History of the Roman Empire


According to legends ancient Rome was founded on 7 hills in the 8th century before Christ by Remus and his brother Romulus, who became the first king of Rome. Its early inhabitants were called the Latins, who lived on the fertile plains of Latium. During its early history ancient Rome was controlled by the Etruscans, people who lived in northern Italy. At that time they were the most modern civilization in Italy. Rome grew steadily under Etruscan influence. At about 500 the Etruscan occupation ended and Rome became a republic.


The Roman Republic

The republic was governed by two consuls.  They were chosen by an assembly of men. The Senate was an institution that advised the consuls. Although it was weak at first, its power grew gradually. By this time Rome was the largest city in Latium. In the following centuries it conquered many smaller towns around it. By the third century BC Rome ruled over most of the Italian peninsula.

At about 400 Rome was under attack by Gauls, who occupied northern Italy. Although they invaded Rome and burned down the city in 390 BC, the Romans fought back and defeated the Gauls.
Between 264 and 146 BC Rome fought three wars against Carthage, a sea power located in today’s Tunisia.

The Punic Wars brought most of Northern Africa and Spain under Roman control. A famous Carthagian general, Hannibal, wanted to attack Rome from the north. He led his soldiers over the Alps and invaded Italy from the north, but in the end he was defeated. In 146 Carthage was destroyed.

Expansion of the roman empire

Expansion of the Roman Empire


By 150 BC Rome had expanded its influence eastward and took control of Greece, which became one of Rome’s richest provinces. Because faraway territories could not be directly ruled, governors, called proconsuls, were put in charge of the conquered territories. Many people were taken as slaves and brought back to Rome to work as servants or on farms.

In the first century BC ancient Rome suffered from power struggles and civil wars. Senators, generals and tribunes fought for power. When an important Roman general Julius Caesar came back to Italy after defeating Gaul another civil war began. Caesar’s supporters helped him win over his rivals and Julius Caesar became the sole ruler of Rome. However, many Romans didn’t trust him and in 44 BC he was assassinated.


The Roman Empire

The assassination of Julius Caesar led to the downfall of the Roman republic. Augustus became the first Roman emperor in 27 BC.  After the government of the people had been destroyed, the Romans wanted a strong ruler who would give them peace and prosperity. For the next 200 years Roman emperors were very strong.

Although the emperors had ultimate power, Senators and other representatives elected by the people still existed. Augustus controlled the army and appointed new Senators and consuls. He also created strong fortifications along the borders of the Roman Empire, which extended to Britain and the Danube River.

Economically Rome was now at its height. There were large farms in rural areas that produced food for an ever growing population. Throughout the empire the Romans built roads that made it possible to bring troops and supplies to other parts of the empire.

Hadrian's Wall - built across Britain to defend Roman territories from attackers

Hadrian's Wall - built across Britain to defend Roman territories from attackers - Copyright Paul Allison and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence


Decline of the Roman Empire

One of the reasons for the Roman Empire’s decline is that it became too much too big. A single ruler could not efficiently rule such a large territory. During the second century AD Germanic tribes from the north started attacking Rome. The empire was defended by Marc Aurelius one of the great emperors of the period.

When Diocletian became emperor in 284 AD he tried to reorganize the empire and divide it into smaller areas. One of his successors, Constantine the Great, permanently divided the empire into two parts: an east Roman Empire with its capital Constantinople and a west Roman Empire with Rome as its capital city. Constantine granted freedom to the Christians and promised not to persecute them any longer. He also became the first ruler to convert to Christianity.

In the 5th century Germanic tribes kept moving to the south and invaded the Roman Empire. Vandals invaded Rome and plundered the city. In 476 Odoacer, a German tribal leader forced the Roman emperor to give up power. The east Roman Empire survived for almost another thousand years. In 1453 the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and made it centre of the Ottoman Empire.



The Roman Empire - Table of Contents


The Roman Empire - Exercises





  • according to = as told by
  • advise =give an opinion, inform
  • although = while
  • ancient = old
  • appoint = to choose someone for an official position
  • assassinate = to murder an important person
  • assassination = a political killing
  • assembly = meeting
  • capital = largest and most important city in an area
  • century = a period of a hundred years
  • choose = elect
  • civil war = when two groups of people who live in the same area or country fight against each other
  • conquer = to get control of a country by fighting
  • convert = change
  • decline = downfall
  • defeat = win against
  • defend = guard, protect
  • destroy = wipe out, ruin completely
  • downfall = decline , collapse
  • eastward = to the east
  • economically = in a way that is related to business and trading
  • efficient = here: well-organized
  • elect = to vote for someone in an official position
  • ever-growing = to constantly become bigger
  • expand = grow, become bigger
  • extend = reach as far as
  • faraway = distant, very far from the center of something
  • fertile = rich
  • force = to make someone do something
  • fortification =  towers and walls built around the border of a palace in order to protect and defend it
  • found-founded = to start something new
  • freedom = liberty; being free
  • Germanic = people who have their origins in northern and central Europe
  • govern = rule
  • gradually = slowly
  • grant = give
  • height = highest point
  • however = but
  • influence = power
  • inhabitant = person who lives in an area
  • invade = to march into an area with an army in order to take control of it
  • located = found, situated
  • occupation = control by a large group of soldiers from a foreign country
  • occupy = to take control of a place with an army
  • peninsula = land with water on three sides
  • permanently = if something lasts for a longer time
  • persecute = hunt, discriminate against; to treat badly
  • plains = large area of flat, mostly dry, land
  • plunder = to steal things after you have attacked a place
  • prosperity = wealth, richness, high living standard
  • put in charge = control, govern
  • reorganize =  reorder, change the structure
  • rival = enemy
  • rule = govern
  • rural = countryside
  • single = only one
  • slave = someone who is owned by another person and works for them for little or no money
  • sole = single, only
  • struggle = fight
  • successor = person who became emperor after him
  • supplies= here: necessary things, like food and weapons; you need them to carry out a war
  • supporter = helper
  • survive = last
  • territory = land
  • throughout = in all of
  • tribe = group of people who have the same language and belong to the same race
  • tribune = an official in ancient Rome , elected by ordinary people to defend their rights
  • troops = soldiers
  • trust = to believe someone
  • ultimate power = here: the person who makes the final decisions
  • under attack = attacked by