Following the Roman Republic, Ancient Rome was ruled by an emperor and became an empire. Roman power stretched far and wide across Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Caucasus (between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea).
Between 27 BC to 285 AD, the Roman Empire was ruled by many emperors. It was split into the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire. Rome was the capital of both until 476 AD. After this date, Constantinople (in the region that is now Turkey) became the capital.
Gradually over time, the Roman Republic was overtaken by dictators, including Julius Caesar. After Julius Caesar’s assassination and another civil war, a man called Octavian took charge. He became emperor, named himself Augustus, and the period of the Roman Empire began.
The Senate gave Octavian the name ‘Augustus’. The name ‘Augustus’ means ‘the venerated’, which is someone who is greatly respected with a good reputation. Augustus came to have all the power in Rome. He was very admired and popular, especially because he was seen to have ended all the wars among the people.
Augustus left a list of heirs: Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero. After some ups and downs and some shaky moments, the Five Good Emperors followed: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius and the famous Marcus Aurelius.
A far-reaching empire
The Empire was its largest under Trajan, who ruled between 98 and 117 AD. The Roman lands crossed an area of five million square kilometres during Trajan’s reign. You have to imagine the Roman Empire in very different places, with varied climates and landscapes. Their lands stretched across what is now England, Germany, Spain and North Africa, for example. During its peak, Romans ruled over 45 million people.
The Roman army
One of the reasons the Romans were so successful was their strong army which had garrisons (forts) across the empire. This army was made up of professional Roman soldiers called legionaries. Non-Romans could also join. These non-Romans were called auxiliaries and were paid a lot less than legionaries.
Legionaries served for 25 years and were rewarded for their service when they retired with a piece of land. Without these loyal soldiers, the Roman emperor could not have kept control in such far-reaching places.
The Romans left their mark wherever they went. They built very straight roads for the military to use and to move goods quickly across the Empire. They built impressive buildings like amphitheatres and large constructions like aqueducts and bridges. Many of them were so well built they can still be seen today.
Life in the Empire
Like life during the Republic, Romans and non-Romans throughout the Empire enjoyed public spaces, especially bathhouses. Emperor Augustus in particular built many public buildings and displayed lots of art for the public to see.
Romans worshipped many gods. Each god or goddess had its own role to protect or improve different aspects of life. For example, there was a god of love, a god of wealth or a god of farming. In the 4th Century AD, Rome became Christian under Emperor Constantine.
Not long after Rome became Christian, the Empire started to lose its power. The last emperor of Rome was Romulus Augustus, whose reign ended in 476 AD.