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From the Founding of Rome to the Downfall of the Empire

This map is part of a series of 6 animated maps showing the history of Rome and its Empire


Rome was a small Italian city that rose in importance until it dominated the entire Mediterranean area. The city was first ruled as a monarchy, then as a republic, and finally converted into an empire.

Until 509 BC, Rome was governed by kings. After the legendary founder, Romulus, its rulers were from the tribe of Sabines, followed by Etruscans. The last king of Rome was Tarquinius Superbus.

Under the Republic, the city was governed by a senate, controlled by the patricians and two consuls, who were elected for one year.

Rome gradually extended its territory by conquering its neighbours, the Etruscans, the Latins and the Samnites.  It then occupied the southern regions of the peninsula where the Greeks had founded a large number of colonies.

During the Punic Wars, Rome fought against Carthage and gradually gained control over its territories in the western Mediterranean. The city of Carthage was captured and totally destroyed in 146 BC.

In the west, Rome invaded Southern Gaul and took over a large area of today’s Spain.

To the east, it invaded Macedonia and Greece and occupied the Kingdom of Pergamum.

As a result, Rome controlled most of the Mediterranean’s northern coast.

During the first century BC, there were major uprisings in Italy, while campaigns for conquest positioned Roman generals to accumulate military and political power.

The most famous of these generals was Julius Caesar. Following his victory over the Gauls, he was designated “dictator for life,” before being assassinated in 44 BC. His adopted son, Octavian, founded the Roman Empire and took the name of Augustus. His long reign brought a prolonged peace within Rome’s frontiers. In terms of foreign policy, Augustus maintained Rome’s plans for military conquest but, after a series of defeats in Germany, he decided to establish the Empire’s frontiers along the rivers Rhine, Danube, and Euphrates.

The empire continued to extend its boundaries during the first century AD by conquering Britain, Thrace, Cappadocia and Mauretania.

The last major wars of conquest were undertaken by the Emperor Trajan in the early 2nd century, against the Dacians north of the Danube, then against the Parthians in Armenia and in Mesopotamia. However, the Roman army’s control of these remote regions was difficult to sustain, and the time had come to consolidate the Empire’s frontiers.In the middle of the 3rd century, the Empire was once again threatened by internal political crises, while its frontiers were being attacked by barbarian tribes. On several occasions, the Franks, Goths and Alamanni penetrated deep inside the Empire’s territory.

From the end of this 3rd century, the Emperors Diocletian and Constantine I managed to re-establish the borders and introduced profound reforms for the Roman state. Constantine founded a new capital, which he called Constantinople.

During the reign of Theodosius I, there was greater pressure on the Empire’s external borders, and the Emperor authorized the Visigoths to settle in Roman territories south of the Danube.

Following the death of Theodosius, in 395, the empire was divided between his two sons, confirming the division between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Western Roman Empire.

Early in the 5th century, the military situation in the Western Roman Empire was worsening.

- In 406, several Germanic tribes, the Vandals, Suebi and Alans, crossed the Rhine, ravaged Gaul and then invaded Spain.

- In 410, the Visigoths invaded Italy and sacked Rome. Two years later, they settled in Aquitaine and Spain.

- In 429, the Vandals travelled to North Africa and then, ten years later, took Carthage.

The last emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed by Odoacer, a German chief, in 476. The event marked the end of the Western Roman Empire.

The Eastern Roman Empire remained in place until 1453.  It was known as the Byzantine Empire, after the original name of its capital Byzantium.