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Lesson 3:
The Early Roman Empire
Page 139 in your textbook
Emperors of the Early Empire
• Timeframe : 14 AD until 180 AD
• Augustus’s new political system allowed the
emperor to select his successor from his
natural or adopted family.
• The first four emperors after Augustus came
from his family
• Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero
• Nero was the Roman emperor from 54 to 68 AD.
• He is remembered most for his perverse mind
and his persecution of Christians.
• He experienced a very unstable childhood.
• The Emperor Caligula banished his family around
39 AD, seizing the entire family's fortune, and his
father died when he was only three years old.
• He was raised by his mother and they were poor,
but that changed when Agrippina married her
uncle, the emperor Claudius.
• Agrippina convinced Claudius to adopt Nero and
in 50 AD he became the probable heir to the
throne, even ahead of Claudius's own son!
• In 54 AD Agrippina murdered Claudius and Nero
became ruler at the age of 17.
• At first Nero's mother had a great deal of
authority within his reign.
• However, Nero grew resentful of her power and
Agrippina was removed from the palace in 55.
• until 59 Nero was known for his generosity and
• During this period he forbade capital punishment
and contests involving bloodshed in the circus.
• He even reduced taxes.
• This side of the emperor disappeared when he
ordered the murder of his mother, who was
accused of treason in 59 AD.
The Great Fire
• One of the most famous events of his reign
was the fire of Rome in 64 AD
• Nero was in Antium when the fire started in
the Circus Maximus.
• The fire spread and raged furiously over Rome
for nine days.
• When Nero returned he started to rebuild the
city, which caused some to suspect Nero of
planning the fire in order to make room for a new
city built in his honor.
• Nero, needing a scapegoat for the fire, chose to
put the blame on the Christians.
• His brutality was exhibited through the
persecution of these early Christians.
• This persecution took on different forms for the
Christians, as some were torn to death by dogs
while others were used as torches to light Nero's
gardens and parties.
• Nero was obsessed with Greece and Greek
culture, frequently traveling there and
participating in poetry, singing, and games as
well as parties.
• In 68, after an extensive time there, a food
shortage and unrest brought him back to
• There were many uprisings against him.
• After his return, Nero's reign finally came to
an end in 68 AD when he committed suicide
with the help of his secretary, Epaphroditus.
• He is said to have muttered before his death,
"What an artist dies in me!"
Civil War
• After Nero’s death, a civil war broke out in 69
• It became obvious that the Empire had a
major flaw
• No system for selecting a new emperor.
• Emperor at the mercy of Roman legions.
• Weak Emperors could easily be killed and
• The suicide of emperor Nero, in 68, was
followed by eighteen months of civil
war, the first Roman civil war since
Mark Antony’s death in 30 BC.
• During this period, Rome witnessed the
successive rise and fall of three
emperors until the rise of Vespasian
• The first task of the new Emperor Vespasian
was to rebuild Rome after the civil war, to
stamp his own identity on the city and to wipe
away the memory of Nero.
• The Roman Colosseum was to become the
showpiece of the new Flavian dynasty of
Vespasian and his sons Titus and Domitian.
• The location chosen for the new amphitheater
was most significant. It was built on the site of
the infamous Golden House of Nero.
• This palace, complete with its own lake and
parkland setting, had been built in the very
heart of Rome. The lake was filled in and the
land reused as the location for the new
• Vespasian’s decision to build the Colosseum
on the site of Nero’s lake can be seen as a
gesture of returning a part of the city to the
people which emperor Nero had for his own
• Vespasian did not live to see his amphitheater
completed. After he died in 79, his oldest son
Titus continued construction on the Colosseum.
Titus opened it to the public in AD 80.
• During the dedication of the Flavian
Amphitheater 9,000 animals and hundreds of
gladiators were participating in a hundred days of
games on an unparalleled scale.
• After Titus’s death the following year, Domitian,
Vespasian’s youngest son and Titus’s young
brother, built the underground caverns and
finished the decorative work.
Size of the Empire
• In its height, the Roman empire covered 9.1
million square kilometers
• Population estimated at more than 50 million
• At the height of the empire, there was one
slave for every three Roman citizens.
Slavery in Rome
• Slavery became an important part of Roman life.
• As nobles became richer and lazier they began
using slaves as gladiators for entertainment.
• Gladiators were trained slaves who were forced
to fight wild animals and other slaves in huge
arenas in front of thousands of people.
• It was a brutal and ugly sport and it was
becoming very popular.
• Gladiators were usually recruited from
criminals, slaves, and prisoners of war.
• Criminals, having lost their citizen rights and
slaves and prisoners of war having none, had
no choice about becoming a gladiator, if they
had the physical and emotional make-up
necessary for the profession.
• Spartacus was born in Thrace
(an ancient country, now part of Greece and
• When he was young he worked in the fields of
his homeland.
• He served as a Roman auxiliary in the legions.
• Believed that he deserted the Roman army
and as a result of that was sold into slavery.
• While being enrolled in a training school in Capua in 73
AD., Spartacus led a group of several other gladiators and
fled the gladiatorial college capturing Mount Vesuvius.
• When other slaves heard about Spartacus they were
motivated by his courage and readily joined him in the
fight against the Roman nobility.
Gladiatorial School where
Spartacus was Trained
The Revolt
•In 73 BC a group of 78 gladiators escaped from the gladiatorial
school in Capua. They started traveling and picking up runaway
slaves. The leaders of this group were Spartacus, Oenomaus,
and Crixus.
The Battle at Vesuvius
•The newly formed slave army had traveled to Mount
Vesuvius in search of a safe and
easily dependable place.
•Instead of finding it, they were trapped on the
mountain by the praetor Gaius Claudius Glaber.
The Outcome
•Miraculously, the slaves defeated the Romans.
•They rappelled down the mountain and attacked the Romans
from all sides.
•This resulted in an increase of weapons and supplies for the
slaves and an increase of fear for the Romans.
• Spartacus hoped that in search for freedom
his soldiers would attempt to cross the Alps,
after which they could seek their own
• However, his plan didn't materialize as they
preferred to attack the rich Italian countryside.
• Within the space of two years they defeated
no fewer than four Roman armies.
• With his huge army of 70,000 Spartacus' force
overran much of Campania and Lucania
defeating all the Roman opposition.
• Inside, however, Spartacus knew that if
Romans really decided to make an effort his
army stood no chance
• By 72 B.C.E., the Senate realized that
Spartacus and his army were an internal
threat to security and ordered the consuls to
crush the slave revolt.
• It turned out to be harder than they thought.
• Surprisingly the Roman army was defeated
three times.
• On numerous occasions Spartacus tried to
persuade his men to leave Italy and move
northward towards Gaul but they refused.
• Eventually, he decided to turn southward and
go to Sicily.
• However, that was a turning point of the slave
• The Senate placed Crassus, an able and
competent general, in command of six legions.
• his initial attempt to crush the revolt failed, in
7 3 AD, his army defeated the slaves and
Attempted Escape
• Meanwhile, Spartacus turned around and
headed towards Sicily, planning to escape on
pirate ships, which he had hired, not knowing
that the pirates had already sailed away.
• Crassus built a wall to block Spartacus' escape.
• When the slaves tried to break through, the
Romans fought back, killing about 12,000 of
the slaves, while losing only 7 of their own.
Revolt Crushed
• Spartacus was killed in the battle and 6,000
captured slaves were crucified along the
Appian Way.
• Appia teritur regina longarum viarum
"the Appian way is the queen of the long
• That was the end of the last of the series of
slave wars extending back to the previous
End of the Revolt
Pax Romana
• Beginning of 2nd century (the 100’s AD) a series of
five “good” emperors came to power
• These emperors created a period of peace and
prosperity known as the Pax Romana (the Roman
• Nerva
• Trajan
• Hadrian
• Antoninus Pius
• Marcus Aurelius
• The Pax Romana lasted for almost 200 years
• The rulers treated the ruling classes with
respect, maintained peace in the empire.
• Powers of the emperor expanded during this
period, at the expense of the senate
• All were extremely active in building public
works – aqueducts, bridges roads, harbor
Living Conditions in Rome
• Rome had the largest population of any city in
any empire – 1 million by the time of Augustus
• Rome had public buildings unlike anywhere in
the empire
• Temples, markets, baths, theaters,
government buildings, and amphitheaters
gave parts of the city a magnificent
• On the other hand, Rome was overcrowded
and noisy
• Because of congestion, cart an wagon traffic
was banned during the day