About the time of the beginning of the Principate, Roman society was defined sharply into three main classes, which in turn gradually became more defined durnig the empire. For each clas, specific career and public service opportunities were provided. For senators, these included the cheif magistracies and military posts; for the equites (members of the Equestrian class), they included a career in civil or military service of the emperor; for the lower classes, there were limited to private or junior rank in the army. Classes, however, were not closed, and acension from one to another was quite possible.
The magistracies were divided into what became known as the cursus honorum, or the course of honors. Generally, one would start at the bottom of the course, with a junior magistracy, and gradually rise through the ranks to the chief magistracy of consul. It did not have to legally be done in this manner, but if often ways. Magsitracies included:
Quaestor: Primarily a financial officer. One accompanied each general or provincial governor as a treasurer or paymaster. The minimum age was 31.
Aedile: Supervised commere in the marketplace, food supplies, streets, public buildings, games, and festivities. They are nearly the equivalent of what we would call a city manager.
Praetor: Acted as judges in legal disputes, as provincial governors, and as managers of public spectacles. The minimum age requirement was 40 years old.
Consul: Two in number, the consuls headed the government. LIke all magistrates except censors, they served for one year. There was a minimum age requirement of 43.
Censors: Elected every five years. Drew up a census of the people, showed the amount of propery owned by each, and supervised the morals and conduct of the citizens. They made contracts for public works and the collection of taxes. Thus, a censor was the equivalent of today's sheriff, among other positions.
Senate: Advisory council of elders under the kings, adn still in place in the republic and empire. In Cicero's day, it was entirely composed of ex-magistrates. The office of Senate was held for life, unless the senator was found guilty of some grave misconduct.
During the republic, the Senate was the center of administration for Roman government. By the 3rd century BC, membership had been fixed at 300. Later, Augustus fixed it at 600. Consuls and ex-consuls automatically became senators. Membership in the Senate required ownership of property equivalent in value to 1,000,000 sesterces, and granted the right to wear a senatorial toga with a broad purple stripe. Meetings were held in the curia building in the forum.
The equestrian class devloped as a separate entity under Gaius Gracchus, consisting of more prosperous businesmen over the age of 18 who were of free birth and possessing property equivalent to 400,000 sesterces. The name comes from the fact that equestrians were thought to be "wealthy enough to own a horse." Membership was controlled by the reigning emperor, and if granted came with the right to wear a toga with a narrow purple stripe and recieve a horse paid for by the public.
Under Roman law, based on the originial Laws of the Twelve Tables published in the 5th century BC, there was no public prosecuter's office. It was the responsibility of the victim and family to apprehend and prosecute the offender. Court cases were heard in a variety of places, but the Forum Romanum was the major venue for public trials. Additionally, Augustus allowed the use of his forum for certain types of cases. The praefectus urbi heard cases here, and was responsible for maintaining public order in Rome. The praetor urbanis heard cases in the forum near the temple of Castor; also held in the forum were cases involving foreigners, under the magistracy of the praetor peregrinus.
Another court, established in the 3rd century, was the centumviri, meeting in the Basillica Iulia, which from the time of Augustus is thought to have been used for cases involving inheritances (minimum 100,000 sesterces) and disputes over land ownership and guardianship. These cases attracted much public attention, not only to see great speeches but also a little bit of scandal.
From the 2nd century BC, separate tribunals were set up for crimes against the state, and eventually these came in include treason, electoral bribery, embezzlement of state property, adultery, and murder by violence or poison.. Evidence for court proceedure itself, however, is scanty. Magistrates would sit in an elevated tribunal, and in the forum the jury would sit on benches which had been placed on the paving. Criminal trials were heard before the appropriate magsitrate who gave a binding ruling. Punishment was based on class. Upperclassmen could be exiled, lose status, or be privately executed. According to Seneca, punishment could be worse, examples being the impaling stake, crucifixtion, death by wild beasts, and quartering. Lowerclassmen could be beaten or publicly executed, or used in the games as entertainment.
The Senate met in the curia at the forum. Originally, this building was called the Curia Histilia, said to be built by Etruscan King Tullius Hostilius. In any event, it was rebuilt and replaced with the existing Curia Julia, begun by Sulla in 80 BC. The building reconstruction began in 44 BC after a fire, and was finished by Augustus. The curia was later restored by Domitian and bebuilt in its originial design after a fire in AD 283 by Diocletian. The building itself was 21 meters high, with wooden seats for senators running down the sides on steps. A raised platform opposite the door provided seating for presiding magistrates. The two doors opened into the forum of Julius Caesar, and were kept open during convocations so children of senators could observe how business was conducted. By the time of Augustus, the Senate had nearly 1,000 members, and if all attended, the youngest and less prominent had to stand in the back, while the elders and illustrious sat below.
Augustus actually created an autocratic system of Roman government. During his reign, Caesar's building projects were completed, such as Caesar's forum, and Augustus himself claimed to have built 82 temples in one year (28 BC). Pompey's theatre was restored and two new ones built, the Theater of Ballus and the Theater of Marcellus. Old aqueducts were reparied and new ones built, such as the Aqua Virgo by Agrippa, Augustus' son in law, from 21-19 BC, and the Aqua Alsientina, built to supply water for an artificial lake meant for aquatic displays.
Accoring to Suetonius, Augustus was fond of claiming that he found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble. While many structures did remain made of brick, Augustus did utilize white marble out of Luna, in Northern Italy, and colored marble out of North AFrica, Greece, and Asia Minor on a grander scale than ever before. The forum itself also underwent major changes under Augustus. The Basilica Julia was enlarged and completed on the southwest side, and the new Senate House, the Curia Julia, was finished on the northeast side. The rostra was moved to the bottom of the capitol, while at the top stood the temple of the deified Caesar adjacent to the Triumphal Arch of Augustus. Augustus also built himself his own forum to the north of the Forum Romanum, to celebrate his victory over Caesar's assassins. The forum, and its temple of Mars Ultor (the avenger) were dedicated in 2 BC. The complex was very large with many Greek features. The Senate also ordered an alter be built in the Campus Martius. The large rectangular structure now stands by the Tiber, celebrating the blessings of peace brought to Italy by Augustus. Beyond it and to the west was the Horologium Augusti, oriented toward the alter, known as the Ara Pacis.
The historian Tacitus described Augustus' successors, all members of his Julio-Claudian family, as "hypocrite, madman, fool, and knave," respectively. The first was Tiberius, who was less concerned with keeping up the republicn pretenses of Augustus. He moved the Praetorian Guard (the imperial bodyguards) to a new camp some miles outside Rome, known as the castra praetoria. He also built himself a large palace on the corner of the Palatine, the domus Tiberiana.
At the age of 25 in AD 37, Caligula came into power with the support of the Praetorian Guard. The early months of his rule seemed to mark the beginning of a new era: taxes were reduced, entertainment increased, and moral was exceedingly high. However, he soon took ill, and while he recovered physically, he was mentally damaged beyond hope.
For example, in the Eastern Greek kingdoms, it was common to worship rulers before death. Augustus had allowed this to develop in the East for the purpose of worshippng the emperor and his family, but forbade such practices until after death in Rome. Caligula became obsessed with the belief that he was a god, insisting to be worshipped. This almost caused a rebellion in Judea when he ordered a statue of himself to be placed in the temple at Jerusalem. By his own right, Caligula extended Tiberius' palace farther into the forum, engulfing the temple of Castor and Pollux as a set of vestibules. He reportedly built a large viaduct across the Capitoline to more easily commune with Jupiter.
Caligula seems to have obtained funds by forced legacies, insanely high taxes, and judicial murders. A conspiracy of his own guard cornered him in a Palace garden early in AD 41, killing him, his wife, and his child after only four years as emperor. He was succeeeded by his uncle, Claudius, whom people felt was stupid due to his poor physical condition - although incorrectly. Claudius brought a short period of judicious and political stability to Rome, in addition to building the port city of Portus to the north of Ostia, in order to facilitate food imports. He also built two new aqueducts, the Aqua Claudia and the Aqua Anio Novus.
Nero came into power in AD 54 at the age of 16. However, a dangerous combination of passion and succeptibility to flattery made him unfit to rule Rome. As a emperor, Nero loved the arts, gymnastics, and chariot racing, and belived himself to be very gifted. He built a new bridge and a set of large public baths, and tried, usually through brutal methods, to build a huge estate in the center of Rome. For example, he constructed a new palace, the domus transitoria, accross the Esquiline Valley to gain direct access to the Gardens of Maecenas, some 1.5 kilometers away.
June 18, 64 AD a hug fire broke out, raging for six days and gutting Rome. Talk lingered of arson, especially when Nero seized the damaged area for his new estate. Some witnesses even claimed to see people heaping fuel into the fire, and report were made of Nero singing an aria on the burning of Trow while accompaning himself on the lyre as Rome burned. However, other reports indicate that Nero gave shelter to the homeless after the fire, reducing the price of grain to feed them. After a fire brigade finally got the blaze under control, it broke out in another part of the city, damaging ten of Rome's fourteen districts. Three were completely destroyed.
The public wanted a scapegoat for the fire, and Christians, who resided in Rome in several communities, were obscure in practice, and were rumored to eat human flesh, seemed the perfect target. In addition, many pagan temples had been burned in the fire, seeming to indicate a correlation. This led to the first persecution of Christians by the Roman government. Many were tried and sentenced to die based on anarcistic tendencies, while others were crucified and still more covered in inflammable material and lighted as human torches in Nero's gardens.
Between 64 and 68, Nero built his new palace, the domus aurea. A villa covering 125 acres from the Palatine across the Valley to the Esquiline gardens, it was laid out like a country estate, complete with a lake, fields, and woodlands. It used to major Roman roads as entrances, the Via Sacra and the Nova Via. This angered the Roman people, not because it was so lavish, but because it had been built in the center of Rome. As if to further the damage his reputation, Nero went to Greece, postponing the Olympic Games from 65-67 so that he could participate. He was awarded 1800 prizes, such as the crown of victory for the Chriot Racing competition, even though he had fallen off his horse and never finished the race.
Finally, the Praetorian Guard ended the sham in 68, mutinied, and declared Nero a public enemy. Nero managed to kill himself before the guard could get to him, muttering the words "What an artist dies in me," ending the Julio-Claudian dynasty
Following Nero's suicide, the Praetorian Guard offered the throne to Galba, governor of Spain. Galba accepted, and tried to secure his position by murdering likely opposition. Therefore, the Praetorian Guard revolted, killing Galba and nominating Otho as their choice for emperor.
Civil war now returned to Rome. The Rhine legions refused to recognize Galba as emperor, declaring governor Vitellius as the true emperor. The Danubian legions declared their support for Otho, and the two armies met at the battlefield of Cremona in the Po River Valley, where Otho was promplty defeated and committed suicide. Vitellius followed up by systematically mudering the centurions of the Danubian legions, but another army was already on the march. Vespasian, former governor of Syria, declared himself emperor, with the backing of all the troops currently in the east. Humiliated, the Danubian legions ralled with Vespasian and advanced in the Po River Valley. After a second battle at Cremona, the victorious Danubian legions marched on Rome. Vespasian's older brother, in command of the urban cohorts, was killed, and the Great Temple of Jupiter burned. The Danubian legions seized and lynched Vitellius in the streets of Rome, and what followed was a bloodbath. Thankfully, Vespasian's own legions under Mucianus arrived in time to stop the blood letting. Vespasian himself arrived in the spring of AD 76.
Vespasian had made a reputation by quelling Jewish insurgences in Palestine. On leaving for Rome, he entrusted the completion of his campain to his oldest son, Titus, who seiged and sacked the city and was voted a triumph by the Senate.
Before his death in AD 79, Vespasian rebuilt the Capitoline temple, constructed the forum pacis (near the forum Augustum) to celebrate the return of peace to Italy, in addition to building the Colesseum on the site of the lake of Nero's domus aurea. His successor, Titus, only reigned for two years and was followed by his younger brother Domition, who, despite administering many important public building projects, was never popular. His later years were marked by scandalous treason trials, and in AD 96 he was knifed by an assassin. His name was cursed by the Senate and removed from all public monuments.
Marcus Coccius Nerva was the Senate's choice for the next emperor, but, being unable to gain support, especially from the Praetorian Guard at age 66, he adopted as his son Marcus Ulpius Traianus (Trajan), commander of the troops in Upper Germany. Succeeding Nerva in AD 98, Trajan became the first emperor of Provincial origin, like his successor Hadrian, under whose leadership Rome would enter a golden age.
One of Trajan's most extensive building projects was the construction of the last and most richly decorated imperial fora, to the northwest of that of Augustus. It was built between AD 107 and 112, paid for from the spoils of his war against the Dacians, and was designed by the great architect Apollodorus. Dedicated in AD 113, the complex measured 300 by 180 meters, while the open central piazza was 200 by 120 meters, flanked on either side by two homicycles. In the center was an enormous statue of Trajan on horseback. The complex could be entered through Augustus' forum through a triumphal gate adorned by a statue of an incredible six hourse chariot. There were also gilded status of military standards of successful legions. Beyond the entrance on the northwest side of the piazza was the Basilica Ulpia, the largest such building every constructed in the Roman period. Beyon this was Trajan's column, flanked by two libraries. In addition, there was a temple dedicated by Hadrian to Trajan and his wife, Plotina, though it is doubtful that his was part of the original design. The open court of the forum itself was surrounded in corynthian porticoes whose columns were of greenish/white cipollino marble from Caryrtos, an island of Euboea off the east coast of Greece.
Trajan's reign also saw the construction of a huge market complex to the northeast side of the forum, referred to as the Markets of Trajan. It incorporated 150 plus separate offices and shop units, with an enormously large vaulted hall. The complex could be accessed from three levels.
Trajan also built great baths, opened on the 22nd of June, AD 109 on the slopes of the Esquiline Hill. They provided a number features seen in later baths in Rome and elsewhere.
By AD 138, Trajan's successor, Hadrian, had carried out an extensive building program in the capital. He built the Pantheon and a temple of Venus. Early in his reign, he traced the sacred Pomerium (birth day) of Rome and moved the celebration to the 21st of April. Hadrian's other projects focused on improving daily life for the Romans, such as flood prevention measures being taken for the Campus Martius and laying a garden around Augustus' Ara Pacis. He aslo built a very large imperial mausoleum approached by the Pons aelius bridge, today known as the Castel Sant' Angelo.
Hadrian's ashes were placed in mausoleum following his death in 138, and his successor, Antoninus, managed to get the Senate to bestow upon Hadrian divine honors, himself earning the title of pius (pious) in the process. A temple was dedicated to Hadrian in the Campus Martius. Following this, building in Rome continued at a far slower rate. He constructed a temple to his wife, Faustina, in the forum after her untimely death in 141, which was rededicated to the two of them after he perished in 161.
His successor, Marcus Aurelius, saw Roman peace and stability of the past century end. While he enjoyed philosophy more than warefare, he was forced to defend the Rhine and Danube frontiers from Germanic tribes like the Marcomanni and the Quadi. His campaigns were commemerated by the erection of the column of Marcus Aurelius in Rome, which still stands in the Piazza Colonna today. It has a shaft 30 meters high. Aurelius' son and successor, Commodus, lived a degenerate and debauched lifesytle by all accounts. His megalomania prompted him to change the name of Rome to the "Colonia Commodiana." He also spent lavish amounts of money on games, often participating in the arena himself.
After Commodus was assassinated in 192 and a brief period of civil war ended, Septimus Severus, a native of Lepcis Magna in North Africa, became emperor. He restored aqueducts and embankments of the river and temples. A triumphal arch was dedicated by the Senate in the forum to celebrate the tenth anniversary of his acension. Servus added a whole new wing on the south side of the Palatine Palace. His successors made additions to the city, such as the baths of Caracalla, but the 3rd century was politically unstable at best, seeing no less than 25 emperors rule from AD 235 - 284, most of which never even visited Rome due to fighting Rome's enemies on the frontiers.
This chaos ended with the emperor Diocletian, who introduced a system of tetrarchyto the empire, or a system of ruling with four people, two "Caesares" and two "Augusti." Diocletian also attempted many economic reforms. As one of the last builders, he restored and reorganized the forum Romanum, which ad become cluttered with honorary monuments. He rebuilt the temples of Saturn and Vesta, as well as the Curia, recently damaged in fires. He also built the third massive bathing complex on the Quirinal.
After the abdication of Diocletian in 306, unrest followed not ended until Constantine overcame his rival, Marentius, at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312. Constantine soon made his mark, with imperial baths and a huge triumphal arch next to the Colesseum.
In AD 313, the Edict of Milan recognized Christianity as an official Roman religion, freeing it from the periodic persecution it had undergone under previous rulers. construction began on the Basillica of St. John the Lateran, the cathedral church of Rome, at the east end of the Caelian. Across the River began construction of St. Peter's Basillica on the Vatican.
After the foundation of Constantinople by Constantine in 324 as a "new Rome," imperial prestige left the city. Many late Roman emperors didn't even visit Rome, which became gradually more frequented by barbarian attacks. In 410, the Goths, under Alaric, sacked Rome, practically ending Roman administration in the western Mediterranean. The western empire officially ceased to exist as of 476, and Rome became a city of Christiandom, and no longer imperial politics.