The Roman Republic

The Shift From the Republic of Rome to the Rich Cultural Golden Age of the Roman Empire

There are many parts of the world which are full of history. Europe is a popular place where people travel in order to experience a new part of the world. The Roman Empire is studied greatly in high school. It was definitely a fan favorite. Due to its rich history, there is a lot to learn, and the empire reigned for over a century. So let’s dive in and learn about this empire and how it was able to stand for so long until its end around 476 AD.

Before the Empire

The Roman Republic

Venn diagram of a republic vs. a democracy
Credit: Diff.wiki

Rome was a city-state in Italy which was able to stand for years. Before the Roman Empire was an empire, it ruled as a republic. It ran from 509 BCE to 27 BCE. After the Etruscan king was no longer in power in 509 BCE, the Roman people came together to ensure the future of the empire. In the beginning, it was a representative democracy.

For many years, Rome was able to stand with the people running it. By people I mean the rich. This was the basis of government in many parts of the world. This is the first and best example of a democracy. Though, a republic is a little different from a democracy. I have included a diagram to better understand the differences between the two. It is easy to see why the two can get confused.

The Shift from Republic to Empire

Since the republic was geared to have ones who had wealth hold power.

The Roman Republic
Credit: britannica

Not until the people in the lower class fought to have this change and hold government positions. That was not until 200 years later. The Senate was the only branch to make choices for the region. This was only able to last 15 years before the lower classes fought for change. Which created “The Council of the Plebs”. “Plebs” is the people who were in the lower class. This is how they participate in government.

These two branches of government worked for centuries, but while a region grows, changes need to be made. This was the downfall of the republic. Families craved power and the people wanted to keep it. Because of this crave for strength between wealth and others, civil wars began. Many people tried to take power by bringing down the ones who were in control.

Following the Shift

Julius Caesar: he came, he saw, he conquered

When it comes to Julius Caesar history, it has favored him. In the sense that he is an interesting figure. He was born while Rome was expanding its rule and grew up during the time of unrest. For most of his adult life Caesar held government positions which gave him a following and gave him the ability to become a leader in Rome. Even though 48 BCE there was that period where he fled and became involved with Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. It became a story to be retold throughout the centuries, since for the time it was a scandal.

Statue of Julius Caesar
Credit: National Geographic

After fighting a war in North Africa (and winning), also a few years after spending time with Cleopatra, was the return to Rome. He was still on the way to destroying the enemies he had made in his life. He came from Africa, the Middle East and even Spain. In 44 BCE, Caesar took it upon himself and declared himself “Dictator of Rome”. This angered senators in Rome, rightfully so. For years prior to Julius, Rome was successful. This anger from the Senators became too much. One month later, Caesar was dead, stabbed by the Senators when they were able to hide the knives under their robes.

Augustus Caesar: The First Emperor of the Roman Empire

Following the death of Julius Caesar, this paved the way for Octavian, or Augustus to become the next ruler. Augustus was actually given many names, but depending on what years are being talked about, that is the name he is referred to as.

The Second Triumvirates

After Julius died if 44 BCE, Octavian (for the period of 44-27 BCE) kept close ties with Mark Antony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. These three got together and formed “The second triumvirates“. A Triumvirate is a form of government where three people hold the highest political power. They made sure to get rid of people who were in support of the assassination of Julius and any threats to their power. This form of government did not last long. The first time it was used with Julius obviously did not work either. There was much jealousy and disagreement. Because of this, in 31 BCE, Octavian became the first ruler of Rome.

The Golden Age

Emperor of the Roman Empire, Augustus
Credit: History.com

Everyone has heard about the Golden Age of Rome or “Pax Romana“, it is the highlight of the Roman Empire. The economy, agriculture and the arts were at a high. It was also reported that 82 temples were built in one year. Octavian also had a hand in the saying “all roads lead to Rome”. During his reign he was able to expand the roads in Rome. By 6 AD, there was a police force and the Empire itself had grown even more. There were no longer any civil wars and due to this peace in Rome and the expansion, trade was able to grow. During this time, the writer Virgil published the epic poem, “The Aeneid”, which followed Aeneas, after the fall of Troy.

The Golden Age lasted two centuries and Augustus was able to rule for about 45 years until his death in 14 ACD. Following his death, his successor, Tiberius, became the next emperor who was different from his father.

Tiberius

Tiberius was the adoptive son of Augustus. After rising to the throne in 14 AD, Tiberius had big shoes to fill. It was the first reign of someone doing what Augustus had created. The change was awkward because this had never been done before. The transfer was uncomfortable and arguable. This was not Tiberius’s first. There are just people who do not like being the first person to do something. Myself included.

Tiberius Emperor of the Roman Empire
Credit: historythings

Augustus had been a favorite to the people and the senate. Leaving hard shoes to fill. Tiberius was not a favored among them. Though he did try really hard to be. It is similar to living in the shadow of an older sibling and knowing you will never be them. Augustus at this point was the only example of an emperor and did a great job expanding and ruling the growing empire. Because of this, Tiberius tried his hardest to be like his father, but this did not work.He was able to fulfill his duties as Emperor of Rome. He was able to complete the first succession to the throne and handle dutieswhat came with being ruler.

Notorious Emperor Nero

While there has been amazing emperors who have ruled Rome, there have also been some not-so good rulers. Nero is one of the not-so great ones. His reign started at the age of 17 in 54 AD. Since he was so young and in a position of power, his mother helped greatly. She was even on the Roman currency alongside Nero.

Drawing of Nero
Credit: biography.com

This was until 55 AD they were no longer on good terms and she was not on the coin (very short lived). Not only was she taken off the coin, Nero had her killed. He had believed she wanted to kill him and that was why he killed her first. The senators that worked with Nero supported the death of his mother at Nero’s command. They also believed his mother had planned to have him killed.

Nero’s first wife Octavia, also died because of Nero. From this marriage there was no heir and because of this, the marriage was not a happy one. While he was still under the control of his mother, he first sent Octavia into exile. Only later did he kill her on the grounds of cheating. Octavia’s decapitated head became a gift to Nero’s (future) second wife, Poppaea Sabina.

The Great Fire of Rome

Not only was there bloodshed under Nero’s rule, but most of Rome faced a devastating fire. July 18 64 AD, the fire started and tore through Rome over the course of six whole days. History has blamed Nero for the fire, though there are no direct sources of the fire. Everything has been passed down. Also, many accounts of the fire differ, making it very hard to fully understand what had happened.

At the time of the fire, Nero reportedly had been away from Rome. Though it was a struggle to put out the fire because people wanted to take advantage of the chaos and loot from shops and other people, in order to do this, they said people contributed to the fire. Taticus, who was present during the great fire, wrote about it 60 years later. It is believed he had people burn down the city so he could remake it to his liking. Prior to the fire, the senate rejected Nero’s idea to knock down a third of Rome and rename it “Neropolis”.

This gave him grounds to start the fire, since it was tragic for the city of Rome. Nero was able to reconstruct the city to his liking. The new “Golden Palace” hid the ashes of the city. While there is evidence against Nero, this could all be coincidence. Reportedly, Nero tried to get the blame off of himself and blame the Christians. They believed that the city was evil, so Nero was trying to make it seem that the Christians wanted to cleanse Rome.

The reason for the fire still remains a mystery. Whether or not the great fire of Rome had been a plan for Nero to remake Rome in his image or a cleanse of evil by the Christians, it still happened. Maybe it’s better left a mystery.

The Fall of the Roman Empire

A land divided

As we have seen, Rome was constantly growing and expanding its borders. At one point, the Roman Empire became too large for one person to rule. Because of this, it, split in half. There was the eastern and western empire which in 258 AD. When Diocletian became emperor years later in 284 CE, the western Roman Empire was unstable and Diocletian was able to give it some stable ground under his rule. Though it was not able to stand much longer after him.

Diocletian had a system of four emperors, and with him this was able to succeed, but after he died the others started fighting. Eventually, the western empire had collapsed. This led to the rise of Constantine and the Byzantine Empire, which was able to stand much longer than the west.

The Rise of Constantine and the Eastern Empire

Map of the Byzantine Empire
Credit: History.com

In 306 CE Constantine became Emperor of the Eastern Empire and then became a member of Christianity. By 324 CE he created the city “Constantinople”. Constantinople ended up being the new capital of the empire and it was able to thrive. Unlike the Western Empire, it was able to survive for many centuries after. Though it turned into the Byzantine Empire. Its location made it a great place for trading, which contributed greatly to its success.

The end of an era

Due to the trading location in Byzantium, the people were able to see many cultures. Similar to an American melting pot. But the fact that this was a prime location for trading made others want it as well. Trade was a big reason for war in the past. And this is the exact reason that the Roman Empire is no longer around today. In school, students learn about how many countries wanted the United States area for trade routes. This is the same all over the world. Even though the Eastern Empire was able to survive the Holy wars, in 1453  the last of the Roman Empire finally fell. The Ottomans took over Constantinople, marking the end to a very long era.

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