Roman Timeline

Preceding the period of the Roman kings, during the Bronze Age, Greek cultures came into contact with Italic ones. By the Iron Age, there were huts in Rome; Etruscans were extending their civilization into Campania; Greek cities had sent colonists to the Italic Peninsula.

Ancient Roman history lasted for more than a millennium, during which the government changed substantially from kings to Republic to Empire. This timeline shows these major divisions over time and the defining features of each, with links to further timelines showing the key events in each period. The central period of Roman history runs from about the second century B.C. through the second century A.D., roughly, the late Republic to the Severan dynasty of emperors.

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Roman Kings

Heroes Of The Trojan War
traveler1116/ E+/ Getty Images

In the legendary period, there were 7 kings of Rome, some Roman, but others Sabine or Etruscan. Not only did the cultures mingle, but they started to compete for territory and alliances. Rome expanded, extending to about 350 square miles during this period, but the Romans didn't care for their monarchs and got rid of them.

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Early Roman Republic

The Roman Republic began after the Romans deposed their last king, in about 510 B.C., and lasted until a new form of monarchy began, the principate, under Augustus, at the very end of the 1st century B.C. This Republican period lasted about 500 years. After about 300 B.C., the dates become reasonably reliable.

The early period of the Roman Republic was all about expanding and building Rome into a world power to be reckoned with. The early period ended with the start of the Punic Wars.

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Late Republican Period

Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, by Noel Halle, 1779 (Musee Fabre)
Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Late Republican Period continues Rome's expansion, but it's easy -- with hindsight -- to see it as a downward spiral. Instead of the great sense of patriotism and working together for the good of the republic that was celebrated in the legendary heroes, individuals began to gather power and use it to their advantage. While the Gracchi may have had the interests of the lower classes in mind, their reforms were divisive: It's hard to rob Paul to pay Peter without bloodshed. Marius reformed the army, but between him and his enemy Sulla, there was a bloodbath in Rome. A relative by marriage of Marius, Julius Caesar created civil war in Rome. While he was dictator, a conspiracy of his fellow consuls assassinated him, putting an end to the Late Republican Period.

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Roman Legionary on Trajan's Column

The Principate is the first part of the Imperial Period. Augustus was first among equals or princeps. We call him Rome's first emperor. The second part of the Imperial Period is known as the Dominate. By that time, there was no pretense that the princeps were equal.

During the time of the first imperial dynasty (the Julio-Claudians), Jesus was crucified, Caligula lived licentiously, Claudius died of a poison mushroom at the hand of his wife, supposedly, and was succeeded by her son, a would-be performer, Nero, who committed assisted-suicide to avoid being murdered. The next dynasty was the Flavian, associated with destruction in Jerusalem. Under Trajan, the Roman Empire reached its greatest expanse. After him came the wall-builder Hadrian and the philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius. Problems of administering so large an empire led to the next stage.

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The Dominate

When Diocletian came to power, the Roman Empire was already too big for one emperor to handle. Diocletian started the tetrarchy or system of 4 rulers, two subordinates (Caesars) and two full-fledged emperors (Augusti). The Roman Empire was split between an eastern and a western section. It was during the Dominate that Christianity went from a persecuted sect to the national religion. During the Dominate, barbarians attacked Rome and the Roman Empire.

The city of Rome was sacked, but by that time, the capital of the Empire was no longer in the city. Constantinople was the eastern capital, so when the last emperor of the west, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed, there was still a Roman Empire, but it was headquartered in the East. The next phase was the Byzantine Empire, which lasted until 1453 when the Turks sacked Constantinople.

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Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "Roman Timeline." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Gill, N.S. (2023, April 5). Roman Timeline. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Roman Timeline." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).