Western Civilization from the Greeks to the 17th Century
The GreeksThe Roman RepublicThe Middle AgesThe RenaissanceThe ReformationThe Seventeenth Century



 The Roman Empire


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.


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last updated: June 28, 1997
© copyright 1997 Beth Nachison (nachison@scsu.ctstateu.edu)