The Roman Empire : A Model of Political Organization and Control

Contributed by:
This booklet discusses the Roman Empire which has served throughout history as a model of political organization and control. The creation of the Roman Empire transformed Roman government, society, culture, and economy.
1. Page 1 of 6
The Roman Empire
EMPIRE BUILDING The The Roman Empire has served • civil war • triumvirate
creation of the Roman Empire throughout history as a model • Julius • Augustus
transformed Roman govern- of political organization and Caesar • Pax Romana
ment, society, economy, and control.
SETTING THE STAGE As Rome enlarged its territory, its republican form of
government grew increasingly unstable. Eventually, the Roman Republic gave way
to the formation of a mighty dictator-ruled empire that continued to spread
Rome’s influence far and wide.
TAKING NOTES The Republic Collapses
Clarifying Make a
bulleted chart showing Rome’s increasing wealth and expanding boundaries brought many problems.
how Rome changed as The most serious were growing discontent among the lower classes of society
it became an empire. and a breakdown in military order. These problems led to a shakeup of the
republic—and the emergence of a new political system.
Changes in Rome Economic Turmoil As Rome grew, the gap between rich and poor grew wider.
. Dictator claims Many of Rome’s rich landowners lived on huge estates. Thousands of enslaved
.. sole power
persons—many of whom had been captured peoples in various wars—were
forced to work on these estates. By 100 B.C., enslaved persons formed perhaps
one-third of Rome’s population.
Small farmers found it difficult to compete with the large estates run by the
labor of enslaved people. Many of these farmers were former soldiers. A large
number of them sold their lands to wealthy landowners and became homeless and
jobless. Most stayed in the countryside and worked as seasonal migrant laborers.
Some headed to Rome and other cities looking for work. They joined the ranks of
the urban poor, a group that totaled about one-fourth of Roman society.
Two brothers, Tiberius and Gaius (GUY•us) Gracchus (GRAK•us), attempted
to help Rome’s poor. As tribunes, they proposed such reforms as limiting the size
of estates and giving land to the poor. Tiberius spoke eloquently about the plight
of the landless former soldiers:
The savage beasts have their . . . dens, . . . but the men who bear arms and expose
their lives for the safety of their country, enjoy . . . nothing more in it but the air and
light . . . and wander from place to place with their wives and children.
TIBERIUS GRACCHUS quoted in Plutarch, The Lives of Noble Greeks and Romans
The brothers made enemies of numerous senators, who felt threatened by their
ideas. Both met violent deaths—Tiberius in 133 B.C. and Gaius in 121 B.C.
160 Chapter 6
2. Page 2 of 6
A period of civil war, or conflict between groups within the same country,
followed their deaths.
Military Upheaval Adding to the growing turmoil within the republic was a
breakdown of the once-loyal military. As the republic grew more unstable, gener-
als began seizing greater power for themselves. They recruited soldiers from the
landless poor by promising them land. These soldiers fought for pay and owed alle-
giance only to their commander. They replaced the citizen-soldiers whose loyalty
had been to the republic. It now was possible for a military leader supported by his
own troops to take over by force. Eventually, one would do just that.
Julius Caesar Takes Control In 60 B.C., a military leader named Julius Caesar
joined forces with Crassus, a wealthy Roman, and Pompey, a popular general. With
their help, Caesar was elected consul in 59 B.C. For the next ten years, these men
dominated Rome as a triumvirate, a group of three rulers.
Caesar was a strong leader and a genius at military strategy. Following tradition,
he served only one year as consul. He then appointed himself governor of Gaul
(now France). During 58–50 B.C., Caesar led his legions in
a grueling but successful campaign to conquer all of Gaul.
Because he shared fully in the hardships of war, he won his
men’s loyalty and devotion.
Julius Caesar
The reports of Caesar’s successes in Gaul made him very
100–44 B.C.
popular with the people of Rome. Pompey, who had become
In 44 B.C., on March 15, Caesar
his political rival, feared Caesar’s ambitions. In 50 B.C., the prepared to go to speak to the
senate, at Pompey’s urgings, ordered Caesar to disband his Senate, unaware that important
legions and return home. senators plotted his death. According
Caesar defied the senate’s order. On the night of January to legend, his wife, Calpurnia, begged
10, 49 B.C., he took his army across the Rubicon River in him not to go. She said she had seen
him in a dream dying in her arms of
Italy, the southern limit of the area he commanded. He
stab wounds.
marched his army swiftly toward Rome, and Pompey fled. When Caesar arrived at the Senate
Caesar’s troops defeated Pompey’s armies in Greece, Asia, chamber, he sat in his chair. Soon the
Spain, and Egypt. In 46 B.C., Caesar returned to Rome, plotters encircled him, took knives
where he had the support of the army and the masses. That hidden in their togas, and stabbed him
same year, the senate appointed him dictator. In 44 B.C., he 23 times, as depicted in the painting
below. They were led by Gaius Cassius
was named dictator for life.
and Caesar’s friend Marcus Brutus.
Caesar’s Reforms Caesar governed as an absolute ruler, Caesar’s last words were “Et tu,
one who has total power. However, he started a number of Brute?” (“You, too, Brutus?”)
reforms. He granted Roman citizenship to many people in
the provinces. He expanded the senate, adding friends and RESEARCH LINKS For more on Julius
supporters from Italy and other regions. Caesar also helped Caesar, go to
3. Page 3 of 6
the poor by creating jobs, especially through the construction of new public build-
ings. He started colonies where people without land could own property, and he
increased pay for soldiers.
Many nobles and senators expressed concern over Caesar’s growing power, suc-
cess, and popularity. Some feared losing their influence. Others considered him a
tyrant. A number of important senators, led by Marcus Brutus and Gaius Cassius, Analyzing
plotted his assassination. On March 15, 44 B.C., they stabbed him to death in the Motives
senate chamber. Why did
Caesar’s rivals feel
Beginning of the Empire After Caesar’s death, civil war broke out again and
they had to kill him?
destroyed what was left of the Roman Republic. Three of Caesar’s supporters
banded together to crush the assassins. Caesar’s 18-year-old grandnephew and
adopted son Octavian (ahk•TAY•vee•uhn) joined with an experienced general
named Mark Antony and a powerful politician named Lepidus. In 43 B.C., they took
control of Rome and ruled for ten years as the Second Triumvirate.
Their alliance, however, ended in jealousy and violence. Octavian forced
Lepidus to retire. He and Mark Antony then became rivals. While leading troops
against Rome’s enemies in Anatolia, Mark Antony met Queen Cleopatra of Egypt.
He fell in love with her and followed her to Egypt. Octavian accused Antony of
plotting to rule Rome from Egypt, and another civil war erupted. Octavian defeated
the combined forces of Antony and Cleopatra at the naval
battle of Actium in 31 B.C. Later, Antony and Cleopatra
committed suicide.
While he restored some aspects of the republic, Octavian
became the unchallenged ruler of Rome. Eventually he
accepted the title of Augustus (aw•GUHS•tuhs), or “exalted
one.” He also kept the title imperator, or “supreme military
commander,” a term from which emperor is derived. Rome
was now an empire ruled by one man.
A Vast and Powerful Empire
Rome was at the peak of its power from the beginning of
Augustus’s rule in 27 B.C. to A.D. 180. For 207 years, peace
reigned throughout the empire, except for some fighting
Augustus with tribes along the borders. This period of peace and pros- Summarizing
63 B.C.–A.D. 14
perity is known as the Pax Romana— “Roman peace.” To what does
Augustus was the most powerful the term Pax
During this time, the Roman Empire included more than
ruler of the mightiest empire of the Romana refer?
ancient world. Yet, amid the pomp of
3 million square miles. Its population numbered between 60
Rome, he lived a simple and frugal and 80 million people. About 1 million people lived in the
life. His home was modest by Roman city of Rome itself.
standards. His favorite meal consisted
A Sound Government The Romans held their vast empire
of coarse bread, a few sardines, and
a piece of cheese—the usual food of
together in part through efficient government and able
a common laborer. rulers. Augustus was Rome’s ablest emperor. He stabilized
Augustus was also a very religious the frontier, glorified Rome with splendid public buildings,
and family-oriented man. He held to and created a system of government that survived for cen- Vocabulary
a strict moral code. He had his only turies. He set up a civil service. That is, he paid workers to The term civil
child, Julia, exiled from Rome for not service refers to
manage the affairs of government, such as the grain supply,
being faithful in her marriage. persons employed
tax collection, and the postal system. Although the senate
in the civil adminis-
still functioned, civil servants drawn from plebeians and tration of govern-
RESEARCH LINKS For more on even former slaves actually administered the empire. ment.
Augustus, go to
After Augustus died in A.D. 14, the system of government
that he established maintained the empire’s stability. This
162 Chapter 6
4. Page 4 of 6
Trade in the Roman Empire, A.D. 200
Trade Goods
BRITAIN Grain Olive oil Slaves Wine
Metals Textiles Wild animals
L o ire R . Roman Empire, A.D. 200
A LP Aquileia
Danub CAU
Massalia r i a Salonae . US
RE Narbo ITALY tic Black Sea MO
EE Rome Se TA
a NS
Gades Carthage Me Antioch
NS erra
N TA I nean Damascus
AT Caesarea
Jerusalem Ctesiphon
Nile R.
0 500 Miles S
0 1,000 Kilometers

Tropic of Cancer
1. Movement From what three continents did trade goods come to Rome?
2. Location Which goods were supplied by all three areas?
was due mainly to the effectiveness of the civil service in carrying out day-to-day
operations. The Romans managed to control an empire that by the second century
A.D. reached from Spain to Mesopotamia, from North Africa to Britain. Included
in its provinces were people of many languages, cultures, and customs.
Agriculture and Trade Agriculture was the most important industry in the empire.
All else depended on it. About 90 percent of the people were engaged in farming.
Most Romans survived on the produce from their local area. Additional food (when
needed) and luxury items for the rich were obtained through trade. In Augustus’s time,
a silver coin called a denarius was in use throughout the empire. Having common
coinage made trade between different parts of the empire much easier.
Rome had a vast trading network. Ships from the east traveled the
Mediterranean protected by the Roman navy. Cities such as Corinth in Greece,
Ephesus in Anatolia, and Antioch on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean grew
wealthy. Rome also traded with China and India.
A complex network of roads linked the empire to such far-flung places as Persia
and southern Russia. These roads were originally built by the Roman army for mil-
itary purposes. Trade also brought Roman ways to the provinces and beyond.
The Roman World
Throughout its history, Rome emphasized the values of discipline, strength, and
loyalty. A person with these qualities was said to have the important virtue of grav-
itas. The Romans were a practical people. They honored strength more than beauty,
power more than grace, and usefulness more than elegance.
Ancient Rome and Early Christianity 163
5. Page 5 of 6
Roman Emperors, A.D. 37–A.D. 180
Bad Emperors Good Emperors
Caligula Nero Domitian Nerva Hadrian Marcus Aurelias
• 37–41 • 54–68 • 81–96 • 96–98 • 117–138 • 161–180
• Mentally • Good admin- • Ruled • Began custom • Consolidated • Brought empire
disturbed istrator but dictatorially of adopting heir earlier conquests to height of
vicious • Feared treason Trajan • Reorganized the economic
• Murdered many everywhere and • 98–117 bureaucracy prosperity
• Persecuted executed many • Empire reached • Defeated
Antoninus Pius
Christians its greatest extent invaders
• 138–161
• Undertook vast • Wrote philosophy
• Reign largely a
building program period of peace
• Enlarged social and prosperity
Most people in the Roman Empire lived in the countryside and worked on
farms. In Rome and smaller cities, merchants, soldiers, slaves, foreigners, and
philosophers all shared the crowded, noisy streets. Here, people from all walks of
life came together to create a diverse society.
Slaves and Captivity Slavery was a significant part of Roman life. It was widespread
and important to the economy. The Romans made more use of slaves than any previ- Trajan
ous civilization. Numbers of slaves may have reached as high as one-third of the pop-
ulation. Most slaves were conquered peoples brought back by victorious Roman
armies and included men, women, and children. Children born to slaves also became
slaves. Slaves could be bought and sold. According to Roman law, slaves were the
property of their owner. They could be punished, rewarded, set free, or put to death as
their master saw fit.
Slaves worked both in the city and on the farm. Many were treated cruelly and
worked at hard labor all day long. Some—strong, healthy males—were forced to
become gladiators, or professional fighters, who fought to the death in public contests.
Other slaves, particularly those who worked in wealthy households, were better
treated. Occasionally, slaves would rebel. None of the slave revolts succeeded. More
than a million slaves lost their lives attempting to gain their freedom.
Gods and Goddesses The earliest Romans worshiped powerful spirits or divine
forces, called numina, that they thought resided in everything around them. Closely
related to these spirits were the Lares (LAIR-eez), who were the guardian spirits of
each family. They gave names to these powerful gods and goddesses and honored
them through various rituals, hoping to gain favor and avoid misfortune.
In Rome, government and religion were linked. The deities were symbols of the
state. Romans were expected to honor them not only in private rituals at shrines in
their homes but also in public worship ceremonies conducted by priests in temples.
Among the most important Roman gods and goddesses were Jupiter, father of the
gods; Juno, his wife, who supposedly watched over women; and Minerva, goddess
of wisdom and of the arts and crafts. During the empire, worship of the emperor
also became part of the official religion of Rome.
Society and Culture By the time of the empire, wealth and social status made
huge differences in how people lived. Classes had little in common. The rich lived
extravagantly. They spent large sums of money on homes, gardens, slaves, and lux-
uries. They gave banquets that lasted for many hours and included foods that were
rare and costly, such as boiled ostrich and parrot-tongue pie.
However, most people in Rome barely had the necessities of life. During the
time of the empire, much of the city’s population was unemployed. The govern-
ment supported these people with daily rations of grain. In the shadow of Rome’s
164 Chapter 6
6. Page 6 of 6
Gladiator Games
Thumbs up or thumbs down—that is
how a match often ended for a
gladiator (shown in this mosaic battling
a tiger). When one of the combatants
fell, the organizer of the games usually
determined his fate. A thumbs up sign
from him meant that the fighter would
live. Thumbs down meant his death.
The crowd usually played a key role
in these life-and-death decisions. If the
masses liked the fallen gladiator, he
most likely would live to fight another
day. If not, he was doomed.
great temples and public buildings, poor people crowded into rickety, sprawling
tenements. Fire was a constant danger.
To distract and control the masses of Romans, the government provided free
games, races, mock battles, and gladiator contests. By A.D. 250, there were 150 hol-
idays a year. On these days of celebration, the Colosseum, a huge arena that could
hold 50,000, would fill with the rich and the poor alike. The spectacles they watched
combined bravery and cruelty, honor and violence. In the animal shows, wild crea-
tures brought from distant lands, such as tigers, lions, and bears, fought to the death.
In other contests, gladiators engaged in combat with animals or with each other,
often until one of them was killed.
During this time of Pax Romana, another activity slowly emerged in the Roman
Empire—the practice of a new religion known as Christianity. The early followers
of this new faith would meet with much brutality and hardship for their beliefs. But
their religion would endure and spread throughout the empire, and eventually
become one of the dominant faiths of the world.
TERMS & NAMES 1. For each term or name, write a sentence explaining its significance.
• civil war • Julius Caesar • triumvirate • Augustus • Pax Romana
2. What changes do you 3. What factors contributed to the 6. ANALYZING CAUSES What role did Julius Caesar play in
consider negative? Why? fall of the Roman Republic? the decline of the republic and the rise of the empire?
4. What were the main reasons 7. ANALYZING ISSUES What aspects of Roman society
for the Romans’ success in remained similar from republic to empire?
Changes in Rome controlling such a large 8. RECOGNIZING EFFECTS What was Augustus’s greatest
. Dictator claims empire? contribution to Roman society? Why?
.. sole power
5. What measures did the
government take to distract
dialogue in which various members of society comment
and control the masses of on conditions in the Roman Empire during the Pax
Rome? Romana. Participants might include a senator, a civil
servant, a slave, a merchant, and a former soldier.
Create a poster depicting the sporting events and other forms of entertainment that you enjoy
watching. Include an introductory paragraph that explains what about them appeals to you.
Ancient Rome and Early Christianity 165