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The Roman Empire

Political system based by Rome that lasted for nearly five centuries. Historians usually date the origin of the Roman Empire from 27 BC when the Roman Senate gave Gaius Octavius the name Augustus and he became the unquestioned emperor after years of bitter civil war. At its peak the empire included lands throughout the Mediterranean world. Rome had first extended into other parts of Italy and neighboring territories during the Roman Republic (509-27 BC), but made wider conquests and solidified political control of these lands during the empire. The empire lasted until Germanic invasions, economic decline, and internal unrest in the 4th and 5th centuries AD ended Rome's ability to dominate such a huge territory. The Romans and their empire gave cultural and political shape to the subsequent history of Europe from the middle Ages and the Renaissance to the present day.

The emperor Augustus reigned from 27 BC to AD 14 and ruled with absolute power. He restores political and social stability and started two centuries of prosperity called the Roman Peace (Pax Romana). Under his rule the Roman state began its transformation into the greatest and most influential political institution in European history. During the first two centuries AD the empire prospered and added new territories, notably ancient Britain, Arabia, and Dacia (present-day Romania). People from the Roman provinces streamed to Rome, where they became soldiers, bureaucrats, senators, and even emperors. Rome developed into the social, economic, and cultural capital of the Mediterranean world. Despite the attention given to tyrannical and often vicious leaders like the emperors Caligula and Nero, most emperors ruled sensibly and competently until military and economic disasters brought on the political instability of the 3rd century AD.

The Roman Empire covered a huge amount of territory, but also permitted people of many different cultures to preserve their heritage into modern times. The empire contributed to perpetuate the art, literature, and philosophy of the Greeks, the religious and ethical system of the Jews, the new religion of the Christians, Babylonian astronomy and astrology, and cultural elements from Persia, Egypt, and other eastern civilizations. The Romans supplied their own peculiar talents for government, law, and architecture and also spread their Latin language. In this way they created the Greco-Roman synthesis, the rich combination of cultural elements that for two millennia has shaped what we call the Western tradition.

The Romans formed that synthesis during the longest continuous period of peaceful prosperity that the Mediterranean world has ever known. The impact of the Roman people endures until the present day.

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