The history of Rome is breathtaking and expansive; it has lasted for over two thousand years — and we’re still fascinated by it today. This guide will take you on a journey through this ancient civilization, from its earliest beginnings to the eve of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. You’ll learn about such famous figures as Tarquinius Prisca’s, Menoetius Agrippa, and Octavian Augustus. But if you want to know everything there is to know about Rome, these pages can only begin your research into one part of a massive empire that spanned continents and ruled an entire continent.
We don’t know much about the earliest period in the history of Rome. It wasn’t until 753 B.C. that we have any records from this time, when The Twelve Tables were created by the Romans, the forerunners of modern-day Italy. These twelve tablets show a primitive side to Rome, showing a system of law and justice based on revenge and retaliation rather than a system where you are only punished if you have committed a crime.
Two hundred years after these tables were created, Rome was being run by an Etruscan king who had been put in power by people from Veii — this king was Lucius Tarquinius /undefined [Priscus], or Tarquin the Elder for short. He wasn’t king for long though because he was overthrown by the people he had put in place, and two men named Menenius Agrippa and Lucius Junius Brutus united to form the Roman Republic.
The Roman Republic lasted for over four hundred years before it was led into the first of many civil wars by Quintus Cornelius Sulla, who was sent to Sicily to put down a rebellion there. He took his army with him, leaving Rome open to attacks by Octavian Caelius (both sides were related), who pretended he wanted to make peace; but his real plan was to cause trouble, which worked. Octavian took advantage of this to declare himself dictator, which was the first official step in Rome’s becoming a full-blown dictatorship. Rome expanded outwards at this time, but it wasn’t until the times of Julius Caesar that Rome truly became an empire — and its power and wealth were eventually split between three branches: the Senate, the Privy Council (known as the Curia), and the Emperor.
As time went on, there was a constant struggle between those who wanted to maintain traditional Roman ideals and those who wanted to turn Rome into an empire. When Augustus Caesar, the founder of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and the first Emperor of Rome, took power in 31 BC (he was born as Octavian), he began a series of campaigns that would make Rome an empire. He subdued all of Gaul, as well as Spain and Britain; he also put down an uprising in Germany. But his biggest achievement came in 14 AD, when he finally quelled a three year civil war that had been raging on and off since the death of Julius Caesar.
Augustus died at age 75 in 14 AD and left control to his adopted son Tiberius — though not without some controversy first. Tiberius came to power with encouragement from Augustus himself, but after taking control, he began to show his true colors. He had the Senate removed from power, and he banned his own son Drusus from attending meetings. Tiberius wasn’t the most exciting Emperor by any means, but he did manage to quell another rebellion in Pannonia (modern-day Hungary).
After Tiberius died in 37 AD, his nephew Germanicus took over. He was one of the greatest Emperors of Rome because he managed to stabilize the borders of the empire. He also spent time fighting back against Germans who were crossing over into Roman territory. His reign only lasted until 19 AD, when he mysteriously died while traveling through Gaul.
The next Emperor, Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, took over in 19 AD at the age of 31. He quickly moved to quell all revolts that were taking place in the empire (including one led by his own daughter) and he also fought back against the Parthian Empire to make it easier for Rome to gain more territory. Unfortunately, he died in 37 AD.
He was succeeded by Lucius Aelius Sejanus who ruled until his death in 38 AD (he was later killed by an angry mob). During Sejanus’ time as Emperor, he imposed heavy taxes on Egypt. This led to a revolt that swept through the land. Rome eventually reclaimed the land, but not before it offered relief to those who had been living under harsh conditions.
The next Emperor, Gaius Caligula, took over in 37 AD at the age of 25. He ruled until 41 AD when he was killed by his own Praetorian Guard. During his reign, he founded a new province called Germania by pushing back Germany’s borders even further east. He also started up an armed conflict with Parthia which led to an expansion of the Roman Empire’s territory at the time. He was the first Emperor to wear a crown of laurels rather than a laurel wreath.
He was succeeded by his uncle Claudius who ruled until 54 AD when he died at the age of 79. He was poisoned by his wife Agrippina for “threatening” her son Nero. His reign was not as successful as Gaius Caligula’s. It was during this time that Pliny the Elder, famous explorer and naturalist, died in Pompeii from volcanic ash.
Nero was succeeded by his mother Agrippina, who took over the throne in 59 AD after Claudius died. She ruled until 68 AD when she was poisoned by her own son Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. He was the last Emperor of Rome who wasn’t related to the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
The next Emperor, Galba, ruled from 68 AD to 69 AD and would later escape and take refuge in a cave after Vitellus, another general turned Emperor, was defeated and killed by order of the Emperor Otha — who had him executed for treason. Vitellus became Emperor of Rome in 69 AD, but his reign was short lived. He was killed by Otha (who had him executed for treason), and then Otha was defeated by Vespasian, who ruled until 79 AD when he was succeeded by his son Titus. Vespasian’s reign is most notable for the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD which led to the destruction of Pompeii (he also lost some territory to the Parthian Empire).