The history of Rome is a fascinating story. Over the millennia, it has changed government format multiple times; despite these changes, it has been a dominant force in history. The area began as a republic. In the latter part of the 1st Century BCE, Rome became an empire under Caesar Augustus. As the Roman Empire, Rome ruled the entire world essentially. However, Rome would struggle with a number of internal issues, including multiple wars on various fronts, depravity in some of its rulers and unsupportable taxation. The Roman Empire would eventually crumble.
At first, Rome operated as a republic, a form of government in which people elect representatives who vote for them. Obviously, at this particular time in history, it was startling to consider that a government and civilization was so advanced with regards to the rights of individuals. The Roman Senate allowed the senators to debate the issues of the day and decide upon a course of action. The government structure also ensured that there was separation of powers and a series of checks and balances in the system. It was and still is, highly regarded in it method of government. The United States functions on this form of government; at the time of her beginning, this was the only one in the world. However, Rome had accomplished this millennia before the United States.
This is not to indicate that the ancient Roman culture was ideal. Rome still struggled with obvious human rights violations; for instance, slavery was acceptable in the ancient Roman culture. Roman citizens had rights and the ability to have their voices heard in the government. However, not all individuals within Rome were considered to be Roman citizens. Slavery existed in ancient Rome; slaves could buy their freedom or their masters could free them if they desired. In addition, slaves could not be murdered or mutilated by their masters. While the slaves did receive some of these protections under law, it is important to note that these were few protections, particularly when compared to the rights of a Roman citizen.
In the First Century BCE, a power struggle ensued in Rome government. Caesar had become the most powerful man alive; as a military general, he greatly expanded the areas under Roman control. He was also widely respected as a political leader. To this day, he is still considered one of the most powerful men who ever lived. However, many in the Roman republic began to fear his growing power. He was assassinated, which led to the power struggle between Marc Antony and Caesar’s heir, Octavius, later Caesar Augustus. Octavius eventually took power from Antony and began the Roman Empire.
This was obviously a much different political culture for the ancient city. The government was now under the control of an emperor who wielded absolute power. Obviously, in the forms of government, Rome had rescinded from its advances. However, despite this, the Roman Empire continued to operate as the most powerful political and cultural force in the world. Furthermore, the first 200 years or so of the Empire resulted in an era of peace and stability. This peace determined the cultural climate of the Roman world at this time. During this period, little expansion occurred throughout the Empire. Furthermore, it was certainly a cultural change for the Empire to live in a long period of peace. Rome had been known for its continual warfare and expansion for several centuries before this.
Civilization did continue to advance under the Roman Empire. Neighborhoods were formed, life still revolved around the family, and government services did expand. In this way, for citizens, the life and society offered by the Roman Empire was admirable. Urban planning and an appreciation for family life was important to the culture.
However, this would not last. Eventually, the great Roman Empire would show signs of cracking. During the 4th Century, the Roman Empire fell. This led to the creation of the Eastern Roman Empire, or the Byzantine Empire. The culture changed significantly at this point. Rome was no longer the center of the world. This government was run as an absolute autocracy. It began under Constantine I. As with the Roman Empire, paganism had been the predominant form of religion. At this point, paganism gave way to Roman Catholicism. However, for the Byzantine Empire, Greek Orthodoxy began in the 11th Century CE.
The culture was significantly different. This can be seen in the artwork and relics of the periods. Since this empire grew in the Eastern region, it was predominantly influenced by Greek language, arts and culture. In the first few centuries of the empire, Latin remained the dominant language. Latin had been a tremendous linguistic force for hundreds of years. However, the culture now shifted to Greek as the dominant language. This clearly indicated that the main influence on the culture would be Greek in nature, not Roman. Furthermore, the Christianity faith offered tremendous influence to the peoples of the Empire. Ancient Roman gods quickly gave way to Christian images in art and sculpture.
For a significant portion of history, Rome was the center of the world. First, it existed as a republic where individuals were given rights in the government. Shortly before the turn of the 1st Millennia, the republic became an empire under Caesar Augustus. This created a new level of peace and prosperity for the peoples. However, eventually the empire collapsed. Byzantine civilization then emerged as the dominant force in history.