Anyone who has studied history knows that in order to understand a specific event, development or era, it is extremely helpful to know something about what went before. And those who have studied the Middle Ages know that this fascinating, distant, almost alien time period is much more clearly understood when the preceding few centuries are understood, as well.
When setting the beginning of the medieval era in the fifth century C.E. (with the customary date of 476 marking the official "end" of the Roman Empire), it becomes clear that the preceding two or three centuries of civilization had an enormous impact on the historical developments of the early Middle Ages and the lives of those who lived then. Those centuries saw some remarkable events that would change the world (or Europe, at any rate). And these events took place within and around the Roman Empire.
Understanding the civilization of the Roman Empire is particularly helpful to students of the medieval era for the following reasons:
- Geographically, the territory that western Rome either encompassed or influenced would become, through the course of the Middle Ages, Europe.
- Some of the laws and customs of the empire would survive to become characteristic aspects of medieval European society.
- The empire would stand as an ideal that medieval leaders would attempt to recreate or emulate for centuries to come.
In a perfect world, a lover of history could spend quite some time learning about Ancient Rome. But for those who are focused on the Middle Ages, a briefer foray into the subject may be more suitable (at least for now). For such students, I offer this very simple overview of the Roman Empire from its earliest days to the deposition of the last emperor in 476 C.E.
As ever, should you encounter any errors of fact, please do not hesitate to email me with the correct information and any sources you may have. And thank you for your input!
Sources and Suggested Reading
The Roman World 44 BC-AD 180
by Martin Goodman
Medieval Europe: A Short History
by C. Warren Hollister and Judith M. Bennett
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