held in the Circus Maximus, were spectacular as well. Over 1,000 gladiators fought in combat, countless animals were slaughtered and the Campus Martius was flooded to stage a mock naval battle. Although these triumphs of Caesar did much to secure the love of the people, they did not win over the Senate.

Before and after the triumphs, Caesar began to work on the social ills that had plagued Rome since the time of the Gracchi, nearly a century before. He first declared a general pardon for any citizens who had taken up arms against him in the civil war, which alleviated many fears. He carried out a census of the city, which enabled him to reduce the free grain dole. He forced large farm owners to hire at least one-third of their labor from free citizens rather than slaves, thus ensuring work for the landless poor. Additionally, new colonies were founded all over the provinces, eventually sending out nearly 80,000 of the poor to more productive destinations.

Many Greek doctors and teachers were granted full citizenship to encourage education and continued emigration of desired non-Romans. He next focused on the mismanagement of the provinces, limiting the terms of provincial governors to one year for propraetors and two for Proconsuls. He also appointed governors of known moral scruples. Tax policies were reformed. Great building works were begun, including a new and grand marble forum bearing his name and a new temple to Venus.

Perhaps the most important reform made by Caesar was the calendar, adding ten days per year to bring it in line with the solar cycle, rather than lunar, also bringing it into proper alignment with the seasons. And Caesar's ego came through again, as he renamed the month of Quintilis to Julius, or July, to honor himself.

He was granted the permanent right to sit in a Curule chair for Senate meetings, previously reserved for the Consuls, and was given the right to speak first. He was allowed to start every race in the Circus Maximus, and a statue of him was placed on the Capitol facing Jupiter. He was granted a form of the censorship that would last for three years, rather than the standard one and a half. More importantly, he accepted the dictatorship, granting him nearly absolute power for a period of ten years.

Despite all this, there was still trouble in Spain. The sons of Pompey the Great -- Gnaeus and Sextus -- along with Caesar's former legate Titus Labienus, continued to oppose Caesar, recruiting 13 legions in Spain along with 6,000 cavalry. A few months after Caesar's arrival with eight legions and 8,000 cavalry, the two armies faced off, and in March of 45 B.C. had some of the most ferocious battles of Caesar's career. Eventually, Caesar's 10th made the difference, overwhelming the retreating enemy and merciless in its zeal to end the war. Up to 30,000 men were slaughtered in the carnage, including Labienus. Although Gnaeus Pompey managed to escape, he was later killed; his brother Sextus fled Spain and became a pirate admiral, disrupting sea trade during the next civil war.

Still, this turned out to be the Caesar's final major victory, and one that effectively ended resistance to his rule. During the mop-up campaign, Caesar was joined by his grand nephew Octavian, at which time the young man probably secured himself as Caesar' heir, certainly learning much about provincial administration from his now all-powerful uncle.

Word of Caesar''s victory in Spain reached Rome, and games celebrating this event were held in April. Caesar also was honored with the right to wear triumphal clothing, including a purple robe (reminiscent of the Roman kings centuries earlier) and a laurel crown, on all public occasions.

By the time Caesar returned to Rome in September of 45 B.C., the rewards and honors heaped on him were irreversibly alienating him from the Senate and Roman elite. Cleopatra was another thorn in the side of Caesar's opponents. Though not allowed to live within the city limits (no king or queen were allowed within the city walls, stretching back to the expulsion of the Tarquinian dynasty), she was set up in a villa just outside the city proper where she lived in luxury with Caesar's son Caesarion. His preference for a foreign queen versus his own Roman wife certainly did little to endear him to the "boni."

As 44 B.C. began, the rift between Caesar and the aristocrats deepened. He had been named "Father of the Country" and dictator for life. New coinage bore Caesar's likeness. In addition, rumors were circulating that Caesar wanted to be king -- someone even placed a crown on his statue in the Rostra. The thought of a Roman king was anathema to Republican supporters. Conspiracy began to take root and the inevitable end was now only a few months away.

Many Romans, proud of their Republican tradition, deeply resented Caesar's power, and in 44 B.C., on the Ides of March (March 15), a group of conspirators, led by Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus, assassinated Caesar as he entered the Senate in his usual manner: With no bodyguards or protection.

The conspirators felt they were striking a blow for the Republic, fully confident that the Republic would magically reconstitute itself. Caesar had, after all, ruled Rome for a mere two years. Their dreams, however, disappeared in a brutal civil war that would last for 13 years. At the end of the war, the Roman Republic would come to a shattering end, never again to appear on the stage of history.

Civil War and the End of the Republic

When Caesar was killed on March 15 in 44 B.C., Antony had been kept distracted outside the Senate house. He then fled, disguising himself as a slave; yet within a day, seeing that no massacre of Caesar's adherents was underway, Anthony sent his son to Brutus as a hostage and met with some of the assassins at his house. Whether or not he felt true grief for Caesar's murder, there is little doubt he intended to move, quickly, to destroy the conspirators and establish himself in Caesar's place. After a long, pacific speech in the Senate by Cicero, Antony (as Consul) agreed that an amnesty would be declared for the "liberators" while at the same time all of Caesar's legislation would remain in place. Antony then arranged for Caesar's burial (having first secured both his papers and private treasure from Caesar's widow, Calpurnia).

These were the two great mistakes Brutus made: First to permit Antony to live and, second, to permit him to speak during Caesar's funeral, a speech which likely changed history. Shakespeare's magnificent version of the speech was apparently no more electrifying than Antony's own words as related by Plutarch, the Roman historian:

" ...Antony delivered the customary eulogy over [Caesar's body] in the Forum. When he saw that his oratory had cast a spell over the people and that they were deeply stirred by his words, he began to introduce into his praises a note of pity and of indignation at Caesar's fate. Finally, at the close of his speech, he snatched up the dead man's robe and brandished it aloft, all bloodstained as it was and stabbed through in many places, and called those who had done the deed murderers and villains." - Plutarch's words above..

By the time the Forum mob had streamed off to attack the houses of the conspirators on that March night, Antony's position was immensely stronger. Within months, the various conspirators would be forced to leave Italy for their own safety. And, after months of hostile maneuvering, Antony and Octavian -- Caesar's great-nephew, adopted son and protege would be reconciled. With Lepidus -- a Patrician, the governor of Spain and a great supporter of Caesar -- they formed the Second Triumvirate in 43 B.C., and "...divided the rule of the whole world between them as easily as if it had been a family inheritance." - Plutarch.

Unlike the First Triumvirate -- a secret pact among Caesar, Pompey and Crassus under which the three men pledged mutual support -- this new triumvirate was a legal arrangement written into the constitution. In essence a joint five-year-long dictatorship, the three men had ultimate authority to disregard Republican and Senatorial tradition through the use of military force.

One of their first acts was the return of Sulla's dreaded tool: The proscriptions. Though most merely faced confiscation of property, some were killed. One of the first "pricked for death" by the Triumvirs was Antony's old nemesis, Cicero, who had fearlessly and consistently opposed Antony's personal ambitions since the Ides of March. In December of 43 B.C., Cicero was captured attempting to flee to Greece and, much like the proscriptions of Marius and Sulla, had his head and hands cut off and displayed on the Rostra in the Forum. To add insult to injury, and as a symbolic gesture against Cicero's vaunted power of speech, Antony's wife Fulvia pulled out Cicero's tongue and jabbed it repeatedly with a pin.

The Battles of Philippi

In 42 B.C., Octavian and Antony combined their 28 legions, and sailed across the Adriatic and into Greece. Brutus and his fellow conspirator Gaius Cassius Longinus had 19 of their own legions. Brutus and Cassius had been plundering in the east for nearly two full years. Despite having an army made up largely of Caesar's former troops, they had distributed their plunder among the men to secure their loyalty.

Although Octavian was in poor health at the beginning of the campaign, he recovered for the final battle at Philippi. In the opening stages, Antony, often considered second only to Caesar in military ability during this era, had a clear advantage over Cassius, and overran the Republican left. Brutus, however, had nearly equal success against Octavian and pushed his lines back, forcing him to take refuge in a nearby marsh. Cassius, though, unaware of Brutus' good fortune, decided to take his own life, rather than submit to Antony.

Three weeks later, at the second Battle of Philippi, Octavian was seemingly recovered from his illness and commanded his own army, inspiring them with the magic of the "Caesar" name. Embarrassed by their earlier defeat, this time they proved themselves up to the challenge, and they overran Brutus' forces. The battle spelled the end of the Republican cause, and Brutus committed suicide the following day. A great number of those involved in the plot against Caesar also lost their lives at Philippi; and Octavian was brutal in exacting vengeance. Though some escaped to join with Sextus Pompey, a son of Pompey the Great, in his Sicilian stronghold, the battles of Philippi essentially assured the end of Republican government and paved the way for a final conflict between the victorious triumvirs.

After the battles, Octavian marched his army back to Italy. Antony continued east. In light of the altered state of the Roman world, the triumvirs realigned their positions: Antony received the entire East as his new territory, yet retained Transalpine Gaul (southern France along the Mediterranean). Octavian, now moved into the second position among the three, received Spain, Italy, Cisalpine Gaul (northwestern Italy) and the Mediterranean islands. Lepidus, clearly relegated to third, was moved to Africa, where he would essentially linger as a bit player in the remaining days of the Republic.

Antony and the young Octavian would now begin a power dance that would end 13 years later with Antony and Cleopatra dead by their own hands and Octavian, as Caesar Augustus, effectively the sole ruler of the Roman world. By then, most of the men who had surrounded or fought against Caesar were long dead.

A standoff between the armies of Antony and Octavian at Brundisum in Italy's heel in the spring of 50 B.C. resulted in a new agreement between the two men, with both confirming the situation as the status quo. Octavian was ceded Gaul and Antony was reaffirmed as supreme commander of the entire East. Lepidus still languished as a bit player in Africa. As luck would have it, Antony's wife Fulvia -- who had recently conspired with Antony's brother against Octavian -- died and Antony was free to remarry. Cementing his alliance, Antony married Octavian's half-sister, Octavia, and the two returned to Rome together midst a great deal of relief by the masses who were fearful of another civil war.

Sextus Pompey

Sextus Pompey, or Magnus Pius as he called himself, was the son of Gnaeus Pomepius Magnus -- Pompey the Great. Following his defeat by Caesar in Spain, he maintained a stronghold in Sicily and, with a very powerful fleet, a stranglehold on the Roman grain supply. By 39 B.C., Pompey's fleet was causing near famine in Italy.

At Misenum on the Bay of Naples, Antony and Octavian met with him to make arrangements for a peaceful end to Pompey's obstructions. While Pompey certainly wanted to be a major player in the Roman political system, Antony and Octavian preferred bestowing what would amount to honorary accolades. They offered him the Consulship (now a mostly ceremonial position) for 38 B.C., and allowed him to retain control of Sicily and Sardinia as well as the Greek Peloponnesus for a period of five years. His troops would receive retirement benefits similar to those of Antony's and Octavian's, and, most importantly, Pompey's followers, including most of the remaining Republican supporters, would have their proscriptions lifted and be allowed to return to Rome. With the treaty of Misenum set, Antony prepared to move east to begin his Parthian campaign, and Octavian focused on domestic issues.

But very shortly, Pompey complained that the Greek Peloponnesus had been essentially raped of its value prior to his arrival. To add insult to injury, Pompey's Sardinian governor soon defected to Octavian. In retaliation, Pompey's fleets began disrupting the grain supplies once again. Within a year of the treaty of Misenum, the peace had unraveled. But because of that treaty, most of Pompey's support within the Senate had evaporated. Republican holdouts against Octavian and Antony had grown grew tired of Sicilian exile and, with the door to return opened, had come back to Rome and joined either Antony's or Octavian's camps. And Pompey, at this point, was considered to be little more than a pirate.

Meanwhile, Octavian's status continued to rise. Starting just five years earlier as a virtually unknown boy with only the luxury of being named Caesar's heir, he had risen to stand as a joint ruler of the entire Roman world. Through proscription, political cunning and some military bravado, he had built up a considerable amount of support both with the new and old aristocracy. Upon the return of so many exiled Senators and leading families, Octavian sought to make peace and build alliances.

The day after his then current wife, Scribonia (a relation of his now enemy Sextus Pompey), gave birth to his daughter Julia (Julia and not Octavia because Octavian referred to himself as C. Julius Caesar, not Octavian), he divorced her and was impassioned by Livia Drusilla the wife of Tiberius Claudius Nero. On January 17, 38 B.C., Octavian and Livia were married in an arrangement that would last an unprecedented 52 years. Though they never had children of their own, Livia's children by Claudius Nero would eventually inherit the imperial throne. Octavian, seemingly emboldened by his new-found alliances, and in need to impress the population against Sextus Pompey, also adopted a new name to counteract Pompey's military success. From at least 38 B.C. on, Octavian was referred to as Imperator Caesar Divi Filius (or General Caesar, son of a god). In so doing, he further strengthened his relationship to Caesar and pumped up his own military clout, simply through the use of a name.

Things did not go well as the war opened against Pompey. An attempted invasion of Sicily in 38 B.C. had to be aborted due to poor weather. But by the spring of 37 B.C., Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, Consul and lifelong friend of Octavian, had gathered a massive and well- trained fleet. Antony contributed 120 ships of his own in exchange for the transfer of 20,000 troops to be used against Parthia. In setting this arrangement, the two renewed their alliance and made it an official form of government for another five years until 33 B.C. By July of 36 B.C., Agrippa as admiral led Octavian's fleet in a three-pronged invasion of Sicily. Two fleets sailed from Italy, and the oft-ignored Lepidus finally got back into the act and invaded from Africa.

Agrippa turned the tide at the battle of Naulochus in September of 36 B.C. when he utterly defeated Pompey's fleet. Pompey fled to the east and was eventually destroyed by Antony in 35 B.C. Lepidus meanwhile accepted surrender of Pompey's land forces, demanding control of Sicily as a result. Octavian replied with a brilliant stroke of political strategy by bribing Lepidus' men to his own side. Taking Lepidus' nearly 18 legions under his own command, Octavian sent him into partial exile in a small Italian town, where he lived out his remaining years as a relative non-player, holding only the position of Pontifex Maximus, which he had been given upon the death of Julius Caesar. When he eventually died in 12 B.C., the title of head priest of the Roman religion passed to Octavian (by then Augustus) and it thereafter was passed to each Emperor in turn. At this point in 36 B.C., the Triumvirate was officially over, leaving Octavian as the sole ruler of the West and Antony in the East, and though issues were settled for the time being, a monumental clash was inevitable.

By this point, Antony's campaign against the Parthians was not going well and he was forced to retreat, losing nearly a quarter of his men in the process. On the other hand, Octavian was meeting with success in a campaign against Illyrian tribes in the Balkans, and his prestige continued to grow. On the political stage, Antony's relationship with Cleopatra (while still married to Octavia) was beginning to cast him as a sell-out of Roman culture, and Octavian seized this opportunity to publicly chastise him.

So while Octavian was busy solidifying his western popularity through great building and maintenance projects conducted by Agrippa, Antony continued to slip in the views of traditional Romans. He presented great gifts to Cleopatra, including dividing the Eastern Empire among her children. In what may have been the final straw, Antony married Cleopatra, at least by 32 B.C., even before officially divorcing his mistreated virtuous Roman wife Octavia later that same year. Although Caesar had propped Cleopatra up politically, he refused to acknowledge her in any official capacity under Roman law, (as it was illegal for a Roman to marry a foreigner). The door to the final civil war of the Roman Republic was wide open.

War between Antony and Octavian

Since the legal arrangement for the triumvirate expired at the end of 33 B.C., the next year turned into a year of political posturing. Without legal triumvir powers, Octavian technically reverted to no more than a leading member of the Senate, and the Consuls for 32 B.C., who were both Antony supporters, sought to bring Octavian down.

While Octavian was outside of Rome, they launched an attack on his legal position to the convened Senate. What they surprisingly failed to count on was Octavian's support among the army and his boldness in using it. When he returned to Rome, it was quite clear that he was in fact, the unchallenged leader of the West. Not even Antony's supporters attempted to dispute him, and up to 300 Senators fled to Antony, rather than attempt to put up a false front that all was well.

News soon returned to Rome that Antony intended to set up a separate eastern Senate in Alexandria to govern that part of the empire. Octavian seized the opportunity to encourage the rumors that followed. If the people believed that Antony had every intention of making Cleopatra the Queen of Rome and, by virtue of his new eastern Senate, would move the capital to Alexandria, it could do nothing but favor Octavian. But rather than announce war with his rival, Octavian declared war on the perceived cause of all the trouble: The hated Queen Cleopatra,.

As both sides geared up for the conflict, a remarkable show of public support took place. The people of Italy and the western provinces swore an oath of loyalty directly to Octavian, rather than the Roman state. While not giving him any sort of legal power, it did help to clarify that not only did Octavian maintain power through the legions, but also through the good will of the Roman people.

Actium -- the Beginning of the End

Both sides had massive armies at their disposal. But by mid-summer of 31 B.C., the war had worked itself into little more than a stalemate. Antony had marched his army into Greece and the two forces began to take up position against one another. Though the armies were relatively equal, Octavian's fleet was vastly superior. Under the command of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, the proven admiral who excelled in the war against Sextus Pompey, the fleet menaced Antony's supply lines. Octavian wisely refused to give battle with the army, and Antony did likewise at sea. As the summer waned, both sides seemed to settle in for a war of attrition.

However, the stalemate was working decidedly in Octavian's favor. Agrippa's blockade against Antony tightened, and disease swept through Antony's camp. Common legionaries, commanders and Senators switched sides as victory for Octavian seemed only a matter of time.

On September 2, 31 B.C., Antony's fleet desperately attempted to escape the blockade and regroup in Egypt. With his large ships, he sailed out of the gulf of Actium and engaged Agrippa's prepared navy. Though Antony's under-matched forces fought valiantly, they were simply unable to counter Agrippa's superiority. As the tide turned against Antony, Cleopatra seized an opportunity to flee the battle with her own ships that had been held in reserve. As a gap opened in Agrippa's blockade, she funneled through, and was soon closely followed by Antony's command ships. The commanders of Antony's land forces, which were supposed to follow him to Asia, promptly surrendered without a fight. Octavian stood as the master of the Roman world, East and West, and to commemorate his victory, he founded the city of Nicopolis (City of Victory) on that site in Greece.

Final victory, however, would be delayed for a year. Antony had attempted to secure an army in Cyrene, Lybia, from L. Pinarius Scarpus, but Scarpus refused and instead offered loyalty to Octavian. Trapped in Egypt with what remained of his former army, Antony and Cleopatra were forced to await Octavian's arrival. As Octavian marched through Asia, Syria and Judea to establish his authority, Scarpus sailed east towards Egypt to pinch Antony between a two-pronged front.

Death of Antony and Cleopatra

As Octavian approached Alexandria and the opposing armies prepared for what seemed to be the final battle after nearly 20 semi-continuous years of civil war, the engagement turned out to be an anti-climactic affair, much like events at Actium a year earlier. Antony's fleet and cavalry surrendered to Octavian first and were shortly followed by the infantry, once again without major engagement of any sort. As Antony looked on, during this fateful first day of what would become known as the month of August, he was abandoned by his army and his efforts to become sole ruler of the Roman world were lost to the young man who had been virtually unknown just a decade or so before.

Both Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, a week apart. Within a month Octavian was named Pharaoh, and Egypt became his personal possession. Though administered as a Roman province, the personal rule of Egypt and the title of Pharaoh would become a permanent right of each Roman Emperor.

There was still some unfinished business for Octavian. Caesarion, Cleopatra's oldest son by Caesar, was executed to avoid any potential hereditary claims. Cleopatra's other children by Antony were allowed to live and would eventually march in Octavian's triumph. Antony's oldest son by his wife Fulvia was killed, but their younger son was taken in by his step-mother Octavia and he was seemingly favored by Octavian's entire family. Years later, however, he would be executed in 2 B.C. for his scandalous affair with Julia, the daughter of the man who would then be Augustus.

Backed by the name of Caesar and the loyalty of his adoptive father's troops, Octavian finished what Caesar had started, yet was unable to complete: The unification of the Roman Empire under a single man. At the age of 33, the Republic was finally ready to succumb to imperial authority. Years of civil war, and hundreds of years of social strife had broken the will of resistance. Octavian rose above all, not just for being in the right place at the right time, but by expanding upon the strengths and learning from the weaknesses of his predecessors, along with playing the political game with unmatched determination.

The Roman Civil Wars: A Compendium

There were several Roman civil wars, especially during the time of the late Republic. They include:

  • Sulla's first civil war (88-87 B.C.), between Lucius Cornelius Sulla's supporters and Gaius Marius' forces - Marian victory.
  • between Rome and the provinces of Hispania under the leadership of Sertorius - Roman victory.
  • Sulla's second civil war (82-81 B.C.), between Sulla and Marius' supporters - Sullan victory.
  • Caesar's civil war (49-45 B.C.), between Julius Caesar and the optimates (conservative republicans), initially led by Pompey - Caesarean victory.
  • Post-Caesarian civil war (44 B.C.), between the Senate army (led first by Cicero and then by Octavian) and the army of Antony, Lepidus and their colleagues - Truce results in union of forces.
  • Liberators' civil war (44-42 B.C.), between the Second Triumvirate and the Liberators (Brutus and Cassius, Caesar's assassins) - Triumvirate victory.
  • Sicilian revolt (44-36 B.C.), between the Second Triumvirate (particularly Octavian and Agrippa) and Sextus Pompeius, the son of Pompey - Triumvirate victory.
  • Fulvia's civil war (41-40 B.C.), between the forces of Lucius Antonius and Fulvia Antonia (the younger brother and wife of Mark Antony) and Octavian - Octavian victory.
  • Final war of the Roman Republic (32-30 B.C.), between the Western provinces (under the leadership of Octavian and Agrippa) and the East (under Mark Antony and Cleopatra) - Western victory.

After 30 B.C., the Republic was unified under leadership of Octavian. In 27 B.C., Octavian was granted the title of Augustus by the Senate. These two dates are considered to mark the end of the Republic and the birth of the Roman Empire. The next Roman civil war would not be fought until after Nero's suicide in A.D. 68, the year before "the year of the four Emperors." The period of rule by the Caesars was known as the "Pax Augusti" (peace of Augustus), and was the beginning of the era known as the 'Pax Romana" (Roman PeacE).

Caesar, Cleopatra and Marc Antony

No account of Roman history would be complete without the romantic story of Julius Caesar, the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, and Marc Antony, Caesar's eulogizer.

Following his defeat by Caesar at the battle of Pharsus in 48 B.C., Pompey the Great fled to Egypt, where his own horrible fate awaited him. While waiting off-shore to receive word from the boy-king, Ptolemy XIII, Pompey was betrayed and assassinated. Stabbed in the back and decapitated, his body was burned on the shore and his head was brought to the King in order to present as a gift to Caesar. On July 24, 48 B.C., Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus was dead, just short of 58 years old.

When Caesar arrived in Alexandria in pursuit of Pompey, by all accounts to grant him a pardon and welcome him back to Rome, Ptolemy presented Caesar with Pompey's head and his signet ring. Caesar, despite realizing Pompey's death made him the master of Rome, burst into tears at the sight of his rival, former friend and son-in-law.


Cleopatra VII was born in 69 B.C., the third daughter of King Ptolemy XII. Though she would ordinarily have not expected to rise to a prominent role, intrigue and continuing internal conflict eventually thrust her onto the center stage of world politics. Though the reign of the Ptolemies had continually declined since the founding of the dynasty after the death of Alexander the Great, Egypt was still an immensely wealthy and regionally powerful state. Pompey's conquests in the 60s B.C. made Rome the de facto ruler of the East although Egypt at least in theory maintained independence.


"As Caesar comes to Egypt after defeating Pompey in Greece, Cleopatra is desperate -- banished from Egypt by Ptolemy's regent, the eunich Pothinus, she needs to gain the throne of Egypt before her inadequate younger brother convinces Caesar to grant him power. So Cleopatra devises a plan to enter her Egyptian castle, where Caesar has his quarters, rolled up in a carpet. A loyal servant carries her through a secret passageway and into the palace, where they are met by Caesar's guards. They continue into Caesar's quarters, where the carpet is unrolled to reveal the stunning Cleopatra. Caesar is impressed not only by Cleopatra's intelligence, but also by her undeniable charm and sexuality; he then pronounces Cleopatra the sole ruler of Egypt."

Such is the story of the meeting of Caesar and Cleopatra as told by the Roman historian Plutarch. The story's truth remains a mystery, but, while it is likely that Plutarch included it in his account merely for entertainment value, it is only fitting that the alluring Cleopatra meets Caesar with such a grand appearance.


Cleopatra's father, Ptolemy XII, was a weak and cruel ruler. In 58 B.C., he fled to Rome when the people of Alexandria rebelled and overthrew him; his eldest daughter Berenice then took the throne. Three years later, he reclaimed power with the help of Pompey, and Berenice was beheaded. When her father died in 51 B.C., leaving his children in Pompey's care, Cleopatra and her 12-year-old brother Ptolemy XIII inherited the throne.

Queen of Egypt

Cleopatra was 17 or 18 when she became the Queen of Egypt. Despite her glamorous image today, she was far from beautiful, having a long hooked nose and somewhat masculine features. Yet she was clearly a very seductive woman. She had an enchantingly musical voice and exuded charisma. She was also highly intelligent, speaking nine languages (she was the first Ptolemy pharaoh who could actually speak Egyptian!) and proved to be a very shrewd politician.

In compliance with Egyptian tradition, Cleopatra married her brother and co-ruler, Ptolemy XIII. But it was a marriage of convenience only, and Ptolemy was pharaoh in name only for three years. But in 48 B.C., Ptolemy's advisors -- led by the eunuch Pothinus -- stripped Cleopatra of her power and sent her into exile in Syria, along with her younger sister Arsinoe.

Cleopatra and Caesar

Determined to regain her throne, Cleopatra had amassed an army on Egypt's border when Caesar arrived at Alexandria and was presented with Pompey's head. Appalled by the brutal murder, Caesar marched into the city, seized control of the palace, and began issuing orders. Both Ptolemy and Cleopatra were to dismiss their armies and meet with Caesar, who would settle their dispute. But Cleopatra knew that if she entered Alexandria openly, Ptolemy's henchmen would kill her. So this was when she had herself smuggled to Caesar inside an oriental rug. It is said that Caesar was bewitched by her charm.

When Ptolemy saw Caesar and Cleopatra together the next day, he was furious, storming out of the palace and shouting that he had been betrayed. The pharaoh's army -- led by the eunuch Pothinus and Cleopatra's sister Arsinoe -- then laid siege to the palace. The Alexandrian War, which continued for almost six months, ended when Pothinus was killed in battle and Ptolemy XIII drowned in the Nile while trying to flee. Caesar captured Arsinoe and restored Cleopatra to her throne. Cleopatra then married her brother Ptolemy XIV, who was 11 or 12 years old.

Soon after their victory in Alexandria, Cleopatra and Caesar enjoyed a leisurely two-month cruise on the Nile. After the cruise Caesar returned to Rome, leaving three legions in Egypt to protect Cleopatra. She later gave birth to a son, called Caesarion or "Little Caesar."

A year later, Caesar invited Cleopatra to visit him in Rome. She arrived in the autumn of 46 B.C., accompanied by Caesarion and her young brother/husband, Ptolemy XIV. In September, Caesar celebrated his war triumphs by parading through the streets of Rome with his prisoners, including Cleopatra's sister Arsinoe. (Caesar spared Arsinoe's life, but Mark Antony later had her killed at Cleopatra's request.)

Cleopatra lived in Caesar's villa near Rome for almost two years as Caesar showered her with gifts and titles. He even had a statue of her erected in the temple of Venus Genetrix. His fellow Romans were scandalized by his extra-marital affair, as Caesar was married to a woman named Calpurnia.

Knowing that she too was in danger after Caesar's assassination on March 15, 44 B.C., Cleopatra quickly left Rome with her entourage. Before or immediately after their return to Egypt, Ptolemy XIV died, possibly poisoned at Cleopatra's command. Cleopatra then made Caesarion her co-regent.

Cleopatra and Marc Antony

Caesar's death caused anarchy and civil war in Rome. After the Republicans under Brutus were defeated at the Battle of Phillipi in Macedonia in 42 B.C., control of Roman territory was divided among three men: Marcus Antonius, better known today as Marc Antony; Marcus Lepidus, governor of Spain and a staunch supporter of Caesar; and Caesar's great-nephew and adopted son Octavian, who later became the emperor Augustus. Antony received the entire East along with Transalpine Gaul (southeastern FrancE). Octavian received Spain, Italy, Cisalpine Gaul (northwestern Italy), and the Mediterranean islands. And Lepidus was left with Africa.

Marc Antony traveled to the East to secure the loyalty of client kings and provincial governors and, in 42 B.C., he summoned Cleopatra to Tarsus in modern-day Turkey to question her about whether she had assisted his enemies. Cleopatra arrived in style on a barge with a gilded stern, purple sails, and silver oars. The boat was sailed by her maids, who were dressed as sea nymphs. Cleopatra dressed herself as Venus, the goddess of love, and reclined under a gold canopy, fanned by boys in Cupid costumes.

Antony, an unsophisticated, pleasure-loving man, was impressed by this blatant display of luxury, as Cleopatra had intended. Cleopatra entertained him on her barge that night, and the next night Antony invited her to supper, hoping to outdo her in magnificence. He failed, but joked about it in his good-natured, vulgar way. Cleopatra didn't seem to mind his tasteless sense of humor -- in fact, she joined right in. Like Caesar before him, Antony was captivated. Forgetting his responsibilities, he accompanied Cleopatra to Alexandria and spent the winter with her there.

Finally, "rousing himself from sleep, and shaking off the fumes of wine," Antony said goodbye to Cleopatra and returned to his duties as one of the rulers of the Roman empire. Six months later Cleopatra gave birth to twins, Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios. It was four years before she saw their father again. During that time Antony married Octavian's half-sister, Octavia, and they had two daughters, both named Antonia.

In 37 B.C., while on his way to invade Parthia (or Persia, modern-day Iran), Antony enjoyed another rendezvous with Cleopatra, after hurrying through his military campaign. From then on Alexandria was his home, and Cleopatra was his life. He married her in 36 B.C. and she gave birth to another son, Ptolemy Philadelphus.

Meanwhile, back in Rome, Octavia remained loyal to her bigamous husband. She decided to visit Antony, but when she reached Athens where she was to meet him, she received a letter from him cancelling his trip. So Octavia returned home without seeing her husband.

By 35 B.C., the fragile relationship between Antony and Octavian was beginning to unravel. Antony had seemingly begun to take to eastern culture on a grand scale, dressing like an Egyptian, practicing eastern customs while ignoring those of Rome, and doling out great gifts to Cleopatra including ceding the Eastern Empire to her children in 34 B.C. Alexander Helios was named king of Armenia; Cleopatra Selene the queen of Cyrenaica and Crete; and Ptolemy Philadelphus the king of Syria. Caesarion was proclaimed the "King of Kings," and Cleopatra was named the "Queen of Kings."

Outraged, Octavian convinced the Roman Senate to declare war on Egypt. In 31 B.C., Antony's forces fought the Romans in a sea battle off the coast of Actium, Greece. Cleopatra was there with 60 ships of her own. When she saw that Antony's cumbersome, badly manned galleys were losing to the Romans' lighter, swifter boats, she fled the scene, and Antony abandoned his men to follow her.

Upon their return to Egypt, Cleopatra built a mausoleum to which she moved all of her gold, silver, emeralds, pearls, ebony, ivory and other treasure. In 30 B.C., Octavian reached Alexandria and Marc Antony marched his army out of the city to meet him. Stopping on high ground to watch what he expected would be a naval battle between his fleet and the Roman fleet, he instead saw his fleet salute the enemy with their oars and defect. At this, Antony's cavalry also deserted him. His infantry was soon defeated and Antony returned to the city, shouting that Cleopatra had betrayed him.

Terrified that he would harm her, Cleopatra fled to the monument that housed her treasures and locked herself in, ordering her servants to tell Antony she was dead. Believing it, Antony cried out, "Now, Antony, why delay longer? Fate has snatched away your only reason for living." He then stabbed himself in the stomach and passed out on a couch. When he woke up, Cleopatra's secretary came and told him Cleopatra wanted to see him. Overjoyed to hear she was alive, Antony had himself carried to her mausoleum, where he died.

The Death of Cleopatra

Octavian allowed Cleopatra to arrange Antony's funeral and she buried him with royal splendor. After the funeral she took to her bed, sick with grief. She wanted to kill herself, but Octavian kept her under close guard. One day, with Octavian's permission, she visited Antony's tomb. Then she returned to her mausoleum, took a bath, and ordered a feast. While the meal was being prepared a man arrived with a basket of figs. The guards checked the basket and finding nothing suspicious, allowed the man to deliver it.

After she had eaten, Cleopatra wrote a letter, sealed it, and sent it to Octavian. He opened it and found Cleopatra's plea to allow her to be buried in Antony's tomb. Alarmed, Octavian sent messengers to alert the guards that Cleopatra planned to commit suicide. But it was too late. They found the 39-year old queen dead on her golden bed, with her maid Iras dying at her feet. Her other maid, Charmion, was weakly adjusting Cleopatra's crown. "Was this well done of your lady, Charmion?" one of the guards demanded.

"Extremely well," said Charmion, "as becomes the descendent of so many kings." And she, too, fell over dead.

Two pricks were found on Cleopatra's arm, and it was believed that she had allowed herself to be bitten by a poisonous asp that was smuggled in with the figs. As she had wished, she was buried beside Antony.

Cleopatra was the last pharaoh. After her death, Egypt became a Roman province. Because Caesarion was Julius Caesar's son and might pose a threat to Octavian's power, Octavian later had the boy strangled. Cleopatra's other children were sent to Rome to be raised by Octavia. Cleopatra Selene married King Juba II of Mauretania and had two children, Ptolemy and Drusilla. No one knows what happened to Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphus.

The Roman Empire

The Age of Augustus

Augustus called himself "princeps," or "first" (from which we get the word, "prince"); the full title that he assumed was "first among equals." So, in language at least, nothing had really changed in Roman freedom and equality. His successors, however, would name themselves after their power -- the "imperium" -- and deem themselves "imperator" (or "emperor").

Augustus, however, was on a mission to restore order to the Empire. In many ways, he is considered the greatest of all the emperors. He radically reformed the government to curb corruption and ambition; he also extended Roman citizenship to all Italians. While he allowed elections to public office, he rigged those elections so that only the best candidates would fill the office, and so many members of the lower classes entered into government. He resettled his soldiers on farmland, and so agrarian equity was more closely achieved than at any time since the Second Punic Wars.

He also turned the military from volunteers into a standing, professional army; Rome and the provinces became, in essence, a police state. This military presence spread the Roman language and culture throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. And, since Augustus controlled Rome militarily and politically, he put the provinces in the hands of intelligent, less ambitious, and virtuous men. For the first time since Rome began to build its empire, the provinces settled down into peace and prosperity -- a hallmark of the Age of Augustus.

Finally, Augustus began vast projects of building and patronage of the arts. The Roman historian Suetonius quotes Augustus as having said "that he found Rome a city of brick, and left it a city of marble." Under his friend and confidant Marcus Vipsanisu Agrippa, Rome received a major face-lift. Among those projects undertaken were three aqueducts supplying fresh water to the growing city. The original Pantheon, the great temple of the Roman gods, Agrippa's baths, the Saepta Julia and Augustus' Mausoleum were built as well. Improvements to, or complete replacements were constructed for nearly every public building including courthouses, offices and administrative buildings of all kinds.

Perhaps even more importantly, Augustus conducted a major census of the city and provinces, which had long been neglected during the civil wars. Roman culture flourished in a boom of creativity that would make the age stand out culturally as the greatest period in the history of Rome. Two eras in Roman history stand out in particular: The Age of Cicero near the end of the Republic, and the Age of Augustus at the beginning of Imperial Rome.

The Roman Poets -- Virgil, Horace and Ovid

Under Augustus, poets and artists were patronized not by individuals, but solely through the princeps himself. To this end, Augustus appointed a cultural advisor to aid him in extending patronage to poets. The three greatest poets of this time were Virgil (70-19 B.C.), Horace (65-8 B.C.), and Ovid (43 B.C.-A.D.18). Virgil's earliest compositions were a set of pastoral lyrics celebrating artistry and the rural life that were modeled after Hellenistic poetry.

These poems, called the Eclogues, were often blatantly political in nature. In the first Eclogue, Virgil criticizes Augustus' policies of granting agricultural land to soldiers since this displaced poor farmers already living there. However, in the fourth Eclogue, Virgil produces a "prophecy" poem about the birth of Augustus as a savior of the world, bringing peace and law. Since Vergil lived so close to the birth of Christ, the Christians of medieval Europe would interpret the poem as a prophecy about the birth of Christ and give Virgil, a pagan, a kind of honorary status as a Christian poet.

However, Virgil's greatest contribution to Roman literature was the "Aeneid," an epic poem about the founding of Roman civilization by Aeneas, a Trojan hero in flight after the destruction of Troy. The subject of the poem is the greatness of Rome, the Augustan Age, and Roman values. Chief among these values are "piety, respect for authority," "manliness, fortitude in the face of adversity," and "duty." Aeneas represents the Stoic values of suffering in order to bring about a better future; he, like Augustus and the best Romans, is marked by his willingness to sacrifice himself for the greater good of the people and history. For the poem is about Aeneas setting aside his own concerns in order to take care of the people he is taking from Troy -- for the successful migration of the Trojans is a prerequisite to the founding of Rome.

Horace, on the other hand, wrote poems that glorified the Empire and the family of Augustus as well as poems that described the joys and irritations of everyday life in Rome. These latter poems, called satires, largely concern moral evaluations of everyday and mundane behavior.

Ovid, then, wrote primarily about love and sexual looseness; when he wrote a poetic book called "The Art of Love," which was largely a manual on seduction, Augustus misunderstood it and exiled the poet. For the book is not about sexual seduction, but really concerns the difference between ethics (lovE) and art (seduction). Ovid's greatest poem is the "Metamorphoses," which contains a rich accounting of ancient Greek and Roman myths.

Augustus also patronized both art and sculpture with the same passion and fervor as he devoted to poetry and literature. He began enormous building projects, including the Temple to Apollo on the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum.

Imperial Rome - A.D. 14-180

After the death of Augustus in A.D. 14, Rome underwent a series of profound changes. The Empire itself grew dramatically: From Augustus to the time of Trajan (A.D. 98-117), Rome acquired more of northern Africa, most of Great Britain, parts of Germany, and eastern Europe around the Black Sea, as well as Mesopotamia and the northern part of the Arabian peninsula. At home, Rome struggled with its new institution of quasi-monarchical rule. Augustus had fudged the issue by declaring himself "first among equals," or simply "princeps," but his successors simply called themselves either Caesar, to indicate descent from the royal house, or "imperator," since they derived their power from the imperium over Rome and the military. The institution became more like a monarchy after Augustus's death. Augustus had been elected by the Senate, and although this practice remained, actually the early Emperors were simply hand- picked by the current Emperor.

The first five Emperors of Rome were all from the Julian line. Augustus was succeeded by Tiberius (emperor A.D.14-37), who was followed by Gaius, nicknamed Caligula ("little boot" - A.D. 37-41), Claudius ("cripple, lame" - A.D. 41-54), and Nero (A.D. 54-68). Tiberius and then Caligula demonstrated how arbitrarily power could be wielded by the Emperor. Caligula, in particular -- probably due to a nervous breakdown on the death of his sister -- was famous throughout Roman history for his cruelty and delusive behavior. Caligula's demise, however, demonstrated how the Emperor's rule was based on sheer military power. After his assassination in A.D. 41, the Praetorian Guard found Claudius, Caligula's nephew, cowering in the palace and declared him Emperor. All vestiges of Republican rule had been removed.

The final Julian Emperor to sit on the throne was Nero, grand nephew and adopted son of Claudius, who had begun as a brilliantly talented and highly moral youth. It was in the time of Nero that the Romans began to actively persecute, and execute, Roman members of a new eastern, mystical religion: Christianity. Among those executed was one of the early leaders of Christianity, Paul of Tarsus.


The first of these four emperors, Tiberius Claudius Nero, was born on November 16, 42 B.C., into the Patrician Claudia family, which had supplied leaders to the Roman Republic for many generations. From his birth, then, Tiberius seemed destined for public life. More importantly, in 39 B.C., his mother Livia divorced his father and married Octavian, thereby making the infant Tiberius the stepson of the future ruler of the Roman world.

As it turned out, despite this relationship, Tiberius was initially far down on the list of those chosen to be Augustus' successor. First in line was his nephew Marcellus, son of Augustus' sister Octavia by her first marriage, who in 25 B.C. was married to the 14-year-old Julia, Augustus' only daughter. But two years later, Marcellus died of food poisoning. In 21 B.C., Augustus used his daughter Julia to tie Agrippa, his confidant and friend since childhood, into the imperial family by marriage. The union was a fertile one, producing two sons -- Gaius and Lucius -- within four years. Augustus later adopted both of them in a single ceremony in 17 B.C., evidently intending for them to follow their father Agrippa in succession. But Agrippa died in 12 B.C. A year later, Augustus forced a reluctant Tiberius to divorce his beloved wife Vipsania in order to marry Julia, Augustus' daughter and Agrippa's widow. Both of Agrippa's sons later perished in military expeditions, Lucius in A.D. 2 and Gaius in A.D. 4. (The couple also had two daughters, Julia and Agrippa Major, who was the mother of the Emperor Caligula, and another son, Postumus Agrippa, who Augustus left unadopted, evidently to carry on the Agrippa line.) This left Tiberius.

The Succession Game: "Musical Marriage Chairs"

In determining who should succeed the emperor -- which often seemed like a game of "musical marriage chairs" -- here are the players:

Augustus (63 B.C.-A.D. 14), great-nephew and adopted son of Caesar, the first Roman Emperor (ruled 27 B.C.-A.D. 14).
Clodia Pulchra (57 B.C.-??), first wife of Augustus; divorced in 41 B.C.; marriage never consummated. (Augustus sent her back her mother with a letter saying that he was returning her in "mint" condition.)
Scribonia (68 B.C.-A.D. 16), daughter of the union of Sulla and Cornelia, the granddaughter of Pompey the Great, second wife of Augustus (married 40 B.C.) and mother of his only child, Julia Caesaris (Julia the Elder).
The Empress Livia Drusilla (58 B.C.-A.D. 29), third wife of Augustus (from 39 B.C.- A.D. 14) and mother of Tiberius (born 42 B.C.) and Drusus I.
Agrippa (63-12 B.C.), Augustus' long-time friend and confidant; married (1) to Caecillia Attica (37 B.C., produced a daughter, Vipsania Agrippina, the first wife of Tiberius); (2) to Claudia Marcella (28 B.C.); and (3) to Julia the Elder (21 B.C.), three sons and two daughters (see beloW).
Tiberius (42 B.C.-A.D. 37), Emperor A.D. 14-42.
Vipsania Agrippina (36 B.C.-A.D. 20), daughter of Agrippa from his first wife and first wife of Tiberius (married 20 B.C.).
Julia Caesaris (Julia the Elder) (39 B.C.-A.D. 14), only child of Augustus; married three times : (1) to Claudius Marcellus) in 25 B.C., no children; (2) to Agrippa in 21 B.C., producing three sons (Gaius, Lucius & Posthumus [born after Agrippa died]) and two daughters (Vipsania Julia [Julia the Younger] and Agrippina the Elder); and (3) to Tiberius in 12 B.C., no children.
Drusus I (38-9 B.C.), younger brother of Tiberius.
Drusus II (13 B.C.-A.D. 23), son of Tiberius and Vipsania.
Germanicus (15 B.C.-A.D. 19), son of Drusus I (Tiberius' brother) and the daughter of Marc Antony and Augustus' sister, Octavia; married Agrippina the Elder (A.D. 5).
Julia the Younger (19 B.C.-A.D. 29), Augustus' granddaughter, the daughter of Agrippa and Julia the Elder.
Agrippina the Elder (14 B.C.-A.D. 33), another Augustus granddaughter, the youngest daughter of Agrippa and Julia the Elder; married to Germanicus (A.D. 5). This union produced nine children, six of whom lived: Drusilla, Caligula (A.D. 12-41, Emperor, A.D. 37-41), Drusus Caesar, Nero Caesar, Julia Livilla and Agrippina the Younger (A.D. 15-59).
Sejanus (20 B.C.-A.D. 31), ambitious close friend and advisor of Tiberius.
Agrippina the Younger (A.D. 15-59), brother of the Emperor Caligula, married three times: (1) to her second cousin and consul Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus (A.D. 28), producing the future Emperor Nero, (2) to the affluent Gaius Sallustius Crispus Passienus, who died A.D. 44-47, leaving his estate to her, and (3) to her own uncle, the Emperor Claudius (A.D. 49 - his fourth marriagE)
, after the execution of Claudius' third wife Messalina due to her part in a failed coup attempt.
Caligula (A.D. 12-41), son of Agrippina the Elder and Germanicus; Emperor A.D. 37- 41.
Claudius (A.D. 10-54), son of Drusus I and Antonia, nephew of Tiberius; Emperor A.D. 41-54.
Messalina (A.D. 20-48), third wife of the Emperor Claudius; mother of his son Britanicus and daughter Octavia, who was the first wife of the Emperor Nero.
Nero (A.D. 37-68), son of Agrippina the Younger and adopted son of Claudius, married to Octavia, daughter of Claudius and Messalina; Emperor A.D. 51-68.

And here are the highlights of what happened:

39 B.C. - Augustus divorces Scribonia, marries Livia (the same day his daughter, Julia the Elder, is born).
21 B.C. - Julia the Elder marries Agrippa.
20 B.C. - Tiberius marries Vipsania Agrippina (Agrippa's daughter by his first marriagE).
17 B.C. - Augustus adopts his grandsons Gaius and Lucius as his sons (and potential heirs).
16 B.C. - Drusus I (Tiberius' brother) marries Antonia Minor, daughter of Marc Antony and Augustus's sister, Octavia Minor. Their children are Germanicus, Julia Livilla and the future Emperor Claudius.
12 B.C. - After Agrippa's death, Augustus orders Tiberius to divorce Vipsania and marry his daughter Julia the Elder, Agrippa's widow.
6 B.C. - Tiberius withdraws from public life to the island of Rhodes.
2 B.C. - Augustus exiles his daughter Julia the Elder for adultery (in A.D. 8, he exiles his granddaughter Julia the Younger for the same reason).
A.D. 2 - Lucius dies.
A.D. 3 - Gaius killed in Armenia; Augustus adopts Tiberius as son; Tiberius adopts Germanicus as his son as part of the deal.
A.D. 14 - Augustus dies; Tiberius named Emperor.
A.D. 15 - Sejanus assumes control of the Imperial Guard.
A.D. 19 - Germanicus dies in the East; Syrian Governor Piso is accused of murder.
A.D. 23 - Drusus II (Tiberius' son) dies; Sejanus consolidates Imperial Guard in Rome.
A.D. 25 - Sejanus asks for permissiion to marry Julia Livilla, Drusus' widow; Tiberius refuses.
A.D. 26 - Tiberius goes to the Isle of Capri; leaves Sejanus in control in Rome.
A.D. 30 - Sejanus is finally betrothed to Livia Julia (Tiberius' granddaughter), daughter of Julia Livilla and Drusus II..
A.D. 31 - Tiberius sends a letter to the Senate that first praises Sejanus, then calls him a traitor. Sejanus is arrested and executed by Macro, newly appointed by Tiberius to head the Imperial Guard.
A.D. 32-33 - Witch-hunt ensues with Sejanus' family arrested and executed; Livilla perishes; followers and friend of Sejanus are denounced, imprisoned and often executed.
A.D. 37 - Tiberius dies on the Isle of Capri; his nephew Gaius (Caligula) becomes Emperor.
A.D. 41 - Claudius is declared Emperor following the assassination of Caligula.
A.D. 49 - Agrippina the Younger becomes the fourth wife of the Emperor Claudius after his third wife (Messalina) is put to death for her part in a coup attempt; Claudius adopts Agrippina's son, Nero.
A.D. 54 - Nero becomes Emperor after Claudius' death, who some say was poisoned with mushrooms by Agrippina the Younger to ensure her son's accession as Emperor. .
A.D. 59 - Agrippina the Younger is beaten to death by Nero's soldiers, following several previous unsuccessful efforts to kill her.

An enigmatic and darkly complex figure, Tiberius was intelligent and cunning, but given to bouts of severe depression and dark moods. At the age of 17, he became a Quaestor and was given the privilege of standing for the Praetorship and consulship in 25 B.C., five years in advance of the age prescribed by law. Five years later, he was sent by Augustus to the East where he oversaw one of his stepfather's proudest successes: The Parthians, who had captured the legion eagles -- or military standards -- that had been lost in the failed eastern campaigns of M. Crassus (53 B.C.), Decidius Saxa (40 B.C.) and Mark Antony (36 B.C.), formally returned them to the Romans.

After returning from the East, Tiberius was on active duty with his brother Drusus I, combating Alpine tribes. His personal life also had been blessed with a happy marriage to Vipsania Agrippina, the daughter of Agrippa., Augustus's long-standing friend and right-hand man. This union produced a son, also named Drusus (Drusus II).

Tiberius received important military commissions in Pannonia (modern-day Hungary) and Germany between 12 and 6 B.C. and proved very successful in the field. He also was consul for the second time in 7 B.C. But his forced marriage to Julia was having unhappy consequences. Among ancient writers, Julia is almost universally remembered for her flagrant and promiscuous behavior.

So, without warning, in 6 B.C. Tiberius announced his withdrawal from public life and went to live on the island of Rhodes. While his motives are unclear, doubtless the flagrant conduct of Julia played a role, as Tiberius found himself in the predicament of being married to a woman who disdained him as an unequal match, and whom he could not divorce. (In 2 B.C., Augustus permanently exiled his daughter Julia to a barren island because of her adultery, which had undercut his attempts at moral reform. He later exiled his granddaughter Julia for the same reason.) There was also the situation with Augustus's grandsons, Gaius and Lucius, whom Augustus had adopted in the absence of sons of his own. They, and not Tiberius, would preserve Augustus's line. When they became of age, Tiberius would be superfluous,

But with the death of the two apparent heirs, Gaius and Lucius, Augustus called Tiberius out of retirement, reluctantly recognizing him as his successor. And, in A.D. 4, Augustus adopted his stepson at the age of 46, adding the words "This I do for reasons of state." If these words prove anything, it was that Augustus was as reluctant to make Tiberius his successor as Tiberius appeared to be reluctant to become such. In any case, Tiberius was granted Tribunician powers for ten years and was handed command of the Rhine frontier.

As part of the deal, Tiberius, despite having a natural son, was required to adopt his own 18-year-old nephew Germanicus, the son of his younger brother Drusus I, as his heir and successor, thus ensuring succession of a Julian to the purple: Germanicus's children would have Augustus's blood in their veins.

From A.D. 4 to 6, Tiberius again campaigned in Germany. The following three years he spent putting down rebellions in Pannonia and Illyricum. Then he restored the Rhine frontier after Rome's defeat in the Varian disaster. (In A.D. 9, an alliance of Germanic tribes led by a man known in German as Hermann had ambushed and wiped out three Roman legions led by Publius Quinctilius Varus in the Teutoburg Forest. The outcome of the battle convinced Augustus to stop expansion and establish the Rhine River as the northern boundary of the Roman Empire -- and it remained so for the next few hundred years.)

In A.D. 13, Tiberius' constitutional powers were renewed on equal terms with those of Augustus, making his succession inevitable. The elderly Augustus died in August A.D. 14, just a month short of his 77th birthday, following an auspicious 41-year reign that initiated the "Pax Augusta" (a long era of Roman peacE).

The reign of Tiberius abounds in contradictions. Despite his keen intelligence, he allowed himself to come under the influence of unscrupulous men; despite his vast military experience, he oversaw the conquest of no new region for the empire; and, despite his administrative abilities, he showed such reluctance in running the state that he retired entirely from Rome to live out his last years in isolation on the island of Capri.

Upon Tiberius' ascendancy to the throne, the Roman legions posted in Pannonia and Germany, the most powerful concentration of troops in the empire, voiced their complaints about the terms and conditions of their service. Matters escalated into an all-out mutiny that was only repressed by the direct intervention of Tiberius's sons, Germanicus and Drusus. There was bloodshed at both locations, but in Germanicus's sector, Germany, there was particularly chaotic disorder.

But despite a difficult relationship with the Senate and the Rhine mutinies, Tiberius's first years were generally good. He stayed true to Augustus's plans for the succession and clearly favored his adopted son Germanicus over his natural son, Drusus. Germanicus was granted Proconsular power and assumed command in the prime military zone of Germany, where he suppressed the mutiny and led the formerly restless legions on successful campaigns against Germanic tribes in A.D. 14-16. After being recalled from Germany, Germanicus celebrated a triumph in Rome in A.D. 17. That same year, he was granted Imperium Maius over the East and, in A.D. 18, after being consul with Tiberius as his colleague, he was sent to the East, just as Tiberius himself had been almost four decades earlier.

Unfortunately for Tiberius, Germanicus died there in A.D. 19 and, on his deathbed, accused the governor of Syria, Cnaeus Calpurnius Piso, of murdering him. Piso was a long-time friend of Tiberius and had been appointed by him to the Syrian governorship, so suspicion for Germanicus's death ultimately came to rest at the palace door. When Germanicus' widow, Agrippina the Elder, returned to Italy carrying her popular husband's ashes, she publicly declared Piso guilty of murder and hinted at the involvement of more hidden agents. Piso was put on trial in the Senate on charges of bribery of the troops, abandonment of the province and insults against Germanicus. He expected some help from his friend, Tiberius, but instead the Emperor let the proceedings take their course. As told by the historian Tacitus, Piso realized his peril and threatened to make public certain documents that would embarrass the emperor. The ploy failed; Piso either committed suicide or was murdered, and the documents were never made public.

As a result, relations with Germanicus's family were strained, but they reached a breaking point later when Tiberius allowed a trusted advisor to get too close and gain a tremendous influence over him. That advisor was the Praetorian Prefect, Lucius Aelius Sejanus, who would derail Tiberius's plans for the succession of his own son Drusus and drive the Emperor farther into isolation, depression and paranoia.


Sejanus, an Equestrian by birth, had connection to the Imperial family almost his entire life, primarily through the service of his father with whom he was head of the Praetorian Guard. In A.D. 16, when his father was appointed as governor of Egypt (the highest political position for an Equestrian at that timE), Sejanus moved fluidly into sole command of the Praetorian Guard. He became one of Tiberius' closest confidants and trusted advisors, a relationship that put him at odds with other members of the Imperial family, including the emperor's son, Drusus.

Within a couple of years of his sole appointment as Praetorian Prefect (commander of the Imperial Guard), Sejanus solidified his position by concentrating all the previously scattered units of the Imperial Guard to within easy reach of Rome. The 9,000 men in the Praetorian cohorts were no longer a force charged with keeping the peace around the Italian towns, but were truly the Emperor's personal guard. By virtue of the size of his command, the Prefect undoubtedly became a very pronounced figure in the Roman system of government and daily affairs. Tiberius himself dubbed Sejanus as his "partner of my labors" and, while this may have been initially true, Sejanus would soon advance his own agenda.

When Germanicus, heir to Tiberius, died in A.D. 19, Sejanus likely began to view himself as a potential heir -- with Drusus the one man standing in his way. Over the next few years, Sejanus impressed Tiberius through his many administrative abilities and the young Prefect continued to be endowed with more power. By A.D. 23, when Drusus died after a short but violent illness (poisoning by Livilla and Sejanus would later be alleged), the way was opened for Sejanus to take an even more prominent role.

After the death of Drusus, Agrippina the Elder -- the widow of Germanicus and granddaughter of Augustus -- became an even more important political player. Through various political schemes, Agrippina began advancing her sons Nero, Drusus and eventually Gaius (Caligula) into positions as heir to Tiberius.

According to the historian Tacitus, Sejanus's first subversive act was the seduction of Tiberius's daughter-in-law, Livilla (wife of his son Drusus). In A.D. 25, two years after Drusus died, Sejanus asked Tiberius for permission to marry Livilla, Drusus's widow. Tiberius refused.

This setback for Sejanus was offset the following year, when the Emperor withdrew from Rome to live on Capri, never again to return to the city. At 64 years of age, and perhaps always yearning for a life of solitude away from Rome (as evidenced by his earlier self-imposed exile on Rhodes), Tiberius once again retired from public life and withdrew to the isolated island of Capri in A.D. 26. Sejanus was left in charge as regent. He would soon use that new power to advance his own personal agenda and nearly destroy the Julio-Claudian line.

With Tiberius absent, Sejanus was now the chief "doorkeeper" for access to the Emperor. Sejanus vented his full fury against Agrippina's family, against whom he had been plotting for some time. In rapid succession Agrippina and her eldest son, Nero Caesar, and eventually her other son, Drusus Caesar, were arrested, convicted, and imprisoned. By A.D. 31, Sejanus was effectively Emperor himself.

Sejanus' attacks against Agrippina and his proposal to marry Drusus's widow, Livilla, suggest that he was attempting to follow the precedent of Agrippa; that is, be an outsider who becomes the emperor's successor through a combination of overt loyalty, necessity and a family alliance forged by marriage.

Although Tiberius rejected Sejanus's initial proposal to marry into the family, in A.D. 30, he agreed to the betrothal of Sejanus to his granddaughter Livia Julia, Livilla's daughter. In A.D. 31, Sejanus also held the Consulship with the Emperor as his colleague, an honor Tiberius reserved only for heirs to the throne. Further, when Sejanus surrendered the Consulship early in the year, he was granted a share of the Emperor's Proconsular power. Sejanus was riding high!

Thus, when he was summoned to a meeting of the Senate in October of that year to listen to a Senatorial letter sent by Tiberius, he probably expected to receive a share of the Tribunician power and therefore, after all, have become "Tiberius's Agrippa." But in a shocking and unexpected turn of events, the rambling letter sent by Tiberius from Capri initially praised Sejanus extensively -- and then suddenly denounced him as a traitor and demanded his arrest! Chaos ensued!

Senators long allied with Sejanus headed for the exits; others were confused. The Praetorian Guard, the very troops formerly under Sejanus's command, had recently and secretly been transferred by Tiberius to the command of Q. Sutorius Macro. Sejanus was arrested, taken to prison, and shortly afterwards executed. A witch-hunt followed. Sejanus's family was arrested and executed; Livilla perished; followers and friends of Sejanus were denounced and imprisoned, or tried and executed; some committed suicide. All around the city, grim scenes were played out. As late as A.D. 33, a general massacre of all those still in custody took place.

Tiberius later claimed that he turned on Sejanus because he had been alerted to his plot against Germanicus' family. But this doesn't quite add up, since the death of Sejanus did nothing to end the persecution of that family. Agrippina and her eldest son Nero were both exiled to tiny islands, her second son Drusus was still imprisoned in the Palatine's basement, and all three died violently within years of Sejanus' fall. So why did Tiberius condemn Sejanus? He had received a letter, likely in A.D. 31 (which somehow managed to get through Sejanus' web of spies) from his widowed sister-in-law Antonia, who Tiberius trusted completely -- perhaps because she had little involvement in political affairs. In her letter, she accused Sejanus of a plot to seize power, and Tiberius, whether he already suspected Sejanus or not, then acted in a manner that confirms this belief. Learning that the Praetorians were still loyal to him and only supported Sejanus because he was Tiberius' regent, Tiberiu secretly made Macro the new commander of the Praetorian Guard. Tiberius then sent him with that letter to be read before the Senate.

The Last Years (A.D. 31-37)

The Sejanus affair appears to have greatly depressed Tiberius. A close friend and confidant had betrayed him. Although letters kept him in touch with Rome, it was the machinery of the Augustan administration -- established over the 41-year-long "Pax Augusta" reign of Augustus -- that kept the empire running smoothly. For the people of the provinces, for whom the Emperor was already a shadowy and distant figure, it was a peaceful and well-ordered time. Generally competent governors behaved themselves, and there were no destructive or expensive wars. One area of administration where Tiberius did diverge from Augustan practice was his increasingly frequent invocation of the treason law (maiestas) to attack his enemies. This legislation was one of Sejanus's chief tools, but Tiberius himself used it liberally. Dozens of Senators and Equites are on record as having fallen to it. It was a precedent followed in later years by Emperors more tyrannical still than Tiberius had ever been. In this sense, the reign of Tiberius decisively ended the Augustan illusion of "the Republic restored."

In his final years, Tiberius spent long hours brooding over the death of his son, Drusus, which had now been revealed to him as the work of his "friend" Sejanus. As a result, no measures were taken for his succession, beyond vague indications of favor to his nephew, Gaius (Caligula), and his grandson, Tiberius Gemellus.

Tiberius died quietly in a villa on Capri in March of A.D. 37 at the age of 78. The level of unpopularity he had achieved by the time of his death with both the upper and lower classes is revealed by the fact that the Senate refused to vote him divine honors, and mobs filled the streets yelling "To the Tiber with Tiberius!" (in reference to a method of disposal reserved for the corpses of criminals).


Caligula's reign was short -- just four years -- with just a few achievements. Mauretania (in northern Africa) was annexed and reorganized into two provinces. Herod Agrippa was appointed governor of Judea. Several riots that took place in Alexandria and other Eastern cities between Jews and Greeks were quelled. Caligula had harbors at Rhegium and Sicily improved and had grain imports from Egypt increased. He had public works completed, temples built and walls repaired. Caligula was also reluctantly described by sources as an excellent speaker, very persuasive and generally popular with the Roman people.

Caligula was born as Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus in A.D. 12 at the resort of Antium (modern Anzio), the third of six children born to Augustus' adopted grandson Germanicus and Augustus' granddaughter, Agrippina the Elder. Germanicus was the son of Antonia and Drusus, the younger brother of Claudius. Agrippina was daughter of Agrippa and Julia the Elder. Of their children who lived to maturity, they had two other sons (Nero and Drusus), and three daughters (Julia Livilla, Drusilla and Agrippina the Younger).

As a baby of just two or three, he accompanied his parents on military campaigns in the north of Germania and became the mascot of his father's army. Because of the small boots he wore as part of his costume, he was soon given his nickname "Caligula" (or CaligulaE), meaning "Little [Soldier's] boots" in Latin.. He would end up hating this name, but he also hated the name "Gaius."

When his father Germanicus died under suspicious circumstances in A.D. 19 in the East, relations between his mother, Agrippina the Elder, and his grand-uncle, the reigning Emperor Tiberius, deteriorated irretrievably, and the adolescent Caligula was sent to live first with his great-grandmother, the Empress Livia, in A.D. 27 and then, following Livia's death two years later, with his grandmother Antonia. In A.D. 31, Caligula was remanded to the personal care of Tiberius on Capri until the death of Tiberius in A.D. 37.

When Tiberius died on March 16, A.D. 37, his estate and the titles of the Principate were left to Caligula and Tiberius' own grandson, Tiberius Gemellus, who were to serve as joint heirs. The historian Suetonius writes that the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard smothered Tiberius with a pillow to hasten Caligula's accession, much to the joy of the Roman people. Caligula was loved by many because he was the son of the popular Germanicus, but also because he was not Tiberius. Moreover, he was, unlike Tiberius, a direct blood descendant of Augustus, and therefore related to Julius Caesar. He was also a great-grandson of Mark Antony.

His first acts were said to be generous in spirit, though likely political in nature. He granted bonuses to the Praetorian Guards, declared that treason trials were a thing of the past, recalled exiles, and helped those who had been harmed by the Imperial tax system. He was also known to put on lavish spectacles for the public, such as gladiator battles. These acts initially won him favor from the public. Furthermore, he revived free elections for the populace.

On becoming Emperor, Caligula performed a spectacular stunt at the Bay of Naples. He ordered a temporary floating bridge to be built using ships as pontoons, stretching for over 2 miles from the resort of Baiae to the neighboring port of Puteoli. It was said that the bridge was to rival that of Persian King Xerxes' crossing of the Hellespont. He then proceeded to ride his favorite horse, Incitatus, across, wearing the breastplate of Alexander the Great. This act was in defiance of Tiberius' soothsayer Thrasyllus prediction that he had "no more chance of becoming Emperor than of riding a horse across the Gulf of Baiae."

His popularity was immense. Yet within four years he lay in a bloody heap in a palace corridor, murdered by officers of the very guard entrusted to protect him. What went wrong? The ancient sources are practically unanimous that insanity was the cause of Caligula's downfall, though they differ as to how this condition came about. But all agree that after his good start Caligula began to behave in an openly autocratic manner, even a crazed one. Outlandish stories cluster about the raving emperor, illustrating his excessive cruelty, immoral sexual escapades and outright disrespect toward tradition and the Senate.

One popular and widely reported tale -- though untrue -- claims he appointed his favorite horse to the Roman Senate and attempted to name him as a Consul. Caligula is also often accused of incest with his sisters, most notably his younger sister Drusilla, but again there is no concrete proof to support this. Known for his extreme extravagance, eccentricity, depravity and cruelty, he is remembered as a despot. The name "Caligula" itself has become synonymous with wanton hedonism, cruelty, tyranny and insanity.

In A.D. 40, Caligula announced his self-deification, building temples and erecting statues, even in Rome, to his glorified self. He even ordered that a statue of himself be placed in the Temple of Jerusalem and the Jews be forced to worship him (the procurator wisely postponed executing this order, and it had not yet been carried out when Caligula was assassinated).

Following at least three failed conspiracies against Caligula that were thwarted by the Praetorian Guard, eventually a successful murder was planned by officers within the Guard itself. The plot is said to have been planned by three men, but many in the Senate, army and Equestrian order were aware of it. On January 24, A.D. 41, the Praetorian Tribune Cassius Chaerea and other guardsmen caught Gaius alone in a secluded palace corridor and cut him down. He was 28 years old and had ruled three years and ten months.

Caligula's wife, Caesonia, and their young daughter were also killed. The Praetorian Guard proclaimed his uncle Claudius the new emperor, and the Senate subsequently ratified this action. Caligula's brief reign also demonstrates the significant role that the Praetorian Guard was beginning to play in the Empire. Under Tiberius, the Prefect Sejanus had come dangerously close to achieving his goal of succeeding Tiberius as emperor. The subsequent Prefect, Macro, had helped Caligula secure his power. Caligula himself was assassinated because he had made a mockery of the military, thus alienating the leaders of the Guard. It is likely that the Senatorial conspiracy would not have succeeded if the Guard had remained loyal to Caligula. Finally, it was the Praetorian Guard that quite openly chose Claudius to succeed Caligula.


As news of Caligula's assassination spread, Senator gathered in haste, several of them ready to press their own claims to the succession, others urging that the moment had come to restore the Republic.

But the Praetorian Guard had its own ideas as to who should take the throne. Claudius, Caligula's supposedly feeble-minded uncle, who had been found hiding behind a curtain in the palace, was dragged to the Praetorian camp, where he was promptly proclaimed Emperor. He was then marched back to the Senate, who had no choice but to confirm the Praetorian Guard's decision.

It turned out that the soldiers had chosen better than they knew. Claudius, sickly in his youth like his great-uncle Octavian, had spent his life as the almost forgotten, seemingly half-witted brother of the great Germanicus. The fourth Roman Emperor, Claudius was born in Lugdunum in Gaul (modern-day Lyon, FrancE), to Drusus and Antonia Minor and was the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy. After Caligula's assassination, he was the last adult male of his family, all the other potential heirs to the throne having been eliminated during the purges carried out in the reigns of Tiberius and Caligula.

But once in office, Claudius proved extremely conscientious. His intentions were excellent, and his political theory, if derived wholly from books -- he had been a voracious reader -- was intelligent. He was "the wisest fool" in Rome, but he kept his wisdom for the state, while his domestic follies made him a figure of contempt to his contemporaries.

Claudius was more than 50 years old when he began his reign (A.D. 41-54). Under his leadership, the Empire enjoyed general prosperity and there were few complaints from the provinces. The Empire also underwent its first major expansion since Augustus. The provinces of Thrace, Mauretania, Noricum, Pamphylia, Lycia and Judea were annexed, but the main achievement was the organized conquest of the south of Britain.

In A.D. 43, Claudius sent four legions to Britain after an appeal from an ousted tribal ally. Britain was an attractive target for Rome because of its material wealth -- particularly mines and slaves. It was also a safe haven for Gallic rebels and so could not be left alone much longer. Claudius himself traveled to the island after the completion of initial offenses, bringing with him reinforcements and elephants. The latter must have made an impression on the Britons when they were used in the capture of Camulodunum, the Britons' capital. He left after only 16 days, but it was a highly successful time, and the Senate granted him a triumph for his efforts. (Only members of the Imperial family were allowed such honors, but Claudius later lifted this restriction for some of his conquering generals. He was granted the honorific "Britannicus," but only accepted it on behalf of his son, never using the title himself.} When the British leader, Caractacus, was finally captured in A.D. 50, he was brought to Rome and allowed to speak to the Senate, where he made such an impression that Claudius granted him clemency and allowed him to live out his life in Italy.

Most Romans naturally were intent on seeing the Roman Empire as a solely Italian institution. But Claudius refused to do so, allowing Senators to be drawn also from Gaul. Such changes intensified his domestic problems. Claudius also reformed the military, granting Roman citizenship to auxiliaries after a service of 25 years. Although introduced by his predecessors, it was under Claudius that it truly became a regular system. Claudius conducted a census in A.D. 48 that found 5,984,072 Roman citizens, an increase of around a million since the census conducted at Augustus' death. He had helped increase this number through the foundation of Roman colonies that were granted blanket citizenship.

But the feature of Claudius' reign most annoying to the Roman elite was the influence of freedmen, for the most part Greeks, who won his confidence -- along with the exploits of his wives. While freedmen had always been a regular part of Imperial and elite households, maintaining positions of some import, no other Emperor before or after relied upon them so heavily.

The most notorious of Claudius' freedmen advisors were Narcissus and Pallas and Pallas' brother Felix, who later became governor of Judea (A.D. 52-59). Their rivalry did not prevent them from working in concert to their common advantage. Although they quite literally sold public honors and privileges, they were men of ability who rendered useful service when it was in their own interest to do so, forming a sort of Imperial cabinet quite independent from the Roman class system.

With the help of his freedmen advisors, Claudius reformed the financial affairs of the state and Empire, creating a separate fund for the Emperor's private household expenses. As almost all grain had to be imported, mainly from Africa and Egypt, Claudius offered insurances against losses on the open sea, to encourage potential importers and to build up stocks against winter times of famine. Among his extensive building projects, Claudius constructed the port of Ostia, a scheme already proposed by Julius Caesar, thus easing congestion on the Tiber River. Vital aqueducts also were completed, including the Anio Novus, which was the longest and tallest of its day.


In A.D. 38, Claudius married his third wife, Valeria Messalina, a scion of a noble house with impressive familial connections, who bore him a daughter (Octavia in A.D. 39, later to become the first wife of the Emperor Nero) and a son (Britannicus in A.D. 41). Claudius was 50; his very beautiful bride, according to all sources, was 15 or 16. (His first two wives and a fianc‚ were disasters, with the first wife divorced for adultery, the fianc‚ dying on their wedding day, and the second wife divorced when the marriage became a political liability.)

This third marriage turned out to be no better than the first two. While Roman women in Imperial circles were not always faithful wives, Messalina went far beyond the quiet love affair. She had affairs with gladiators, dancers, other heads of state and anyone else she fancied. She is even said to have challenged Scylla, a champion prostitute, to a competition. The audacious culmination of Messalina's wild and promiscuous life ended in the autumn of A.D. 47 or 48 when she unilaterally declared herself divorced from Claudius (while he was away in Ostia) and married Gaius Silius, the Consul-elect, in a private ceremony. (The younger Gaius Silius, described as one of the handsomest men in Rome, was son of a Consul of the same name who had served in A.D. 13. Silius had married an aristocratic woman -- Junia Silana, a friend of Agrippina the Younger; the two later became rivals -- but had divorced her just before the liaison with Messalina.)

Although the nefarious ceremony was performed in semi-privacy, the wild parties that followed soon made it an "open secret." When Claudius learned of it, he turned for help to his most trusted freedman Narcissus, who had been so close to Messalina earlier. Narcissus was careful to see that Messalina did not soften Claudius' resolve to punish her. She was urged to make an honorable end by suicide, but did not have the will or perhaps the strength to kill herself, and so she was beheaded by the Centurions who had been dispatched to execute her. Silius and a number of other members of the upper classes were killed as well.

But Narcissus was not to benefit from having saved his Emperor. In fact it became the reason for his very downfall, as the Emperor's next wife, Agrippina the Younger, saw to it that the freedman Pallas, who was finance minister, would soon eclipse Narcissus' powers.

After the execution of Silius and Messalina and most of her circle, Claudius made the Praetorians promise to kill him if he ever married again. Despite this declaration, Claudius did marry once more. With Messalina's death, Claudius' freedmen vied for influence over the Emperor by supporting various marriage prospects. In the end, it was Pallas who won the competition, but also assigned Claudius and the Empire to a terrible twist of fate. The new bride, who he married on New Year's day A.D. 49 -- probably for political connections because of her ties to the Julian family -- was his own niece, Agrippina the Younger. The law had to be changed to allow a marriage between an uncle and a niece.

Agrippina the Younger

Agrippina the Younger (A.D. 15-59), was the daughter of Germanicus and Agrippina the Older. She was sister of Caligula; great granddaughter of Augustus; great granddaughter of Mark Antony; great-granddaughter of Augustus's sister Octavia and therefore his great grandniece; a granddaughter of Julia the Elder and Marcus Agrippa; great-niece of Tiberius; niece and wife of Claudius; and the mother of Nero.

Thus she was the great granddaughter of the first Emperor, the great niece of the second, the sister of the third, the wife of the fourth and the mother of the one who would become the fifth. This gave her a near mystical status, and the historian Tacitus tells that "her exceptionally illustrious birth is indisputable." She was also a very conniving woman, as we shall see.

Right from the beginning, Agrippina schemed to see her son Nero, three years older than Claudius' own son Britannicus, become heir to the imperial throne. First, she had the fianc‚ of Claudius daughter, Octavia, prosecuted in order to make her available to marry Nero. Then, in A.D. 50, she persuaded Claudius to adopt Nero as his son, a common practice in Roman times.

She became Claudius' favorite councillor and was even granted the honor of being called Augusta (an official living Empress, a title that only Livia, the wife of Augustus, had been given before -- and then only after her death). According to ancient sources, between her rise and Claudius' death, Agrippina systematically took control of the Imperial government while Claudius was left as a figurehead in front of his wife's real power. She wore a military cloak at official state functions, greeted foreign embassies in the capacity of full Imperial authority, appeared prominently on coinage and had her dictations recorded in official government documentation.

Perhaps most importantly, Agrippina used her influence to surround and protect her position with men loyal to her and her son. Seneca, who despised Claudius but kept this feeling in check, was recalled and installed as Nero's tutor. Back in Rome, he used his brilliant political skill to influence the Imperial court to Agrippina's wishes. Additionally, she chose Sextus Afranius Burrus to be the all important Praetorian Prefect (head of the Imperial Guard) and a second tutor for Nero. Meanwhile the young Nero continued to be advanced as the heir to Claudius while Britannicus languished behind.

By A.D. 54, Agrippina was secure enough in her position, and that of her son, that she no longer needed Claudius to rule the Empire. The historian Tacitus suggests that Claudius resisted the final steps to place Nero as heir, so Agrippina, rather than wait him out, decided to take matters into her own hands. On October 13, A.D. 54, Claudius died while attending a feast. All the reports indicate that he was poisoned by tainted mushrooms. The scheming of Agrippina had proved fruitful and the 16-year-old Nero was immediately hailed as the new Emperor without any consideration for the much younger Britannicus.

Nero, Last of the Julians

When Claudius died on October 13, A.D. 54, Nero, the fifth and last Roman Emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, was soon established as Augustus in his place. Not quite 17 years old, he was the youngest Emperor yet. Because of his youth, actual decisions were left to the more capable hands of his mother, Agrippina the Younger, his tutor Seneca, and the Praetorian Prefect Burrus.

The first five years under Nero were examples of fine administration. Matters of the Empire were handled effectively and the Senate enjoyed a period of renewed influence in state affairs. Problems, however, would soon arise from Nero's personal life and the increasing competition for influence among Agrippina and his two male advisers. Nero, who had married his adoptive sister Octavia in A.D. 53, was reportedly unsatisfied with his marriage and, in A.D. 55, entered into an affair with Claudia Acte, a former slave. Agrippina attempted to intervene in favor of Octavia, but Burrus and Seneca supported Nero's actions.

With her influence over her son declining, Agrippina turned to a younger candidate for the throne. Claudius' son Britannicus was still a minor but was approaching legal adulthood. However, the youth died suddenly and suspiciously on February 12, A.D. 55, a day short of his fourteenth birthday. Agrippina's power soon further declined while Burrus and Seneca jointly became the most influential men in Rome.

As Nero grew angrier at Agrippina, he began to plot his own mother's murder. He tried to poison her three times; rigged the ceiling above her bed to collapse; and sent her off on a boat doomed to sink in the Bay of Naples (forgetting that she could swim). Finally, in A.D. 59, he hired an assassin to club her to death.

In A.D. 61, a major rebellion had broke out in Britannia, led by Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni, who had been flogged and whose daughters had been raped by the Romans. At first successful, the rebellion was eventually crushed, but the military and civilian casualties and the total destruction of three cities during the course of the rebellion was a heavy toll to pay.

A Series of Scandals

While his advisers took care of affairs of state, Nero surrounded himself with a circle of dissolute favorites. Roman historians report nights of drunken revelry. One such favorite was Marcus Salvius Otho, who early introduced Nero to one particular woman, Poppaea Sabina. Described as a woman of great beauty, charm and wit, Poppaea would marry first Otho (later to briefly rule as one of four Emperors in A.D. 69) and then the Emperor Nero in A.D. 62. (That same year, Otho was removed from the Imperial court, and sent as governor to Lusitania -- part of present-day Portugal.)

The year A.D. 62 also marked a drastic change in Nero's advisers. Burrus died and Seneca asked permission to retire from public life. Their replacement as both Praetorian Prefect and counselor was Gaius Ofonius Tigellinus. Tigellinus had been exiled in A.D. 39 by Caligula on charges of adultery with his sisters Agrippina the Younger and Livilla, only to be recalled from exile by Claudius. Ambitious, Tigellinus managed to become a favorite of Nero.

Along with Poppaea, who had become established in her position as Nero's favorite mistress since A.D. 58 and was now (A.D. 62) pregnant with Nero's child, he was considered to hold greater influence with the Emperor than Seneca ever had. The year A.D. 62 also marked the divorce of the Emperor from Octavia on grounds of infertility, leaving him free to marry Poppaea and wait for her to give birth. A daughter, born in January A..D. 63, died four months later. (Octavia had been exiled to the island of Pandataria and was beheaded shortly thereafter.)

The Great Fire of Rome

Did Nero really fiddle while Rome burned?

The Great Fire of Rome erupted on the night of July 19, A.D. 64, among the shops clustered around the Circus Maximus. As many Romans lived in insulae, which were flammable apartment buildings of three to five floors that had wooden floors and partitions, the fire quickly spread throughout densely populated areas of the city. In a city of two million, there was nothing unusual about a fire -- the sweltering summer heat kindled conflagrations around Rome on a regular basis, particularly in the slums that covered much of the city.

Yet this was no ordinary fire. The fire started in densely populated areas with wooden dwellings, built on three or four floors, near the Circus Maximus, Rome's mammoth chariot stadium. The flames raged for six days before coming under control; then the fire reignited and burned for another three. When the smoke cleared, ten of Rome's 14 districts were in ruins. The 800-year-old Temple of Jupiter Stator and the Atrium Vestae, the hearth of the Vestal Virgins, were gone. Two-thirds of Rome had been destroyed. When the fire started, Nero himself was miles away in the coastal resort of Antium, but he quickly returned, opening his palaces to provide shelter for the homeless and arranging for food supplies to be delivered in order to prevent starvation among the survivors.

But Nero lost his chances at redeeming his reputation when he immediately produced plans of rebuilding Rome in a monumental -- and less inflammable -- style. His famous Domus Aurea ("Golden House") was part of this rebuilding plan. Built on the slopes of the Esquiline Hill, it covered a third of the area then encompassed by Rome. An artificial lake was created in the center of the grounds, which included forests, an altar in a sacred grove, pastures with flocks and vineyards -- a "rus in urbe" ("countryside in the city"). The extensive gold-leaf that gave it its name was not the only extravagant element of its decor: Stuccoed ceilings were covered with semi-precious stones and veneers of ivory.

Nero also commissioned a colossal 120-foot-high bronze statue of himself and placed it just outside the main palace entrance. (This colossus was revamped with the heads of several succeeding emperors before Hadrian moved it to the Flavian Amphitheater, a building that took the name "Colosseum" in the Middle Ages after the statue nearby; it remains there even now.)

At the time of the fire, searching for a scapegoat, rumors circulated among the populace that Nero had played his lyre and sang on top of Quirinal Hill, while the city burned. Nero then had to find some scapegoats of his own. He chose for his target a small Eastern sect called Christians, ordering known Christians to be thrown to the lions in arenas, while others were crucified in large numbers.

According to Tacitus, "Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired."

In A.D. 65, Nero was involved in another scandal, considered more serious by the people of that era than it would be now. It was considered shameful for a Roman Emperor to appear as a public entertainer, acting, singing and playing his lyre. But Nero considered himself a great artist and performer, even composing songs that were performed by other entertainers throughout the Empire. It was said that he loved to perform before a crowd and craved the attention and applause. When he was performing, Nero insisted that all attention be on him during the entire performance. So no one was allowed to leave the theater -- even for the most urgent reasons. According to Suetonius, some women gave birth to children there, while many who were worn out with listening and applauding, secretly leaped from the wall, since the gates at the entrance were closed. Some even feigned death and were carried out as if for burial.

Also in the summer of A.D. 65, while Poppea was awaiting the birth of her second child, she quarreled fiercely with Nero over his spending too much time at the games. In a fit of rage, Nero kicked her in the abdomen, causing her death.

Hated by many citizens, and with an increasing list of political enemies, in A.D. 65, Nero discovered a conspiracy that involved old friends like Seneca in the plot. Conspirators, including Seneca, the poet Lucan and the ringleader Piso, were forced to commit suicide. The next year also saw the beginning of a brutal uprising in Judea. The future Emperor Vespasian was appointed to crush the rebels, which he and his son Titus were able to accomplish over a four-year period, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. (Four legions had been assigned to Judea; the neighboring province of Syria, under its governor Mucianus, also possessed four. This was a mighty military muster in a relatively small part of the Empire.)

In A.D. 66, Nero left Rome for a tour of Greece to participate in the Olympic Games, during which his extravagances alienated him still further from general citizens and military commanders alike. More crucially, in his paranoia he ordered a popular and successful general, Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, to commit suicide because of the mere suspicion of new conspiracy threats, a decision that moved a number of military commanders, both locally and in the provinces, to start planning a revolution. Also at about this time, according to tradition, Nero personally ordered the crucifixion of Saint Peter and, later, the beheading of Paul of Tarsus.

Back in Rome in A.D. 67 after the Greecian tour, Nero found more troubles. The revolt of a provincial governor in France brought Nero to a paranoid hunt for other threats. Among others, he ordered the death of his once faithful servant, Galba, governor of Iberia. Galba then declared his loyalty to the Senate and the people of Rome and started organizing his own campaign to become Emperor.

Disgusted with Nero, the Roman Senate issued a decree ordering his execution, but Nero committed suicide on June 9, A.D. 68, before the decree could be carried out. It is said that before he died, he uttered these last words: "What an artist dies in me!" With his death, the Julio-Claudian dynasty came to an end.

The civil wars that followed led the year A.D. 69 to be known as "the Year of the Four Emperors," in which Galba, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian ruled in quick and violent succession, until Vespasian was able to solidify his power. Nero was so hated that, upon his death, the Senate ordered the destruction of all public books and records that confirmed that he had ever existed (a similar measure had been issued upon the death of Caligula).

The Year of the Four Emperors

In A.D. 68, the armies in Gaul revolted and Nero was overthrown. Now that it was apparent that military force alone produced and legitimized the Emperor's rule, there was nothing to stop ambitious generals from using their armies to advance their political careers. The next year, no fewer than four Emperors mounted the throne, each backed by a powerful army.

The first of these was Galba, governor of Iberia, who left Spain for Rome in July A.D. 68, formally assuming the Emperorship shortly thereafter. As it so happened, Otho, who had provided him with gold and other support, accompanied him on the journey, during which he cultivated the favor of members of the Praetorian Guard who had come to Spain to accompany Galba to Rome.

Galba had been in Rome little more than two months when troops in Germany refused to declare allegiance to him and instead proclaimed their commander, Aulus Vitellius, as the new ruler. To show he was still in charge, Galba, who was old and feeble, adopted Lucius Calpurnius Piso as his successor. The choice meant little to the remote armies, the Praetorians or the Senate, but it particularly angered Otho, who had hoped to succeed Galba. So Otho quickly organized a conspiracy among the Praetorians and, on January 15, A.D. 69, they declared him Emperor and publicly killed Galba. Piso, dragged from hiding in the temple of Vesta, was also butchered. That same evening, a powerless Senate awarded Otho the Imperial title.

But Otho lasted a mere eight-and-a-half weeks until Roman legions from Germany, commanded by Vitellius, marched to Italy and defeated Otho's forces. Decided that enough blood had been shed, Otho took his own life on April 16, A.D. 69, two weeks shy of his 37th birthday. Three days later, the soldiers in Rome swore their allegiance to Vitellius. The Senate, too, hailed him as Emperor.

When Vitellius (who would last not eight weeks, but eight months) learned of these developments, he set out to Rome from Gaul. By all accounts, the journey was a drunken feast marked by the lack of discipline in both the troops and the Imperial entourage. The new Emperor entered Rome in late June or early July, reluctant to assume the traditional titles of Princeps, even though he declared himself Consul for life. To his credit, Vitellius did show a measure of moderation, even pardoning Otho's brother. In addition, he participated in Senate meetings and continued the practice of providing entertainments for the Roman masses. An important practical change involved the awarding of posts customarily held by freedmen to men of the Equestrian class. Also, to reward his victorious legionaries, Vitellius disbanded the existing Praetorian Guard, installing his own men instead as the Imperial Guard.

But Vitellius was never acknowledged as Emperor by the entire Roman world, though in Rome the Senate accepted him and gave him the usual Imperial honors. In fact, in July A.D. 69, Vitellius learned that the armies of the Eastern provinces had proclaimed their commander, Titus Flavius Vespasian, as a rival Emperor.

As soon as he found out that the armies of the East, along with Dalmatia and Illyricum, had declared for Vespasian, Vitellius, deserted by many of his adherents, agreed to resign the title of Emperor. But the Praetorians refused to allow him to carry out the agreement, and forced him to return to the palace. And when Vespasian's troops entered Rome, Vitellius was dragged out of hiding in a door-keeper's lodge, driven to the fatal Gemonian stairs, where he was struck down and his body thrown into the Tiber River. "Yet I was once your Emperor" were the last and, as far as we know, the noblest words of Vitellius.


Vespasian was the son of Equestrian parents. Following the assassination of Caligula, he advanced rapidly, thanks in large part to connections with the new Emperor Claudius, Antonia, the mother of Germanicus, and with Claudius' freedman Narcissus. He participated in Claudius' invasion of Britain where he led his legion across the south of England, engaging the enemy 30 times in battle, subduing two tribes, and conquering the Isle of Wight.

By the end of A.D. 51, Vespasian had reached the Consulship, the pinnacle of a political career at Rome. Around A.D. 63-64, he was chosen as Proconsul of Africa, where he earned a reputation for being a scrupulous but unpopular leader. Vespasian returned to Rome as a senior Senator. Important enough to be included on Nero's tour of Greece in A.D. 66-67, during that visit Vespasian was given a special command in the East to settle a revolt in Judea

By the spring of A.D. 67, with 60,000 legionaries, auxiliaries and allies under his control, Vespasian set out to subdue Galilee and then cut off Jerusalem. Success was quick and decisive. By October, all of Galilee had been pacified and plans were underway for the strategic encirclement of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, at the other end of the Empire, Nero's reign had collapsed, the Emperor had committed suicide, and first Galba and then Otho and Vitellius acceded to power.

Still occupied with plans against Jerusalem, Vespasian swore allegiance to each Emperor in turn. But shortly after Vitellius assumed power, after a series of private and public consultations with the governor of Syria, the two decided to revolt. On July 1, A.D. 69, at the urging of the Prefect of Egypt, the legions of Alexandria declared for Vespasian, as did the legions of Judea two days later. By August, all of Syria and the Danube legions had done likewise. Vespasian next dispatched Mucianus to Italy with 20,000 troops, while he went to Alexandria to control grain shipments in order to starve Italy into submission, placing the siege of Jerusalem in the hands of his son Titus.

Meanwhile, the Danubian legions, unwilling to wait for Mucianus' arrival, began marching against Vitellius' army, which was defeated at Cremona in late October. On the morning of December 20, the Flavian army entered Rome. By that afternoon, the Emperor was dead.

The Flavian Dynasty

Although Vespasian was declared Emperor by his legions on July 1, A.D. 69, he did not arrive in Rome until the late summer of A.D. 70, where he faced the daunting task of restoring a city and a government ravaged by the recent civil wars. He soon began work on several new buildings, including a temple of Peace near the Forum and the magnificent Colosseum (Flavian AmphitheatrE), located on the site of the lake in Nero's Golden House. He restored the depleted ranks of the Senatorial and Equestrian orders with eligible Italian and provincial candidates and reduced the backlog of pending court cases at Rome. He also re-established discipline in the army, while punishing or dismissing large numbers of Vitellius' men.

Beyond Rome, the Emperor increased the number of legions in the East and continued to expand the Empire by the annexation of northern England, the pacification of Wales, and by advances into Scotland and southwest Germany between the Rhine and the Danube Rivers. Vespasian also conferred rights on communities abroad, especially in Spain, where the granting of Latin rights to all native communities contributed to the rapid Romanization of that province.

In contrast to his immediate Imperial predecessors, Vespasian died peacefully, having . managed to hold onto rule long enough (A.D. 69-79) to found his own dynasty -- the Flavian dynasty. He was succeeded by his son, Titus (A.D. 79-81) and then Domitian (A.D. 81-96), who began a second wave of Christian persecutions.

Domitian was assassinated in A.D. 96 (it seems to have been hard to die a natural death as an Emperor of Rome during this period, as very few achieved this enviable distinction). Since he had no successor, the Senate elected a fellow Senator, Nerva (A.D. 96-98). The Flavian dynasty had ended, but Nerva began a period that later Roman historians would call "the five good emperors:" Nerva; Trajan (A.D.98-117); Hadrian (A.D. 117-138); Antoninus Pius (A.D. 138-161); and Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 161-180). All died without passing the succession on (except for Marcus Aurelius), so each was elected from within the Senatorial ranks.

The Five Good Emperors

Nerva's reign was short -- just over a year -- and he was succeeded by his adopted son, Trajan, who ruled for almost 20 years. Under Trajan's rule, the Empire reached its greatest territorial extent, extending north of the Danube for the first time; eastward into Armenia; southward into Arabia; and over to Babylon in Mesopotamia.


In two campaigns (A.D.101-102 & A.D. 105-106), Trajan defeated the Dacian king Decebalus and conquered Dacia (modern Romania and Moldova, as well as parts of Hungary, Bulgaria and UkrainE), forming the Roman province of Dacia Traiana on the west coast of the Black Sea. (Decebalus had long been a thorn in the side of the Romans, having inflicted a heavy defeat on a Roman army about a decade before.)

To defeat Decebalus required all the engineering and discipline for which the Roman army was renowned. The establishment of two new legions brought the total muster to 30, the highest number yet reached in the Empire's history. Trajan, with 11 of these legions, was also fortunate to have Apollodorus of Damascus, a Greek master engineer, bridge builder and sculptor, in his service. Apollodorus built a great bridge across the Danube, with 60 stone piers, traces of which still survive.

With the victory, Trajan celebrated a great triumph that lasted 123 days and entertained the populace of Rome with a vast display of gladiators and animals. The vast wealth of Dacian mines came to Rome as war booty, enabling Trajan to support an extensive building program, especially in Italy and Rome. In the huge Roman Forum already under construction in the capital, Apollodorus designed and built a sculpted column, precisely 100 Roman feet high, with 23 spiral bands filled with 2,500 figures that depicted, like a scroll being unwound, the history of both Dacian wars.

Although excavation for a new Forum had already begun under the Emperor Domitian, it was Apollodorus who designed and completed the project. Enormous in its extent, the Basilica Ulpia was the centerpiece, the largest wood-roofed building in the Roman world. In the open courtyard before it was an equestrian statue of Trajan, behind it was the column; there were libraries, one for Latin scrolls, the other for Greek, on each side.

Other building projects included the first of the huge Imperial baths on the Esquiline hill, using a large part of Nero's Domus Aurea as a foundation. On the other side of the river, a new 60-kilometer-long aqueduct was constructed.

The arch in Beneventum was dedicated in A.D. 114 to mark the beginning of the new Via Traiana, which offered an easier route to Brundisium than that of the ancient Via Appia. Trajan also devoted much attention to the construction and improvement of harbors. His new hexagonal harbor at Ostia at last made that port the most significant in Italy because now grain ships could dock there and have their cargo shipped by barge up the Tiber River to Rome.

The province of Arabia, which followed upon the absorption of the Nabataean kingdom in A.D. 105-106, was the only major addition to the Rome's empire other than Dacia in the first decade and a half of Trajan's reign. But in A.D. 113, he began preparations for a decisive war against Parthia, long a Roman adversary in the Middle East. The next year, he attacked the enemy through Armenia and then, over three more years, turned east and south, passing through Mesopotamia and taking Babylon and the capital of Ctesiphon. He then is said to have reached the Persian Gulf and to have lamented that he was too old to follow further in Alexander's footsteps.

Art and learning flourished during Trajan's reign. Among his literary contemporaries were Tacitus, Juvenal and the younger Pliny, with whom the Emperor carried on an animated correspondence. The shift from freedmen to Equestrians in the Imperial ministries also continued. The chief feature of Trajan's administration was his good relations with the Senate, which allowed him to accomplish whatever he wished. Trajan was one of Rome's most admirable figures, a man who merited the renown that he enjoyed during his lifetime. He died in Armenia in August A.D. 117 on his way home from his Eastern triumphs, having designated Hadrian as his successor.


The most notable of these "five good Emperors" was Hadrian, the ruler most responsible for changing the character and nature of the Empire. Hadrian was also one of the most remarkable and talented individuals Rome ever produced.

At the time of Trajan's death, Hadrian was legate of the province of Syria, with responsibility for the security of the East in the aftermath of Trajan's Parthian War. (Trajan had found that the Mesopotamian territories, though handily won, were much more difficult to hold. Uprisings among the conquered peoples -- particularly among the Jews in Palestine -- caused him to gradually relinquish Roman rule over these newly established provinces. One of Hadrian's first acts was to give up his Parthian conquests.)

Soon after his arrival in Rome -- as much as 11 months after he had been proclaimed Emperor -- Hadrian began a series of lengthy journeys outside of Italy that took him to almost every province in the Empire. He spent more than half his reign traveling, displaying a wanderlust unlike any of his predecessors. An inveterate traveler, he left his mark on almost every city and province he visited, paying particular attention to Athens, where he completed the great temple of Olympian Zeus, some six centuries after construction had begun, making it the centerpiece of a new district of the city.

Hadrian was a man of extraordinary talents, certainly one of the most gifted that Rome ever produced. He became a fine public speaker; he was a student of philosophy and other subjects; he wrote both an autobiography and poetry; and he was a superb architect. It was in this last area that he left his greatest mark, with several of the Empire's most extraordinary buildings and complexes stemming from his fertile mind.

He rebuilt Agrippa's Pantheon into the remarkable building that survives today, reconstructing the accustomed temple facade, with columns and pediment, but attaching it to a drum which was surmounted by a coffered dome. This dome remained the largest in the world until the 20th century. To complete Trajan's Forum, he added a huge temple, unique in design and larger than any other ever built by the Romans. Its length of more than 100 meters made it the only Roman addition to the short list of temples built by the Greeks that were at least that long. Even more extraordinary was the interior in which were placed gigantic statues of the goddesses Venus and Roma. The temple, which was built on the heights of the Velia (a northward extension of the Palatine, the central Roman hill and where, according to legend, the city of Rome was founded by Romulus), dominated the east end of the Roman Forum.

Late in life, Hadrian began construction of a mausoleum, larger than that of Augustus, on the other side of the Tiber and down river from it, approached by a new bridge, the Pons Aelius. But his most imaginative architectural achievement was his villa at Tibur, the modern Tivoli, some 30 kilometers east-northeast of Rome at the foot of the Sabine Hills. It covered 700 acres and contained around 100 buildings, some of which were among the most daring ever attempted in antiquity.

Hadrian's most significant legal achievement was the codification of Roman laws, a task assigned to Salvius Julianus, who produced one of the glories of Roman legal science. Julianus brought together edicts that had evolved over centuries into a straightforward and modern document that became the basis of subsequent activity in the Roman field of law. (The Edict, as Julianus' work was called, has been lost, but many excerpts made by commentators upon it have survived in Justinian's Code, put together some 400 years later.)

During Hadrian's rule, there was generally peace throughout the Empire, although not entirely. First of all, Hadrian had to quash the Jewish uprising that had begun under Trajan. Then there were disturbances in Mauretania, Dacia and northern Britain. And late in his reign, after deciding to resettle the site of Jerusalem as the city of Aelia Capitolina and build a temple to Jupiter on the site of the Temple Mount, another Jewish uprising occurred, more bitter still than the former one.

Hadrian's peace policy was strengthened by the erection of permanent fortifications along the empire's borders, the most famous of which was Hadrian's Wall between Scotland and England. A a stone and turf fortification built across the width of Britain, Hadrian's Wall was a little over 70 miles long, about 10 feet wide and from 16 to 20 feet tall. Construction probably started in A.D. 122 following a visit by the Emperor in that year, and was largely completed within ten years.

Hadrian's first choice to succeed him, Commodus, died. His next choice was T. Aurelius Fulvius Boionius Arrius Antoninus, known to history as Antoninus Pius, who he asked to adopt two young men who were intended to become future Emperors. One was the seven-year-old son of Commodus, now named Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus. The other was the 17-year-old Marcus Annius Verus, the later Marcus Aurelius. Upon Antoninus' death in A.D.161, they became as co-Emperors, thus rewarding Hadrian's foresight.

Antoninus and Marcus Aurelius

Succeeding Hadrian was the Emperor Antoninus Pius, whose long reign of 23 years is often described as a period of "peace and quiet before the storm" -- a storm that followed his reign and plagued that of his successor, Marcus Aurelius. Antoninus managed to govern the Empire capably and yet with such a gentle hand that he earned the respect, acclaim and love of his subjects.

Although Antoninus' reign was generally peaceful, he fought some wars -- primarily through his legates -- against the Britons, Moors, Germans, Dacians and the Alans. He also suppressed revolts in Achaea, Egypt and among the Jews. The war in Britain (around A.D. 142) led to the construction of the Antonine Wall across the island as a second line of defense north of Hadrian's Wall.

Antoninus Pius died in March of A.D. 161. His 23-year-long tenure proved to be one of the most peaceful and prosperous in Roman history. Responses to the few disturbances on the fringes of the Empire were decisive and successful, and the pax Romana remained intact.

Succeeding him was the 40-year-old Marcus Aurelius, who immediately chose his step- brother Verus as co-Emperor, as Hadrian had planned. Antoninus Pius had treated Marcus as a confidant and helper throughout his reign; Marcus had also married his daughter, Faustina, in A.D. 145. The marriage endured for 30 years, even though Faustina's reputation suffered much abuse. She was accused of employing poison and of murdering people, as well as being free with her favors with gladiators, sailors and also men of rank, particularly Avidius Cassius (who would later lead a revolt). Nevertheless, Marcus trusted her implicitly and defended her vigorously. She bore him 13 children (several of whom died young), including a son, Commodus, who would succeed Marcus.

Marcus Aurelius was perhaps the only true philosopher- king in the history of the world. He discovered Stoicism by the time he was 11 and from his early twenties he deserted his other studies for philosophy. He was neither an original nor a systematic philosopher, but in his one work, the "Meditations" (a series of notes to himself), he formulated his pantheist Stoic beliefs ("God is the universe, the universe is God"). He believed in the divinity of the cosmos as an intelligent being with a soul, and stressed the harmony of all things and the importance of resigning oneself to whatever happened.


Although neither of the two new rulers had any military experience, those qualities were soon much in demand at the beginning of their reign, for the Empire was under pressure in the year A.D. 161 in Britain, in Raetia, and in the East, where Parthia once again posed a significant danger. The incursion in northern Britain and the difficulties along the Danube were soon satisfactorily dealt with by local legates (governors), but the danger in the East was of a different magnitude.

Tensions between Rome and Parthia had once again intensified in the last years of Antoninus' reign over control of Armenia, the vast buffer state that had often aroused enmity between the two powers, since each wished to install a king favorable to its interests. With the uncertainty following Antoninus' death, the Parthian monarch, Vologaeses III, struck rapidly, placing his own candidate on the Armenian throne and inflicting severe setbacks on the Roman forces sent to oppose him.

Marcus decided to send his co-Emperor Lucius Verus, whose Imperial prestige would outweigh his lack of military experience and leadership qualities. To offset these deficiencies, Marcus surrounded him with several of his best Roman generals and, from A.D. 162 on, Rome's successes and conquests in the East were extensive and decisive. Most of Parthia's significant cities and strongholds were stormed and destroyed, and the army's movements eastward recalled the movements of Alexander the Great some five centuries earlier. By A.D. 166, Parthia had capitulated and a Roman figurehead sat on the Armenian throne, a victory that appeared to be the most decisive since Trajan's conquest of Dacia. But the return of Verus to Italy with his triumphant army also brought the arrival of a devastating plague. This disease raged for ten years across the Empire from Turkey to as far east as the Rhine River, with serious consequences for all the Roman provinces.

The last years of this decade were dominated by efforts to overcome the plague. At the same time, from the north came a far greater threat to the Empire's stability, indeed existence, than Parthia had ever been. Early in A.D. 169, two Germanic tribes, the Marcomanni and Quadi, crossed the Danube, penetrated the intervening provinces, and entered Italy. The culmination of their onslaught was a siege of Aquileia, a city on the Adriatic Sea in northeastern Italy (east of modern-day VenicE). Just a year before, Marcus had made this city of 100,000 the principal fortress of the Empire against the barbarians to the north and east. The effect of the siege upon the inhabitants of the Italian peninsula was frightful. This was the first invasion since the late 2nd century B.C., when the Cimbri and Teutones had been separately crushed by Marius. Perhaps more vivid in the collective imagination was the sack of Rome by the Gauls in 387 B.C., when the city was saved only by a ransom payment.

After a rapid mobilization of forces (which included the drafting of slaves, because of the plague and troop commitments in the East), the two Emperors quickly moved north. Marcus' goal, first and foremost, was to drive the enemy out of Italy and then into their own territory beyond the Danube. He strove to isolate the tribes and then defeat them individually, using the Empire's ultimate manpower superiority, along with its greater skill in warfare and logistics. It was a successful strategy, as one tribe after another suffered defeat and reestablished ties with Rome. But it was a time-consuming operation, requiring the recruitment of two new legions. The beginning of the campaign also saw the death of the co-Emperor Verus in A.D. 169. Marcus then ruled alone until he admitted his own son, Commodus, to full participation in the government in A.D. 177.

Marcus intended to create two new provinces, Marcomannia and Sarmatia, thereby eliminating them as staging areas for invasion. The Emperor's plans were, however, interrupted in A.D. 175 by a revolt in the East, led by the Syrian governor Avidius Cassius, who had proclaimed himself Emperor, based in part on a rumor of Marcus' death. When it became clear that Marcus was still alive, Cassius' fortunes suffered a rapid decline and he was killed by his troops after only 100 days in power over Egypt and Syria. Some sources say that Marcus' wife Faustina, who died later that year, may have been involved in this conspiracy.

After his trip to the East to quell the incipient rebellion, Marcus returned to Italy and soon answered the call to duty once more on the northern frontier. He took with him as colleague his son Commodus, now merely 16 years old but already long since marked as his father's intended successor. The military campaigns proved successful, but in the spring of A.D. 180, when Marcus died, at least one more year of warfare was necessary. Although Marcus had recommended that Commodus continue the war, the new Emperor was eager to return to Rome and the ease and luxury of the Imperial court and so entered into a peace agreement. Never again was Rome to hold the upper hand in its dealings with the Germanic tribes beyond the now reestablished borders of the Empire.

A Look Backward: The Silver Age

The period from roughly the middle of the first century to almost the end of the second has been dubbed "the Silver Age." It produced perhaps the greatest political stability in Imperial Rome since the "Age of Augustus" and saw the widespread exporting of Roman culture, government and law.

The Romans actively built up large urban centers throughout the Empire and granted these cities all the rights and privileges granted to Romans. These cities were ruled by the upper classes who, as a result, grew increasingly loyal to the Emperor. At the same time, Rome began to exercise more control over these municipalities. Unlike earlier empires that were more or less loose confederacies, the Roman Empire was converted into what amounted to a single state under the centralized control of a Roman bureaucracy.

Literature, the Arts and Philosophy

Culturally, this period is sometimes regarded as less creative and less interesting. However, the first century may, in fact, rival the Golden Age during the Augustan principate in creativity, especially in literature and philosophy.

Perhaps the most significant philosopher in Roman history during the first century was Seneca (4 B.C.-A.D.65), who served for a time as tutor and advisor to the youthful Nero. Seneca adopted Stoic principles in a peculiarly Roman fashion, theorizing about the relationship of "duty" (officium ) and human passions to the larger pattern of the universe, the logos. His central philosophical principle was that one should calm one's passions with the knowledge that all human experience, particularly suffering, has a meaning in the larger pattern of history and the order of the universe. This pattern, however, cannot be comprehended by human beings, so any effort to understand suffering is bound to produce more suffering.

Perhaps more than anything else, the topic Seneca was interested in was the problem of human suffering; as Friedrich Nietzsche declares at the conclusion of The Genealogy of Morals, the problem is not human suffering, but rather it is assigning a meaning to human suffering. In addition, Seneca, like many of his contemporaries, believed that Roman culture had been severely declining not merely in morals, but in toughness as well. Roman society and government was ruled by passion; it should be ruled by Stoic principles. The first Stoic Emperor, however, was Marcus Aurelius more than a century later.

Seneca also wrote tragic dramas that may or may not have been intended for actual production. His plays are violent and passionate, with fierce, staccato poetry and harsh language, perhaps the most powerful and dynamic poetry written in the Latin language. These plays explore the dark consequence of human passion and blindness, and the tragedy of suffering that has no meaning for the sufferer. There are no English translations that capture the sheer dazzling power of Seneca's plays.

Literary activity, in particular, seems to have evolved into a dramatically creative phase around the time of Seneca in the so-called "Silver Age" of Latin literature. Writers such as Juvenal (A.D. 60-140) and Persius (A.D. 34-62) continued to produce satires about the moral decay of Roman culture, while exulting in the day-to-day problems and depravity of their city and its bursting population. Juvenal, in particular, used Stoic principles to show how far Roman life had strayed from its original values.

Epic poetry was wildly popular in the Silver Age as imitators of Virgil sprang up all over the place. The theme, however, was not the moral virtue of Romans, but the moral degeneracy of these times set in relief against the old virtues. The most powerful of the Silver Age epics is the Civil War or Pharsalia, by Lucan (A.D. 39-65). This poem covers the struggle between Caesar and Pompey leading up to Pompey's defeat at Pharsalus. In Lucan's narrative, Caesar is bloodthirsty, cruel, and ambitious; Pompey, who is the only representative of traditional Roman virtue, is ineffective and indecisive. No individual stands out as exceptional or virtuous; the cost of this moral poverty are many Roman lives and gallons of Roman blood. In fact, Lucan and his audience revel in melodramatic violence; in one scene, a soldier single-handedly fends off an entire army by serving as a human shield, standing his ground in spite of the dozens of spears and missiles in his body. Lucan's theme, however, is about the moral depravity that has taken away Roman freedom, a message that was not lost on Nero. And when Lucan took part in a conspiracy to assassinate Nero, the Emperor forced him to commit suicide at the age of 25.

As for history, Tacitus (A.D. 55-117) emerges as perhaps the greatest of the Roman historians. Among his works is a massive history called the Annals, the central theme of which is that Rome had become morally degenerate and this moral degeneracy was responsible for all of its ills. If there is a single theme running throughout all of the literature and philosophy of this period, it is the issue of moral degeneracy. The Romans were, after all, at heart straight- laced moralists, and nothing got their attention better than a good, stern moral lecture. So, overall, the character of 1st and 2nd century Rome is a moralistic character, in which either the psychology of immorality as both seductive and destructive is explored by some writers, while other writers, such as Seneca and Tacitus, sternly condemn the degeneracy of the age.

Early Christianity

This period also saw the introduction of Christianity into Europe and the Roman Empire. Originating in Judea, it was spread to the Greek and Roman world by the early Apostles. In particular, Paul of Tarsus, a late follower of Christianity, devoted his life to translating Christianity into a form that was acceptable to Greeks and Romans. On the whole, however, the Romans didn't pay much attention to the Christians, since there were not many of them. Although both Nero and Domitian persecuted Christians for political reasons, mostly the Romans left them alone. It wasn't until the third and fourth centuries that Christianity grew dramatically in the Roman Empire (along with some so-called "mystery religions"), until it was finally declared the state religion in A.D. 391 by the Emperor Theodosius.

Architecture and Science

It was during this period that the Romans undertook their most massive building projects. This included the Pantheon in Rome (built by the Emperor Hadrian), which is the largest unsupported dome in the world, and the Colosseum, a massive games complex that could seat well over 60,000 people. All the great engineering projects date from this time, including a massive system of aqueducts. Rome itself had 11 aqueducts carrying 300 million gallons of water a day into the city from the surrounding hills. Not only was this water used for drinking and washing, it was also used for flushing the massive Roman sewer system.

Many historians regard the Romans as deficient in science. But though the Romans did not pursue speculative natural philosophy as the Greeks did, they did make a host of scientific discoveries in practical sciences such as engineering and medicine. The "discoveries" of the Greeks were rarely empirical in nature and frequently wrong (or immediately refuted). In medicine, the Romans advanced very far in the 1st and 2nd centuries; perhaps one of the greatest medical scientists of the ancient world was Galen, who lived in the last half of the 2nd century. His most important discovery was that blood circulated in the arteries. (The full mechanism, however, wouldn't be understood until the 17th century.)

This "Silver Age" came to an abrupt end in A.D. 180, when Commodus succeeded his father, Marcus Aurelius, as Emperor. Within a few short years, this slightly crazy ruler managed to undo over a century of stable political rule and cultural stability; Rome steered itself into a storm of chaos.

The Calamitous 3rd Century

At the age of 19, Commodus took over without opposition in a change of rulers that proved disastrous for people and Empire alike. The Roman historian Dio called the succession an exchange of a golden kingdom for one of iron and rust.

Fancying himself to be a reincarnation of Hercules, the slightly imbalanced Commodus was both brutal and incompetent. The Emperor also had a passion for gladiatorial combat, even taking to the arena himself dressed as a gladiator, a practice considered scandalous by the people of Rome, who saw gladiators as the lowest rung of society. In A.D. 192, part of the city of Rome again burned, and Commodus took this opportunity to re-name Rome as Colonia Commodiana. The months of the calendar also were all named in his honor. The Senate was re- named the Commodian Fortunate Senate; the army was designated the Commodian Army.

A year later, Commodus was strangled in his bath by the wrestler Narcissus, ordered by Commodus' mistress/cousin Marcia, a day before he planned to march into the Senate dressed as a gladiator to take office as Consul. Upon his death, the Senate restored the original names to the city of Rome and its institutions.

Commodus was succeeded by a Senator, Pertinax, who ruled for a mere 86 days before being killed and replaced by another Senator, Didius Julianus, who, in turn, would serve for only 66 days. The latter's reign was notable only for the means by which he became Emperor, i.e., by winning at what has been called the "Auction of an Empire."

When Pertinax was killed, no obvious successor was at hand. Pertinax's father-in-law, Flavius Sulpicianus, entered the Praetorian camp and tried unsuccessfully to get the troops to proclaim him Emperor. While most Senators shut themselves in their homes to wait out the crisis, Didius Julianus allowed himself to be taken to the camp. Prevented from entering, he began to make promises to the soldiers from outside the walls. Soon the scene turned into an auction, with Sulpicianus and Julianus bidding against each other as to the amount each would pay the troops.

The Roman Empire was up for sale to the highest bidder! When Julianus raised the bid by a whopping 5,000 sesterces to 25,000 sesterces -- displaying his outstretched hand to indicate the amount -- the Empire was sold. Julianus was allowed into the camp of the Praetorian Guards and there proclaimed Emperor.

Although the Senate duly confirmed the action, disturbances soon broke out in the city. Crowds called for the governor of Syria to return to Rome as the new Emperor. Two other provincial governors also declared themselves Emperor, including Septimius Severus in Upper Pannonia (which includes parts of present-day Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovakia.). Severus was the nearest to Rome and the most immediate danger to Julianus, whose envoys kept defecting to his rival's side. Severus then entered Italy without resistance and soon the Senate met to issue a death sentence on Julianus and proclaim Severus Emperor. His rule, which was characterized by extreme cruelty, lasted from A.D. 193 until his death in Britain in A.D. 211.


As the 3rd century A.D. began, the Roman Empire was once more facing a crisis. In the East, a new empire was arising in Iran -- the Sassanids. By A.D. 226, these people had brought the 400-year-old Parthian Empire to an end and began four centuries of Sassanid rule, thus restoring Persian glory. Their empire would eventually would include much of central Asia east of the Caspian Sea and south through modern-day Afganistan and Pakistan; most of the area between the Caspian and the Black Seas; modern-day Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan; the eastern and southern edges of the Arabian peninsula; and the northern part of Egypt. In many ways the Sassanid period witnessed the highest achievement of Persian civilization, and constituted the last great Iranian Empire before the Muslim conquest and adoption of Islam in these areas. Persia influenced Roman civilization considerably during these times, with the Romans reserving the status of equals to the Sassanid Persians alone.

Meanwhile, in the north, German tribes were beginning to migrate and raiding parties were pushing past Roman borders. The most dangerous of these were the Goths, who occupied southern Russia. By the middle of the third century, they had managed to take territory from Rome in the area that is now Bosnia.

To fan the flames of these foreign crises, Roman internal politics had fallen into chaos. When Emperor Septimius Severus (A.D. 193-211) seized power, he ruled as an absolute dictator, decimating the economy by dramatically raising taxes and drastically changing the character of the Senate. He directly attacked Senators and replaced them with military men, so the Senate gradually began to look like a military aristocracy. He also established a rigid class system that almost completely eliminated social mobility.

After his death in A.D. 211, a string of Emperors ruled, most extremely briefly. There were Severus' sons, Caracello and Geta, co-Emperors for ten months until Caracello murdered his brother and was in turn murdered four months later; Macrinus, who lasted 14 months; Elagabalus, almost four years (though with four other claimants to the throne during his rulE); and finally Severus Alexander, Elagalalus' cousin, who ruled for 13 years (A.D. 222-235) and whose reign saw increasing threats from the new Persian Sassanid dynasty whose object was to restore the glory that was once Persia. .

With the precedent set in A.D. 193 by Septimius Serverus of seizing and retaining power by using one's provincial army, Rome saw a nearly half century of "barracks Emperors" after the death of Severus Alexander in A.D. 235. All were generals and all seized power in the same way Septimius Severus had done. This period, from A.D. 235 to 280, was the most calamitous time in Roman history. Internal politics had fallen into complete disarray, the economy had become a disaster, taxation in some cases approached near-confiscation levels, and foreigners made tremendous inroads in capturing Roman territory. The last two of these "barracks Emperors" -- Claudius II Gothicus (A.D. 268-270) and Aurelian (A.D. 270-275) -- stemmed the tide slightly by pulling back troops from the frontier and hiring mercenary soldiers, but Roman government and stability would not be restored and reconstructed until the rule of Diocletian (A.D. 284-305). All told, however, in the 35 years between A.D. 235 and A.D. 270 (when Aurelian came to power) there were some 38 different Emperors!

The Rise of Christianity

These were times of immense social crisis and fear, and Romans underwent deep religious and philosophical changes. The fear and panic evoked by the loss of territory and the economic problems led people to adopt far more mystical religions and philosophies. It is during this century that Eastern religions, particularly Christianity, really take hold in Rome. Christianity, for instance, had hung on but was not a widespread religion in the Roman Empire until the 3rd century. With its promise of rewards in an afterlife, its emphasis on the individual and on spirituality, and its explanation of suffering in this world, it was a powerful world view in a world that seemed to be falling apart.

Other eastern religions, particularly Mithraism, which was derived from Persian Zoroastriansism, also promised an afterlife and a meaning to suffering and were as popular as Christianity. In fact, there were as many Mithraists in Rome in the 3rd century as there were Christians, in part because the two religions were so close to one another. (Both involved the son of god taking a human form to experience human suffering; the human life of this god involves a last supper and an execution; and both religions are concerned with the end of the world and promise a final judgement. The difference, however, was that Mithraism is at least three centuries older than Christianity.) The interaction between these two religions affected mainstream Christianity itself, including moving of the Sabbath day to Sunday and the celebration of the birth of Christ on December 25, both of which have no precedent in foundational Christianity and were taken directly from Mithraism, which had its day of worship on Sunday (Mithras was the god of the sun) and celebrated his birth in human form on December 25 (there is no established date for the birth of Christ).

New Philosophies

The Romans also reoriented themselves philosophically. The practical philosophies of Rome, particularly Stoicism, were edged out by new eastern and Greek philosophies. The most influential of these philosophies was Neo-Platonism. Founded in the first century by the Greek Plotinus and his pupil, Proclus, the Neo-Platonists believed that they were reviving the original philosophy of Plato. In reality, however, they believed that all phenomena and existence derived from a single deity that Plotinus called both "the One" and "God." Everything in existence "emanates" from "the One," the first of which is the "world soul." From that comes the souls of living things. The last of the emanations is the physical world. So all existence is a kind of hierarchy of emanations from "the One." Human life, then, should be spent in spiritual and intellectual contemplation in order to free the soul from matter; everything that is associated with the body, such as pleasure, should be rejected since these pleasures further chain the soul to the material world.

While this was becoming the major philosophy in Rome during the 3rd century, it corresponded to the phenomenal growth of Christianity within the Empire as well. Many Neo-Platonist ideas were incorporated into Christian theology by the most prominent Christian theorists of the time, particularly Saint Augustine, who had spent a large part of his life as a Neo-Platonist.

The decline of Rome during this century seemed to point to an almost certain demise, and the promise of an afterlife or a mystical reunion with "the One" seemed to be the only thing to hope for. However, the last of the "barracks Emperors," a shrewd and practical man named Diocletian, radically reconstructed the Empire and set the stage for the Christian Roman Empire in the 4th century.

The Empire Changes

While people like to talk about the "decline" or the "fall" of Rome, no such thing really happened. Although Rome underwent several shocks in the 4th and 5th centuries, some of them violent, finally with a transfer of the Imperiate to non-Romans in the West, Rome really did remain in existence. It's impossible to say when the history of Rome ends and when the medieval period begins. But the Empire as a single entity really does end, for all practical purposes, with the restructuring done by Diocletian.

The Empire Splits -- A Reorganization

Diocletian (A.D. 284-305) came to the throne after a century of disorganization, internal dissent, economic collapse, and foreign invasions. A tough and practical soldier, he had one ambition: To retire alive. And he managed to do it, an exceptional feat in itself considering the fate of most previous Emperors. He decided that the Empire was too large to be administered by a central authority, so he divided it in half. The western half would be ruled by a colleague, Maximian, and its seat of government would be Rome; the eastern half would be ruled by Diocletian, and its seat of government would be in Nicomedia in Turkey. Maximian recognized Diocletian as "Augustus," or the senior ruler of the Roman emperor. Beneath these two each had appointed two officials, called Caesars, not only to help manage affairs, but to assume their respective Empires upon the death of the Emperor. In this way, the succession was always guaranteed and the successors would have had experience in administering the Empire. This would accomplish two goals: It would prevent the possibility of the seizing of the Imperiate by ambitious provincial generals; and it would prevent incompetents from assuming control of the Empire.

This was a brilliant strategy and, with other innovations, stabilized the Empire. Diocletian was the first Emperor to manifestly break with Roman tradition. He shifted the seat of power to the East. He also adopted Eastern ideas of monarchy, no longer calling himself Princeps or even Imperator, but Dominus, or "Lord." He took a crown and wore royal clothing; he demanded and got out-and-out worship by his subjects.

The Tetrarchy

When Diocletion set up his "tetrarchy" in A.D. 293, each of the two Emperors and two Caesars established their own capital or headquarters. In the East, Diocletion operated out of Nicomedia in Bithynia while Galerius was headquartered in Sirmium (near modern Belgrade on the DanubE). In the West, the Emperor Maximian's capital was Miliolanum (now Milan) in Italy while his Caesar, Constantius Chlorus, operated out of what is now Trier in southern Germany.

In A.D. 305, Diocletian retired to a farm to raise cabbages and also forced Maxmian to retire. So power passed without fuss to their two Caesars. But this system, so promising in theory, fell apart almost immediately as the two new Emperors began feuding. Within a year, Constantine, the son of one of the original Caesars (and one who would rule for 31 years), gained the throne; first in the West and, finally, over the entire Empire.

Constantine the Great -- the First Christian Emperor

Kept initially at the court of Galerius as a pledge of good conduct for his father, Constantine had served with distinction under both Diocletian and Galerius in the East. In A.D. 306, he was allowed to join his father, Constantius, in Britain to help in a campaign against the Picts. When Constantius died in July of that year at York, Constantine was at his side. The soldiers at once proclaimed him Augustus.

Following a series of civil wars, Constantine was able to consolidate his power over the western half of the of the Roman Empire by A.D. 312. The key battle -- and a significant event in Constantine's religious development -- occurred at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber River just north of Rome in October of that year. According to one report, the night before the battle, Constantine was commanded in a dream to place the sign of Christ on the shields of his soldiers. He attributed his decisive victory the next day over a larger force to the power of "the God of the Christians" and committed himself to the Christian faith from that day on

And, in A.D. 324, after victory in another civil war over Licinius, now the Eastern Emperor, he was ruler once again over a single, united state, though he shifted the seat of government to the East to a new city in Turkey built on the site of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium on the Bosphorus. By A.D.328, the new walls were completed, and in May A.D. 330 the new city of Constantinople -- which would become the capital of Christianity and the Roman East until A.D. 1453 -- was formally dedicated

This "New Rome," both in its physical features and in its institutions, closely resembled the Old Rome. It was built on seven hills; it had a Senate; and its people received subsidized grain. Constantine completed and enlarged the city's hippodrome and also began the construction of two major churches in Constantinople, Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) and Hagia Eirene (Holy PeacE). Unlike the Old Rome, which was filled with pagan monuments and institutions, the New Rome was essentially a Christian capital, although not all traces of its pagan past had been eliminated.

Constantine was like Diocletian in his affection for Eastern ways of life. He took on himself all the trappings of an Eastern king, as Diocletian had done, and declared the Imperiate to be hereditary. After 800 years without a king, Rome had finally returned back to monarchy. During his reign, Constantine instituted a new type of coin, the gold solidus, which won wide acceptance and remained the standard for centuries to come. Constantine also was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. Although he didn't make Christianity a state religion, his conversion provoked a wild proliferation of the faith, particularly in the East.

The First Council of Nicaea

Constantine, however, had several problems with his new faith, the first of which was that there was no established doctrine. In fact, there seemed to be almost as many forms of Christianity as there were communities of Christians. The second was more pressing, for Christianity was manifestly anti-political. Jesus of Nazareth had stressed that Christian life is a non-worldly, individualistic, non-political life. As a result, Christian texts are not only anti-Roman (for Judea was part of the Roman Empire during the life of Jesus), but consistently dismissive of worldly authority. If Christianity were going to be accepted as a religion in a state ruled by a monarch who demanded absolute authority, there would have to be some reconciliation.

To settle these problems, in A.D.325, Constantine convened a group of some 318 Christian bishops at the city of Nicaea in Bithynia (on the southwestern end of the Black Sea). There the basic orthodoxy of Christianity was summarized in what came to be called the Nicene Creed, the basic statement of belief for orthodox Christians. Constantine accomplished more, however, for the Nicene Council also ratified his own power. At the same time, Christianity would begin the long struggle, lasting to this day, between the anti-political ideas of Jesus of Nazareth and the Christianity that allows for human authority and power.

At some time during A.D. 326, Constantine ordered the execution of his oldest son Crispus and later that same year brought about the death of Fausta, the mother of his three other sons. Various rumors suggest everything from intrigue against the Emperor to an incestuous relationship; the truth will never be known.

Helena, Daughter of the Taverns and the Emperor's Mother

Shortly after these sad events, probably somewhere around A.D. 326 to 328, Constantine's mother, the 75-year-old Helena, undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Some say that this pilgrimage was an act of expiation, either for her own sins or for those of her son. Nevertheless, in the course of her journey Helena impressed Eusebius, the Bishop of Caesarea (who is often referred to as the father of church history because of his work in recording early Christian history), by her piety, humility and charity. She played a role in the building of the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem and the Church of the Eleona on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives. But the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the ruins of a Roman temple to Venus built by Hadrian and where, according to legend, Helena found the relics of the True Cross, seems to have been an undertaking of Constantine alone.

Helena, raised in the Roman province of Illyricum on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, was either the daughter of an innkeeper or a stabularia (barmaid) in a tavern -- take your pick. In any event, around A.D. 270, a handsome but pale-skinned Roman officer fell deeply in love with this tavern wench and took her as his mistress. Like many soldiers had done in the past, Constantius Chlorus (so called because of his pale skin) and Helena settled down to a life together on the edge of the Empire and before long their union produced a son -- probably in A.D. 271 or 272 -- who would become Constantine the Great. The relationship between Constantius and Helena apparently endured for more than 20 years as this ambitious Roman soldier rose rapidly through the ranks. He was a leader of cavalry and served in the Emperor Aurelian's campaign against Zenobia of Palmyra in A.D. 272.


(Zenobia was the Queen-dowager of the city of Palmyra, located near the edge of the Syrian desert, between Roman Syria and Persian Babylonia, at an oasis watered by the Efqa spring. The city prospered by organizing and protecting caravan routes across the desert. Beginning in A.D. 268, Zenobia, who is described as a woman of extreme beauty, well educated and heavily influenced by Greek thought, and one who enjoyed the company of her husband in the hunt, began a policy of expansion. She soon carved out her own empire, encompassing Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt and large parts of Asia Minor.

(In A.D. 272, when Aurelian was strong enough to invade, he recovered Asia Minor easily; every city but Byzantium and Tyana surrendered to him with little resistance. The fall of Tyana lends itself to a legend. Up till then, Aurelian had destroyed every city that resisted him, but he spared Tyana after a dream about the great 1st century philosopher Apollonius of Tyana, whom he respected greatly. In the dream, Apollonius implored him, stating: "Aurelian, if you desire to rule, abstain from the blood of the innocent! Aurelian, if you will conquer, be merciful!" So Aurelian spared Tyana and it paid off: Many more cities surrendered on seeing that he would not exact revenge. Within six months, Palmyra itself surrendered and Zenobia and her young son were captured and forced to walk though the streets of Rome in golden chains in Aurelian's triumph. Later she was married to a Roman and lived out her life in the provinces of Italy.)


Presumably Constantius returned with the rest of the Aurelian troops in A.D. 273 to rejoin Helena and his young son. That he was held in high regard is indicated by the fact that in A.D. 282, the Eemperor Carus named him governor of Dalmatia (Carus is even said to have considered adopting him as his heir in place of his own son). Advancement continued as he was appointed Praetorian Prefect by the Emperor Maximian in A.D. 288. Five years later, he was appointed Caesar but, as part of the deal, had to give up his relationship with Helena and marry Maximian's daughter Theodora. (At this point, to strengthen his bond with Galerius and Diocletian in the East, Constantius allowed Galerius to keep his son Constantine as a hostage.)

Helena then drops out of the picture for almost two decades, reappearing only in A.D. 306 when the troops in York proclaimed Constantine as successor to his father. It is said that from this time on Helena joined her son's court. After Constantine finally defeated his enemies at the Milvian Bridge on October 12, A.D. 312, he entered Rome as Emperor and conferred the title "Augusta" on his mother. For the rest of his reign (especially after he became sole Emperor following the defeat of Licinius in A.D. 324), she was a visible and respected member of the Imperial family, outshining even the Emperor's wife. Sometime after A.D. 312, the entire Imperial family accepted baptism. Whether it was at Helena's behest that Constantine embraced Christianity or the other way around, sources agree that Helena fervently embraced the new creed. She worked with Comstantine to build Christian churches in Rome, including the original St. Peter's on the Vatican Hill. "Finding" the True Cross

But the crowning pont in Helena's storybook life was her discovery of the "true cross." On her visit to the Holy Land as an old woman, the Bishop of Jerusalem, with a true flair for the dramatic, unearthed a 300-year-old cross from the earth of Calvary that had mysteriously never seen the ravages of time, earth and wood-boring insects. While this relic may have been planted in an ingenious plot by the bishop to create an ancient artifact, a holy relic, and a miracle before the eyes of an aging Empress, let us not allow the intrusion of archaeological facts to ruin a good story. Regardless of the genuineness of the artifact that had been discovered, these events helped create a popular church legend and secure a permanent place in history for this remarkable woman. The story of her finding the True Cross was the subject of a celebrated 9th-century poem by the Anglo-Saxon poet Cynewulf.

The Legacy of Constantine the Great

His victory at the Milvian Bridge counts among the most decisive moments in world history, while his legalization and support of Christianity and his foundation of a "New Rome" at Byzantium rank among the most momentous decisions ever made by a European ruler. The fact that ten Byzantine Emperors after him bore his name are a measure of his importance and of the esteem in which he was held. Although Constantine had been professing the Christian faith since A.D. 312, he was not baptized until shortly before his death in Nicomedia in May A.D. 337.

Before Constantine died, he divided the Empire between his three sons, who almost immediately began fighting one another. Although his sons all adopted Christianity, the Emperor who succeeded them, Julian the Apostate, opposed the religion and dismissed all Christians from the government. However, he was a little too late and reigned a little too briefly (A.D. 361-363) to have any real effect on Christianity.

Rome's government during the 4rth century is essentially a series of dynastic squabbles and constant internal fractiousness. It wasn't until the end of the century, in the rule of Theodosius (A.D. 379-395), that Rome was again united under a single Emperor. Theodosius made his mark in history by not only declaring Christianity the state religion of Rome, but also by making all pagan religious practices illegal. The Christian Roman Empire was finally a reality.

Goths, Visgoths, Huns and Other Barbarians -- Rome Falls

The "migration period"is a name given by historians to the large movement of various peoples that occurred primarily in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. It is notable here because of its impact on the Roman Empire. These migrations included the Goths, Vandals and Franks, among other tribes, and may have been triggered by the westward incursions of the Huns, which, in turn, were connected to the Turkic migration in Central Asia, population pressures and/or climate changes. (Similar migrations would continue well into the second millennium, with successive waves of Slavs, Alans, Avars, Bulgars, Hungarians, Pechenegs, Cumans and Tatars radically changing the ethnic makeup of Eastern Europe; but we are not concerned with them.)

The Invasive Peoples

While Rome had always been subject to incursions from so-called "barbarians" (from the Roman point of vieW) living on the Empire's borders, the threat to Roman civilization grew particularly grim during the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. So here's a brief run-down on these "migrating people" coming from the north and east, roughly in the order they appeared or threatened the Roman Empire's borders (those marked with a asterisk ["*"] are the "major players"):

The Marcomanni were a Germanic tribe, probably related to the Suevi. From their base in what is now Bohemia, the Marcomanni entered into a confederation against the Roman Empire in the second century with other tribes including the Quadi, Vandals, and Sarmatians. (This was probably driven by movements of larger tribes like the Goths.) The Marcomanni became Christians under their queen Fritigil in the mid -5th century following correspondence with Ambrose of Milan.)

The Quadi were a smaller Germanic tribe, about which little is known except they were migrating alongside the more numerous Marcomanni. In A.D. 169, the two tribes crossed the Danube and invaded Italy, placing the city of Aquileia under siege (the first invasion of Italy since the late second century B.C.). By A.D. 178, both tribes had been pushed back across the Danube River.

* The Goths were an East Germanic tribe who had earlier left Scandinavia and settled close to the mouth of the Vistula River in present-day Poland. From the 2nd century on, they moved on to settle Scythia, Dacia and Pannonia in the Balkans. In the 3rd and 4th centuries, they harried the Roman Empire and later adopted a form of Christianity. In the 5th and 6th centuries, dividing into the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths (West Goths and East Goths, respectively, even though the Visigoths came from an area east of the Ostrogoths!), they established powerful follower-states of the Roman Empire in Iberia and Italy.

* The Franks were formed out of a number of Germanic tribes who entered the late Roman Empire from the east river bank of the Rhine into northern Belgium or Flanders and modern southern Holland, where by the middle of the 4th century they were accepted as a Roman ally. Later they established a lasting realm that eventually covered most of modern-day France, the Low Countries and the western regions of Germany. The conversion of the pagan Frankish King Clovis to Christianity in the late 5th century was a crucial event in European history.

The Burgundians, like the Franks, did not play a great role in undermining the Western Roman Empire. They crossed the Rhine with the Vandals in A.D. 406 and settled along the west bank, making their capital at Geneva. Subjugated by the Huns in A.D. 437, eventually Burgundy became another piece in the Frankish kingdom.

* The Huns were a confederation of Central Asian equestrian nomads. Some of these Eurasian tribes moved into Europe in the 4th century, forcing a large number of Goths to seek refuge in the Roman Empire. Later, in the very early part of the 5th century, subsequent movements triggered massive migration of Germanic tribes westward across the Rhine. The most famous leader of the Huns was Attila, whose empire by the middle of the 4th century stretched from the Netherlands in the west to the Ural River and Caspian Sea in the east and from the Danube River north to the Baltic Sea. Attila' s Huns had defeated the Eastern Roman Empire armies on several occasions, threatening the capital city of Constantinople twice, before launching his final forays into western Europe and Italy.

The Gepids were an East Germanic tribe that migrated to Dacia (modern Romania) around A.D. 260. They are most famous in history for defeating the Huns at the Battle of Nedao in A.D. 454 after the death of Attila.

The Sarmatians were a multi-tribal confederacy of western Scythia (an area north of the Black Sea in present-day UkrainE). Originally of Iranian stock who migrated from Central Asia and settled in southern European Russia and the eastern Balkans, they were closely related to the Scythians and were expert horsemen and warriors. (Women reportedly fought alongside men, which in ancient times may have inspired Greek tales of Amazons.) By the 3rd century, they had occupied Dacia and the lower Danube (modern-day Romania) before being overrun by the Goths. Many joined the Gothic invasion of Western Europe. Sarmatia was destroyed by the Huns after AD 370 and their descendants cannot be traced after the 5th century.

* The Vandals were an East Germanic tribe that entered the Roman Empire during the 5th century, moving through Gaul into the Iberian Penninsula and giving their name to the region of Andalusia, where they temporarily settled before being pushed onto Africa by the Visigoths. From that base, with a large fleet, they looted the coasts of the Roman Empire and, in A.D. 455, took Rome and plundered the city.

* The Suevi (or Suebi) were a Germanic tribe originating near the Baltic Sea who then moved to the area around the Rhine River in western Germany. Closely related to the Alamanni and often working in concert with them, the Suevi for the most part stayed on the right bank of the Rhine River until December 31, A.D. 406, when they joined the Vandals and Alans in breaching the Roman frontier at Mainz, thus launching an invasion of the province of Gaul. Later, when the Vandals and Alans clashed with the Roman-allied Franks for supremacy in Gaul, the Suevi under their king Hermeric moved south, eventually crossing the Pyrenees and entering the Iberian Peninsula.

* The Alans (or Alani) were an Iranian nomadic group among the Sarmatian people who originated in the area north of the Black Sea. Around A.D. 370, the Alans were overwhelmed by the Huns, dividing into several groups, some of whom fled westward and joined the Germanic tribes of Vandals and Suevi in their invasion of Roman Gaul early in the 5th century.

The Jutes were a Germanic people who are believed to have originated from Jutland in modern Denmark. The Jutes, along with the Angles, Saxons and Frisians, were among the Germanic tribes who sailed across the North Sea to raid and eventually invade Great Britain from the late 4th century onwards, either displacing, absorbing or destroying the native Celtic peoples there.

Angles is a modern English word for a Germanic-speaking people who took their name from a district of Germany located just south of Denmark. During the 5th century, the Angles invaded Great Britain.

The Saxons originated in northwest Germany and the northeastern part of the Netherlands. During the 5th century, they were part of the people invading the Roman province of Britannia, where they mingled with the Angles and became the Anglo-Saxons.

Four significant dates (mostly disastrous, from the Roman point of view) stand out during these migratory invasions over the three-quarter century roughly stretching from A.D. 378 to A.D. 455.

Adrianople - A.D. 378

The first was in A.D. 378 at Adrianople (in modern European Turkey) when Roman forces under the Eastern Emperor Valens were soundly defeated by an army of Gothic rebels. Heavily equipped Gothic horsemen turned the course of the battle, which ended with the death of the Emperor and as many as 40,000 legionnaires. The Romans were annihilated, suffering the worst defeat since Hannibal's victory at the Battle of Cannae nearly 600 years before. The Battle of Adrianople was a key moment in world history, marking not only where power shifted from Rome to the "barbarians" but also establishing the dominance of cavalry over infantry for the next thousand years.

The First Sack of Rome - A.D. 410

The second key date was August 24, A.D. 410, when a traitor within Rome opened the Salarian Gate, letting the Visigoths under King, Alaric I into the city. There they destroyed most of Rome and took a number of prisoners, including the Emperor's sister. (The Emperor Honorius, meanwhile, was safe in Ravenna, the fortified city in northeastern Italy where he had moved the capital when the Visigoths entered Italy.) For the first time in eight centuries a foreign invader had entered Rome.

Following the sack of Rome, Alaric led his troops south, intending to sail to the grain- rich Roman province of Africa where he could provision his army. But first a storm wrecked his ships; and next, Alaric died. His brother-in-law then led the Visigoths north (devastating Tuscany as they left), across the Alps, and then west into southern Gaul and northern Spain. They increased their territories in Spain (forcing the Vandals into northern Africa, where they defeated the Romans and made Carthage their capital). After acquiring Aquitaine, the Visigoths extended their influence to the Loire valley, making Toulouse their capital. The height of Visigoth power was reached under Euric (A.D. 466-484), who completed the conquest of Spain. In A.D. 507, the Visigoths were defeated by the Franks under King Clovis, who took over all their possessions north of the Pyrenees. Toledo became the new Visigothic capital, and the history of the Visigoths essentially became that of Spain.

The sack of heretofore unconquered Rome ("Roma Invicta") reverberated throughout the ancient world. For Saint Jerome, who was in Bethlehem, it was as if "the bright light of all the world was put out" and "the whole world perished in one city." In another letter, he wrote, "Who would believe that Rome, built up by the conquest of the whole world, had collapsed, that the mother of nations had become also their tomb."

For the Romans, the sack of their city must have been a horrible emotional and physical blow. Saint Jerome expresses it perhaps most eloquently in a letter to Principia, a pupil of Saint Marcella (a rich young widow in Rome who had taken a vow of poverty and was captured and tortured during the Gothic occupation; she died within a few months after the assault):

"My voice sticks in my throat; and, as I dictate, sobs choke my utterance. The City which had taken the whole world was itself taken."

Attila the Hun & the Battle of Chalons - A.D. 451

The third key date -- even though this outcome initially ended up on the plus side for the Romans -- was some 40 years later in A.D. 451 at Chalons (in France midway between modern Paris and Metz), when a coalition of Roman and Visigoth forces clashed violently with the army of Attila the Hun. The Huns were a nomadic tribe of excellent horsemen originally from Central Asia with a new kind of bow that could shoot arrows farther than the bows of western armies. In A.D. 434, Attila and his brother succeeded their uncle as leaders of the Hun kingdom, which was centered in modern-day Hungary. Upon his brother's death 12 years later, Attila embarked immediately upon a series of wars and soon extended Hun rule from the Rhine and Danube Rivers across an area north of the Black Sea as far east as the Caspian Sea.

Then, in the spring of A.D. 451, Attila, called the "Scourge of God" -- and whose name has become a byword for cruelty and barbarism -- forged an alliance with the Franks and Vandals and unleashed his long-threatened attack into the heart of Western Europe. The devastation that the Huns caused in Gaul before the great Battle of Chalons became a part of medieval folklore and tradition. After pillaging a broad swath of cities in his path, including Rheims, Mainz, Strasbourg, Cologne, Worms and Trier, Attila met the Roman-Visigoth army in June at the Battle of Chalons. As night fell, the Huns had taken a beating, though losses on both sides were extraordinary, including the king of the Visigoths. Attila retreated, but the Roman general did not pursue his advantage, fearing that a rout of the Huns would give the Visigoths too much power. (He convinced the slain king's son to quickly return home and secure the throne for himself before his brothers could and thus prevent civil war among the Visigoths.)

Though beaten and forced to retreat across the Rhine, Attila still had a powerful force, and the next year he crossed over the Alps and this time moved down into Italy, launching another great invasion that terrorized the inhabitants of the Western Roman Empire. In some ways, this second invasion of the West was even more savage than the first. The city of Aquileia at the northern tip of the Adriatic was wiped off the face of the earth (the city's fugitives supposedly founded the city of Venice when they fled to small islands in the Venetian Lagoon). Much of the Po Valley -- Milan, Verona and Padua -- was devastated and depopulated.

It appeared that Italy would be lost to the invaders. But when Attila reached the Po River, he was confronted by two Senators and by Pope Leo I -- and, inexplicably, turned back. The Christian version of the story is that Attila was humbled by Leo's holiness, but an epidemic among the Hun army also may have played a part. Whatever the reason, Attila returned north, only to die a year later in an appropriately barbarian death. After taking a new, young, beautiful bride and spending the wedding day in heavy drinking and partying, the next morning Attila was found dead -- supposedly from a massive nosebleed that caused him to drown in his own blood. The power struggles that followed caused the powerful Hun empire to disappear like smoke in the wind, never to be seen again.

The Vandals and the Final Sack of Rome - A.D. 455

However, even with Attila the Hun's death, barbarian threats and invasions had not ended. From the south, the Vandal fleet was still raiding Roman coastal cities and towns. And, in A.D. 455, came the last of those four disastrous Roman dates -- the sacking of Rome by the Vandals.

From A.D. 407 to 409, the Vandals, along with their allies -- the Alans and Germanic tribes like the Suevi -- had swept into the Iberian peninsula. In response to this invasion, Honorius, the Emperor in the West, enlisted the aid of the Visigoths to regain control of the territory by giving them land in Gallia Aquitania on which to settle. These settlements formed the nucleus of the future Visigothic kingdom that would eventually expand across the Pyrenees and onto the Iberian peninsula, forcing the Vandals to move south into Africa.

Before their exodus, the Vandals had won a great victory against a Roman-Gothic army, capturing many Roman ports in Spain, including many galleys. Thus, the Vandals became the first Teutonic people to develop a Mediterranean navy. And so it was that, along with the remnants of the Alans (who had suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Visigoths), the Vandals under their new king Geiseric (who would rule for almost 50 years!) landed in A.D. 429 in North Africa with more than 80,000 followers including Vandals, Alans, Roman-Spaniards, former slaves and several Germanic tribes with their families. They seized lands from the local Berbers, overrunning the country with no limit to their savage atrocities and cruelties. (During the course of the war, Saint Augustine died during the siege of the city of Hippo Regius.) By A.D. 429, the Vandals had conquered Carthage (where they captured a large part of the western Roman navy) and were acknowledged rulers of North Africa, which they used as a base for raids on the coastal cities of the Roman Empire with their now even more powerful fleet.

In A.D. 455, the Vandal king Geiseric sailed this powerful fleet from his capital in Carthage up the Tiber River, finally sacking Rome. (The murder and usurption of the previous Emperor Valentinian III by Petronius Maximus that same year was seen by Geiseric as an invalidation of his A.D. 442 peace treaty with Valentinian.)

Upon the arrival of the Vandals, according to the chronicler Prosper, Pope Leo I implored Geiseric not to destroy the ancient city or murder its inhabitants. Geiseric agreed and the gates of Rome were thrown open to him and his men for 14 days to loot and pillage (hence the origin of the term "vandalism"). Maximus, who fled rather than fight the Vandal warlord, was killed by a Roman mob outside the city. Geiseric looted great amounts of treasure from the city, also taking the Empress Licinia Eudoxia, Valentinian's widow, and her daughters hostage. One of these daughters was Eudocia, who was later to marry Geiseric's son Huneric.

Rome, once more, had been violated. And this time there was no Saint Jerome to deliver a eulogy.

Rome's Final Moment

From its creation as a separate entity following the death of Emperor Theodosius the Great in A.D. 395, the Western Roman Empire had grown steadily weaker. Its territorial possessions in Europe were progressively dismembered by the barbarian tribes that surrounded them. Britain, Spain, France and Germany all fell away to poaching Angles, Goths, Vandals, Franks and Huns. Ultimately, little more than the Italian peninsula remained -- and that itself was endangered. The Imperial army became less reliable and effective as it began to rely increasingly on Goths and other barbarian mercenaries recruited to fill its ranks.

As noted earlier, in A.D. 410, a daring Goth force seized and sacked the city of Rome itself, although the attackers quickly retreated. The city fell again in A.D. 455, this time to Vandal raiders from North Africa and Sicily, who held the city for two weeks before leaving with their loot. All semblance of effective leadership crumbled in the ensuing 21 years as succession to the Imperial throne became mired in political maneuvering -- with nine different Emperors on the Western throne during this period.

Out of this turmoil sprang an uprising among the barbarian mercenaries in the Imperial army. A man named Odoacer, son of Germanic parents, emerged as emerged as leader of the rebel movement, which included some 30,000 men plus their families. Finally, in A.D. 476, Odoacer deposed the last Roman Emperor, aptly named Romulus Augustus. He became the first barbarian ruler in Italy, with substantially all of the Italian mainland under his command. The Western Roman Empire was gone. Power had passed from the Romans to the barbarians; the Middle Ages had begun.

Rome now passed to two heirs -- Europe in the West and, in the East, the Byzantines, who carried on the government structure, the social structure, the art and the thought of classical Rome and Greece. Although Roman rule in the West was gone, the Byzantine Empire in the East lasted for nearly another 700 years. It would finally fall to an army of Ottoman Turks led by Sultan Mehmed II on May 29, 1453, after a two-month siege of the capital city of Constantinople.


Roman Timeline:

Roman Kingdom (753 to 509 B.C. - there were seven traditional Kings of Rome before the establishment of the Roman Republic in 509 B.C.)

  • 753-716 B.C. - Romulus, founder of Rome
  • 716-715 B.C. - Senators rule until second king elected
  • 715-672 B.C. - Numa Pompilius, a Sabine who ruled over a period of peace
  • 672-640 B.C. - Tullius Ostilius (arranged a duel to conquer Alba)
  • 640-616 B.C. - Anca Marzio, established the port of Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber River and built the first bridge over the Tiber
  • 616-579 B.C. - Tarquinius Prisco, an Etruscan who built the Circus Maxiumus for games and the Cloaca Maxima sewer system for the city
  • 579-535 B.C. - Servius Tullius, son of the previous king, one of the greatest kings after Romulus
  • 535-509 B.C. - Tarquinius the Proud, a tyrant who was thrown out of office after his son raped Lucretia, wife of a Patrician

Roman Republic (509 to 27 B.C. - the government of Rome and its territories until the establishment of the Roman Empire under Augustus in 27 B.C.)

  • 494 B.C. - Plebian Tribunate established.
  • 450 B.C. - "Law of the Twelve Tables" codifies Roman law and its constitution.
  • 445 B.C. - Patricians and Plebeians can intermarry.
  • 387 B.C. - Celtic Gauls from central Europe under Brennus sack and burn Rome.
  • 343-341 B.C. - First Samnite War.
  • 340-338 B.C. - Latin War.
  • 338 B.C. - Rome dissolves Latin League and takes control of all Latinium.
  • 326-304 B.C. - Second Samnite War.
  • 298-290 B.C. - Third Samnite War (Etruscans, Umbrians, Gauls and other regional tribes joined in arms with the Samnites); Rome is victor.
  • 295 B.C. - Rome wins crucial battle for Italy at Sentinum in Umbria.
  • 287 B.C. - Actions of the Plebeian Assembly are binding on all Roman citizenry.
  • 281-275 B.C. - Rome takes over Greek colonies in the Italian "boot" and Sicily.
  • 279 B.C. - Pyrrhus wins "Pyrrhic Victory" at the Battle of Asculum.
  • 264-241 B.C. - First Punic War with Carthage.
  • 238 B.C. - Romans seize the island of Corsica
  • 218-202 B.C. - Second Punic War
    • 218 B.C. - Hannibal crosses the Alps with his elephants and defeats Romans at the Ticinus and Trebbia Rivers
    • 217 B.C. - Hannibal's ambush at Like Trasimere crushes Romans.
    • 216 B.C. - Hannibal wins decisive victory over larger Roman army at Cannae.
    • 209 B.C. - Scipio Africanus takes the war to Iberia, captures Cartagena and drives the Carthagian army out of Spain.
    • 204 B.C. - Scipio crosses to Africa and mounts siege of Carthage.
    • 203 B.C. - Carthage sues for peace; Hannibal is recalled from Italy.
    • 202 B.C. - Scipio defeats Hannibal at Zama (the only battle Hannibal ever loses).
  • 215-205 B.C. - First Macedonian War between Rome and Phillip Vends in a stalemate.
  • 200-196 B.C. - Second Macedonian War ends with Greek city-states as Roman protectorates.
  • 172-168 B.C. - Third Macedonian War ends with Rome in hegonomic control of Greece.
  • 149-146 B.C. - Third Punic War; Carthage is destroyed and surrounding land is salted to make it uninhabitable.
  • 135 132 B.C. - First Servile War (slave insurrection on Sicily).
  • 133 B.C. - Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (163-133 B.C.) elected Tribune. He fought for plebeian reforms and was murdered by his opponents.
  • 123 B.C. - Caius Sempronius Gracchus (153-121 B.C.) elected Tribune. Attempted continuation of popular reforms; murdered like his brother.
  • 111-105 B.C. - The Jugurthine War. Marius and Sulla defeat Jugurtha, king of Numidia.
  • 110 B.C. - Marius takes Julia (Caesar's aunt) of the Julii family as wife.
  • 107 B.C. - Marius elected to the first of seven Consulships.
  • 105 B.C. - Marius elected to his second Consulship, despite laws banning this.
  • 104-103 B.C. - Second Servile War (slave insurrection on Sicily).
  • 102-101 B.C. - Cimbri invasions from Macedonia repelled by Marius and Sulla.
  • 91-89 B.C. - Social Wars pit Italian allied cities against Rome; Marius and Sulla defeat the allies; Cato (one of two Consuls) defeated and killed in 89 B.C.
  • 90 B.C. - "Lex Julia," introduced by Lucius Julius Caesar as Consul, offers Roman citizenship to all citizens of Italian cities who had not raised arms against Rome in the Social Wars.
  • 89 B.C. - Lex Pompeia or "Latin right" lets certain foreigners marry and trade with Roman citizens and, after transfer to Rome, possible Roman citizenship.
  • 89-85 B.C. - 1st Mithidatic War; Sulla defeats Mithridates VI (who ruled Pontus from 120-63 B.C.).
  • 88-86 B.C. - Civil War. Gaius Marius (157-86 B.C.) leads the popular party against Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138-78 B.C.), who successfully leads the aristocratic party and eventually becomes dictator of Rome.
  • 83-72 B.C. - Sertorius' revolt in Hispania; put down by Pompey.
  • 83-82 B.C. - 2nd Mithidatic War; Sulla orders Mithridates VI to desist.
  • 82-79 B.C. - Sulla is dictator of Rome; issues "proscriptions"or lists of so-called public enemies who are to be summarily executed and whose property can be confiscated by the state.
  • 73-63 B.C. - 3rd Mithidatic War; Lucius Licinius Lucullus and Pompey the Great defeat Mithridates VI.
  • 73-71 B.C. - Slave revolt of Spartacus. Put down by Crassus with the aid of Pompey.
  • 70 B.C. - Pompey and Crassus elected Consuls (even though Pompey was six years too young for the office and had never held any of the lower magistracies). They repeal Sulla's unpopular laws and restore the power of the Tribunes.
  • 69 B.C. - Caesar appointed governor of Spain. Both his aunt Julia and his wife Cornelia (mother of his infant daughter Julia) die; Caesar gives stirring funeral orations for both, a break from tradition.
  • 69-67 B.C. - Crete is conquered as part of battle with Cilician pirates; becomes a Roman province.
  • 67 B.C. - Pompey the Great quickly defeats the Cilician pirates of the eastern Mediterranean.
  • 67 B.C. - For political gain, Caesar marries Pompeia, granddaughter of Sulla and daughter of Quintus Pompey.
  • 65 B.C. - Caesar elected as Curule Aedile (a magistrate position), the next step in the Roman cursus honorum or "ladder of power."
  • 63 B.C. - Caesar elected as Pontifex Maximus (head priest of RomE), a position of considerable power, with opportunity for income. He also wins the office of urban Praetor.
  • 63-62 B.C. - Catiline Conspiracy; i.e., conflict between the Senate and the dissatisfied followers of Lucius Sergius Catiline.
  • 61 B.C. - Caesar divorces Pompeia following the Clodius scandal; Crassus helps Caesar pay off his debts.
  • 61-60 B.C. - As governor and military commander, Caesar wins victories over local Spanish Calaici and Lusitani tribes, advancing as far as the Atlantic Ocean and subduing tribes that had never before bowed to the Romans. His conquests gave him enough spoils of war to pay off all of his huge debts.
  • 60 B.C. - First Triumvirate of Julius Caesar, Marcus Crassus (the richest man in RomE) and Pompey the Great.
  • 59 B.C. - Pompey is married to Caesar's daughter Julia; Caesar marries Calpurnia, the daughter of Piso.
  • 58-51 B.C. - Caesar assumes governorship of Cisalpine Gaul, Illyricum and Transalpine Gaul; conquers France, Belgium and parts of Britain.
    • 58 B.C. - Caesar crushes the migrating Helvetii.
    • 57-56 B.C. - Caesar defeates the Belgae.
    • 56 B.C. - Caesar bridges the Rhine River.
    • 55 B.C. - Caesar crosses the channel to Britain.
    • 54 B.C. - Second invasion of Britain; Belgae again subdued.
    • 53 B.C. - Caesar bridges the Rhine a second time; again defeats Germanic tribes.
    • 52 BC., September - Caesar defeats Vercingetorix at the siege of Alesia.
    • 51 B.C. - Remaining Gaulic tribal revolts end; Caesar is master of Gaul.
  • 54 B.C. - Julia (Caesar's daughter, Pompey's wifE) dies in childbirth.
  • 53 B.C. - Crassus is killed in ill-fated campaign in Parthia..
  • 52 B.C. - Pompey is elected sole Consul; remarries the daughter of one of Caesar's political enemies.
  • 49 B.C. - Caesar crosses the Rubicon; civil war begins.
  • 48 B.C. - Caesar defeats Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalus; Pompey is beheaded in Egypt.
  • 47 B.C. - Caesar leaves Cleopatra in charge in Alexandria with three legions to support her; sweeps through Asia Minor to defeat Pharnaces, reporting to Romans, "veni, vidi, vici" ("I came, I saw, I conquered").
  • 46 B.C. - Caesar celebrates four spectacular "triumphs;" reforms the calendar; is appointed dictator for 10 years.
  • 45 B.C. - Caesar names his grand-nephew Octavius as heir; is appointed dictator for life.
  • 44 B.C. - Caesar is assassinated, ending eventually in Octavius' elevation to emperor as Augustus Caesar.
  • 43-33 B.C. - Second Triumvirate of Marc Antony, Octavian and Lepidus.
  • 41 B.C. - Marc Antony & Cleopatra have an affair.
  • 36 B.C. - The Second Triumvirate dwindles to two, as Lepidus' power is stripped.
  • 32-30 B.C. - Final war of the Roman Republic as the western provinces, led by Octavian and Agrippa, defeat the east under Mark Antony and Cleopatra.
  • 27 B.C. - Octavian granted the title of Augustus (Princeps) by the Senate.
Roman Empire (27 B.C. to A.D. 476 - conventionally used to describe the Roman state in the centuries following its reorganization under the leadership of Caesar Augustus)
Note: A complete list of Roman Emperors with their year(s) of rule follows this timeline. Only particularly noteworthy Imperial dates are included in the timeline.
  • 20 B.C. - Roman military standards lost to the Parhians by Marcus Crassus recovered.
  • 19 B.C. - Virgil composes the Aeneid, a mythological epic of the founding of Rome.
  • 8 B.C. - Horace, the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus, dies. (He wrote many Latin phrases that remain in use today, including carpe diem -- seize the day") and Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori -- "It is sweet and proper to die for the fatherland").
  • 8 A.D. - The poet Ovid is banished by Augustus to Tomis on the western coast of the Black Sea, where he dies 10 years later.
  • 14 A.D. - Tiberius succeeds Augustus, who died on Aug. 19.
  • 19 A.D. - Death of Germanicus, heir to Tiberius.
  • 26 A.D. - Sejanus rules as Roman Empire "regent."
  • 31 A.D. - Sejanus is denounced by Tiberius as a traitor and executed.
  • 37 A.D. - Caligula (son of Germanicus, called "Little Boot") becomes Emperor.
  • 41 A.D. - Caligula is assassinated by the Praeterian Guard, Claudius is proclaimed Emperor.
  • 43 A.D. - Roman conquest of Britain by Claudius.
  • 54 A.D. - Nero, last of the Julio-Claudians, becomes Emperor.
  • 59 A.D. - Nero arranges the murder of his mother, Agrippna the Younger.
  • 61 A.D. - Major rebellion in Britan, led by Queen Boudicca, is crushed.
  • 62 A.D. - Nero marries Poppaea, shows increasing signs of insanity and depravity.
  • 64 A.D. - The great fire of Rome destroys two-thirds of the city; Nero builds his Domus Aurea ("Golden House") on much of the ruins; first persecutions of Christians occur.
  • 66 A.D. - Vespasian ordered to quell revolt in Judea.
  • 67 A.D. - Nero orders the crucifixion of St. Peter; later, the beheading of Paul of Tarsus.
  • 68-69 A.D. - Year of the four emperors
    • Galba - June 8, A.D. 68 - Jan. 15, A.D. 69
    • Otho - Jan. 16 - Mar. 15, A.D. 69
    • Vitellius - April 17 - Dec. 20, A.D. 69
    • Vespasian - July 1, A.D. 69 - June 23, A.D. 79
  • 69-96 A.D. - The Flavian Dynasty rules Rome.
  • 70 A.D. - Jerusalem falls to Vespasian's son Titus; Temple of Solomon is razed; Jews are driven out of their homeland and dispersed
  • 73 A.D. - The Jewish fortress of Masada near the Dead Sea falls to the Romans as its inhabitants commit suicide
  • 96-180 A.D. - Reign of "the five good Emperors" (Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius & Marcus Aurelius).
  • 103-105 A.D. - Trajan's bridge constructed by Apollodorus of Damascus, the first span across the Danube River and for more than 1,000 years, the longest bridge in the world
  • 106 A.D. - Work begins on a huge new Roman forum designed and built by Apollodorus.
  • 109 A.D. - Tacitus completes a massive history called the Annals, whose central theme is that Rome's moral degeneracy is responsible for all its ills.
  • 113 A.D. - Completion of the 98-foot-high Trajan's Column north of the Roman forum.
  • 117 A.D. - Under Trajan's rule, the Empire reaches its greatest territorial extent, extending north of the Danube into Daciafor the first time and eastward into Armenia and southward into Arabia and over to Babylon in Mesopotamia.
  • 122-132 A.D. - Hadrian's Wall between Scotland and England built to stop raiding Celts.
  • 130 A.D. - Codification of Roman laws by Salvius Julianus under the Emperor Hadrian.
  • 142-144 A.D. - Antonine Wall constructed in Scotland as a second line of defense north of Hadrian's Wall.
  • 166 A.D. - Parthia capitulates to the Romans and a Roman figurehead sits on the Armenian throne, but the returning army of Marcus Aurelius brings a deadly plague that spreads throughout the Empire during the next decade.
  • 169 A.D. - Two Germanic tribes, the Marcomanni and Quadi, cross the Danube, enter Italy and mount a siege of city of Aquileia (the first invasion of Italy since the late second century B.C.). The Emperor Marcus Aurelius suppresses the revolt and chases the Quadi back across the Danube by A.D. 178.
  • 193 A.D. - Didius Julianus "buys" the Emperor' throne; rules for 66 days.
  • 212 A.D. - Roman citizenship extended to all free inhabitants of the Empire.
  • 226 A.D. - In the East, the Sassanids establish a new empire in Iran by defeating the 400-year-old Parthian Empire. This new Persian empire would eventually would include much of central Asia east of the Caspian Sea and south through modern-day Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, Afganistan and Pakistan and the northern part of Egypt. Persia influenced Roman civilization considerably during these times.
  • 235-270 A.D. - An era of "almost anarchy" with 38 different emperors (or usurpers) over a 35-year period.
  • 266 A.D. - Queen Zenobia of Palmyra brings Cappadocia, Galatia & Bythnia under her control & then conquers Egypt.
  • 267-268 A.D. - Massive invasion of Goths across the Danube River and into Pannonia.
  • 268 A.D. - Roman forces led by Emperor Gallienus and the future Emperors Claudius II as Commander in chief and Aurelian as cavalry commander decisively defeat the Goths at the Battle of Naissis in September.
  • 269 A.D. - Emperor Claudius II Gothicus defeats the largest and most dangerous of the German invasions in the 3rd century at the battle of Naissus, with tactics to rival Scipio Africanus and Julius Caesar. He then marched through the Balkans to demolish most of the retreating army. The Germanic raiders then became allies of Rome.
  • 271 A.D. - Emperor Aurelian destroys the Gothic Chieftain Cannabas and 5,000 of his men north of the Danube.
  • 271 AD - A battle occurs near Placentia, in which a combined Germanic invasion of the Alemanni, Marcomanni and Juthungi defeat a Roman army under the command of the Emperor Aurelian.
  • 273 A.D. - The Emperor Aurelian defeats the army of Queen Zenobia at Esman. The Queen is paraded through Rome in golden chains, but is allowed to live.
  • 274 A.D. - The last Gallic emperor is defeated by Aurelian and the unity of the Roman Empire is restored.
  • 275-284 A.D. - Another period of "multiple emperors" with eight different individuals claiming the throne in this 9-year period between the rule of Aurelian and Diocletian
  • 293 A.D. - The Emperor Diocletian (284-305) splits the Roman Empire in two, establishing his eastern capital in Nicomedia (in Turkey) and naming his colleague Maximian, who ruled from Rome, as Emperor of the West
  • 305 A.D. - Diocletian retires to "raise cabbages;" Constantius claims power in the West
  • 306 A.D. - Constantine claims the western throne upon the death of his father
  • 312 A.D. - With his victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (over the Tiber River just north of RomE), the Emperor Constantine consolodates power of the western half of the empire. That same year, he converts to Christianity
  • 313 A.D. - Edict of Milan issued declaring Christianity a religion to be tolerated; all religious prisoners released
  • 324 A.D. - Constantinople (on the site of ancient Greek city of Byzantium) is made the capital of a once-again united Roman Empire
  • 325 A.D. - The Emperor Constantine convenes the First Council of Nicaea, which adopts The Nicene Creed
  • 378 A.D. - Gothic cavalry overwhelm Roman infantry at the Battle of Adrianople, killing some 40,000 soldiers and the Emperor Valens in the worst Roman defeat since Hannibal at Cannae in 216 B.C.
  • 391 A.D. - Theodosius makes Christianity the Roman state religion; outlaws pagan practices
  • 395 A.D. - The Emperor Theodosius dies; the Roman Empire is split in two, East and West
  • 410 A.D. - Visigoths under king Alaric I sack Rome
  • 451 A.D. - Attila the Hun stopped at the Battle of Chalons by a coalition of Roman and Visigoth forces
  • 452 A.D. - Pope Leo I persuades Attila to leave Italy; Attila dies a year later and the Hun Empire soon dissolves
  • 454 A.D. - Ardaric, king of the Gepids, leads an alliance of rebel Germans and Sarmatians to end the domination of the Huns at the Battle of Nedao
  • 455 A.D. - Vandals sack Rome during the first two weeks of June
  • 476 A.D. - The Goths under Odoacer depose Romulus Augustus, the aptly named last Emperor of the West.
  • 476-1453 A.D. - The Roman empire in the East continues as the Byzantine Empire, with its capital in Constantinople. It falls to the army of the Ottoman Turks led by Sultan Mehmed II in May 1453.


Roman Emperors, 27 B.C. - A.D. 476

  • 27 B.C.-A.D. 14 - Augustus. The first Emperor. His reign marked the start of the "Pax Romana" or "Roman Peace," which lasted for more than two centuries.
  • 14-37 - Tiberius. Ruled during the time of Jesus' ministry.
  • 37-41 - Caligula. He was a crazed and murderous emperor.
  • 41-54 - Claudius. Thought to be "weak-minded;" ruled wisely.
  • 54-68 - Nero. Last of the direct Claudio-Julio ruling family of Rome. Persecuted Christians as scapegoats for the "great fire of Rome." His extravagances alienated many in the general populace.
  • 68-69 - Galba. His wife claimed descent from Augustus.
  • 69 - Otho. Supported Galba, but later turned against him.
  • 69 - Vitelius. Was a close friend of all of the Emperors from Tiberius to Nero, and was ancestor of Julius Gnieus Agricola, a famous Roman.
  • 69-79 - Vespasian. He ordered and supervised the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
  • 79-81 - Titus. Elder son of Vespasian. Commanded a legion in his father's campaign against the Jews in Judea.
  • 81-96 - Domitian. Younger son of Vespasian.
  • 96-98 - Nerva. An elder statesman who was related to the Emperor Trajan.
  • 98-117 - Trajan. A very colorful emperor. Noted for another huge battle against the Jews at Alexandria, Egypt, in A.D.115-116.
  • 117-138 - Hadrian. Trajan's wife, Pompeia Plotina, recommended Hadrian as heir to Trajan, as Hadrian was a relative of Trajan. He was married to Trajan's grand-niece Sabina.
  • 138-161 - Antoninus Pius. He was adopted by Hadrian just before the latter's death in A.D. 138.
  • 161-180 - Marcus Aurelius. The "philosopher-king," he is generally thought of as both a "good" and an intelligent emperor.
  • 161-169 - Lucius Verus. Co-emperor with Marcus Aurelius, his step-brother.
  • 177-192 - Commodus. A son of Marcus Aurelius, he was a meglomaniac who was murdered on December 31, A.D. 192.
  • 193 - Pertinax. Prefect of the City of Rome who ruled as Emperor for 87 days upon the death of Commodus.
  • 193 - Didius Julianus. After Pertinax was murdered, the Praetorian Guard auctioned off the office of Emperor; Julianus was high bidder, paying 25,000 sesterii to each of the soldiers. He ruled for 66 days.
  • 193-194 - Pescennius Niger. The governor of Syria, he was proclaimed Emperor by his troops.
  • 195-197 - Claudius Albinus. The governor in Britain, he was offered the office of Emperor [as Caesar] by Septimius Severus, who was acting in the background as Roman ruler after the death of Pertinax. He began a power struggle with Severus and lost.
  • 193-211 - Septimius Severus. Governor of Upper Pannonia, Severus was saluted as Emperor by his own troops upon the death of Pertinax, but remained in the background until Julianus, Niger and Claudius Albinus were all defeated. He died of natural causes on February 4, A.D. 211.
  • 198-217 - Caracalla. The elder son of Severus and Julia Domna, he was given the rank of "Caesar" in A.D. 196 and "Augustus" two years later at the age of ten. Ruled jointly with his brother Geta when his father died in A.D. 211.
  • 209-212 - Geta. Assassinated by his brother Caracalla.
  • 217-218 - Macrinus. Prefect of the Praetorian Guard and party to the murder of Caracalla, he was saluted as "Augustus" by his troops on April 11, A.D. 217.
  • 218 - Diadumenian. Son of Macrinus, was given rank of "Caesar" at the same time as his father was made "Augustus." Diadumenian and his father were set upon and defeated through a plot by Julia Domna's sister, Julia Maesa, in favor of her grandson, Elagabalus.
  • 218-222 - Elagabalus. Son of Sextus Varius Marcellus and Julia Soaemias, the daughter of Julia Maesa. He emmulated the sun-god Elagabalus and took that as his name. Murdered by the Praetorian Guard.
  • 222-235 - Severus Alexander. He was adopted by his cousin Elagabalus and given the title "Caesar." After Elagabalus was murdered by the Praetorian Guard, they proclaimed Severus Alexander as Emperor.
  • 235-238 - Maximinus I. Governor of Mesopotamia, he was raised to Emperor by troops dissatisfied with Severus Alexander.
  • 235-238 - Maximinus. Son of Maximinus I, he was given the rank of "Caesar" at the same time his father was made "Augustus." He was murdered with his father on June 24, A.D. 238.
  • 238 - Gordian I. A Proconsul in Africa who accepted the royal purple, he is remembered as an intellectual and moral person. He proclaimed his son Gordian II as joint ruler. Learning that his son was killed in battle against Maximinus I, Gordian I committed suicide.
  • 238 - Gordian II. Co-emperor, killed in battle.
  • 238 - Balbinus. When the Senate learned of the death of the two Gordians, it elected two Senators -- Balbinus and Pupienus -- as joint rulers. After 98 days, the Praetorian Guard murdered these two Emperors.
  • 238 - Pupienus. Joint ruler for 98 days with Balbinus.
  • 238-244 - Gordian III. Grandson of Gordian I and nephew of Gordian II. Given title of "Caesar" by Balbinus and Pupienus. In A.D. 244, he was deposed and murdered in Mesopotamia.
  • 244-249 - Philip I (The Arab). A Praetorian Prefect who was a native of Arabia. In A.D. 248, his reign marked the celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Rome. He was killed with his son Phillip in battle near Verona in A.D. 249.
  • 247-249 - Philip II. Son of Philip I, he was given the title "Caesar" when his father was given the title of "Augustus."
  • 248 - Pacatianus (usurper who was killed by his own soldiers) and Iotapianus (usurper who claimed descent from Alexander; also killed by his own men). Two other pretenders to the throne (Silbannacus and Sponcianus) were also unsuccessful.
  • 249-251 - Trajan Decius. When Philip and his son were killed at Verona, he was left as undisputed master of the Empire. Decius and his elder son Herennius were killed in battle with barbarian Goths. Four usurpers (Priscus and Licinianus in A.D. 250; Etruscus and Hostilian in A.D. 251) were unsuccessful.
  • 251 - Herennius Etruscus. Elder son of Trajan Decius, he was named "Augustus" in A.D. 251. Killed with his father.
  • 251 - Hostilian. Younger son of Trajan Decius. Given rank of "Caesar" in A.D. 251 but died of the plague soon afterward.
  • 251-253 - Trebonianus Gallus. Chosen by the army to fill the vacant throne. Gallus and his son were later killed by their own soldiers.
  • 251-253 - Volusian. Son of Trebonianus Gallus. Ruled jointly with his father.
  • 253 - Aemilius Aemilianus. Governor of Moesia, hailed as "Augustus" by his troops and later killed by his own men.
  • 253-260 - Valerian I. Proclaimed Emperor by his troops and, upon the death of Aemilius, became undisputed master of the Empire. Captured by the Persians in A.D. 260. His ultimate humiliation was when he was made to act as a human stepping-stool to assist the Persian king Sapor in mounting his horse. After his death in A.D. 260, the Persians had his corpse skinned and stuffed as a trophy.
  • 253-268 - Gallienus. Son of Valerian I, made co-Emperor with his father. Put down revolts in A.D. 260 by Ingenuus in Pannonia and Moesia and then by Regalianus in Illyricum. The future Emperors Claudius and Aurelian were both involved in the murder of Gallienus at the siege of Milan in March A.D. 268.
  • 268 - Salonina Augusta. Empress/wife of Gallienus and mother of Valerian II and Saloninus. Murdered with her husband in A.D. 268.
  • 253-257 - Valerian II. Elder son of Gallienus, given rank of "Caesar" upon his father's elevation to the throne. He died before his father was captured by the Persians.
  • 259 - Saloninus. Upon the death of Valerian II, Saloninus, the younger brother, received title of "Caesar." In A.D. 259, he was elevated to rank of "Augustus," but soon after was put to death by Postumus, commander of the Rhine legions.
  • 260-261 - Macrianus. Son of one of Valerian I's generals. He is sometimes called Macrianus II, but his father never was proclaimed Emperor.
  • 260-261 - Quietus. Younger brother of Macrinianus.
  • 260 - Regalianus. Governer of Upper Pannonia, killed by his own soldiers.
  • 260-268 - Postumus. Commander of the Rhine Legions and the first of the so-called "Gallic Emperors." With his capital in Cologne, Germany, he ruled over Gaul, Spain and Britain; he finally was assassinated by his own soldiers.
  • 268 - Laelianus. Usurper who led an unsuccessful revolt against Postumus.
  • 268 - Marius. A Roman army officer who seized power upon the death of Postumus, but was murdered by his own soldiers within a few days of seizing power.
  • 268-270 - Victorinus. A high-ranking soldier who succeeded Marius. He was killed by his own officers at Cologne.
  • 268-270 - Claudius II (Gothicus). A leading general of Gallienus who was proclaimed Emperor upon the death of Gallienus. He died of the plague.
  • 270-273 - Tetricus. Governer of Aquitania, who was helped by Victoria (Victorinus' mother) to succeed Victorinus. He and his son were captured by Aurelian, but both were spared and went to live in Italy and proceeded to work in the local government there.
  • 270-273 - Tetricus II. Was given rank of "Caesar" upon his father's accession; co-ruler with his father when captured by Aurelian. He retired to private life after governing Italy for some time with his father.
  • 270 - Quintillus. A younger brother of Claudius II Gothicus. He was proclaimed Emperor by the troops upon the death of Claudius II. His soldiers deserted him and he committed suicide.
  • 270-275 - Aurelian. A very skilled general, he was proclaimed Emperor by his troops just after the death of Claudius II. He was assassinated in a conspiracy of some of his leading officers.
  • 267-273 - Zenobia. Her full name was Septimia Zenobia and she ruled the Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire from A.D. 267 to about 273 from Palmyra. She claimed descent from Cleopatra. She was captured by Aurelian and was displayed along with Tetricus I (& II) as captives in Italy. During her rule, she extended her Empire to include Egypt and part of Asia Minor. Aurelian honored her by giving her a villa, where she retired and spent the rest of her life.
  • 271-272 - Vabalathus. He was the young son of Zenobia and ruled with his mother.
[Interregnum] A period of about six months between the death of Aurelian and the accession of Tacitus, when the Empire was without an Emperor. The government was conducted by the surviving Senate in Rome.
  • 275-276 - Tacitus. The Roman Senate chose one of their own once again: Tacitus, an elder Senator who was named after and claimed descent from the famous Roman historian Tacitus. Proclaimed "Augustus," the 75-year-old joined the army in an effort to put down the Goths, who were trying to invade Asia Minor, but army life proved too much for him and he died at Cappadocia in April of A.D. 276.
  • 276 - Florianus. The half-brother of Tacitus, he assumed the office of Emperor when Tacitus died. At the same time, the army in the East proclaimed Probus as Emperor. Florianus and his army challenged Probus in Cilicia in southeastern Turkey, but before any serious fighting started, Florianus was killed by one of his own soldiers.
  • 276-282 - Probus. Leading general under Aurelian. Proclaimed Emperor upon the death of Tacitus by his troops. Murdered by mutinous soldiers at Sirmium (near modern BelgradE) in the autumn of A.D. 282.
  • 282-283 - Carus. Praetorian Prefect who was proclaimed Emperor by the army upon the death of Probus. He was killed by lightening.
  • 283-284 - Numerian. The younger son of Carus, given the rank of "Caesar" immediately after his father was hailed as Emperor. During the Persian campaign with his father, he rose in rank to "Augustus" (probably before his father died), but was killed in A.D. 284 before his procession could make it back to Rome.
  • 283-285 - Carinus. Elder son of Carus, who was given the rank of "Caesar" soon after his father;s accession. Raised in rank to "Augustus" in A.D. 283. Murdered by one of his own officers in the spring of A.D. 285. His wife was Magnia Urbica.
  • 285 - Nigrian. Ruled (or co-ruled) about A.D. 285. He was thought to have been a son of Carinus.
  • 284-285 - Julian of Pannonia. His name was Marcus Aurelius Julianus. He rebelled against Carinus in Pannonia and marched against Carinus at Rome, but was defeated early in A.D. 285 and died at Verona.
Eastern/Western Roman Empires: When Diocletion became Emperor (A.D. 284-305), he divided it into two Empires, East (E) and West (W). The Emperors below are therefore designated either (E), (W) or (E & W), i.e., ruling over both. Usurpers are designated as (Us-W) or (Us-E)
  • 284-305 - Diocletian. (E) Commander of the imperial bodyguard. He was proclaimed Emperor by the army after the death of Numerian. In the spring of A.D. 285 after Carinus was assassinated, he became sole Emperor. He abdicated, along with Maximianus, who he chose to help rule the Western part of the Empire.
  • 286-305 - Maximianus or Maximian. (W) Ruled with Diocletian, A.D. 286-305; after a brief abdication, ruled again in A.D. 306-308 and then again in A.D. 310.
  • 286-293 - Carausius. (Us-W) Roman military commander of Gaulic origins who usurped power in A.D. 286, declaring himself Emperor of Britain and northern Gaul. He held power for seven years before being assassinated.
  • 293-296 - Allectus. (Us-W) Murdered Carausius and held power for three years before being defeated by Constantius.
  • 296-297 - Domitius Domitianus. (Us-E) Led a revolt in Egypt that was put down by Diocletian. Briefly succeeded by Aurelius Achilleus, who died in A.D. 298.
  • 305-311 - Galerius. (E) His second wife was Galaria Valeria, the daughter of Diocletian.
  • 305-306 - Constantius I. (W) Father of Constantine the Great; died at York in Britain.
  • 306-337 - Constantine I (The Great). (E & W) His wives were Fausta, the daughter of Maxinianus, and Theodora, the step-daughter of Maximianus. He defeated his enemies in the West in A.D. 312 at the Milvian Bridge and became sole Emperor following his defeat of Licinius in A.D. 324.
  • 306-307 - Severus II. (Us-W) After a brief siege of Rome, he fled from the forces of Maxentius to Ravenna. Following his surrender there to Maximian, he was put to death in A.D. 307 when Galerius invaded Italy.
  • 306-312 - Maxentius. (Us-W) Son of Maximian, to whom he ceded power in A.D. 306-308 and then again in A.D. 310.
  • 310-312 - Maximinus Daia. (Us-E) The son of Galerius' sister, he served as Caesar in the East under Galerius, but proclaimed himself Augustus in A.D. 310. When Galerius died in 311, he split the Eastern Empire between himself and Licinius. In A.D. 313 his army was defeated by that of Lininius. He died in August of A.D. 313.
  • 308-309 - L. Domitius Alexander. (Us-W) Acclaimed Augustus by his troops in Africa, he was executed the next year.
  • 308-324 - Licinius I. (E) His wife was Constantia, half-sister of Constantine. He was put to death after Constantine defeated him in a civil war.
  • 316 - Valariean Valens. (E) His full name was Caius Aurelius Valerian Valens. He was created as "co-Augustus" by Licinius I in A.D. 316, but was murdered very soon afterwards. So as not to confuse him with the later Valens, we might call him "Valerian Valens."
  • 323-324 - Martinian. (E) Created "co-Augustus" by Licinius I in A.D. 323, but was seized and put to death with the latter.
  • 334-335 - Calocaerus. (Us-E) Unsuccessfully revolted on the island of Cyprus. The usurper and his accomplices were tried and executed at Tarsus in Cilicia.
  • 337-340 - Constantine II. (W) Elder son of Constantine I and Fausta. He was killed while fighting over territory with his brother Constans.
  • 337-350 - Constans I. (Florius Julius Constans). (W) He was the youngest son of Constantine I and Fausta. When Magnentius was declared Emperor in Gaul in January 350, Constans fled toward Helena, a town in the Pyrenees, where he was put to death by a band of Magnentius' assassins, who dragged their victim from a temple in which he had sought refuge.
  • 340-361 - Constantius II. (E & W) Second son of Constantine I and Fausta. He died of a fever November 3, A.D. 361.
  • 350-353 - Magnentius. (Flavius Magnus Magnentius.) (Us-W) He declared himself Emperor after hearing about military setbacks Constantius II was suffering in the East. In the ensuing struggles, his men assassinated Constans I. After his armies were defeated in A.D. 353, he committed suicide.
  • 350 - Vetrano. (E) Named co-Emperor with Constantius II in A.D. 350, but Constantius II took away that title in December of that same year.
  • 350 - Nepotian. (Us-W) A nephew of Constantine the Great, he was killed by Magnentius' generals 28 days after declaring himself Emperor.
  • 355 - Silvanus. (Us-W) Declared himself Emperor, but was put to death 28 days later.
  • 360-363 - Julian II ("The Apostate"). (E & W) He was a half-brother of Constantius Gallus (a cousin of Constantius II) and a nephew of Constantine the Great. He was married to Constantius Gallus' younger sister Helena.
  • 363-364 - Jovian. (E & W) Captain of the Imperial Guard for Julian II. Upon Julian's death, the army proclaimed him Emperor. He died on February 16, A.D. 364, most probably natural causes variously attributed to overeating, consumption of poisonous mushrooms, or suffocation from fumes of charcoal in the room in which he was sleeping.
  • 364-375 - Valentinian I. (W) One of Rome's last great warrior Emperors, after Jovian's death he was named Emperor at Nicaea (by proclamation of a council), and about a month later he made his younger brother, Valens, co-Emperor. He died from an epileptic seizure.
  • 364-378 - Valens. (E) Brother of Valentinian I and co-Emperor with him, he was slain while fighting the barbarians at the Battle of Adrianople on August 9, A.D. 378.
  • 365-366 - Procopius. (Us-E) A relative of Julian II ("The Apostate"), he rebelled against Valens while Valens was on his way to Syria. He was proclaimed Emperor at Constantinople. Later, Valens' forces defeated him and he was put to death on May 27, A.D. 366.
  • 367-383 - Gratian. (W) The son of Valentinian I and Marina Severa, he was named co-Emperor by his father in A.D. 367 when he was eight years old. He was killed on August 25, A.D. 383, by his own soldiers who had deserted to the usurper Magnus Maximus.
  • 375-392 - Valentinian II. (W) Son of Valentinian I and his second wife, Justina, he was proclaimed Emperor at the age of four by the army on the death of his father, even though his half-brother, Gratian, was already the legitimate Augustus in the West. In A.D. 388, with the help of Theodosius I, the usurper Magnus Maximus was defeated and Valentinian II was restored as Emperor, though Theodosius exercised the power. Valentinn II died on May 15, A.D. 392, apparently a suicide.
  • 379-395 - Theodosius I. (E & W) Son of the famous count Theodosius, also known as Theodosius the Elder. Appointed Eastern Emperor in 379 by Gratian after the death of Valens at the Battle of Adrianople. He granted the Goths the right to settle large amounts of land along the Danube frontier in the diocese of Thrace. One of the Gothic emerging leaders, Alaric, participated in Theodosius' campaign against Eugenius in A.D. 394, only to resume his rebellious behaviour against Theodosius' son and Eastern successor, Arcadius, shortly thereafter. Theodosius fought two bloody civil wars in quick succession against the usurpers Magnus Maximus and Eugenius. In A.D. 391, he issued a series of laws that seemed effectively to prohibit all pagan worship by forbidding visits to pagan sites of worship or even the adornment in any manner of the images of the gods. This apparent change of policy by Theodocius has often been credited to the increased influence of bishop Ambrose of Milan. Theodosius married twice. His first wife was Aelia Flavia Flaccilla, who bore him two sons Arcadius and Honorius -- and a daughter, Pulcheria. In late 387 he married Galla, daughter of Valentinian I and full-sister of Valentinian II. Of his two sons who survived infancy, he appointed Arcadius as Augustus on January 19, A.D. 383, and Honorius as Augustus on January 23, A.D. 393. His promotion of Arcadius as a full Augustus at an unusually young age points to his determination right from the start that one of his own sons should succeed him. He sought to strengthen Arcadius' position in particular by means of a series of strategic marriages to tie his leading "generals" to his dynasty. Theodosius' importance rests on the fact that he founded a dynasty that continued in power until the death of his grandson Theodosius II in A.D. 450. This ensured a continuity of policy that saw the emergence of Nicene Christianity as the orthodox belief of the vast majority of Christians throughout the middle ages. It also ensured the essential destruction of paganism and the emergence of Christianity as the religion of the Roman state. He died of dropsy on January 17, A.D. 395.
  • 383-388 - Magnus Maximinus. (Us-W) A usurper, he was later executed by Valentinian II on July 28, A.D. 388.
  • 387-388 Flavius Victor. (Us-W) Son of Magnus Maximinus. With the death of Maximinus, he was taken captive and executed by Arbogastes, a general of Theodosius I.
  • 392-394 - Eugenius. (Us-W) Another usurper, he was put to death September 6, A.D. 394.
  • 395-408 - Arcadius (Flavius Arcadius). (E) The elder son of Theodosius I and Aelia Flaccilla, he was named as Augustus by his father in A.D. 383 when he was about five years old. He did not begin his rule until Theodosius died in A.D. 395. He died May 1, A.D. 408, in his palace at Constantinople and was succeeded by his seven-year-old son, Theodosius II.
  • 400-408 - Eudoxia. (E) Ruled with her husband Arcadius during these years until she died.
  • 395-423 - Honorius. (W) Younger son of Theodosius I and Aelia Flaccilla. Though named as Augustus by his father in A.D. 393, he did not begin his rule until Theodosius died in A.D. 395. He was married to a daughter of Stilicho (commander of the Western Roman army). This indecisive emperor, influenced first by one adviser and then by another, vacillated between resistance and conciliation to the Visigoths and their leader, Alaric . The end result was the sack of Rome in A.D. 410. He died at Ravenna in August A.D. 423.
  • 406-407 - Marcus & Gratian. (Us-W) Both proclaimed Emperor by troops in Britain; neither ruled for long.
  • 407-411 - Constantine III. (Us-W) He was acclaimed Emperor in the spring of A.D. 407 in Britain to replace Gratian. He was murdered after surrendering to an army commanded by the future usurper Constantius III.
  • 409-411 - Constans. (Us-W) The son of Constantine III, he was executed after his capture by Gerontius, one of the generals of another usurper, Maximus.
  • 409-411 - Maximinus. (Us-W) He later was pardoned by Honorius after having rebelled. He retired to private life.
  • 409-410 & 414-415 - Priscus Attalus. (Us-W) Prefect of Rome when the Senate proclaimed him "Augustus" at the urging of the Visigoths on two occasions. He was captured and Honorius banished him to Lipara, an island north of Sicily.
  • 411-413 - Jovinus. (Us-W) He was proclaimed Emperor at Mainz in southwestern Germany. Eventually captured and executed by order of Dardanus, the Prefect of the Gauls.
  • 412-413 - Sebastianus. (Us-W) The brother of Jovinus, he was slain by Ataulf, king of the Visigoths.
  • 421 - Constantius III. (W) Married to Galla Placidia, the half-sister of Honorius, he was promoted to co-Emperor with Honorius, only to die of illness later in the year..
  • 423-425 - Johannes. (Us-W) Theodosius II refused to recognize him as ruler and he was captured, mutilated and, while still living, set upon an ass in the Roman Circus and finally killed.
  • 408-450 - Theodosius II. (E) Son of Arcadius and Eudoxia,.he was made Augustus at the age of eight months in A.D. 402, and succeeded his father as sole ruler of the East in A.D. 408. His older sister Pulcheria, who served as regent starting in A.D. 414. According to one writer, "she alone, among all the descendants of the great Theodosius, appears to have inherited any share of his manly spirit and abilities." Theodosius II died in July A.D. 450 as a result of an injury to his spine that occurred during a wild beast hunt.
  • 414-453 - Pulcheria. (E) She was the older sister of Theodosius II. In A.D. 413,Pulcheria had consecrated herself to perpetual virginity, a vow she would not break, even when she married the Emperor, Marcian, 37 years later. More importantly, however, it gave her enormous moral authority to oversee the upbringing and education of the young Emperor. She named herself Augusta in July of 414. She gained increasing power, which did not ebb after her brother's death in A.D. 450: It was Pulcheria, after all, who lent legitimacy through marriage to Theodosius' successor, Marcian. Pulcheria died in July A.D. 453.
  • 421-441 - Eudocia (Aelia Athenais Eudocia). (E) Empress and wife of Theodosius II, at one point she rivaled Pulcheria in influence over the Emperor. She retired to Jerusalem and died October 20, A.D. 460.
  • 425-455 - Valentinian III. (W) Son of Constantius III & Galla Placidia. Proclaimed Augustus after the defeat of Johannes. The last of the dynasty of Valentinian and Theodosius, which had provided stability ever since A.D. 364, Valentinian III was assassinated in March A.D. 455 by two members of his bodyguard at the behest of Petronius Maximus.
  • 450-457 - Marcian. (E) Awarded the Imperial diadem by Pulcheria, older sister of Theodosius II who had married Marcian. This act implied that an Augusta shared in the Imperial power. In return, Marcian swore to respect her vow of virginity and be a staunch champion of religious orthodoxy.
  • 455 - Petronius Maximinus. (W) Arranged for the murder of Valentinian III and then married his widow, Eudoxia. Eudoxia then called for help from the Vandal King Geiseric, who came with his fleet and captured Rome. During the fighting, Maximus was killed in the streets by a mob; he had ruled for only 77 days. The intercession of Pope Leo restrained the Vandals from arson, torture, and murder, but they did take much treasure during their 14-day occupations. Along with his loot, Geiseric carried off to Carthage in Africa the Empress Eudoxia, who had summoned him, as well as her daughters, Eudocia and Placidia, the wife of the patrician Olybrius. Upon his return, Geiseric gave Eudocia to his son, Huneric, in marriage, and according to one writer, "he held them both, the mother and the daughter, in great honor." In summoning the Vandals, Eudoxia would have been emulating Valentinian's sister Honoria, who was said to have summoned Attila and the Huns just a few years earlier.
  • 455-456 - Avitus. (W) Second of the "shadow" Emperors who would oversee the last years of the Western Roman Empire, he was named Emperor by the Gallic army with the support of Theodoric II, king of the Visigoths, and "by the notables, first at Toulouse, then at Arles." Following a defeat by the army of Majorian, he was made a bishop and was killed a year later, sometime in A.D. 457.
  • 457-474 - Leo I. (E) With the death of the Eastern Emperor Marcian in A.D. 457, Leo was acclaimed Emperor, probably with the support of the army under general Aspar. Aspar's influence waned when his son, Ardabur, was found guilty of treachery in A.D. 466 and dismissed from office. Leo then married his eldest daughter, Ariadne, to Zeno. Leo died of dysentery at the age of 73 on January 18, A.D. 474.
  • 473-474 - Leo II. Son of Zeno and Ariadne, the daughter of Leo I. He reigned briefly with Leo I in A.D. 473-4 and then alone for three weeks before making his father, Zeno, co-Augustus on February 9, A.D. 474. He died in November A.D. 474.
  • 474-491 - Zeno. (E) Co-Emperor with his son for nine months. After Leo II's death from illness on November 17, A.D. 474, Zeno reigned alone. In A.D. 474, Zeno declared Nepos Western Emperor in Italy, but by August of A.D. 475 Nepos had been deposed and forced into exile in Dalmatia. Zeno, however, continued to recognize Nepos as the Western Emperor until his death in A.D. 480; he then accepted Odoacer as ruler of Italy. Zeno died on April 9, A.D. 491 and was succeeded by Anastasius (see listing of Byzantine Emperors below).
  • 457-461 - Majorian. (W) After his army defeated a group of invading Alamanni tribesmen, Majorian was acclaimed as Emperor on April 1, A.D. 457. He devoted most of his energies trying to recover lost territories, spending nearly all of his reign outside Italy. In late July of A.D. 461, upon his return from Gaul to Italy after having dismissed his army, a rebellious barbarian general named Ricimer arrested him and had him beheaded.
  • 461-465 - Libius Severus. (W) The throne was vacant for several months until, at Ricimer's instigation, Libius Servus was named Emperor. Subsequently, Ricimer acted as the "power behind the throne" and assumed a role unequaled by previous generals. Never recognized by the Eastern Emperor Leo (A.D. 457-474), Severus reigned over an Empire in which Britain, Spain and Africa had been lost; there was a revolt in Gaul; and there were renewed raids upon the coast of Italy by the Vandals, whose King Geiseric still hoped that Olybrius would become Western Emperor because of his relationship by marriage (he was the husband of Placida, the daughter of Valentinian). Severus died of natural causes in Rome in the fall of A.D. 465.
  • 467-472 - Anthemius. (W) With no Emperor for two years after the death of Serverus, in A.D. 467, Leo I, Emperor in the East, named Anthemius to this post. At this point, much of the West, of course, was held by various barbarian peoples, so the Emperor really only controlled Italy. Anthemius' daughter was married to the general Ricimer. After an unsuccessful campaign by both the East and the West Roman Empires against the Vandals, the relationship turned sour after Ricimer intercepted a message from Leo I to Anthemius instructing him to kill both Ricimer and Olybrius, who had returned to Rome. Even though married to Anthemius' daughter, Alypia, Ricimer waged a successful five-month-long civil war that culminated in the naming of Obybrius as Emperor, following the death of Anthemius on July 11, A.D. 472.
  • 472 - Olybrius. (W) After the death of the Western Emperor Majorian in A.D. 461, the Vandal King Geiseric supported Olybrius as a candidate for the Western throne. Put in place as Emperor by the general Ricimer in April A.D. 472 -- two months or more before the death of Anthmius -- Olybrius reigned for only seven months before dying of dropsy only 13 days after the death of Ricimer. Olybrius' wife and daughter, Placidia and Anicia Juliana, remained in Constantinople and long outlived him. Juliana, who held the title "Patricia," presumably a result of her Imperial ties, went on to have an illustrious career of her own.
  • 473-474 - Glycerius. (W) At the beginning of November A.D. 472, the West again lacked an Emperor. Moreover, the king-maker, Ricimer, had died. But Ricimer's nephew, Gundobad, who had succeeded to his position as general, raised Glycerius from a count in an elite unit of the Imperial Guard to the rank of Emperor, again with the support of the army. The seventh of the so-called "shadow Emperors" of the Western Empire, Glycerius was not recognized by the Eastern Emperor Leo I (457-474), who sent an expedition under the command of Julius Nepos against him. Nepos, a Dalmatian general, was a nephew of the Patrician Marcellinus and nephew-in-law of the Empress Verina. However, before Nepos could take any action, Leo I died in January of A.D. 474. He was succeeded by his grandson, the young Leo II, who then made his father, Zeno, co- Augustus. This turn of events incongruously left Glycerius as the most senior of the three reigning Emperors. In June of A.D. 474, Nepos landed at Ostia, the port of Rome. Glycerius surrendered without resistance and was named Bishop of Salona in Dalmatia, where he died sometime after A.D. 480.
  • 474-475 - Julius Nepos. (W) On orders from the Eastern Emperor Leo I, this Dalmatian general capturing Rome and Glycerius without a fight. He then stripped Glycerius, who had enjoyed eight months of rule, of royalty, appointing him bishop of Salona in Dalmatia. Nepos was immediately appointed Emperor in the West. He ruled Rome and Italy from his capital at Ravenna in eastern Italy on the Adriatic coast for a little more than a year. In A.D. 475, Nepos named Orestes as his new "Master of Soldiers" or main general. This proved to be a mistake, for on August 28, A.D. 475, Orestes, entered Ravenna with his army and the Emperor Nepos fled to Dalmatia, where he would continue to claim the throne until his assassination in A.D. 480. With the Emperor gone, Orestes elevated his 14-year-old son Romulus to the rank of Augustus, so that the last Western Roman emperor is known as Romulus Augustus. (Orestes' primary claim to fame had been service as the secretary of Attila the Hun.)
  • 475-476 - Romulus Augustus. (Us-W) This aptly named last Roman Emperor in the West was deposed when dissatisfied mercenaries revolted under the Germanic chieftain Odoacer, whom they declared to be their king on August 23, A.D. 476. Odoacer led them against their former general, Orestes, who was captured near Piacenza on August 28 and was swiftly executed exactly a year to the day that he had proclaimed his son to be Emperor. Within weeks, Ravenna was captured and Romulus Augustus was deposed and sent to live out his life on an estate in Campania. This event traditionally has been considered the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
Continuation of the Succession in the East: A List of Byzantine Emperors (Note: Usurpers are not listed)

Dynasty of Leo

  • 457-474 Leo I
  • 474 Leo II
  • 474-491 Zeno
  • 491-518 Anastasius

Dynasty of Justinian

  • 518-527 Justin
  • 527-565 Justinian I
  • 565-578 Justin II
  • 578-582 Tiberius II (I) Constantine
  • 582-602 Maurice
  • 602-610 Phocas

Dynasty of Heraclius

  • 610-641 Heraclius
  • 641 Heraclonas & Constantine III (co-Emperors)
  • 641-668 Constans II
  • 668-685 Constantine IV
  • 685-695 Justinian II (banished)
  • 695-698 Leontius
  • 698-705 Tiberius III(II)
  • 705-711 Justinian II (restored)
  • 711-713 Bardanes
  • 713-716 Anastasius II
  • 716-717 Theodosius III

Isaurian Dynasty

  • 717-741 Leo III
  • 741-775 Constantine V Copronymus
  • 775-780 Leo IV
  • 780-797 Constantine VI
  • 797-802 Irene
  • 802-811 Nicephorus I
  • 811 Strauracius
  • 811-813 Michael I
  • 813-820 Leo V

Phrygian Dynasty

  • 820-829 Michael II
  • 829-842 Theophilus
  • 842-867 Michael III

Macedonian Dynasty

  • 867-886 Basil I
  • 887-912 Leo VI
  • 912-913 Alexander
  • 913-959 Constantine VII Porphygenitus
  • 920-944 Romanus I Lecapenus
  • 959-963 Romanus II
  • 963-969 Nicephorus II Phocas
  • 969-976 John I Tzimiskes
  • 976-1025 Basil II
  • 1025-1028 Constantine VIII (IX) alone
  • 1028-1034 Romanus III Argyrus
  • 1034-1041 Michael IV the Paphlagonian
  • 1041-1042 Michael V Calaphates
  • 1042 Zoe and Theodora
  • 1042-1055 Constantine IX Monomchus
  • 1055-1056 Theodora alone
  • 1056-1057 Michael VI Stratioticus

Prelude to Comnenian Dynasty

  • 1057-1059 Isaac I Comnenos
  • 1059-1067 Constantine X (1X) Ducas
  • 1068-1071 Romanus IV Diogenes
  • 1071-1078 Michael VII Ducas
  • 1078-1081 Nicephorus III Botaniates

Dynasty of the Comneni

  • 1081-1118 Alexius I Comnenus
  • 1118-1143 John II Comenus
  • 1143-1180 Manuel I
  • 1180-1183 Alexius II
  • 1183-1185 Andronicus I
  • 1183-1191 Isaac, Emperor of Cyprus

Dynasty of the Angeli

  • 1185-1195 Isaac II
  • 1195-1203 Alexius III
  • 1203-1204 Isaac II (restored) with Alexius IV
  • 1204 Alexius V Ducas Murtzuphlus

Lascarid Dynasty in Nicaea

  • 1204-1222 Theodore I Lascaris
  • 1222-1254 John III Ducas Vatatzes
  • 1254-1258 Theodore II Lascaris
  • 1258-1261 John IV Lascaris

Dynasty of the Palaeologi

  • 1259-1282 Michael VIII Paleologus
  • 1282-1328 Andronicus II
  • 1328-1341 Andronicus III
  • 1341-1391 John V
  • 1376-1379 Andronicus IV
  • 1379-1391 John V (restored)
  • 1390 John VII
  • 1391-1425 Manuel II
  • 1425-1448 John VIII
  • 1449-1453 Constantine XI (XIII) Dragases


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