The Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was one of the earliest and largest empires in human history. At their height, the empire reached from modern-day Britain to modern-day Iraq. The Romans left behind a legacy which shaped European and world history.
Before Rome was an empire, it was a republic. In the republic, the Senate held most of the political power. However, the Roman armies were often loyal to their generals, not to the Senate. This is how Julius Caesar, the father of the empire, rose to power. He and his army conquered Gaul, in modern-day France, which gave Caesar a lot of wealth and fame. The Senate was worried that he was growing too strong, and was suspicious of him. They tried to revoke his titles, but in response, he marched his army into his own hometown of Rome in 49 BC and conquered it, appointing himself 'dictator for life'.
Julius was assassinated by his rivals, but his adopted son, Octavian, succeeded him. Due to civil war and unrest in Rome, Octavian changed his name to Augustus (meaning 'great') and managed to become emperor in a series of political moves in 27 BC. His reign would launch an empire which lasted, in some form, for over 1,500 years.
The first few hundred years of the empire were incredibly stable... in contrast to the civil wars beforehand. This was the golden age of the Roman Empire-called the 'Pax Romana' or Roman peace. New conquests, like the invasion of Britannia in 43 AD by Emperor Claudius, brought new subjects under Roman control. Great works like the Colosseum, built in 80 AD, made the empire one of the most advanced in the world, and helped create unity in the empire.
The Roman Empire was famous for being both multicultural and unified. People from present-day France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and more-people who spoke different languages, and had different cultures-all considered themselves Romans. This was because newly-conquered people were granted citizenship, and a voice in the political system. It was also because Romans built roads, colosseums, baths, and other projects wherever they went. These, in many cases, made conquered peoples' quality of life increase.
Roman women had a limited form of citizenship. They could not vote. However, they owned property, ran businesses, could divorce, had equal inheritance rights to men, and were seen legally as their own individuals, not as the property of their husbands. This made Roman women much more independent than women in many other parts of the world would be for thousands of years going forward.
By 200 AD the city of Rome had grown to be the largest city in the world, with over a million people living in it. But around this time, the Pax Romana ended, and the empire started to decline. There were periods of civil war and rebellion all over the empire, because of corruption, and power struggles over who should be emperor. Many emperors died due to assassination in this time. These struggles led to increased poverty and disorder in many parts of the empire, and caused the enemies of Rome to become bolder.
The western portion of the empire was shattered by invasions until 476, when the last emperor of Rome, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed, and Italy came to be ruled by barbarian invaders. However, the eastern part of the empire, in present-day Greece and Turkey, and centered around Constantinople, was alive and well. This part of the empire is known by historians as the Byzantine Empire, though the people living in it called themselves Romans. The Byzantine Empire lasted for another 1000 years.
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