The Roman Empire was ancient Rome’s post-Republican period. It was a polity with large territorial holdings in Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia around the Mediterranean Sea, ruled by emperors. Roman Empire was a principate with Italy as the metropole of its provinces and the city of Rome as its sole capital from the accession of Caesar Augustus as the first Roman emperor to the military anarchy of the 3rd century. Later, the Empire was ruled by a number of emperors who shared control of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires.

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Rise of the Roman Empire

Rome remained the nominal capital of both parts of Roman empire until AD 476 when the imperial insignia were transferred to Constantinople following the capture of Ravenna by Odoacer’s Germanic barbarians and the subsequent deposition of Romulus Augustulus. The adoption of Christianity as the Roman Empire’s state church in AD 380, followed by the fall of the Western Roman Empire to Germanic kings, is traditionally regarded as the end of classical antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages. Historians refer to the medieval Roman Empire that remained in the Eastern provinces as the Byzantine Empire as a result of these events, as well as the gradual Hellenization of the Eastern Roman Empire.

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The Roman Republic (which had replaced Rome’s monarchy in the 6th century BC) became severely destabilized as a result of a series of civil wars and political conflicts.

Julius Caesar was appointed as a perpetual dictator of Roman Empire  in the mid-first century BC and assassinated in 44 BC. Civil wars and proscriptions raged on, culminating in Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son, defeating Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. The following year, Octavian conquered Egypt’s Ptolemaic Kingdom, bringing an end to the Hellenistic period that began with Alexander the Great’s conquests in the 4th century BC. Octavian’s power then became unassailable, and the Roman Senate formally granted him overarching power and authority in 27 BC.

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The Pax Romana was a period of unprecedented stability and prosperity during the first two centuries of the Roman Empire. During Trajan’s reign (AD 98–117), Rome reached its greatest territorial extent; the reign of Commodus (177–192) began a period of increasing trouble and decline. The Gallic Empire and Palmyrene Empire broke away from the Roman state in the third century, and the Empire was led by a series of short-lived emperors, often from the legions.

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Under Aurelian, it was reunified. Diocletian established two separate imperial courts in the Greek East and Latin West in 286 to stabilize it; Christians rose to positions of power in the 4th century following the Edict of Milan in 313. Shortly after, the Western Roman Empire declined due to the Migration Period, which included large invasions by Germanic peoples and the Huns of Attila. The Western Roman Empire finally fell with the fall of Ravenna to the Germanic Herulians and the deposition of Romulus Augustus by Odoacer in AD 476; the Eastern Roman emperor Zeno formally abolished it in AD 480. The Eastern Roman Empire, on the other hand, survived for another millennium, until Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

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Transition to a Republic

Rome began to expand shortly after the establishment of the republic in the sixth century BC, though it did not extend beyond the Italian peninsula until the third century BC.

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Long before it had an emperor, it was a “empire” (i.e. a great power). The Roman Republic was not a modern nation-state, but rather a network of towns left to govern themselves (albeit with varying degrees of independence from the Roman Senate) and provinces administered by military commanders. It was ruled not by emperors, but by annually elected magistrates (most notably Roman Consuls) in collaboration with the Senate.


The Western Roman Empire began to fall apart in the early fifth century, as Germanic migrations and invasions outstripped the empire’s ability to assimilate the migrants and repel the invaders. The Romans were successful in repelling all invaders, most notably Attila, but the empire had assimilated so many Germanic peoples with dubious loyalty to Rome that the empire began to disintegrate. Most historians agree that the Western Roman Empire ended in 476 when Romulus Augustulus was forced to abdicate in favor of the Germanic warlord Odoacer.

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Odoacer brought the Western Empire to an end by submitting to the rule of the Eastern Emperor rather than naming his own puppet emperor.

He accomplished this by appointing Zeno as sole emperor and himself as his nominal subordinate. In reality, Odoacer was now the sole ruler of Italy. The Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire by later historians, lasted until Constantine XI Palaiologos’ reign. The last Roman emperor was killed in battle on May 29, 1453, in the final stages of the Siege of Constantinople, against Mehmed II “the Conqueror” and his Ottoman forces. In order to claim a connection to the Roman Empire, Mehmed II would also claim the title of Caesar or Kayser-i Rum.