The Roman Empire

After the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar in 58 BCE, only the Gaulish Arverni tribe remained independent. They held out against Rome until the Battle of Alesia, which occurred in September of 52 BCE, crushed the last of the Gaulish resistance. With Gaul now pacified and all resistance quashed, the Romans added Gaul to the Empire as a province.

The Roman Empire had begun under Augustus in 27 BCE, ending the 500-year-old Roman Republic. The failure of the republic has been blamed on the various civil wars that erupted, making the republic weak and unable to fend off its enemies. Augustus rose to power and created the Empire. Changes brought in by Augustus included many military reforms such as the reduction of the legions. Other factors that are cited in the creation of the Empire include Julius Caesar's appointment as dictator in 44 BCE, Octavian's victory at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE and finally the Senate's award to Octavian in 27 BCE of the honorific Augustus (Emperor Augustus).

Roman expansion outside the Italian peninsula actually began under the Republic; the Empire reached its maximum size under Emperor Trajan (who ruled from 98 CE to 117 CE), encompassing a territory of 1,953,000 square miles or 5,000,000 square kilometers. Due to the size of the Empire, its effects are still felt even today.

The Emperor

Powers the emperor held derived from the potestas tribuncia (tribunician powers) and imperium proconsulare (proconsular powers). Potestas tribuncia made the person and office of the emperor sacrosanct, thus giving the emperor complete control over Rome's civil government and over the Senate. To cement the control of the emperor, imperium proconsulare gave control of the Roman army as well as the authority to declare war, ratify treaties and negotiate with foreign leaders. To ensure the emperor would maintain control of the Senate, he also had the power to appoint senators. Under the Empire the emperor also controlled all religious institutions and held the title of Pontifex Maximus, making him a member of the four major priesthoods. The most important part of the emperor's power was his control of the Roman army. Soldiers were paid by the imperial treasury and legionaries had to swear an oath of military allegiance every year to the emperor; this oath was called the Sacramentum. In the event the emperor died, in theory the Senate was free to pick a new emperor; however, in practice the selection was made from among the close relatives of the deceased emperor. The crucial stage for the new emperor was to quickly win the support of the military, in particular the Praetorian Guard and the Legions. To aid in gaining the allegiance of the Praetorian Guard and legions, the new emperor often paid a generous gift of money to the soldiers; this practice was known as the donativum.

Senate, Senators and Equestrians

All powers and responsibilities of the Roman assemblies were eventually transferred to the Senate after the creation of the Empire. This made senatorial decrees had the full force of law behind them. Even though the Senate and the emperor were suppose to be separate, they were in appearance separate however in practice the emperor used the Senate to pass whatever laws he pleased, for the senate had been left powerless and at the mercy of the emperor. During a senate session the emperor would sit between two consuls, acting as the presiding officer. The high-ranking senators would speak before lower-ranking senators and the emperor could speak at any time.

To rule the Empire the emperor needed the support of both the Equestrian and Senatorial Orders. It was from these orders that the important posts throughout the Empire were filled. Both orders were reserved only for aristocrats and from the orders came governors, legion commanders and other posts that were important and critical to maintaining the Empire. It was rather difficult to be a member of these orders as it was often hereditary; however, extremely successful and favored individuals could be accepted into the orders on very rare occasions. The careers of the younger aristocrats were extremely dependent on the influence their family had within the order as well as the character traits of the person. To be placed in the highest offices of these orders required the emperor's favor and trust.

Sons of a senator were expected to follow a career ladder; the most prestigious positions, however, were always restricted to the senators. In addition to following the career ladder, a senator had to be wealthy; this wealth was measured against the standard of 12,000 gold aurei, which equates to about 100 kilograms of gold. This wealth would be later passed on through the centuries, adding to the overall family wealth. The Equestrian Order did not have postings in the Empire that were so prestigious as the senatorial; however, the Empire could not have functioned without this order and the services they provided. The best example of the role the Equestrian Order played was the governorship of the Aegyptus Province (Egypt), which was a post forbidden to be held by a member of the Senatorial Order.

Rome's Imperial Military

After the military reforms when the Empire was created, there were three parts to the imperial military. The legions, which composed the main fighting force of the Roman army, were reduced from 60 to 28. Legions whose loyalty was questioned by Augustus while simply disbanded, where other legions were amalgamated. From September 9 to 11, 9 CE the Battle of Teutoburg Forest resulted in the loss of three more legions, reducing the number to 25. Augustus's Praetorian Guard consisted of nine cohorts which were garrisoned in Italy to maintain peace. Praetorian Guard soldiers were better paid than legionaries and also served less time: they could retire after 16 years of service and not the standard 25 years of service that applied to the rest of the military. The next main component of the Roman military was the Auxillia, which are the support troops, generally consisting of soldiers who were not Roman citizens. Auxillia were smaller in size, approximately the size of one cohort and paid less than legionaries. After 25 years of service an auxiliary was rewarded with Roman citizenship, which was equally applied to their sons. If Tacitus is correct in his statement there were there were as many auxiliaries as legionaries, since a legion generally consisted of 5,000 men, at 25 legions this would mean that after 9 CE there would be 125,000 auxiliaries, forming 250 auxiliary regiments. Rome's navy did more than just aid the legions by transporting them and supplies: the navy also defended the Rhine and Danube frontiers. and protected merchant trade from piracy, patrolling the Mediterranean Sea and parts of the North Atlantic. Rome also had a naval presence in the Black Sea, but despite the navy's many responsibilities the Roman army was always seen as more prestigious.

Language and Culture

In the Empire Latin was the official language; however, at the time of the switch from the Republic to the Empire, Latin was undergoing a split. Classical Latin remained almost unchanged through the Middle Ages. But the other branch, Vulgar Latin, was a fluid language that evolved and changed rapidly and often and became the basis of the Romance languages that exist today. Vulgar Latin was used mainly in the western provinces of the Empire. Greek was used mostly in the eastern provinces; there were two official secretaries in the Imperial Roman Court, one who did the correspondence in Latin and the other who did the correspondence in Greek.

The Roman Empire revolved around Rome; it was the center of the Empire where all things were grand and great. This included Roman culture. The city of Rome had several theatres, gymnasiums, taverns, brothels, bars, temples and other facilities only found in huge abundance within Rome. The vast majority of Romans lived in the center of Rome, where they were packed into apartment blocks. However not all the architecture was apartment-based. There were also modest houses, villas and elegant palaces found on Palatine Hill. A system of aqueducts brought water into the city.

When Augustus became the first emperor, cultured Greek household slaves were teaching the young Romans of both sexes; Greek sculptures were found throughout Rome and Hellenistic gardens and landscaping covered the Palatine and villas of Rome. It would seem the Greeks heavily influenced their Roman masters, which should not be surprising as the Roman culture had many aspects that were based on Greek culture. However, the Romans should be given credit for their use of the arch and dome, which appears to be truly a Roman form of architecture.

Roman social structure in the early period was focused on the family, which extended beyond blood relations to constructed relationships via patria potestas. In the Roman family the pater familias (father of the family) was always the absolute head of the family; he was the master over all in the family, the wife, children, the wives of sons, nephews and nieces, the slaves and freedmen; the master was also responsible for the disposing and putting to death of members in the family unit and their goods. Slavery was a common element in Rome and in Roman families. For the services the slaves gave their masters, in return some of the slave masters gave freedom to their slaves. Alternatively some slaves were permitted to save money that they could then use to buy their freedom. Under Roman law slaves were protected from murder and mutilation.

Like other societies, the Romans had a set structure to their society. To help distinguish classes, each class wore different kinds of clothing. Clothing worn by common people in Rome was made from coarse dark material in contrast to the tunics of the wealthy, which were made of linen or white wool. In addition different levels of office added stripes or variations to the garment to show their social standing. To further distinguish, the classes the footwear of each class was different and within the class based upon the office held.

After the conquest of Greece and its incorporation into the Roman Empire, the Romans adopted many principles of Greek education into the Roman education system. Roman education was done mostly at home, where children were taught Roman laws and customs. Physical training was given to boys to prepare them to be Roman citizens and for their eventual service in the Roman military. Roman education placed a lot of emphasis on discipline. While the boys were given physical activities to prepare them for their role as citizens of Rome, the girls learned the arts of sewing, weaving and spinning, usually from their mother. Education started when a child reached the age of six and would last between six and seven years. During this time the student would gain the basics of reading, counting and writing. Approximately at age twelve the student would be learning Latin, Greek, grammar and literature supplemented with public speaking. The art of oratory was taught and practiced; good oratory was given great respect. It was during this part of the child's education that talented and gifted slaves, usually Greeks, were used to teach the children.

Religion in the Empire fell under the control of the emperor. For the most part as the Empire grew and more non-Roman cultures became  included within it, the Romans were tolerant of other cultures' beliefs so long as they were not perceived as causing trouble. Ceremonies were frequently tailored to fit other cultures. But then persecution of Jews and Christians became common after the revolt of Judea in 66 AD; however the accounts of these persecutions are generally from those groups, often exaggerating their degree and importance, for non-Judaic sources merely mention them without giving any great importance to them.


Only the emperor and in theory the Senate had the authority to mint coins within the Empire. Minting any coin was a political act, therefore the responsibility of the government. Generally the emperor's image would appear on the coin; however, coins also featured predecessors, empresses, heirs and other members of the emperor's family. Messages of a political nature as well as propaganda for the Empire like proclamations of victory and acknowledgements of loyalty would also appear on coins. The emperor minted gold and silver coins and the Senate minted bronze coins, usually with the inscription SC to denote Senatus Consulto (by decree of the Senate). Senate-minted coins didn't always bear the marking SC but were always bronze coins. The Imperial mints were under the control of the financial minister, except for the provincial mints, which fell under the control of the imperial provincial procurators. The Senatorial mints were governed by the Senatorial treasury.

Roman Provinces

Rome had two different types of provinces. The Imperial provinces were created by Augustus; provinces in this category were mostly recent conquests and located at the borders of Rome. The province of Aegyptus was an Imperial province; it was of high importance to the Empire as it served as the main source of grains and hence food for Rome. Imperial provinces were considered the personal lands of the emperor and thus senators were forbidden to even visit them. Their governors and legion commanders were not from the Senatorial Order but rather hand picked by the emperor from the Equestrian Order. Senatorial provinces were away from the borders of the Empire; having been subject to Rome longer, they were stable and peaceful. These provinces did not have a large garrison of troops: generally only one legion was stationed in each. However, the status of a province could and often did change between imperial and senatorial.

Relations with Germania

Contact between the Roman Empire and Germania was first established in approximately 320 BCE when Pytheas of Massalia went on an expedition that took him around Britain and the northern coast of Europe. Pytheas is considered to be the first Mediterranean to have been able to distinguish between Celtic and Germanic peoples. It would be approximately another 180 years before the Romans would know anything about the Germanic people to their north. At Lahnau-Waldgirmes in Hesse, in Greater Germania beyond the military boundary of the Roman Empire, archaeological investigation has brought to light a fortified Roman trading place which, from dendrochronological analysis of the wood used to construct a well, was being constructed as early as 4 BCE, while Publius Quinctilius Varus was governor of Gaul. This is evidence of the early plans of making Germania a province. From the settlement's early beginnings it served as a trading post for the Roman Empire; Roman soldiers were able to conduct trade with the local Germanic people and they must have co-existed peacefully for some time. Being built on a spur of land that extended into the Lahn River, the settlement could easily be defended. The river location also connected it to other Roman settlements along the Rhine, making transportation to and from the settlement quick and relatively easy. The settlement had a very large forum, indicating it was probably intended to become a centre of government as part of preparing the region for becoming a province. The settlement was never completed, large areas remaining undeveloped, likely as a result of the Roman defeat and loss of all military bases east of the Rhine during and after the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE. However, the Roman army did continue to use the settlement as a temporary military camp before destroying it in 16 CE.

The Romans and Germanic tribes were in constant military contact, and not necessarily fighting against each other. There were a large number of Germanic auxiliaries in the Roman army; this led the Germanic people of Roman-friendly tribes to more easily accept Rome and adopt some Roman cultural practices and allowed  the chieftains and their families to identify with the nobility of Rome. In exchange for military service Germanic auxiliaries received Roman goods; however, according to Roman law Germanic auxiliaries were paid less not permitted to receive Roman weapons as exporting weapons to the Germanic tribes was illegal. Germanic people who fought against the Romans, however, seized swords and other weapons and armour from the battlefield as war spoils.

Military contact also had some influence on Germanic war tactics, leading to more discipline and the basic elements of regimental formations. At Illerup Ĺdal in Denmark, a large cache of iron-age Roman-influenced weapons dating to 200 - 500 CE has been discovered. This archaeological find has supported the claims of long-lasting influence of the Roman Empire upon the Germanic tribes from a military standpoint but also shows that the Germanic tribes were very capable of supporting large military forces. Many of the weapons in the cache were forged in Scandinavia. The spangenhelm is a Roman-inspired helmet that is commonly found amongst the grave goods in the graves of Germanic chieftains. The idea of finding value in an object beyond its function in Germanic culture comes from Roman influence; before such interactions there was no need for a helm and if one was indeed used, it served only as protective instrument or tool. However, with the onset of Roman influence the value of the same helm now exceeds its function of protection: it has become a status symbol and a sign in Roman eyes of a civilized people who have shed their barbaric ways.

Despite the Roman law that forbade the exporting of weapons to the Germanic tribes, archaeological finds in Denmark have revealed an overwhelming amount of Roman weapons and armour. One reason for this high number of artifacts may be the alliance of western Germanic tribes with Rome in an attempt to destabilize the great northern tribes of Scandinavia. Through its alliance with these tribes Rome may have been planning further expansion into Scandinavia through invasion. Rome did have direct contact with the Scandinavian tribes, as is proved by the expedition of Tiberius in 5 CE. Tiberius describes in his reports what appears to be Jutland, although he does not specifically mention it by name. In further evidence, the archaeological finds at Lundeborg suggest that the settlement acted as a Roman port.

Rome had to trade with its neighbours, and this also influenced the relationship between it and its neighbours. If the trade was thought fair, relations were good; however, like all empires, Rome did not define fair trade in favour of those providing the resources. Trade is also considered to be a plausible manner in which Roman goods were able to deeply penetrate deep into Germania and into Scandinavia. This is likely to have included trade between the various Germanic peoples rather than exclusively direct trade with Roman merchants or military. The evidence of trade routes means the Germanic peoples can no longer be regarded as having been barbarians, as only advanced civilizations are capable of maintaining and implementing the complex, advanced social structure and organization that is required to host a trade network. Amber from Scandinavia has been found at Mycene in Greece, thus showing the extensive trade network that was in place.

The other aspect of trade came in the form of piracy, which was frequently carried out by various Germanic tribes like the Chauci, Conninefates, Usipi, Batavi and Bructeri. One of the earliest naval battles between the Romans and the Germanic tribes came in 12 BCE when the Roman navy led by Augustus's stepson Drusus took an expedition along the North Sea coast. The only opposition came from the Bructeri whom were defeated on the River Ems. There was frequent acts of piracy by the Chauci along the North Sea coast against the Romans; along the Rhine the Conniefates and Bructeri tribes raided the Romans and encountered the Roman navy on several occasions.

During acts of diplomacy an exchange of gifts was customary; this was no different when it came to Germania. Roman diplomats gave gifts to the Germanic people to strengthen the alliances and bonds between the Empire and the region. Rather than trying military dominance like in Gaul, Augustus opted for the route of diplomacy with the Germanic tribes. One reason may have been that the very large military forces the Germanic tribes could call upon frightened Rome; for instance the Marcomanni alone could call upon a standing army of 7000 infantrymen and 4000 cavalry. As the Empire weakened at the end of its life, the Romans found themselves the ones paying the tributes to the Germanic tribes and not the other way around as when the Empire was in its prime.

The spoils of war from Roman defeats at the hands of Germanic people spread throughout Germania. One war spoil in particular was two silver cups found in a grave in Hoby, Denmark which are believed to have been part of the war spoil from the Battle of Teutoburg Forest. This is another example of Roman influence upon the Germanic people as they acquired Roman goods that were incorporated into their lives.

A Roman silver-gilt drinking cup depicting King Priam of Troy appealing to Achilles for the return of his son Hector's body, was found in a chieftain"s grave at Hoby, Denmark, 1st century BCE. Location: Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen, Denmark.


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