The Roman Empire was a state in ancient times. From about 200 B.C. to 480 A.D., it was the largest empire in Europe at the time. The capital Rome was at the beginning only an unimportant city in today’s Italy. But after the Romans conquered Italy, ultimately no country around the Mediterranean could resist Rome.
The Roman Empire also included the territories that are today Austria and Switzerland. Moreover, in today’s Germany, the Romans came as far as the Rhine and Danube rivers. To defend their border in the north, the Romans built the Limes. This was a fortification with a wall and a moat.
Many other peoples also wanted to live like the Romans and learn from their technology. Sometimes they did not only adopt a way of life or an invention, but also the word to go with it. The language of the Romans was Latin, therefore many words in German originate from this language. As examples: "window" comes from Latin "fenestra," "box" comes from "cista," and "anchor" comes from "ancrum".
In history, there are not many empires that became as large and lasted as long as the Roman. In the year 395 after Christ it was divided. After that, the western part continued to exist for almost 100 years. Ostrom even existed for more than 1000 years. This part was later called Byzantine Empire, after its capital Byzantium. Today the city is called Istanbul and is located in Turkey.
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How the Roman Empire came into being?
The Latins were a people that probably originally came from the center of Europe. They settled about 3000 years ago in the area where later Rome was located. This area was then called "Latium". Today it is called "Lazio" in Italian.
According to a Roman legend, there was a dispute about who should become the new king of Latium. Rhea Silvia, the daughter of the rightful king, had twins from Mars, the god of war. They were called Romulus and Remus. They were supposed to be killed, but the soldiers who were supposed to do it put the twins out instead. Romulus and Remus survived because a she-wolf fed them.
They became the founders of Rome. That was supposedly exactly on 21. April of the year 753 before Christ. This is where the Roman era got its name: "ab urbe condita", since the foundation of the city. As far as we know today, however, the Romans did not always count the years in this way.
It took a long time for the state of Rome to become large and powerful. About 200 years before Christ there was the second war against the Carthaginians, an important power in the west of the Mediterranean Sea. Until this war the Romans ruled over Italy. After that they ruled also over large parts of Spain, and in the years after that over almost all countries around the Mediterranean Sea. The Romans called this sea "mare nostrum", our sea.
Who was in charge?
According to the legend, Rome had kings at first. Allegedly there were five of them, until the last one was driven out by the people. This period ended in the year 510 before Christ. However, very little is known about the time of the kings.
After that followed a long period, which is now called the period of the Roman Republic. At that time, the most important body among the Romans was the Senate. According to the name this was the council of the elders. The important, rich families were represented in the Senate. There were also elections by the people.
In the republic it happened that someone could be the head of the government only for one year, the consul. Besides, the boss always had a colleague, so there were two men boss at the same time. This was to prevent anyone from gaining too much power.
But exactly this happened in the decades before the beginning of our era. In the year 44 before Christ Julius Caesar became the first permanent dictator. The first emperor of Rome was Augustus, his nephew and successor. There was still a senate, but the most important things were decided by the emperor.
times the son of the emperor became the new emperor. Or the emperor adopted someone he wanted to make his successor. Diocletian, who was emperor around the year 300, thought of the following: There should always be four emperors at the same time, each taking care of a part of the empire. A few decades later, with Constantine the Great and Theodosius, there were again two powerful autocrats.
How people lived at that time?
Like most other peoples, the Romans lived primarily from agriculture: they kept livestock and cultivated fields. As the empire and the cities grew larger, so did the craftsmanship. People traded with goods and also with slaves.
Slaves were often people who were captured in a war. When there were many such wars, rich Romans therefore had many slaves. Some researchers, like Karl Marx, later thought that the Roman Empire was a "society of slave owners". In reality, this is true at most for a certain period of time. It is true, however, that the writers of antiquity apparently considered slavery to be quite normal.
Most of the people in the city lived in large tenements that stood side by side like islands in the city, separated from the streets. That’s why they are called "insula". On the first floor there were often stores. Some of these houses had five floors.
The rich people, on the other hand, liked to live in the countryside in a villa, far from the noise and stench of the cities. In the center of a villa there was a courtyard, the "atrium". There often had a small pond. The villa was usually accompanied by a large farm.
Women had little to say among the Romans. The head of a family was the father. Such a family could be quite large. For the rich people it was not only the parents and children, but other relatives as well. In addition, there were servants, workers and slaves.
What the Roman Empire is known for?
It is said that the Romans did not invent very many things. They took over many things from the Greeks, for example, who had conquered them. Besides, there were many slaves who had to do the work. That is why they did not need inventions that would have made life easier. A well-known exception is among other things the underfloor heating system.
In Roman times, however, great buildings were erected and important roads were laid out. Some of these "Roman roads" still exist today, even if they are built differently today. The roads were not only important for trade: soldiers could quickly go where there was an uprising. Also important news could be spread relatively fast by messengers for that time. They also built special bridges and called them "aqueducts". Over it they led drinking water from the mountains into their cities.
Today one thinks not least of the Roman gladiators. The term means sword fighters, but the gladiators fought each other with other weapons as well. The "gladiator games" were a great pleasure for the spectators. The life of the gladiators, mostly slaves, was hard and short. The loser of a fight was by far not always killed – that would have been too expensive for the owners.
What was the Roman era like in the German-speaking world??
In many parts of Europe, the Roman period can be seen as a transition from prehistoric times to historical times. So also in the countries where today the Germanic language German is spoken. However, many of our words go back to the Latin of the Romans.
In Switzerland the Roman period began around the year 50 B.C. Julius Caesar and his soldiers conquered Helvetia, a part of the country that today belongs to Switzerland. Around the same time Caesar conquered Gaul and thus the Roman period began also in today’s France, Belgium and Luxembourg and in a part of Western Germany. Later, Rome also conquered what is now Austria and other areas that are now part of Germany.
For the people in such an area it was very bad when the Romans came. There were then often heavy fights. Later, however, where the Romans ruled, it was often more peaceful than where individual tribes still fought each other. The Limes was for a long time the border between the Romans and the Germanic tribes living outside the Roman Empire. There, attacks of the Germanic tribes were repelled again and again, but also a lot of trade was carried out.
The Roman era ended after a few centuries, but not in one fell swoop. The Romans withdrew from some areas earlier than from others. That was approximately in the time of the migration of peoples, approximately between the years 370 to 570 after Christ. The Roman Empire disintegrated into several smaller empires. Since then Germanic rulers had the say in Germany. But at that time the Roman culture was already so widespread that many Roman things, seen in this way, lived on.
Why there is no Roman Empire anymore?
Until today the scientists ask themselves why the Roman empire actually declined. One found many reasons for it. The so-called decline lasted several hundred years, which makes the search for the reasons confusing.
The migration of the peoples was seen as a cause for the downfall. Germanic tribes and Celts, but also other peoples and tribes, migrated into the empire or attacked Roman cities. But that was not particularly many people. In addition, one must first explain why the empire was so weak that the cities could be captured.
Already about 200 or 300 years after Christ, the economy did not seem to be doing so well. The people became poorer. However, this was probably different from area to area. The economic problems cannot explain the downfall alone.
In 395 AD, the empire was divided into a west and an east. However, such divisions existed before. Emperor Diocletian had even arranged it so that several emperors would rule in the parts of the empire and ensure order. But the division of 395, after the death of Emperor Theodosius, became permanent.
The empire in the east, the Byzantine Empire, existed for a long time in the Middle Ages. The empire in the west supposedly fell as early as 476 A.D. At that time, the emperor in the West was a child named Romulus. A Teuton, Odoacer, deposed him and made himself ruler. However, Odoacer was also a Roman soldier, and even before that, soldiers took the place of the emperor.
So it’s hard to say when the Roman Empire really ended. Maybe it was more of a long transition. The world of the Romans slowly became the world of the Middle Ages in Europe. In the process, many things changed. Some things, however, remained: For many more centuries, people wrote primarily in Latin. An empire of the Germanic tribes, the Frankish Empire, even called itself the Holy Roman Empire. It existed until the year 1806.