Roman Empire

The ancient Romans created one of the largest and best organized empires in history. At its height, the empire stretched 2,500 miles (4,000 km) from east to west and 2,300 miles (3,700 km) from north to south. For the only time in history, all the lands around the Mediterranean Sea belonged to a single state, ruled from Rome. By the 1st century CE, the city had more than a million inhabitants.

Rome established (753 BCE)

According to legend, Rome is established by twin brothers Romulus and Remus in the 8th century BCE. They were sons of the war god Mars who were raised by a she-wolf. In fact, the city originated from a humble settlement built on one of the city’s seven hills during the 10th century BCE.

Republic (510-29 BCE)

The Romans expel their king and establish a republic (in which power is held by elected leaders). Rome’s citizens elect two heads of state each year, known as consuls, who rule alongside an assembly called the Senate.

Under attack (264-146 BCE)

The Romans fight and win three wars against the Carthaginian Empire of North Africa. During the second war, the Carthaginian general Hannibal crosses the Alps and invades Italy from the north. He fails to capture Rome.

Conquering Greece (197-146 BCE)

The Romans fight a series of wars against the kingdom of Macedonia (north of Italy) and a number of Greek city-states. Greek sculptures and other works of art, brought to Rome, are widely copied.

Slave revolt (73-71 BCE)

The gladiator Spartacus leads a slave revolt against the empire. He achieves several victories against Roman armies, but is eventually defeated and killed. In revenge, 6,000 surviving members of his army are executed.

Expanding empire (58-49 BCE)

Military general Julius Caesar conquers Gaul (modern-day France) and leads expeditions to Britain in 55 and 54 BCE, spreading the Roman way of life. His writings provide a first-hand account of his campaigns.

Dictator for life (46 BCE)

After winning a civil war against his rival, Pompey, Julius Caesar appoints himself Rome’s dictator for life. His power and success angers some of the Assembly’s senators, who assassinate him in 44 BCE.

Emperor Augustus (27 BCE)

After a civil war, Caesar’s heir, Octavian, becomes Rome’s first emperor, taking the new name Augustus ("revered one"). He begins the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, the earliest line of hereditary Roman leaders. Augustus claims he is restoring the republican system, but actually rules with absolute power.

The Silk Road (1st century BCE)

A long-distance, overland trade route forms between the Roman Empire and China. Wealthy Romans spend a lot of money on Chinese silk and Indian spices, while the Chinese import Roman glassware.

Emperor Claudius (41-54 CE)

Claudius becomes the fourth emperor of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, which Augustus had established. In 43 CE, he leads an invasion to conquer Britain in order to obtain precious resources and slaves for the empire.

Emperor Nero (54-68 CE)

The rule of Nero, the fifth and last Julio-Claudian emperor, ends in widespread rebellions. Nero kills himself, and a new civil war breaks out. Rome is ruled by four different emperors in a single year.

A new dynasty (69-79 CE)

Vespasian, victor in the civil wars, becomes emperor. His rule marks the start of a new dynasty - the Flavians. He begins building the Flavian Amphitheatre (later known as the Colosseum), which his sons complete.

Largest empire (117 CE)

The empire is at its largest and in danger of becoming undefendable. Emperor Hadrian builds forts and defences, such as Hadrian’s Wall in Britain, to protect the empire’s extensive lands.

Imperial crisis (235-284 CE)

During this troubled period, the empire is attacked by Persians in the east and Germanic tribes in the north. Several regions break away, and a plague erupts in 249 CE. Many
emperors rule briefly; almost all die violently.

Restoring stability (284-305 CE)

Emperor Diocletian seeks to re-establish strong government by splitting the empire into a western and eastern half, each ruled by a senior emperor (the Augustus) and a junior (the Caesar).

West versus east (312-330 CE)

Emperor Constantine takes power in the west. After winning a civil war against the eastern emperor, Licinius, he reunites the empire. He establishes a new capital in the east, later called Constantinople.

Fall of Rome (476 CE)

In the west, Emperor Romulus Augustulus is overthrown by Odoacer, a Germanic chieftain who makes himself king of Italy. In the east, the empire survives for 1,000 more years, but it is now called the Byzantine Empire.