The Roman Empire
Historical scholars and pundits have always been fascinated by the Roman Empire. As the 28th largest realm ever recorded in the annals of history, its enduring legacy and influence are still felt in contemporary society. From its humble beginnings as a mere village during the 8th century BC, the Roman Empire grew to an estimated 1.94 million square miles with 22 percent of the world’s population under its rule (Beard 67). Its relative success was a source of inspiration for many imperialistic European states centuries later that sought to replicate legendary Roman conquests, periods of prosperity and glory. At its height, the Roman Empire ruled over vast territorial holdings that covered much of Mediterranean Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia. Governed by shrewd emperors, the principate was initially administered by heads in Rome.
Read also The Decline of the Roman Republic
Nevertheless, its rules soon came to grips with its sheer size and agreed to divide it. Thus, the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire were born, marking a new epoch for the Dominion’s influence across the globe. A stable political structure, aggressive territorial expansion and the presence of a tolerant, multicultural society are some unique factors that ultimately fueled the empire’s success in the ancient world.
Stable Political Structure
From its inception, the Roman Empire was centered on a stable political structure that aimed to cement this nascent conglomerate of regions. By creating a central government, the emperor consolidated powers that made it possible to govern vast territories. Although emperors reigned supreme, they also acknowledged the need to incorporate other influential figures to lessen the burden of administration. To this end, several Republican offices were established across its areas of jurisdiction, headed by select figurehead. In essence, this central government created a unique hierarchical system of administration that placed authority solely in the hands of the emperor. Emperor Pontifex Maximus went a step further and declared himself a religious body in an attempt to bolster his grip on power. The making of policy and critical decisions were all left to the emperor, who was accessible to all those with suggestions that would benefit the empire in the long run (Beard). It was common for rulers to interact with their subjects and take a keen interest in petitions that were brought before them. Later on, this centralized structure gave rise to bureaucracy whose primary objective was to aid the emperor in making sound decisions. In particular, Julio-Claudian emperors were renowned for implementing this technique of governance that often incorporated submissions made by an informal body of advisors. Additionally, the emperor often strived to remain accessible to his subjects as a way of creating a level of trust in the prevailing political structure. During this period, it was common to come across daily receptions at the emperor’s court where individuals could pay homage to their ruler and empire. The emperor’s rule was also bolstered by the Senate responsible for legitimating their authority. They did this by playing a key role in making sure that legionaries and the Pretorian Guard swore an obligatory oath of loyalty (sacramentum) to stabilize the political landscape.
Aggressive Territorial Expansion
Rome began as part of the Latin League that amalgamated some city-states sharing common borders. The Etruscans controlled these regions that primarily functioned as loose federations subservient to their overlords. Rome’s thirst for war, independence, and aggressive expansion became apparent between 340-338 BC when it waged war on the Etruscans during the legendary Latin War (Bunson 40). Its success during this first clash inspired the rulers to expand Rome’s territory, leading to a swift defeat of their contenders in the Italian peninsula. The Punic Wars also had a profound effect on the Roman way of life. A professional military was created and could now be used by the emperor at any given moment to wage war on their neighbors and expand the existing territory. The Praetorians, Roman legions and navy were all part of an organized reservoir of human resources that was responsible for the territorial expansion witnessed during this age. Military units that conquered specific regions immediately embarked on a campaign, popularly referred to as “Romanization”, where inhabitants would be assimilated into the empire. They would now have an equal opportunity concerning participating in politics, joining the military and in economic activities. Furthermore, superior military authority guaranteed the Roman Empire political power, especially since rebellions could be crushed at a moment’s notice before spreading. As an Iron Age civilization, the Roman Empire was quick to recognize the importance of new technology which fit right into its expansionist agenda. Vast numbers of infantry were, therefore, appropriately armed and conquered many of their neighbors without any difficulty. North Africa was a highly coveted territory that the Roman Empire had eyed from 146 BC (Bunson). It was only through a powerful military and navy that this empire succeeded in acquiring, defeating their archenemies. Julian Caesar is still remembered for the campaigns he waged in northern Europe with his legions, conquering modern day Britain, Belgium, Germany, France, and Belgium.
A Tolerant Multicultural Society
The Roman Empire was a multicultural society that was a hodgepodge of cohesive harmony. Although racially and culturally diverse, all members had a shared identity. All conquered peoples were promptly assimilated, which made it easier for them to adopt a Roman identity. The ruling class was also aware of this urgent need to promote a multicultural society and implemented policies that were in line with this societal. Senators actively campaigned for the establishment of public facilities such as amphitheaters and baths that aimed to unite the populace (Potter 45). Social mobility was also a possibility for all Roman citizens. A loose system of class and hierarchy enabled citizens to achieve social power regardless of their origins. As long as an individual was free, they enjoyed the legal status that made them citizens of the Roman Empire. Furthermore, all freeborn women automatically became citizens even though they were excluded from participating in politics or joining the military. All in all, it was common for individuals from different nationalities to co-exist harmoniously side by side. The empire accommodated various religious cults and faiths that were present in different regions across the swathe. In addition to this, the state was ensured that no religion claimed to be the elite vanguard of a particular truth. Tolerance, thus, became a common feature of most cultural groups. Christianity, Judaism, paganism and the cult of Isis and Mithras were all accepted in this seemingly liberal society that made the Roman Empire a multicultural success story.
In summary, the Roman Empire remains one of the most successful empires in history. The presence of a stable political structure, aggressive territorial expansion, and tolerant, multicultural society are some of the key reason why the empire flourished during its time. Even though it eventually fell, the Roman Empire left an indelible mark in language, art, societal relations and legal systems that are currently in use in the modern world.
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