Peoples and Nations

More About The Romans

More About The Romans

The Romans and their empire at its height in 117 CE was the most extensive political and social structure in western civilization. By 285 CE the empire had grown too vast to be ruled from the central government at Rome and so was divided by Emperor Diocletian (284-305 CE) into a Western and an Eastern Empire.

Scroll down to see more articles about the history of the Romans.

The Legend of Rome: Romulus and Remus

Romulus and Remus were twin brothers. Their father was Mars, the God of War, their mother was Rhea Silvia, a vestal virgin and daughter of the King, Numitor. Numitor's brother, Amulius, had taken the throne from him and had forced Rhea Silvia to become a vestal virgin so that she would not have any children who might try to take back the throne.

When the boys were born, Amulius seized them, put them into a basket and threw them into the river Tiber. He hoped that they would drown. However, the boys were rescued by a she-wolf who fed the babies with her own milk and cared for them.

They grew up and were found by the shepherd Faustulus, who took them home and looked after them until they were grown up.

The two young men discovered who they really were and decided to kill Amulius and put their grandfather back on the throne. After doing this they decided to build a city of their own but could not agree where to build it. Remus favoured the Aventine Hill but Romulus wanted to use the Palatine Hill. They could not reach an agreement and so each began to build his own city enclosed with walls.

One day, Remus visited Romulus and made fun of his wall by jumping over it and saying how easily it could be breached. Romulus was so annoyed that he killed Remus and said the he would kill anyone who mocked his city or tried to break through the walls of Rome.

The legend says that Romulus became the first King of Rome in 753BC and populated his new city with runaway slaves and convicted criminals. He stole women from the Sabine tribe to provide wives for the slaves and criminals and to populate his new city.

The Sabine tribe were not happy about this and declared war on Rome. The war went on for many years but eventually the Sabine tribe and Romulus reached an agreement and the Sabines became a part of Rome under the Kingship of Romulus.

The legend ends by telling how Romulus was carried up to the heavens by his father, Mars, and was worshipped as the God Quirinus.

* Romulus and Remus illustration by: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT

When was Julius Caesar Born?

The exact date of Julius Caesar's birth is not known, but historians claim it to be on July 12 or 13, 100 or 102 BC in Rome. His parents were Gaius Julius Caesar (a praetor) and Aurelia and although he belonged to a noble family, they weren't very influential or rich during this time. His aunt, Julia was the leader of the Popular faction, Gaius Marius' wife.

Julius Caesar's Youth

Caesar's father died when he was only sixteen, leaving him as the head of the house. Rome at the time was very unstable, struggling to manage its influence and size. Caesar was already very ambitious and decided that his family would benefit most if he would become a priest. He got himself nominated as Jupiter's High Priest, but was required to not only be a patrician, but to also be married to one. This led him to break off his current engagement with a plebeian girl and to marry Cornelia, a patrician and daughter of a the influential Lucius Cinna (member of the Populares). Sulla, the Roman ruler at the time declared himself to be dictator of rome and started to purge his enemies systematically. He targeted Caesar, who fled Rome, but his mother's family successfully convinced the ruler to lift his sentence. He was however no longer allowed to be a priest and Cornelia's dowry was confiscated. With no other way to provide for his family, Caesar decided to join the army. From there he worked himself up until he, himself became dictator of Rome.

How Did Julius Caesar Die?

How did Julius Caesar die? Julius Caesar died from being stabbed to death by a mob of conspirators in a place just next to the Theatre of Pompey, in 44 BC on the Roman Ides of March. At the time, Julius Caesar had been declared dictator by the Senate and had only served a year's term. He has, however, already reformed the Senate in that short period and made changes in how local governments worked. He became very popular with the lower and middle-class Romans, but many senators despised him and were concerned about him having too much power as dictator. One of his biggest mistakes was to appoint two of his former enemies, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus who ended up leading the plot to assassinate him.

How Julius Caesar's Assassination Took Place

Over 40 people were involved in the plot to murder Julius Caesar, or, as they called it, commit tyranicide. They organized a gladiator game and a meeting of the Senate. During the meeting, Casca struck at Ceasar with a dagger, after which Caesar acted in surprise. Casca called for help and the whole group, Brutus included, stabbed him. He tried to get away but was surrounded by a mob of about 60 men. He was stabbed 23 times, although only one of the wounds was fatal.

What Caused the Fall of the Roman Empire?

The main cause of the fall of the Roman Empire is still a topic of debate among historians, maybe because it is a symbol of what we fear about our own civilization. There are many different theories about why a superpower that ruled for 500 years crumbled and fell, but most scholars degree that it wasn't one event, but a series of factors that caused a steady decline. Alexander Demandt, for example, had 210 different theories and even more emerged afterwards.

Possible Major Causes:

  • Conflict between the Emperor and the Senate
  • Weakening of the emperor's authority (after Christianity the Emperor was no longer seen as a god)
  • Political Corruption - there was never a clear-cut system for choosing a new emperor, leading the ones in power to “sell” the position to the highest bidder.
  • Money wasting - the Romans were very fond of their prostitutes and orgies and wasted a lot of money on lavish parties, as well as their yearly “games”
  • Slave labor and price competition - Large, wealthy farm owners used slaves to work their farms, allowing them to farm cheaply, in contrast to smaller farmers who had to pay their workmen and could not compete price wise. Farmers had to sell their farms, leading to high unemployment figures.
  • Economical Decline - After Marcus Aurelius, the Romans stopped expanding their empire, causing in a decrease of gold coming into the empire. The Romans however kept spending, causing coinmakers to use less gold, decreasing the value of money.
  • Military spending - Because they wasted so much money and had to defend their borders all the time, the Government focused more on military spending than building houses or other public works, which enraged the people. Many stopped volunteering for the army, forcing the government to employ hired mercenaries, who were expensive, highly unreliable and ended up turning against the Roman Empire.
  • A stop in technological advancement - The Romans were great engineers, but did not focus on how to produce goods more effectively to provide to their growing population.
  • The Eastern Empire - The Roman Empire was divided in a Eastern and Western empire that drifted apart, making the empire easier to manage, but also weaker. Maybe the empire's rapid expansion was its own downfall in the end.
  • Civil War and Barbarian Invasion - Civil war broke out in Italy and the smaller Roman army had to focus all of its attention there, leaving the borders wide open for the barbarians to attack and invade. Barbarian bandits made travel in the empire unsafe and merchants could not get goods to the cities anymore, leading to the total collapse of the empire

Roman Britain Timeline

Below is a Roman Britain timeline, featuring the most important events in the Roman occupation of Britain, from Julius Caesar's first attempts at invasion to the fall of the island to the Saxons to the military success of the Britons, leading to the legends of King Arthur.

The Roman invasion and occupation of Britain

Date

Summary

Detailed Information

26th - 31st August 55BCJulius Caesar attempted to invade BritainJulius Caesar crossed the Channel with a force of around 10,000 soldiers. They landed on the beach at Deal and were met by a force of Britons. The Romans eventually took the beach and waited for cavalry back up to arrive from France. However, a storm prevented the back up force from reaching Britain and Caesar had to withdraw.
July - Sept 54BCJulius Caesar's second invasion of BritainJulius Caesar crossed the Channel with a force of around 27,000 infantry and cavalry. They landed again at Deal and were unopposed - the Britons had retreated to higher ground. The Romans marched inland and met a large force of Britons led by Cassivellaunus north of the River Thames. After a hard battle the Romans defeated the Britons and some tribal leaders surrendered to the Romans. Cassivellanus ordered crops to be burned and made guerrilla attacks on Roman forces. But the Romans were too strong and Cassivellanus was forced to surrender. In September Caesar was forced to return to Gaul (France) to deal with problems there and the Romans left Britain.
54BC - 43ADRoman influence increasedAlthough not present in Britain, the influence of the Romans increased due to trade links
5ADCymbelineCymbeline, King of the Catuvellauni tribe, was acknowledged by Rome to be King of Britain.
May 43ADRomans Invaded BritainA Roman force of about 40,000 led by Aulus Plautius landed in Kent. They defeated a force of Britons led by Caratacus and began taking the South-East of Britain. Caratacus escaped and fled to Wales where he set up a resistance base.
Autumn 43ADClaudius arrived with reinforcementsThe Roman emperor Claudius arrived in Britain with reinforcements. Colchester (Camulodunum) was taken and eleven tribal Kings surrendered to the Romans. Claudius appointed Aulus Plautius Governor of Britain before returning to Rome.
43 - 47ADConquest of the SouthThe Romans continued their conquest and by 47AD had conquered the whole of South Britain and claimed Britain as part of the Roman Empire.
47 - 50ADLondon FoundedLondon (Londinium) was founded and a bridge built across the river Thames. A network of roads was built across the south of Britain.
51ADCaratacus defeated and capturedCaratacus' guerrilla force was joined by other tribes who resisted Roman conquest. and confronted the Romans near the River Severn. However, Caratacus was defeated. He escaped again and sought shelter with the Brigantes tribe. However their Queen, Cartimandua betrayed him to the Romans. Caratacus, his family and other rebels were taken prisoner and sent to Rome. In Rome Caratacus was pardoned by Claudius and allowed to live out his days in Italy.
60 - 61ADBoudicca leads revolt against the RomansPrasatugas, King of the Iceni tribe who had signed a peace treaty with the Romans, died. His wife, Boudicca intended to honour the treaty, but after the local Roman authorities seized Prasatugas's property and raped his two daughters, Boudicca retaliated by signing a treaty with Trinovantes who were hostile to the Romans.

Boudicca is said to have been very tall with striking red hair that hung to her hips. Her army of Iceni tribesmen and women captured and burned Colchester, London, St Albans and caused the governor of Britain, Suetonius Paulinus, to raise the biggest force he could. Boudicca's army were eventually cornered and massacred. Boudicca poisoned herself to evade capture.

63ADJoseph of Arimathea visited BritainJoseph of Arimathea, one of Jesus's disciples, was sent to Britain to convert the people to Christianity.
75 - 77ADRoman Conquest of Britain completedThe Romans defeated the last of the resistant tribes in the North making all of Britain Roman.
77 - 400ADLife in Roman BritainUnder Roman rule the Britons adopted Roman customs, law, religion. Many were taken by the Romans as slaves. The Romans built many roads, towns, bath houses and buildings. Trade and industry flourished under Roman rule.
79ADAgricola invaded ScotlandThe Governor of Britain, Agricola, attempted to conquer Scotland for Rome but was unsuccessful.
122ADHadrian's Wall builtThe Emperor Hadrian visited Britain and ordered that a wall be built between England and Scotland to keep the rebellious Scottish tribes out. Construction of the wall began in 122 and was completed by 139.
142ADAntonine Wall BuiltThe Romans made another attempt to conquer southern Scotland and after making some gains built another wall across the land between the Forth and the Clyde. It was abandoned in 160AD.
216ADBritain divided into two provincesIn order to better control Britain the Romans divided the land into two provinces. The South was known as Britannia Superior and the North Britannia Inferior.
260 - 274ADThe Gallic EmpireThe Roman general Postumus rebelled against Rome and established himself as Emperor of France (Gaul) and Britain (Britannia)
22nd June 304ADSt Alban MartyredAlban became the first Christian Martyr in Britain. The Emperor Diocletian ordered that all Christians should be persecuted. St Alban, a recent convert to Christianity changed places with a local priest who was wanted by the Romans. When he was discovered he was executed at Verulamium (St Albans).
312ADChristianity the official religion of the EmpireThe Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made Christianity legal throughout the Roman Empire.
360sADAttacks from Picts, Scots, Franks, SaxonsRoman Britain was attacked by tribal groups of Picts, Scots, Franks and Saxons. Reinforcements were sent to Britain and the attacks were repelled.
388 - 400ADRomans begin to leave BritainThe Roman Empire was being attacked by many different barbarian tribes and soldiers stationed in Britain were recalled to Rome.
410Last Romans leave BritainAll Romans had been recalled to Rome and the Emperor Honorious told the people of Britain that they no longer had a connection to Rome and that they should defend themselves.
500Ambrosius Aurelianus - British warlordAmbrosius Aurelianus was a British warlord who commanded the victorious Britons at the Battle of Mons Badonicus. The Saxons had pushed the Britons further and further west unchecked until this battle. The story of King Arthur dates from this period.

For more resources similar to this Roman Britain timeline, specifically the Roman invasion of Britain, please click here.

The Romans - Fall of the Empire

The Fall of the Empire was a gradual process. The Romans did not wake up one day to find their Empire gone!

By AD369 the Empire was beginning to crumble for the following reasons:

The Government was running out of money.

The people had to pay very high taxes - up to a third of their money.

The rich were given grants of money and land which made them richer while the poor got poorer.

There was not enough money to pay for the army.

Barbarians from Germany called vandals were conquering parts of the Empire and there were not enough soldiers to fight back.

Although the outer edges of the Empire were well defended, there was no defence with in the Empire. This meant that once barbarians had broken through there was nothing to stop them marching to Rome.

The Roman network of roads allowed invaders an easy route to Rome.

No one had decided on a good way to choose an Emperor,. This meant that any general could march into Rome, kill the Emperor and make himself the next Emperor. In 73 years there were 23 Emperors and 20 of them were murdered.

Roman Britain Timeline

The Roman invasion and occupation of Britain

Date

Summary

Detailed Information

26th - 31st August 55BCJulius Caesar attempted to invade BritainJulius Caesar crossed the Channel with a force of around 10,000 soldiers. They landed on the beach at Deal and were met by a force of Britons. The Romans eventually took the beach and waited for cavalry back up to arrive from France. However, a storm prevented the back up force from reaching Britain and Caesar had to withdraw.
July - Sept 54BCJulius Caesar's second invasion of BritainJulius Caesar crossed the Channel with a force of around 27,000 infantry and cavalry. They landed again at Deal and were unopposed - the Britons had retreated to higher ground. The Romans marched inland and met a large force of Britons led by Cassivellaunus north of the River Thames. After a hard battle the Romans defeated the Britons and some tribal leaders surrendered to the Romans. Cassivellanus ordered crops to be burned and made guerrilla attacks on Roman forces. But the Romans were too strong and Cassivellanus was forced to surrender. In September Caesar was forced to return to Gaul (France) to deal with problems there and the Romans left Britain.
54BC - 43ADRoman influence increasedAlthough not present in Britain, the influence of the Romans increased due to trade links
5ADCymbelineCymbeline, King of the Catuvellauni tribe, was acknowledged by Rome to be King of Britain.
May 43ADRomans Invaded BritainA Roman force of about 40,000 led by Aulus Plautius landed in Kent. They defeated a force of Britons led by Caratacus and began taking the South-East of Britain. Caratacus escaped and fled to Wales where he set up a resistance base.
Autumn 43ADClaudius arrived with reinforcementsThe Roman emperor Claudius arrived in Britain with reinforcements. Colchester (Camulodunum) was taken and eleven tribal Kings surrendered to the Romans. Claudius appointed Aulus Plautius Governor of Britain before returning to Rome.
43 - 47ADConquest of the SouthThe Romans continued their conquest and by 47AD had conquered the whole of South Britain and claimed Britain as part of the Roman Empire.
47 - 50ADLondon FoundedLondon (Londinium) was founded and a bridge built across the river Thames. A network of roads was built across the south of Britain.
51ADCaratacus defeated and capturedCaratacus' guerrilla force was joined by other tribes who resisted Roman conquest. and confronted the Romans near the River Severn. However, Caratacus was defeated. He escaped again and sought shelter with the Brigantes tribe. However their Queen, Cartimandua betrayed him to the Romans. Caratacus, his family and other rebels were taken prisoner and sent to Rome. In Rome Caratacus was pardoned by Claudius and allowed to live out his days in Italy.
60 - 61ADBoudicca leads revolt against the RomansPrasatugas, King of the Iceni tribe who had signed a peace treaty with the Romans, died. His wife, Boudicca intended to honour the treaty, but after the local Roman authorities seized Prasatugas's property and raped his two daughters, Boudicca retaliated by signing a treaty with Trinovantes who were hostile to the Romans.

Boudicca is said to have been very tall with striking red hair that hung to her hips. Her army of Iceni tribesmen and women captured and burned Colchester, London, St Albans and caused the governor of Britain, Suetonius Paulinus, to raise the biggest force he could. Boudicca's army were eventually cornered and massacred. Boudicca poisoned herself to evade capture.

63ADJoseph of Arimathea visited BritainJoseph of Arimathea, one of Jesus's disciples, was sent to Britain to convert the people to Christianity.
75 - 77ADRoman Conquest of Britain completedThe Romans defeated the last of the resistant tribes in the North making all of Britain Roman.
77 - 400ADLife in Roman BritainUnder Roman rule the Britons adopted Roman customs, law, religion. Many were taken by the Romans as slaves. The Romans built many roads, towns, bath houses and buildings. Trade and industry flourished under Roman rule.
79ADAgricola invaded ScotlandThe Governor of Britain, Agricola, attempted to conquer Scotland for Rome but was unsuccessful.
122ADHadrian's Wall builtThe Emperor Hadrian visited Britain and ordered that a wall be built between England and Scotland to keep the rebellious Scottish tribes out. Construction of the wall began in 122 and was completed by 139.
142ADAntonine Wall BuiltThe Romans made another attempt to conquer southern Scotland and after making some gains built another wall across the land between the Forth and the Clyde. It was abandoned in 160AD.
216ADBritain divided into two provincesIn order to better control Britain the Romans divided the land into two provinces. The South was known as Britannia Superior and the North Britannia Inferior.
260 - 274ADThe Gallic EmpireThe Roman general Postumus rebelled against Rome and established himself as Emperor of France (Gaul) and Britain (Britannia)
22nd June 304ADSt Alban MartyredAlban became the first Christian Martyr in Britain. The Emperor Diocletian ordered that all Christians should be persecuted. St Alban, a recent convert to Christianity changed places with a local priest who was wanted by the Romans. When he was discovered he was executed at Verulamium (St Albans).
312ADChristianity the official religion of the EmpireThe Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made Christianity legal throughout the Roman Empire.
360sADAttacks from Picts, Scots, Franks, SaxonsRoman Britain was attacked by tribal groups of Picts, Scots, Franks and Saxons. Reinforcements were sent to Britain and the attacks were repelled.
388 - 400ADRomans begin to leave BritainThe Roman Empire was being attacked by many different barbarian tribes and soldiers stationed in Britain were recalled to Rome.
410Last Romans leave BritainAll Romans had been recalled to Rome and the Emperor Honorious told the people of Britain that they no longer had a connection to Rome and that they should defend themselves.
500Ambrosius Aurelianus - British warlordAmbrosius Aurelianus was a British warlord who commanded the victorious Britons at the Battle of Mons Badonicus. The Saxons had pushed the Britons further and further west unchecked until this battle. The story of King Arthur dates from this period.

The Romans - Trade

The Romans traded goods throughout their Empire. By importing goods from other countries they raised their standard of living and were able to have many luxuries.

The Romans used their network of roads and also waterways to transport goods from one country to another. The Romans traded with Britain for silver, which they used to make jewelry and coins, and wool which they used to make clothes. They imported dyes to color their clothes from the south-eastern part of their Empire and also spices to flavor their food.

From the Far East, what is now China, they imported silk to make fine clothing. Cotton came from Egypt and exotic and wild animals for the gladiator fights came from Africa by sea.

The Romans - Roads

The Romans are noted for their skill at building roads. At the time of the Empire there was a vast network of roads that all led to the centre of Rome. Many of these roads still exist today.

The Romans were the first people to build paved roads that would be able to be used in all types of weather. They built their roads so that they were higher in the middle than at the edges. This meant that when it rained the rain would run off the sides of the roads. They often put a drainage system alongside the roads to catch the water as it ran off.

Rich people travelled along the roads in litters carried either by six or eight men or pulled by mules. Those who could not afford a litter often travelled in small groups for safety. They would travel in carriages. Messengers, who had to travel alone and fast, would ride in a light carriage like a chariot.

Travel was not safe, especially at night. There were roadside inns along all the roads but even these were not safe. Fights would break out and sometimes people were murdered. Travelers preferred to stay with either friends of their own or friends of their friends.

The Romans - Public Health

Pont du Gard, Roman Empire, October 2007, by Emanuele

The Romans were the first civilization to introduce a public health system. They had to do this because Rome had grown in size and it was impossible to find a natural source of fresh water in the city. It was also necessary to find a way of disposing of the rubbish to prevent pollution causing health problems.

         

Aqueducts were built to transport fresh water into the city. In AD100 there were a total of nine aqueducts that brought fresh water into the city of Rome.

          

Public baths were places where people could go to bathe, meet and discuss business. There were hot and cold baths as well as massage rooms.

A network of sewers was built to take sewerage and waste out of the city to the river Tiber. There were also public lavatories.

Roman Society and Social Classes

Roman society was clearly hierarchical, with legally defined privileges allotted to different classes and countless informal differences in attitudes toward the classes in everyday life.

In ancient Rome the population was divided into two groups: patricians and plebeians.

Patricians

Plebians

The patrician class were the descendants of the most ancient and powerful noble families. They were landowners, lived in large houses and they had political power in the Senate.

The patricians married and did business only with people of their own class.

Plebeians were mainly artisans or peasants who worked the patricians' land; they lived in apartments and they had no political rights.

If they were lucky plebeians could become clients (obedient servants) of a patrician family. They offered their services in return received the protection of the head of the patrician family, who became their patron.

Roman Society in the Era of the Empire 27BC - 1453AD

Below is the pyramid of Roman society, with the emperor at top and slaves at the bottom. Multiple layers existed between them. While it was possible to move up and down this social latter, as the categories were not immutable, changing one's social standing was extremely difficult and only possible through meritocratic institutions such as the military.

The Emperor
Head of Roman society and ruler of all Rome

Patrician Families
Wealthy influential landowning families

Senators
Served in the Senate and governed Rome

Equestrians
Wealthy property owners who chose business over politics

Plebeians
Working class. Men with