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Provides a chronological index of the history of Ancient Rome with extensive links to internet resources. Emphasis is placed upon the use of primary source material, numismatics, and a focus upon the roles of women in ancient time.

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There can be nobody so petty or so apathetic in his outlook that he has no desire to discover by what means and under what system of government the Romans succeeded in...bringing under their rule almost the whole of the inhabited world. Polybius Histories 1.1.5


c. 273-337 CE Ruled 306-337 || Constantine the Great

Constantine was the first Emperor to fully embrace Christianity, and his reforms, including moving the Capital to Constantinople, further transformed Roman society.

| Constantine the Great | Marble |

| Capitoline Museums, Rome | Early 4th Cen. CE |



| Constantine the Great | Bronze Coin |

| Roman | c. 325 CE |


Ammianus Marcellinus (c. 325-c. 395 CE)


328-378 CE Ruled 364-378 ||Valens

Valens' early military career was successful, but he is most famous for one of the greatest defeats ever suffered by the Roman army, a defeat which some say, lead to the demise of the Roman Empire.

During his early reign he suppressed the revolt of Procopius. He attacked the Visigoths under Athanaric, and defeated them in 369. He agreed to allow the Visigoths under Fritigern into the empire. Mistreated by certain Roman officials however, they rebelled, and in 378, Valens was killed in the battle of Adrianople, in which two thirds of the Roman army was destroyed, leaving the Eastern Empire virtually defenseless.

We are fortunate to have a highly descriptive account of the battle by the historian Ammianus Marcellinus:

...when the barbarians, rushing on with their enormous host, beat down our horses and men, and left no spot to which our ranks could fall back to deploy, while they were so closely packed that it was impossible to escape by forcing a way through them, our men at last began to despise death, and again took to their swords and slew all they encountered, while with mutual blows of battle-axes, helmets and breastplates were dashed in pieces. Then you might see the barbarian towering in his fierceness, hissing or shouting, fall with his legs pierced through, or his right hand cut off, sword and all, or his side transfixed, and still, in the last gasp of life, casting round him defiant glances. The plain was covered with carcasses, strewing the mutual ruin of the combatants; while the groans of the dying, or of men fearfully wounded, were intense, and caused great dismay all around...

The ground, covered with streams of blood, made their feet slip, so that all they endeavored to do was to sell their lives as dearly as possible; and with such vehemence did they resist their enemies who pressed on them, that some were even killed by their own weapons. At last one black pool of blood disfigured everything, and wherever the eye turned, it could see nothing but piled up heaps of dead, and lifeless corpses trampled on without mercy...

At last a dark moonless night put an end to the irremediable disaster which cost the Roman state so dear.

c. 360 CE || The Beginning of the Barbarian Invasions

In what some historians see as a major contribution to the collapse of Rome's empire, sometime during the middle of the fourth century, various tribes, such as the Goths, Franks, and Alamanni, began to better organize themselves politically and militarily. They posed an increasing threat to Rome's capability to defend itself successfully, and in 378, the Goths eventually defeated the army of Valens at Adrianople. Vandals, Suev, and Alans crossed the Rhine in 406. Barbarian settlement began to expand over much of the western Empire. Vandals, Visigoths, Alans, Suevi, Burgundians, Franks, Ostrogoths and Saxons became an erosive force upon the Empire.

In regards to the so-called "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", it is wise to remember that the social, political, and cultural evolution of Rome, from a monarchy to a republic to an Imperial empire and finally to a Medieval state was complex. One is cautioned against simplistic explanations. It might be best to create other contexts as well from which to understand the rich and complex evolution of western society.

Rome had developed the infrastructure to manage an empire, but was forever in conflict with competing political and social forces, from both within and without. The conflict between these forces is more important to Rome's reputed "decline" than, as some would suggest, moral decay. Vice can be seen in each period of Roman history. Yet, while conflict is an important contribution towards Rome's continuing transformations, it too, alone, provides an unsatisfactory explanation for the near complete transformation of western cultural traditions.

ca. 379 Historia Augusta

f. 414-417 Paulus Orosius

The late period in which Orosius wrote gave him the distinction, in his day, of having composed the longest history of Rome to that date, beginning, as did Livy, in 751 BCE to his own time. His writing was in the context of an apologia, that is, a defense of Christianity. As such, while not without its own problems, it does provide an interesting, critical perspective, of ancient Roman history, whereas earlier authors, even the most objective, were not writing from outside of their own worldview, as this later Christian historian was.

415 CE d.|| Hypatia of Alexandria

Hypatia is the most renowned female philosopher from ancient times. A neoplatonist, her philosophies and status as a woman were threatening to the increasingly powerful Christian bureaucracy. Hypatia was brutally killed by a Christian mob. Her death is a powerful symbol for the transformation of ancient society from Paganism, which here is meant to mean Hellenistic Roman traditions in philosophy and polytheism, towards a Christian theocratic state. She is the author of A Commentary on the Arithmetica of Diophantus, and A Commentary on the Conics of Apollonious. She also edited the third book of her father's Commentary on the Almagest of Ptolemy.

Sources, such as:

| The Life of Hypatia, From Damascius's Life of Isidore, (Translated by Jeremiah Reedy)

reveal that Hypatia:

"was born, reared, and educated in Alexandria. Since she had greater genius than her father, she was not satisfied with his instruction in mathematical subjects; she also devoted herself diligently to all of philosophy... (she) used to put on her philosopher's cloak and walk through the middle of town and publicly interpret Plato, Aristotle, or the works of any other philosopher to those who wished to hear her. In addition to her expertise in teaching she rose to the pinnacle of civic virtue..."


"Such was Hypatia, as articulate and eloquent in speaking as she was prudent and civil in her deeds. The whole city rightly loved her and worshipped her in a remarkable way, but the rulers of the city from the first envied her, something that often happened at Athens too. For even if philosophy itself had perished, nevertheless, its name still seems magnificent and venerable to the men who exercise leadership in the state... "

| John, Bishop of Nikiu, from his Chronicle 84.87-103

provides evidence of how previously accepted Pagan systems of worship, and their accompanying philosophies, came to be denounced as Satanism:

"...a female philosopher, a pagan named Hypatia, and she was devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes and instruments of music, and she beguiled many people through Satanic wiles. And the governor of the city honoured her exceedingly; for she had beguiled him through her magic..."

The persecution and murder of Hypatia was a transformative event. After Hypatia, the stature of women, which had been enhanced via involvement in Pagan systems of worship, was significantly diminished. In the end:

"They dragged her along till they brought her to the great church, named Caesarion. Now this was in the days of the fast. And they tore off her clothing and dragged her through the streets of the city till she died. And they carried her to a place named Cinaron, and they burned her body with fire..."

466-84 CE || Gothic King Euric

Gaul, which had been conquered by Julius Caesar early in his career, became connected with Rome by means of a treaty, in Latin foedus. The foederatae civitates were affiliated states which were not Roman colonies, and had not obtained the Roman civitas. King Euric's followers tended to be Arian Christians, who denied the divinity of Christ. While in many other parts of the empire this would have been an unacceptable heresy, in Gaul, the Romans simply did not have the power to forcibly intervene. c. 474 King Euric broke the foedus and conquered the remaining imperial territories in Gaul. In 475 Emperor Julius Nepos (ruled 474 - 475) ceded the rest of Gaul to Euric in return for Provence (a former province of southeast France). Further, in 476, Tarraco, an important city in Spain, was destroyed by Euric, later to be rebuilt.

These events dramatically serve to demonstrate Rome's increasing difficulty in remaining an imperial power, and further, amply demonstrate that by this point Roman mentalité had been transformed to a Christian ethos. C. Sollius Apollinaris Sidonius, a Catholic bishop who wrote of the event in his Epistolae, saw the struggle as a religious war against Rome.

He wrote:

"So repugnant is the mention of the word 'catholic' to his (Euric's) mouth and his heart that one doubts whether he is more the ruler of his nation or of his sect. He imagines that the success of his dealings and plans comes from the legitimacy of his religion, whereas it would be truer to say that he achieves it by earthly good fortune."

475-476 CE||Romulus Augustulus

Romulus Augustulus was declared emperor of the western Roman empire by his father, the Patrician Orestes, who led a successful coup against the ruling emperor, Nepos. Nepos fled from Orestes formidible army by sea to Dalmatia.

A number of sources tell the tale, including the Auctuarii Hauniensis ordo prior:

"While Nepos was in the city, the Patrician Orestes was sent against him with the main force of the army. But because Nepos dared not undertake the business of resisting in such desperate conditions, he fled to Dalmatia in his ships. When Nepos had fled Italy and departed from the city, Orestes assumed the primacy and all the authority for himself and made his son Augustulus emperor at Ravenna"

Augustulus was perhaps 14 years old at the time. His name means "little Augustus". He was primarily a front for his father, Orestes, who maintained power behind the scenes. Orestes made a critical error in judgement however, in not providing land grants for his troops, at their request. They were a diverse lot, from various tribes and factions, and their loyalty to Orestes was never secure.

When Orestes failed them, they turned to the barbarian chieftain Odovacar, king of the Torcilingi, who promised to grant them their land if they made him king. They agreed, and, in 476, they advanced against Orestes. He was killed, and Augustulus, granted mercy for his young age, was banished, according to Count Marcellinus, to exile in the castle of Lucullus in Campania.

Augustus ruled for a mere ten months. He is often considered to be the last Roman emperor of the western Roman empire. The sixth Century chronicler Count Marcellinus stated that:

"The western Empire of the Roman people, which first began in the seven hundred and ninth year after the founding of the City with Octavian Augustus, the first of the emperors, perished with this Augustulus, in the five-hundred and twenty-second year of the reign of Augustus' successor emperors. From this point on Gothic kings held power in Rome"

482/3 CE b. Ruled 527-565|| Justinian

Christian emperor, remembered especially for his legal reforms, including The Codex Justinianus, the Institutes and the Digest.

The time of Justinian's reign was marked by ideological and political rivalry between religious groups, which at times produced oppressive state reaction and armed conflict.The philosophical differences of Pagans, Christians, Samaritans, Jews, and others, created an era of intolerance, bloodshed, and oppression. Pagans, for instance, were barred from civil service, and baptised Christians who lapsed into Paganism were put to death, as were those caught making secret sacrifice to the now fallen Roman gods.

| Emperor Justinian | Mosaic | San Vitale | 526-547 |

As for the Samaritans, a law of Justinian's ordered their synagogues destroyed, and when they revolted unsuccessfully in the summer of 529, their leader Julian was beheaded and the head sent to the emperor. 20,000 remaining Samaritans were sold into slavery.

The Christians were themselves divided, including two principal opposing groups of the Monophysites, (who believed that Christ had only one nature, the divine), and the more powerful Orthodox Ministry, which condemned Monophysitism. They proclaimed that Christ has two complete natures, the divine and the human. Monophysites were deemed heretical.

While Justinian was not a Monophysite, his wife Theodora was. She was to influence him in this and other matters, and at Theodora's bidding, Justinian sought to protect the Monophysites from persecution.

While the laws of Justinian were many, it is interesting to note that he condemned prostitution, and especially vilified the pimps who exploited women engaged in the trade. What makes these passages so especially fascinating is the fact that Justinian's wife, Theodora, had herself been a prostitute in her youth.

Justinian provides a number of valuable insights into the manner and practice of prostitution:

"They pursue this criminal activity so much that in almost all of this regal city, as well as in the countries beyond seas; and (what is worse) houses of this kind exist in close proximity to holy places and religious establishments..."

It appears that Justinian was somewhat sympathetic to the women involved, and that it was the pimps who oppressed and exploited them to whom he was most opposed:

"Some of these wretches are so unprincipled as to deliver over to corruption girls who have not yet reached their tenth year...Ten thousand means of effecting their ruin exist which are not susceptible of being described in words; and the resulting evil is so great, and the cruelty so widespread that, while it first was confined to the most remote parts of the capital, it now not only extends over the city itself but also over all its suburbs..."

Thus he proclaimed:

"We absolutely forbid any women to be led by artifice, fraud, or compulsion to such debauchery; it is permitted to no one to support a prostitute or to prostitute them publicly, and to use the profits for any other business; we forbid them to undertake agreements for this and to require sureties and to do any such thing which compel the wretched women unwillingly to destroy their chastity."

Could Theodora have influenced Justinian in this matter? We do know that she was very influential in many other matters of state. Justinian stated that:

"A certain person informed us in secret of this condition of affair some time ago."

We probably will never know if this certain person was Theodora.

c. 500-548 CE || Theodora

Theodora was a very colourful figure. She rose from the lower ranks of Roman society to become an influential and capable Empress. Her social status was in fact so low that Justinian, her future husband and co-ruler, needed to persuade his Uncle Justin, who was then Emperor, to change the law forbidding the marriage of a Patrician to an actress in order to marry her.

| Empress Theodora | Mosaic | San Vitale | 526-547 |

Theodora's family were what we might call circus people. Her father worked at the Hippodrome at Constantinople, and was a bear keeper for the Green faction in the chariot races. Later however, it was the Blues who came to the aid of the family, destitute after the death of Theodora's father, Acacius. Thereafter, both Justinian and Theodora avidly supported the Blues at the games.

When still a child, Theodora's mother introduced her to the theatre. Theatre, to the conservative Christian bureaucracy, was both obscene and immoral, and they did in fact succeed in banning performance completely in the late seventh century. Actresses, and we know this to be true of Theodora, were often engaged in prostitution.

Procopius, in The Secret History, reveals the erotic behaviour of Theodora both on and off the stage:

"She was the kind of comedienne who delights the audience by letting herself be cuffed and slapped on the cheeks, and makes them guffaw by raising her skirts to reveal to the spectators those feminine secrets here and there which custom veils from the eyes of the opposite sex."


"Often, even in the theater, in the sight of all the people, she removed her costume and stood nude in their midst, except for a girdle about the groin: not that she was abashed at revealing that, too, to the audience, but because there was a law against appearing altogether naked on the stage, without at least this much of a fig-leaf. Covered thus with a ribbon, she would sink down to the stage floor and recline on her back. Slaves to whom the duty was entrusted would then scatter grains of barley from above into the calyx of this passion flower, whence geese, trained for the purpose, would next pick the grains one by one with their bills and eat. When she rose, it was not with a blush, but she seemed rather to glory in the performance. For she was not only impudent herself, but endeavored to make everybody else as audacious. Often when she was alone with other actors she would undress in their midst and arch her back provocatively, advertising like a peacock both to those who had experience of her and to those who had not yet had that privilege her trained suppleness."

Yet in matters of state, Theodora appears competent, ruling jointly with Justinian. Procopius claims that:

" ...neither did anything without the consent of the other. For some time it was generally supposed they were totally different in mind and action; but later it was revealed that their apparent disagreement had been arranged so that their subjects might not unanimously revolt against them, but instead be divided in opinion..."

c. 500 b. c. 560 CE d.|| Procopius of Caesarea

| The Secret History

Procopius is the most important historian of the early Byzantine era, as he provides the most extensive extant source material for the reign of Justinian and Theodora. Especially interesting is his commentary on The Secret History. This work was kept in hiding, and not published until after his death. Procopius claims that:

"You see, it was not possible, during the life of certain persons, to write the truth of what they did, as a historian should. If I had, their hordes of spies would have found out about it, and they would have put me to a most horrible death. I could not even trust my nearest relatives. That is why I was compelled to hide the real explanation of many matters glossed over in my previous books."

The vitriolic nature of this text towards Justinian and Theodora, quite unlike his other works, led some historians to doubt the authorship of Procopius. Study of the work's grammar and style, however, seems conclusively to indicate that Procopius is indeed the author. Its explicit nature has caused some historians to either omit or censor its passages from their work, including Edward Gibbon, who quoted the text in Latin, in order to protect his readers from citations such as:

"On the field of pleasure she (Theodora) was never defeated. Often she would go picnicking with ten young men or more, in the flower of their strength and virility, and dallied with them all, the whole night through. When they wearied of the sport, she would approach their servants, perhaps thirty in number, and fight a duel with each of these; and even thus found no allayment of her craving. Once, visiting the house of an illustrious gentleman, they say she mounted the projecting corner of her dining couch, pulled up the front of her dress, without a blush, and thus carelessly showed her wantonness. And though she flung wide three gates to the ambassadors of Cupid, she lamented that nature had not similarly unlocked the straits of her bosom, that she might there have contrived a further welcome to his emissaries."

Other works by Procopius:

| De Aedificis: Description of the Hagia Sophia

| History of the Wars: On Racing Factions

532 CE || The 'Nika' Revolt

A week long riot begun by factions of fans of the chariot races, which had larger social and political ramifications, including the proclamation of a new Emperor, which ultimately failed.

Ca. 551 CE || Jordanes

| The Origins and Deeds of the Goths

For those interested in learning about the numerous tribes which lived on the outskirts of the Roman Empire, Jordanes is an invaluable resource. His work demonstrates the diversity of cultures outside of the Empire, for which we have but few references. Himself descended from Goths, Jordanes provides insight not only into the various Gothic tribes, but many others as well. Here is an example:

"In the northern part of the island the race of the Adogit live, who are said to have continual light in midsummer for forty days and nights, and who likewise have no clear light in the winter season for the same number of days and nights. By reason of this alternation of sorrow and joy they are like no other race in their sufferings and blessings. And why? Because during the longer days they see the sun returning to the east along the rim of the horizon, but on the shorter days it is not thus seen. The sun shows itself differently because it is passing through the southern signs, and whereas to us the sun seem to rise from below, it seems to go around them along the edge of the earth. There also are other peoples..."


The timeline is divided chronologically into eight sections:

This symbol indicates a link to a primary source text


Click here to learn the real story

behind the events and characters portrayed in the movie Gladiator.

Kindly report any suggestions, problems, errors, or dead links by emailing david(at)

Copyright © David Neelin: All Rights Reserved

Using info from this site?

For detailed copyright information and bibliographic citation, click here

contact the author by emailing david(at) (note: replace (at) with the @ symbol)