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The Roman emperor Augustus

The Roman emperor Augustus

As the Romans were conquering the whole Mediterranean, the rich men who were running the government got richer and richer – very very rich. They began fighting each other to rule the new empire. By 30 BC one man – Augustus – was ruling the Roman Empire. After Augustus died, his relatives inherited his throne.

Agrippina the Younger: marble bust of a white woman with long curls

Agrippina the Younger. 49-50 AD. Now in Milan, in the Civic Archaeological Museum

For the next two hundred years, the Roman Empire enjoyed a long peace while one man after another became Roman Emperors. Some women, like Agrippina and Julia Domna, also held power. But about 220 AD, the Sassanians began to attack the Roman Empire more aggressively from the East, and the Germanic peoples to the North took advantage of this to attack also. In order to get enough soldiers, the emperors had to hire Visigoths and Ostrogoths from outside the empire to fight as mercenaries.

The Sassanid shah Shapur II hands power over to his general Ardashir II, while both of them trample on the defeated Julian.

The Sassanid shah Shapur II hands power over to his general Ardashir II, while both of them trample on the defeated Julian.

A time of peace allowed the early 300s AD to be a relatively good time for the Roman Empire. But the wars began again in the 350s, and even though they fought well, by the late 400s the emperors had to abandon much of the Western Empire to the mercenary troops who had once worked for them.



In the eastern Mediterranean the Roman Empire still continued, with its capital at Constantinople. But as in the West, the Romans were increasingly using mercenary soldiers, especially Arabs. By the 600s, those Arabs also began to fight Rome instead of helping, and they soon established the Islamic Empire in place of the Roman one. The last little bit of the old Roman Empire – the capital at Constantinople – fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 AD.

Learn by Doing – Rome History Bingo
The Parthians in West Asia
Han Dynasty China
Early Medieval Europe
The Islamic Empire

Bibliography and further reading about Roman history:

The Ancient Roman World, by Ronald Mellor (2004). Straight political history, For teens.

Classical Rome, by John Clare (1993). For kids, the whole political history from beginning to end.

The Romans: From Village to Empire, by Mary Boatwright, Daniel Gargola, and Richard Talbert (2004). Okay, it’s a little dry, but it is up to date and has all the facts you could want.

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