Roman Empire  

Roman Empire

territory controlled by ancient Rome. The Romans built up their empire through conquest or annexation between the 3rd century BC and the 3rd century AD. At its height, the Roman Empire stretched from north-western Europe to the Near East and encompassed all the lands of the Mediterranean.

The control of an empire of this scale depended on a tightly controlled system of administration, a strong and disciplined army, and excellent communications. Provinces of the empire were controlled by Roman governors appointed by the emperor. The Roman army and a number of strategically placed forts ensured that the empire was defended against hostile local peoples, and an efficient network of roads was built both to allow troops to move swiftly within the empire and to facilitate trade. Taxes levied and valuable commodities such as grain, minerals, and slaves enriched Rome and financed its army. The many diverse peoples and cultures whose countries became part of the Roman Empire were, to varying degrees, united by Roman culture and Roman ideals of government and citizenship.

The formation of the Roman Empire began under the Roman Republic, but was formed mostly by the early Roman emperors, and is often thought of as belonging particularly to the imperial dynasties who held power in Rome after the collapse of the old Republican constitution. By the end of the 1st century AD, the Roman Empire was already the greatest empire of the ancient world. However, at the end of the 5th century AD, various economic factors and ceaseless pressure from barbarian peoples on the frontiers of the empire led to its eventual collapse in western Europe. An eastern Empire, based on Constantinople (now stanbul), continued for far longer.

The Beginnings of Empire

The early history of the city of Rome saw its gradual domination, first under the Kings of Rome and then under the Roman Republic, of the Italian peninsula. The emergence of this small but powerful city-state inevitably brought it into conflict with other Mediterranean powers, particularly with some of the states of Greece and with Carthage. The protracted series of wars which Rome fought in order to establish itself as the major Mediterranean power led to the conquest and annexation of territories belonging to its rivals: in this way Rome acquired Sicily (241 BC); the twin province of Sardinia and Corsica (238 BC); most of Spain (197 BC); Macedonia and parts of northern Africa (146 BC); and the lands of Pergamum in Asia Minor (133 BC). Further territory was added as a result of the campaigns of Julius Caesar (leading to the conquest of the rest of Spain and of northern Gaul) and during the Civil Wars of the later 1st century BC (including, most importantly, the Provinces of Africa and of Egypt). By 27 BC, when Octavianus, having emerged from the chaos of the Civil Wars without significant rival to his powers, adopted the title "Augustus" and so became the first Roman emperor, the foundations of the empire were already laid, and Rome was already the leading power, in the western world.

In the early years of the Roman Empire, each province was given its own constitution, agreed and loosely supervised by the Senate in Rome. For each province a governor was appointed; although, in theory, the tenure of governors lasted one year, in practice, their terms of office were often extended. By the time of Augustus, a hierarchy of provinces had developed: some, considered "public provinces", were administered by proconsular governors, appointed by the Senate, with no responsibility for the command of troops. The remainder were imperial provinces, effectively governed by appointees of the emperor. For the more peaceful and stable imperial provinces, in which no more than a single legion of troops was based, the governor was a former praetor (magistrate); the more heavily garrisoned provinces were ruled by governors drawn from the ranks of former consuls (chief magistrates). There were also some provinces in which the governor was of equestrian rank (drawn from the lower echelons of the Roman nobility): Judaea, annexed in 6 BC after the collapse of the client kingdom of Herod, was an equestrian province, as was Egypt (which long had a special status on account of its great wealth and strategic importance). In times of crisis, a serving consul might be sent out to govern a province: this happened in Sicily after a serious slave revolt in 134 BC. Aided by a procurator, who was charged with financial affairs, the governor was responsible for the running of the province, day-to-day matters being settled by a series of local and town councils. The provincial constitution would deal with, among other matters, the status of free towns and ports within the province; with the rights of the inhabitants (whether or not Roman citizens); and with the types and levels of taxation which were to be paid by the provincials.

Each province was usually made up of civitates, loca