An Age of Empires: Rome and Han China, 753 B .C.E.–330 C.E.
I0. Rome’s Creation of a Mediterranean Empire, 753 B.C.E.–330 C.E.
A0. Geography and Resources
10. Italy and Sicily are at a crossroads of the Mediterranean and serve as a link
between Africa and Europe. Rome is at a crossroads of the Italian peninsula.
20. Italy’s natural resources included navigable rivers, forests, iron, a mild climate,
and enough arable land to support a large population of farmers whose surplus
product and labor could be exploited by the Roman state.
B0. A Republic of Farmers, 753–31 BC E.
10. Rome was inhabited at least as early as 1000 B.C.E. According to legend it was
ruled by seven kings between 753 B.C.E. and 507 B.CE . Kingship was eliminated
in 507 B.C.E. when representatives of the senatorial class of large landholders
overthrew the last king and established a republic.
20. The centers of political power were the two consuls and the Senate. In practice,
the Senate made laws and governed.
30. The Roman family consisted of several generations living under the absolute
authority of the oldest living male, the paterfamilias.
40. Society was hierarchical. Families and individuals were tied together by
patron/client relationships that institutionalized inequality and gave both sides of
the relationship reason to cooperate and to support the status quo.
50. Roman women had relatively more freedom than Greek women, but their legal
status was still that of a child, subordinate to the paterfamilias of her own or her
husband’s family. Eventually procedures evolved which made it possible for
some women to become independent after the death of their fathers.
60. Romans worshiped a large number of supernatural spirits as well as major gods
such as Jupiter and Mars. Proper performance of ritual ensured that the gods
continued to favor the Roman state.
C0. Expansion in Italy and the Mediterranean
10. Rome began to expand, at first slowly and then very rapidly in the third and
second centuries B.C.E. until it became a huge Mediterranean empire. Possible
explanations for this expansion include greed, aggressiveness, the need for
consuls to prove themselves as military commanders during their single year in
office, and a constant fear of being attacked.
20. During the first stage of expansion, Rome conquered the rest of Italy (by 290
B.C.E.). Rome won the support of the people of Italy by granting them Roman
citizenship. As citizens, these people then had to provide soldiers for the
30. In the next stages of expansion, Rome first defeated Carthage to gain control
over the western Mediterranean and Sicily, Sardinia, and Spain (264–202 B.C.E.).
Next, between 200 and 30 BC E., Rome defeated the Hellenistic kingdoms to take
over the lands of the Eastern Mediterranean. Between 59 and 51 B.C.E., Gaius
Julius Caesar conquered the Celts of Gaul.
40. The Romans used local elite groups to administer and tax the various provinces
of their rapidly expanding and far-flung empire. A Roman governor, who served
a single one-year term in office, supervised the local administrators. This system
was inadequate and prone to corruption. D0. The Failure of the Republic
10. As Rome expanded, the social and economic bases of the Roman republic in
Italy were undermined. While men from independent farming families were
forced to devote their time to military service, large landowners bought up their
land to create great estates called latifundia. This meant both a decline in Rome’s
source of soldiers and a decline in food production, as latifundia owners
preferred to grow cash crops like grapes rather than staple crops such as wheat.
20. Since slave labor was cheap in an expanding empire, Italian peasants, driven off
the land and not employed by the latifundia, drifted into the cities where they
formed a fractious unemployed underclass.
30. As the independent farming family that had been the traditional source of
soldiers disappeared, Roman commanders built their armies from men from the
underclass who tended to give their loyalty, not to the Roman state, but to their
commander. This led to generals taking control of politics, to civil wars, and
finally to the end of the republican system of government.
40. Julius Caesar’s grandnephew Octavian (also known as Augustus) took power in
31 B.CE., reorganized the Roman government, and ruled as a military dictator.
After Augustus died, several members of his family succeeded him. However,
the position of emperor was not necessarily hereditary; in the end, armies chose
E0. An Urban Empire
10. About 80 percent of the 50 to 60 million people of the Roman Empire were rural
farmers, but the empire was administered through and for a network of cities and
towns. In this sense, it was an urban empire. Rome had about a million residents,
other large cities (Alexandria, Antioch, and Carthage) had several hundred
thousand each, while many Roman towns had populations of several thousand.
20. In Rome, the upper classes lived in elegant, well-built, well-appointed houses;
many aristocrats also owned country villas. The poor lived in dark, dank, fire-
prone wooden tenements in squalid slums built in the low-lying parts of the city.
30. Provincial towns imitated Rome both in urban planning and in urban
administration. The local elite, who served the interests of Rome, dominated
town councils. The local elite also served their communities by using their
wealth to construct amenities such as aqueducts, baths, theatres, gardens,
temples, and other public works and entertainment projects.
40. Rural life in the Roman Empire involved lots of hard work and very little
entertainment. Rural people had little contact with representatives of the
government. By the early centuries C E., absentee landlords who lived in the
cities owned most rural land, while the land was worked by tenant farmers
supervised by hired foremen.
50. Manufacture and trade flourished under the “pax romana.” Grain had to be
imported to feed the huge city of Rome. Rome and the Italian towns (and later,
provincial centers) exported glass, metalwork, pottery, and other manufactures to
the provinces. Romans also imported Chinese silk and Indian and Arabian
60. One of the effects of the Roman Empire was Romanization. In the western part
of the Empire, the Latin language, Roman clothing, and the Roman lifestyle were
adopted by local people. As time passed, Roman emperors gradually extended
Roman citizenship to all free male adult inhabitants of the empire.
F0. The Rise of Christianity
10. Jesus lived in a society marked by resentment against Roman rule, which had
inspired the belief that a Messiah would arise to liberate the Jews. When Jesus sought to reform Jewish religious practices, the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem
turned him over to the Roman governor for execution.
20. After the execution, Jesus’ disciples continued to spread his teachings; they also
spread their belief that Jesus had been resurrected. At this point, the target of
their proselytizing was their fellow Jews.
30. The target of proselytizing changed from Jews to non-Jews in the 40s–70s C E.
First, Paul of Tarsus, an Anatolian Jew, discovered that non-Jews (gentiles) were
much more receptive to the teachings of Jesus than Jews were. Second, a Jewish
revolt in Judaea (66 C E.) and the subsequent Roman reconquest destroyed the
original Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem.
40. Christianity grew slowly for two centuries, developing a hierarchy of priests and
bishops, hammering out a commonly accepted theological doctrine, and resisting
the persecution of Roman officials. By the late third century, Christians were a
sizeable minority in the Roman Empire.
50. The expansion of Christianity in the Roman Empire came at a time when
Romans were increasingly dissatisfied with their traditional religion. This
dissatisfaction inspired Romans to become interested in a variety of “mystery
cults” and universal creeds that had their origins in the eastern Mediterranean.
G0. Technology and Transformation
10. The Romans were expert military and civil engineers. Among their
accomplishments were: bridge-building, ballistic weapons, elevated and
underground aqueducts, the use of arches and domes, and the invention of
20. Following Augustus’ death, the army was organized primarily for defense. The
Rhine-Danube frontier was protected by a string of forts; long walls protected
the frontiers of North Africa and Britain. On the eastern frontier, the Romans
fought for centuries against the Parthians. Neither side made any significant
30. The state system constructed by Augustus worked well until what historians call
Rome’s “third-century crisis.” The symptoms of this crisis were frequent change
of rulers, raids by German tribesmen from across the Rhine-Danube frontier, and
the rise of regional power when Rome seemed unable to guarantee security.
40. Rome’s economy was undermined by the high cost of defense, debasement of
the currency and consequent inflation, a disruption of trade, reversion to a barter
economy, disappearance of the municipal aristocracy of the provincial cities, and
a movement of population out of the cities and back into the rural areas.
50. The empero