Eras and Their Highlights

The Roman Republic

Did the Roman Republic precede the Roman Empire?

Yes, the Roman Republic, which for centuries afterward was considered the model form of a balanced government, was established in 509 B.C. The Roman Empire was not established until 27 B.C. when Augustus (also known as Octavian; 63 B.C.-A.D. 14) became its first ruler. In brief, the development of ancient Rome is as follows.

In 753 B.C. the city of Rome was established. (Legend has it, the city was founded by brothers Romulus and Remus.) Situated on wooded hills above the Tiber River, about 15 miles from the sea, Rome enjoyed the advantages of access to trade routes while having natural protection from aggressors. The city was defensible. Agriculture prospered in the area, as did other economic endeavors including manufacturing and mining.

In 509 B.C. the Republic was established by noblemen. The government was headed by two elected officials who were called consuls. Since they shared power, a certain measure of balance was ensured in that either one could veto the actions of the other. And the posts were brief: each elected official served for only one year. These heads of state were guided by the Roman Senate, which was made up of senior statesmen. There were also assemblies in which the people had a voice.

In 390 B.C. Rome was captured and sacked by the Gauls (a Celtic people from western Europe), who were able to hold it for a short time. About 300 B.C. the Romans came into contact with the Greeks, adopting not only some of their ideas, but their mythology as well. The Greek gods and goddesses were soon given Roman names.

By 275 B.C. Rome controlled most of the Italian peninsula. Their homeland stable, the Romans set their sights on overseas expansion, and between 264 and 146 B.C. fought the Punic Wars in order to gain territory. They conquered the Mediterranean islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and corsica; part of Gaul; much of Spain; and carthage (in northern Africa).

In the last century B.C. Rome entered a period that is considered the height of their civilization. But about the middle of that century, the Republic was torn by civil wars. After 20 years of fighting, the Roman Empire was formed in 27 B.C. when Augustus (Octavian) became the first emperor. While vestiges of the Republic were maintained, the emperor held supreme authority, nominating the consuls and appointing senators, controlling the provinces, and heading the army. The civilian assemblies were still in place, but had for the most part lost their voice in government.

The Roman Empire lasted nearly 500 years. By the third century A.D. Roman armies had conquered so many peoples that the empire stretched across Europe and included the entire Mediterranean coast of Africa as well as parts of the Middle East. During this time of power and expansion, trade thrived over a vast network of roads and sea routes, which extended to china, India, and Africa. coins, made of gold, silver, copper, and bronze, were issued and controlled by the Roman government.

In 395, upon the death of emperor Theodosius the Great (347–395), the Roman Empire was divided into two: East and West. In 476, after suffering a series of attacks from nomadic Germanic tribes, Rome fell.


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