Between the 700s BC and the AD 100s, Rome grew from a tiny village to a huge city. As the city grew, so did its population, until Rome became home to more than a million people. Millions more lived in territories that the Romans controlled. Together, these territories surrounded the Mediterranean Sea, forming one of the largest states the world had ever seen.


As Rome gained more territory, its government changed. Originally ruled by kings, Rome turned into a republic run by elected leaders. For hundreds of years these leaders helped Rome become larger, richer, and more powerful.

In time the republic broke down, however, and disorder spread in Rome. To restore order, the Romans again changed their government. They put control of the government in the hands of individuals who had great power. In other words, Rome became an empire.


Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, set many of the powers that later emperors would have. The emperor had the power to:

  • declare war and raise taxes
  • punish lawbreakers
  • nominate public officials
  • influence meetings of the Senate
  • lead religious festivals

Later emperors benefited from the powers Augustus gained. Some used their powers well, expanding the empire and protecting its citizens. Others abused their power, seeking only to make themselves happy. Despite the selfish emperors, the empire survived for hundreds of years.


Rome_-_Laws.jpg The empire survived, at least in part, because of its laws. Rome's laws were written down and kept on public display. These written laws were supposed to help protect Romans from unfair treatment. Because everyone knew the laws, officials had to treat everyone the same.

Rome's laws protected the rights of the city's citizens, the people who could participate in government. Only
citizens could hold public office or vote.

In addition to the rights to vote and hold office, however, all citizens had duties to perform. For example, citizens had
to pay taxes, and male citizens had to serve in the army when needed.

Most Romans were very proud of their citizenship. They thought it was an honor to be a citizen of Rome. Roman citizenship was valued so much that many people the Romans conquered also wanted to become citizens. From time to time, Rome's emperors gave citizenship
to groups the Romans had conquered. This act usually made the conquered people feel grateful to the emperor. As a result, they remained loyal to Rome and
helped keep the empire strong.


Rome_-_Aqueduct.jpgRoman engineers designed and built many structures to improve life in the empire. They built durable roads that have lasted for centuries and strong bridges that spanned raging rivers.

They also built aqueducts, human-made channels that carried water from distant mountain ranges into Rome or other cities.

The skill of ancient Roman engineers inspired many later people to copy their techniques. For example, some builders still design stadiums in much the same way Roman engineers did. In fact, many techniques engineers and architects use today were directly inspired by the Roman engineers of 2,000 years ago.



Architecture, the art of designing buildings, is closely related to engineering. Roman architects and engineers used many of the same ideas. They constantly sought ways to make larger, stronger buildings.

In addition to being large and strong, however, Roman architects wanted their buildings to be beautiful. Because they admired the beauty of ancient Greek structures, they borrowed Greek ideas. For example, like the Greeks, the Romans used columns and open spaces to make their buildings look elegant and majestic. The Romans also developed ways to use concrete to build domes to create huge open spaces surpassing anything the Greeks had ever done.

Later civilizations greatly admired the Roman architectural style, copying many elements of Roman design in their own buildings. Elements of Roman design are seen in many public buildings even today.


Architecture was not the only field in which the Romans were inspired by the Greeks. Roman works of art also borrowed heavily from earlier Greek examples. Like the Greeks, Roman artists tried to make their art incredibly realistic. They wanted their statues and paintings to look like the could come alive. Roman artists particularly excelled in creating portraits. Some Roman portraits are so lifelike that viewers can even tell what the subject's personality was like. For centuries, artists have studied Roman works to learn how to make their own works more realistic.


Rome_-_Stoic.jpgLike Roman artists, Roman philosophers, or thinkers, wanted to show the world as it really was. They disagreed with earlier Greek philosophers who spent their time thinking about ideal worlds. Instead the Romans focused on how their ideas could improve people's lives.

For example, Roman philosophers advised people on how they should behave in order to be happy. One large group of philosophers called the Stoics taught that people shouldn't be concerned with possessions or themselves. Instead they should try to focus on living a virtuous life.

Stoic ideas influenced the Roman idea of civic duty. Inspired by the Stoics, Romans felt that they should act for the good of the city, not for personal gain. This notion of civic duty was passed on to later cultures, like our own in the United States.


Early in the first century AD a new religion, Christianity, appeared in Rome. At first the Romans saw the Christians as a branch of an older religion, Judaism. They didn't anticipate that Christianity would become a major force in the empire.

Christianity grew, though, spreading quickly through Rome. Worried by this growth, some officials tried to stop Christianity from spreading by punishing or even killing Christians. Then in the 300s, a Roman emperor called Constantine became a Christian and also made it the official religion of the Roman Empire.

During the period of the Roman Empire, Christianity spread from its birthplace in Southwest Asia into other parts of the world. Some historians estimate that, by the 300s, most of Rome's population was Christian.

As the church grew, the influence of church leaders grew as well. Soon the heads of the church because major figures in Roman society. The most influential of these leaders was the pope, the bishop of Rome. The influence of the pope and other church leaders helped unify Rome as a single Christian society.



Rome_-_Problems.jpgAt its height the Roman Empire included all the land around the Mediterranean Sea. The empire in the early 100s stretched from Britain south to Egypt, and from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Persian Gulf.

But the empire did not stay that large for long. By the end of the 100s emperors had given up some of the land the Roman army had conquered. These emperors feared that the empire had become too large to defend or govern effectively. As later rulers discovered, these emperors were right.

Even as emperors were giving up territory, new threats to the empire were appearing. Tribes of German warriors, whom the Romans called barbarians, attacked Rome's northern borders. At the same time, Persian armies invaded in the east. The Romans defended themselves for 200 years, but only at great cost.

The Romans struggled with problems within the empire as well. Because so many Romans were needed in the army, not enough people were left to farm. To grow enough food, the Romans invited Germanic farmers to grow crops on Roman lands. These farmers often came from the same tribes that threatened Rome's borders. Over time, whole German communities had moved into the empire. They chose their own leaders and largely ignored the emperors, which caused problems for the Romans.

Other internal problems also threatened Rome's survival. Disease swept through the empire killing many people. The government increased taxes to pay for the defense of the empire. During the 200s and 300s AD Rome had over 40 different emperors - each reigning for an average of 2 or 3 years before being murdered. Desperate, the Romans looked for a strong emperor to solve their problems.


The emperor the Romans were looking for was Diocletian, who took power in the late 200s. Convinced that the empire was too big for one person to rule. Diocletian divided the empire. He ruled the eastern half of the empire and named a co-emperor to rule the west.

Not long after Diocletian left power, Emperor Constantine reunited the two halves of the Roman Empire for a short time. Constantine also moved the empire's capital to the east into what is now Turkey. He built a grand new capital city there. The new capital was called Constantinople, which means "the city of Constantine." Although the empire was still called the Roman Empire. Rome was no longer the real seat of power. Power had moved to the east.



Not long after Constantine moved Rome's capital, German barbarians - people the Romans considered uncivilized - from the north began to raid the Roman Empire. Late in the 300s these barbarians began raiding deep into the heart of the empire.

The source of these raids was a new group of people who moved in Europe. Called the Huns, they were fierce warriors from Central Asia. The Huns invaded southwestern Europe. From there they launched raids on nearby kingdoms. Among the victims of these raids were several groups of people called the Goths.

The Goths could not defeat the Huns in battle. As the Huns continued to raid their territories, the Goths fled. Trapped between the Huns and Rome, they had nowhere to go but into Roman territory.

Rome's leaders were afraid that the Goths, would destroy Roman land and property. To stop this destruction, the emperors fought to keep the Goths out of Roman lands. In the east the armies were largely successful. They forced the Goths to move farther west. As a result, however, the western armies were defeated by the Goths, who moved into Roman territory.


The Romans fought desperately to keep the Goths away from Rome. They also paid the Goths not to attack them. For many years this strategy worked. In 408, however, the Romans stopped making payments. This made the Goths furious. Despite the Roman's best efforts to defend their city, the Goths sacked, or destroyed, Rome in 410.

The destruction of Rome absolutely devastated the Romans. No one had attacked their city in nearly 800 years. For the first time, many Romans began to feel afraid for the safety of their empire.


Unfortunately for Rome, the city's fall to the Goths in 410 wasn't the end of the invasions. The Gothic victory served as an example for other barbarian groups to invade the western half of the empire.

In the early 400s the Vandals invaded Spain. Then they crossed into northern Africa and destroyed Roman settlements there. As they passed through Roman areas, the Vandals destroyed nearly everything in their path. At about the same time, the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes invaded Britain, and the Franks invaded Gaul.

By the 480s a Frankish king named Clovis had built a huge kingdom in Gaul. Clovis, a Christian, was one of the most powerful of all the German kings.

Meanwhile, the Huns, under a new leader named Attila, raided Roman territory in the east. Attila was a brilliant leader and a very scary enemy. Attila led the Huns in raids against Constantinople, Greece, Gaul, and parts of northern Italy. He marched towards Rome itself but turned back at the gates of the city after the pope intervened to convince him to turn around.

Rome needed strong leaders to survive these constant attacks, but the emperors of the 400s were weak. As attacks on Rome's borders increased, military leaders took power away from the emperors. By the 450s military leaders ruled Rome - unfortunately they spent more time fighting each other than the invasions. In 476 a barbarian general overthrew the last emperor in Rome and named himself king of Italy. This event is considered by historians to mark the end of the western Roman Empire.


Rome_-_Sack.jpgBarbarian invasions are often considered the cause of Rome's decline. In truth, they were only one of several causes.

One cause of Rome's decline was the vast size of the empire. In some ways, Rome had simply grown too big to govern. Communication among various parts of the empire was difficult, even in peaceful times. During times of conflict it became even more difficult.

Political crises also contributed to the decline. By the 400s corruption, the decay of people's values, had become widespread in Rome's government. Corrupt officials used threats and bribery to achieve their goals, often ignoring the needs of Roman citizens. Because of officials like these, Rome's government was no longer as efficient as it had been in the past. In the face of this corruption, many wealthy citizens fled the city of Rome for their country estates. This action created a series of causes and effects that further weakened the empire.

Outside Rome, many landowners used slaves or serfs to work on their lands. To protect their estates and their wealth, many landowners created their own armies. Ambitious landowners used these personal armies to overthrow emperors and take power for themselves.

As wealthy citizens abandoned Rome and other cities, life became more difficult for those who remained. Rome's population decreased, and schools closed. At the same time taxes and prices soared, leaving more and more Romans poor. By the end of the 400s Rome was no longer the city it had once been. As it changed, the empire slowly collapsed around it.