Rome built its empire piece by piece from the conquests of many centuries.
It was already old in power and wealth when Augustus seized power in the
chaos after Caesar's death and cobbled together a new imperial monarchy
from the debris of the old Republic. Further moments of glory followed.
In the first two centuries AD Rome saw its greatest achievements in political
and military domination, and also in the massive works of social and material
engineering which bound the far-flung peoples of the Empire together and
made them all into Romans.
But the extraordinary wealth of the few was based on the ceaseless labor
and misery of the rural masses, while interludes of peace and prosperity
were punctuated by repeated episodes of violence, civil war, and social
collapse. In the years around 300 AD Diocletian and his successors re-invented
the Empire as completely as Augustus had. That century also saw the rise
of Christianity to central importance in the Roman world, and the division
of the Empire into two separate empires, one in the Greek East which survived
for another thousand years, one in the Latin West which collapsed and died
within a few generations.
While the western Empire vanished as a political entity, however, it
survived in the culture and institutions of Europe in many aspects which
proved indelible. We are all the children of Rome.