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European Kingdoms

Ancient Italian Peninsula



According to legend, Rome was founded as a city state by the Latin prince, Romulus on 21 April 753 BC. He was the city's first king, but after his death, the city was drawn under Etruscan rule. The Etruscans governed large areas of the Italian peninsula to the north of Rome, and ruled the city as the southernmost of a chain of semi-independent city states, although there were further Etruscan settlements in the Campania region to the south. When they were ejected in 509 BC, Rome founded a republic, and began to established the greatness that would be imperial Rome from the first century AD. The empire survived until the last quarter of the fifth century AD, but by that time Rome was no longer the capital, having been found to be hard to defend.

Kingdom of Rome
753 - 509 BC

The traditional 'founding' of Rome by the Latins was probably a formal melding together of various small villages in the area, a process that has also been observed in the late Villanovan in Italy, when the first Etruscan cities began to emerge in the mid to late ninth century BC. The Etruscans were the dominant culture in central and northern Italy, rising to prominence between circa 850-750 BC. At the height of their power until the fifth century BC, they subdued and dominated the Latin Romans (or Romani) for a century, with hegemony over Rome being held by the city of Veii.

The earliest-known written history of Rome was compiled during the Second Punic War, in the third century BC. It mentioned Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome. Following their deaths the next two rulers of Rome are little known. They may have been little more than village chieftains of what was still a settlement near an island on the Tiber, a convenient crossing point for Etruscans travelling between the Etruscan heartland and the settlements in Campania to the south. That Roman settlement began to expand in the early seventh century, with the first dwellings being placed on the hills around Rome. Under Etruscan governance it gained much of its early culture and building, laying the seeds for the future republic.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Roman History: From Romulus and the Foundation of Rome to the Reign of the Emperor Tiberius, Velleius Paterculus, J C Yardley, & Anthony A Barrett, from The History of Rome, Volume 1, Titus Livius, translated by Rev. Canon Roberts, and from External Link: Perseus Digital Library.)

753 - 717 BC

Romulus (II)

Legendary Latin founder of Rome. Killed.

753 BC

After completing the construction of his 'city' Romulus divides his warriors into regiments numbering three thousand infantry and three hundred cavalry, which he calls his legions. Then he forms the city's system of government by selecting the hundred richest and most noble elders - the patricians - and it is these men who become the first senators.

The Sabine Women
The Sabine Women, painted by Jacques-Louis David, depicts the intervention of the captured Sabine women in the fighting between Sabines and Romans

Romulus' city is built and many landless and homeless men settle in it, swelling the nascent population. Romulus raids the neighbouring Sabine tribes for women, which sparks war between the two. The Sabine ruler, Titus Tatius storms the city (aided by the Latin Crustumini people) and battle is joined, but thanks to the intervention of the Sabine women themselves, the two agree peace terms. The Sabines share Rome, settling on the Quirinal, and the two kings rule jointly, also doubling the size of the Senate and the early legions.

748 BC

The Sabine King Tatius is killed by the Latin inhabitants of Lavinium out of revenge for his sheltering of allies who have plundered that settlement. This ends the joint kingship of the city and Romulus continues to rule alone. Tatius' daughter is Tatia, and she marries Numa Pompilius, thereby giving him a legitimate claim to the throne.

748 - 717 BC

Having already subdued the Alban colony of the Camerini with Tatius, over the course of the next thirty years, Romulus goes on to expand Rome's territory. He conquers the Etruscan town of Fidenae, and defeats the Crustumini, but his rule grows increasingly dictatorial. Eventually it seems that he is killed by the weary Senate, with the deed being hidden by claiming that Romulus has ascended to heaven.

716 - 672 BC

Numa Pompilius

A Sabine. Elected after a year of deliberation by the Senate.

672 - 640 BC

Tullus Hostilius

Elected king. Fell ill during a plague.

According to Livy, two dictators rule in the former key Latin settlement of Alba Longa during the reign of Tullus Hostilius. They are quite possibly descendants of the kings of Alba Longa, and are therefore related to Romulus and Remus. Gaius Cluilius dies in a war against Tullus Hostilius and is succeeded by Mettius Fufetius. He is executed by Tullus Hostilius for treachery. The settlement of Alba Longa is razed to the ground and its inhabitants resettled on the Caelian Hill above Rome.

Hostilius goes to war against the Sabini. The cause seems to be little more than an excuse, with Hostilius claiming that Roman merchants have been seized at a market while the Sabini claim in return that some of their people are being detained in Rome. The Sabini gain the help of volunteers from the Etruscan city of Veii, although no official support is forthcoming. In a battle in the forest of Malitiosa, the larger and stronger forces of Hostilius, augmented by Alban units, scatter the Sabini and inflict heavy casualties on them as they retreat.

657 or 656 BC

Kypselos, the former head of the army, seizes power to rule the Greek city of Corinth as tyrant. The Bacchiades, former kings of Corinth, are forced out and flee the city and one of their number is Demaratus, who flees to Italy and marries an Etruscan woman. He becomes the father of the future Etruscan king of Rome, Lucumo, or Lucius Tarquinius Priscus.

640 - 616 BC

Ancus Marcius

Grandson of Numa. Elected king. Built the port of Ostia.

The Latins declare war on Rome, expecting it to follow the former peace policy of Numa Pompilius. Instead, Ancus Marcius takes the town of Politorium (situated close to Lanuvium) and forces its inhabitants to resettle on the Aventine Hill as Romans. When the Latins resettle Politorium, Marcius takes it again and demolishes it. He does the same to the Latin villages of Tellenae and Ficana, and captures the town of Medullia, each time adding to Rome's burgeoning population.

Map of the Etruscans
This map shows the greatest extent of Etruscan influence in Italy, during the seventh to fifth centuries BC, including the Campania region to the south (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.625 BC

The settlements of Rome now begin to expand. For the first time they spread into the valleys, a result of the marshes being drained and evidence of Etruscan engineering expertise at work. The Etruscans, already a powerful group of city states which trade widely along the Mediterranean, are beginning to influence and even dominate Roman culture and construction.

616 BC

With the death of Ancus Marcius his teenage sons are not selected for the kingship. Instead they are sidelined in what is a departure for Rome, as it marks the first time a non-Roman gains the kingship, and effectively confirms the Etruscan domination of central Italy.

616 - 578 BC

Lucius Tarquinius Priscus

Son of Demaratus of Corinth and an Etruscan. Murdered.

c.600 BC

Tarquinius Priscus drains the swampy area between the Capitoline and Palatine hills. This marketplace expands along with Rome and eventually became the centre of all things political, religious, and commercial in the ancient world. Tarquinius Priscus also seems to be responsible for introducing a good deal of Etruscan civilisation to the Romans (who are sometimes referred to as barbarians before this period). The first archaic Latin inscriptions now begin to appear, as do Etruscan tombs, and it is at this stage that Rome begins to progress from being a large village to a promising and flourishing early city. (The name 'Lucius' may be a Latin corruption of the Etruscan word for ruler, lauchum.)

The first century BC writer, Livy (Titus Livius Patavinus), writes of an invasion into Italy of Celts during the reign of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus. As archaeology seems to point to a start date of around 500 BC for the beginning of a serious wave of Celtic incursions into Italy, this event has either been misremembered by later Romans or is an early precursor to the main wave of incursions. Livy writes that two centuries before major Celtic attacks take place against Etruscans and Romans in Italy, a first wave of invaders from Gaul fights many battles against the Etruscans who dwell between the Apennines and the Alps. They are apparently lead by Bellovesus of the Bituriges tribe.

c.586/585 BC

Livy describes how Tarquinius Priscus is preparing to construct a wall around Rome when the Sabini attack. The engagement is bloody but inconclusive and the Sabini withdraw to their encampment. A second battle is fought the next day, this time with Rome bringing up a much stronger force which ultimately breaks the Sabini, inflicting great slaughter on their number, many of whom drown in the River Teverone. With the conflict now escalating, Tarquinius proceeds into Sabini territory and inflicts another defeat on fresh forces. The Sabini sue for peace and relinquish control of the town of Collatia (nothing of which remains today).

578 BC

The Etruscan city of Clusium enters into an alliance with its sister city, Arret- (the full name has been lost), and other Etruscan towns against the dominant and powerful Tarquinius Priscus. Mastarna and his comrades, Aulus and Caeles Vibenna, from the city of Velch (modern Volci) play a key role in overthrowing Tarquinius Priscus, with Mastarna achieving this with a slight of hand. Mastarna assumes power and changes his name to Servius Tullius. He is considered a strong reformer, and becomes known as the second founder of Rome.

Early Rome
Early Rome would have looked more like a large village than the collection of grand stone edifices that are more familiar from the imperial period

578 - 534 BC

Servius Tullius

Son-in-law. Etruscan. Assassinated by Lucius Superbus.

c.575 BC

It seems that Servius Tullius continues the work of Tarquinius Priscus in developing Rome. The familiar picture of primitive settlements suddenly changes, with the straw and reed-roofed wattle huts at the foot of the Palatine, Esquiline and Quirinal all disappearing as part of a planned building programme. They are replaced by grander buildings that mark the true beginnings of a city of Rome, along with a pebbled forum and the round temple of Vesta (or Hestia to the Etruscans).

534 BC

According to Livy, Servius Tullius is killed by his daughter and her husband, Tarquinius. The latter seizes the throne (he is also the son or grandson of Tarquinius Priscus) and establishes an absolute despotism, for which he is given the sobriquet 'superbus', meaning 'the proud'.

534 - 509 BC

Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (the Proud)

Son-in-law. Last Etruscan king. Died at Cumae in 495 BC.

c.510 - 509 BC

After having already commenced two centuries of Roman warfare by attacking the Volsci city of Suessa Pometia, Lucius Tarquinius goes to war against the Latin tribe of the Rutulians (or Rutuli). Livy mentions the wealth of that people, and this is the target of the Roman king. He attacks the Rutulian city of Ardea, and failing to take it by a surprise storming, lays siege to it. This siege is interrupted by the ejection of the king from Rome. The subsequent Roman republic renews it, although the final outcome is unknown.

509 BC

Etruscan rule is thrown out by a Latin insurrection that is supported by a group of senators who are led by Lucius Junius Brutus (another Etruscan nobleman and the great-grandson of Demaratus of Corinth, father of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus). According to several sources including Livy, the final straw had been the rape of the noblewoman, Lucretia, by Tarquin's son Sextus, although the real reason is more likely to be a power struggle between the king and the leading aristocratic families. The Etruscans continue to fight the Latins for some years during the sixth century, but eventually they fade under increasing Latin domination and by the first century BC are almost completely Romanised.

Republic of Rome
Incorporating the Ferrentani & Latins
509 - 28 BC

Small Nav - Indo-Europeans - Italics

Fresh from expelling the Etruscan king of Rome, the rebellious nobles set up a republic. This was not a unique event in the ancient world. Several Greek cities had done the same, and a similar wave of revolts and changes from kingship to republic subsequently gripped the Etruscan city states in the fifth and fourth centuries. However, expelling Etruscan kings did not remove Etruscan influence overnight. A large number of the nobles had strong Etruscan links that would take another couple of generations to fade.

In Rome, two consuls were elected each year to govern (with some breaks) alongside the Senate, over which they presided. Dictators (Latin for 'one who dictates' or gives orders) - also known as the praetor maximus, the supreme praetor, or magister populi, master of the people - were elected to temporary office (usually a six month term) during periods of emergency. The first two consuls were Lucius Junius Brutus, leader of the anti-Etruscan rebellion, and Tarquinius Collatinus (both Etruscans). Roman dating often used 'anno urbe condita' (AUC), meaning 'in the year of the city', with AUC 1 being the traditional founding of Rome in 753 BC. Another way of dating events was to link them to the names of the two current consuls.

Mentioned by Livy in connection with events in 319 BC, the Ferrentani (or Ferentani) are otherwise unknown. It is generally thought that they are in fact the Frentani, the Samnites' Sabellian neighbours on the Adriatic coast. However, during this period the Romans would not have dared post their forces far away from Latium or provoke the Samnites by placing armed forces along their eastern borders. Instead, the Ferrentani must be the Forentani, placed by Pliny in Campania and Latium, much closer to Rome.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Magistrates of the Roman Republic, T R S Broughton, from The Roman History: From Romulus and the Foundation of Rome to the Reign of the Emperor Tiberius, Velleius Paterculus, J C Yardley, & Anthony A Barrett, from The History of Rome, Volume 1, Titus Livius, translated by Rev Canon Roberts, from Samnium and the Samnites, E T Salmon, from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, from Continuity and Innovation in Religion in the Roman West, R Haeussler, Anthony C King & Phil Andrews, from Liber Prodigiorum, Julius Obsequens, from Periocha, Livy, from Res Gestae, Ammianus Marcellinus, from Valerius Maximus, Pseudo-Quintilian, and Paulus Orosius, from Epitome of Roman History, Florus, from Historia Romana, Cassius Dio, from Flavius Eutropius, from Strategemata, Frontinius, from 'Breviary', Sextus Festus, from St Jerome Emiliani (Hieronymus), from Getica, Jordanes, from The Getae in Southern Dobruja in the Period of the Roman Domination: Archaeological Aspects, S Torbatov, and from External Links: Perseus Digital Library, and The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and Polybius, Histories, and the Encyclopædia Britannica, and from the Journal of Celtic Studies in Eastern Europe and Asia-Minor.)

509 - 507 BC

The former Etruscan king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, attempts several times to regain control of the city. In 507 BC he enlists the help of Lars Porsena, ruler of Etruscan Clevsin. Lars Porsena attacks Rome and probably captures it (although the Roman version of events paints a more flattering picture from their point of view, with Porsena saluting their brave defenders and withdrawing without completing his attempt). Porsena's occupation is brief, perhaps ending after a peace treaty is signed.

Etruscan art
Early Etruscan civilisation was heavily influenced by the Phoenicians and Greeks and, in turn, it influenced early Roman (Latin) culture

With the ending of Etruscan rule, the states of the Latin League fail to unify, instead vying with each other for dominance. The balance of power shifts often between Rome and other influential cities such as Alba Longa and Lavinium.

505 - 504 BC

Again it is Livy who records fresh conflict between the Sabini and the new republic of Rome. Again the Sabini come off second best (in 505 BC), and the two Roman consuls of this year celebrate a triumph in Rome. The following year, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus is appointed dictator of the Sabini, who play a leading part in the fresh conflict that erupts. The Fidenates (of the former Etruscan town of Fidenae) and Camerians (of the settlements Cameria) are brought in to assist them. The allied army marches on Rome and is stopped at the River Teverone (Latin Anio, modern Aniene). A planned night attack by the Sabini is leaked to the Romans, and turns into a Sabini massacre. Tarquinius manages to escape but his campaign (and presumably his dictatorship of the Sabini) comes to an end.

503 BC

Livy describes how the Latin colonies of Cora and Pometia rebel against Rome's domination of the region. In their fight the colonies unite with the Aurunci. Rome sends two armies against them and a hard-fought battle results in defeat for the rebels, with a high number of casualties. Few prisoners are taken, it seems, and even those are butchered in a blood-thirsty rampage by the Roman troops. The rebels retire to Pometia, followed by the Roman armies who besiege them. An Aurunci sally forces the Romans to withdraw with losses, but they return, take the town, behead the Aurunci officers, sell the Pometians into slavery, level the buildings, and sell off the land.

501 BC

Titus Lartius Flavus

Dictator. Member of an Etruscan family.

501 BC

Titus Lartius commands forces against the thirty Latin cities that have sworn to reinstate Lucius Tarquinius Superbus as the king of Rome. Aruns of the Etruscan city of Clevsin may be the Aruns Tarquinius who is a son of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, and the brother of Lucius Tarquinius. This Aruns is the subject of a plot involving his brother and his wife, Tullia, daughter of Servius Tullius, former king of Rome. They conspire to murder Lucius' wife (another Tullia who is also a daughter of Servius Tullius) and Aruns himself so that they can marry each other.

Alba Longa
A romantic view of the ruins of Alba Longa, following its destruction by Rome under Tullus Hostilius in the seventh century BC

501 BC

Manius Valerius


498 BC

Aulus Postumius Albus Regillensis


496 - 493 BC

The various political intrigues and schemes of the Latin states turn to war when Lavinium breaks its alliance with Rome in an attempt to secure power. Members of the Latin League unite with Lavinium and Tusculum and move against Rome. At the battle of Lake Regillus, Rome claims the victory over the combined might of her neighbours, and the result proves Rome's capacity to stand alone against all-comers. The war draws to a close in 493 BC with the Latin League claiming independence from Rome. The Treaty of Cassius ensures this independence but places Rome on what is virtually a status equal with all of the other members of the Latin League combined.

495 BC

The Aurunci field an army in support of the Volsci against Rome. While on the march, they send envoys ahead to demand that Rome withdraws from Volsci territory. The reply is a consular army under Publius Servilus Priscus Structus which meets them at Arricia and ends the war in a single, victorious battle. The Aurunci, or Opici, are thoroughly put down.

494 BC

Manius Valerius Maximus

Dictator for the second time.

492 BC

Thanks to his defeat of the Volsci town of Corioli, the Roman patrician Gneus Marcius is given the cognomen Coriolanus. Promoted to general, he attempts to abolish the office of plebeian tribune in Rome, which he believes is responsible for a grain shortage. The tribunes fight back with false charges of misappropriation of public funds, and he is forced into exile. Coriolanus seeks shelter with the Volsci and eventually leads an army against Rome. Town after town is captured along the way and Rome looks set to fall, until Coriolanus' mother and wife are sent to placate him. He relents and retires, but having now committed acts of disloyalty towards both Rome and the Volsci, he is soon tried and then conveniently assassinated.

486 BC

The Hernici have become highly adapted to Latin culture and customs. Under pressure from the Aequi and Volsci, they join the mutual protection treaty between the Romans and Latins. The armies defending Latium now consist of Romans, Latins and Hernici. As time passes and the alliance grows more essential to survival, the Hernici are absorbed into Latin culture and largely vanish as a separately identifiable people.

The Sabini (Hernici) settlement of Reate (modern Rieti) was founded by the Sabini and prospered under Roman control to survive into the modern age

477 BC

As a close neighbour of Rome, the powerful Etruscan city of Veii is seen as a serious rival and even a threat to its existence. A long-running series of wars results, starting in this year. Despite having major Etruscan connections, the Fabian Gens, one of the most powerful familial groups in Rome, builds a defensive post on land between the two cities which they own but which is subject to heavy cattle raiding by both sides. Veii attacks the post which is held by the semi-private army of the Fabii. The resulting Battle of the Cremora sees three hundred Fabii killed and the area abandoned to the Veiians. Veii now controls the entire west bank of the Tiber, including the Janiculum Hill which overlooks Rome. Less than a year later, Veii's navy is crushed off the coast of Cumae and the city is forced to agree a treaty with Rome.

463 BC

Gaius Aemilius Mamercus?

Possibly not a dictator, but an interrex.

458 BC

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus

Dictator for 16 days to rescue Minucius' trapped army.

444 BC

For an unspecific period of time, Rome replaces its two civilian consuls with three military officers with consular powers, known as the tribuni militum consularii potestate. Two other magistrates, the censors, are instituted with a term of office lasting eighteen months in order to examine the property rolls of citizens and determine who has the privilege and responsibility of providing military service. Military service is not an option for men of little or no property.

439 BC

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus

Dictator. Called a second time from his farm to defend Rome.

437 BC

Mamercus Aemilius Mamercinus


435 BC

Quintus Servilius Priscus Fidenas


434 BC

Mamercus Aemilius Mamercinus

Dictator for the second time.

431 BC

The Volsci control much of southern Latium (Cora, Velitrae, Satricum, and Antium), and they continue to pressure the Latins. In addition, the Aequi are said to reach Rome itself, and a decisive battle between the Latins and the Volsci appears to be fought in this year. The Romans, under the command of Aulus Postumius Tubertus, again meet the Aequi at the Algidus Pass, but this time they are victorious. With this victory the Romans are able to open an aggressive offensive which the Volsci are unable to withstand forever.

River Liris
The ancient River Liris (now divided into the Liri and the Gari) along its upper length was an early home to the Volsci, and later formed Rome's border with the Samnites

431 BC

Aulus Postumius Tubertus

Dictator. Defeated the Aequi.

428 BC

Rome fights the Etruscan city of Veii again, possibly resulting in the loss to the Etruscans of Fidemae (either at this point or in 406 BC).

426 BC

Mamercus Aemilius Mamercinus

Dictator for the third time.

418 BC

Quintus Servilius Priscus Fidenas

Dictator for the second time.

408 BC

Publius Cornelius Rutilus Cossus


396 BC

Marcus Furius Camillus


396 BC

After a ten year siege, the once-dominant Etruscan city of Veii is conquered by its former subject city, Rome, under the command of Marcus Furius Camillus. (More recent views tend to lean towards a six year siege, with the ten year claim being made in order to draw parallels with the fall of Troy.) With Veii's fall, a key southern defence is lost, leaving the Etruscans under pressure from all sides by several different forces. The city is later rebuilt as a Roman colony.

391 - 376 BC

For the second time in its republican history, Rome's consuls are again replaced by military tribunes, this time very shortly before the city comes under attack from the Celts.

390 BC

Marcus Furius Camillus

Dictator for the second time.

389 BC

Marcus Furius Camillus

Dictator for the third time.

389 BC

Brennus and his band of Senones Celts sack Rome, with only the Capitoline Hill standing out against them. The citizens of Rome are forced to pay a thousand pounds in gold to buy off the Celts (a pretty low sum by Roman standards, which perhaps outrages them more than the city being sacked in the first place). Rome afterwards takes steps to ensure the city is never again placed in such a position.

Camillus Rescuing Rome from Brennus
Dictator Marcus Furius Camillus may have been instrumental in persuading Brennus and his Gauls to leave Rome following its sacking in 389 BC, as painted around 1716-20

385 BC

Aulus Cornelius Cossus


380 BC

Titus Quinctius Cincinnatus Capitolinus


377 BC

By the 390s the Romans and Latins had regained control of the plains of Latium and relegated the Aequi and Volsci to the western highlands. The Volsci are finally defeated with the capture of the port of Antium in 377 BC, and the defeated Aequi are doomed to be destroyed within the century.

370 - 367 BC

For the third time Rome replaces its consuls with military tribunes. The reason may lie with the continuing - and menacing in Rome's eyes - presence of large numbers of Celts in northern Italy.

368 BC

Marcus Furius Camillus

Dictator for the fourth time.

368 BC

Publius Manlius Capitolinus


367 BC

Marcus Furius Camillus

Dictator for the fifth time.

363 BC

Lucius Manlius Capitolinus Imperiosus


362 BC

Appius Claudius Crassus Inregillensis


361 BC

T Q Poenus Capitolinus Crispinus

Dictator. (Tiberius Quinctius.)

360 BC

Quintus Servilius Ahala


358 BC

Gaius Sulpicius Peticus


356 BC

Gaius Marcius Rutilus


354 BC

The Samnites agree a treaty with Rome, the first concrete historical record of their existence. It sets their border along the River Liris (now divided into the Liri and the Gari, with the one meeting the other shortly before the latter flows into the Tyrrhenian Sea at the Garigliano), and may in part be a joint defensive pact against Celtic incursions from the north.

Map of the Samnites
The orange area shows the general territory under the control of the Samnites, while the location of each of their divisions, along with the Frentani, is shown within that territory (click or tap on map to view full sized)

353 BC

Titus Manlius Imperiosus Torquatus


c.353 BC

The Etruscan city of Caisra at last becomes impatient of the increasing domination by Rome and protests or rebels. However, their gesture is brought to order, and they are deprived of their coastland territory (in favour of Roman colonists) by the terms of a hundred-year treaty or truce. The city's independence is at an end, although Roman nobles are still sent to Caisra to study the Etruscan language and literature, and perhaps to learn Greek as well.

352 BC

Gaius Julius Iullus


351 BC

Marcus Fabius Ambustus


351 BC

A truce which lasts for forty years is agreed between Rome and the Etruscan city of Tarquinii.

350 BC

Lucius Furius Camillus


349 BC

Titus Manlius Imperiosus Torquatus

Dictator for the second time.

c.346 - 345 BC

As the final act in the revolt of the Volsci, Rome sacks and levels their town of Satricum around 346 BC. The surviving fighting men, who number about four thousand, are sold into slavery. The Aurunci choose this moment to send a force against Rome itself which causes panic, with the Senate viewing the threat as a wider conspiracy of the Latin League. Lucius Furius Camillus is selected as dictator for the second time. He pulls together an emergency army from Rome's citizens and ends the threat at the very first battle against the Aurunci. The same army is then used to complete the conquest of the Volsci at Sora.

345 BC

Lucius Furius Camillus

Dictator for the second time. Defeated the Aurunci and Volsci.

344 BC

Publius Valerius Publicola


343 - 341 BC

The Samnites are continuing to expand into former Etruscan Campania following their capture of Capua and Cuma. Their advances force the Greek city states along the coast to request of Rome that it reins in its ally. The Samnites also launch an apparently unprovoked attack against the Sidicini. When the Samnites refuse to listen to Roman 'reason', Rome triggers the First Samnite War. Roman Consul Cornelius attacks the Samnite town of Saticula (on the border of the modern region of Campania), but the war ends with Rome distracted by the Latin War against its other Italic allies. At the bargaining table, the Samnites agree to restore the former Roman-Samnite alliance on condition that the Samnites are permitted to go to war against the Sidicini if required. As Rome has no agreement with the Sidicini, the terms are accepted.

Mount Vesuvius
Modern Naples lies beneath the slumbering volcano of Vesuvius, one of a long line of settlements there that have risked an eruption and which have sometimes been destroyed by one

342 BC

Marcus Valerius Corvus


340 BC

Lucius Papirius Crassus


340 - 338 BC

The Latin War is the last major attempt by the Latins to retain independence from Rome. As its trigger, the Samnites attack the Sidicini who, in their desperation, offer to subjugate themselves to Rome. They are refused on the grounds that they are too late in seeking Rome's protection following the conclusion of the First Samnite War. Instead, the beleaguered Sidicini ally themselves to a Latin League force which is advancing against the Samnites.

Encouraged by Rome's indifference to the Latin-Samnite conflict, the Latins (and the Volsci) plan to attack Rome next. Rome hears of this and, following failed bargaining in the Senate with ten Latin chiefs to agree a new treaty, declares war against the Latin League. Allied to the Samnites, Rome fights for two years to defeat the Latins in a number of battles and subjugate them fully. The Latin League is dissolved, and some Latin states are annexed directly to Rome, while others retain autonomy.

339 BC

Quintus Publilius Philo

Non-military dictator who carried out reforms.

337 - 335 BC

Having signed separate treaties with Rome, the Aurunci and Sidicini now fall out. Livy relates that the Sidicini attack the Aurunci in 337 BC. The Ausones side with the Sidicini and, in 335 BC, Rome sends an army under Marcus Valerius Corvus to besiege Cales, the Ausones capital. Corvus captures the town while its defenders are in a drunken sleep and a Roman garrison is placed there. Colonists soon follow, and land is distributed amongst them, effectively destroying the Ausones.

335 BC

Lucius Aemilius Mamercinus Privernas


c.334 BC

The Sidicini now bear the brunt of Rome's attentions. In a campaign by both consular armies, the Sidicini apparently accept subjugation without a battle, while the Romans are struck by an unexplained plague (probably malaria, which is prevalent in the region). The details are not mentioned at all by Livy, which is unusual if this people have been conquered in battle.

334 - 331 BC

At the request of the embattled Greek colony of Taras, Alexander I Molossus embarks with a force of Epirotes, Macedonians and Tarantines to Italy. He fights the Brutii and Lucani, and in 332 BC defeats an alliance of Lucani and Samnites near Paestum. In the same year he concludes a treaty with the Romans and continues battling against the other Italic peoples. He captures Heraclea from the Lucani and then Sipontum and Terina from the Brutii but, having been forced to accept battle at Pandosia (in Calabria), he is killed by a Lucani exile.

Epirote mountains
The mountainous landscape of all but coastal Epirus required a hardy inhabitant, and the region's remoteness may have had a bearing on its poorly recorded history in the ancient world

The defeat is a significant one as it marks the end of any new Greek colonisation in Italy and teaches the Italians how to defeat the phalanx, which is completely outmanoeuvred on rocky ground by the fast-moving Italics. The Greeks, though, are looking eastwards as Alexander the Great of Macedonia destroys and takes over the Achaemenid empire.

333 BC

Publius Cornelius Rufinus


332 BC

Marcus Papirius Crassus


331 BC

Gnaeus Quinctius Capitolinus


325 BC

Lucius Papirius Cursor


325 - 304 BC

At around the same time as the former Peucetii settlement of Gravina is taken from Greek settlers by the Samnites, the Second Samnite War is triggered against Rome. During this period the Marsi ally themselves to the Romans in an attempt to remove the Samnite hold over them, while the Dauni, Iapyges, Lucani, Messapii, and Peucetii side with the Samnites. The Oenotri and Chones also appear to be subject to Samnite control by this time, during which the Samnite commander, Gaius Pontius, leads a force of around 9,000, including a thousand cavalry, with which he wins several early victories.

324 BC

Lucius Papirius Cursor

Dictator for the second time.

322 BC

Aulus Cornelius Cossus Arvina


321 BC

Meddix Gaius Pontius (a meddix being a Samnite consul or magistrate) commands the Samnite forces at the Battle of the Caudine Forks. Not actually a battle, the event (near Benevento) sees the Romans fooled into entering a trap in a mountainous defile, where they are cornered by the Samnites. They are forced to agree terms so that they can return home and the terms of the agreement are maintained until 316 BC.

Arch of Trajan
The Arch of Trajan, built in AD 114 by the Senate and people of Rome, marked the entrance of the Via Traiana into the city of Beneventum (Benavento)

320 BC

Gaius Maenius


320 BC

Lucius Cornelius Lentulus?


320 BC

The Samnite commander, Gaius Pontius, defeats the army of Dictator Lucius Cornelius Lentulus and captures the towns of Canusium and Gnaitha, but the Samnites suffer defeat at the hands of Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus at Imbrinium.

320 BC

Titus Manlius Imperiosus Torquatus

Dictator for the third time.

319 BC

The Ferrentani (more properly known as the Forentani) are subjugated by Rome when they reconquer Satricum. This event may instead belong to 315 BC, when Quintus Aulius Cerretanus is master of the horse rather than 319 BC when he is consul.

316 BC

Lucius Aemilius Mamercinus Privernas

Dictator for the second time.

315 BC

Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus


315 BC

Rome strikes back under Dictator Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus when he successfully besieges Saticula. He is less successful when he fights the Samnites at the Battle of Lautulae, during which his inexperienced levies are no match for seasoned Samnite warriors. The southern reaches of Latium are captured and the second class Roman citizens there are persuaded to abandon their allegiance to Rome. The Samnites advance on Rome itself and, although it is successfully defended, the Samnites storm through the weakened Roman lines of the Liris Valley and capture Sora. The lines of communication to Apulia are cut and the Samnites enjoy the high watermark of their superiority.

315 BC

Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus

Dictator for the second time.

314 BC

Gaius Maenius

Dictator for the second time.

313 BC

Gaius Poetelius Libo Visolus


313 BC

Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus

Dictator for the third time.

c.313 BC

The Romans have been learning from Samnite fighting methods and begin to turn the tables. Meddix Gaius Pontius is captured and executed by Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus, probably during the latter's third and last dictatorship.

Samnite soldiers
Roman military tactics may have owed something to the Samnites, with this efficient and seasoned warrior force matching the Romans and bettering them in the fourth century BC

312 BC

Gaius Sulpicius Longus?


312 BC

Gaius Junius Bubulcus Brutus

Possibly a magister equitum rather than a dictator.

310 BC

Lucius Papirius Cursor

Dictator for the third time.

310 BC

Etruscans allied to the Samnites fight Rome at the Battle of Sutrium (modern Sutri). The Roman forces are commanded by the now-Consul Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus. After winning the battle on this key route into Etruscan territory, he pursues the Etruscans into the ancient Ciminian Forest, which divides Latium from Etruria, where he defeats them again. The Etruscan cities of Curtun and Perusna fall to Rome in the same period, and the first Roman contact with the Umbri to the north-east takes place.

309 BC

Lucius Papirius Cursor

Dictator for the fourth time.

308 BC

The Etruscan city state of Tarchna capitulates to Rome in what can be seen as a period of expansion and superiority for the latter city.

306 BC

Publius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus


304 BC

The Samnites are defeated by Rome, ending the Second Samnite War. Their confederates, the Frentani, Marsi, Marrucini, and Paeligni, voluntarily accept their reintegration into Roman administrative rule. All the other Samnite allies are also subjugated by Rome.

302 BC

Gaius Junius Bubulcus Brutus

Dictator for the second time.

302 BC

Marcus Valerius Corvus

Dictator for the second time.

301 BC

Marcus Valerius Corvus

Dictator for the third time.

301 BC

The Etruscan city of Arret- has been suffering civil turmoil in this century, possibly a result of Roman pressure on Etruscan lives and freedoms. In this year the plebeians revolt against the important and powerful Cilnii family. A Roman army under Marcus Valerius Maximus arrives to help to restore order, and within twenty years or so, the city submits entirely to Rome.

Etruscan villa near Vetulonia
This Etruscan villa was excavated at the town of Vetluna (near modern Grosseto in Tuscany), and seems to have belonged to a wealthy family at a time of peace with Rome, in the third century BC

299 BC

Latin colonies are founded in Umbrian territory by Rome in the next half a century, starting in 299 BC with the conquest of the city of Nequinum, which Rome renames Narni. Rome also concludes a treaty with the Picentes, or what Livy later terms the Picentine people.

298 BC

General Scipio defeats the forces of the Etruscan city of Velathri, and the city itself is severely damaged in the process. It now becomes a Roman possession and later provides military aid and supplies to Rome during the Second Punic War.

The Picentes warn the Roman senate that they have been approached by the Samnites, who are seeking allies in advance of a renewal of hostilities against Rome. The Third Samnite War begins with Consul Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus immediately defeating the Samnites at Tifernum after managing to encircle their forces.

297 - 295 BC

The Samnites march into Etruria in 297 BC to rouse the Etruscans and form a coalition against Rome. The combined armies of consuls Lucius Volumnius Flamma Violens and Appius Claudius Caecus (dictator in 292 BC) defeat this force and the Samnites withdraw back into their own territory. In 295 BC, Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus, Roman consul for a fifth time, wins lasting fame after he defeats a fresh coalition of Gauls and Samnites at the Battle of Sentinum (near the modern town of Sassoferrato).

294 BC

Lucius Postumius Megellus defeats the Etruscans of Volsinies. The city of Rosella, close to Vetluna, is occupied by Rome, much to Vetluna's detriment, and the latter city begins to decline. The irrigation systems begin to decay, the drainage systems silt up, and the area slowly reverts to malaria-infested swamp. The Romans attempt to establish a garrison nearby, at Graviscae, but fever kills off its inhabitants.

293 - 290 BC

The Samnites are defeated by Rome at the Battle of Aquilona in 293 BC. The nearby capital of the Samnite confederation, Aquilona (in modern Campania), is destroyed. The former Pentri capital of Bovianum resumes the role, although the Samnites are gradually broken, accepting final defeat in 290 BC.

292 - 285 BC

Appius Claudius Caecus

Dictator. Victor against the Samnites in 297 BC.

291 - 285 BC

Marcus Aemilius Barbula


291 - 285 BC

Publius Cornelius Rufinus?


291 BC

The Etruscan city state of Clevsin falls to Rome during its seemingly relentless advance into Etruscan lands.

287 BC

Quintus Hortensius


283 BC

The Picentes make another appearance in the historical record, in relation to successful Roman conquests in the far northern reaches of Picene territory. The Ager Gallicus on the north-east coast of Italy has been populated by different ethnic groups for quite some time. These are mainly Picentes and Etruscans, but with a strong admixture of more recently arrived Gauls. Ancona had been built by the Greeks of Sicily, but to the north of this the Gauls dominate. Rome has been winning a series of victories against these Gauls, and in this year it expels the tribe of the Senones from the coastal region. Rome annexes this strip as far south as Ancona, and the area is renamed Gallia Togata.

282 - 278 BC

The growing power of Rome has defeated the Boii in the north and saved the Greek colony of Thurii from being overwhelmed by the Italics, but the colony of Tarentum intervenes, sinking some of the Roman ships. Rome declares war on Tarentum, but Pyrrhus of Epirus declares for Tarentum, as do many of the southern Italic peoples, including the Brutii, Lucani, and Samnites. A few years later these three Italic tribes send auxiliaries to the army of Pyrrhus, while Rome has its own loyal Frentani auxiliaries (or, more probably, the subject Ferrentani of Campania). Following the withdrawal of Pyrrhus in 278 BC to conquer Syracuse, the Italics face Rome's might alone.

280 BC

Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus


280 BC

In what is becoming a predictable feature of this period of Rome's history, the Etruscan city state of Vulci falls to it.

278 - 272 BC

In six years of further campaigning in southern Italy, Generals Gaius Fabricius Luscinus and Lucius Papirius inflict defeat after defeat on the Italic tribes that had supported Pyrrhus until they are subdued (by 272 BC). They are forced to concede half of the forest of Sila, which is a valuable source of timber, in exchange for peace.

Numerius and the Samnites at Bovianum
Numerius prepares his Samnites to face Rome at the Battle of Bovianum, close to the Pentri capital of the same name

277 - 275 BC

Pyrrhus of Epirus conquers Syracuse in 277 BC, and holds it for two years, with support being given by the Messapii. His hard but costly fighting against Rome on the island brings his southern Balkans kingdom a brief sense of importance. It is also his costly victories which inspire the term 'pyrrhic victory', as a victory with such high loses is no real victory at all.

273 BC

In a development that seems to have taken quite some time since their first conquests, the Romans now found their first colony in Etruscan territory.

268/267 BC

The Picentes appear to rebel against Roman domination. They are defeated by two consular armies in Gallia Togata and Rome gains the region around Arimnus (Rimini), on the border region between the Picentes and the Etruscans. This former Etruscan city is captured by Publius Sempronius Sophus. He returns to Rome and is given a triumph for his victory over the Picentes.

267/266 BC

Perhaps spurred on by the recent Messapii support of Epirus, Rome attacks and conquers the Messapii and the former Greek settlement of Brandusium (modern Brindisi).

265 - 264 BC

Velzna, the last independent Etruscan city, is suffering civil strife, so the Romans are called upon by the city's aristocrats to help calm the situation in their favour. Roman troops take a very heavy-handed approach, plundering around two thousand bronzes from all over the city. Their loot is often melted down to provide bronze coin for the war chest. The following year, the city is razed to the ground by the Romans, and the fortunate survivors are forced to resettle, leaving the city's ruins abandoned (it is likely that the modern city of Orvieto has been built directly over those ruins). The Romans interpret the city's name as Volsinii, and the resettled populace now occupy a fresh site which is named Volsinii Novae (modern Bolsena).

264 - 241 BC

The First Punic War erupts between Rome and Carthage. It starts in Sicily and develops into a naval war in which the Romans learn how to fight at sea and eventually gain overall victory. Before that, however, they are dealt a humiliating defeat in 249 BC at the port of Drepana. Following the war's conclusion, Carthage loses Sardinia and the western section of Sicily.

263 BC

Gnaeus Fulvius Maximus Centumalus


257 BC

Quintus Ogulnius Gallus


253 BC

Seemingly contradicting the claim that Velzna had been the last independent Etruscan city in 265 BC, the Etruscan city state of Caisra is now subjugated by Rome.

249 BC

Marcus Claudius Glicia


249 BC

Aulus Atilius Caiatinus

Dictator, following the disaster of Drepana in 249 BC.

246 BC

Tiberius Coruncanius


231 BC

Gaius Duilius


231 - 225 BC

The two most extensive Gallic tribes of northern Italy, the Boii and Insubres, send out the call for assistance against Rome to the tribes living around the Alps and on the Rhone. Rather than each of the tribes sending their own warriors, it appears that individual warriors are effectively hired from the entire Alpine region as mercenaries. Polybius calls them Gaesatae, describing it as a word which means 'serving for hire'.

Celtic warriors
While most of the Gauls of the third century BC fought fully clothed, their Gaesatae mercenaries tended to fight with nothing more than their weapons, and not even the trousers shown here

The Gaesatae are offered a large sum of gold on the spot and the wealth of Rome is also pointed out - wealth that can be theirs if they stick to their task. Rome has been informed of what is coming, and hurries to assemble the legions. Even its ongoing conflicts with the Carthaginians take second place, and a treaty is hurriedly agreed with Hasdrubaal, commander in Iberia, which virtually confirms Carthaginian rule there. Such is Rome's haste that they approach the Gaulish frontier before the Gauls have even stirred.

It is 225 BC when the Gaesatae forces cross the Alps and enter the valley of the Padus with a formidable army. Defending Rome and its territories are the Ferrentani, Iapygians, Latins, Lucanians, Marrucini, Marsi, Messapians, Samnites, and Vestini, plus two more legions on Sicily and in Tarentum. The first battle witnesses Roman forces being decimated and routed by superior Gaulish tactics. Two fresh Roman armies arrive and the Gauls are caught between them. The battle is fierce, and large numbers of Gauls are cut down or taken prisoner.

224 BC

Lucius Caecilius Metellus


224 - 222 BC

Rome continues the Gallic War against the Gauls of northern Italy, but in far less spectacular fashion than in 225 BC. With many of the tribes already pacified, only the Boii and Insubres remain to offer any real resistance, and this is quickly put down. In 222 BC, the Insubres are left with no option but to surrender, their unnamed chief making a complete submission to Rome. This act effectively ends the Gallic War in northern Italy, as Rome now dominates all of the tribes there.

221 - 219 BC

Q Fabius Maximus Verrucosus


218 - 202 BC

The Second Punic War is fought against Carthage. Rome is aided by its Etruscan, Frentani, Picene, and Umbrian forces, but Italy is invaded by Hannibal Barca after the general forces his way through the Alps, fighting off the attentions of the Celtic Allobroges tribe and some Ligurian tribes along the way.

217 BC

Q Fabius Maximus Verrucosus

Dictator. Nicknamed Cunctator (the Delayer) for his tactics.

217 BC

Marcus Minucius Rufus


216 BC

Marcus Junius Pera


216 BC

Marcus Fabius Buteo


216 - 209 BC

As part of the Second Punic War, a Roman army is massacred at the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC, killing 60,000. The Hirpini now declare for Carthage. The final stages of the war in Italy are fought out in the south-east.

Ruins of Carthage
The city of Carthage existed in its original glory for at least four hundred and twenty-eight years before it was destroyed by the Romans - and possibly another two centuries before that as a developing colony which was founded by Phoenicians

213 BC

Gaius Claudius Centho


210 BC

Quintus Fulvius Flaccus


209 - 202 BC

When the Carthaginians finally withdraw in 209 BC, Rome is able to capture the ports of Brundisium (modern Brindisi) and Tarentum (modern Taranto). This establishes full Roman dominion over the south-east of Italy and the tribes of the Dauni, Hirpini, Iapyges, Lucani, Messapii, and Peucetii. Rome also finds time to conquer the Greek colony of Syracuse and fight the First Macedonian War in an attempt to tie down possible Macedonian reinforcements for Carthage.

208 BC

Titus Manlius Torquatus


207 BC

Marcus Livius Salinator


205 BC

Quintus Caecilius Metellus


203 BC

Publius Sulpicius Galba Maximus


202 BC

Gaius Servilius Geminus

Dictator. Last of the irregular holders of this office.

202 BC

At the end of the Second Punic War the post of dictator is outlawed. It is replaced by powers for the two consuls which allows them to take any action to defend the republic.

200 - 196 BC

Rome fights the Second Macedonian War, thanks to claims made by by Pergamum and Rhodes of a treaty between Macedonia and the Seleucid empire that is designed to carve up Egypt's possessions. The republic launches an attack and, after a spell of indecisive conflict, Philip of Macedonia is defeated at the Battle of Cynoscephalae in 197 BC, while his general, Androsthenes, is defeated near Corinth. The Macedonian army is drastically reduced in size as a result of the defeat, and Philip's standing as an important Greek king is greatly diminished.

Ecbatana was the capital of Media, a prized possession of the Seleucid empire and one that had to be regained upon the event of a revolt - this view shows the surviving ancient walls in modern Hamadan in Iran

200 BC

As Rome tightens its grip over central Italy, the Etruscan city of Caisra is drawn directly under its control.

190 - 188 BC

Rome defeats the Seleucids in the Seleucid War, taking Asia Minor as a province in 188 BC. The Seleucid ally, Cappadocia, negotiates friendly terms with Rome, notably because Stratonice, the king's daughter, is about to marry the king of Pergamum, a Roman ally. Pergamum also annexes Lydia and Pamphylia around this point in time.

The newly appointed commander of Roman forces in Asia Minor is Gnaeus Manlius Vulso. He ensures that the entire region knows about Rome's arrival by looting, robbing and extorting plunder from the local population, and destroying those who resist (so says Livy). Even worse, he views the Galatian Celts as a mongrel race and is determined to exterminate them, despite receiving no such instructions from Rome. He exhibits an extreme degree of the general Roman dislike of Celts due to their sack of Rome under Brennus of the Senones in 387 BC.

172 - 168 BC

Perseus of Macedonia and Rome renew fighting in the Third Macedonian War. Epirus is split, with the Chaonians and Thesprotians siding with Rome and the Molossians allying themselves to Macedonia. The result is a disaster for Epirus, with the Chaonians being annexed by Rome in 170 BC.

168 - 150 BC

Roman rule of Macedonia and Thrace follows the defeat of Perseus. The Antigonids are removed from power and the kingdom is dismantled and replaced by four republics. In 150 BC, Andriscus of Macedon breaks the Roman hold over the former kingdom when he leads a popular uprising in the Fourth Macedonian War.

159 BC

Rome conquers the Greek kingdom of Epirus, with thousands of its inhabitants being enslaved and the region being plundered so thoroughly that it takes centuries to recover. Epirus remains within the later Roman empire and its subsequent eastern division for the next seven hundred and fifty years or so.

149 - 148 BC

Andriscus invades Macedonia from Thrace in 149 BC and defeats the Roman praetor, Publius Juventius. Then he proclaims himself King Philip VI of Macedonia. In the following year, his popular uprising is put down by the legions at the Second Battle of Pydna, and they establish a permanent residence in Greece. The Achaean League of Greek states rises up against this presence and is swiftly destroyed. Rome also destroys Corinth as an object lesson and annexes Greece and Macedonia.

149 - 146 BC

Carthage has recovered from its defeat in 202 BC and refuses a change in terms by Rome, and the Third Punic War is the result. After a siege which conquers Carthage, Rome takes brutal action to obliterate the city and its people.

146 BC

The Achaean League is dissolved by Rome and the four client republics of the north are dissolved. Macedonia officially becomes the Roman province of Macedonia, which also includes Epirus, Thessaly, and areas of Illyria, Paeonia, and Thrace.

Roman silver dinarius
Pictured here are both sides of a Roman silver dinarius from the official mint, dated to around 146 BC - the mounted attacker on the reverse accompanied by his dog is fairly typical as Roman troops would often bring their mastiffs along with them so that, while the soldier was fighting the enemy above with spear and long knife, their dogs would be biting the enemy's legs from below

133 - 129 BC

Rome is bequeathed the Anatolian kingdom of Pergamum, but has to send two armies in 131 BC and 129 BC to secure the claim. The first is defeated and its commander, Proconsul Publius Licinius Crassus Dives Mucianus, is killed along with his ally, King Ariarathes V of Cappadocia.

123 - 121 BC

The Allobroges come into direct conflict with Rome following the latter's defeat of the Salluvii. That tribe's king, Tuto-Motulus, flees northwards and seeks shelter with the Allobroges. They welcome him in and, when Rome demands that he is handed over, they refuse. Having declared war, Rome sends Quintus Fabius Maximus to attack them in 121 BC. He is the son of Quintus Fabius Maximus Aemilianus, consul of 145 BC, and is consul himself during this year.

He campaigns in Gallia Transalpina (the modern Auvergne and Rhône-Alpes regions) with Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, fighting the Allobroges, Arverni, and Helvii. They are defeated and the consul is awarded the honour of a triumph which is famous for its spectacle, with the Arverni ruler, Bituitus, being displayed in his silver battle armour. The Ruteni, Segovellauni, Vocontii, and Volcae Arecomisci are subjugated at the same time.

107 - 101 BC

The Cimbrian War is ignited when the Germanic Teutones and Cimbri migrate into northern Italy. Initially the invaders are successful against tribes which are allied to Rome. Consul Lucius Cassius Longinus enters Gallia Narbonensis to oppose the Cimbri in 107 BC, but he is killed at the Battle of Burdigala (modern day Bordeaux, the chief town of the Biturices Vivisci) by the Helvetii, along with his lieutenant, Lucius Piso (grandfather of Lucius Calpurnius Piso, father-in-law to Julius Caesar). The Roman force under Cassius is routed and made to 'pass under the yoke' by the Helvetii after surrendering most of its supplies.

The Teutones wandering in Gaul
An illustration depicting the Teutones wandering in Gaul, part of a large-scale migration from modern Denmark into northern Italy in the second century BC

In 105 BC a huge Roman army is destroyed at the Battle of Arausio. Consul Gaius Marius rebuilds the Roman forces and, while the Cimbri raid Iberia, in 102 BC the weakened Teutones are defeated and enslaved. The Cimbrians are similarly destroyed at the Battle of Vercellae in 101 BC.

96 - 75 BC

Cyrene becomes part of the republic in 96 BC, and in 75 BC is made a province of Rome. Also in 96 BC (and not 92 BC as is sometimes stated), Rome and Parthia meet on the Euphrates. The Parthian ambassador, Orobazos, offers Sulla, the propraetor of the province of Cilicia, the 'friendship' and 'alliance' of his master. Although the exact outcome of this meeting is unclear, Parthia's agreements with China and Rome serve to prove its rise as a world power.

95 - 89 BC

Rome secures the independence of Cappadocia in the face of attempted control by Pontus. Successful challenges to Rome's growing mastery of Anatolia are becoming increasingly rare.

91 - 89 BC

The Etruscans, Frentani, Hirpini, Iapyges, Lucani, Marrucini, Marsi, Paeligni, Picentes, Samnites, Umbri, and Vestini fight against Rome in the Social War (also variously known as the Italian War, or Marsic War). The Latins and Umbri play only a minor role in the war, joining the rebels late and agreeing terms with Rome early on. The Picentes side with Rome during the war and Picenum serves as a base for Roman troops. The war is the result of increasing inequality in Roman land ownership, and the spark for conflict is delivered by the assassination of the reforming Marcus Livius Drusus. The Alpine Euganei are conquered at the same time as the war ends in 89 BC.

89 - 82 BC

Civil war explodes in Italy between the supporters and forces of Sulla and Gaius Marius. The latter is supported by the Etruscans. Athens takes the opportunity to rebel against Roman control and Sulla is forced to crush the rebelling Greeks. He also conducts an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Samnites, Rome's most stubborn and persistent adversaries, forcing the remnant to disperse. The Italians are granted Roman citizenship and Sulla recaptures Rome in 82 BC to end the war. A new form of dictatorship is created in which there is no time limit for the office.

82 - 79 BC

Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix

Dictator. Resigned when Senate regained control of Rome.

80 BC

Sulla devastates the Etruscan cities; the Etruscans become Roman citizens but, as a result of their support of Gaius Marius, their language and customs are suppressed.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla
Lucius Cornelius Sulla was the victor in Rome's first full-scale civil war (88-82 BC), after which he became dictator of the Roman republic, thereby laying out a path that others could follow in the same century

80 - 72 BC

The Sertorian War in Hispania causes the Celts of Mediterranean Gaul to be subjected to troop levies and forced requisitions in order to support the military efforts of Metellus Pius, Pompeius, and other Roman commanders against the rebels. However, some Celtic polities, including, remarkably, the Helvii, support Sertorius and they pay the price for their support after his assassination. The Helvii and Volcae Arecomisci are forced to cede a portion of their territory to the Greek city state of Messalina. Caesar mentions this land forfeiture but does not provide any details of the Helvii actions against Rome.

73 - 71 BC

A slave named Spartacus, a former chieftain of the Maedi tribe of Thracians, leads a slave revolt in southern Italy. Aided by the Celts, Castus, Crixus, Gannicus, and Oenomaus, his numbers are swelled by more and more slaves joining his forces in what is known as the Third Servile War. Ultimately he is defeated by Crassus in battles at Brundisium, Lucania, and Silarus. Over six thousand slaves are crucified along the Via Appia (providing a memorable late scene in the 1960 film version of these events - Spartacus). Pompey gains the final victory over the remaining slave force and the credit in Rome, while Crassus is almost forgotten.

68 - 63 BC

Phoenicia becomes a Roman possession in 68 BC, while in 64 BC Lycia follows suit. In the following year, the Seleucids fall to Rome, and Syria and areas of the Levant become Roman provinces.

65 BC

The Allobroges revolt under the leadership of Catugnatus, and the Segovellauni may also be involved. The revolt is defeated in short order by Gaius Pomptinus at the Solonium and it results in a good deal of the tribe's accumulated wealth being paid to Rome. Senator Catiline (Lucius Sergius Catilina) invites the Allobroges to join his conspiracy. Instead, they decline the offer and expose it. This earns Rome's gratitude and the Allobroges remain allies thereafter.

Western Alps
The Celtic tribes of the Western Alps were relatively small and fairly fragmented, but they made up for that with a level of belligerence and fighting ability that often stunned their major opponents, including the Romans

64 - 62 BC

Pompey conquers Syria, including Ammon, making Syria a Roman province in 63 BC. The following year, Pompey's general, Scaurus, devastates the area around Petra but is unable to capture the city, partially because he has run out of supplies. The Nabataeans apparently buy their freedom by paying tribute so that, just as they had managed to avoid assimilation into the Seleucid empire, now they are keeping Rome at arm's length.

62 - 61 BC

In response to Rome's incursions into the Danube delta, which are seen as a major threat by all the peoples of the region, King Burebista of the Getae has united all of the Getae into a single kingdom. He has also established overlordship of the neighbouring Bastarnae and Sarmatians. Burebista's powerful forces raid regularly into Roman-held territory. In 62 BC the Greek cities rebel against Roman rule, and in the following year the Bastarnae managed to isolate the Roman infantry of the inept proconsul of Macedonia, Gaius Antonius (uncle to Marc Antony). The entire force is massacred. The Roman hold over the region collapses.

60 - 53 BC

Caesar, Pompey, & Crassus

Members of the first triumvirate.

60 - 58 BC

The Helvetii begin an invasion of the lowlands of Gaul, and Julius Caesar recruits two new legions to face the threat. The two sides soon face each other at the Battle of Bibracte in 58 BC, and the Helvetii are mercilessly crushed by six Roman legions. Their shattered remnants are forced back to their homeland but deeper problems result from the campaign. Its mixed outcome, despite victory in battle, triggers Julius Caesar's campaigns in Gaul from this point onwards, which result in the eventual annexation of the entire land into the Roman state.

58 BC

The Gallic Wars of Julius Caesar begin when he becomes governor of Gaul. Over the course of the next decade or so he conquers all of the Gaulish tribes. His efforts begin with a showdown against Ariovistus of the Suevi at the Battle of Vosges. Superior Roman tactics breaks that line and the Suevi host makes a run for the Rhine.

57 BC

The Belgae enter into a confederacy against the Romans in fear of Rome's eventual domination over them. They are also spurred on by Gauls who are unwilling to see Germanic tribes remaining on Gaulish territory and are unhappy about Roman troops wintering in Gaul. Caesar marches ahead of expectations and the Remi, on the Belgic border, instantly surrender, although their brethren, the Suessiones remain enthusiastic about the venture. Rather than face such a large force with a reputation for uncommon bravery, Caesar elects to isolate them in groups using his cavalry.

Battle of the Axona
The Battle of the (River) Axona (the modern Aisne in north-eastern France) witnessed the beginning of the end of the Belgic confederation against Rome

The next day, Caesar leads his army into the territories of the Suessiones, to capture the town of Noviodunum. With this victory, the Suessiones surrender and Caesar marches on the surviving Bellovaci, who are soon subdued when their leaders in the confederacy against Rome flee to Britain. With this action, northern Gaul has been brought under Roman domination, while the victorious legions winter amongst the Andes, Carnutes, and Turones.

56 BC

Following his successful campaign against the Belgae in the previous year, Caesar heads for Italy. He sends Servius Galba ahead with the Twelfth Legion and part of the cavalry to secure the way. The pass through the Alps has been dominated by the Nantuates, Seduni, and Veragri tribes, making the route a dangerous one for Roman merchants, and now is the time to end that danger.

With Gaul now apparently at peace, Caesar sets out for Illyricum. Once he has left, war flares up again, triggered by Publius Licinius Crassus and the Seventh Legion in the territory of the Andes thanks to their excessive scavanging activities. Julius Caesar rushes back to northern Gaul, to a fleet that is being prepared for him by the (Roman-led) Pictones and Santones on the River Loire. The subsequent campaign by Caesar against, principally, the Veneti is protracted and takes place both on land and sea, but Roman rule is firmly stamped upon the region.

Entering Aquitania after subduing the Petrocorii along the way, Crassus recruits auxiliaries from the Gaulish regions of Tolosa, Carcaso, and Narbo (which includes the tribes of the Bebryces, Sordones, and Volcae) before entering the territory of the Sotiates. The Romans are only just victorious here, but then tackle the Vocates and Tarusates in another close-run battle. When news of this defeat spreads, the majority of the tribes of Aquitania surrender to Crassus.

Now only the Morini and Menapii remain in opposition to Rome, never having sent their ambassadors to agree peace terms. Caesar leads his army to their territory but they withdraw into the forests and marshes, having realised that head-on conflict will be fruitless. However, guerrilla warfare simply results in the Romans decimating the countryside and burning the villages, and the invaders return to winter quarters amongst the Aulerci and Lexovii and other recently conquered tribes, having seen off the latest threat.

River Vézère
The River Vézère in France probably formed one of the territorial borders of the Petrocorii tribe following their arrival in the region

55 BC

As recorded by Julius Caesar in his work, Commentarii de Bello Gallico, the Germanic Tencteri and Usipetes tribes are driven out of their tribal lands in Germania by the militarily dominant Suevi. Their wanderings bring them to the territory of the Belgic Menapii whom they attack. Caesar, alarmed at this threat to the north of territory in Gaul that he has already conquered, takes a force into the region. He attacks the Germanic tribes and drives them back into Germania.

FeatureSeveral other tribes submit to Caesar, but the Sicambri withdraw from their territories. Caesar burns their villages and takes their corn before returning to Gaul. Soon afterwards, he mounts his first expedition to Britain, seemingly determined to go ahead with this 'reconnaissance' despite the lateness of the year.

54 BC

Julius Caesar starts the year by visiting Illyricum to put down incursions by the Pirustae. He raises a local force that readies itself to repel the invaders, forcing the Pirustae to negotiate a peace. From there, he returns to Gaul and assembles a fleet at Port Itius, intent on a second expedition to Britain.

The recent assassination of Tasgetius of the Carnutes raises the fear that the tribe will revolt. Lucius Plancus takes a legion to winter amongst them, but his investigations into the murder are interrupted. Although the situation is calmed by a swift battlefield victory, Cavarinus of the Senones is condemned to death by his people and is forced to flee to the Romans for protection. This serves as a commitment by the tribe to oppose Julius Caesar during his Gallic campaigns. The act seems to rally support from amongst most of the Gauls, except the Aeduii and Remi who remain loyal to Rome. No further action is taken against the Romans in this year.

53 BC

Having left a strong guard with the Treveri following the conclusion of their revolt, Caesar again crosses the Rhine to deal with their German supporters. Then he enters the country of the Eburones, forcing the rebellious Ambiorix to flee, while his co-ruler, Cativolcus, commits suicide by poisoning. Despite this apparent capitulation, the country of the Eburones proves difficult for the Romans, so Caesar burns every village and building, drives off all the cattle, and confiscates all of the tribe's grain. Once the situation has calmed, Caesar is able to settle his men into winter quarters.

Romans versus Gauls
Organising the various tribes of Gaul into a unified resistance took some doing, but Vercingetorix of the Arverni appears to have held a level of authority that made him a leader not to be refused, and thousands of warriors flocked to join him

However, greater events are afoot. On 13 February 53 BC the disaffected Carnutes had massacred every Roman merchant who had been present in the town of Cenabum, as well as killing one of Caesar's commissariat officers. This is the spark that ignites a massed Gaulish rebellion. While Julius Caesar has been occupied in the lands of the Belgae, Vercingetorix has renewed the Arverni subjugation of the Aeduii. He has also restored the reputation of Arverni greatness by leading the revolt that is building against Rome.

In the same year, Rome suffers one of the worst defeats in its history when Triumvir Marcus Licinius Crassus leads an army to annihilation against the Parthians at Carrhae (Harran). He dies shortly afterwards. Subsequent legend says that a small band of Roman prisoners wander through the desert and are eventually rounded up by the Han military seventeen years later (36 BC).

52 BC

While Caesar is tied down in Rome, the Gauls begin their revolt, resolving to die in freedom rather than be suppressed by the invaders. A scorched earth policy is adopted, and more than twenty towns of the Bituriges are burned in one day. However, Caesar secures all the supplies he needs when he besieges and storms the Bituriges capital at Avaricum, despite a formidable Gaulish defence. From there, the two sides gravitate towards an eventual confrontation at Gergovia, a town of the recently resettled Boii. Caesar loses the siege there after having to split his forces to face an unexpected Gaulish threat from his rear, a rare defeat for him in Gaul.

Vercingetorix withdraws in good order to Alesia, a major fort belonging to the Mandubii which Caesar soon beseiges. Four relief forces are assembled in the territory of the Aeduii by the council of the Gaulish nobility. Together they attempt to relieve Vercingetorix, but the combined relief force is soundly repulsed by Julius Caesar's remarkable strategy of simultaneously conducting a siege on one front whilst being besieged on the other. Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony) and Caius Trebonius marshal the troops for the rearward defence. Seeing that all is lost, Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar. The garrison is taken prisoner, as are the survivors from the relief army. Vercingetorix is imprisoned in the Tullianum in Rome for five years and Gaul falls to the republic.

49 - 46 BC

In the same year that the peoples of Gallia Transalpina are granted Roman citizenship (including the Cenomani tribe), civil war erupts between Julius Caesar and Pompey as the former crosses the Rubicon. Rome's various allies and subject peoples take sides, including the Getae who side with Pompey. Defeated at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, Pompey flees to Cleopatra VII, daughter of his late ally in Egypt. Ptolemy XIII has him executed.

Again in the same year, Pharnaces of Pontus takes the opportunity to occupy additional territory in Anatolia, and also the first conflict takes place between Rome and the Garamantes when the latter join the Numidian king, Juba I. Juba's army defeats the Roman commander Curio in 49 BC, but a retaliatory strike by Caesar in 46 BC defeats the Garamantes in turn.

Vercingetorix and Caesar in 52 BC
Having surrendered with honour to Caesar in 52 BC, Vercingetorix remained a potent symbol of resistance to Roman domination, so his murder in 46 BC dealt a terminal blow to hopes of renewed Gaulish freedom

Caesar also wins the civil war at the Battle of Thapsus in 46 BC, and is appointed dictator of Rome for ten years. The surviving Pompeians, including Cato the Younger, flee to Utica. One of Caesar's first projects is the building of Colonia Junonia on the site of ancient Carthage. By about 40 BC it becomes the capital of the Roman province of Africa Proconsularis. In 46 BC he also refounds the city of Corinth and murders Vercingetorix, former high king of the Gauls.

49 - 44 BC

Gaius Julius Caesar

Dictator. Assassinated.

45 BC

Caesar is appointed dictator of Rome for life, much to the consternation of many members of the Senate who see his increasing authority as a bid for kingship of Rome, something that most Romans would abhor.

44 BC

Julius Caesar is assassinated on the Ides of March in a conspiracy led by Cassius and Brutus. Afterwards, Caesar's consular colleague, Marc Antony, passes a 'lex Antonia' which abolishes the dictatorate and expunges it from the constitutions of the republic. When Caesar's great-nephew and adopted son, Octavian, returns to Rome, the two rivals share an uneasy peace as they jostle for political superiority and influence.

43 BC

Many senators are opposed to Marc Antony's hold on power. Octavian is granted the status of senator, despite not yet being twenty. Cicero leads the Senate to dispatch Octavian to attack Marc Anthony in northern Italy, and the young general wins victory at Mutina. The two reigning consuls are among the casualties, so Octavian subsequently marches on Rome and forces the Senate to accept him as consul. Three months after that, he meets Antony and General Marcus Lepidus at Bologna and on 27 November they come to a power-sharing agreement known as the Triumvirate (Lepidus is definitely the lesser of the three in terms of power, and is soon brushed aside). This completely cuts off the Senate from power, hastening the transition from republic to empire.

43 - 31 BC

Octavian, Antony, & Lepidus

Members of the second triumvirate.

42 BC

During his reign, Raskouporis of Sapes has already granted assistance both to Pompey and Caesar during their struggle for power. Now, immediately after the murder of Julius Caesar, he supports Brutus and Cassius against Marc Antony and Octavian. In return, Brutus and Cassius lead campaigns against the tribal Bessoi in the Thracian highlands in defence of their allies.

Gradishte fortress
The fortress at Gradishte was Thracian, seemingly lying at the heart of the Bessoi territory in Rhodopi Mountains and the northern foothill mountain plain on the upper and middle streams of the River Maritsa

32 - 31 BC

The agreement regulating the Triumvirate has expired, and in the political manoeuvring that follows Octavian gains and reads out Antony's will in public. It shows that his heart belongs to Cleopatra and Egypt, thereby making it clear to most Romans that Antony could never be one of them. The Senate declares war, and Octavian and Antony clash on 2 September 31 BC at the naval Battle of Actium, off the western coast of Greece. Antony is defeated as Cleopatra departs with the surviving fleet and he commits suicide. Octavian's next act is to put to death Cleopatra's son Caesarion.

31 - 27 BC

Gaius Octavius / Octavian Caesar

In sole control of Rome.

31 - 30 BC

With Octavian's defeat of Antony at Actium and no other opponents to his hold on power, Egypt and Libya become provinces of Rome upon the death of Cleopatra in the following year. Octavian also recognises the authority of the turncoat Polemon I of the Bosporan kingdom, Cilicia, Kolkis, and Pontus.

27 BC

The office of dictator is offered to Caesar Augustus (Octavian), who wisely declines it. He opts instead for the power of a tribune and consular imperium without holding any office other than that of Pontifex Maximus and Princeps Senatus - a politic arrangement which leaves him as functional dictator without having to hold the controversial title or office itself. The Empire is born.

Empire of Rome
27 BC - AD 476

The Roman republic had lasted for half a millennium but the final century of its existence had greatly weakened it, with a few powerful individuals vying for ultimate power. While several dates are commonly proposed to mark the transition from Roman republic to empire, including the date of Julius Caesar's appointment as perpetual dictator (44 BC), the victory of Octavian at the Battle of Actium (2 September 31 BC), and the Roman Senate's granting to Octavian the honorific 'Augustus' (16 January 27 BC), it is usually the latter that is accepted as a starting point. Octavian was Caesar's youthful but utterly ruthless great-nephew and his appointed successor. In effect, he oversaw the creation of the empire that Caesar may have been attempting to form in order to save the fabric of Roman dominance over much of the ancient world.

Some of the names listed here were never accepted as emperors in Rome, often merely leading revolts in some of the provinces and holding regional power for a time. These names are usually backed in a darker shade to separate them. Of course, if they had managed to defeat their opposition then they would have achieved legitimacy, which sometimes was the case.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from Roman Soldier versus Germanic Warrior: 1st Century AD, Lindsay Powell, from the BBC series, Mary Beard's Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limit, presented by Mary Beard and first screened between 27 April-18 May 2016, from the Notitia Dignitatum, from Encyclopaedia of the Roman Empire, Matthew Bunson (1994), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Iranica, and University of Leicester, and Listverse, and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Ancient Origins, and Facts and Details, and The Roman Military Research Society.)

Julian-Claudian Dynasty

These five rulers were linked through marriage and adoption into the patrician families of the Julii and Claudii. The reigns of all five were remarkably similar, each expanding the Roman empire's territory and initiating large-scale building projects. All were resented by the senatorial class, despite their popularity with the people, and there was constant plotting to restore the republic. In fact, many notable members of the ruling families were themselves desirous of seeing the republic return, but these individuals were usually disposed of by Livia Drusilla in her pursuit of securing the imperial throne for Tiberius, her son by a previous marriage. A detailed feel for the period and events (if not necessarily full historical accuracy) can be gained from the BBC drama series, I, Claudius.

27 BC - AD 14

Caesar Augustus (Octavian)

Great-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar.

27 BC

Octavian, son of Atia Balba Caesonia, niece of Julius Caesar, ends a century of civil wars and gives Rome an era of peace, prosperity, and imperial greatness, known as the Pax Romana, or Roman peace, which lasts for over two hundred years. He is known generally as Augustus, which simply means 'revered one'.

Caesar Augustus
During his long 'reign' as Rome's first citizen, Augustus brought peace to the city and oversaw its transition from failing republic to vigorous and expanding empire

25 - 15 BC

Augustus determines that the Alpine tribes need to be pacified in order to end their warlike behaviour, alternately attacking or extracting money from Romans who pass through the region even when they have armies in tow. He wages a steady, determined campaign against them, and in a period of ten years he 'pacifies the Alps all the way from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian seas' (written by Augustus himself). The Brigantii and their immediate neighbours are defeated by 15 BC, with Brigantion being captured. The settlement is converted into a Roman military camp.

12 - 9 BC

Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus, stepson of Emperor Augustus, is appointed governor of the Rhine region of Gaul. He launches the first major Roman campaigns across the Rhine and begins the conquest of Germania. He starts with a successful campaign that subjugates the Sicambri. Later in the same year he leads a naval expedition along the North Sea coast, conquering the Batavi and the Frisii, and defeating the Chauci near the mouth of the Weser. In 11 BC, he conquers the Bructeri, Usipetes and Marsi, extending Roman control into the Upper Weser. In 10 BC, he launches a campaign against the Chatti and the resurgent Sicambri, subjugating both.

The following year he conquers the Mattiaci, while also defeating the Marcomanni and Cherusci, the latter being taken care of near the Elbe. He is killed following a fall from his horse during his fourth campaign, and his death deprives Rome of one its best generals. (There is the suggestion that he may in fact be recovering from his serious injury but is poisoned by a doctor sent by Livia to take charge of his care, removing one of the more serious obstacles to her own son's path to becoming the successor of Augustus.)

12 - 11 BC

With the loyal General Agrippa his only possible successor in 23 BC, Augustus had him divorce his wife and marry the widowed Julia, his daughter from his previous marriage to Scribonia. Agrippa had been twenty-five years older than his new wife, but their marriage had delivered three sons and two daughters, and two of the sons, Gaius and Lucius, had been adopted by Augustus as his own. Now in 12 BC Agrippa dies and Augustus realises that the boys need a guardian. Therefore, he turns to the two adult sons of his wife, Livia. The elder of them, Tiberius, is made to divorce his wife Vipsania, marry Julia, and become protector to the young heirs to Augustus. Despite Tiberius deeply resenting this demand, the marriage goes ahead on 12 February 11 BC.

AD 1

The threat of conflict between Rome and Parthia has been building over the question of Armenia. As a result the Romans build up a large military force in Syria. King Phraates V of Parthia gives way, and negotiations which are held in this year end with the Parthians relinquishing any claims of influence in affairs in Armenia and the Romans granting recognition to Phraates as a legitimate and sovereign ruler.


With both Gaius and Lucius, the sons of Agrippa and Julia, now dead (possibly due to the machinations of Livia), Augustus has little choice but to adopt the reluctant Tiberius as his successor, along with fifteen year-old Agrippa Postumus, Julia's youngest son. Postumus is conveniently sent into exile just three years later.

Teutoberger wald
The decimation of three legions in the Teutoberger wald in AD 9 was a massive humiliation for the Roman empire and caused the abandonment of plans to conquer Germania Magna


Arminius, king of the Germanic Cherusci tribe, decimates three legions of infantry under Roman governor Publius Quinctilius Varus. The disaster is a tremendous blow to Roman plans for expansion into Germania Magna, something from which they never entirely recover. Upon the death of Emperor Augustus in AD 14, a document left by him is read to the senate, expressly forbidding any extension of the empire beyond the Rhine. News of this command is welcomed by the German tribes, thinking that it gives them a free hand in the region.

In the eastern Mediterranean, the new provinces of Dalmatia, Moesia and Thrace are formed, and the province of Macedonia acquires the physical dimensions that it retains throughout the empire period. It also gains safety and security at last, with the Thracian tribes fully pacified and external threats kept away by the buffer provinces around it.


The death of Caesar Augustus is the occasion for the Res Gestae Divi Augusti ('The Deeds of the Divine Augustus') funerary inscription to be read. The document is a form of obituary, recounting the emperor's deeds to his mourning subjects. It also mentions the Charudes of Jutland who are said to have petitioned Rome for its friendship.

14 - 37


Son of Livia, and adopted son of Octavian. By birth a Claudian.

14 - 15

Germanicus Julius Caesar, born either Nero Claudius Drusus after his father or Tiberius Claudius Nero after his uncle, invades northern Germany on a campaign against the victorious Cherusci tribe. Together with his Cherusci ally, Segestes, he starts with a massacre of the Marsi. This enrages the Germanic tribes and Arminius' confederation is reformed willingly. Roman forces (and Batavi allies) have to relieve Segestes from a siege which is being conducted by Arminius.

16 - 17

The Cherusci suffer two defeats to Germanicus in AD 16 which removes them as a serious threat. In AD 17 Germanicus is recalled from Germany and sent to the east. Many see this as an act of jealously by an emperor who is envious of the general's popularity. It could also be due to Germanicus being perceived as a potential rival to Tiberius, despite his proclamations of loyalty. To cap it all, Germanicus dies in suspicious circumstances, possibly poisoned, with the act being attributed by some to Livia and her network of agents and supporters. Another rival to Tiberius has been removed from the scene.

Tiberius was probably a reluctant emperor who was manoeuvred into the role by the machinations of his mother, Livia, and in his later days he shunned many of his duties


Archelaus of Cappadocia angers Tiberius after favouring one of his rivals for the imperial diadem, and is summoned to Rome where he dies, possibly of natural causes (or suicide). Tributary Cappadocia now becomes a Roman province while Lesser Armenia is handed to the stepson of Archelaus, Artaxias III, who rules there as a client king. Cilicia is handed to Archelaus' natural son to rule as another client king.


The somewhat divided Aeduii appear to have been neglected by Rome. The dissatisfaction of the tribe's people results in a revolt by them and the Treveri under the leadership of Julius Sacroviros of the Aeduii and Julius Florus of the Treveri. Thier revolt is quickly put down by Gaius Silius.


Lucius Aelius Seianus (more commonly known as Sejanus) has manipulated his position as head of the Praetorian guard to become the emperor's personal advisor. He is also the vicious and ambitious head of a network of agents and informers who may hold his own ambitions of gaining the imperial throne. The emperor is partially responsible for the air of suppressed fear in Rome, as he has willingly allowed Sejanus to take much of the burden of government from his hands. Finally realising that he has created a monster, Tiberius is able to initiate a purge in Rome which sees Sejanus and many of his supporters and allies killed in the streets.

37 - 41

Gaius Caesar (Caligula)

Son of Germanicus Caesar, Tiberius' nephew. A despot.


Early in the year, Caligula's brief and colourful reign is ended by a plot engineered by army officers and senators. He is replaced by the unlikely and unprepared Claudius, whose wife is a member of the Urgulanilla, a noble family which can trace its origins back to the Etruscan city of Caisra.

41 - 54


Uncle. Assassinated by Agrippina, mother of Nero.


Rome invades Britannia and begins the conquest of the island. Under the command of Governor Aulus Plautius, the invasion force probably consists of four legions of citizen troops, II Augusta, XIV Gemina, XX Valeria Victrix, and IX Hispana.


The Chauci and Frisii are to be found under the command of Gannascus of the Canninefates. Together, they continue to raid the coastline of Gallia Belgica. The newly-appointed Roman military commander, Corbulo, engages the attackers in battle and defeats them. Emperor Claudius orders a withdrawal of Roman forces to the Rhine in order to ease tensions.


There is an invasion across the Rhine into the empire by a Teutonic people whom later Roman writers name the Chamavi [tribe or group] of the Franci. This may be part of the migratory movement which later finds them in the lands of the Bructeri, as documented by Tacitus in AD 98.

54 - 68


Deposed by Senate and suicided to avoid the Roman mob.

54 - 59

Julia Agrippina (Minor)

Mother. Self-appointed regent. Killed on Nero's orders.


The lower Rhine has recently been cleared out by Rome to serve as a buffer zone between the empire and tribal Germania. The Frisii are under the mistaken belief that they will be exempt from any retaliation by Rome if they reoccupy this area, but they are swiftly disabused of this belief when Roman cavalry sweeps them out. Then the homeless Ampsivarii tribe petitions Rome to be able to settle the area but this attempt also fails.

66 - 73

The First Jewish Uprising in Judah leads to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. In 67, the Nabataeans under King Maliku II send an army to aid General (later emperor) Vespasian in the siege.

Roman siege of Jerusalem AD 70
The Nabataeans are perhaps unknown for the part they played in the siege of Jerusalem in AD 67-70, however minor that part may have been, with their support going to the Romans against their long-standing regional rival


The early leader of the Christian church, Peter, is put to death in Rome by means of crucifixion. He is later claimed as the first official Pope, and the movement he champions continues to grow in strength in Rome.


With Nero's Rome slipping into chaos, Caius Julius Vindex, a governor in Gaul, launches a revolt with support from Servius Sulpicius Galba. Vindex soon finds that his levies are no match for legions sent from Germania Superior (IIII Macedonica, XXI Rapax, and XXII Primigenia), under the command of Lucius Verginius Rufus and supported by ever-reliable Gallic communities such as the Lingones. Nero loses control in Rome and commits suicide, ending the Julio-Claudian dynasty of emperors. The scene is set for the 'Year of Four Emperors'.

Soldier Emperors

Roman emperor Nero was the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. During his rule, he was disdained by his people because of his vanity and inadequacies as leader. He had one wife executed and he murdered another with a fatal kick. All of this resulted in a great conspiracy against him and he was forced to commit suicide on 9 June AD 68.

The subsequent 'Year of the Four Emperors' witnessed the first time the imperial selection system broke down, as various legions proclaimed their own emperors. The process was started by the Senate voting Galba emperor at the same time as they declared Nero a public enemy. Suddenly the legions and Gaulish tribes who had supported the former regime by suppressing Vindex's revolt found themselves under suspicion. Supported by the Helvetii, Galba replaced their commander with Marcus Hordeonius Flaccus, which was interpreted as a sign of distrust. Instability and distrust gripped the empire.

68 - 69

Servius Sulpicius Galba

Spanish general who marched on Rome. Murdered.

68 - 69

Galba, a former governor of Africa Proconsularis, begins his short reign with the execution of many allies of Nero and possible future enemies, but he swiftly demonstrates his lack of ability to wield supreme power. His replacement of key figures leads to a revolt of the legions in Gaul. They accept as their emperor Aulus Vitellius, governor of Germania Inferior. When this news reaches Rome, Galba panics and announces the appointment of a successor. The result is that imperial guard assassinates Galba and replaces him with Marcus Salvius Otho.

Servius Sulpicius Galba
Galba seized Rome and the imperial title in AD 68, but immediately faced opposition by other generals who thought that their claim was better, sparking the 'Year of the Four Emperors' in AD 69


Marcus Salvius Otho

Popular with the soldiers. Committed suicide.


Among the first measures to be enacted by Otho is to award Roman citizenship to all Lingones, hoping that they will abandon their alliance with Vitellius. Unfortunately, eight Batavian auxiliary units meet up with the legions of Vitellius in the country of the Lingones. On 16 April AD 69, the Vitellians defeat Otho's army near Cremona. Otho commits suicide and the Senate hastily sends its congratulations to Vitellius. The Helvetii are also crushed by the forces of Vitellius.


Aulus Vitellius

Proclaimed on the Rhine. Executed by Vespasian.


At this point, with the supporters of Vitellius openly battling those of Vespasian in the streets of Rome, a Lingonian named Julius Sabinus proclaims himself emperor. This appears to be the first instance of a western emperor standing in opposition to Rome and using Gaul as his power base. Sabinus becomes the leader of the Batavian rebellion, although it is Gaius Julius Civilis who commands the Batavi forces. Initially the rebellion is successful, with two Roman legions being lost, while two others fall into the hands of the rebels.


The fall of Nero (AD 68) and the extinction of the Julio-Claudian dynasty had been followed by a war of succession that revealed the military basis of the principate and the weakness of the tie connecting the emperor with Rome. The successive emperors Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian represented in turn the legions of Spain, the Praetorian Guard (the household troops), the army of the Rhine, and a coalition of the armies of the Danube and the Euphrates; and all except Otho were already de facto emperors when they entered Rome.

FeatureVespasian was proclaimed emperor by his troops and returned from Judea to take control of Rome. He ended the period of uncertainty in the empire and effectively saved Rome from the chaos that had gripped it since the accession of Vitellius. He authorised the demolition of Nero's fabulous Golden House in the centre of Rome and began construction of its replacement, the Colosseum. Although the period of the Flavians was relatively short, the name proved popular, and was a common component of Roman names for generations. The third emperor, Domitian, also served a single term as elected archon of Athens (AD 91-92).

69 - 79


General in his 60s. Former governor of Africa Proconsularis.


With the defeat of Vitellius in Rome, his former supporters join Sabinus in opposing Rome. Sabinus makes a major mistake, however, when he attacks the Sequani who have remained loyal to Vespasian. They repulse his attack and a conference of the Gauls in the land of the Remi leads to a decision to support Rome against the Batavi. The revolt is quickly suppressed, with some rebels being posted to Britain (at least four units of five hundred men).

The Gaulish and Germanic Batavian revolt of AD 69-70 was a major contributor to the instability experienced in the Roman empire during the 'Year of Four Emperors'


FeatureCatastrophe hits southern Italy when Mount Vesuvius explodes with violent strength to bury the cities of Herculanium and Pompeii. The death toll is unknown, but the people of Herculaneum, once thought to have got away, are found in excavations on the ancient waterfront in 1980, huddled on the beach and in boatsheds where they die during the worst of the eruption.

79 - 81



81 - 96


Brother. Assassinated thanks to his increasing paranoia.

c.81 - 96

The Celtic tribe of the Lugii are mentioned by Cassius Dio in his Roman History. During Domitian's reign the 'Lygians' in Moesia, having become involved in war with some of the Suevi, send envoys asking Domitian for aid. He grants them a force of a hundred warriors, 'a force that was strong, not in numbers, but in dignity'. The Suevi, indignant at this help, attach members of the Iazyges to their number make preparations to cross the Ister with them. What happens next remains unrecorded.


Around this year, Rome establishes two provinces on the border territory between Gaul and Germania Magna, calling them Germania Superior and Germania Inferior. The latter has contained Roman settlements for over a century, and had previously formed part of Gallica Belgica. Cities such as Aachen, Cologne, Mainz, Speyer, Trier, and Worms are all founded within these provinces by Rome and all of them become important medieval cities. Domitian also antagonises the Germanic tribes by driving back the Chatti from these new provinces.


Antoninus Saturninus

Usurper army general.


Two legions of Domitian's armies in Germania Superior at Mogontiacum (Mainz) revolt under L Antoninus Saturninus, for reasons that are largely lost to history (thanks to the later destruction of Saturninus' personal documents). The revolt is supported by the Chatti tribe. It is quite plausible that the officers involved rebel against Domitian's rather strict moral policies. Whatever goal Saturninus has is completely unknown and there seems to be little indication of a plan. The governor of Germania Inferior puts down the revolt, seemingly before it even begins. In AD 90, the Governor of Britannia, Sallustius Lucullus, is executed, possibly for a perceived (or real) connection with the revolt.

Adoptive Emperors

The election to the purple of Nerva, an elderly, moderate and capable man, saw the start of the 'five good emperors' golden age, a period which is sometimes known as the Nerva-Antonine dynasty. The adoptive emperors are so named because they adopted their successors during their lifetime, ensuring a smooth and peaceful transfer of power upon their deaths. The practice of adoption was a long-standing one in Rome - Julius Caesar had adopted Augustus as his heir. The system eventually failed when Marcus Aurelius had to chose between an effective heir and his own unstable son.

At this time, the early Christian church was still growing and, although not subject to the same levels of barbarity as seen in the first century, Christians remained persecuted and were often executed. Even the early church fathers (often later claimed as the first Popes) suffered at the hands of Roman emperors. Women still had a much greater role in this early church than later Roman Catholic church leaders would allow (or even admit). The 'lost' gospels hint at a second century power struggle between the sexes over the ownership of the church, and it was not a foregone conclusion which side would win.

96 - 98

Marcus Cocceius Nerva

Adopted Trajan, a commander of the Rhine forces.


Writing at this time, Tacitus not only mentions a large number of tribes in Europe, he also describes Ireland. He calls it 'a small country in comparison with Britain, He goes on to state that he has often heard his father-in-law,  General Agricola, 'say that Ireland could be reduced and held by a single legion with a fair force of auxiliaries'.

Tombstone of Tacitus
The tombstone of Tacitus once marked the final resting place of one of Rome's most important authors, who not only chronicled the creation of the empire, but also listed the many barbarian tribes of Europe and the British Isles (External Link: Creative Commons Licence 4.0 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike International)

98 - 117


Increased the empire's borders to their greatest extent.

101 - 106

Trajan fights two Dacian Wars (the area of the Balkans up to Transylvania) in 101-102 and 105-106 as the Dacians are proving to be an obstacle to Roman expansion in that area. It is possible that some neighbouring tribes, such as the Bastarnae, are also involved, despite having been at peace with Rome for some time. In 106, the Nabataeans are conquered and their capital city becomes the capital of the province of Arabia Petraea.

114 - 117

Seemingly out of the blue, after decades of peace, Trajan marches Roman troops into Armenia and kills Parthia's King Parthamasiris there. The underlying reason, of course, is Parthia's interference in Armenia. Then the Romans go on to occupy Mesopotamia right across to the former Elamite capital at Susa (now the Parthian capital). It is one Vologeses, who rules eastern portions of Parthia in opposition to Osroes, who is placed upon the Armenian throne. Trajan dies on the way back from his conquests and his successor disavows them, intent on securing peace and security for the empire.

117 - 138


Archon of Athens (112-113). An unconventional emperor.

132 - 135

The Second Jewish Uprising in Judah is led by Simon Bar Kochba against Roman rule. He captures Jerusalem and establishes a short-lived independent state which is destroyed by Rome, along with much of Jerusalem itself.

Hadrian inscription
The missing half of an inscription to Hadrian was found recycled into a floor around a cistern opening, north of the Damascus gate in Jerusalem

117 - 136

Hadrian spends much of his career consolidating the empire and securing its borders. This includes the building of limes, or defensive works, along the Rhine to keep out possible future Germanic incursions, although it is probably Hadrian's successor, Antoninus, who completes much of this work.


Two years before his death Hadrian adopts a consul by the name of L Aelius Caesar to be his successor, but the latter's premature death forces Hadrian to select again. Antoninus Pius has a reputation for honesty and devotion to duty.

138 - 161

Antoninus Pius

Died of fever in Etruria.

140 - 143

Never one to willingly make war, Antoninus is forced to order the reoccupation of the British territories of lowland Scotland and begin construction of the Antonine Wall in order to resolve the problem of barbarian pressure.

161 - 180

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Aurelius and Lucius Verus are the empire's first joint rulers.

161 - 169

Lucius Verus

Co-emperor. m Lucilla, dau of Marcus Aurelius. Died early.

165 - 180

Plague enters Rome from the east, brought back by returning legionaries. It quickly spreads throughout the empire and is generally known as the Antonine Plague, although the 'Plague of Galen', who describes its spread, is sometimes used. The total death toll may reach five million, with as many as two thousand a day dying in Rome at its height. It may be the reason for the early death of Lucius Verus in 169, and it drastically weakens the army.

166 - 169

The first invasion of Germanic peoples across the Danube takes place under the leadership of the Marcomanni, which also includes elements from many other tribes including the Buri, Iazyges, Quadi, Sarmatians, and Suebi. It penetrates into Italy and forces Marcus Aurelius to spend the rest of his life campaigning in the Danube region to contain the problem. While he is away from Rome, a new generation emerges which is in thrall to the gladiator spectacles arranged by his fun-loving son, Commodus.

Roman defensive tower
Emperors Hadrian and Antoninus Pius had concentrated on defining the Roman empire's borders, defending the territory they had. That would have included building watch towers along the limes in the Danube region which the Marcomanni managed to break through

169 - 170

The resistance put up by the Romans surprises the tribes, and some of the latter seek individual peace treaties with Rome. As recorded by Cassius Dio, both the Iazyges and the Buri seek peace, and some concessions are granted to them, but neither are willing to join the Roman side until they receive pledges that Marcus Aurelius will 'without fail prosecute the war to the uttermost; for they were afraid he might make a treaty with the Quadi, as before, and leave enemies dwelling at their doors'. Ultimately, the Buri are well-rewarded for absenting themselves from the war, but have to face the hostility of their former allies.

172 - 174

Peace is agreed between Rome and the Quadi after two years of heavy fighting in Quadi territory, with the Roman forces being led by Marcus Aurelius in person. The start of the fighting is known thanks to a battle in Slovakia on 11 June 172 during which the Romans, who have been cut off from access to water by the Quadi, are saved from defeat by a 'magic rain', a fortuitous heavy downpour. This event is depicted on the Column of Marcus Aurelius in Rome.

175 - 176

Gaius Avidius Cassius

Army general. Assassinated.


Thinking that Marcus Aurelius is close to death, Cassius proclaims himself emperor. Marcus Aurelius launches a powerful campaign against him but it is one of his own centurions who assassinates him, sending his head to the emperor.

177 - 180


Son of Marcus Aurelius. Totally unfit to rule Rome.


Marcus Aurelius dies while conducting what would have been a final campaign against the most dangerous barbarian Germanic tribes across the Danube which is under Marcomanni leadership and includes Dacians, the Peucini, and Sarmatians. As it is, the problem is never fully resolved thereafter, and Rome gains one of the most worthless of emperors.

180 - 192


Assassinated by arrangement of the praetorian prefect.


The reign of the dangerously erratic Commodus is very well depicted by two feature films (albeit an inaccurate depiction), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1963) and Gladiator (2000). Becoming sole emperor in 180, the nineteen year-old Commodus rules in relative external peace but with increasing political instability within the empire as his arbitrary mode of rule increases. In this year his sister, Lucilla, engineers an assassination attempt. The assassins, Marcus Ummidius Quadratus Annianus (her first cousin, and consul in 167) and Appius Claudius Quintianus fail, are arrested, and are executed. Lucilla is exiled to Capri where she is later killed.

Ephesos frieze
This scene from the Parthian War comes from Ephesos and shows a Roman warrior in typical heroic stance about to strike down his defeated Parthian opponent - all good propaganda for the Roman war effort, of course


Despite being largely popular with the army and the people, thanks to his lavish gladiatorial displays in which he frequently plays a starring role, Commodus has become increasingly dictatorial, especially following several conspiracies. Portraying himself as a demigod and ruling in opposition to the Senate, he re-founds Rome in 192 following a devastating fire, renaming it Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana. The months of the year are renamed with his own twelve names, and various other institutions are renamed to reflect his glory, including the army and the navy. Finally tired of the emperor's self-deification, conspirators arrange for him to be strangled in his bath, ironically by his own wrestling partner.

Unassociated Emperors

Pertinax was prefect of Rome when Commodus was murdered on 31 December AD 192, ending the period of Adoptive Emperors. The Senate met before dawn and proclaimed Pertinax (then senior marshal of the empire) as the new emperor. Unfortunately he was a strict disciplinarian whose approach to politics ruffled a lot of feathers and began a period of instability and military mutiny.

The 'Year of the Five Emperors' had begun, and only the last of them would have any lasting effect on the empire. The others were regional governors (plus a senator) who either failed to win enough support to survive or who were defeated sooner or later by a competitor. The events of this tumultuous year would, however, rumble on to at least AD 197 when the last of the competing claimants was killed in battle.


Publius Helvius Pertinax

Former Governor of Britain & prefect of Rome. Assassinated.


The same praetorian prefect who had arranged the murder of Commodus also causes his men to assassinate Pertinax. In perhaps the most cynical act in their history they put the throne up for auction to the highest bidder. At the same time three separate provinces proclaim their own emperors and the seeds are sown for civil war.

Rome during the height of the empire was by now complete with its famous forum, circus, and winding viaducts


Didius Julianus

An immensely wealthy senator. Murdered in the palace.

193 - 194

Pescennius Niger

Governor of Syria. Killed attempting to flee from Severus.


Decimus Clodius Albinus

Governor of Britannia. Remained a claimant until 197.


Septimus Severus

Governor of Pannonia. A native of Utica.


Severus marches on Rome and the praetorians declare for him. Didianus Julianus is dispatched only six months after the death of Commodus. Severus, now fully in command, offers a far more serious rival - Clodius Albinus - the junior title of Caesar which he accepts.


Septimus Severus, of North African origin, was proclaimed emperor by his legions in Pannonia at almost the same moment as the military in Syria proclaimed Pescennius Niger and the troops in Britannia proclaimed Decimus Clodius Albinus. Albinus was initially allied to Severus, who had captured Rome, taking his own name 'Septimius' and accepting the title of Caesar from him. The two even shared a consulship in 194. Albinus effectively remained ruler of much of the western part of the empire with support from three British legions and one Spanish.

Severus showed Machiavellian shrewdness in his dealings with his rivals, while his eldest son, Caracalla, was ruthless in dispatching any opposition to his own claim to succeeding his father. Both his own father-in-law and his brother, Geta, were his victims, while Severus soon fell out with Clodius Albinus and faced him at the Battle of Lugdunum on 19 February 197. Albinus was not only killed (either by Severus or by his own hand to avoid capture), he was also decapitated with his body being laid out on the ground so that Severus could ride his horse over it and his head being sent to be displayed in Rome.

193 - 211

Septimus Severus

Died 4 February.

193 - 197

Decimus Clodius Albinus

Caesar in Britannia & Gaul. Defeated and killed by Severus.

196 - 197

FeatureAfter an attempt to have Albinus assassinated fails, Severus marches on Gaul to meet Albinus' forces. The final battle is a close-run affair, but Albinus does not survive the encounter. Severus immediately divides the single province of Britannia, probably in a temporary fashion at first, with division being confirmed within two or three years. (A map created by the emperor is finally pieced back together in 2005 - see feature link.)

202 or 203

The edict of persecution is issued in Rome. It forbids any conversion to Christianity under the severest penalties. This follows a period of relative relaxation in the persecution of early Christians within the empire.

Arch of Septimus Severus
The Machiavellian Septimus Severus continued to increase the glory of Rome (this surviving arch is named after him) but he continued the imperial practice of Christian persecution

209 - 211

Severus leads a campaign against the Caledonii in person, making his headquarters (and the centre of the Roman empire for three years) at Eboracum (York), but ill-health means he has to hand control of its day-to-day conduct to Septimius Bassianus Caracalla.

198 - 217

Antoninus (Caracalla)

Son. Became Augustus upon the death of his father.

209 - 212

Antoninus (Publius Septimius Geta)

Brother. Co-emperor. Murdered by Caracalla.


The Alemanni are first mentioned by Dio Cassius when they fight Emperor Antoninus (Septimius Bassianus Caracalla). They apparently live in the basin of the River Main, to the south of the Chatti. According to Asinius Quadratus, they have emerged from the Irminone grouping of Germanic tribes that was to be found in the Elbe region by the late first century AD.


Caracalla dies a rather mysterious death while visiting a temple of Luna with only his personal bodyguard, which includes his prefect of the Praetorian guard, Macrinus. Perhaps not coincidentally, Macrinus had recently found his name on one of Caracalla's death lists.

Second Unassociated Emperors Period

By 11 April 217, following the curious death of Emperor Antoninus (Caracalla), Macrinus had proclaimed himself emperor. He was the first man to become so without membership in the senatorial class and was the first emperor of Moorish descent. Macrinus also nominated his son, Diadumenianus, as Caesar (the junior rank) and successor and conferred upon him the name 'Antoninus', so connecting him with the relatively stable reigns of the Antonine emperors.

Also in April 217, ongoing problems along the eastern frontier with the Parthians flared up again when they launched an offensive in response to Caracalla's own campaign. However, while Rome was at a relatively weak point the fractured Parthian empire was now breaking down. With the claim to rule it already dividing the empire in two on official lines, other minor kingdoms had already started emerging or would soon do so. The Parthian campaign against Rome was effectively its last hurrah, and its outcome would do no good either to Macrinus or the Parthians themselves - both were imminently to fall.

217 - 218


Of Mauritanian origin. Defeated, fled, captured, & executed.


In April 217 the Parthians mount a fairly big offensive to avenge Caracalla's action, demanding from his successor, Macrinus, the withdrawal of Romans from Mesopotamia and restitution for the damage they have caused. Macrinus is neither able nor willing to agree to these demands, so the war continues and the Romans are defeated at Nisibis, as suggested by the terms of the peace treaty: Rome pays the Parthian king and the nobility a total of fifty million dinars in cash and gifts at the beginning of AD 218.

Battle of Nisibis
The Battle of Nisibis was the final throw of the dice in the intermittent Roman-Parthian Wars, and victory most likely went to the Parthians although they were to fall themselves just seven years later


Diadumenianus (Caesar)

Son. Executed.


Severan family plotting paves the way for the proclamation of one of their own as emperor. Macrinus, deserted by many of his allies, is defeated in battle, flees, and is captured and executed. His son is also later executed.

Second Severans Dynasty

Emperor Macrinus during his sort reign managed to reinforce the notion of Rome's soldiers as being the true brokers of power in the third century empire. This also highlighted the importance of maintaining the support of this vital faction, usually in terms of money. The reign of Macrinus was ended in AD 218 when he was defeated in battle. His reign was followed by another seventeen years of rule under a restoration of the line of Severan emperors, albeit with a somewhat distant relationship to the initial emperors.

Despite the seizure of the empire by Macrinus, the imperial court had remained dominated by formidable women who arranged the succession of Elagabalus, and that of Alexander Severus in AD 222. In this last phase of the Severan principate, the power of the Senate was finally revived and a number of fiscal reforms were enacted. The fatal flaw of the last Severan emperor, however, was his failure to control the army, which eventually lead to mutiny and his assassination. The death of Alexander signalled the age of the soldier-emperors and almost half a century of civil war and strife.

218 - 222

Antoninus (Elagabalus)

Son of Caracalla's female cousin. Assassinated.

222 - 235

Severus Alexander

Cousin. Murdered for failing to fight the German tribes.

232 - 233

Just as the newly dominant Sassanids conquer areas of Mesopotamia (including Harran) in 232, the Alemanni make the first of their invasions of the empire in 233. They participate decisively in the plundering raids into the limes region, the provinces beyond, and even into Italy.

Emperor Severus Alexander
Severus Alexander and his predecessor Elagabalus were both on the throne due to the dominance of strong Severan women at the imperial court, a dominance that was ended by two murdered in AD 235

before 232

Uranius Antoninus

Usurper cited by Zosimus either here or in 253.

before 232

Uranius is apparently active during the reigns of Elagabalus or Alexander Severus. However, it is possible that Zosimus confuses this usurper with L Julius Aurelius Sulpicius Severus Uranius Antoninus, who reigns in 253. What happens to him after he stakes his claim to the throne is not known, but can be guessed.

234 - 235

Having 'won' an unlikely victory against the Sassanids when they withdraw due to the heavy casualties suffered in the battlefield success against Rome, Severus Alexander soon faces another calamity. He is called to the Rhine to fight the invading Germanic tribe of the Alemanni. Having received advice from his mother, he ends these operations by buying peace from the Germans. His army is indignant, viewing this as a defeat. Early in 235 they murder Severus Alexander and his mother and proclaim Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus (Thrax) emperor.

Second Soldier Emperors Period

The murder of Severus Alexander ended the principate system set up by Augustus and began a period of chaos in which usurper after usurper gained and lost the imperial throne as palace plot, mutiny, and murder created a climate that elevated no less than seventeen would-be emperors to the purple. Maximinus 'Thrax' (meaning 'Thracian', a nickname that was not recorded until the fourth century, at least seventy years after his death) was the first. His full name was Gaius Julius Valerius Maximinus, and he had risen up through the ranks of the Roman army to control a legion and the governorship of Mesopotamia. He was involved in Severus Alexander's German campaign and was acclaimed emperor by his troops near Mainz.

During these uncertain times, the hiring of Germanic barbarians as laeti to help guard the borders of the empire began to be seen as standard practice. The Roman army was changing as it continually faced threat after threat, mainly along the Germanic borders. Here too German units became more commonplace, diluting in the eyes of some the once-proud Roman military machine. In fact, the early imperial army had eventually proved incapable of dealing with changing conditions and new threats that had emerged during the later second century and well into the third. Had the system not adapted to change during the third century and into the fourth, the empire may well have collapsed considerably earlier than it actually did.

235 - 238

Maximinus Thrax

A Thracian soldier who rose through the ranks. Murdered.


Maximinus (Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus) is conspicuous for being the first barbarian to wear the imperial purple and the first emperor never to set foot in Rome. During his reign he faces various threats and plots against him, and the year 238 is remarkable as one which has no less than six rival emperors.

Colosseum in Rome
The Colosseum in Rome - also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre - was built from concrete and stone by Emperor Vespasian from AD 72, and was completed in AD 80 under the aegis of his son, Titus - it continued in use as a place of entertainment until the sixth century, after which it was converted into a cemetery (click or tap on image to view full sized)


Gordian I (the Elder)

Formerly Gov of Britain. Proclaimed in Africa. In power 3 wks.


Gordian II

Son. Proclaimed co-emperor at the same time as his father.


Both Gordians die in the province of Africa when the governor of the neighbouring province of Numidia marches against them and kills Gordan II. His father commits suicide upon hearing the news. As the Senate had supported the Gordians, they elect two of their own number to protect them against Maximinus' retribution.



Elected by Senate. Assassinated by Praetorians.


Pupienus (Maximus)

Elected by Senate. Assassinated by Praetorians.


Maximinus marches on Rome but his troops become disaffected while suffering from famine and disease and being bogged down in an unexpected siege of the city which had closed its gates upon their approach. In April the Praetorian guards in Maximinus' camp assassinate him, his son, and his chief ministers and place their heads on poles to carry them into Rome. The Senate elects the thirteen year-old Gordian III, grandson of Gordian I, as emperor.

238 - 244

Gordian III

Elected Caesar by Senate under pressure from Roman mob.



Usurper in Africa. Defeated by the governor of Mauritania.

244 - 249

Marcus Julius Philippus 'the Arab'

Praetorian prefect who may have murdered Gordian.

247 - 249

Phillipius (Casear)

Son of Phillipius the Arab. Murdered at the age of 11.

244 - ?


Ruler of the east in Philip's name (Rector Orientis).

248 - 249

Tiberius Claudius Pacatianus

Usurper on Danube frontier. Quickly crushed.


Marcus Jotapianus

Usurper in the east. Put down by Priscus.


Marcus Silbannacus

Usurper in Rome circa 249 or 253.



Usurper on the Danube frontier. Of dubious existence.

249 - 251

Gaius Messius Quintus Decius

Proclaimed by Danube legions. Killed at the Battle of Abrittus.

249 - 251

Decius marches on Rome in 249 and defeats Philip the Arab in battle. Philip's son is murdered in Rome when the news arrives there. In 251, Decius fights the Goths at the Battle of Abrittus (otherwise known as the Battle of Forum Terebronii). Both he and his son are killed, making him the first emperor to suffer this fate in a battle against non-Roman enemies. However, his death brings respite to the persecuted Christians of the Roman Church.

Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus Goth depiction
The Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus depicts a Roman victory over Goths around AD 250, but victory in the many Roman-Goth conflicts of this period was just as likely to go the other way


Julius Valens Licinianus

Usurper in Rome with Senate backing.


Herennius Etruscus

Son of Decius. Co-emperor. Killed at the Battle of Abrittus.


A group of Franks take advantage of the state of the empire and penetrate as far as Tarragona in modern Spain. They plague this region for about a decade before Roman forces subdue them and expel them from Roman territory.


Titus Julius Priscus

Usurper in Macedon with Gothic protection.


Hostilianus / Hostilian

Son of Decius. Accepted Caesar by Gallus. Killed by plague.

251 - 253

Trebonianus Gallus

Governor of Moesia Superior proclaimed by his troops.

251 - 253


Son. Murdered.


Marcus Aemelius Aemilianus

Governor of Moesia Spr & Pannonia proclaimed by troops.


Upon Aemilianus' approach to Rome, both Gallus and his son are murdered by their own troops. Unusually, both emperors are commemorated in milestones found in the territory of the Cornovii in Britain. Their support or, at least, acceptance, must be widespread.


Marcus Silbannacus

Usurper in Rome circa 249 or 253.


Valerian marches on Rome to avenge Gallus and sees Aemilianus assassinated by his own troops rather than offer battle to a more powerful army. The accession of Valerian and his son, Gallienus, as joint emperors marks the end of nearly two decades of chaos at the centre of the empire. It also comes just in time as pressure on the Roman frontiers both in the west and east turn into a series of massive invasions.

253 - 260


Defeated & captured by Sassanid shah in 260.

253 - 260


Son. Archon of Athens. Joint emperor. Ruled alone from 260.

253 - 254

Uranius Antoninus

Usurper cited by Zosimus either here or before 232.


The Sassanids capture the Roman fortress city of Dura in eastern Syria. Part of their efforts to take the fortress involves digging a deep mine under the city wall and a tower. The Romans tunnel from the other side to intercept them and a shaft is created around the intercept point. The precise outcome is unknown.

The city of Dura-Europos had been founded in 300 BC by the Seleucid Greeks, seized by the Arsacids and then by the Romans, and was then destroyed almost six hundred years after its creation by a drawn-out border conflict between Rome and the Sassanids


The Alemanni break into the empire in strength, causing widespread damage. The archaeological evidence reveals a lack of continuity in the provincial Roman population of the limes. Roman encampments and settlements, including the villae rusticae (farms), are abandoned and destroyed. With extraordinary effectiveness the Alemanni penetrate as far as Italy where they are at last halted (the Juthungi can be included in this invasion). Gallienus (administering the west) meets them and defeats them in battle at Milan. He also agrees an alliance with the Marcomanni to defend the empire's border in Pannonia.

260 - 268


Murdered in unclear circumstances.


The accession of Gallienus as sole emperor brings to an end the wave of persecution that Valerian had triggered. Gallienus issues an edict of toleration which lasts until AD 303 and gives the Roman Church legal status.



Usurper in Pannonia. Died during or after his defeat in battle.



Usurper in Pannonia. Defeated.


Crisis strikes the weakened empire, with two major splinter states (both backed here in pink) forming in the same year. The Rhine frontier collapses completely at around the same time.


The first is created by Postumus, lieutenant on the Rhine to Emperor Gallienus. He murders the praetorian prefect, Silvanus, and Gallienus' own son Saloninus at Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (modern Cologne) and declares himself emperor. The Roman provinces in Germany, Gaul, Spain, and Britain and their armies support him. For the next thirteen years the whole of the north-western part of the empire is run as an independent but fully Roman state with its own series of emperors, and is called the 'Empire of the Gallic Provinces' (Imperium Galliarum / the Gallic Empire - 260-274). Postumus establishes a capital at Cologne, the headquarters of Germania Inferior and chief town of the Ubii.


The second splinter state is the Palmyrene Empire (260-272), which encompasses the Roman provinces of Syria, Palestine, Egypt and large parts of Asia Minor. It is ruled as little more than an expanded kingdom by Queen Zenobia for her infant son Vaballanthus with a capital at Palmyra.

Palmyra (now in central Syria) was a Roman client kingdom for many years, and was fully independent again in AD 260, commanding a large swathe of Roman eastern territory at the same time

260 - 268

Marcus Cassianus Latinius Postumus

Usurper in Gaul. Murdered putting down an insurrection.

260 - 273

Zenobia of Palmyra

Usurper in Syria. Defeated, captured, and lived on in Rome.

267 - 273


Infant son. Died on the way to Rome.


Macrianus Major / the Elder

Elected by the eastern army. Made his two sons emperors.



Prefect who supported Macrianus.

260 - 261

Macrianus Minor / the Younger


260 - 261




Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi

Sent by Macrianus to counter Valens. Killed by Valens.



Governor of Achaea. Killed by his own troops.


Mussius Aemilianus

Macrianus supporter in Egypt. Killed by a General Theodotus.

260 - 261

Quietus and Balista remain in the east and in Egypt to secure their rule, while Macrianus Major and Minor move to Thrace to counter Gallienus. Both are defeated and killed in battle, while Quietus is killed by Odaenathus of Palmyra.

Valens' troops, marching in defence of Gallienus, proclaim their commander emperor, and Piso's troops do the same with their commander. Piso is then killed by Valens, who is later killed by his own troops.



North Africa usurper. Prepared to rebel. Killed by Theodotus.


Manius Acilius Aureolus

Roman cavalry cmdr. Revolted and supported Postumus.

268 - 270

Claudius II Gothicus

Died of plague in January.

268 - 270


Successor to Postumus in Imperium Galliarum.

267/268 - 269

The Peucini Bastarnae are specifically mentioned in the invasion across the Roman frontier. Part of the barbarian coalition which includes Goths and Heruli, they use their knowledge of boat building from several centuries of living on the Black Sea coast and in the Danube estuary to help build a fleet in the estuary of the River Tyras (now the Dniester). The force of which they are part sails along the coast to Tomis in Moesia Inferior. They attack the town but are unable to take it. Sailing on, they are frustrated twice more, at Marcianopolis (Devnya in modern Bulgaria) and Thessalonica in Macedonia. Finally, they move into Thrace where they are crushed by Emperor Claudius II at Naissus in 269.

The Danube delta homeland of the Peucini Bastarnae was just north of the former Greek port of Histria, which may have been conquered when the tribe temporarily held power to the south of the delta region


The Alemanni incur into Italy after breaking through the frontier at Brenner Pass. They are confronted by Claudius II who may initially attempt to negotiate a peace. This fails and the resultant Battle of Benacus (Lake Garda) in November is a crushing victory for Rome. More than half the Alemanni are killed or captured and the rest flee northwards over the Alps and back into their territory.



Brother of Claudius. Seized power. Killed or suicided.

270 - 275


Completed reuniting the empire. Murdered.

270 - 274

FeatureBeginning with Aurelian, a series of remarkable soldier emperors commences the process of reunifying and restoring the empire. Aurelian defeats the Germanic barbarians who had crossed the Danube, including Goths, Sarmatians and probably Bastarnae, and kills the leader of the Goths. This act begins a shift of power amongst the barbarian tribes. Simultaneously, within the Imperium Galliarum, Emperor Esuvius Tetricus faces a short-lived threat to his rule by Domitianus whose basic existence had been in doubt until evidence was discovered (see feature link).

270 - 274

Esuvius Tetricus

Successor to Victorinus in Imperium Galliarum.

273 - 274

Tetricus II

Son. Caesar. Life (and senatorial rank?) spared by Aurelian.



Tried to rule Imperium Galliarum. Killed by Aurelian.



Usurper in Egypt. Evidence for him is unreliable.


The Imperium Galliarum collapses when Aurelian defeats its military power in battle at Châlons, the capital of the Catalauni Gauls. Tetricus surrenders and is permitted to pursue a useful and distinguished career in Roman life. The governance of Britain is rearranged, creating the Diocese of the Britains between now and 314 and sub-dividing the existing two provinces into four.


Ulpia Severina

Wife of Aurelian. Augusta since 274. Ruled in interregnum.

275 - 276

Marcus Claudius Tacitus

Elected by the Senate. Assassinated.


Marcus Annius Florianus

Half brother of Tacitus. Killed for failing to defeat Probus.

276 - 282

Marcus Aurelius Probus

Carried on the Roman recovery. Killed by his troops.


Vandali and Burgundians who had crossed the Rhine to invade the empire are defeated by Probus and are resettled in Britannia. Probus also defeats and resettles the Bastarnae to a location to the south of the Danube.

Vandal officer Stilicho
Stilicho is probably one of the most famous Vandal soldiers, serving as magister militum from the 380s until he was executed by his masters in 408

280 or 81

Julius Saturninus

Usurper in Syria. Killed by his own troops.

280 - 281


Usurper in Gaul. Betrayed and handed over by Frankish allies.


Gallus Quintus Bonosus

Joint usurper. Hanged himself when defeated by Probus.

282 - 283

Marcus Aurelius Carus

Cmdr of Praetorian Guard. Probably died of natural causes.

283 - 284

Carinus (Caesar)

Son. Governed the west. Defeated by Diocletian.

283 - 284

Numerian (Caesar / Augustus)

Brother. Succeeded his father in the east. Died naturally.

283 - 285 or 286

Julianus Sabinus / Julian I

Usurper in Pannonia (possibly two similarly named usurpers).

284 - 285

The death of Emperor Numerian sees the commander of his personal guard suddenly and unexpectedly elevated to the post. Diocletian proves to be an able ruler in a period which largely sees an end to constant attempts at usurpation and a new form of governance for the empire - the Tetrarchy.


Emperor Numerian was Caesar Augustus in the east in 283-284. His death from natural causes saw the former commander of his personal guard, Diocletian, suddenly elevated to the purple. Of humble provincial origins in Dalmatia, and originally named Diocles, Diocletian was marked as an arch reformer, and yet he was also dedicated to Roman tradition. His accession marked the start of the so-called Late Roman world.

One of his most remarkable reforms was the introduction of the 'Tetrarchy' in 293 when the empire was again under serious strain. Each of the two senior emperors, the 'Augusti', would rule the eastern and western halves of the empire. From 293 they would be aided by their own junior 'Caesar'. The system worked as a college of four emperors. When one of the elder two died or retired, his colleague would also retire, the juniors would take their places, and would promote two Caesars of their own. Both Diocletian and Maximianus were quite serious about the system and both removed themselves from office in 305 in favour of their junior caesares. Unfortunately the system was not to work for very long.

284 - 305


Britannicus Maximus. Abdicated.


Diocletian appoints Maximianus, one of his officers, as his chief lieutenant with the title of Caesar. He also takes the title of Britannicus Maximus, and it seems reasonable to assume that a military success of some importance had been won in his name in Britannia, which lays within Maximianus' command. The following year, Maximianus is promoted to Augustus to act as co-emperor.

Venta Belgarum
The Roman city of Venta Belgarum was refortified in the fourth century and Germanic mercenaries were brought in to improve the defences, suggesting an increasing lack of Roman soldiery fitted to the task

286 - 305

Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus

Co-ruler. Abdicated.

286 - 287

Carausius, a commander of low birth who had been impressive under Maximianus' command, is suspected of collusion with raiding barbarians. When Maximianus orders his execution he proclaims himself emperor and seizes the provinces of Britannia. In 289 he successfully defeats at least two attempts by Maximianus to dislodge him, revealing a level of weakness within the empire or strength within Britannia.

287 - 293

Marcus Mausaeus Carausius

Usurper in Britannia.

288 - 292

Gaul and Germany still present problems to Rome, especially where Heruli have crossed the Rhine to attack Gaul, along with Alemanni and Saxons. Maximianus is involved in heavy fighting on the Lower Rhine and also on the Upper Danube. He returns to take personal command on the Rhine in order to release his new deputy, Constantius, for an attack on Britannia.

293 - 305


Caesar in the east.

293 - 305

Constantius I Chlorus

Caesar in the west.


Constantius Chlorus, the western Caesar, retakes important sections of Carausius' Gallic territories and defeats his Frankish allies in Batavia In Britannia, Allectus assassinates Carausius and assumes command himself.

293 - 296


Usurper in Britannia. Former treasurer to Carausius.


Constantius launches a major invasion of Britannia. Constantius' division is delayed by bad weather, but another division, under the praetorian prefect Asclepiodotus, takes advantage of fog to avoid Allectus' ships stationed around the Isle of Wight, and lands near Southampton Water, where they burn their ships as a gesture of defiance and determination. Allectus is forced to retreat from the coast, but is cut off by another of Constantius' divisions and is defeated. Allectus himself is killed in the battle. In the same year, Rome loses its hold on the Upper Euphrates region which includes Harran.

296 - 297

Domitius Domitianus

Usurper in Egypt. Died in December.

297 - 298

Aurelius Achilleus

Possible usurper in Egypt. Could have succeeded Domitius.


Diocletian calls in a people known as the Nobate from the oases of the western Egyptian desert (on the fringes of Kush), to defend the southern frontier of the empire at Aswan from raids by the Blemmyes, who are probably the Beja of the Red Sea Hills. These Noba and Nobatae settle along the river, and soon intermarry with the native population and replace the local language with their own. The Blemmyes are defeated, as is known by the Silko Greek inscription at Kalabsha which may be dated to around AD 530. Here Silko, who calls himself 'Basiliskos' or kinglet of the Nobatae, describes fighting the Blemmyes from Ibrim to Shellal and extracting an oath of submission from them./p>

Nobatian burial mound
This Nubian burial mound of a Nobatian king was discovered at Ballana, Lower Nubia, during excavations that were carried out in the 1930s, in the late phase of perhaps the most glamorous period of early archaeological discovery in North Africa


St George, an officer of the Roman army (believed to have been born in Anatolia), is beheaded on 23 April on Diocletian's orders for refusing to renounce his Christianity. He is in Britannia when he hears that Christians are being persecuted by the pagan emperor, and returns to plead their case. Diocletian, in return, does all he can to persuade George to renounce Christianity, but without success (George becomes the patron saint of England, in place of Edward the Confessor, in the fourteenth century).

305 - 311


Became eastern Augustus upon Diocletian's retirement.

305 - 306

Constantius I Chlorus

Became western Augustus upon Maximianus' retirement.

305 - 313

Maximinus Daia

Caesar in the east. Augustus from 311. Died.

305 - 307

Flavius Valerius Severus II

Caesar in the west. Killed by Maxentius.

306 - 307

The year 306 heralds the confusing situation of having six emperors. When Constantius Chlorus dies at York in Britannia, Severus is promoted to Augustus by Galerius, while in Britannia the troops raise the popular Constantine. The latter is apparently encouraged by King Crocus of the Alemanni, commander of a cohort serving in Britain at this time.

Maxentius, the son of the retired emperor Maximianus, revolts at Rome and Galerius sent Severus to suppress him. Maxentius offers his father co-rule of the empire, and Maximianus accepts, regaining his title of Augustus. Severus' men desert him and Severus flees to Ravenna, later surrendering to Maximianus.

When Galerius himself invades Italy in 307 to suppress both Maxentius and his father, Maxentius has Severus killed. Galerian elevates Gaius Valerius Licinius Licinianus as his replacement in 308.

306 - 324

Constantine I the Great

Son of Constantius. Elevated by his troops in Eboracum.

306 - 312


Son of Maximianus. Revolted in Rome.

307 - 310

Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus

Restored by Maxentius.

308 - 310

By 308, Maximianus realises that his role is just a cover for Maxentius' real power, and he rebels against his own son, marching upon Rome, but is beaten. Maximianus finds refuge with Constantine in Gaul, where in 310 he briefly declares himself emperor for a third time in rebellion against Constantine. Forgiven, he is later revealed to be plotting an assassination attempt. He commits suicide.

Emperor Maximianus
Despite having been raised to office by Diocletian in AD 285, Maximianus seemingly couldn't avoid plotting and planning, even when having been forgiven and readmitted to high office

During the same period, as recorded by the Panegyrici Latini Veteres which praises the later emperors, Constantine the Great is in Gaul during his preparations to invade the territory of the Bructeri. This action is possibly part of the retaliation for the Frankish raid across the Rhine in 306, which had been led by Ascarich and his co-ruler, Merogais. It is also possible that it is for this campaign that Constantine is able to assume the title Germanicus Maximus for the second time.


Maxentius is attacked by Constantine's army near Rome and defeated, with Maxentius himself drowning in the Tiber during the chaotic retreat of his forces. Galerian is already dead (in 311) due to illness.

308 - 324

Gaius Valerius Licinius Licinianus

Western Augustus. Eastern Augustus in 313. Executed.

308 - 313

Licinius is elevated to emperor of the west by Galerius. In 311, upon Galerius' death, Licinius shares the entire empire with Maximinus Daia. Licinius successfully defends himself from an attack by Maximinus in 313 (the Battle of Tzirallum, 30 April), forcing the latter to flee, eventually, to Tarsus, where he dies. Licinius becomes master of the east, allowing his brother-in-law, Constantine, to rule unrivalled in the west.


Constantine confers his favour on the Christian church with the Edict of Milan. He effectively converts the empire to Christianity, giving it much greater influence and strength than it has ever enjoyed up to this date.


Sextus Martinianus

Caesar in the east. Raised by Licinius. Executed.


With Constantine supporting Christians and Licinius persecuting them, the two go to war again. Licinius is defeated at the Battle of Adrianople (3 July). Withdrawing, Licinius is forced to surrender after the Battle of Chrysopolis, near Chalcedon (18 September). He and his former co-emperor Sextus Martinianus are assassinated by Constantine for attempting to raise troops among the barbarians.

Second Flavian Dynasty

The concept behind the Tetrarchy had visibly failed because not only did some emperors not want to retire when they were due to but also because some regions had raised their own emperors without any observance of the system. Constantine had shown himself to be the best field general of them all, successfully invading Italy to deal with Maxentius and coming to an understanding with Licinius which survived until AD 324 - barring a bit of a skirmish in 316. In 324, with all rivals now removed, Constantine was sole emperor and the second Flavian dynasty began (Constantine's father was Flavius Constantius (Chlorus)).

The immense personality and prestige of Constantine held the entire empire firmly in his grip, but his death changed all that. The imperial family witnessed an outbreak of murderous squabbling and for three months there was no Augustus at all. A major army revolt in Constantinople saw a refusal to accept any of the proposed appointments to imperial rank other than the sons of Constantine themselves. Eventually three brothers emerged to simultaneously hold the rank of Augustus, but even they squabbled.

324 - 337

Constantine I the Great

Now sole emperor. Died naturally.


On the rise in the three centuries following the death of Jesus in Judea, Christians are now in a position of strength, and serious conflict between them and the pagans of the empire arises, threatening to tear it apart. Constantine accepts Christianity as the religion of the empire and convenes the first ecumenical Christian council, confirming the position of the Pope.

Emperor Constantine the Great
Emperor Constantine the Great is perhaps best known for confirming Christianity as the official religion of the Roman empire, but he also did a great deal to stabilise the empire and ensure that it survived into the next century


FeatureConstantine dedicates his new capital, Constantinople, formally shifting Roman power away from Rome. (A modern computer simulation of Constantine's Rome also brings that city to life - see feature link.)


Constantine II emerges from the unsettled period following his father's death as the senior Augustus, controlling Britain, Gaul, and Spain - the Gallic Provinces. Constans controls Africa, Italy, and the Illyrian provinces, while Constantius II holds Constantinople and most of the east.

337 - 340

Constantine II

Son. Caesar since aged one month. Senior Augustus.

337 - 361

Constantius II

Brother. Eastern Augustus. Died of fever.

337 - 350

Constans I

Brother. Western Augustus from 340. Killed by Magnentius.


Constantine II objects to the attitude of Constans and launches an invasion of Italy. It is disaster: his army of the Gallic Prefecture is defeated and he is killed at Aquileia. This point seems to mark the start of Britannia's troubles, weakening the garrison there and perhaps contributing to a general loss of confidence. The Scotti and Picts on its border certainly seem to pick up on this, and begin raiding near or across the border on a regular basis


Vetranio (Vetriano)

Caesar. Accepted and then rejected by Constantius.

350 - 353


Usurper in the Imperial Gd units and controlled most of west.

351 - 353

Magnus Decentius

Caesar and probably brother.


One of the bloodiest battles in Roman history, Mursa Major in the Balkans, takes place between Magnentius and Constantius in 351, but it is following the former's defeat against Constantius at the Battle of Mons Seleucus in Gaul in 353 that Magnentius commits suicide by falling on his sword. Decentius subsequently hangs himself at Senonae. Constantius conducts a vicious witch hunt of Magnentius' supporters, notably in Britannia.

c.354 - 358

Carausius II

An unverified usurper in Britannia between these dates.

355 - 360

Julian the Apostate

Cousin. Elevated to Caesar by Constantius. A pagan.


Claudius Silvanus

Usurper in Gaul. Killed by bribed troops.


The Salian Franks are accepted into the northern Roman empire by Julian the Apostate. They settle in Brabant along with their Batavi allies. In reality the acceptance is little more than a formality as the empire is beginning to lack the ability to fight off barbarians on all fronts.

Julian the Apostate
Julian the Apostate abandoned Christianity in favour of a return to the old Roman ways of worship, and is shown being initiated into the Eleusian mysteries


Having only recently been enlarged and strengthened by Constantius II, the frontier city of Amida is besieged by Shapur II now that he has recovered from some brutal fighting against the invading Xionites in eastern Iran. Amida is captured by the Sassanids after seventy-three days.

360 - 361

At the start of 360, Julian is wintering in Lutetia Parisiorum (the city of the Parisii) when reports reach him that the Scotti and Picts have broken a previous agreement (perhaps made in 343) and are plundering lands close to the frontier in Britannia, presumably those of the Novantae and Selgovae. Given the situation on the Rhine, especially with the Alemanni, he is unable to leave, so he sends his magister militum, Lupicinus, along with some of his best units, the Heruli, the Batavi, and two numeri Moesiacorum. Lupicinus marshals his forces at London, but is recalled following Julian being proclaimed Augustus by his troops. Whether the campaign goes ahead under a less senior commander is unknown.

361 - 363

Julian the Apostate

Raised to Augustus in Gaul. Died of wounds on campaign.

363 - 364


Raised perhaps mistakenly and died of food poisoning.

364 - 375

Valentinian I

Raised in Nicaea. Western Augustus. Died of apoplexy.

364 - 378


Raised by his brother, Valentinian. Eastern Augustus.

365 - 366

Procopius (Prokop)

Usurper in Constantinople. Captured and executed.


The Barbarian Conspiracy sees attacks falling on Britannia from all sides, although this seems to be the culmination of seven years of large-scale trouble on behalf of the Picts, Scotti, Saxons, and the mysterious Attacotti. Initially, Rome is taken by surprise, and the emperor's dux Fullofaudes is put out of action, either killed or cut off, probably near the Wall. Then Nectaridus, comes maritimi tractus (count of the maritime region), is killed in action. Both loses are serious blows, and the barbarians are now able to divide up into bands so that they can steal and sack and burn whatever they like.

The traditional view of Picts as the 'painted people' is based on a description given by the Romans, and the use of blue woad as a body paint does seem to have been highly prevalent in the far north of Britain

General Theodosius (the Elder) is sent to salvage the situation, which he does by restoring the army in Britain as a fighting force, pardoning soldiers who had deserted, attacking bands of brigands and looters wherever he finds them, and installing a new vicarius at the head of the Diocese of the Britains.

367 - 383


Son of Valentinian. Western Augustus. Assassinated.


In an act of imperial favour, an Alamannic king, Fraomar, is sent to Britannia as a military tribune to command a Roman unit of Alemanni cavalry which is already stationed on the island, as recorded by Ammianus.

372 - 375


Usurper in Africa. Chose suicide over capture.

376 - 382

The Gothic War takes place in the Balkans, but its most notable episode is in 378. Valens ensures his name is never forgotten by being utterly defeated and then killed by the Visigoths at Adrianople.

375 - 392

Valentinian II

Brother of Gratian. Proclaimed as an infant.

379 - 392

Theodosius I the Great

Raised by Gratian. Eastern Augustus.


Magnus Maximus takes advantage of the growing contempt for the failing Gratian by revolting in Britannia. After reorganising the island's defences he invades Gaul with a large army, and is even attributed with setting up a British kingdom in Armorica. After being defeated near Paris, Gratian is deserted by his troops and is betrayed. Delivered to one of the rebel generals, Andragathius, Gratian is assassinated on 25 August. Valentinian II is forced out of Rome, and Maximus, now the senior Augustus in the west, sets up his capital at Augusta Treverorum (Treves, Trier). He becomes a popular emperor and is recognised by Theodosius, primarily because there is little that Theodosius can do about the situation at present.

383 - 388

Magnus Maximus

Usurper in Britannia. Executed.

384 - 388

Flavius Victor

Infant son. Murdered by Arbogast.

383 - 395


Son of Theodosius. Eastern Augustus.


In Augusta Treverorum, Magnus Maximus sentences to death the bishop of Avila, Priscillian, after he and some of his followers have been found guilty of the crime of magic. The charge is the only way that Priscillian's vehement opponents can be rid of the eloquent and learned promulgator of a doctrine that is based on the Gnostic-Manichaean doctrines of an Egyptian called Marcus. Priscillianism is later declared a heresy.


Rome partitions Armenia between itself and Persia, gaining the western half as Lesser Armenia . Magnus Maximus advances across the Alps to occupy Milan, forcing Valentinian to flee.

Magnus Maximus coin
The reverse of this coin issued by Magnus Maximus during his reign as co-emperor shows him standing, holding a laburnum and Victory on a globe


Magnus Maximus is defeated at the Battle of the Save by Theodosius and Valentinian. He retreats to Aquileia and surrenders there. He is soon executed, although his wife and two daughters are spared and many of his descendants continue to occupy important positions. Andragathius is defeated near Siscia. Arbogast / Flavius Arbogastes, the new, Frankish-born, magister militum of the Western Empire, personally defeats Maximus' son, and himself becomes the de facto ruler in the west.

However, another dux appears in Britannia (the previous known incumbent of this military office being the unfortunate Fullofaudes who had been put out of action during the Barbarian Conspiracy of 367). Coel Hen, as he is known in later British oral and written material, appears to exercise a good deal more power in the northern half of Britain than previous holders of the office. If the traditions about him are correct, he may represent a transition between Roman military official and a ruler in an increasingly independent Britain.

Within the greater empire, while Theodosius is occupied with Magnus Maximus, there is an invasion of the Roman provinces of Germania and Belgia by Franks. Their warriors break through the limes, destroying farmlands and killing people around the city of Cologne, before retreating across the border with their booty. General Quintinus mounts a reprisal raid across the border but his troops are surrounded and beaten, and very few of them make it back.


In the late fourth century, Sulpicius Alexander writes a history of Germanic tribes that has since been lost but which has been quoted by Gregory of Tours. One of those quotes relates that the magister militum, Arbogast, attacks the Franks across the Rhine, wreaking havoc amongst them. While there he sights on a distant hill a force containing Ampsivarii and Chatti under the control of Marcomer, king of the Salian Franks. The two forces do not engage.


With the murder or suicide of Valentinian II (probably caused by Arbogast ), Theodosius, son of Theodosius the Elder who rescued Britannia from the Barbarian Conspiracy of 367, becomes sole emperor, the last emperor to rule both east and west.

Map of Central Asia - Turkic Expansion AD 300-600
Turkic origins are hard to pin down precisely, but the region around the Altai Mountains would seem to have served as a general incubator during their development, and the Romans (especially those of Constantinople) would soon come to know them (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Arbogast challenges Theodosius by raising an acquaintance, Eugenius, to Augustus in Rome. Theodosius responds by raising his own two year-old son, Honorius, as Western emperor, and marches on Italy, defeating his enemies at the Battle of Frigidus in 394 on the Italy-Slovenia border. The battle typifies a trend towards using increasing numbers of barbarian troops, especially in the west, where it leads to the weakening of the empire itself. Arbogast commits suicide in 394 and Eugenius is executed.

392 - 395

Theodosius I the Great

Died of a vascular disease.

393 - 395


Son. Western Augustus aged nine.

392 - 394

Flavius Eugenius

Usurper in Rome. Executed.


FeatureThe formal partition of the Roman empire into the Eastern and Western sections is undertaken by Honorius and Arcadian. An official register of all the offices, other than municipal, which exist in the Roman empire at this time is compiled in the Notitia Dignitatum (see feature link).

Western Roman Empire
AD 395 - 476

The following emperors from Honorius to Romulus Augustulus reigned in the west only. The eastern emperors continued to reign in Constantinople, the former city of Byzantium. The accession of Honorius and Arcadius was marked by a basic change in the role of the emperor, something that affected east and west differently. What happened is of major importance in comprehending subsequent events in the two halves of the empire. Roman emperors after Theodosius were heads of state but no longer held effective power. This now fell into the hands of their chief ministers.

The change was complete in the west where the emperors come across as being virtually powerless, and almost overshadowed by their chief military officer, but less so in the east where occasional emperors still took direct command. Perhaps the crucial difference was that in the east the ministers were usually civilians, but in the west they were almost without exception professional soldiers who tended to dominate their emperors. Due partially to this, and to a series of seemingly unending problems, Honorius' reign was characterised by the erosion of the Western Roman empire and its territories. When he died he left an empire on the verge of collapse.

395 - 423


A weak emperor controlled by Stilicho and Constantius III.

395 - 408

Flavius Stilicho

Vandal general and guardian. Executed.

395 - 408

For the first part of his reign, Honorius depends on the military leadership of his chief ministers, the Romano-Vandal general, Stilicho. Stilicho had been appointed as Honorius' guardian by the boy's father, shortly before his death. To strengthen his bonds to the young emperor, Stilicho marries his daughter Maria to him. Despite many successes, the imperial courtiers plot his death by trumping up charges against him. Stilicho is executed on 22 August 408. Flavius Constantius (later Emperor Constantius III) fills the void to become the power behind Honorius' throne.

397 - 398


Usurper in Mauretania. Defeated under Stilicho's leadership.


Gildo is quickly suppressed, allowing Stilicho, probably upon his receipt of an appeal for help from Britannia (mentioned by Gildas), to send a force to quell barbarian raids there. However, a eulogy proclaimed in 400 for Stilicho's major success disappears just a month after it is released, and does not reappear.


The seat of imperial power is moved from Milan to Ravenna. This flourishing city is located, like Venetia (Venice), in an area of marshland, with one main access point via a causeway which makes it more easily defendable. Unlike Milan, it also has a port and good seaward connections to the Adriatic. With Ravenna now the official home of the emperor, it is greatly expanded in terms of its monuments and monumental building.

Ravenna became an imperial city in 402, and remained Italy's capital under succeeding Gothic, Ostrogothic, and Eastern Roman administrations

405 - 406

Stilicho defeats Radagaisus, a barbarian leader of unknown origin, and his army of Goths, Vandali, Suevi, Burgundians, and Alani when they invade Italy in 405. The barbarians are incorporated into the Roman forces. Stilicho is aided by a second body of Alani, and Huns under the command of Uldiz.

Also in 406, the situation in Britannia is even more problematic. The British provinces are relatively isolated and constantly lack support from the empire, so the soldiers raise a series of their own claimants to the throne. While the first two are minor, Constantine III takes Gaul and Spain to add to his dominions.



Usurper in Britannia. Killed by his own troops.


Gratian (Gracianus)

Usurper in Britannia. Killed by his own troops.

406 - 409

The Alani, Sueviand Vandali cross the Rhine at Mainz, largely destroying the city. Groups of Franks are already on the west bank of the Rhine, living in a confederation of small kingdoms which are tributary to Rome, and they attempt to fight them off. Despite the potential threat to Britannia, Gratian refuses to enter Gaul to fight the barbarians, so his troops kill him and elect Constantine III instead. Constantine quickly crosses into Gaul and secures the Rhine, making Arles, the recently relocated headquarters of the Gallic prefecture, his capital in 408.

407 - 411

Constantine III

Usurper in Britannia. Surrendered and was executed.

408 - 411


Son. Caesar. Executed by Gerontius.


Constantine sends his son, Constans, and the general Gerontius to Hispania to defeat the cousins of Honorius there and secure that province. Stilicho's forces in Italy rebel and he is executed. As a result of this and intrigues at the imperial court, plus the fact that Alaric's Visigothic army is roaming Etruria, Honorius is left powerless, and gladly accepts Constantine as co-emperor.

Roman silver ingots
Silver ingots from the late fourth or early fifth century which were used to pay soldiers and civil servants in the Late Empire, and which were discovered at the site of the Tower of London, and at Reculver and Richborough in Kent (Britain)


FeatureThe Alani, Suevi and Vandali enter Hispania, disrupting Constantine's hold on his territory. Gerontius rebels against Constantine, raises Maximus as his own puppet emperor, and the following year advances into Gaul. At the same time in Britannia, Saxon raids convince the British and Armoricans to rebel and expel Roman officials, thereby breaking ties with Rome that are never renewed. In fairness to them, Honorius is hardly in a position to take any action on their behalf.

409 - 411


Puppet usurper of Gerontius' in Hispania.


Priscus Attalus

Usurper in Rome with Visigoth support. Removed by Alaric.

410 - 411

As his enemies tighten the noose around him, Constantine attempts to attack Italy but is defeated and forced to retreat back to Gaul. Rome itself is sacked by Alaric's Visigoths after a collapse in relations. This affords Constantine no leeway however as, in 411, his forces facing Gerontius are defeated at Vienne, and Constans is captured and executed.

Constantine's praetorian prefect, Decimius Rusticus, abandons him only to be caught up in the Frankish, Burgundian, and Alani-supported rebellion of Jovinus. Gerontius besieges Constantine at Arles but the magister militum, the power behind Honorius' throne, and future emperor, Constantius III, puts Gerontius to flight (he commits suicide in Hispania) and captures and executes Constantine. Maximus takes refuge with barbarian allies in Hispania.

411 - 413


Usurper on the Rhine when Constantine died. Executed.

412 - 413


Brother. Co-Augustus. Executed by the Visigoths.


Jovinus manages to insult Ataulf, king of the Visigoths, so the latter allies himself with Honorius and defeats Jovinus' troops. Sebastianus is executed. Jovinus flees and is besieged and captured in Valentia (Valence, Drôme). Shortly after he is executed. Honorius regains authority throughout Gaul and Spain, although he is still in a very weak position.

Roman town gates of Metz
The fairly insignificant Mosan Franks were settling the area between Soissons and the Alemanni, taking the Roman town at Moguntiacum (Metz or Mainz) the gates of which are shown here


Priscus Attalus

Restored by Visigoths and then abandoned. Exiled by Rome.


A treaty is signed granting the Visigoths former Gallia Aquitania, the south-western portion of Gaul. At the same time, in the north of Gaul the Franks are increasing their influence. Following a further revolt in 417, the Armoricans are almost completely independent of Rome, but Auxerre on the Yonne is still under Roman control, as is the new capital of Roman Gaul at Arles, and the northern region centred on Soissons manages to retain a Roman government until 486. However, more and more often Rome has to use barbarian foederati to solve its problems rather than Roman troops.


Constantius III

Western Emperor 'under' Honorius. Not recognised by East.

423 - 425

Upon the death of Honorius (of dropsy), his patrician elevates Johannes, a senor civil servant, as emperor. Theodosius II in Constantinople elevates the young Valentinian III first to Caesar, then to co-emperor as Augustus. In late 424, he sends Aëtius to the Huns to seek military help, but while Aëtius is away Johannes is betrayed and captured. Aëtius returns with sizable Hunnic army and comes to an agreement that establishes the political landscape of the Western Roman empire for the next thirty years. The Huns are paid off and sent home, while Aëtius is promoted to magister militum.

423 - 425

John (Johannes)

Usurper in Rome. Captured and executed.

423 - 455

Valentinian III

Son of Constantius III. Murdered, perhaps due to Maximus.


Galla Placidia

Mother. Regent to her infant son.


Under pressure from the Visigoths, and from Roman attacks, the Vandali in Iberia see an opportunity presented by the unsettled conditions in Africa. They and the Alani migrate to the south of Iberia from where they invade Roman North Africa. Once there, they carve out a kingdom over the course of a decade, taking the cities of Carthage and Utica, and leaving eastern, central and southern Iberia back in Roman hands.

The figure on the right is thought to be Aëtius, although there is some doubt, and the possibility exists that the sarcophagus on which this relief sits could even have been built half a century before this period

432 - 453

Following a victory by Aëtius against the Franks the previous year (as well as in 428), the Huns now threaten the existence of the empire as, under Attila, they sweep across Europe.

433 - 454

Flavius Aëtius

Daco-Roman general and power behind the throne. Murdered.


The Vandali capture Carthage and create a kingdom of their own in the province of Africa, depriving Rome of vital foodstocks. The loss also deprives Rome of vital income, and the blow is once which contributes to a steady diminution of Roman power over the next four decades, until the empire fades out of existence.

442 - 446

Suevi raids are ravaging the eastern and southern provinces of Iberia to such an extent that Rome is deprived of vital income in the form of tax revenue. Between 439-441 it dries up completely, so Aëtius sends first Asturius in 442 and then Merobaudes in 443 to handle the problem. They concentrate on defeating the bagaudae (peasant insurgents or brigands who are roaming the land), in order to secure Roman control of Tarraconensis. In 446 Vitus, the magister utriusque militiae, is sent to Iberia to put a halt to the raiding, leading a combined Romano-Visigothic force into the province of Carthaginiensis and Baetica. When his unruly force meets the Suevi in battle, it is routed. The defeat confirms Suevian control of Lusitania and Baetica and the loss of the bulk of Hispanic revenues to Rome. A similar bagaudae revolt in Brittany in 446 is handled by the client Alani in Gaul.


Rome loses Savoy (443) and Switzerland (450) to the Burgundians in a further settlement of Germanic barbarians. From around 440, Aëtius had apparently been pursuing a policy of extending the settlement of friendly (or defeated) barbarians within Gaul under treaty, rather than Roman reconquest. The former is certainly easier given the lack of resources.


To preserve their new domains, the Visigoths and Franks fight on the side of Rome to halt the advance of the Huns at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, close to the chief town of the Catalauni Gauls. The Huns call on their subject allied tribes, which include the Gepids, Ostrogoths, and Scirii. Rome also has units of independent Armoricans and Alani on its side.


Petronius Maximus

Patrician. Great-grandson of Magnus Maximus of Britannia.


The usurper, Maximus, is not recognised by Constantinople. The enmity between Maximus and the magister militum, Aëtius, does much to lead to the gradual chain of events that brings down the Western Roman empire. Before he seizes power himself, Maximus plots and gets Valentinian III to kill Aëtius with his own hands. Aëtius' death marks the end to any true Western Roman chances of holding onto its empire.

Maximus rules for only 77 days before being stoned to death by a Roman mob while fleeing Genseric's Vandali on 24 May, after which the Vandali spend fourteen days sacking Rome.

Genseric's sack of Rome
An interpretation of Genseric's sack of Rome in AD 455 by the Russian artist, Karl Briullov, painted between about 1833-1836, perhaps the key moment in the city's fifth century decline



Son of a bodyguard of Aëtius. Obscure.


Rome loses Cologne on the Rhine (which they had founded in 30 BC based on a Germanic tribal settlement) to the Franks, as a Frankish king sets up a royal court in the former Roman governor's palace.

455 - 456


Magister militum. Encouraged by the Visigoths. Abdicated.

456 - 472

Ricimer / Ricomer

Suevi-Visigoth general. Power behind throne. Died of fever.

465 - 472

Another Romano-barbarian, Ricimer (Ricomer), the son of a prince of the Suevi with a mother who had been the daughter of Wallia, king of the Visigoths, secures a senior position in the Western Roman empire. He has already killed a leader of the Alani in 464. Now he is the power behind the throne in 456-472 with a series of 'shadow emperors' to disguise his rule. This rule probably does not extend much beyond Italy's borders, as Gaul is already being governed by Romans (where they survive in power) for their own sake rather than for the imperial court.

457 - 461


Raised by the regent, Ricimer. Not recognised by the East.


Majorian proves to be a little too popular after he expels the Visigoths and Burgundians from Roman cities in Gaul which they had occupied, and it is Ricimer who is behind him being forced to abdicate by his troops. He dies five days later. Ricimer raises Libius Severus as his replacement, seemingly as the perfect puppet, as Libius Severus appears to have absolutely no achievements. Majorian's magister militum per Gallias, Aegidius, is prevented from marching on Rome when Ricimer hires the previously defeated Visigoths and Burgundians, but Aegidius' troops remain loyal to him and Rome again loses its authority in northern Gaul until after the magister militum's death.

461 - 465

Libius Severus

Not recognised by Eastern Roman empire. Died.

461 - 464


Ruled an independent Gallic command based at Soissons.

465 - 467

The Western Roman empire experiences an interregnum which lasts for eighteen months. Ricimer commands without a figurehead until a highly distinguished candidate is forced on him by Constantinople, which is determined to restore order in Gaul.

467 - 472


Perhaps the last able ruler. Executed by Ricimer.


The Visigoths have to fight two battles against a combined army consisting of Romans, troops from Soissons under Comes Paulus, Burgundian foederati, and joint federate Britanni (Britons and Armoricans) under Riothamus in 469. Thanks to the apparent treachery of Gaul's imperial prefect, one Arvandus, the Visigoths are victorious and extend their kingdom, cutting off both Soissons and Armorica from Rome.

Map of the Visigoth & Suevi kingdoms in AD 470
In AD 469/470 the Visigoths expanded their kingdom to its largest extent, reaching Nantes in the north and Cadiz in the south, but it was not to last - with the accession of Clovis of the Salian Franks, the Visigoths had found an opponent who would wrest Gaul away from their control in stages (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Soon after murdering Emperor Anthemius, Ricimer himself dies of fever and his nephew, Gundobad of the Burgundians, becomes Western Roman commander.


Anicius Olybrius

Not recognised by Eastern Roman empire. Died naturally.

472 - 473

Interregnum. Gundobad of the Burgundians rules Rome until his father dies and he becomes joint king of the Burgundians along with his brothers. After elevating the 'Count of the Domestics' to the position of puppet emperor he returns to the kingdom.

473 - 474


Not recognised by Eastern Roman empire. Died after 480.


During Glycerius' brief reign, the Apennine Peninsula is threatened both by the Visigoths, living in southern Gaul and Spain, and the Ostrogoths, living in Dalmatia. When the Ostrogoths move into Gaul, Glycerius sends Roman troops into the area, preventing the armies of the two branches of Goths from joining forces against Rome and perhaps delaying the final end of the Western Empire for a few years.

However, this doesn't prevent the Eastern Roman emperor, Leo I, from sending his own candidate to rule the remains of the Western empire. Upon the arrival of Julius Nepos, Glycerius immediately surrenders.

474 - 480

Julius Nepos

Relative of Eastern Augustus, Leo I.


On 28 August 475, the magister militum, Orestes, assumes control of the government at Ravenna, deposing Nepos and forcing him to flee to Dalmatia, where he reigns as emperor-in-exile until 480. His replacement is not recognised in Constantinople which, along with Gaul, considers Julius Nepos to be the lawful emperor until his death in 480.

Since Orestes, a Germanic tribesman, cannot become emperor himself, he appoints his son Romulus who had been born to his Roman wife. The boy is probably no more than ten years old.

475 - 476


General and power behind throne. Killed.

475 - 476

Romulus Augustus (Augustulus)

Deposed to live a full life in villa retirement.


On 4 September, Odoacer, the Scirian magister militum of the Roman army, takes Ravenna, killing Orestes and deposing Romulus. By this time the Western Roman army has effectively ceased to exist, starved to death by a steady decrease in recruiting grounds and a severe lack of funds to pay those troops who still remained, so that they have drifted off. Also, the western emperor has such a small domain and such an ineffective role to play that the senate sends an embassy to the Eastern Roman court with the imperial regalia, announcing that they feel no need for a new emperor at Ravenna and are happy to accept a single throne at Constantinople.

Half-Siliqua of Romulus Augustus
This half-siliqua was the only silver coinage issued during the short reign of Romulus Augustus, puppet and final official Western Roman emperor

The Roman empire per se comes to an end in the West (although Odoacer's rule of Italy, as a Roman-elected general, could be considered a final extension, even though he, like other barbarian leaders in the west, calls himself rex). By this stage the 'empire' consists only of Italy and the western Balkans, plus a west African province and Syagrius' northern Gallic province. Odoacer rules Italy under his Gothic kingdom.

Gothic Kingdom of Italy
AD 476 - 493

The Roman empire had essentially ceased to be an empire quite some time before its final emperor was deposed in AD 476. Gradually denuded of men, materials, and taxes by wave after wave of barbarian invasion and settlement in former imperial territories, Rome's horizons drew ever closer and its resources dwindled ever lower. Even the emperor himself no longer lived in Rome. The end came with more of a whimper than a bang. No great invasion - just the removal of a figurehead who held no real power and a replacement of the true, usually Germanic, power at the top.

The Heruli were a subject tribe of the Goths who had followed them and their later Ostrogoth division until the latter were destroyed by the Huns in 375. After the fall of the Huns in 454 they set up a short-lived Roman foederati kingdom of their own in what is now southern Slovakia near the Rivers March and Theiss. These foederati were used by the final magister militum, Orestes, to depose Emperor Julius Nepos in 475, but Orestes reneged on his promise of land for them. The Scirian general, Odoacer, with Eastern Roman backing, subsequently invaded Italy and killed Orestes.

Odoacer subsequently ruled Italy as a continuation of the Roman state with the blessing of Eastern Emperor Zeno. His people - Heruli, Rugii, and Scirii - gained the land they were promised in Italy. In reality, the Eastern Romans were in no position to do more than object vocally. The empire even in the east was weakened by more than a century of turmoil, and it would be a further sixty years or so before Constantinople could begin to retake some of the lost western territories. Until then it attempted to rule Italy through proxies such as Odoacer (the name is pronounced oh-dough-a-ker, with heavy emphasis on the last syllable).

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Complete Works of Tacitus, Alfred John Church, William Jackson Brodribb, & Lisa Cerrato (1942), from Roman History by Cassius Dio, translation by Earnest Cary (1914-1927), from Germania, Tacitus, from Roman Soldier versus Germanic Warrior: 1st Century AD, Lindsay Powell, from Geography, Ptolemy, from Slovenska zgodovina do razsvetljenstva, Peter Štih & Simoniti Vasko (1996, in Slovenian), from The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, Byzantine and Near Eastern History, AD 284-813, Cyril Mango & Roger Scott (1997), from Prosopographie der mittelbyzantinischen Zeit, Volume 1, Ralph-Johannes Lilie, Claudia Ludwig, Thomas Pratsch, & Ilse Rochow, and from External Link: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

476 - 493

Odoacer / Odovacar

Scirian magister militum. Patrician of Italy. Murdered.

476 - 480

Odoacer asks the Eastern emperor Zeno to legalise his position as patricius of the Roman empire and Zeno's viceroy in Italy. Zeno does so, but insists that he recognise Julius Nepos as western emperor. Odoacer agrees, and even issues coins in Nepos' name throughout Italy. A similar situation obtains in the Roman domain of Soissons in northern Gaul where the Roman general Syagrius mints coins in Nepos' name until his defeat in 486. By a collusion of convenience the Western Roman empire continues to exist after 476, but only as a legal formality.

A contemporary account by the historian Malchus states that former Emperor Glycerius is involved in a plot that results in the murder of Juilius Nepos, either in April or May, and most likely with Odoacer's cooperation. The surviving historical evidence to confirm this is meagre.

Romulus Augustus being romveed from office by Odoacer
The boy emperor Romulus Augustus was formally removed from office by Odoacer in AD 476, and despite Odoacer's governance of Italy being no different from that of any recent emperor (albeit he was no one's puppet), this date is still viewed as being the end of the Roman empire


Odoacer destroys the Germanic tribe of the Rugii, who had formerly been subjugated by the Huns and were long-time allies of the Ostrogoths (and his own allies too). Many of their number are drawn to follow Odoacer back into Italy. The Langobards initially fill the vacuum this migration creates, until they themselves conquer much of Italy in 568, and then a new confederation, the Bavarii, forms in their place.


The Ostrogoths, settled in Pannonia and nominally Eastern Roman allies, are problematic at best. Their restlessness is creating increasing frustration in their management for Emperor Zeno. Working with their leader, Theodoric, to find a solution, the emperor invites him to invade Italy and overthrow the troublesome Odoacer. The Ostrogoths immediately win the Battle of Isonzo on 28 August 489, close to Aquileia, and Odoacer is forced to withdraw. A second battle is fought at Verona in the same year.

490 - 493

A further battle is fought on the River Adda in 490, and in 493 Theodoric takes Ravenna. On 2 February the same year, Theodoric and Odoacer sign a treaty which divides Italy between them, but at a banquet to celebrate the terms, Theodoric murders Odoacer with his own hands. Now unopposed, he is able to found a Romanised Ostrogothic kingdom of Italy based at the imperial capital of Ravenna. His accession is viewed by most Italians, Roman and Gothic, as a legitimate succession. The city of Rome is sidelined politically, but it becomes the centre of Roman Catholicism and eventually the Papal States.