Having expelled its Etruscan kings and become a republic around the year 510 BC, Rome went to to become the dominant city of the Latin League - a group of Latin-speaking cities in central Italy.
In around 390 BC, however, Rome suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of a band of marauding Celts coming down from southern Gaul. The Romans withdrew into their citadel (central fortress) within the city, their houses were burnt, and they only narrowly stopped their citadel falling into the Gauls’ hands. The event shook the Romans profoundly and they remembered it for the rest of their history.
During generations of almost continuous warfare, the city of Rome first came to dominate a confederacy which spanned almost all Italy, and then emerged victorious from two long, bitter wars with its arch-rival, Carthage.
Victory in these struggles has made Rome the leading power in the western Mediterranean.
The cities and tribes of central and southern Italy have come under the firm leadership of Romeclick to view Italy 200BC
The area of modern France is now dominated by the Celtic La Tene cultureclick to view France 200BC
Carthaginian and Roman armies have contested much of Spainclick to view Spain and Portugal 200BC
The Roman victory in the war against Hannibal (known to the Romans as the Second Punic War) left her as the dominant power in the western Mediterranean. She had also extended her overseas empire, this time in Spain. She soon found herself being drawn into further wars, which ended, in 146 BC, with her annexation of Macedonia, Greece and North Africa.
These conquests were followed by further Roman gains (in two cases, in Asia Minor, kings donated their kingdoms to Rome on their deaths). By 100 BC Rome dominated the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, and directly controlled some of the wealthiest areas of the region.
While this expansion had been taking place overseas, at home things had been deteriorating for the Romans. The wealth that now flowed into Rome from her overseas territories, in the form of war booty and taxes, increased social tensions, as the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. This poisoned the politics of Rome, and led to political extremism and violence.
An orgy of civil wars between ambitious Roman generals has convulsed the entire Mediterranean world, had given power to autocratic leaders who completely overshadowed the civilian politicians. The lastest is Julius Caesar, who, after conquering Gaul, turned his armies on Rome and, after yert another civil war, made himself master of the Roman world. Then, on the 15th March, 44 BC, Caesar was assassinated by some of his enemies.
The Republic then began to slip into anarchy until Caesar’s three chief lieutenants, Antony, Octavian (Caesar’s grand nephew and adopted heir) and Lepidus, took control of the government. Caesar’s assassins fled to Greece, where, in 42 BC, they were defeated by the forces of Antony and Octavian.
By 31 BC, the Roman Republic, which had existed for so long and whose power had now come to dominate the Mediterranean lands, existed in name only. An orgy of civil wars between ambitious generals, which have convulsed the entire Mediterranean world, had given power to autocratic leaders who completely overshadowed the civilian politicians. In the final round of civil war, the two protagonists were Julius Caesar's lieutenants, Antony and Octavian. This ended in 31 BC with Octavian victorious, and Antony - and Antony's mistress, Cleopatra, queen of Egypt - dead.
In 27 BC Octavian will rename himself Augustus, and become the first of the Roman emperors.
The Middle East is now divided between the Roman and Parthian empiresclick to view Middle East 30BC
Asia Minor has fallen under the power of Rome.click to view Turkey 30BC
Syria is now a Roman province, and Judaea is under king Herod the Greatclick to view Syria 30BC
Egyptian independence has come to an end with the death of its famous queen, Cleopatraclick to view Egypt 30BC
The Greek city-states and kingdoms have fallen under the power of Romeclick to view Greece and the Balkans 30BC
The free inhabitants of Italy all now enjoy full Roman citizenship, and provide Rome with the bulk of its soldiers and officialsclick to view Italy 30BC
The whole of the area of modern France has been conquered by the Romansclick to view France 30BC
Roman armies have slowly conquered most of Spainclick to view Spain and Portugal 30BC
The peoples of the British Isles have made their first appearance in written history with Julius Caesars' invasions of 55 and 54 BCclick to view Britain 30BC
Major population movements are occuring in this region
North Africa is now part of the Roman empire, while in central Africa the Bantu expansion continuesclick to view Africa 30BC
North Africa has now largely fallen under the power of Romeclick to view North Africa 30BC
The Roman Empire has continued to flourish and expand over more than two centuries. A brief civil war followed the death of the emperor Nero in 68, but stability was quickly restored. For most of the time the Roman world has ruled by a succession of able rulers such as Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius; even when inadequate emperors have sat on the throne, the imperial machine, staffed by able officials and soldiers, has continued to hold the empire together.
The reign of the dreadful Commodus was followed by a civil war in 193-6; but peace and stability have returned under the victor, the Emperor Septimius Severus.
The empire is divided into many provinces, each under the authority of a governor. The ancient cities – together with hundreds of new cities founded by the Romans – retain much of their autonomy, however. Millions of the empire’s inhabitants enjoy the rights of Roman citizenship, with full access to the famed Roman legal system. Economic activity has risen to a point the Mediterranean world will probably not see again until the 18th century.
One small part of the region, Judaea, has given birth to the new religion of Christianity, but has also seen the dispersal of the Jewish people from their homelandclick to view Middle East 200AD
The Jews have been exiled from their homeland after two great revolts against Romeclick to view Syria 200AD
Egypt is a province of the Roman empireclick to view Egypt 200AD
The cities of Asia Minor have prospered under the peace which Roman rule has broughtclick to view Turkey 200AD
The Greek cities are in decline, though their glorious past is still reveredclick to view Greece and the Balkans 200AD
Italy holds a privileged position within the Roman empireclick to view Italy 200AD
Roman civilization has become deeply entrenched throughout the area of modern Franceclick to view France 200AD
Spain and Portugal have become thoroughly Romanized after centuries of Roman ruleclick to view Spain and Portugal 200AD
A Roman province now covers the southern half of the British Islesclick to view Britain 200AD
Central Europe is dominated by German and Sarmatian tribesclick to view Central Europe 200AD
All of North Africa is now part of the Roman empire, while to the south the Bantu migration continuesclick to view Africa 200AD
North Africa is one of the most prosperous and Romanized parts of the Roman empireclick to view North Africa 200AD
After AD 225, numerous major barbarian invasions triggered fifty years of grave troubles for the Roman empire. Rebellions and mutinies occurred on a regular basis. Many emperors were assassinated, one emperor was killed in battle, and another was captured by the Persians. Barbarian hordes rampaged through the empire, sacking hundres of cities. By the 260s the empire looked as if it would break up.
However, several soldier-emperors then led a fight-back. The empire was reunited, and the barbarians driven from imperial territory. However, the wars and invasions had left the empire exhausted and impoverished.
The late third century and early fourth century emperors carried out wide-ranging changes. The Roman army was completely reorganized, with greater emphasis on cavalry; the administration was centralized, taxes greatly increased, and cities deprived of most of their cherished self-government. Emperors ceased to rule from Rome - and in fact, two or three emperors now ruled simultaneously, so as to control the empire better. Their capitals were now located at strategic points such as Milan, in northern Italy, and Trier, in Gaul. The emperor Constantine even built a brand new capital of the eastern Roman empire, at Constantinople.
Most dramatically, Constantine made Christianity, previously illegal and persecuted, into the imperial religion of the Late Roman Empire.
The fourth century emperors were often engaged in fighting barbarians on almost all frontiers. In 378 an entire Roman army was destroyed, and an emperor killed, at the Battle of Adrianople. The victorious Visigoths then went on a rampage through the Balkans.
In 395, the empire was officially divided into two parts, east and west, each under its own emperor. It would never be united again, at least while the western half was intact.
In 410, the Visigoths moved west and sacked Rome.
This event triggered a mass invasion across the Rhine frontier by other German tribes. Some marched great distances, sacking towns and villas on the way, and settled hundreds of miles from their homelands. Within a few years a number of German-ruled kingdoms had begun to appear within the western Roman provinces. The provinces of Britain were lost altogether to the Romans, their garrison recalled to deal with threats to the heart of the empire.
As the 5th century progressed, more and more Germans entered the empire, particularly after a major attack on the empire by the Huns, in the 450s. Those already established within the empire extended their territories. It was now that the western Empire ceased to function as a going concern. In 476, the German leader in Italy sent the last Roman emperor of the west, a boy named Romulus Augustulus, into retirement.
Gone (or rapidly going) were the large towns, the beautiful villas, the well-built roads of the ancient Romans. Towns were smaller and trade shrank. The Christian church dominated the spiritual and intellectual life of the people. Rome, once the city of pagan emperors and senators, was now the city of the Pope, the leader of the western Christian church.
In the eastern Mediterranean the Roman empire is still very much a going concern, wealthy, civilized and stable. The Roman Empire would endure here for another thousand years. Centred on Constantinople, and fiercely Christian by religion, it would keep alive much of the old Greek and Roman civilization.
The Middle East is divided between the Eastern Roman empire and the Persian empireclick to view Middle East 500AD
The cities of Asia Minor remain prosperous centres of classical civilizationclick to view Turkey 500AD
Syria and Palestine, provinces of the Eastern Roman Empireclick to view Syria 500AD
The western Roman empire has fallen to German invaders, but the eastern Roman empire remains intactclick to view Europe 500AD
The Balkans have been lost to Byzantine rule, and Slavs and Bulgars have settled the region.click to view Greece and the Balkans 500AD
The rise and fall of the Huns has had a huge impact on this regionclick to view Central Europe 500AD
In West Africa the trade routes across the Sahara are expanding, while to the east the powerful kingdom of Ethiopia has emergedclick to view Africa 500AD
Hover MAP for summary and tap to zoom. MAP < and > buttons change date. TIMELINE icons jump to date. See below for historical summary.