Roman Empire

The Roman Empire , already in the time of Augustus, covered most of the then known world. Their legions guaranteed the domination of the provinces, suppliers of riches that made the greatness of Rome.

The High Roman Empire

The Empire established itself in Rome when Caius Otavius returned from Egypt with his numerous army. The Senate granted him several titles that legalized his absolute power: consul for life, censor, emperor, prince of the Senate, and finally Augustus (a title hitherto only attributed to the gods and which allowed Otávio to choose his successor).

Although Otávio Augusto retained republican appearances during his reign, his power was effectively based on the imperium (command of the army), proconsular power (right to indicate the governors of the provinces) and the tribune power (power to represent the plebs).

Augustus reorganized the provinces, dividing them into imperial (military) and senatorial (civil). It indicated the governors and controlled them through direct inspections and annual reports made by their successors. It created the state system of collection of taxes, ending with the concession of collection to private individuals (publicans).

On the social level, it ended the traditional superiority of the patriciate and created a census system based on the annual income of each one. The richest, over 1 million sesterces (silver coin minted in Rome), belonged to the Senate Order, which had all the political privileges and was distinguished by the use of the color purple. The income of over 400 thousand sesterces indicated the man of the Equestrian Order, with fewer rights and the distinctive blue color. Underneath this monetary index nobody had political rights, it was the Lower Order.

Augustus sought to contain the influence of Eastern and Greek ( Hellenistic ) culture , which dominated Rome and stimulated the pursuit of pleasure (hedonism) and worship of the Eastern mystic gods. He tried to revive the moral values ​​of Rome’s agrarian past, without much success. To defend his ideas, he brought to the court writers such as Livy, Virgil, Ovid, and Horace.

Not having direct heirs, Augustus indicated like successor his son-in-law, Tiberius. Nevertheless, the following indications would in general be made by the military, notably the Praetorian Guard.

With Augustus began the Julius-Claudian dynasty of the Roman Empire, which was to be continued by the Flavians until AD 96, when the so-called Twelve Caesars ended. Next came the Antonines and later the Severus , already in the third century.

The Lower Roman Empire and the crisis

In the third century began the crisis of the Empire , shaken by economic, military, political and religious problems. The economic crisis had its origins in the cessation of the wars of conquest and the consequent reduction of the number of slaves. The budget deficit, resulting from increased spending, led the political power to excessively raise taxes. Prices rose, markets shrank and production declined.

The Roman Empire, already in the time of Augustus, covered the greater part of the then known world. Their legions guaranteed the domination of the provinces, suppliers of riches that made the greatness of Rome.

The urban exodus began , the concentration of country life on self-sufficient properties, called villages, precursors of the medieval fiefs. They were characterized by the agrarian economy of consumption, with the work exerted in terms of stocking. Customers (Romans) and settlers (Germans) cultivated the land, delivering half of the production to the owner of the same. The small (indefinite) indebted owners had the same status but were free, while clients and settlers were trapped in the area in which they worked.

Caio Otávio , nephew of Julius Caesar and member of the Second Triumvirate, became the most powerful man in Rome, became the first emperor of Rome, with the name of Augustus, hitherto reserved for the gods. His brilliant government deserved posterity as the “Century of Augustus.”

At the same time, the religious crisis worsened. The Christianity began to spread by the Empire shortly after the martyrdom of Christ. At the same time that imperial power was weakening, Christianity became the very legal basis of power at the end of the Empire.

But the situation worsened. The political crisis was closely related to military problems, as the Army contested order in times of imperial succession. Already in the last phase of the Empire, Diocletian (284-304) attempted to circumvent the problem by dividing it into four parts (tetrarchy). After his death, successive disputes were reborn, for Constantine reunified the Empire.

Other divisions were verified, until the last, determined by Theodosius in 395, who created the Roman Empire of the West (Rome) and the Roman Empire of the East (Constantinople). After this division, the Empire never again united in its integrity, for the barbarians occupied the western part, while the Eastern Empire survived until the Muslim conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

End of the Roman Empire

The final blow in the Roman Empire of the West was delivered by the Germanic barbarians , who began to infiltrate militarily at the end of century IV. But the so-called “Great Invasions” began in 406.

First came the Visigoths : led by Alanco, they sacked Rome and settled on the Iberian peninsula and south of Gaul, constituting the first Germanic kingdom within the borders of the Empire. The Vandals followed their example, leaving the Danube, crossing Gaul and Spain and settling in North Africa. The Franks occupied northern Gaul. The Angles and Saxons invaded Bnitania (England), occupying the lowlands.

With the Empire in accelerating decadence, the Germanic barbarians threw themselves on what remained of the splendorous Roman world.

In 476, the Empire of the West was reduced to the territory of Italy. Emperor Júlio Nepos was overthrown by Orestes, the army chief, who placed his 6-year-old son on the throne under the name of Romulus Augusto. Odoacro (king of the herulos), barbarian chief allied with Júlio Nepos, gave a counter-coup: he removed Orestes and Rômulo Augústulo, assuming the title of “king of Italy”.

Imperial insignia were sent to Constantinople, which meant, at least technically. the reunification of the Empire under the rule of Constantinople. Later, the emperor of the East, Zenon, intending to get rid of the troubled Ostrogoths, gave them to Italy. Headed by Theodoric, these barbarians formed the last Germanic kingdom in the West: the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy.


As for the crisis of the Roman Empire, we saw that, essentially, the problems started at the economic level and were supplemented by the politico-military aspects. The crisis of slavery led to the retraction of production. The budget deficit generated the fiscal policy that led to the stagnation of trade and ruralization. The cut in military spending was fatal. Taking advantage of the weakness of the Empire, the barbarians began to infiltrate the borders, first peacefully, then by force.

Christianity, at the beginning of its propagation, constituted a disintegrating element in the measure in which the policy of the imperial cult attributed to the emperor divine origin. In the period of crisis of the Lower Empire, however, Christianity became a sustaining factor of the Empire, which in fact subsisted formally throughout the Middle Ages, sustained by the Church.

The Roman culture had little originality, since the conquests provoked a cultural syncretism, in which the Roman values ​​were replaced or modified. But Roman law and the Latin language remain the great contributions of Rome to Western civilization.

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