The history of Rome begins with the founding of the city allegedly in 753 BCE. The legends tell of twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, who founded their own city. Eventually, Romulus would kill his brother and become the King of Rome (named after him).
It’s tough to think that Romulus could have imagined just how long the future Roman Empire would last.
This monarchy ended in 509 BCE, when the last king was overthrown. In its stead, the Roman Republic emerged. Historians generally consider the Roman Republic to be one of the earliest examples of representative democracy.
Two consuls were the ultimate authority over social, military, executive and legislative matters, though the Senate and legislative assemblies also held significant powers.
How Long did the Roman Republic Last?
Throughout its existence the Roman Republic was nearly in a constant state of war. After the city was sacked in 387 BCE, the Republic was able to rebound quickly and began its expansion.
First was consolidating its power within the Italian peninsula. Next the republic fought a series of wars fought against its greatest adversary: Carthage.
The victories in these wars resulted in a huge number of additional provinces in Spain, Sicily and North Africa. At the same time the Romans expanded east by conquering Greece and Macedonia.
The massive and rapid expansion of territory led to much internal strife in the Republic. The riches gained through the spoils of war primarily benefited the wealthy aristocracy and the poor suffered.
Civil wars and slave rebellions followed, most famously the one by former slave and Gladiator, Spartacus. After Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River another civil war erupted for control between him and consul Pompey.1
Caesar prevailed and was named dictator for life, though was betrayed and killed a few years later on the Ides of March. His great nephew, Octavian later fought a second civil war, against Mark Antony.
After winning, the Senate granted Octavian (now named Augustus) extraordinary powers effectively making him the first Roman Emperor in 27 BCE. The Roman Republic went on to last for a total of 482 years before transforming into the empire.
How Long did the Roman Empire Last?
The Empire had a remarkable run of peace for two centuries during the Pax Romana and the Five Good Emperors of Rome. During this period the empire reached its territorial extent under Emperor Trajan (98-117 CE).
During the reign of Commodus at the end of the 2nd century, the empire began its long, slow decline. Beginning in 395 CE, the empire was administratively divided into two halves, Western and Eastern, for administrative purposes.2
The Western empire officially collapsed in 476 CE, though it’s power had long been eclipsed and for the prior 81 years had largely been supported militarily by the Eastern empire. The Western Roman Empire lasted from 27 BCE to 476 CE; a total of 503 years.
However, as it turned out, the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire) was just getting started.
The Byzantine Empire would go on to have its own illustrious history centered around its capital city, Constantinople. At its height during the reign of Justinian, the empire reclaimed many lands from the former Western Empire, including as far west as the Iberian peninsula.
The Byzantine Empire would last for another 977 years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, finally falling to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 CE. However, by this time the Byzantine’s were a shell of their former selves.3
They never really recovered after the Crusades that sacked their city. Thus, the Byzantine Empire lasted for a total of 1,058 years (395 – 1453 CE); a remarkable feat of longevity.
1) Stevenson, Tom. “The Decline of the Roman Republic.” The Classical Review, vol. 57, no. 1, 2007, pp. 170–72. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4497472.
2) Drijvers, Jan Willem. “The Divisio Regni of 364: The End of Unity?” East and West in the Roman Empire of the Fourth Century: An End to Unity?, edited by Roald Dijkstra et al., Brill, 2015, pp. 82–96. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1163/j.ctt1w8h14q.10.
3) Treadgold, Warren. “The Persistence of Byzantium.” The Wilson Quarterly (1976-), vol. 22, no. 4, 1998, pp. 66–91. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40260386.