The Roman Empire

Around 387BCE, a small city on the Italian peninsula began to grow. That city was Rome and it would grow to become the Roman Empire and be a major influence on the development of western civilization for nearly a thousand years.

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In part, Rome grew into an empire because of how it treated the people it conquered. Normally, when a city was defeated, its citizens were either killed, enslave or forced from their land. However, the Romans initially extended the rights of citizenship to the people they conquered. So while conquered by force, these people were allowed to become citizens and subsequently many even joined the expanding army of Rome. By this method, Rome was able to unify most of Italy by 265BCE. However, as all empires, the rise was inevitably followed by a fall, and by 410CE, warriors known as the Visigoths, were to overrun Rome. By 476CE, a Visigoth warrior named Odoacer had become the Emperor of Rome. While the city of Rome continued to exist, its empire began to dissolve into many smaller kingdoms. However, Roman civilization continued to survive as an eastern empire and it is in this era that the Emperor Constantine was to rule and support the rise of Christianity, long after the city of Rome and its western provinces had fallen to invaders. Historians often refer to this as the `Byzantine Empire`.

At the height of the Empire, the Romans were prosperous and there were not many Christians, so the Romans tolerated a few Christians not worshiping the Roman gods. However, over a period of some 200 years, barbarian warriors had begun to attack the empire and many Romans started to blame the growing population of Christians, and the fact that they did not worship the Roman gods for their change in fortune. Roman emperors became increasingly intolerant of Christianity and, by 202CE, Emperor Septimius Severus had banned any Roman citizen from converting to Christianity or Judaism. Those who disobeyed were often tortured or thrown to wild animals at sporting events. It was Emperor Constantine who ended the persecution of Christians when he seized power in 306CE. Four years later, he made Christianity legal, although he never established Christianity as the official religion of the empire, he did much to encourage its growth. However, within 50 years of Constantine's death, Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire.