Ancient History & Civilisation


753 BC

Traditional date of the foundation of Rome

509 BC

Traditional date of the expulsion of the kings and the foundation of the Roman Republic

264 BC

Pyrrhus invades Italy but fails to break Roman hegemony

216 BC

Battle of Cannae. Rome’s worst defeat at the hands of Hannibal

146 BC

Carthage and Corinth sacked by Roman armies

88 BC

Sulla marches on Rome and makes himself dictator

44 BC

Julius Caesar assassinated on the Ides of March

31 BC

Battle of Actium ends the civil wars of the late Republic. Conventional beginning of the early empire or Principate

AD 14

Death of Augustus, and accession of Tiberius

AD 117

Death of Trajan marks the greatest extent of the Roman Empire

AD 212

Caracalla extends citizenship to most inhabitants of the empire

AD 235–84

‘The Anarchy’, a prolonged period of military crisis

AD 284–305

Reign of Diocletian. Conventional beginning of Later Roman Empire

AD 306–37

Reign of Constantine

AD 313

Constantine’s Edict of Toleration

AD 361–3

Julian fails to restore the worship of the ancestral gods

AD 378

Battle of Adrianople. Eastern empire’s army defeated by Goths

AD 476

Last western emperor deposed by Ostrogoths

AD 527–65

Justinian attempts to reconquer the west

AD 636

Arab armies defeat Roman forces at Yarmuk

AD 711

Arabs cross the Straits of Gibraltar, invading Visigothic Spain



Traditions about what happened before the foundation of the City, or while it was being founded, are more suited for poetic fictions than for the trustworthy records of history.

(Livy, From the Foundation of the City Preface)

The story of Rome is long one. This chapter tells it all—at breakneck speed—hitting just the high spots of the millennium-and-a-half-year story of rise and fall. It is intended as a motorway route planner for the book, or a set of satellite images, snapped at long intervals, provided for orientation. If you already know the pattern of the Roman past, feel free to skip ahead. If not, enjoy the ride!

The Kings and the Free Republic

The Romans of the historical period believed that their city had been founded by Romulus at a date that corresponds to our 753 BC. Romulus was the first of seven kings. The earlier kings were honoured as founding fathers, the later ones reviled as tyrants. Eventually the last of the kings, Tarquin the Proud, was driven out of Rome and a Republic was founded. The conventional date for this was 509 BC. After Aeneas and Romulus, this was something like the third foundation of Rome. Its hero was a Brutus. When Julius Caesar made himself dictator for life nearly 500 years later, it was on the base of statues of this first Brutus that graffiti were scrawled, calling on his distant descendant to take up arms and slay the tyrant.

All the surviving accounts of the period of the Regal Period have this mythic quality. None was written less than three centuries after the supposed foundation of the Republic. Rome in the late sixth century was well below the radar of the Greeks, who would not begin to write even their own history for another century. Yet it is probable enough that Romans did have a monarchy. Many other Mediterranean cities had monarchs in the archaic age, including many of the cities of Etruria just north of Rome. Many of the later institutions of Rome seem best explained as relics of a monarchical state: there was a sacred house in the forum called the Regia, the base of the most senior priest the pontifex maximus. The official who conducted elections if there was a gap between magistrates was the interrex. But few of the details that have been passed down can be trusted. Individual kings were remembered as founders of specific parts of the Roman state. Romulus created the city, populated it, first by declaring it an asylum for criminals, and then by organizing the mass kidnapping of Sabine women to provide wives for his followers. Numa, the second king, invented Roman religion. Servius Tullius organized the army, the tribes, and the census and so on. Stories about the later rulers mostly recall tales told about tyrants across the ancient Mediterranean: they were arrogant rulers and cruel, sexual predators, and weak sons followed strong fathers. Charges of this kind were common in the aristocratic republics of the archaic Mediterranean and represent the emergence of new ethics of civil conduct. The Romans also remembered their last kings as foreigners, specifically as Etruscans. Stories about the kings added up to an account of what was central and unique to Rome, at least in the minds of those who told and heard them. Our only real control on these myths is archaeological.

The Republican period lasted nearly five centuries, from the early sixth until the final century BC. It was later remembered as an age of liberty and piety. Those who enjoyed that liberty were the wealthy, especially the aristocratic families which together monopolized political office and religious leadership. The nostalgia of their heirs colours all our history of that period. A few families—the Cornelii Scipiones above all, then later the Caecilii Metelli—were so successful that they effectively dominated the state, rather as the Medici dominated Renaissance Florence. But the source of their wealth was very different. Those who led Rome’s conquest of the Mediterranean world brought back treasure with which to beautify the city, money with which to buy or occupy land, and slaves with whom to farm it. Rome, like most ancient cities, relied on citizen soldiers. At first most of them were peasants who would join campaigns organized for periods of relative quiet in the agricultural year. Many of them did well out of conquest, and those who lived near enough the city had some influence in the political assemblies that elected Rome’s leaders and made the greatest decisions, such as whether or not to go to war. But Rome never approached the kind of democracy created in classical Athens, where the wealthy were compelled to conceal their riches and to spend part of them on public projects. At Rome power remained in the hands of the few. Magistracies lasted for only a year, but former magistrates sat for life in a council, the Senate, which in effect directed government, legislation, state cult, and foreign policy. How the Republican aristocracy remained so dominant is one of the big questions of Roman history. Was it the institution of patronage that pervaded Roman society? Or the religious authority they acquired from their priestly functions? Other cities faced revolutions when disaffected aristocrats roused up the people against their rivals. Roman nobles were as competitive as any aristocracy, but somehow restrained themselves from infighting until the very end of the Republic. When that restraint collapsed, their world fell apart.

The Republic was also the age in which Rome was transformed from an Italian city-state to the leading power in the ancient Mediterranean world. The kings must have left Rome relatively powerful. The scale of the walls, the probable size of the population, but most of all the early military successes all suggest Rome was already one of the politically powerful cities of central Italy around the year 500 BC. The history of the first few centuries is hazy, but by the start of the third century BC, Rome’s influence extended throughout the Italian peninsula. Colonies dotted strategic points in the Apennines and on the Tyrrhenian Coast, while new roads had opened up communications to the Adriatic. Over the fourth and third centuries Rome fought on all fronts: Gauls to the north, Greeks in the south, a series of Italic peoples in the mountains of the Abruzzi and the arid plains of the Messogiorno. In the 270s they attracted the attention of King Pyrrhus of Epirus, who crossed the Adriatic with a large army. Rome was defeated by him in several battles, but survived the war. By the end of the third century, Romans had won two long wars against Phoenician (Punic) Carthage. The first (264–241 BC) was largely a naval war in which Rome captured Sicily, and became master of the Greek and Punic cities on the island as well as the indigenous Sicilian peoples of the interior. The second Punic war (218–201) was fought in Spain and Africa as well as in Italy itself. Hannibal crossed the Alps in 217 BC and the next year inflicted a terrifying defeat on Rome at Cannae. But he did not press home his advantage and lingered in southern Italy until 203 when he had to return to Africa to face Scipio’s army. Hannibal’s defeat at Zama the next year marked the end of Carthaginian power. During the second century BC, Roman armies marched even further afield. They took on and defeated the great Macedonian kingdoms of the east, the heirs of Alexander the Great. Carthage and the ancient Greek city of Corinth were both razed to the ground in 146 BC. Roman armies defeated Gallic tribes north and south of the Alps, waged war on the Spanish Meseta, and resisted German invasions. The city grew and grew in size, was equipped with aqueducts and basilicas and other monuments paid from the spoils of war. The wealthy became even wealthier, citizen armies spent longer and longer away from home.

Romans of the later periods imagined that at its height the Republic was a harmonious system in which the ambitions of the mighty were guided by the wisdom of the Senate, with the support of a deferential people. The ruin of the Republic was attributed (in different ways) to the luxury and arrogance brought by empire. For the early imperial historian Velleius Paterculus

The first Scipio paved the way for Roman domination, the second opened the door to luxury.1

Others historians chose other watersheds, but the pattern of virtuous rise followed by vicious fall was a commonplace. The truth is more complex. Social conflicts of one sort or another occurred throughout Roman history. But the urban violence and civil wars that began at the end of the second century BC were on a new scale. The last century of the free Republic was at once the period of greatest territorial expansion, the period in which Roman literary and intellectual culture achieved its classic form, and also 100 years of bloody civil war. Conflicts between Romans and their Italian allies became conflated with social struggles between the poor (or those who claimed to represent them) and the rest of the wealthy. Traditional rivalries between aristocrats were supercharged by the proceeds of imperialism. Politicians recruited first mobs, and then armies to fight their corners.

A destructive feedback loop was created between competition at home and aggressive warfare abroad. Generals thought in the short term, with an eye always on opportunities when they returned. They took spectacular risks, attacked Rome’s neighbours without the permission of Senate or people, handed over conquered territories to be exploited by their political allies, and gave little thought to the long-term security of Rome. Foreign allies of dubious loyalty were allowed to build huge power bases on the frontiers. Romans were loathed in the provinces. The low point came when Mithridates, the King of Pontus, a former Roman ally whose power had been built up by Rome and whose increasingly aggressive actions had been ignored by a Senate preoccupied with Italian affairs, invaded Roman-controlled western Asia Minor. At Mithridates’ command 10,000 Italians were slaughtered in the Greek cities of the province. Rome briefly lost control of all territories east of the Adriatic. This was just another opportunity for Roman generals. Sulla was first given the army, and then deprived of it, but he refused to step down and instead marched his soldiers on Rome. The forum ran with blood, and he got his way, and after organizing Rome as he saw fit marched east, where he sacked Athens, before returning to fight his way back into Rome. Declaring himself dictator he then ‘proscribed’ a list of political enemies. Anyone whose name was on the list could be killed without punishment, and their property was forfeit. Sulla was a model for all those generals who came after, including his lieutenant Pompey, his enemy Caesar, and those who came after Caesar including the future Emperor Augustus. All of these acquired great armies for foreign wars, and ultimately used them to campaign against each other in the provinces, while spending money in Rome on political faction and grand monuments. Conflict came to a stop at the battle of Actium in 31 BC, with the defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra by Caesar’s heir Octavian, later rebranded as Augustus in a conscious attempt to make civil war (and with it aristocratic liberty and the power of the people) history.

The Early Empire

The long reign of the first emperor, Augustus—he died in AD 14—is the fulcrum of Roman history. Before him there was the Republic: after him only emperors. The 300 years that followed are known as the early empire or (after Augustus’ other title of First Citizen, princeps) the Principate.

Much of Augustus’ way of running Rome was really a continuation of the main themes of Republican history, and this was exactly the way he wanted it to be seen. Once his own position in Rome was secure, and the civil war armies had been largely demobilized, he engaged on campaigns of conquest and civic building on scales that surpassed the achievements of Pompey and Caesar. At his accession, Rome dominated the Mediterranean through a network of provinces and alliances. But civil war and aristocratic rivalry had started many wars beyond the region that remained unresolved. Augustus extended Roman direct rule across half of Europe to the rivers Rhine and Danube, fixed a boundary, and made peace with the Persian Empire. On Julius Caesar’s death many building projects had been begun but not yet finished. Augustus completed these and added new ones of his own, turning the Field of Mars into a sort of monumental theme park, and appropriating the Palatine Hill for a complex of imperial residences and temples, the origin of our term Palace.

Less ostentatiously, Augustus succeeded in making the Roman state civil war proof. The rather shambolic mess of governmental and fiscal expedients imposed by one conquering general after another were drawn into a more regular system of provincial government. Rome now had a dedicated military treasury with which to pay a new standing army. The Roman and Italian aristocracies were given roles in the new order as governors, and as military commanders. But the money, and the loyalty of the soldiers, was kept firmly in Augustus’ hands. Augustus, not the people and certainly not the Senate, now decided which aristocrats would occupy which magistracies and which priesthoods. Indeed all important decisions were now made in the imperial court. The Senate and people of Rome were given greater honours as they lost power. But busts and statues of Augustus were visible everywhere, portraying him as a general, as a priest, and as a god. He and his successors were worshipped in every city and province alongside the ancestral and domestic gods, and by the soldiers in the camps as well.

The real mark of Augustus’ success was that he was able to pass on most of his powers to a series of successors. Rome avoided civil war for a hundred years after Actium. Augustus’ immediate successors were not all talented: one (Caligula) was assassinated, and another (Nero) committed suicide because he thought he had lost control of the empire. But the system survived, with few modifications. When conflict between generals did break out, after the disaster of Nero’s reign, it was only because none of Augustus’ family survived to provide a new emperor. The war lasted less than two years (AD 69–70) and the victor, Vespasian, engineered a very Augustan restoration. The empire shuddered but was left undamaged. Without any formal establishment of a new constitution or title, the Roman emperor had become effectively the chief office of the Roman state. Weak and incompetent individuals could not now discredit the system, and there is no sign that anyone wished to do without the emperors. When Caligula was killed in AD41 the Senate did briefly discuss a return to the Republic, but spent more time thinking about a possible successor. While they debated, the Praetorian Guard found Caligula’s uncle Claudius hiding behind a curtain in the palace and made him emperor. From this point on the question was always simply Who should be emperor?

And emperor followed emperor. The Flavian dynasty ruled for most of the late first century AD. Wars of conquest added Britain and parts of southwest Germany to the empire, client kingdoms were swallowed up, frontiers fortified. A series of imperial forums extended out from the old Republican Capitol to the valley of the Colosseum. The city gradually acquired the trappings of an imperial capital. The assassination in AD 96 of the last Flavian, Domitian, shook the system much less than the death of Nero had. During the second century a series of long-reigning emperors presided over a relatively stable empire. Trajan (98–117) led wars of conquest north of the Danube and into what is now Iraq. His successor Hadrian (117–38) travelled widely around the empire. The emperors became more overtly monarchical and dynastic, especially outside Rome where they did not need to worry about senatorial sensibilities. An itinerant court emerged, one in which favourites and concubines competed for influence, scholars and poets were entertained, and the prefects of the Praetorian Guard acted as grand viziers. Provincial communities sent streams of ambassadors to track down the emperor wherever he might be. They might have found Hadrian on the banks of the Nile, or supervising the construction of the great wall that crossed northern Britain, helping plan his great new temple of Venus opposite the Colosseum, making a speech to soldiers on parade in Africa, or at ease in his vast palace at Tivoli or in his beloved Athens. The empire was ruled from wherever the emperor happened to be.

The early Roman Empire was a world at peace. Warfare was minor in scale, and emperors rarely had difficulty in restricting it to the frontiers. The economy and population grew. The number of Romans increased as provincial aristocrats, former soldiers, and freed slaves were granted citizenship: by an edict of the early third-century Emperor Caracalla (198–217), almost everyone in the empire was enfranchised. Roman law suddenly embraced everyone. The lawyer Ulpian, writing in the aftermath of this most spectacular of imperial benefactions, insisted wills would be valid in any language, Celtic or Syriac as well as Greek and Latin. Roman ways of life were widely adopted, new technologies of architecture and manufacturing spread in the provinces. The rich in particular decorated their spectacular mansions with imported marbles and donated grand buildings to their native cities. Shared cultures of bathing, of education, of eating emerged in the cities of the empire. Even the poorest spectated at gladiatorial combats, beast hunts, athletic festivals, and other ceremonies, often focused on the imperial house. The early third century AD marked the apogee of ancient urbanism. To be sure there were parts of the empire where nine out of ten people still lived in the countryside. But in central Italy and western Anatolia, in North Africa, and Syria and Egypt, maybe thirty per cent of the population lived in cities or large villages. Most of the monuments of the Roman Empire that impress us so much today when we travel around its former provinces were built in this period. Trajan’s conquest of Dacia was the last permanent expansion to the empire. Wars continued to be fought through the second century, but generally on the emperors’ terms. Emperors and local elites alike seem to have been relatively prosperous, although it is unclear how far this rested on genuine growth and how far on the gathering of property into a smaller and smaller number of hands.

Conditions changed around the turn of the second and third centuries AD. Urban building declined from before 200 in the west and before 250 elsewhere. No new theatres or amphitheatres were built after this point, the number of inscriptions plummets, and temple dedications seem fewer. At least some cities began to shrink in size, again especially in the west. Meanwhile the wars on the northern frontier seem to have taken more of the emperors’ time and resources. Perhaps this began as early as the reign of Marcus Aurelius, when wars against the Marcomanni of the middle Danube raged almost continuously between 166 and 180. Another round of civil war followed the murder in 192 of Marcus’ son Commodus. The struggle between provincial generals was a close rerun of what had followed Nero’s suicide, and the Severan dynasty that emerged ruled Rome 193–235 in a fairly traditional manner. But the revival of the Persian Empire under the Sassanian dynasty in the early third century put the army (and the treasury) under new pressure. For the next half-century, the empire was subjected to increased war on the Danube and the Rhine, suffered raids deep into the empire that resulted in the sack of cities like Athens and Tarragona which had hardly seen a soldier in 300 years, fought off major Persian offensives, and had to deal with secessions that for a while split the empire into three separate territories. Most emperors lasted only a few years, some only a few months, and few died in their beds. Increasingly they were drawn from military backgrounds, and their links with Rome and the Senate became even more attenuated. Military recovery began in the 260s but the empire was not a unified whole until the end of the century. The long reign of Diocletian, declared emperor in 284 and abdicating in 305, marked the empire’s survival.

The Later Roman Empire

By the early fourth century, the Roman world was a very different place. Cities had in some regions shrunk back to tiny walled circuits built hurriedly out of dismantled monuments. Some of the most recently conquered territories had been abandoned. There was still a Senate in Rome, but its members no longer had much role in government or military command. The empire had a new religion, Christianity, and a new capital at Constantinople with its own Senate, its own Seven Hills, and its own imperial palace. The empire had a new currency too, with which to pay much higher taxes than ever before, needed to pay bigger armies and a growing bureaucracy. There was now a college of up to four emperors at any one time, the senior ones titled Augusti, the junior ones Caesars. Each had his own court and each was to concentrate on a different region of the empire, but especially on the northern and eastern frontiers. From now on the emperors had to keep a constant watch on the barbarians, and had to manage a difficult relationship with the rival empire of Persia.

The history of Persia in this period parallels that of Rome in many respects. Shapur II, Persian king of kings (309–79), created a highly centralized empire in which a bureaucracy replaced the quasi-feudal baronies that had often barely acknowledged the authority of the Parthian kings. The Persian Empire too had a state religion, Zoroastrianism. Throughout late antiquity the frontier hardly shifted. Both empires had to deal with religious minorities and powerful priests. Wars were frequent and some cities regularly changed hands within a great border zone that stretched from Armenia in the north through Syria to the Arab world. But there were also periods of relative calm, and traders, missionaries, spies, and envoys moved back and forward between the two brother empires. That situation lasted until the seventh century when the Arab conquests destroyed the Sassanian Empire and very nearly the Roman one too.

Writing the history of the late empire has always proved difficult. At first the problem was the rival viewpoints of pagans and Christians, after Constantine I (306 to 337) replaced persecution with toleration and then began to patronize the Church on a grand scale. All his successors were Christians except for one, Julian, who tried to reverse Constantine’s reform in his brief reign (361–3). By the end of the century, general toleration had been replaced by attacks on the temples of polytheists, and emperors devoted more and more of their energy to the fight against heresy. Enough influential polytheists survived to blame the new religion for the disasters of the fifth century. Our historical sources are bitterly divided. Then there is the problem of hindsight. How can we ignore the fact that the loss of Trajan’s Dacian provinces was just the first of many losses of territory that saw Britain and northern Gaul slip out of Roman control in the mid-fifth century and the replacement of the last western emperor by a series of barbarian kings before 500?

Nevertheless the fourth century was in some senses an optimistic era, one that saw a partial recovery of intellectual life, much building (if now of churches and palaces rather than the traditional monuments of the classical city), and in the east some real prosperity. Even when a great group of Ostrogoths was allowed to cross the Danube in 376, Romans could reasonably remember other peoples settled inside the empire as allies. But the defeat of the eastern army by the Goths in 378 at the battle of Adrianople set in motion a set of migrations and diplomatic manoeuvres that led within a century to the total loss of the west. From the early fifth century new groups entered the empire, seeking their own share of territory, settlement as ‘guests’ of Rome, and perhaps sometimes safety from their own enemies, like the ferocious Huns. Rome itself was sacked twice, first by the Goths in 410 and then again by the Vandals in 455. The last emperor in the west was deposed in 476, although perhaps it did not seem a watershed at the time. By AD500 the Vandals ruled a kingdom based on Carthage, the Visigoths and Sueves controlled Spain and Gaul, Burgundians and Franks the rest of what is now France, and an Ostrogothic King ruled in the former imperial capital of Milan. The eastern emperors—bankrupt, without an army and preoccupied with Persia—had to acquiesce. So too did Roman elites stranded, as it were, behind enemy lines. For a few generations, Roman bishops and intellectuals served the new kings of the west, helping to create societies in which Romans and barbarians divided up roles and their wealth. Archaeological evidence shows quite clearly that trade across the Mediterranean was not severely disrupted, and in some areas urban life and even Latin literature thrived. The rulers of these kingdoms were Christians (if mostly Arian heretics in the eyes of eastern Roman bishops). Most attempted to preserve elements of Roman civilization, even rebuilding Roman monuments and intermarrying with Roman aristocratic families. Most relied on Roman bureaucrats to manage the complex fiscal systems they had inherited, preserving their warbands as an army to defend their acquisitions. Their kings lived in Roman palaces in the major cities of their realms, they issued coinage with Latin legends, devised law codes, and some even watched gladiatorial games.

Then, in the early sixth century, the eastern empire struck back. During Justinian’s reign (527–65) his generals snatched Africa from the Vandals, and fought a long and damaging war up and down Italy culminating in the end of the Ostrogothic kingdom. Visigothic Spain was invaded. At Constantinople, great building projects were undertaken, a huge codification of Roman civil law was carried out, and administrative reforms put into place. (The complaints of one senior bureaucrat, John the Lydian, show how the ‘new’ bureaucracy created by Diocletian and Constantine was now regarded by its members as a set of ancient and venerable institutions!) For a generation, a Mediterranean Roman Empire seemed reborn. Then it folded up again. The Lombards invaded Italy, the Franks expanded their power, and, except for a foothold around Ravenna, Roman territory was confined to North Africa and Sicily. Meanwhile, the emperors were once again locked into war with Persia. The Persian Emperor Khusrau II swept back over the Syrian frontier once again and this time captured Jerusalem. Persian forces raided north into Anatolia and south-west into Egypt, where Alexandria fell in 619. The emperors could do little to help because the invasion coincided with an invasion from the north-west by the Avars. Constantinople, under siege from both sides, could well have fallen in 626. A new emperor, Heraclius, managed to pay off the Avars, defeat the Persians, and carry war to their own capitals in southern Mesopotamia. Humiliated by defeat, Khusrau was assassinated in 628. Heraclius triumphed in Jerusalem and Constantinople.

And then the world changed. Among the many peoples drawn into the long Romano-Persian conflicts were the tribes of the Arabian peninsula. In the process they had developed considerable military experience and knowledge of both sides, but it was the religious movement started by the Prophet Muhammad that galvanized them into concerted action. At the battle of the Yarmuk in 636, the Roman forces suffered a devastating defeat. By 642 Egypt, Syria, and Palestine were all under Arab rule and would never berecovered. The empire had shrunk to a third of its size, a Balkan state with territory in western Anatolia and some distant western provinces, most of which it would lose as the Arab armies moved westward across North Africa and up into Spain, and as they mastered the sea. Cut off from the grain of Egypt, the urban population of Constantinople plummeted. The Persians were not so lucky. They too suffered a devastating defeat in 636, at Qadisyya. Their capital, Ctesiphon, was occupied the next year. The last remnant of the army was destroyed in 642 at the battle of Nihavand, and their last emperor perished, on the run, in 651.

Fixing the end of the Roman Empire is not easy. Certainly those emperors who defended Constantinople when the Arabs besieged it in 717 considered themselves Romans. So too did their successors right up until Constantinople finally did succumb, not to Arabs but to Turks, in the fifteenth century. We do not have to agree with them, but any other date we pick is arbitrary. Much of Roman and of Persian civilization did survive the Arab conquest. The cities of Syria flourished under the caliphate, and the tax systems of Khusrau II had an afterlife in Iran, just as Roman ones did in the barbarian kingdoms of the west. Charlemagne the Frank dreamt of becoming Roman emperor, and in 800 his dream came true in a ceremony conducted in Rome by Pope Leo III. Does Byzantium have a special claim to be more of an heir to Rome than either western Christendom or medieval Islam? I am not sure that it does, and so for me, the story of the Roman Empire ends here.

Further Reading

Many excellent narrative accounts of Roman history exist. My short list of favourites is the following. Two very good and recent ones are Simon Price and Peter Thonemann’s The Birth of Classical Europe (London, 2010) and Chris Wickham’s The Inheritance of Rome (London, 2009), respectively the first and second volumes of the Penguin History of Europe. Two excellent guides to social and economic history for at least part of the period are Peter Garnsey and Richard Saller, The Roman Empire: Economy, Society, Culture (London, 1987) and Peter Garnsey and Caroline Humfress, The Evolution of the Late Antique World (Cambridge, 2001). Michael Crawford’s The Roman Republic (London, rev. edn. 1992) is a model of how Roman history can and should be written, argumentatively and based on every available kind of evidence from archaeology, coins, and inscriptions to contemporary documents and later literature.

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