Ancient Rome was originally a kingdom. It emerged as an Italic tribe called the Latins with roots in the central regions of the Italian peninsula started to dominate over other tribes living there. The first king was the legendary Romulus.
Romulus is a legendary figure in ancient Roman mythology who, along with his twin brother Remus, is said to have founded the city of Rome. According to the myth, Romulus and Remus were the sons of the god Mars and a mortal woman named Rhea Silvia. As infants, they were abandoned in the Tiber River and left to die, but were rescued by a she-wolf who nursed and cared for them until they were found by a shepherd. Romulus and Remus grew up to be strong and skilled warriors, and they decided to found their own city on the banks of the Tiber. However, they quarreled over where to build it, and in the ensuing argument, Romulus killed Remus. Romulus then went on to found Rome on the Palatine Hill in 753 BCE. The city was then named after him.
Palatine Hill is the central hill of all seven hills, on which Rome is located. The legend says that seven kings were ruling the Roman Kingdom, till it converted to a Republic (VI BC). This cannot be however confirmed as a stated fact, as the Gauls who once seized fully the city burned all the annals. The kings were elected kings with absolute power.
A view onto the Roman Forum, the very heart of the Roman Empire. Seen from the Palatine Hill.
Later on, the country was converted into the Roman Republic. Each year two consuls were elected to govern the city. The people of Rome also had their say, through the Senate, various assemblies and councils.
In harsh times, it was, however, possible to nominate a dictator. Julius Caesar, who as the military commander, expanded the Roman influence throughout Europe and North Africa was appointed a dictator in perpetuity. He established himself as the undisputed ruler of Rome. He was assassinated in 44 BC.
After Julius Caesar’s death the Roman Empire was formed, with emperors as heads of state. Among the most well-known and significant emperors of Rome we can mention:
Augustus: Octavian Augustus who was Caesar’s adopted son became the first emperor of Rome and the founder of the Roman Empire. He ruled from 27 BC to 14 AD, and during his reign, he established a new system of government that lasted for centuries. He also oversaw a period of relative peace and prosperity known as the Pax Romana.
Nero: Nero was one of the most infamous emperors in Roman history. He ruled from 54 AD to 68 AD and was known for his extravagance, cruelty, and erratic behavior. He is perhaps best known for his persecution of Christians and his alleged role in the Great Fire of Rome.
Trajan: Trajan was a highly successful Roman general who became emperor in 98 AD. During his reign, he expanded the Roman Empire to its greatest extent, conquering much of the Middle East and North Africa. He was also known for his building projects and his patronage of the arts.
Trajan (Pergamon Museum, Berlin)
Hadrian: Hadrian succeeded Trajan as emperor in 117 AD and ruled until 138 AD. He is perhaps best known for his extensive building projects, including the construction of Hadrian’s Wall in Britain. He was also a patron of the arts and a renowned philosopher.
Hadrian (Altes Museum, Berlin)
Marcus Aurelius: Marcus Aurelius was a philosopher-king who ruled from 161 AD to 180 AD. He is known for his Stoic philosophy and his writings, including the Meditations. He also oversaw a period of relative stability and prosperity in the Roman Empire.
The Empire expanded further from Britain in North-Western Europe, through the lands around the Mediterranean Sea reaching to the Middle East. It was so big, and so many nations were conquered that it turned to not be possible to govern it from one place. So part of the city of Rome’s influence over the Empire went to Byzantium (later Constantinople, today Istanbul). For some time, there were two parallel imperial courts in the Roman Empire – one in Rome (western part) and one in Byzantium (eastern part). Rome lost its influence over the Empire to Byzantium (Constantinople) around 500 AD, and around 800 AD it finally lost its power over western parts of Europe to Franks with Charlemagne at the throne. The Byzantine Empire as such preserved, however till the XVth century.
Charlemagne was crowned as the Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III in 800 AD. Still, Charlemagne was not officially the first Holy Roman Emperor, but his coronation as the Emperor of the Romans played an important role in the development of the idea of a successor state to the Roman Empire in medieval Europe. The Carolingian Empire was established with two centers of power: Rome and Aachen (presently in Germany). Although Rome preserved the status of a capital city, by far the Carolingian Empire was not a continuation of the Roman Empire traditions.
A century or so later another empire emerged in Europe that for centuries was called the Holy Roman Empire. It emerged in Central Europe in the Xth century CE and lasted until its dissolution in 1806. It was neither a direct successor to the Roman Empire but rather a confederation of territories that were nominally under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Emperor, who was elected by a group of princes. The Holy Roman Empire was characterized by a highly decentralized government, with power being shared among the emperor, the princes, and various other feudal lords.