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Frequently Asked Questions
about the Roman Empire

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What are the names of the seven hills of Rome ?
How long did the Roman empire last for ?
What does SPQR stand for ?
Why did Rome rise ?
Why did Rome fall ?

Above are some questions received repeatedly by e-mail and in the bulletin board. Hence they have been answered here to make things easier both for the visitors seeking the answers and for me, the webmaster.

If you feel other questions and answers should be included on this page, e-mail the webmaster at
centurion@roman-empire.net

What are the names of the seven hills of Rome ?

The Seven Hills of Rome are the hills upon which the city of Rome tradition tells us that Romulus founded Rome.

These Hills are the following:
Aventine (Mons Aventinus), Caelian (Mons Caelius), Capitoline (Mons Capitolinus), Esquiline (Mons Esquilinus), Palatine (Mons Palatinus), Quirinal (Mons Quirinalis), Viminal (Mons Viminalis)

How long did the Roman empire last for ?

This question can't be answered easily. For the definitions of 'Roman empire' can vary.
Generally speaking Rome began in about 625 BC. Although the Romans believed their city dated back to 753 BC. But in the beginning it was only a town, hardly an empire. They controlled Italy by about 260 BC. This could be argued as being a small empire. Yet others would say it was far from it. Only by the end of its first war against Carthage did Rome actually possess any provinces (Sardinia, Corsica and Sicily) - 241 BC.
The earliest point at which everyone would agree on the Romans possessing an empire would be after their victory in the second Punic war in 201 BC.
As for the fall, the date traditionally used for this is the ousting of the last emperor, Romulus Augustus, in AD 476.
It is therfore very much left to the individual reader to decide how long the empire lasted. All you need to do is to decide for yourself when Rome had become an empire and then to work out the years.

What does SPQR stand for ?

The abbreviation SPQR adorns many public buildings and statues of Rome and, most famously, it was engraved on the battle standards of the Roman legion. It stood for 'senatus populusque romanus' and means 'the senate and the people of Rome'.

Why did Rome rise ?

Rome's most potent weapon appeared to be 'enfranchisement'. They brought upon Italy in particular, but also their other, later territories the rights and privileges of Roman citizenship, or at least good government, security and a reasonable justice system.
In short, Rome was a state, not a tyranny. In fact during most of its expansion, Rome was in fact a republic, not governed by an emperor, but by the Roman senate.
People preferred to be ruled by Rome for the alternatives were either wild barbarians to the north or tyrannies to the east and south.
Also some kings without heirs left their kingdoms to the Romans, seeing Rome as the best governor of their people after their own death. Kingdoms like Cyrene and Pergamum fell into the Roman possession by such peaceful means.
Also, empires of that time broke apart if they were attacked by a foe. The oppressed peoples under the yoke of the dominant power rose up and joined the foe. This happened when Rome attacked others, but failed to occur when others attacked Roman territory.
Naturally, the famous Roman army is also a major contributor to the building of the empire. In rough sequence, first they defeated the Etruscans, then the Samnites, then the Greeks (or better a Greek invader called Pyrrhus), the Gauls in northern Italy, then the Carthaginians, then the Macedons, then the Syrians...
Particularly by defeating the latter three, they defeated the remaining significant powers who could have been empire builders instead of them. It is much debated how they actually got into all these wars. Generally, it is understood that they were brought into all these conflicts by either themselves or their allies being attacked. And by winning they so acquired the vanquished foe's territory.

Why did Rome fall ?

Well, the old-fashioned, traditional explanation for the fall of Rome points out the mass migration as the biggest reason for the collapse of Rome.

In ancient European history it happened two or three times that huge migrations took place, hundreds of thousands, even millions of people set out to find new homelands.
The fact that such a mass migration took place whilst the Romans were still in power, must be seen as at least a major contributor to their fall. For as we see in modern days too, armies can fight other armies, but they cannot fight entire peoples. The Romans were overwhelmed in a human deluge.

But today one tends not to rely so much on the idea of mass migration and rather understands Rome as having suffered from an entire list of problems.

Rome had always had its fair share of bad emperors. Caligula, Nero, Commodus are such examples. But there always followed good emperors to correct their errors. At Rome's end however, there was really no good rulers. For example great generals like Stilicho were killed because the emperor feared losing his throne to them. If you kill your best generals, your army will never be as good as it could be.
Also important to the weakening of the Romans was that they began to get more and more civilized. Civilized people were not as good warriors on the battlefields as barbarians. For a long time the Romans had their own barbarians. Gauls, Illyrians, Belgians, Helvetians, Germans, etc.; they all joined the Roman legions. But soon they too were living like Romans. They enjoyed the fruits of Roman civilization and hence became less barbarous, - and less able to fight the barbarian Goths, Vandals, Sueves, etc..
Another important reason is perhaps that of Roman unity. The early Romans who built the empire stood united. By the end of course Rome had two capitals, Rome and Constantinople, each with its own emperor. But to the earlier Romans, Rome had been something special, something they served. But the later Romans only sought power for themselves. Almost every military commanders secretely had his eye on the throne and was ready to overthrow the emperor and take power himself. The armies spent a lot of time fighting each other for power in Rome, rather than fighting the enemy.
To this cataolgue of troubles one needs also to add economic problems. Rome was spending more than it could afford. The free food rations for the poor of Rome and Constantinople were costing a fortune. The Purchasing of exotic spices and silk from the orient ment that over time Rome was spending its gold on overseas luxuries. Gold which didn't return. Soon Rome didn't have enough gold to produce coins with.
And then there were the plagues. Deadly diseases brought in from the east swept across Europe, killing vast numbers among the population of the empire.
Even if the mass migration of the wild, Germanic people of the eastern plains is no longer seen as the all-important reason for Rome's demise, it naturally still is seen as one of the capital problems which caused the empire to fall.
As a last reason I'd also see the disastrous decision of emperor Valens (who was emperor of Constantinople) to allow the Visigoths to settle in Moesia.
The Roman empire's borders to the north had been the river Rhine and the river Danube. They are wide streams and therefore hard to cross. This means, the border was easy to defend. But when the Huns from the east attacked the Visigoths on the other side of the Danube, emperor Valens let them settle on the Roman side of the river. True, the Visigoths then were friends of the Romans. But that soon changed. It didn't take long and bad living conditions, poverty and starvation led the Visigoths to revolt. In the following war, the Romans no longer had a protective river from behind which to defend themelves. The enemy was settled within their own empire. - And it should be the Visigoths who eventually sacked the city of Rome itself.

So, the main points for the fall were
1. bad emperors
2. increasing civilization of the people of the empire (which means weaker soldiers)
3. Roman disunity, endless infighting
4. economic decline
5. plagues
6. mass migration
7. and the settlement of the Visigoths in Moesia