Hello, this is History’s Gaspar Correia here with another thrilling episode of Minimum Wage Historian. I have spent some time in your “modern age” and I have discovered one thing. People communicate exclusively with memes and Gifs. It’s true. I’ve spent long hours on this “Book of Faces” and have seen the true means of communication.
So, I now present to you, the History of the Roman Empire: A history in Gifs.
A long time ago, there was a group of people called the Etruscans. They owned some land in central Italy including a small village of mud shacks along the Tiber River. This was Rome and the Etruscans taught the local Latins everything they knew. The Latins were ruled by a bunch of Etruscan kings that ruled over the Latins like gangstas.
And they were kind of jerks to the local Latins.
Then one day, the Etruscan king, Tarquinius already more unpopular than Bush or Obama combined, went in and kidnapped the wife of a local Roman nobleman. This didn’t sit well with the Roman nobility and they rose up against the Etruscan overlords.
The rebellion didn’t get them independence from the Etruscans, but they did set up the Roman Senate and became a Republic. Tarquinius wanted to punish Rome and attacked. During this attack, a hero with one eye named Horatius held off the enemy while his men destroyed the bridge behind him. It still didn’t work and Rome was occupied. They forbade the Romans from owning iron weapons because tyrants like people that can’t fight back. So, Rome figured they couldn’t do it alone and convinced the other Latin cities to revolt against the Etruscans.
And led a serious beat down to the Etruscans.
With their new independence and power as leader of the Latin tribes, they began to expand. They fought Etruscans, other Latins and after conquering and absorbing them, fought the Samnites.
Well, Rome was looking pretty good now.
As they expanded they came across the Greek colonies in Southern Italy and those colonies called to their friends in Greece for help. Enter King Pyrrhus. Pyrrhus comes in and fights Rome. He actually wins all his battles but he can’t defeat Rome because his forces are too smashed up to do much more than limp home. It’s where we get the term, Pyrrhic victory.
Once Pyrrhus hurried back home, Rome moved south and took over the entire Italian Peninsula. They were now big enough to get the attention of Carthage, the major power in the western Mediterranean. So, they began to fight over who was top dog.
It took three wars including Hannibal’s brilliant but doomed invasion of Italy. While Hannibal was messing around chasing down fleeing Roman legions, the Romans sneaked over and attacked Carthage directly. They burnt it to the ground and salted the earth. Basically, they messed the place up.
Because that’s just how the Romans do.
So, now the Roman Republic has control of the Italian peninsula, North Africa and parts of Spain. Not bad.
But then Greece got uppity again and attacked and Rome beat them back. Then the Seleucid Empire, a successor empire of Alexander the Great, tried to conquer the other two Greek empires in Macedonia and Egypt and they called for Rome’s aid. Rome came in and gladly beat them back into Asia. Then Greece attacked again and Rome beat them back with little effort.
Basically, Rome got tired of the Greeks always starting crap, so they just moved in and split Macedonia into three client states with rulers that would be much more agreeable to the Romans.
Rome went through some growing pains including some revolts and a few slave uprisings. The largest was led by Spartacus. Even that wasn’t much compared to a series of civil wars that tore the Republic apart.
Then came Caesar. He wasn’t satisfied just guarding a bunch of Barbarians along the border in Northern Italy. He was bored.
He took his legions and went up into France to stir some action up.
Well, he got what he asked for and was soon fighting all of Gaul. He soon had all of France under his control and even invaded Britain a few times just because why not.
Caesar united with two other Roman generals to restore the peace, but guess what, they ended up fighting each other too. General Pompey moved the Senate against Caesar and demanded that he give up command of his legions. Seeing this as the obvious attempt to destroy him he said “No you didn’t” and promptly invaded Rome.
He crossed the Rubicon River and burned the bridges behind him to show his men that there was no going back. This didn’t end the civil wars and Caesar went all over the Republic, fighting his enemies. He went from Spain to Egypt where he hooked up with Cleopatra for a while. Caesar went, saw, and kicked butt. He became the most powerful man in the Republic and the Senate feared this. So they plotted and murdered Caesar.
Well, this led, surprisingly, to another civil war in which a guy named Octavian came to power by beating Mark Antony and Cleopatra. He beat his former friend, Mark Antony like he was making whip cream.
This guy said, and I quote “Enough of this crap. It’s time someone stops all this and takes charge. I think that guy should be me.” He changed his name to Caesar Augustus and became “Imperator” This was the start of the “Pax Romana,” Roman peace.
Now that he was in charge eh strong armed everyone to do as he said. Instead of elected rulers, it became a matter of succession by birth. There was Augustus who was good for the Empire, Tiberius who was a total scum bag, Caligula who was bat guano crazy, Claudius who was an interesting character and kind of alright, and finally, Nero who was less that stellar. Most of them were, and let’s be fair here, complete losers.
They were followed by more super powerful but horrible people and somehow the Empire moved forward without destroying itself by incompetent leadership.
There was eventually Commodus who was terrible and his rule usually marks the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire.
Then there was a time where retirement from being emperor usually meant assassination. Finally, Diocletian, in an effort to stop the madness and decline, gave himself more power than any Roman Emperor had ever had. Up till this point, a Roman emperor was “First Citizen” and just as human and subject to the law as anyone. (in theory) But Diocletian dressed in lavish robes and jeweled crowns and made his subjects kneel before him like the Eastern rulers did. He froze all wages and prices were they were and made the Empire into basically what we’d call a ‘socialist dictatorship.’
Well, like every other instance of socialism, it kinda sucked and didn’t stop the decline. Eventually the problem was made worse when Barbarians from Germany started moving in. These were people that didn’t speak Latin and held no loyalty to the Empire, but they moved in whether the Romans liked them or not. It turns out that creating small semi-independent kingdoms within the Empire’s borders that don’t like you isn’t such a good idea.
Okay, this may surprise you, but soon the Empire fell into more civil war when the empire was split into three sections to be co-ruled. Yeah, that didn’t work out. A general in Britain by the name of Constantine was declared emperor by his troops and marched on Rome. There he fought outside of Rome and won.
He legalized Christianity with the Edict of Milan. He reorganized the Legions into two types, stationary border guards and rapid moving centralized legions. This was to counter the growing barbarian threats. He also split the empire into two parts, east and west and created the eastern capital on a small Greek town called “Byzantium.” He named the new city “Constantinople,” the city of Constantine.
For a while, everything was good.
The Empire is now in its final stage. Barbarians are encroaching on its territory by the day, the army starts losing major battles and at Adrionople, almost the entire Roman military is wiped out. The power shifts east and the Western half gets left behind. Rome becomes a poor, crumbling place and the capital is moved to Milan and then Ravenna.
Well, the Empire kept losing to Barbarians so eventually recruits barbarians into its ranks. These Germanic foreigners held no love or loyalty to Rome, but the knew how to fight so Rome used them. More and more the army became Barbarian until eventually it was the Barbarians with all the military muscle that called the shots.
Attila the Hun came in and Rome had its last big battle at Chalons where an alliance of Romans and barbarians that had set up shop in Gual fought off Attila and barely managed to survive. The Empire limped on, losing Britain, North Africa to the Vandals, Gual to the Franks and soon Italy to the Goths.
It continued on in name only until the Goth general Odoacer got tired of the middle man-emperor and disposed the young Romulus Agustulus. The Senate and some institutions lived on with the Senate lasting until at least 800 when Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
The east continued to thrive for another thousand years and history, for some stupid reason, calls it the “Byzantine Empire.” Though really, it was just the continuation of the Roman Empire.
Oh, I forgot, I like maps. Check out this map of the Roman Empire from birth to death. It’s pretty rad….what….Rad isn’t an okay word? Too old? Well so am I. I like old school and I say its rad.