Traditionally, ancient Rome was founded in 753 BC. It grew into one of the largest empires in the ancient world with roughly 20% of the world’s population and an area of 6.5 million square kilometres at its height.
Plagued by internal instability and attacked by various migrating peoples, the western part of the empire broke up in the 5th century, giving way to the pre-mediaeval “Dark Ages” of Europe. The last western emperor Romulus Augustulus abdicated in AD 476.
Using basic maths, the western Roman state existed for 1229 years; although development has moved at rocket speed in recent years, a simple comparison would be from AD 680 to AD 1909 – what a lot of history that covers!
So over more than a millennium, what does “Roman” mean?
Do we mean Romulus, founder and first king of Rome 753-717 BC?
From an altar found at Ostia Antica – The discovery of Romulus and Remus
Or these pottery heads dating from the 6th century BC tribal societies found on the Capitoline Hill in Rome?
Perhaps Cornelia Africana, the daughter of Scipio Africanus, mother of the political reforming brothers, the Gracchi. She died at age 90 in 100 BC, and was remembered by the Romans as an exemplar of virtue. (Painting by Angelica Kaufmann)
Or this soldier from the Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus, known as the “Census frieze”, circa 122 BC?
Maybe Augustus 63 BC – AD 14, the first Roman emperor, founder of the Julio-Claudians and the great reformer?
Or his influential and clever wife, Livia?
Or perhaps Constantine the Great
AD 272 – 337, the first emperor to convert to Christianity?
And there’s Stilichio, the half Vandal general who was magister utriusque militiae (commander-in-chief) of West Roman forces AD 395–408.
Perhaps Galla Placidia (AD 392 – 450), daughter of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, Regent for Emperor Valentinian III from 423 until his majority in 437, and a major force in Roman politics for most of her life. She was consort to Ataulf, King of the Goths from 414 until his death in 415, and Empress consort to Constantius III from 417 until his death in 422.
And near the end, Emperor Majorian AD 457-461 who was one of the last emperors to make a concerted effort to restore the Western Roman Empire. Possessing little more than Italy, Dalmatia, and some territory in northern Gaul, Majorian campaigned rigorously for three years against the Empire’s enemies.
What does the word “Roman” conjure up for you?
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