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An Overview of Ancient Rome

Conquering armies, monumental architecture, and beautiful art: how did Rome achieve all of this? Sal provides an overview of the origins of the Roman Empire.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] When you hear of ancient Rome, or the Roman Empire, or the Roman republic, immediately images of the Roman legions come to mind. To the conquering armies conquering much of the Mediterranean. You might have images of the Roman Senate. Names like Julius Caesar and Augustus might come to mind. You might think of some of the famous architectures. Some of which you can still see if you were to visit Rome, and these are all real images of Rome, or they're appropriately associated with it, and we'll talk about most of these things in some depth, but Rome did not start out that way, and the purpose of this video is to give us a over arching arc of the history of Rome to be able to place it within history. Both in terms of time and geography. So just to make sure we can read what I did here ahead of time, up here is I have a high level timeline and then down here I have a timeline that zooms in a little bit, goes into a few more details, and you can see this timeline on top, it's going from the eighth century BCE all the way to the fifth century CE, so it's covering over 1,000 years of history, and I need it to cover over 1,000 years of history because the Roman Empire, we can even say just the western Roman Empire covers that much, and that doesn't even cover the entire legacy of the Roman Empire because when we get into the fourth century CE, you have a split where you have the eastern and the western Roman Empire and the eastern, often known as the Byzantine Empire, that goes on until 1453 CE. So another 1,000 years until they are conquered by the Ottomans. So the legacy of the Roman Empire, even formally as an empire, is significant, and then it continues on. Much of western civilization, especially Europe and the Mediterranean has its foundations in the Roman Empire and then before that, Greek civilization, and the Roman Empire is really up there alongside the Persian Empire as one of the really great civilizations or empires, and when I say great, you should take that with a grain of salt. Great I'm saying it was big, it was powerful, but not everything they did was great. They had a lot of slavery, they were very cruel, they were sometimes very violent. So take these terms great with a grain of salt. So now that we get this timeline up here and then down here I'm gonna go, whoops. Down here I have some maps that are gonna show how the Roman Empire grew and then eventually splits and declines, but as we go to this top timeline, we see the founding of Rome in the eighth century BCE, and this date 753 is the date that's often given to the founding of Rome by Romulus, one of twin brothers Romulus and Remus raised by a she-wolf. They were abandoned and raised by the she-wolf as legend would have it, and then Romulus eventually kills his brother and then becomes the first king of Rome. We don't know how much of this is true. I suspect a lot of this is very legendary. Legend would have it that Rome is named for Romulus, but some historians today think well it might have been the other way around. We have the city of Rome, they needed a founding story, hey let's say this person Romulus started it, and we don't know the exact date, but there seems to be a reasonable consensus that around this mid eighth century BCE you have the founding of the city of Rome, but it's important to realize that at that point the founding of the city that the kingdom of Rome, it wasn't a significant power on the Italian Peninsula at the time. Where I have this X marked, that's where Rome is, and what you see in green, this is actually the Etruscan civilization, and for most of this period of the Roman kingdom. So this period right over here, it's actually the Etruscans that are dominant power and for significant fractions of this they were dominant over the Roman kingdom. Over the city of Rome, but as we get to 509 BCE, this is when the Roman Republic is established and in this blue green color, this is the kingdom. The gold color, this yellow color is the republic and then the red color is when the empire gets established by Julius Caesar and his adopted son Augustus, and as we get into this, I guess you could say this republic period of, or into the Roman Republic. This is when it starts to really exert itself as more of a dominant influence in the region, and it continues to be a dominant influence in the region for several hundred years, and then as we get into the first several hundred years in the common era. So after the time of Jesus. As we get into the 200s, the 300s, this is when we start to see a real decline of the Roman Empire and the western empire at least gets sacked multiple times in the fifth century, and the year 476 is what's typically given for the end of the Roman Empire, but even that's not exactly the end of the Roman Empire, because in the fourth century you have the Roman Empire splitting into this eastern and western empires, and the eastern later gets known as the Byzantine Empire. That goes on for another 1,000 years until it's, as I mentioned, I think earlier, taken over by the Ottomans, but to get more appreciation for how the Roman Empire grew and then eventually starts to shrink, I have some maps over here. So this first map, this is roughly from the third century BCE and third century BCE you might remember Rome is a republic at this time, but it's not the dominant power in the Mediterranean. Just to give ourselves some bearings, you might remember that in the later fourth century BCE that's when Alexander conquers much of, or most of Greece, Macedonia, the Persian Empire. Which included at the time Egypt, and as we get into the third century BCE, you still have the fragments of Alexanders empire, but these are still significant powers in the regions. You also have the Carthaginian Empire. Which you see here in blue in North Africa and southern Spain, and this period you have a series of wars between the Romans and the Carthaginians known as the Punic Wars, and we'll do videos in depth on the Punic Wars. They're called the Punic Wars because the term Punic, it comes from what the Romans called the Phoenicians, and Carthage was actually settled, founded by ancient Phoenicians. So you can kinda consider this the Phoenician War or the descendants of the Phoenician Wars, but that's why it's called Punic, but the Romans eventually win the multiple rounds of Punic Wars, take over their territory, and eventually destroy Carthage. Carthage is destroyed in 146 BCE, and we'll talk about that in more detail. Now as we go into the first century BCE, this is when Rome goes form being a republic to an empire, and it happens when the general, Julius Caesar, he's able to conquer Gaul for the Roman Republic. So Gaul is modern day France and some other surrounding regions, and he is so powerful that when he comes back to Rome, a civil war ensues and Julius Caesar is able to essentially win the civil war, declare himself a dictator, and then his adopted son Augustus, right over here, is in 27 BCE declared Emperor, and that's the beginning of the Roman Empire, and we keep going, and I think I've already mentioned it once in this video, but eventually we get a split in the fourth century CE where we have eastern and western halves of the Roman Empire. The western side centered at Rome, the eastern side centered at what was originally Byzantium, renamed Constantinople, and today Istanbul, and as we get into the fifth century, that's when the western empire especially starts to really go into decline and is eventually sacked in 476, but the eastern empire keeps on going.