History of Italy during Roman times

History of Italy during Roman times

This is an overview of the history of Italy during Roman times.

The origins of Rome (8th-6th centuries BC)

According to legend, Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus and Remus, and was then governed by seven Kings of Rome. In 509 BC the last of them, Tarquinius Superbus was overthrown, and the Roman Republic was formed.

The Republic was ruled by two elected consuls at a time, while the Senate (formed by the most notable Patricians, that is, aristocats) and a city assembly formed a sort of Parliament.

Civil Wars (1st century BC)

The institutions of the Roman republic, born for governing a city-state, were unfit to rule over such a large empire. Furthermore, there was discontent both inside Rome and between Rome and its Italic allies, and the tension favored military commanders, who started taking dictatorial powers. The first of these was Sulla, who prevented an overthrow of the republic by Gaius Marius but became a sort of "lord protector" of the Senate until his death (78 BC). After him came Julius Caesar, who after conquering the Gaul (present day France) won a civil war against Pompey but was assassinated by senators fearing he would start a monarchy, in 44 BC.

He was avenged by his nephew Octavianus who first defeated the senatorial party with the help of Mark Antony, and later (31 BC) Antony himself (who was allied to the queen of Egypt, Cleopatra).

The Roman Empire (1st-2nd centuries AD)

Roman Italy (in green) as organized by Augustus c.7 CE.

Octavius was awarded the titles of Augustus and Princeps by what remained of the Senate, and was proclaimed Imperator (which at the time only meant "supreme commander") by his Legions. Even if he was careful to abide the rules of the old republic, Octavius actually ruled as an Emperor, and the Roman Empire was born. This became apparent in 14, when he died and was succeeded by his adoptive son Tiberius.

The establishment of the empire brought substantial benefits to the provinces, which could now appeal to the emperor against rapacious administrators, rather than to the corrupt senatorial class to whom the administrators usually belonged. Furthermore, Roman citizenship was slowly extended to the provinces, and the rule of law became less arbitrary (although largely imperfect).

Despite its military strength, the empire made few efforts to expand its already vast extent; the most notable was probably the conquest of England by emperor Claudius in 47. In the 1st and 2nd century Roman legions were mostly employed in brief civil wars (e.g. in 68, the "year of the four emperors") or suppressing insurrections (e.g. the Hebraic insurrection in Judea, ended with the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70, and with the start of the diaspora).

Decline and Fall (3rd-5th centuries)

In fact, the internal situation was slowly deteriorating, and exploded in the crisis of the Third Century, when economic problems, barbarian incursions and civil wars led to a fragmentation of the empire as the regions tried to respond effectively to Persians and 'barbarian' invasions. The empire began to recover in the reign of the emperor Aurelian (270-275) and stengthened saved by Diocletian (284-305) and Constantine (306-337), who split the empire into western and eastern parts, with Rome and Constantinopolis (founded by Constantine himself) as capitals. Constantine also stopped opposing the diffusion of the Christian religion (313, Edict of Milan), actually allying with the Christian church. Christianity became the only official religion of the empire in 380 under emperor Theodosius. Italy continued to be the center of the Roman empire in the West and Rome it's capital until the last emperor was deposed in 476 AD (although the legitimate emperor, Julius Nepos, lived until the year 480, but in Split). Under Odoacer (476-489) and Theodosius(489-526) Italy enjoyed an Indian Summer economically and culturally until the damage done in the wars of Justinian (535-554), who wanted to recover Italy completely for the Empire, devastated the peninsula and destroyed the flourishing christian roman civilization that had survived along with the administrative and financial apparatus of the Late Roman Empire.


* List of Roman Emperors
* Italia (Roman province)

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