One of the most influential civilizations in history, Ancient Rome underwent many changes throughout more than a thousand years. How long did the Roman Empire last?
Ancient Rome existed for more than a thousand years. The Roman Republic became the Roman Empire when Caesar Augustus declared himself Emperor in 27 BCE. After splitting in two, the Western Roman Empire ended in 476 CE, though the Byzantine Empire survived until 1453 CE.
For more on the rise of Rome and its centuries as an empire, read on.
The Rise of Rome
Despite frequently being referred to as the Roman Empire, Rome was founded as a kingdom. The city of Rome is believed to have been founded in 753 BCE; the names of the original founders are lost to history.
Legend states that twin brothers Romulus and Remus, who were raised by a wolf, founded the city together.
Romulus eventually killed Remus and named Rome after himself. Whatever its exact origin, Rome became a kingdom, a status it retained for more than two centuries.
A series of internal conflicts eventually saw the people of Rome rising up and overthrowing the kingdom’s rulers. In 509 BCE, the Roman Republic was formed, with a formal constitution and a ruling senate elected by the people.
Rome was not strictly a democracy in that its people were not entitled to vote on issues themselves, but having the power to elect senators was a significant step.
After repelling invasions and uprisings, famously the crossing of the Alps by Hannibal and the slave revolt led by Spartacus, Rome endured a civil war between the military and senate.
Birth of the Empire
Julius Caesar, who had led several successful campaigns across Europe, returned to Rome triumphantly. The Roman Senate, fearing that Caesar would refuse to surrender his military power, demanded that he do so.
Caesar fatefully crossed the Rubicon and occupied Rome with his legions. Law dictated that any Roman soldier returned to the life of a citizen once he crossed the river and entered the city, making Caesar’s act one of clear aggression.
The Senatorial army, led by Pompey Magnus, faced Caesar in a bloody civil war. Despite inferior numbers, Caesar’s legions had been hardened by years of battlefield experience and defeated Pompey’s army. Pompey fled to Egypt, where he was assassinated.
Caesar declared himself dictator of Rome in 45 BCE, effectively ending the five-century Roman Republic. His reign as dictator was short-lived when Rome’s senators, organized by Marcus Brutus, assassinated him in the following year in the hope of restoring the republic.
Instead, civil war broke out between the senate and an alliance of Caesar’s chosen heir, Octavian, and Caesar’s loyal general, Mark Antony. Caesar’s loyalists are victorious and Octavian, taking the name Caesar Augustus, defeated Mark Antony and declared himself the first Emperor of Rome in 27 BCE.
This marked the birth of the Roman Empire, with the title of Emperor becoming a hereditary title. The Empire continued in this form for centuries, ending centuries of Christian persecution by officially adopting the religion in 306 CE.
The Fall of Rome
The enormity of the Roman Empire, which stretched across the continent of Europe and down into Africa, made effective administration almost impossible. In an attempt to rectify this, Diocletian, the Emperor, decided that the Empire should be split in two.
The Eastern Roman Empire would be ruled from the ancient Greek city of Byzantium, later called Constantinople, and then Istanbul. The Western Roman Empire would continue to be ruled from Rome.
The split occurred in 395 CE and soon proved fateful for the Western Empire. It faced war with the Germanic Visigoths, who sacked Rome in 410 CE, the first time that the city had fallen in eight centuries.
In 476 CE, the Western Roman Empire was defeated by the barbarian Odoacer and Ancient Rome came to an end. The Dark Ages began in Europe.
Despite the fall of the Western Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire continued for another thousand years. It became the Byzantine Empire and engaged in a series of religious wars against neighboring Islamic civilizations.
The last of these saw the Byzantines facing the vast and powerful Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453 CE, marking the end of the final remnants of the Roman Empire.
The Western Roman Empire lasted for four centuries but, from the birth of Rome to its capture by the Visigoths, it prospered for more than a thousand years.