Roman Empire

Et tu, Brute? (You too, Brutus?)

Roman Emperor Caesar
Roman Empire at the Time of Hadrian

Founded in the 1st century B.C. under the leadership of Augustus, the Roman Empire ruled in the Mediterranean and was one of the largest empires the world had ever seen. After the great crash with the migrating tribes in 375, Roman Empire was divided into two separate states under the names of East Rome and West Rome in 395. While Western Rome was destroyed as a result of the Germanic tribes’ attacks in 476, Eastern Rome (also known as Byzantine Empire) was destroyed in 1453 as the result of the conquest of Istanbul by Fatih Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror.

The life of the Roman Empire can be divided into Republic, Imperial, and Partition eras. Let’s have a look at these three phases of the Roman Empire.

Republic Era of the Roman Empire

It is not known exactly who founded the Roman Empire, which was originally started as the Roman Republic. According to tradition, on April 21 the year 753, Romulus and his twin brother Remus founded the city of Rome where they were suckled by a she-wolf when they were orphaned babies.

One of the best-known Roman rulers was Julius Caesar. Caesar, a Roman soldier, and the leader took his place among the most important leaders in the world. The dictatorship doctrine of Caesar, who declared himself as the “Emperor for life”. This move did not comply with the official laws and traditions of the Roman Republic. He wanted to give the state a monarchical structure for the first time in its history.

Roman Ruins in the Hippodrome of Istanbul

Emperor Caesar sought to centralize the Roman Republic, and the senators were concerned, fearing that Caesar would set up his own monarchy. These senators, including those who were once selected and even forgiven for their crimes by Caesar, prepared an assassination plan against him. Caesar was brutally stabbed to death by his senators on March 15 of the year 44 BC. Before he died, Caesar saw Brutus, who was the most trusted person among these assassins, and said “You too, Brutus”Brutus, according to some sources, Brutus was Caesar’s stepson, according to some sources, his real son. Even today, we can repeat his famous phrase during reactions to unexpected actions made by thrust people in this way.

From Republic to Empire

Towards the end of the third century AD, Greek civilization began to spread in Rome. The Romans had great respect and admiration for Greek culture. Therefore, when the Macedonian King Philip V (238 – 179 BC) threatened the Greek cities and Anatolian city-states such as Ephesus, Miletus, Hierapolis, and Pergamon and all of these cities sought help from Rome, the Romans responded positively to this request. Romans fought against the Macedonians for four years. As a result, the Eastern Mediterranean regions came under Roman rule. In 146 BC Macedonia and Greece also became Roman provinces too. Eventually, the entire Mediterranean coastline came under the rule of the Roman Empire.

As a result of these victories, Roman Empire became stronger and richer. The goods and slave trade flourished. While senators and other administrators were looking for ways to get richer quickly, the public’s reaction was negative since some state administrators resorted to force while collecting taxes. Personal ambitions and greed replaced the patriotism and selflessness of the early republic.

Imperial Era of the Roman Empire

After Julius Caesar’s death, Caesar’s heir Octavian (24-17 BC), took over the power. Octavian resolved the political, financial, and administrative issues and ensured that his administration was accepted by the senators and the masses. So much so that he was given the name Augustus which means ”Majestic” by the Roman Senate but Emperor Augustus used the family name, Caesar. The Emperors who ruled after Caesar can be listed as follows;

  • Julio-Claudian Dynasty (14-68)
  • Tiberius (14-37)
  • Titus (79-81)
  • Domitian (81-96)
  • Antonines (96-180): The Era of the Five Good Emperors
  • Nerva (96-98)
  • Trajan (98-117)
  • Hadrian (117-138)
  • Antoninus Pius (138-161)
  • Marcus Aurelius (161-180)
  • Commodus (180-192)
  • Dynasty of the Secerus (193-235)
  • Third Century Crisis (235-284)
  • Diocletian and the Tetrarchy (235-284)
  • Constantine and Sons (305-363)
  • Julianus and Jovian (361-364)
  • Valentinian Dynasty (364-392)
  • Theodosian Dynasty (379-457)

Goddess Artemis, also known as ”the lady of Ephesus, Statue in Ephesus Archeological Museum

Roman Empire’s Borders During Empire Era

Roman Empire ruled lands from Spain in the West to the Caspian Sea in the East, England in the North and Africa in the South. Roman Empire also owned a considerable part of the Middle Eastern lands.

Partition Era of the Roman Empire

By the year 395, the Roman Empire had experienced numerous severe troubles in many ways, and the empire, which could not withstand these troubles, was divided into two parts as the Eastern and Western Roman Empires in 395. The last sole ruler of the Roman Empire was Emperor Theodosius. Emperor of the East; Arcadius, the son of Theodosius, became the emperor of the West, Honorius, the other son of Theodosius. Constantinople was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and the capital of the West was Milan first and then Ravenna. It is possible to list the main reasons that were effective in the collapse of the Roman Empire as follows;

  • Revolt of the governors
  • Financial difficulties
  • Long wars
  • Christian Uprisings
  • The uprising of the mercenaries
  • The crushing of the Roman armies by the Migration of Tribes
Ancient Theater of Hierapolis

The Collapse of Western and Eastern Roman Empires

Since its founding Western Roman Empire couldn’t establish a stable administration. The state was ruled by soldiers called magisters and patricians rather than talented emperors. Starting from 410 Western Rome was attacked by Visigoths and Vandals. One year after Julius Nepos became emperor in 475, magister Flavius ​​Orestes rebelled against the empire. Romulus Augustus became the head of the Roman Empire. In 476, the Germanic soldiers under the command of the magister Orestes, who wanted land from the Italian Peninsula, started an uprising. The uprising, which included the Germanic King Odoacer, resulted in the execution of Orestes. King Odoacer captured Italy and the Western Roman Empire ceased to exist.

Eastern Roman Empire, on the other hand, was able to protect itself from the Ostrogoths and the Vandals, thanks to the correct strategies followed by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. Eastern Rome managed to survive for another 10 centuries compared to Western Roman Empire. Following the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453, the Eastern Roman Empire also came to an end.

Hasan Gülday

Hasan Gülday. Professional licensed tour guide working in Turkey.

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