Ancient Rome spent its first 500 years as a republic. The country was run by a government, or senate, where each person had an equal amount of power and there was no emperor who had all the power.
This began to change in 48 BC when Julius Caesar became a dictator. From 27 BC and for the next 500 years, Rome became an empire.
Julius Caesar was a politician and military general. He had a very strong army and many powerful allies.
Caesar and his allies tried to gain more power by conquering lands like Britain and Gaul.
However, others in the senate thought that Caesar was becoming too powerful and so they ordered him to leave his army.
In retaliation, Caesar fought a war against the senate and won and the Roman senate made him dictator so that he had all the government power.
Many people did not want only one person to have all the power so they assassinated Caesar in 44 BC to reestablish the Roman Republic.
The republic did not stay around for long as almost immediately after his death, Caesar’s heir Augustus took his place as dictator, crushing his opposition and any civil wars.
Once peace had come back to Rome, Augustus became the first emperor of the Roman Empire.
The emperor was royalty. It was important for emperors not to call themselves ‘king’ as many Romans still wanted republican rule.
Instead, the emperor held lots of titles traditionally used by all different people so that all the power was held by one man.
The titles were usually passed on from father to son.The emperor had many different roles.
The title ‘Princeps Senatus’ meant that he oversaw the senate, set senate rules and came up with ideas to improve the empire.
He could also punish and pardon any Roman citizens and basically order the senate to do as he liked! The title ‘Pontifex Maximus’ gave the emperor religious authority.
He could appoint women to a religious order called the Vestal Virgins, organise the Roman calendar, open temples and conduct ceremonies.
Other titles included ‘Imperator’ and ‘Caesar’.The title ‘Pontifex Maximus’ was last used by Emperor Gratian in 387 AD, when he gave it to the pope of the time.
This separated religion from the Roman state. The final Roman Emperor was Romulus Augustus, who gave up the position in 476 AD, ending the Roman Empire as we know it.
Some of the empire still existed until 1453 but it was known as the Byzantine Empire.