The Roman Empire map shows the transformation of Rome from a city-state to an empire. Rome, a republic in Italy, evolved over time into an empire that dominates the known world. During the reign of the Five Good Emperors, the Roman Empire was at the height of its power.
Romans built a great civilization upon the mathematical, philosophical and medicinal foundations of Ancient Greece and left a great heritage regarding military, administration, architecture and law. In this context, they have built the administrative and legal foundations contemporary western civilization.
Rome was founded as an Italian city-state and it took control of other city-states by following an expansionist policy. Firstly, it established its absolute power over Italy and it began to control the whole Mediterranean region.
In terms of military power, it built a superior military system better than any rival armies and it dominated Europe, Asia and Africa by building military groups named Legionary, who were resilient and disciplined warriors.
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Roman Empire Map Over Time
The map of the Roman Empire shows us that the Romans ruled most of the known world in the 2nd century, when they were at their peak. The most important cities of the ancient world were within the borders of the Roman Empire.
Seeing a detailed article about the Roman Empire on an Istanbul blog may be surprising at first glance. However, since Constantinople was once the co-capital of Rome, there is a considerable Roman heritage in Istanbul today.
In this article, you can find a brief history of the Roman Empire under eight headings. The Roman Empire map and various images will make it easier for me to convey the topics to you.
1. Roman Republic
Rome was a state that was ruled by a republic system for a long time. The Senate that was made up of members from Rome ruled the country by decisions made unanimously for years and they appointed consuls as the head of state when deemed necessary. These consuls would be given absolute power at times of crisis.
The Roman Empire had to face various rebellions, military attacks and invasions in different magnitudes throughout its history. However, it was able to overcome these problems thanks to the crisis management skills of the Senate members.
The Roman Republic existed between 509 and 27 BC. We can list the most important events in the republican period of Rome under a few subheadings.
Hannibal, the Greatest Enemy of Rome
The biggest military threat to Rome came from ancient Carthage, the second superpower after the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean region. Hannibal of Carthage (Carthaginian general) came as close as the center of Italy via Gaul (France) with his army that was reinforced with elephants and he almost conquered Rome thanks to his brilliant strategic moves.
The Romans were defeated by Hannibal repeatedly. However, the Senate could finally make the move that would eliminate him after a few failed attempts and made a counter attack against Carthaginian.
At this point, we should note that the campaign that Hannibal led wasn’t a simple task. Hannibal’s control over his army, his tactics and victories made him one of the biggest military geniuses in the Ancient Age. He defeated the Roman Empire repeatedly at its home and he occupied the foreign soils for years.
Barbarians, the Arch Enemy of the Empire
The long-term enemy of the Roman Empire were the barbarian tribes in the north. Today’s modern North European nations were seen as Barbarians since they were outside the circle of the Roman civilization.
In the beginning, the barbarians that fought as individual tribes were destroyed by the Roman legions easily. Later, these tribes came together to build a confederation and they became a great threat to the Roman Empire.
Julius Caesar won the first major victories against the barbarian confederation. However, Rome could not find a permanent solution to this problem for centuries. This instability in the West gradually undermined Rome.
Spartacus, The First Big Slave Rebellion
The most famous rebellion in the history of the Roman Empire is the one started and organized by a gladiator named Spartacus. The scope of the unrest was limited in the beginning, but it turned into an organized rebellion that spread fast. However, the Roman Empire could suppress the rebellion in the end.
2. Triumvirate (Rule of Three)
The transition from the Roman Republic to Imperial Rome was so complicated and involved so many plots that it has, and still, inspired a lot of books and movies (e.g. Shakespeare). This period that we’ve emphasized specifically in this article is the Triumvirate (the division of rule among three powerful individuals) and the civil war era that followed it.
When the wars waged in the name of Rome peaked, the Senate appointed three leaders who would lead the military campaigns. These men were already the most influential politicians in Rome, but they were also expected to be excellent commanders.
The First Triumvirate
Pompey, Marcus Crassus and Julius Caesar made up the first triumvirate. Julius Caesar stood out thanks to his intelligence, his orating abilities and influence on the army. Some members of the Senate were afraid he would declare himself as a tyrant. Therefore, they assassinated him in the Senate.
Following the assassination of Julius Caesar, a civil war broke out. Caesar’s adopted son Octavian and his general Marcus Antonius vowed to avenge him. Therefore, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus had to flee Rome as they were believed to be behind the plot.
Brutus and Longinus planned to gather armies from the Balkan states and recapture Rome. However, they couldn’t match with such great tacticians as Octavian and Antonius, thus ending up defeated.
The Second Triumvirate
The second triumvirate was composed of Octavian, Marcus Antonius and Marcus Lepidus. Antonius and Lepidus used to be the generals of Julius Caesar and Octavian was Caesar’s adopted son.
Octavian defeated his biggest rival Marcus Antonius and his accomplice Cleopatra, the Queen of Ancient Egypt at the Battle of Actium.
Upon the defeat of Antonius, the other council Lepidus accepted Octavian’s hegemony. At that point, Rome was on the road of no return. The Republic of Rome was becoming history and the Roman Empire was approaching.
3. Roman Empire under Augustus
Octavian declared himself Augustus Caesar in 27 BC. He ruled Rome for years and it continued to be ruled by emperors, most of whom were of military origin, with absolute power until 476 AD.
This could also be interpreted as a misfortune of Julius Caesar. He was a great strategist and we can say he was killed in vain. The same Senate that rooted him out of the Republic and killed him had to accept the hegemony of Octavian by force.
In the period of prosperity that followed Augustus, Rome reached its greatest extent. Augustus and his successors surrounded the Mediterranean with Roman architecture.
4. Five Good Emperors
Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius, also known as the Five Good Emperors, brought the Roman Empire to its peak. As can be seen in the map of the Roman Empire above, Rome reached its greatest extent in 117.
This period is also known as the “Adoptive Emperors” era, and each emperor adopted and trained his successor during his reign. However, this well-working system came to an end when Emperor Marcus Aurelius wanted to enthrone his own son Commodus.
Commodus didn’t have the skill to rule Rome. However, Aurelius didn’t see it maybe because Commodus was his son. The dark period when Commodus was the emperor is narrated nicely in the movie Gladiator.
5. Roman Empire Map At Its Height
When the Roman Empire reached the height of its power, it had completely taken control of the Mediterranean. The map of the Roman Empire at its height shows us that the most productive ports were under Roman control.
Rome was at its peak during the Nerva–Antonine dynasty (aka Five Good Emperors). Rome continued to maintain its power during the Severan dynasty. However, with the death of Severus Alexander in 235, a 50-year period of crisis began.
4. The Roman Tetrarchy
After the Five Good Emperors era, the throne kept switching hands by military coups repeatedly. After a period of chaos during the 200’s, the first reform act was carried out by an emperor named Diocletian. He regulated the unstable political life in Rome and established The Roman Tetrarchy (Rule of Four).
This system included two senior emperors (Augustus) in the East and the West and their juniors and designated successors (Caesar). Tetrarchy facilitated the rule of the empire for a while, but on the other hand, it paved the way for new civil wars.
Diocletian was the first emperor to consider moving the center of the empire to the East. He built a palace in Nicomedia and lived there during his 20-year reign. When he abdicated voluntarily, he withdrew to his new palace in Croatia.
In the Tetrarchy system, Maximian in the West and Diocletian in the East were senior emperors. Constantius (father of Constantine the Great) in the West and Galerius in the East were junior emperors.
5. Constantine the Great
Emperor Constantine was a caesar (junior emperor) in the Tetrarchy. However, with his success on the battlefields, he eventually became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. Constantine the Great was the first to consolidate power in decades, and this power allowed him to make major reforms.
Emperor Constantine and Christianity
One of the first things Emperor Constantine did was legitimize Christianity with the Edict of Milan in 315. The oppressive policies, which had reached its peak during the reign of his predecessor Diocletian, thus came to an end.
He also gathered the First Council of Nicaea (the first ecumenical council of the Christian church) and ensured that Christianity had an official structure. Thus Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria became episcopal centers.
The New Capital: Constantinople
Constantine permanently moved the center of Rome to the East. He declared Byzantium (Istanbul) the capital and built its first monumental buildings. These includes the Forum of Constantine, the main square of the city, the Great Palace where emperors lived and the Hippodrome where chariot races were organized.
Emperor Constantine lived in Constantinople after he established peace in the Roman Empire and when he died, he was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles. In this church there were 12 sarcophagi dedicated to the apostles, some of which had real relics.
6. The Division of the Roman Empire
Emperor Constantine put an end to the civil war period that lasted for a long time. However, his sons fought for the throne after his death. The badly ruled empire found itself in chaos again.
Emperor Valens, known for building the Aqueduct of Valens in Istanbul, died on the battleground fighting the Goths. The empire was left without a leader and went into a deep crisis. When things were going wrong, Theodosius saved the empire and put things in order.
Theodosius became the emperor who completed the Christianization in the Roman Empire. Also, the Obelisk of Theodosius in Istanbul was dedicated to him. Following his death, the Roman Empire was divided into two and the Eastern Roman Empire, known also as the Byzantine Empire, was born.
The Division of the Roman Empire took place in 395, after Theodosius’ death. Arcadius became the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire and its capital was Constantinople. Honorius, on the other hand, became the Emperor of the Western Roman Empire and its capital was Rome. On the Roman Empire map above, you can see Rome divided into two.
7. Fall of the Western Roman Empire
The fall of the Western Roman Empire took place in 476. When Rome was divided in 395, the Eastern Roman Empire had just begun its run that would last until 1453. However, the Western Roman Empire survived only 81 years as a result of barbarian attacks.
In the West, the Roman Catholic Church filled the lack of political authority after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The Vatican was built in the heart of Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica where Popes resided and it became a center of power that ruled the kingdoms in Europe during the Middle Age.
On the Roman Empire map above, you can see how Europe was divided after the fall of Western Rome.
8. Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire, the legal heir to the Roman Empire, lived another 1000 years. Famous emperors such as Justinian worked to restore the glory of Rome. Thanks to Emperor Justinian, Roman rule spread again throughout the Mediterranean in the 6th century.
On the Eastern Rome Map above, you can see the conquests during the reign of Justinian I. Seeing himself as a Roman emperor, Justinian recaptured the eternal capital Rome from the Goths. However, the resources of Byzantium were not enough to protect these borders for long.
Roman Empire Map by Serhat Engul