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Roman Republic to Roman Empire

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 3 years, 2 months ago


Roman Empire, Year 117 CE



Topics on the page


The Transition from a Republic to an Empire/The Roman Civil War


What forces sustained the empire?

A. Military organization, tactics, and conquests; and decentralized administration

B. Purpose and function of taxes

C. Promotion of economic growth through the use of a standard currency, road construction, and the protection of trade routes

D. Benefits of Pax Romana

  • Women in Ancient Rome
    • Aurelia Cotta
    • Octavia
    • Helena
    • Julia 


E. The Actions of Caesar


Here is a link to the personal journal of Julius Caesar. He writes extensively about his experience in Gaul as well as other wars that he was involved in.



Focus Question: How did Rome go from a republic to an empire, and what forces sustained the empire over time?


The Transition of Rome from a Republic to an Empire


Bust of Julius Caesar

Emperor Augustus
Emperor Augustus


Bust of Julius Caesar







How a Designer Used AI and Photoshop to Bring Ancient Roman Emperors Back to Life, The Verge (August 21, 2020)



The Rise of the Term "Imperator" or Emperor


  • By the time of Julius Caesar, several Roman leaders before him had adopted the titles of "dictator" or "princeps" (prince, or 1st man) in order to justify temporary seizing power. 


  • Caesar adopted the title "dictator perpetuo" (dictator for life), and eventually "imperator" (emperor), which were titles meant to signify an indefinite seizure of power. 


  • What is significant about Roman titles is no Roman ruler ever described themselves as "kings", as a result of the long Roman republican tradition of hating kingship. 


  • Therefore, though the Roman system unquestionably became a hereditary monarchy, they would never call themselves that. 


  • UMASS Amherst Professor and Historian of Antiquity Jason Moralee's definition of a Roman emperor: "An office that never really existed. An extraordinary magistrate of the Roman Republic, granted specific powers by the Senate to deal with an emergency that never went away". 



 Here are audio files of a series on Dan Carlin's Hardcore History Podcast entitled "Death Throes of the Republic" which deals with the death of the Roman Republic.









Republic to Empire, from PBS

Here is a description of Julius Caesar's major accomplishments: Julius Caesar, and here is one for Augustus.


Here is a primary source biography of both Julius Caesar and Augustus, written by the Roman historian Suetonius. 

Here is a Lesson Plan for Augustus that was put together by the Stanford History Education Group.

Getting to Know the Emperors of Rome 

Click here for a written description of Caesar's assassination by the historian Plutarch.




  • Emperor of Rome Game from PBS allows you to be the leader of the Empire of Rome. You have three choices one of them being Augustus.

Julius Caesar and Augustus helped turn the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire



  This video by John Green explains exactly when the Roman Republic became the Roman Empire.


  • Here, PBS gives a quick explanation of Julius Ceasar and Augustus' roles in transitioning the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire



A. Military organization, tactics and conquests; and decentralized administration

Military Organization 


The Roman Legion was generally comprised of between 4,000-6,000 men in various levels of infantry, with 4,200 apparently being the optimal number. For more information on military tactics, scroll down to additional information below.


Here is a video detailing the average life of a Roman soldier in the year 15 C.E. 


Decentralized Administration



Rome was ruled during this era as a decentralized administration. 


  • Decentralized administrations cannot rely on force or a central authority. 


  • The senate was filled by patricians (the elite members of society) and consisted of 300 seats. 


  • Roman citizens were given more control of their own property as well, which allowed for more freedom within the empire.


For more information on decentralization.


B. The purpose and function of taxes

Taxes: The Roman Empire taxed the people under its control, and the taxes fell most heavily on conquered peoples in the empire. Despite the punitive tax levied on subjugated people throughout the Empire, Rome did not administer these conquered groups directly, but rather provided a generous degree of autonomy in their local regions.


  • Roman citizens did not have to pay the individual or head tax required of each subject of the empire, and the empire exempted Italian land from tribute. 
    • Roman citizens did, however, have to pay the 5 percent inheritance tax, a 1 percent sales tax, a customs or import duty, and a tax on freed slaves. 


  • Local magistrates, imperial officials, and professional tax collectors were all employed to gather taxes, and the imperial census became an important tool to identify potential taxpayers. 
    • Total taxes amounted to about 10 percent of the empire’s gross national product. That percentage of tax may seem low by modern standards, but the imperial government provided minimal services. 


  • For provincials who could barely make a living, paying 10 percent of their income to the government was a considerable burden.

Social Order: The social order in the Roman Empire played a critical role in the political and economic structure. The social order was based on heredity, property, wealth, citizenship and freedom.


  Here is a link on LGBT rights issues during the Roman Empire.


Here is a sample lesson plan on how to introduce slavery in the Roman empire to grades 6-12


Here is a sample lesson plan about the Multicultural Roman Empire from the American Institutes for Research.

C. The promotion of economic growth through the use of a standard currency, road construction, and the protection of trade routes


external image 400px-7antoninianii.jpg

For a video resource, see Rome: Engineering an Empire on YouTube

Rome 320 AD is a phone and tablet app that shows everyday life Roman life in 3-D animation.



Standard Currency: Merchants throughout the empire and as far away as India used Roman coins, but the monetary system primarily served as a way for the emperors to pay their troops because the soldiers expected cash.


  • When an emperor had insufficient income, he was forced to raise taxes, seize property, or, as a final measure, melt down existing coins and mint new ones that weighed less or contained smaller amounts of precious metals.


  • Silver coins were a basic medium of exchange during the empire, and one of the major Roman coins, a denarius (plural, denarii), equaled four of the smaller silver coins called sesterces.


  • During the reign of Augustus, a silver denarius weighed 5.7 gm (.20 oz) and was 99 percent pure. By AD 193 it had dropped to 4.3 gm (.15 oz) and was only 70 percent pure. The deficit spending of later emperors nearly halved the silver value of the coinage.


Roman Road in Pompeii. Photo by Paul Vlaar on Wikimedia Commons

Roman Road in Pompeii. Photo by Paul Vlaar on Wikimedia Commons



Road Construction: "All roads lead to Rome"... The Romans, for military, commercial and political reasons, became adept at constructing roads, which they called 'viae' (plural of singular via).


  • It means "road." Viae were always intended primarily as carriage roads, the means of carrying material from one location to another.


Protection of trade routes: Trade was vital to Ancient Rome. The empire cost a vast sum of money to run and trade brought in much of that money.


  • The population of the city of Rome was one million and such a vast population required all manner of things brought back via trade. The Roman Empire was crisscrossed with trade routes.


  • There were sea routes that covered the Mediterranean and Black Seas and numerous land routes using the roads built by the Romans. 


  • Trade and moving the Roman Army around were the two principle reasons for building roads. For more on trade routes, see the bottom of the page.



D. The benefits of Pax Romana


Augustus (Octavian), the first Roman emperor, ruled for 45 years. It was during the reign of Augustus that people became accustomed to being ruled by one leader. Rome went on to greatness under the Empire, but the Roman Republic was no more. For 45 years, Rome was at peace. Many of the Romans' incredible buildings and engineering projects were constructed during this period of relative peace, culture and literature flourished, and much of Greek culture was adopted during this period.

This period is the beginning of the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace, although the name is a bit misleading.


  • The Romans continued to expand their empire during this period, and they did not always do so peacefully. Things were not always peaceful in the city of Rome.


  • During the age of Pax Romana, Augustus created reforms aimed at turning Rome into a world capital. Through his reforms, Augustus sought to teach Romans to link their destiny with the destiny of mankind. Romans, he believed, were the chosen people to bring peace and stability to a violent changing world.


    • Roman civilization during Pax Romana held the belief that man had the ability to provide the good life for himself and others. That duty extended to all citizens of the Roman Empire, not just to those within the city of Rome.


  • Rome did not always have the best leadership. Some emperors were very cruel. Some were insane. But the empire continued to be stable. For some 200 years, the Roman Empire was united.



Pax Romana was a period of great 'peace' and mobility within the Roman Empire, allowing for the rise of Christianity to take place. 
A combination of the vast amount of cultures within the empire, the legendary travel conditions of the Roman roads, and stability of Pax Romana all fostered the growth of Christianity. 

The following links are useful primary sources regarding Augustus and the Pax Romana:


Here is a video from the TV show "Rome," where Octavian/ Augustus is claiming a new era of "moral virtue." Good moral standing/ virtue was a big emphasis on Romans, and it was something that had been lacking for a long time. 



Women in Ancient Rome


  • Look at Culture and Women to see how gender roles changed during the Pax Romana as well as some interesting cultural impacts during this time period.
    • If you are curious about women's roles as far as workplace, politics, and power during the first century of the Roman Empire click here.
      • Powerful Women in Ancient Rome include:

external image Aurelia_Cotta.jpgAurelia Cotta

  • One of the most well-known names of Roman history is Julius Caesar, and the powerful Aurelia Cotta was his mother.


    • Cotta lived from 120 to 54 BC and raised the young Julius alongside his two sisters, both called Julia. Not one to stand back and watch meekly
    • Cotta is famous for intervening when a dictator called Sulla ordered for Julius to be executed.
    • Cotta led a petition against her son's execution and helped to save his life. (Retrieved from http://www.historychannel.com.au/articles/powerful-women-of-ancient-rome/ , Feb, 5th, 2017)


  • Commonly known as Octavia the Younger to differentiate her from older counterparts, Octavia was an important 'background figure' in Roman politics.
    • Although Julius Caesar's great-niece, Octavia is most well known for her marriage to Mark Antony, a powerful political player.
    • Mark Antony famously left her for Cleopatra, but Octavia, ever loyal, ended up caring for Antony and Cleopatra's children after they passed away.
    • She is now considered to be one of Ancient Rome's great role models. (Retrieved from http://www.historychannel.com.au/articles/powerful-women-of-ancient-rome/ , Feb, 5th, 2017



  • Another Ancient Roman role model, Helena was the mother of Constantine (the first Christian emperor) and widely regarded as a devout, moralistic woman or 'saint'.



The only daughter of Julius Caesar and eventual wife of Pompey the Great, Julia was a key figure in the political landscape of the late Roman Republic.


  • Heralded by all the ancient sources as beautiful and virtuous, Julia was an important link between Caesar and Pompey which would help solidify the political alliance of the first Triumvirate, an essential part of the fall of Republican Rome.
  • Julia died in childbirth while Caesar was on campaign in Britain, before the civil war would eventually pit her father and her husband in a civil war against one another. 
  • Biography of Julia https://www.revolvy.com/page/Julia-(daughter-of-Caesar)



The Actions of Caesar


Caesar was a great military leader and won many decisive battles for Rome. His men admired him, were loyal, and they listened to every command. 


The formation of the First Triumvirate

The First Triumvirate was a widely debated move by many Romans. Caesar joined a political alliance with Pompey and Crassus. Lucan, an anti-Caesar poet described the First Triumvirate, in his Pharsalia, as, "foedere regni" (a pact of tyranny). Even though the three generals were considered "equal" in their treason, Caesar was the ring leader. 


AN IMPORTANT SOURCE: Lucan's Pharsalia. Here is a link to an english translation: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0134


Gallic Wars (Victory)

Caesar was a glorious warrior and leader in military combat. He had defeated the barbarous Gauls. This campaign was completed by 51 BC. He continued to wage war all over the Roman outskirts, and he out performed many of the other generals. Because of his victories all over the Mediterranean, his troops had an undying loyalty. 


Crossing the Rubicon River 

This was the breaking point. There was a fundamental law against crossing the Rubicon with armed troops. This was the second and final act of treason. Lucan described this moment, "ille erit nocens" (they will be guilty), guilty of starting the civil war. 


Dictator for life

After having claimed Rome, Caesar bestowed upon himself many titles of power. This instilled a great fear over the rest of the Roman officials. 



Julius Caesar had gained too much power as Consul, and a fear was instilled in the other Roman officials. This led to Brutus and sixty others. On the Ides of March 15th, 44 BC Caesar was stabbed to death, and Rome was "freed" from the tyranny. 


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgPymD-NBQU (Good comic like video)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0Y9pqA4C8I (From the TV Series, "Rome")

- a little bloody (warning)


Octavian/ Augustus Rose to Power (Finalizing transition into an empire)

After Caesar's death, Caesar's adopted heir Octavian rose to power. He began the era of peace, and Rome seemed to regain stability. He was rewarded as the title of Augustus to commemorate his lineage to Caesar. 






Military Tactics of the Roman Legion

Under this system, the Legion was made of the Maniple formation, which generally consisted of 2 centuries of men. The centuries were organized as a base unit of 60 men, but these numbers fluctuated depending upon the type of infantry. Each century of the Maniple was under the command of a centurion (with the unit on the right under the command of the senior centurion) who was assisted by an optio, and other 'enlisted officers' as detailed in the Imperial system. The cavalry of the Republican legion was limited to a rather small force by comparison to the infantry. The 200-300 man cavalry wings were organized in decuriae of 10 men each under the command of a decurion. Three units of decuriae were organized together as a turma consisting of 30 men, and the senior decurion of the three had total command. In addition to the traditional legions, the Roman Empire fielded Auxilia, or non-Roman soldiers. These units came from across the empire and would fight alongside the legions. 

  • Tactics and Conquests:

    • Shield to Shield: In battle, the Roman soldiers would stand with the shields in front side by side, and in the rows behind, with the shields on top of the heads of the ones in front. It is called the testudo formation. It made an advancing group of Romans a giant tortoise, and less vulnerable to artillery fire.
    • Battle Readiness: During a fierce battle, a soldier can get easily get tired. The Romans solved this. A soldier would only be at the front of a fighting column for fifteen minutes, then move to the back. This was invaluable to the soldiers.
    • Starvation: Starving a town under siege into submission was a favorite of the Romans. The town would be surrounded, plastered with artillery, and then the Romans would wait for the supplies to run out. In the event that this tactic took too long, siege towers were built. These allowed the Roman soldiers to scale the walls of a town easily. Together the two tactics were excessively effective.
    • Training: Training was the most important tactic to the Roman Army. The Romans were trained to fight hard and to improvise. Every soldier was trained as an engineer: they could make anything out of anything.
      • Multimedia.pngFor an explanation and history on the punishment of decimation, check out this site!


During the republic, the general who recruited an army often armed and paid the soldiers. Augustus wanted to ensure that in the future no rebellious general could threaten the regime, so he established a central military treasury. He set funds aside for the legionaries. When they retired, they received a grant to purchase a plot of land to support their families. Augustus also tried to make his troops more professional by instituting a standard legionary command structure, system of rank, and rate of pay. Roman soldiers swore an annual oath of loyalty to the emperor. These legionaries also received their pay, bonuses, and pensions from the emperor, so they were not often tempted to follow a renegade commander. Once Augustus had defeated Mark Antony, he began to reduce the empire’s remaining military forces from 60 legions to 28. He then had to provide land for over 100,000 men, which was the traditional form of pension. Augustus knew that earlier seizures of land had led to insurrections, so he used the spoils of his successful Egyptian campaign against Antony and Cleopatra to purchase property for some soldiers. He settled others in 40 new colonies around the Mediterranean. These colonies provided additional security in the provinces, and eventually became important centers for spreading the Roman way of life. Augustus founded the cities of Turin (Italy), Barcelona(Spain), Nimes (France), Trier (Germany), Tangier (Morocco) and Beirut (Lebanon).

Click here for a further explanation of what life was like in the Roman Legions. 

Roman Roads

Roman roads vary from simple corduroy roads to paved roads using deep roadbeds of tamped rubble as an underlying layer to ensure that they kept dry, as the water would flow out from between the stones and fragments of rubble, instead of becoming mud in clay soils. The builders aimed at directional straightness. Many long sections are ruler-straight, but it should not be thought that all of them were. The Roman emphasis on constructing straight roads often resulted in steep grades relatively impractical for most economic traffic: over the years the Romans themselves realized it and built longer, but more manageable, alternatives to existing roads. A milestone, or miliarium, was a circular column on a solid rectangular base, set two feet into the ground, standing several feet high, 20" in diameter, weighing about 2 tons. At the base was inscribed the number of the mile relative to the road it was on. In a panel at eye-height was the distance to the forum at Rome and various other information about the officials who made or repaired the road and when. The Roman roads were essential for the growth of their empire, by enabling them to move armies speedily and by sustaining land transport for Roman mercantilism. Roman roads were designed that way to hinder provinces organizing resistance against the Empire.


Trade in the Roman Empire

The most important port was Ostia as it was the nearest major port to Rome itself. Ostia was situated at the mouth of the River Tiber and was only 15 miles from Rome. Many ships traveled between Ostia and the major North African city of Carthage, a journey that took between three and five days. Ships also arrived from Spain and France at Ostia. All their goods could be quickly moved to Rome itself as they were taken in barges to the city up the River Tiber after slaves had transferred the products from the merchant ships to the barges. Ironically, Ostia was to play a major part in the downfall of Rome when Alaric the Goth captured Ostia in AD 409 knowing that this would starve Rome of much-needed food. The Romans did what they could to make sea journeys safe - lighthouses were built as were safe harbors and docks. The Roman Navy did what it could to make the Mediterranean Sea safe from pirates. The Romans made trade as easy as possible. There was only one currency used and there were no complicating customs dues. Trade was also encouraged by many years of peace within the Empire. Trade was vital to the success of the Empire. When the Empire collapsed, trade throughout the lands that had once made up the Roman Empire, also collapsed. The Mediterranean Sea became a dangerous place for merchants as there were no powers to control the activities of pirates who marauded as far north as the English Channel.








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