The city of Rome developed from a group of villages in the C7th and C6th BC. At this time Italy contained a wide mix of peoples of whom the Etruscans were dominant until Rome began to expand, gaining control first of the neighbouring Latin tribe and later most of Italy although Greek influence remained strong in the south and Sicily. This control was extended by conquest and bequest to North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean by the mid C2nd BC. Italy was unified politically by the extension of citizenship in 90-89 BC, but the Republican constitution weakened and a series of military dictators (Sulla, Pompey, Caesar) took power during the C1st BC.
After Caesar's death in 44 BC, the Triumvirate of Mark Anthony, Lepidus and Octavian, Caesar's nephew, was shortlived and Octavian finally defeated the forces of Anthony and the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra, at Actium in 31 BC to become undisputed ruler of the entire Roman world, including Egypt. In 27 BC he was given the title 'Augustus' which led to his deification, and his dynasty was to remain in power until the death of Nero in AD 68.
Despite native resistance, usurpations of Imperial power and civil war, the Empire continued to expand to such an extent that it became necessary to divide it for governmental purposes. Diocletian (accession 284) shared power with a joint Augustus and two subordinate Caesars. By this time, the centre of power was shifting to the east. Constantine established a new, Christian capital at Byzantium (renamed Constantinople in AD 330) and in practice the Empire broke into an eastern and western half with outlying provinces being conquered by barbarian invaders.
Rome was sacked by the Visigoths and Vandals in the C5th AD, the first people to directly attack Rome since the Celts in 390 BC, and the Ostrogoths founded a kingdom in Italy in AD 393. Although Justinian tried to reunite the two halves he was unsuccessful and the Western Empire fell to the invaders. The Eastern Empire lasted until Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453. It retained Roman institutions and Latin as an official language for two centuries until Greek took over. Latin, however, remained the language of the Church and science and many modern European legal systems are based on Roman law.
Ancient World index
This collection of names compiled by Kate Monk. Copyright January 1997, Kate Monk. Last updated September, 98. Copies may be made for personal use only.
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