Ireland › Roman Empire » Ancient origins

Articles and Definitions › Contents

  • Ireland › Ancient History
  • Roman Empire › Antique Origins

Ancient civilizations › Historical and archaeological sites

Ireland › Ancient History

Definition and Origins

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 11 September 2015
Los acantilados de Moher, Condado de Clare, Irlanda (Jehosua)
Ireland is an island country located in the North Atlantic, bounded by the North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St. George's Channel. It is known as Eire in the Gaelic language, which comes from the old Irish Eriu, the name of a daughter of the mother goddess Ernmas of the Tuatha De Danaan, the mystical pre- Celtic race of Ireland. Legend tells that, when the Milesians invaded Ireland to conquer the Tuatha De Danaan, Eriu and her sisters, Banba and Fodla, asked that they name the island after them. Eriu became the most commonly used name, while Banba and Fodla were used poetically as one might a nickname.
The name Eire is also thought to derive from the Erainn (whose name derives from the same root), the chief tribe of the region of Munster in the south-west mentioned in the Greek historian Ptolemy's Geography (2nd century CE). The Erainn were also called the Iverni by Ptolemy, which would give later Romans their name for Ireland: Hibernia. Ireland is the third largest European island (after Great Britain and Iceland) and is presently divided politically between the Republic of Ireland, a sovereign state, and Northern Island, which is a part of Great Britain.
The Republic of Ireland is generally referred to simply as 'Ireland'. Eire is usually translated as 'abundant land' or 'plentiful land', either in reference to the goddess who was thought to inhabit the region and bless it with fertility or to the tribe who Ptolemy claimed possessed rich lands.

EARLY HUMAN HABITATION

Ireland was uninhabited by people for a much longer time than many other countries. Historian Jonathan Bardon comments, "It is an arresting thought that human beings had been living in Australia for 40,000 years before the very first people came to live in Ireland" (1). Bardon and others attribute this to the Midlandian Ice Age whose vast sheets of ice only began melting in Ireland c. 15,000 BCE.
The land was then home to only plants and animals that had crossed over from the European mainland on land masses that were submerged when the glacial ice sheets melted. Ireland and Britain were both separated from the European continent at about this time (c. 12,000 BCE). The first people arrived in Ireland between 7,000-6,500 BCE at Coleraine in the far north. The Mount Sandel Mesolithic Site, discovered at Coleraine in 1973 CE, is the oldest archaeological site in Ireland.
Mesolithic Ireland's inhabitants were hunter-gatherers who traveled in small bands from region to region, building villages of wooden huts with domed roofing of bark and animal skin. These huts were communal lodges for extended families with a single basin-shaped fire pit in the center and a round opening in the roof for ventilation of smoke. They used flint to form axes, knives, scrapers, harpoon blades, and arrowheads.
Based upon archaeological evidence they seem to have also participated in rituals involving painting both themselves and ceremonial objects. Over time, these hunter-gatherers gradually shifted to an agrarian lifestyle of farming. Bardon writes, "From around 4000 BC a dramatic transformation of the Irish economy began. Until then a small scattered population had lived exclusively by foraging, trapping, and hunting. Now they began to clear the land of trees to create pastures for domestic stock and cultivation ridges for growing cereals" (4).

THE FIRST PEOPLE ARRIVED IN IRELAND BETWEEN 7,000-6,500 BCE, MUCH LATER THAN OTHER LANDS.

The Ceide Fields in County Mayo near Ballycastle date from this time and are the oldest known farming fields (known as a field system) in the world. The Ceide Fields were discovered by the local teacher Patrick Caulfield who was harvesting peat from a bog for his hearth. He noted configurations of carefully placed stones beneath the layer of peat bog, which seemed deliberate in design.
His discovery led to the excavation of the site many years later that uncovered a Neolithic settlement of houses, field systems, walls, and tombs. The Neolithic farmers cleared more and more land, clearing the forests and building more substantial homes and villages. Bardon notes how, based upon archaeological evidence, it is certain that "a dense forest canopy [once] covered the island so completely that a red squirrel could travel from Ireland's most northerly point, Malin Head, to Mizen Head in Co. Cork [the southern-most point] without ever having to touch the ground" but now this dramatically changed as farming communities flourished and more land was cleared for crops.
The wooden huts of the Mesolithic era gave way to houses made of wattle-and-daub with thatched roofs, such as the one found at Ballynagilly, County Tyrone, in 1969 CE, a home considered the oldest Neolithic house found in Britain or Ireland, dated to c. 3700 BCE. Even more elaborate homes have been discovered from shortly after this date, including one in County Limerick, at Tankardstown, "built entirely of oak planking with corner posts and external roof supports" (Bardon, 5). The historian Roger Chauvire writes, "In the beginning, Ireland was virgin and empty land" and had remained so for the 3,000 or so years the hunter-gatherers had roamed through the forests, but that time had now passed (20). The land was tamed and the people settled into stable communities.

THE MYTHICAL ORIGINS

While this account of Ireland's past is presently the accepted early history of Ireland, it was not always so. 'History' is a word whose meaning changes according to the accepted beliefs of those who write it. For hundreds of years, a different series of events was accepted as history, which are now referred to as 'mythical origins'. This history was unfolded in the book known as Lebor Gabala Erenn ( The Book of the Taking of Ireland or The Book of Invasions ), written in the late 11th/early 12th century CE.
This story recounts early Irish history as beginning before the Great Flood when Cessair, daughter of one of Noah's sons (Bith, who is not mentioned in the biblical tale in Genesis), is denied a place on the Ark and flees to Ireland. She arrives with three men and 49 women who are all drowned with her in the Flood save one man, Fintan, who is transformed into various animals until becoming a man again and telling his tale. The second group of immigrants was led by Partholan, son of Sera, son of Japheth (one of Noah's sons in the Bible ), following the Great Flood.
They came from somewhere in the east and established a colony that was destroyed by disease, all of them dying in the course of a week. Partholan was followed by Nemed, son of Agnoman, who also traced his ancestry through Japheth back to Noah. They came from Scythia and settled in Ireland but were set upon by the Fomorians, savage sea pirates, under their king Balor the Cyclop and fled the country.
Two hundred years passed in which Ireland was uninhabited, and then the Fir Bolg, a group of Nemedians from Greece, took the land and built homes and forts. They were attacked by the Tuatha De Danann (children of the goddess Dana) who were masters of magical arts and formidable adversaries. The Fir Bolg were defeated by the Tuatha De Danann at the Battle of Moytura and forced to serve them. There then came another son of Japheth, son of Noah, Fenius, who came from the Tower of Babel where he combined only the best elements of all the languages of the world he'd heard there to create the Irish speech, and it was his descendent, Goidil (pronounced 'Gaydel') who gave his name to the Gaels and their language: Gaelic.
Goidil's mother was Scotta, daughter of a pharaoh of Egypt, who would found Scotland (though the founder may have been another woman of the same name, her sister), and his grandson was Eber Scott who conquered all of Spain. Scott's son was Miledh (also known as Milesius), who ruled after him. Around the time of the birth of Alexander the Great (an event already famous for signs and wonders in the heavens), Miledh looked out from the tower of his castle and saw Ireland floating on the horizon. He sent his three sons - Meremon, Heber, and Ir - from Spain and they conquered the Tuatha De Danann, driving them to a place between worlds where they remain to this day.
The three daughters of the goddess Ernmas of the Tuatha De Danaan - Eriu, Banba, and Fodla - asked the Milesians to name the land after them, and so it was. The Milesian invasion was considered the final colonization of Ireland, which subdued the land and established the civilization and culture as the later writers of these tales knew it.
Commenting on this history, Roger Chauvire writes:
These nursery tales have more than a folklore value. They were made to synchronize with the biblical computation, and integrated into a so-called universal history round about the twelfth century by the authors of the Book of Invasions ; they were accepted as true all through the Middle Ages, and even later, and this is where their importance lies. There was no great princely house which did not allege, by means of some juggling on the part of its genealogies, that it went back to Milesian times, and on this it would base its claims [to rule] (20-21).
It is unknown how the people of the Neolithic Age viewed their history or what their mythology may have been since they left no written record. The "mythological origins" history of Ireland was written long after by Christian scribes drawing on biblical stories to create a national history. Back in the Neolithic Age, the people of Ireland might have been far too busy establishing farms and villages and making a living to worry about their past history, or perhaps not. While they wrote nothing, they did leave a story behind in the great megalithic structures one finds all across the country in grander or more modest forms, and few are so dramatic as those of the Bru na Boinne Neolithic complex in County Meath.

THE MEGALITHS

Evidence of a pre-literate culture who told their stories through stonework can be seen throughout Ireland. Exactly what these stories are is still a mystery, however. The great megalithic monument known as Newgrange was constructed c. 3200 BCE, and the megalithic passage tombs of Knowth and then Dowth followed soon after. Loughcrew passage tomb, also in Meath, dates from between 3500-3300 BCE. The Carrowkeel passage tombs in County Sligo date from c. 3400 BCE, while the megalithic tombs of Carrowmore (also in Sligo) date from even earlier (3700 BCE), and the Poulnabrone dolmen (a megalithic passage tomb in County Clare) to even earlier (4200 BCE).
All these megaliths and majestic mounds (each one older than Stonehenge or the pyramids of Giza ) give evidence of a deeply held belief system which may have honored ancestors, great deeds, heroes, chieftains, and deities, but there is no way of knowing because nothing was recorded. The swirling designs and other engravings on stones at sites like Newgrange, if they mean anything beyond decoration, have shed no light on the subject.
There is no doubt that Newgrange was constructed for a very specific ritualistic purpose. Every December, in the days leading up to and away from the winter solstice, the rising sun sends a single beam directly through a portal above the front passage entrance that illuminates the inner chamber, focusing on one single niche in the back wall. As with the other monuments mentioned, there have been many theories advanced as to the purpose Newgrange served but none are conclusive, nor can they be.
The Poulnabrone dolmen, with its massive slanting capstone, seems to have been constructed at an angle for a specific purpose, possibly to ease the souls of the deceased in their passage to the Underworld or ward off unwanted visitors from the other side, but no one really knows why the capstone was slanted. Dr. Carleton Jones, who excavated the site, claims it may have been a 'prehistoric billboard' as well as a tomb, writing, "As a traveler entered the Burren from the north, the impressive bulk of Poulnabrone would leave no doubt in their mind that they were entering the Burren tribe's territory" (1).
Still, this 'billboard' theory does not seem to apply to every dolmen in the country. There are almost 200 dolmens throughout Ireland, all with slanting capstones, and all seem to have been used as tombs but not as `billboards'. Among the largest is the Kilclooney dolmen in County Donegal (c. 3500 BCE), which stands six feet high with a capstone 13 feet long and 20 feet across. All of these, of course, were constructed without cement, cranes, or metal tools.

THE BRONZE AGE & THE CELTS

Metalworking developed long after the megaliths were built. It was already a practiced craft by 2000 BCE, probably introduced or discovered c. 2500 BCE. Bronze and copper replaced the stone ornaments and weaponry of the earlier age, and advances in technology increased rapidly. The wheel was introduced at around the same time as techniques for brewing alcohol c. 2200 BCE. Farming implements were improved and more land was cleared and cultivated.
The Giant's Ring, a henge monument in present-day Ballynahatty near Belfast, was constructed about this time (c. 2700 BCE) and regularly used for rituals (probably religious, and no doubt astronomical, though the details are unknown). As in Scotland, at roughly the same time (2500 BCE), a new wave of immigrants introduced flat-bottomed beakers and sophisticated earthenware pottery. These beakers have been found throughout Ireland in such great quantity that these unknown immigrants are referred to as "Beaker People" by archaeologists (as they are also in Scotland).
The Beaker People may be the mysterious builders of circular hill forts found throughout Ireland such as the Mooghaun Hill Fort in County Clare where, in 1854 CE, the largest hoard of gold found anywhere outside of the Mediterranean was discovered. The "Great Clare Find" as it was called dated to 800 BCE, and its creation is often attributed to the Celts rather than the Beaker People, but this is disputed.
The Bronze Age merged into the Iron Age with the arrival of the Celts sometime between 500-300 BCE, possibly earlier. This influx used to be regarded as "the Celtic invasion", but that theory has now been discarded as it seems far more likely that the Celts and the indigenous people of Ireland were engaged in trade which led to cultural diffusion and Celtic assimilation. Bardon writes:
When did the Celts come to Ireland? A clear answer cannot be given because they do not seem to have formed a distinct race. Celtic civilisation may have been created by a people in central Europe, but it was primarily a culture - a language and a way of life - spread from one people to another. Archaeologists have searched in vain for evidence of dramatic invasions of Ireland, and they now prefer to think of a steady infiltration from Britain and the European mainland over the centuries (12).
According to historian Helen Litton, the Celts originated in central and east-central Europe in the Early Iron Age, and "they seem to represent a coming together of various groups, during the Bronze Age, who gradually developed a single culture around the discovery and use of iron" (19-20). When the Celts arrived in Ireland, however gradually or swiftly, they brought the knowledge of iron working with them. They also brought conquest as they came in their war chariots fully armed with their "swords as long as the javelins of other peoples and their javelins with points longer than swords", in the words of the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus. They quickly subdued and assimilated the inhabitants of the land to form the Gaelic culture.

ST. PATRICK & THE RISE OF LITERACY

The Celts ordered their society in Ireland into a hierarchy of warriors and Druids at the top and everyone else beneath them.They built great fortresses, adorned themselves with gold brooches and cloaks, and told epic tales which would not be written down until hundreds of years later, such as The Cattleraid of Cooley, the great Irish epic, featuring the hero Cuchulainn and the great Queen Maeve, the Fenian Cycle, the deeds of great kings like Cormac MacArt, the knights of the Red Branch from the Ulster Cycle, and epic legends like The Pursuit of Diarmund and Grainne.
Literacy came to Ireland with the Christian missionary Palladius and others such as Ailbe, Declan, Ibar, and Ciaran who followed him, as well as the better known St. Patrick in the 5th century CE. Palladius and the others established Christian communities that placed a premium on literacy and became centres of learning, but they were not as successful as the former slave who escaped from captivity in Ireland to return a bishop and change the nation: St. Patrick.
Estatua de San Patricio, Cerro de Tara

Statue of St. Patrick, Hill of Tara

Patrick (c. 5th century CE) was a Roman citizen who was captured by pirates from Roman Britain and sold into slavery in Ireland. After six years he escaped, following a vision in a dream in which God directed him to leave by ship. He returned to Britain and his family but again was summoned in a dream to leave his land and return to Ireland to preach the gospel. Patrick did far more than convert pagan Ireland to Christianity ; he popularized the faith, carefully integrating it with what he knew of Celtic mythology and Irish lore so that it was more easily assimilated.
He is said to have announced the arrival of Christianity in the country with a great bonfire on the Hill of Slane, just opposite the Hill of Tara, in 432 or 433 CE, defying the edict of the High King Laoghaire who had prohibited any fires that night save the sacred flame of the druids on Tara to celebrate the festival of Ostara. The faith St. Patrick announced that night would change Ireland in many ways, perhaps most importantly in the area of literacy. In spreading the Christian message through the land, St. Patrick planted the seeds of Christian communities, which became seats of learning and centers of knowledge.

THE HIGH KINGS & THE LAW

The Hill of Tara in County Meath stands at an elevation of 646 feet (197 metres) and, at the summit, rises the Lia Fail, the stone of destiny where the High Kings of Ireland were inaugurated. Legend tells how, after the Milesians defeated the Tuatha De Danaan, Ireland was divided between the two victorious brothers Eber and Eremon; Eremon taking the north and Eber the south. They lived in peace until Eber's wife desired the most beautiful hill in the land, Tara, which was in Eremon's territory and Eremon's wife, Tea, refused her.
The two women drew their husbands into the argument, and they went to war. Eber was killed and Eremon took his lands. Tea also died at this time and gave her name to the hill she had defended and where she was buried. One interpretation of 'Tara' is a corruption of Tea-Mur, Tea's Tomb. The Hill of Tara was thenceforth regarded with great respect for this reason, as well as for the belief that it was imbued with magic by the Tuatha De Danaan, who dwelt in the ground and hollows of the hill and who had brought the Lia Fail to the land centuries before.
These beliefs continued to be observed after the Celts arrived and their kings were crowned at the Lia Fail in accordance with custom. Among the early prehistoric kings was the legendary Conn Cetchathatch (Conn of the Hundred Battles) whose grandson was Cormac MacArt the law giver. The Brehon Laws (also known as the Brehon Codes and Fenechas) are the earliest laws of Ireland and were written by MacArt at some point during his reign (c.227-266 CE). The name derives from Brehon, which means lawgiver, and these laws were interpreted by the Brithem (judges). They are considered among the most advanced and equitable laws ever written (including ancient law codes such as the Code of Ur-Nammu or Hammurabi 's Code from ancient Mesopotamia ) and, according to historian Loretta Wilson, "covered almost every relationship and every fine shade of relationship, social and moral, between man and man" (1).
The laws provided justice for all, no matter one's social standing, and maintained the independence and dignity of women, which had long been observed in Ireland. Historian Lloyd Duhaime, writing on the Brehon Laws, notes that "women were held on an equal footing as men and eligible for the highest professions including as warriors, priestesses and judges.... At marriage, women were partners with their husbands, and not the property of the latter" (2). Cormac MacArt was considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, king of ancient Ireland and, besides being known for his laws, initiated building projects as great as the halls and forts of Tara and as modest as riverside mills. His Brehon Laws would later be revised and codified by St. Patrick who maintained the humane aspect of them and upheld the rights of women in society.
The achievements of St. Patrick and Cormac MacArt, like much of early Irish history, are blended with myth, and so it is with MacArt's descendants, the Ui Neill, the dynasty most prominent in Ireland for centuries. The Ui Neill were descended from Niall Noigiallach (better known as Niall of the Nine Hostages) who, as his name indicates, was a powerful enough king to have held one hostage each from the five provinces of Ireland and one each from the Britons, the Franks, the Saxons, and the Scots.The oldest monument at the Hill of Tara is the Mound of the Hostages, a passage tomb dating to c. 3000 BCE. The name comes from the later practice of kings and chieftains exchanging hostages at the site. The more hostages one held to ensure good behavior of would-be rivals, the more powerful and secure the ruler.

THE VIKING AGE IN IRELAND

Like the legendary Eber and Eremon, the Ui Neill divided the country between them with the northern Ui Neill and the southern Ui Neill. The Ui Neill defended the land against the ever increasing Viking raids along the coasts, built forts and towers, and developed the land. The Viking Age in Ireland began with the first recorded raid in 795 CE off the coast of Antrim and ended in 1014 CE with the Viking defeat by the great High King of Ireland Brian Boru (941-1014 CE) at The Battle of Clontarf. Although Boru is famously known as the king who drove the Vikings from Ireland, this is not so. The Vikings had established a number of permanent settlements, most notably Dublin, and continued to play a part in Ireland's history following Clontarf.
The legend of Boru driving the Vikings from the land is rooted in his victory over the combined forces of the Vikings and Boru's Irish enemies at Clontarf, after which Viking power was broken and Irish monarchies, like the Ui Neill, grew in strength. They had reigned before Boru came to power and, after his death at The Battle of Clontarf, the Ui Neill resumed control of the land but their power was diminished. Following the Norman Invasion of 1169 CE and England 's King Henry II's domination of Ireland in 1171 CE, their power, like the other nobles of Ireland, was weakened further.

ST. PATRICK PROBABLY BEGAN MISSIONARY WORK IN IRELAND C. 432 CE; NOT LONG AFTER, MONKS WERE COPYING ANY BOOK THEY COULD FIND.

English rule in Ireland grew steadily more oppressive by the decade, if not by the year, and by 1368 CE, the Brehon Laws were outlawed under the Statute of Kilkenny. The once prestigious clans like the Ui Neill stood their ground as well as they could until they were largely removed in the 17th century CE through the English policy known as the Plantation of Ulster.
Under this policy, half a million acres of some of the best land was taken from Gaelic Catholic chieftains and their families following Hugh O'Neill's defeat at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 CE and the Flight of the Earls in 1607 CE. The Plantation policy sought to replace Irish Catholics on the land with English Protestants, and it succeeded. Along with the other rules, laws, and strictures imposed on the Irish, it would not be until after 1921 CE that the people of Ireland would regain a measure of the freedom and autonomy they had known prior to the Norman Invasion.

THE LEGACY OF IRELAND

In spite of the severity of English measures, the Irish continued to endure and thrive through the centuries. They found ways to preserve their language, law, and culture, which had been outlawed and driven underground, and they owed this success to the foundation laid centuries before by St. Patrick and the early Christian missionaries.
Literacy flourished in the monastic centers of Ireland eventually producing masterpieces of sacred art such as the illuminated manuscript the Book of Kells by c. 800 CE. Great monasteries and communities such as Clanmacnoise and Glendalough were established by the middle of the 6th century CE, only a little over a hundred years after St. Patrick had arrived. The monasteries of Ireland would do more than just encourage literacy in the country; they would save the heritage of western civilization.
The Western Roman Empire fell 4 September 476 CE when the Emperor Romulus Augustus was deposed by the Germanic king Odoacer. The empire had been in turmoil, to greater or lesser degrees, since the Crisis of the Third Century (235-284 CE) and was divided into eastern and western empires in 285 CE. The stability that Rome had offered for centuries was gone and religious factions added to the chaos of the barbarian invasions to threaten the great libraries of the ancient world. St. Patrick is thought to have begun his missionary work in Ireland c. 432 CE and, not long after, monks were copying any book they could find. Thomas Cahill, author of How The Irish Saved Civilization, writes:
The Irish, who were just learning to read and write, took up the great labor of copying all of western literature - everything they could lay their hands on. These scribes then served as conduits through which the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures were transmitted to the tribes of Europe, newly settled amid the rubble and ruined vineyards of the civilization they had overwhelmed. Without this Service of the Scribes, everything that happened subsequently would have been unthinkable. Without the Mission of the Irish Monks, who single-handedly re-founded European civilization throughout the continent in the bays and valleys of their exile, the world that came after them would have been an entirely different one - a world without books (4).
The claim that the Irish monks saved civilization may seem like an overstatement, but the historical record proves otherwise.Although Agricola initiated plans to invade Ireland, and archaeological finds have unearthed evidence of Roman habitation (in Roman coins, graves, and tools), the invasion never took place. Ireland was left alone by the empire and was largely unaffected by its fall. In the safety of the island, within the walls of their communities, the monks gathered and safeguarded the books that were neglected or destroyed on the mainland, preserving the past for the future.

Roman Empire › Antique Origins

Definition and Origins

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 22 March 2018
Mapa de Europa en 125 CE (Andrei nacu)
The Roman Empire, at its height (c. 117 CE), was the most extensive political and social structure in western civilization. By 285 CE the empire had grown too vast to be ruled from the central government at Rome and so was divided by Emperor Diocletian (284-305 CE) into a Western and an Eastern Empire. The Roman Empire began when Augustus Caesar (27 BCE-14 CE) became the first emperor of Rome and ended, in the west, when the last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed by the Germanic King Odoacer (476 CE). In the east, it continued as the Byzantine Empire until the death of Constantine XI and the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 CE. The influence of the Roman Empire on western civilization was profound in its lasting contributions to virtually every aspect of western culture.

THE EARLY DYNASTIES

Following the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE, Gaius Octavian Thurinus, Julius Caesar 's nephew and heir, became the first emperor of Rome and took the name Augustus Caesar. Although Julius Caesar is often regarded as the first emperor of Rome, this is incorrect; he never held the title `Emperor' but, rather, `Dictator', a title the Senate could not help but grant him, as Caesar held supreme military and political power at the time. In contrast, the Senate willingly granted Augustus the title of emperor, lavishing praise and power on him because he had destroyed Rome's enemies and brought much-needed stability.

AUGUSTUS: "I FOUND ROME A CITY OF CLAY BUT LEFT IT A CITY OF MARBLE."

Augustus ruled the empire from 31 BCE until 14 CE when he died. In that time, as he said himself, he "found Rome a city of clay but left it a city of marble." Augustus reformed the laws of the city and, by extension, the empire's, secured Rome's borders, initiated vast building projects (carried out largely by his faithful general Agrippa, who built the first Pantheon ), and secured the empire a lasting name as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, political and cultural powers in history. The Pax Romana (Roman Peace), also known as the Pax Augusta, which he initiated, was a time of peace and prosperity hitherto unknown and would last over 200 years.
Following Augustus' death, power passed to his heir, Tiberius, who continued many of the emperor's policies but lacked the strength of character and vision which so defined Augustus. This trend would continue, more or less steadily, with the emperors who followed: Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. These first five rulers of the empire are referred to as the Julio-Claudian Dynasty for the two family names they descended from (either by birth or through adoption), Julius and Claudius.Although Caligula has become notorious for his depravity and apparent insanity, his early rule was commendable as was that of his successor, Claudius, who expanded Rome's power and territory in Britain ; less so was that of Nero. Caligula and Claudius were both assassinated in office (Caligula by his Praetorian Guard and Claudius, apparently, by his wife). Nero's suicide ended the Julio-Claudian Dynasty and initiated the period of social unrest known as The Year of the Four Emperors.
Empreror Claudius o Nero

Empreror Claudius or Nero

These four rulers were Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian. Following Nero's suicide in 68 CE, Galba assumed rule (69 CE) and almost instantly proved unfit for the responsibility. He was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard. Otho succeeded him swiftly on the very day of his death, and ancient records indicate he was expected to make a good emperor. General Vitellius, however, sought power for himself and so initiated the brief civil war which ended in Otho's suicide and Vitellius' ascent to the throne.
Vitellius proved no more fit to rule than Galba had been, as he almost instantly engaged in luxurious entertainments and feasts at the expense of his duties. The legions declared for General Vespasian as emperor and marched on Rome. Vitellius was murdered by Vespasian's men, and Vespasian took power exactly one year from the day Galba had first ascended to the throne.
Vespasian founded the Flavian Dynasty which was characterized by massive building projects, economic prosperity, and expansion of the empire. Vespasian ruled from 69-79 CE, and in that time, initiated the building of the Flavian Amphitheatre(the famous Coliseum of Rome) which his son Titus (ruled 79-81 CE) would complete. Titus' early reign saw the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE which buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Pompeya y el Monte Vesuivus

Pompeii and Mt. Vesuivus

Ancient sources are universal in their praise for his handling of this disaster as well as the great fire of Rome in 80 CE. Titus died of a fever in 81 CE and was succeeded by his brother Domitian who ruled from 81-96 CE. Domitian expanded and secured the boundaries of Rome, repaired the damage to the city caused by the great fire, continued the building projects initiated by his brother, and improved the economy of the empire. Even so, his autocratic methods and policies made him unpopular with the Roman Senate, and he was assassinated in 96 CE.

THE FIVE GOOD EMPERORS

Domitian's successor was his advisor Nerva who founded the Nervan-Antonin Dynasty which ruled Rome 96-192 CE. This period is marked by increased prosperity owing to the rulers known as The Five Good Emperors of Rome. Between 96 and 180 CE, five exceptional men ruled in sequence and brought the Roman Empire to its height:
  • Nerva (96-98 CE)
  • Trajan (98-117 CE)
  • Hadrian (117-138 CE)
  • Antoninus Pius (138-161 CE)
  • Marcus Aurelius (161-180 CE)
Under their leadership, the Roman Empire grew stronger, more stable, and expanded in size and scope. Lucius Verus and Commodus are the last two of the Nervan-Antonin Dynasty. Verus was co-emperor with Marcus Aurelius until his death in 169 CE and seems to have been fairly ineffective. Commodus, Aurelius' son and successor, was one of the most disgraceful emperors Rome ever saw and is universally depicted as indulging himself and his whims at the expense of the empire. He was strangled by his wrestling partner in his bath in 192 CE, ending the Nervan-Antonin Dynasty and raising the prefect Pertinax(who most likely engineered Commodus' assassination) to power.

THE SEVERAN DYNASTY

Pertinax governed for only three months before he was assassinated. He was followed, in rapid succession, by four others in the period known as The Year of the Five Emperors, which culminated in the rise of Septimus Severus to power. Severus ruled Rome from 193-211 CE, founded the Severan Dynasty, defeated the Parthians, and expanded the empire. His campaigns in Africa and Britain were extensive and costly and would contribute to Rome's later financial difficulties. He was succeeded by his sons Caracalla and Geta, until Caracalla had his brother murdered.
Ataque de la playa romana

Roman Beach Attack

Caracalla ruled until 217 CE, when he was assassinated by his bodyguard. It was under Caracalla's reign that Roman citizenship was expanded to include all free men within the empire. This law was said to have been enacted as a means of raising tax revenue, simply because, after its passage, there were more people the central government could tax. The Severan Dynasty continued, largely under the guidance and manipulation of Julia Maesa (referred to as `empress'), until the assassination of Alexander Severus in 235 CE which plunged the empire into the chaos known as The Crisis of the Third Century (lasting from 235-284 CE).

TWO EMPIRES: EAST & WEST

This period, also known as The Imperial Crisis, was characterized by constant civil war, as various military leaders fought for control of the empire. The crisis has been further noted by historians for widespread social unrest, economic instability (fostered, in part, by the devaluation of Roman currency by the Severans), and, finally, the dissolution of the empire which broke into three separate regions. The empire was reunited by Aurelian (270-275 CE) whose policies were further developed and improved upon by Diocletian who established the Tetrarchy (the rule of four) to maintain order throughout the empire.

THE IMPERIAL CRISIS WAS CHARACTERIZED BY CONSTANT CIVIL WAR, AS VARIOUS MILITARY LEADERS FOUGHT FOR CONTROL OF THE EMPIRE.

Even so, the empire was still so vast that Diocletian divided it in half in 285 CE to facilitate more efficient administration. In so doing, he created the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire). Since a leading cause of the Imperial Crisis was a lack of clarity in succession, Diocletian decreed that successors must be chosen and approved from the outset of an individual's rule. Two of these successors were the generals Maxentius and Constantine.Diocletian voluntarily retired from rule in 305 CE, and the tetrarchy dissolved as rival regions of the empire vied with each other for dominance. Following Diocletian's death in 311 CE, Maxentius and Constantine plunged the empire again into civil war.

CONSTANTINE & CHRISTIANITY

In 312 CE Constantine defeated Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge and became sole emperor of both the Western and Eastern Empires (ruling from 306-337 CE). Believing that Jesus Christ was responsible for his victory, Constantine initiated a series of laws such as the Edict of Milan (317 CE) which mandated religious tolerance throughout the empire and, specifically, tolerance for the faith which came to known as Christianity.
El coloso de Constantino

The Colossus of Constantine

In the same way that earlier Roman emperors had claimed a special relationship with a deity to augment their authority and standing (Caracalla with Serapis, for example, or Diocletian with Jupiter ), Constantine chose the figure of Jesus Christ. At the First Council of Nicea (325 CE), he presided over the gathering to codify the faith and decide on important issues such as the divinity of Jesus and which manuscripts would be collected to form the book known today as The Bible. He stabilized the empire, revalued the currency, and reformed the military, as well as founding the city he called New Rome on the site of the former city of Byzantium (modern-day Istanbul) which came to be known as Constantinople.
He is known as Constantine the Great owing to later Christian writers who saw him as a mighty champion of their faith but, as has been noted by many historians, the honorific could as easily be attributed to his religious, cultural, and political reforms, as well as his skill in battle and his large-scale building projects. After his death, his sons inherited the empire and, fairly quickly, embarked on a series of conflicts with each other which threatened to undo all that Constantine had accomplished.
His three sons, Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans divided the Roman Empire between them but soon fell to fighting over which of them deserved more. In these conflicts, Constantine II and Constans were killed. Constantius II died later after naming his cousin Julian his successor and heir. Emperor Julian ruled for only two years (361-363 CE) and, in that time, tried to return Rome to her former glory through a series of reforms aimed at increasing efficiency in government.
As a Neo-Platonic philosopher, Julian rejected Christianity and blamed the faith; and Constantine's adherence to it, for the decline of the empire. While officially proclaiming a policy of religious tolerance, Julian systematically removed Christians from influential government positions, banned the teaching and spread of the religion, and barred Christians from military service.His death, while on campaign against the Persians, ended the dynasty Constantine had begun. He was the last pagan emperor of Rome and came to be known as `Julian the Apostate' for his opposition to Christianity.
Imperio bizantino c. 460 CE

Byzantine Empire c. 460 CE

After the brief rule of Jovian, who re-established Christianity as the dominant faith of the empire and repealed Julian's various edicts, the responsibility of emperor fell to Theodosius I. Theodosius I (379-395 CE) took Constantine's and Jovian's religious reforms to their natural ends, outlawed pagan worship throughout the empire, closed the schools and universities, and converted pagan temples into Christian churches.

THE UNITY OF SOCIAL DUTIES & RELIGIOUS BELIEF WHICH PAGANISM PROVIDED WAS SEVERED BY THE INSTITUTION OF CHRISTIANITY.

It was during this time that Plato ’s famous Academy was closed by Theodosius' decree. Many of his reforms were unpopular with both the Roman aristocracy and the common people who held to the traditional values of pagan practice. The unity of social duties and religious belief which paganism provided was severed by the institution of a religion which removed the gods from the earth and human society and proclaimed only one God who ruled from the heavens. Theodosius I devoted so much effort to promoting Christianity that he seems to have neglected other duties as emperor and would be the last to rule both Eastern and Western Empires.

THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

From 376-382 CE, Rome fought a series of battles against invading Goths known today as the Gothic Wars. At the Battle of Adrianople, 9 August 378 CE, the Roman Emperor Valens was defeated, and historians mark this event as pivotal in the decline of the Western Roman Empire. Various theories have been suggested as to the cause of the empire's fall but, even today, there is no universal agreement on what those specific factors were. Edward Gibbon has famously argued in his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that Christianity played a pivotal role, in that the new religion undermined the social mores of the empire which paganism provided.
The theory that Christianity was a root cause in the empire's fall was debated long before Gibbon, however, as Orosiusargued Christianity's innocence in Rome's decline as early as 418 CE. Orosius claimed it was primarily paganism itself and pagan practices which brought about the fall of Rome. Other influences which have been noted range from the corruption of the governing elite to the ungovernable vastness of the empire to the growing strength of the Germanic tribes and their constant incursions into Rome. The Roman military could no longer safeguard the borders as efficiently as they once had nor could the government as easily collect taxes in the provinces. The arrival of the Visigoths in the empire in the third century CE and their subsequent rebellions has also been cited a contributing factor in the decline.
Invasiones del Imperio Romano

Invasions of the Roman Empire

The Western Roman Empire officially ended 4 September 476 CE, when Emperor Romulus Augustus was deposed by the Germanic King Odoacer (though some historians date the end as 480 CE with the death of Julius Nepos). The Eastern Roman Empire continued on as the Byzantine Empire until 1453 CE, and though known early on as simply `the Roman Empire', it did not much resemble that entity at all. The Western Roman Empire would become re-invented later as The Holy Roman Empire, but that construct, also, was far removed from the Roman Empire of antiquity and was an `empire' in name only.

LEGACY OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

The inventions and innovations which were generated by the Roman Empire profoundly altered the lives of the ancient people and continue to be used in cultures around the world today. Advancements in the construction of roads and buildings, indoor plumbing, aqueducts, and even fast-drying cement were either invented or improved upon by the Romans. The calendar used in the West derives from the one created by Julius Caesar, and the names of the days of the week (in the romance languages) and months of the year also come from Rome.
Apartment complexes (known as `insula), public toilets, locks and keys, newspapers, even socks all were developed by the Romans as were shoes, a postal system (modeled after the Persians), cosmetics, the magnifying glass, and the concept of satire in literature. During the time of the empire, significant developments were also advanced in the fields of medicine, law, religion, government, and warfare. Los romanos eran expertos en tomar prestado y mejorar esos inventos o conceptos que encontraron entre la población indígena de las regiones que conquistaron. Por lo tanto, es difícil decir qué es una invención romana "original" y qué es una innovación en un concepto, técnica o herramienta preexistente. Sin embargo, se puede decir con seguridad que el Imperio Romano dejó un legado perdurable que continúa afectando la forma en que las personas viven aún hoy en día.

MAP

LICENSE:

Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
Content is available under License Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. CC-BY-NC-SA License

Recommended Contents