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Roman Biographies

Heirs to Rome

Rome spanned centuries (millenia, if one chooses to count the Byzantine Empire's reign until its fall in 1453 BCE to the Ottoman Turks), and in those many centuries it generated countless men and women of note. From it's foundation in 753 BCE to the fall of the last Western emperor, Romulus Augustus, in 476 CE (traditionally counted as the fall of the Roman Empire), the Roman personalities that graced the the world have amazed, astounded, and even horrified us. Some, like Marcus Aurelius, Cicero, and Belisarius, are among the most admired in all history. The names of others have become synonymous with cruelty, tyranny, and licentiousness (e.g., Caligula and Nero). Few cultures have had such an enormous impact on the world around them, and none has had such a lasting one. The Empire that was Rome still echoes in our modern world, from our professional military forces to our extensive road networks, our elaborate baths and swimming pools to our colossal sports stadiums. These things, and many more, are direct descendants of Rome, and we are the heirs to the cultural treasures that Rome bequethed to us. By knowing the men and women who created those treasures, we better understand our own culture.

 


Biographical Periods

 

The Regal Period

Rome can be divided into a number of distinct periods. Rome began as a kingdom, the Regnum Romanum, established by Romulus. The regal period ended with the Rape of Lucretia and the expulsion of the last of the Roman kings. According to legend, the Trojan warrior Aeneas escaped the fall of Troy and founded Lavinium. The son of Aeneas, Iulus, went on to found the city of Alba Longa,and from the the royal line of Alba Longa came the twins, Romulus and Remus. After Romulus, the Kings of Rome were Numa Pompilius, Tullus Hostilius, Ancus Marcius, Tarquinius Priscus, Servius Tullius, and Tarquinius Superbus. The kingdom ended with the Rape of Lucretia and the explusion of the Tarquins in 510 BCE.

The Roman Republic

The Roman Republic lasted for nearly 500 years. Within the Republic, Rome was essentially divided into the Senate and the People, as illustrated by the famous abbreviation SPQR (Senatus PopulusQue Romanum ("The Roman Senate and People"). The Senate sent and received ambassadors, managed public lands, conducted wars, and levied taxes. The Roman People wielded power through the Centuriate Assembly (Comitia Centuriata), the Tribal Assembly (Comitia Tributa) and the Plebeian Council (Concilium Plebis). The two Assemblies and Council passed laws and elected Rome's magistrates. The most powerful of Rome's magistrates were the consuls, two in number, who were elected to office for one year. The consuls led the armies and were the senior most dignitaries in Rome for their year in office.

The early Republic laid Rome on the path to empire, defeating the Etruscans and conquering all Italia before coming into conflict with the other great power of the time, Carthage. With the defeat of Carthage, Rome was now the world's only superpower. Within the Antiquitatis site, it encompasses the period up until the time of the Gracchi brothers; approximately 150 BCE.

The Late Republic is the most celebrated period of Rome's history, and one of the most documented. As the Republic decayed, individual Romans became capable of gaining enormous power and influence. With a lack of external enemies and the accumulation of massive wealth and power, Romans began to tear away at one another; factional struggles, internal strife, and civil wars became an all too regular occurence in the Late Republic. The exact date of Fall of the Republic is a matter of some debate, with Julius Caesar's appointment as dictator perpetuum (44 BCE), the Battle of Actium (31 BCE), Octavian's assumption of the title "Augustus" (27 BCE) being some of the more popular demarcation points. Within Antiquitatis, 27 BCE is used.

The United Empire

The Fall of the Republic coincides with the establishment of the Principate. Augustus, although he never formally declared himself emperor, is commonly considered to be the first emperor of the Roman Empire. The United Empire continues until the death of Valentinian I in 375 CE. For decades prior to Valentinian, it had been customary for each emperor to select a "co-augusti," or co-ruler. This both secured the succession and provided an imperial presence in both the eastern and western portions of the Empire. While the co-augusti were "co-rulers," they were not equal, as the true emperor held total power. With the end of Valentinian, the time when one emperor held absolute power was over. After a period of confusion, the Empire would settle into two separate and distinct political entities, that would slowly begin to grow apart culturally as well.

Western Empire

The Western Empire begins with the Emperor Honorius in 395 CE. For the next 81 years, the Western Roman Empire would struggle with invasions of barbarians and internal decay. The last great Western Roman general, Aetius, would defeat Attila the Hun in 451 CE. By the end of the Western Empire, the emperors were little more than puppets of various barbarian tribes. In 476 CE the Germanicfoederati leader, Odoacer, executed Orestes, general of the Western Roman armies, for breaking an agreement to give the Germans part of Italy. Orestes was the father of Romulus Augustus, the Emperor of the West (which by this time consisted of little more than Italy), and had installed his son Romulus on the throne as a figurehead. Odoacer marched on Ravenna, deposed Romulus Augustus, and assumed the title of Rex Italiae. He declined to accept the title of emperor, both because it had come to mean little, and to avoid any conflict with the Eastern Roman Emperor, Zeno. With the toppling of Romulus Augustus the Western Empire came to an ignominous end.

Eastern Empire

The emperor Arcadius assumed the crown in the east in 395 CE. Until the Fall of the Western Empire, the East and West would drift further and further apart. The Eastern Empire was geographically in a much stronger position than the West, largely due to the superior position of its capital in Constantinople. Even so, it too struggled to defend itself against the barbarian tribes, losing control of Illyricum, Thrace, and the Balkans repeatedly over the years. Encroachments by the Hun Confederation and the Persian Empire battered the Eastern Empire as well.

A brief resurgence occurred under the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, allowing the emperor to send his talented general, Belisarius to retake much of Italy, Africa, and part of Spain. The effort virtually wrecked the economies of Italy and the Roman Empire, however, and the conquests were quickly lost. The reign of Justinian is widely seen as the transition point where the Eastern Empire ceased to be Roman and became a fusion of Rome and a feudal kingdom known as the Byzantine Empire. Rome, as the ancients knew it, was no more.

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