The end of Republican Rome & beginning of Imperial Rome, on the one hand, and the fall of Rome & dominance of the Roman court at Byzantium, on the other, have few clear lines of demarcation. It is customary, however, to divide the roughly half a millennium-long period of the Roman Empire into an earlier period known as the Principate and a later period known as the Dominate. The division of the empire into the four-man rule known as the 'tetrarchy' and the dominance of Christianity are characteristic of the latter period. In the former period there was an attempt to pretend the Republic was still in existence.
During the late Republican period, generations of class conflict led to changes in the way Rome was governed and the way the people looked at their elected representatives. By the time of Julius Caesar or his successor Octavian (Augustus), the Republic had been replaced by a principate. This is the beginning of the period of Imperial Rome. Augustus was the first princeps. Many consider Julius Caesar the start of the Principate. Since Suetonius wrote a collection of biographies known as The Twelve Caesars and since Julius rather than Augustus comes first in his series, it is reasonable to think that, but Julius Caesar was a dictator, not an emperor.
For almost 500 years, emperors passed on the mantle to their chosen successors, except when the army or the praetorian guards staged one of their frequent coups. Originally, Romans or Italians ruled, but as time and the Empire spread, as barbarian settlers supplied more and more manpower for the legions, men from throughout the Empire came to be named emperor.
At its most powerful, the Roman Empire controlled the Mediterranean, the Balkans, Turkey, the modern areas of the Netherlands, southern Germany, France, Switzerland, and England. The Empire traded as far as Finland going north, to the Sahara to the south in Africa, and to the east to India and China, via the Silk Roads.
Emperor Diocletian divided the Empire into 4 sections controlled by 4 individuals, with two overlord emperors and two subordinate ones. One of the top emperors was stationed in Italy; the other, in Byzantium. Although the borders of their areas changed, the two-headed empire gradually took hold, being firmly established by 395. By the time Rome "fell", in A.D. 476, to the so-called barbarian Odoacer, the Roman Empire was still going strong in its eastern capital, which had been created by Emperor Constantine and renamed Constantinople.
- Lives of the Caesars
- The Dates of the Roman Emperors
- 12 Caesars
- Fall of Rome
- Valens and the Battle of Adrianople
Photo: Hadrian's Wall, Wallsend: The timbers may mark the sites of ancient booby traps. CC Flickr User Alun Salt