|This a Useful Notes page.|
Reg (leader of the People's Front of Judea): All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace."
—Tacitus, Roman historian
The Roman Empire succeeded The Roman Republic in the first century BC, precisely when being a subject for debate. It is generally thought to coincide with Augustus taking control of Rome and declaring himself Princeps in 27 B.C.
At one time or another it covered part or all of the modern day countries of- well, here's a list.
Rome, in its own name, continued to exist for quite a long time. By the end of the 3rd century it had gotten so unwieldy that it needed co-emperors to handle everything; in 395, not long after Constantine embraced Christianity, the empire split into the Eastern and Western halves. The Eastern side, which historians re-named the Byzantine Empire for convenience, toiled on almost a thousand years longer, until Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople in 1453. (Despite the power of the Roman legion, evidently their training course did not cover defense against flightless furniture.) The Western empire collapsed in 476, ushering in the The Dark Ages, but the name of "Rome" was taken up again by Charlemagne and his kingdom, the "Holy Roman Empire," in 800 AD. This nation survived until Napoleon Bonaparte knocked it over in 1806. The most salient point here is that a "Roman" nation of some sort existed, on paper at least, for well over two thousand years.
During its heyday (and it lasted centuries, with its moral, legal, linguistic, religious, cultural and natural philosophical influences remaining with us to this day), the Roman Empire maintained a level of peace and stability within its borders not often known to people living in those times. With its legions, a relatively enlightened ruling system, religious freedom (well, tolerance and syncreticism, at least), the Roman Empire held well enough (and people considered themselves part of sufficiently part of it) that an American would probably be quite at home there. In fact, there is a separate term for this in the modern context: Pax Americana.
The Pax Romana was based, to a large degree, upon the political nature of the empire. A great deal was direct empire; Rome had immediate authority over the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. However, Rome's peace was the result of its Hegemonic Empire. It was surrounded by client nations that were technically independent. These nations were fairly civilized and, as a result, were tempted by the prosperity of Rome. Thus they became Romanized with time thanks to trading ties and imitation. In order to maintain control over these client states, Rome regularly sent lavish gifts to their rulers. In return, those rulers did everything they could to keep from antagonizing Rome. Not only did these client states not make war with Rome, they also served as buffers.
On the far side of the client states were barbarian tribes who, being nomadic (the horsemen of the desert) or seminomadic (the Germans to the North moved between different permanent sites depending on the season) and lacking such features of civilization as money and stone monuments were indifferent to Romanization. They liked the wealth of Rome, but wanted nothing of its culture. The client states surrounding Rome absorbed the repeated incursions of barbarian raiders so that Rome wouldn't have to. This is why Augustus, after expanding the empire, told his successor to stop doing that. Eliminate the clients and Rome has to deal with the barbarians herself.
Barbarians weren't the only problem. In the East, Rome had a potent enemy in the Iranian empires of Arsacid Parthia (247 BC - AD 224) and Sassanid Persia (224 - 651). The client states to the East were essentially shuffled back and forth between Rome and Parthia/Persia in a kind of hegemonic game of checkers, with each side more or less understanding that direct conflict between the two would be disastrous for both.
Unfortunately, the hegemonic empire couldn't last. Although Rome's tribute to her client states paid for the necessary military service of facing barbarian incursions, it couldn't pay for the human cost of warfare. Further, as each client became more Romanized, the citizens thereof became increasingly vocal in their desire to become part of Rome and receive the benefits of Roman civilization directly. Eventually each client state was absorbed into the Roman empire and Rome began having to bear the burden of defending her borders herself.
As is often the case with a stable, growing population and economy, Rome faced the difficulties of inflation and, sometimes, too much economic growth, leading to cycles of boom and bust. As the science of economics wouldn't be developed for a few millenia, Rome found itself unable to cope with the complexities of managing the marketplace. Since the environmental factors fueling Rome's population growth also fueled the populations of the barbarians surrounding the empire, it led to a perfect storm that gradually ate away at Rome and led to its downfall. This can be marked in several stages.
Stage 1 - Defense in Depth
Defense in depth is a military strategy wherein you identify hostile forces and engage them on their own territory. This prevents them from doing any damage to your own infrastructure and minimizes all other injuries done. This is a costly form of defense, but ideal. It requires a great deal of manpower at the border, regular and maintained fortifications, constant scouting in hostile territory, and a mobile defense force capable of meeting the enemy. This is what Rome had along all of her borders, with her forces and fortifications deployed in accord with the terrain and density of hostile forces. The German woods required a great deal of manpower and effort, the African deserts could be more sparsely manned. As this strategy is costly, it should come as no surprise that it was abandoned as the empire declined.
Stage 2 - Static Defense
Rather than meet the hostile forces on their own ground, Rome learned to accept meeting them at the border. Very often the empire built actual walls (for example, the Antonine wall in Scotland and Hadrian's wall further South in England), though the psychological effects of building such walls may have been known even then. Unfortunately, this kind of defense cannot be maintained indefinitely because, eventually, the enemy will break through; the alternative (genocide) was never contemplated by Rome. They simply couldn't project the necessary force. Once the barbarians broke through, the repeated damage to infrastructure (roads, fortifications, farms) led directly to...
Stage 3 - Withdrawal
Toward the end of the empire's existence, Rome gradually gave up on more and more territory as undefendable. Repeated incursions by hostile forces destroyed the population, the buildings, and the land. By the time the city of Rome was sacked, the empire in the West had shrunk to more or less that of modern Italy. Rome itself was sacked multiple times during the fifth century and is seen as the final coda on the death of the empire. The Eastern, or Byzantine, empire continued for another thousand years, having much more secure natural borders and making better use of natural resources. Further, the density of hostile barbarians was much less in Western Asia than in Northern Europe, at least until the rise of, variously, the Mongols and Islam. It was Muslim Turks who finally conquered Constantinople, destroying the last remnant of the empire. For a time, Byzantium reached out, claimed, and held onto a significant portion of the Western empire (including modern Italy) in the sixth century, but it, too, had to retreat from those claims.
The most famous person that this happened to was of course Jesus, but it happened to quite a lot of other people too. Another well-known example would be Spartacus. Everyone in his army that was taken prisoner after finally being defeated (about 6,000 people) were crucified at the same time, spread over about 200 km of the Via Appia (a road). Kinda similar to Jesus, there are claims that Spartacus either escaped, survived, or had a son that survived.
In terms of sheer nastiness, little matches crucifixion in the capital punishment field. It was designed to be as painful and humiliating as possible. The Romans themselves considered it so barbaric that Roman citizens usually couldn't be sentenced to crucifixion.
To go into further detail about crucifixion: The nails, which were 5-7 inches long, were driven into the wrists and ankles. How the nails were driven in depended on the shape of the cross, which was I, T, X, Y or the traditional cross shape. Then ropes are tied, so the Romans can pull up the cross. The ropes cut into the skin as the cross is raised. Then the person is essentially left to die. Times passes on, the person literally gets baked by the sun. Crows start to come and peck on the eyes on the hung, if that person has no family or friends. The hung man must struggle with all of his might to get one tiny breath in, as his lungs are constricted. If he's lucky, he'll get a bitter tasting wine as a painkiller. In terms of waste removal, there was none. This further adds to the humiliation and infects any wounds below the waist. After that, there's not much left as the prisoner gets no food nor drink. Jesus lasted the good part of a day before passing on, but there are cases of men who lasted three days of this. It's also where we get the word "excruciating", literally from "from the cross".
- Now imagine this happening to 6,000 people at the same time, on the same road.
Quite where the nails went (or if they were even used) and what the person was supposed to die of are debated by historians (The Bible isn't too clear on the subject either, due to translation issues from the original Greek). The usual theory has been suffocation, but some experiments concluded otherwise- certainly exhaustion and dehydration would have occurred too. Jesus' seven traditional sayings on the cross i.e. "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" ("My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" in Aramaic) would have been very hard, though not impossible, to get out in these circumstances. In order to speed things up, the legs of the condemned might be broken. How long it took to die varied widely and there are cases of people surviving due to a reprieve.
Victims were crucified completely naked to add to the humiliation factor. Though it is perfectly understandable that religious art wouldn't depict it visually (especially given that it was done to disgrace the victims), there is no reason to believe Jesus was spared this token of humiliation.
- Some have said that humiliation and shame was the main issue Jesus dealt with, as part of the separation from God.
All that is what happened if you got to the cross- you had to carry it there yourself and you were flogged with a rather nasty whip (with iron balls or sharpened sheep bones in) beforehand. There are cases of the flogging killing people. In fact, the flogging was actually intended as a mercy -- the worse you were beaten before crucifixion, the sooner you would die on the cross.
The centerpiece of the Roman army, the Legion was and is justifiably famous. They were incredibly disciplined, on pain of death. Perhaps what they are most lauded for is not their ability to kill, but for their engineering.
The early imperial army was a two-tier institution, with citizen volunteers making up the legions, which fought as heavy infantry, and non-citizens recruited into the auxilia, which consisted of archers, cavalry, light infantry, and any other type of unit that could help the legions achieve their mission.
As time went on, the legions became smaller and more numerous, so that they could be deployed more easily. The quality of the equipment also deteriorated, but the legions remained a very effective fighting force almost until the very end of the western Empire. Units were classified as limitanei, or border units, and comitatenses, or mobile units.
In the east, the army was reorganized and was focused on heavy cavalry, emulating the Persians. Following the Arab invasions, the military was divided into an elite standing army, the tagmata, and local units raised from military districts, or themata, similar to the limitanei and comitatenses mentioned above. In the high middle ages, some troops were raised in a semi-feudal manner, and the Empire relied a lot more on mercenaries.
Symbols of the Empire
The empire was rife with symbolism and iconography that has truly stood the test of time. Unfortunately, some are virtually never used because, almost without exception, they were co-opted by Hitler's Nazi regime, tainting them perhaps beyond redemption. Roman symbols include:
- The Aquila - An eagle with wings outstretched, a rallying standard for the armies. Also found on a great deal of stonework.
- The double-headed eagle - Dating to the splitting of the empire, though the symbol is much older.
- Eagles in general - As they are associated with Jupiter/Zeus and are a symbol of strength. Their status as "King of the Birds", combined with the special Roman relationship with birds in general (avian activity was the primary form of state omen-reading), gave them particular importance to the Romans.
- The laurels and S.P.Q.R. - As seen at the top of the page, it stands for 'Senatus Populus que Romanus', the Senate and People of Rome.
- The fasces - An axe, handle thrust through a bundle of reeds or sticks, the fasces was a symbol of authority. Originally a republican symbol of strength in unity (one reed or stick breaks, a bundle doesn't). It was resurrected by the fascists, specifically Benito Mussolini. So not everything was ruined by Hitler.
- Not even Mussolini could ruin this one: the French and American republics, which intentionally attempted to recall Rome, used the fasces in their symbolism long before Mussolini. The French Fifth Republic still uses the fasces with an axe in its semi-official emblem, and the fasces are still found in many American symbols: the Seal of the Senate has crossed fasces with axes, while the Mace of the House and the armrests in the Lincoln Memorial are axeless fasces.
- The swastika - The symbol most indelibly associated with the Nazis (in the West), it is very ancient, going back to the neolithic, and global, having been found throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. It is related to the sun, as are most cross symbols.
While the image of The Caligula may linger in the popular imagination, Roman emperors varied from good and competent to ineffectual to monsters. The early emperors, starting with Augustus, largely kept republican institutions in place, cultivating the image of what we would call a constitutional monarchy. However, all real power lay with the emperor, as he had the personal loyalty of the legions. Later on, during the third century, the emperors dropped the pretense of being Just the First Citizen and openly embraced autocratic rule. Their personal force of bodyguards, the Praetorian Guard, had a large role in both selecting and displacing them.
- Julio-Claudian Dynasty
- Augustus (27 BC - AD 14): The first emperor, widely revered for bringing peace to the Empire. Extremely Machiavellian with his political rivals, he was benevolent with the general public.
- Tiberius (14 - 37): The Replacement Scrappy for Augustus, he grew increasingly eccentric and unpopular towards the end of his reign. Some political enemies accused him of being a literal baby rapist.
- Caligula (37 - 41): Insane and tyrannical, but just how much is still debated by historians to this day. He certainly was very unpopular with the Senatorial class. Accused, among other things, of Brother-Sister Incest. Assassinated by his own bodyguards.
- Claudius (41 - 54): Having obtained his position through Obfuscating Stupidity, he was an able administrator, and conquered Britain during his reign. He became increasingly paranoid towards the end, killing off several Senators. Murdered by his last wife, Agrippina, to make way for her son Nero.
- Nero (54 - 68): Widely remembered as another Caligula, Nero was actually fairly popular with the common people, though he was maybe not a pleasant person (reportedly kicking your pregnant wife to death does not help your reputation), and was quite possibly insane. He blamed the Great Fire of AD 64 on the Christians, leading the first Imperially-sanctioned persecution against the new faith. He was a musician, and a victim of a Historical Villain Upgrade a few times after his death. Eventually was displaced by a rebellion and committed suicide.
- "Year of the Four Emperors"
- Galba (68 - 69): Made emperor by the legions of Gaul and Spain, an old man who soon proved to be very unpopular for being a miser and otherwise incompetent.
- Otho (69): A former member of Nero's entourage, finished Nero's "Golden house".
- Vitellius (69): Worst of the four emperors in 69. Was infamous for his gluttony and cruelty.
- According to some historians, at any rate, might have simply been lazy, incompetent, and way out of his depth.
- Vespasian (69 - 79): Built the Colosseum, and was an able administrator and general. Famously frugal.
- Flavian Dynasty (includes Vespasian)
- Titus (79 - 81): Vespasian's first son who waged a successful war against Judea early in his life, which would have long-lasting consequences for Christianity and Judaism. He finished the Colosseum and dealt with several disasters during his short reign (a fire in Rome and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius).
- Domitian (81 - 96): Loathed by the Senators, he ruled tyrannically, establishing a Cult of Personality. He probably wasn't insane, like Caligula and Nero, though he was somewhat eccentric. Also unlike them, he was fairly competent in administration. Murdered in in a palace conspiracy organized by court officials.
- Nerva-Antonine Dynasty or the Adoptive Emperors
- Nerva (96 - 98): Adopted Trajan, and was the first of the "Five Good Emperors."
- Trajan (98 - 117): Widely considered to be the greatest Roman emperor since Augustus, his conquests increased the Roman Empire to its greatest extent. He was extolled for his virtue and ruling ability.
- Hadrian (117 - 138): Pulled back from several territories conquered by Trajan. Traveled the empire, and built the eponymous wall in Britain. Known for vehemently supporting Greek culture, almost to a bizarre degree. For example he flaunted his young male lover wherever he went (and later proclaimed him a god after he died), and banned circumcision in Judea (which helped cause a revolt).
- Antoninus Pius (138 - 161): Famous for doing nothing at all besides ruling competently for 22 years. (About the only memorable thing he ever did was to browbeat the Senate into declaring his adoptive father Hadrian a god, hence his title of "Pius" - piety, to a Roman, meant obedience to ones parents as much as to the gods.)
- Marcus Aurelius (161 - 180): Tried to live to the ideal of the philosopher king. He was a decent man and competent ruler, though his reign was marked by wars and The Plague, which killed him too.
- Commodus (177 - 192): Started the empire's long decline by being a spendthrift and a tactless ruler. Not a nice fellow, though not quite as bad as depicted in Gladiator. Assassinated by a wrestler.
- Year of the Five Emperors
- Pertinax (193): Elected by the senate, proved to be way too nice before he was murdered by the Praetorians.
- Didius Julianus (193): Came to power solely for buying the throne from the Praetorians.
- Pescennius Niger (193): A general whose troops proclaimed him Emperor in Syria in response to the scandalous auction. Defeated by Septimius Severus in the next year.
- Clodius Albinus (193; 196): A second general whose troops rebelled against Didius Julianus, this time in Britain and Gaul. He initially allied himself with Severus, but eventually proclaimed himself Emperor in 196 and was defeated in 197. Coincidentally, the cognomina of these two pretenders mean "Black" and "White."
- Septimius Severus (193 - 211): Able ruler and general, he depended solely on the army for support, and the Senate began its final slide into irrelevance during his reign.
- Severan Dynasty (Includes Severus)
- Caracalla (198 - 217): Expanded Roman citizenship to all free people throughout the empire. Whatever ruling ability he may have had was utterly overwhelmed by his extreme paranoia, which counted among its victims his brother and co-ruler Geta and the citizens of Alexandria. Assasinated by a soldier.
- Macrinus (217 - 218): First non-senator to become emperor, had Caracalla killed before the other way round would've happened.
- Elagabalus (218 - 222): Camp Gay at a time when Invisible to Gaydar or Bi the Way was the norm (some even claim him to be a Transsexualism), he was so flamboyant that it led to his early demise. Of course, he also made no friends by replacing the traditional Roman gods with new gods from the east. Assassinated by the Praetorian Guard.
- Alexander Severus (222 - 235): Elagabalus' cousin. Did his best, but was somewhat dominated by his mother. Also assassinated, which meanwhile had become common in Rome.
- Barracks Emperors
- Maximinus Thrax (235 - 238): The first of the so-called "Barracks Emperors", and also the first one who never set a foot into Rome. Started as a common soldier from Thrace. Was said to be exceptionally tall and strong. Also murdered, by his own soldiers.
- Philippus Arabs (244 - 249): Oversaw the celebration of the millennium since the foundation of Rome. As his cognomen implies, he was an ethnic Arab from Syria--a fact of which modern Syrians are quite proud ,they put him on their 100-pound note.
- Decius (249 - 251): Persecuted the christians and became somewhat infamous for it. Fell in battle against the Goths.
- Valerian (253 - 260): His reign marked the nadir of Roman fortunes in the third century. He was captured by the Sassanid Persians and allegedly flayed alive.
- Gallienus (260 - 268): The former's son who didn't care much that his father became a POW.
- Aurelian (270 - 275): Reconquered the breakaway provinces of the Gallic Empire and the Palmyrene Empire under queen Zenobia. He probably extended Roman rule in the west by 200 years. He obtained the title of Restitutor Orbis, or restorer of the world. Favored the cult of Sol Invictus. Assassinated by the Praetorian Guard.
- Diocletian (284 - 305): A true Magnificent Bastard, he reorganized the empire and appointed three other co-emperors, creating what is called the tetrarchy. Cultivated his status as a God-Emperor, marking the point when the emperor's authority was absolute in theory as well as in fact. Persecuted the Christians, because he considered them a threat to his authority. After he felt he had done all he wanted to do, he retired, and convinced his co-emperor to abdicate with him. (It didn't last though.)
- Constantinian dynasty
- Constantine (306 - 337): Tolerated, then favored Christianity. He was the first Christian emperor, being baptized just before his death. He moved the capital to what would be called Constantinople. Not a pleasant fellow, he killed both his wife and his son.
- Julian the Apostate (360 - 363): Tried to turn back the clock and reinstate the traditional Roman religion, but Christianity had become too established by then. Began a number of large reforms, only for them to be abandoned after his death. Killed in a battle against the Persians.
- Theodosian Dynasty
- Theodosius (379 - 395): Last emperor to rule over east and west. Split the Empire after his death, the west going to Honorius and the east going to Arcadius.
- Honorius (395 - 423): Emperor of the Western empire. Most notable moment of his reign was the Sack of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths, lead by Alaric.
- Valentinian III (423-455): Nephew of emperor Honorius, and ascended to the throne at the age of four. Like his uncle, he was considered an incapable ruler, a puppet for his entire reign. He was subjected to the whims of his mother, Galla Placidia, and his reign saw the collapse of roman dominion in North Africa, Gaul, and most of Iberia. His reign also saw the destruction of most of the west at the hands of the Hunnic Invasions. In a foolish act spurred on by some of his most trusted councilors, he murdered Flavius Aetius, the roman general who defeated Attila, and considered by some historians the 'last true roman'. His actions earned him the ire of Aetius's loyal troops, who proceeded to assassinate the emperor as soon as they had their chance. The palace guard did not help the mortally wounded emperor, leaving him to his fate.
- Majorian (457-461) General who became emperor after the fall of Avitus. Oversaw partially succesful attempts of retaking Gaul and Hispania, yet was thwarted in his attempt on retaking North Africa from the Vandals due to a conspiracy in his army. His attempts to curb some of the practices that were putting a strain on the Empire drew the ire of both the aristocracy, and the current magister militum Ricimer, who hoped to use Majorian as his puppet. Ricimer captured the upstart emperor, and subjected him to torture, before executing him. His death ended any hope for survival that the Western Empire once had, ensuring that its inevitable downfall would only be a matter of when.
- Romulus Augustulus (475 - 476): A kid who was the puppet of his father Flavius Orestes, who himself had violently supplanted the previous emperor Julius Nepos. When Orestes denied the barbarian troops that had helped him to dethrone Nepos the promised rewards -- specifically to grant them a third of Italy for settlement -- he was in turn overthrown by the German(ic) general Odoacer, who deposed the puppet Romulus and assumed the title "commander of Italy". Romulus is usually identified as the last emperor in the west, although some insist that Julius Nepos, who ruled in Dalmatia until 480, was the last one.
- Justinian (527 - 565): Emperor in Constantinople, he reconquered much of what had been the western Empire. Also known for compiling Roman law in the Corpus Juris Civilis, which became the basis for law in civil law jurisdictions.
- Maurice (582 - 602): Spent virtually his whole reign at war holding the empire together. He supported Khosrau II's claim to the Persian throne, leading to peace between the two empires upon Khosrau's accession. He wrote the Big Book of War of his era, the Strategikon. All hell broke loose when he died.
- Phocas (602 - 610): Arguably the worst emperor in the 1,480-year-long history of the Roman Empire. Assassinated Emperor Maurice and his whole family, leading to Khosrau II declaring war in revenge. The Avars and Slavs also invaded the Balkans. He started a reign of terror in Constantinople, and was responsible for the rise of mutilation as a political tactic. When he died, the Empire was on the brink of collapse.
- Heraclius (610 - 641): Changed the official language of the Empire to Greek. Much of the empire being overrun by Persian, forces, he led a heroic campaign to reconquer all of it. He succeeded, only to see those same territories lost to the Muslim Arabs.
- Leo III the Isaurian (717 - 741): He stopped the Arabs at the walls of Constantinople in 717. An interesting fellow, who had lived at the eastern edge of the Empire and spoke Arabic, he became convinced that the reason for the Empire's recent defeats was divine punishment--specifically, the consistent disregard for the Second Commandment ("Thou shalt not make any graven image") in the form of icons (the Muslims hewed to this particular commandment very closely). Thus began the campaign of iconoclasm, or image-breaking, by forbidding the veneration of images. This led to instability throughout the Empire, and more significantly, induced the Pope in Rome to act more independently, eventually resulting in the Great Schism some 300 years later.
- Irene (797 - 802): Reigned 780-90 as a regent for her son, then on her own (styled "emperor") after she had him blinded. This caused The Pope to crown Charlemagne emperor.
- Nikephoros I (802-811): An all-around disaster as emperor. Fought a war with Charlemagne, the new Augustus in the West, over Venice, which only ended in a stalemate after his death. Also lost a war with the Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad, the low point of which was a humiliating battle in which the Byzantine army was routed by a Muslim force barely more than a tenth of its size. Once peace was finally made with the Muslims, Nikephoros turned his eye on the Bulgars to the north, and brutally sacked the Bulgar capital of Pliska. When he and his troops finally left the city, they were ambushed and almost annihilated by a Bulgar army. He was so hated by now that both sides claim to have killed him. Whatever the truth, most sources agree that the Bulgar Khan Krum came into possession of Nikephoros' skull, which he coated in silver and used as a drinking cup.
- Basil II the Bulgar-slayer (976 - 1025): Expanded the Empire to its greatest extent since the Arab invasions. He gained his fearsome moniker by ruthlessly subduing Bulgaria, and allegedly blinding 99 out of every 100 Bulgar captives after a major battle, which led the Bulgar king to die of shock. A hyper-competent general and administrator, the Empire was the most powerful country in Europe and the Mediterranean during his reign.
- Alexios I Komnenos (1081 - 1118): Appealed to the Pope and the western European kingdoms for assistance against the Turks, leading to The Crusades. Halted the Empire's sharp decline after the disastrous Battle of Manzikert, at least for a while.
- Manuel I Komnenos (1143 - 1180): Pursued an aggressive foreign policy and expanded the Empire, but his conquests didn't last long.
- Constantine XI Palaiologos (1449 - 1453): The last emperor in the east, he led Constantinople in a heroic Last Stand against the Turks. His body was never found, elevating him to legendary status.
- The Emperor (from imperator, a military title literally meaning "commander" and usually bestowed upon victorious generals)
- The Empire (and in the western tradition at least, also the Trope Codifier)
- The Republic (from res publica, "[government is a] public affair")
Anime and Manga
- Thermae Romae, set in the reign of the emperor Hadrian (and in 21st century Japan).
- Nero Fox (the "Jive-Jumping Emperor of Ancient Rome"), a Golden Age DC Comics Funny Animal character who was emperor of ancient Rome.
- Ridley Scott's Gladiator
- Monty Python's Life of Brian
- The second segment of History of the World, Part I, the Mel Brooks movie.
- Ben-Hur (based on a novel by Lew Wallace)
- The Robe (based on a novel by Lloyd C. Douglas)
- Demetrius and the Gladiators, sequel to The Robe
- The Sign of the Cross, based on a play by Wilson Barrett
- Fellini's Satyricon, loosely based on a work by the Ancient Roman author Petronius.
- Quo Vadis? (See Literature, below.)
- Centurion, set among the Ninth Legion in Scotland, right when Hadrian pulled back.
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1789) by Edward Gibbon's is considered the definitive, most exhaustively researched book ever written on the topic of history.
- The Last Days of Pompeii (1834) by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Adapted to film many times.
- Quo Vadis? (1896) by Henryk Sienkiewicz.
- The Silver Chalice (1952) by Thomas B. Costain. Made into an infamously bad movie in 1954.
- Detectives in Togas (1953) by Henry Winterfeld, set in the reign of Emperor Tiberius.
- The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) by Rosemary Sutcliff. Set in the Empire times in Britain.
- Ecce Romani, the Latin textbook. First published in 1971.
- Cambridge Latin Course, the UK's counterpart to Ecce Romani.
- The Marcus Didius Falco series of detective novels. Started in 1989.
- The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence. Started in 2001.
- I, Claudius, based on the novel by Robert Graves.
- The Roman Mysteries: The TV adaptation of the book series.
- The Doctor Who episodes "The Romans", "The Fires of Pompeii" and "The Pandorica Opens".
- A few plays by William Shakespeare:
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
- the Empire called itself Roman until its fall, despite being quite Hellenic--and so, for that matter, did almost everybody else
- If he didn't, he wasn't going to remain emperor for long
- Romulus' prominency in the history books is somewhat boosted by his name, which ironically recalls Romulus the mythic founder of Rome.