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Rome: From its peak downwards…

Peter Balanck

Three emperors rose and fell in quick succession before Vespasian ushered in the Flavian dynasty on 1 July AD 69. This doughty soldier, who had commanded the invasion of Britain AD 43, ordered the artificial lake adjoining Nero’s palace to be drained and a massive amphitheatre to be built on the marshy ground that remained. Vespasian intended the amphitheatre to be a public building for the entertainment of the one million people who lived in Rome.

The building was to become Ancient Rome’s most famous monument – the Colosseum; it was named for a gilded bronze statue of Nero, named the Colossus of Nero. Vespasian’s intention was to replace the outrageous extravagance of Nero’s reign with a public structure that could be used to entertain the people of Rome, but he didn’t live to see the completion of his grand project; he died in AD 79, a year before the Colosseum was inaugurated by his son Titus.

Titus’s brief rule was marked by two disasters – the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in August AD 79 that buried the city of Pompeii in volcanic ash and, less than a year later, a fire that raged through Rome for three days, rivalling the great conflagration that blighted Nero’s reign. But Titus’s legacy was secured with the dazzling success of the 100-day opening celebration of the Colosseum, which took place in AD 80.

A titanic gladiatorial battle between Priscus and Titus – the only detailed account of such a fight to survive to the present times – was so closely fought that it went down in legend, immortalised by the poet Martial. Titus declared both combatants as victors, which meant that Priscus and Verus won their freedom. Although he was wildly popular, Titus’s reign was short-lived; he died of a fever on 13 September in AD 81, and was succeeded by his younger brother Domitian, the last in the line of the Flavian dynasty.

But the Roman Empire’s best days were yet to come: under Emperor Hadrian, between 117 and 138, Roman territory extended from Britain to Parthia. Hadrian, who was born on 24 January in AD 76, is remembered for rebuilding the Pantheon, and building Hadrian’s Wall which marked the northern border of Roman Britain. He eventually died of heart failure.

With the ascension in 306 of co-emperors Constantine and Maxentius, the omens for Christianity were far better than they had been under Nero. The co-emperors clashed at the Battle of Milvian Bridge after Constantine, whose mother was a Christian, is said to have had a vision of victory under the sign of the Cross. Constantine won the battle after Maxentius drowned in the Tiber River; he declared Christianity as the state religion, granted Christians freedom to worship, and moved the capital to Constantinople.

After Constantine’s death, Rome slowly fell into decline as the senatorial estates expanded and the lower classes became increasingly impoverished. By the late fourth century, the Barbarians were brazen enough to attack Rome’s outlying territories; the city was sacked by Alaric’s Goths in 410 and by the Vandals in 455, and in 475 the Western Roman Empire fell. The last Roman emperor was deposed by the German general Odoacer – who proclaimed himself king in Rome – and the seat of power moved to Byzantium.


Roman School Workshops

Ancient Roman Visits to any School in the UK

Can I visit you school to make a Roman presentation or workshop? Please phone me on 01634 401274 or email I also present workshop visits for Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Medieval, Tudor and Stuart periods! Please visit my Medieval Days website for more information.

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Contact Name: Peter Balanck
Contact Telephone: 01634 401274
Mobile: 077 5757 1234
Address: Medieval Days 173 High Street Rochester Kent ME1 1EH

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