Rome was the world's foremost power for over 1,000 years, becoming one of the most influential societies in existence. From dynamic figures like Julius Caesar to its first emperor, Caesar Augustus, Rome took power and prosperity to new heights, laying the groundwork for modern civilization in politics, economics, the arts, sciences, and everyday life. From rise to fall, these riveting maps reveal the history and culture of the Roman Empire in a way you've never seen it before.
Rome's rise has shocked and amazed researchers for centuries. From its humble beginnings as a minor city-state in 500 BCE, it eventually conquered Italy, Greece, Spain, France, Britain, North Africa, and much of the Middle East. In 27 BCE, the republic officially became a vast and powerful empire — one of the most powerful ever known. However, controlling such distant territory was no simple task, and Rome eventually fell under the weight of its own dominance. Germanic tribes destroyed the Western section in 476 CE, while the Eastern half continued to thrive for another 1,000 years until 1453.
The Roman Empire reached its height around 100 CE, and that dynamism is riveting to see. With territories that extended from Britain to Egypt, it was the world's leading power for over 1,000 years. Without modern luxuries, it's hard to imagine how far and wide this enclave truly was. The Mediterranean Sea split the empire's territory in half, so residents and supplies could travel by boat from one region to another.
The birth of an empire was no simple task, but Julius Caesar set out to do exactly that. Gaul, which compromises modern-day France, was the first step. Starting in 58 BCE and continuing for the next decade, Caesar set to work conquering this territory, leading nearly every corner of modern France under the Roman Republic's tight control. This map reveals the clever exploits he conducted along the way. Despite losing the upper hand, getting held back, and turning around many times, Caesar was relentless in his conquest.
49 BCE was the year that changed everything. Julius Caesar's decision to cross the Rubicon, which marked Italy's northern border, was a risky one. It triggered a civil war, which brought the Roman Republic to a roaring halt. Pompey led the battle against Caesar's forces, and this map shows their movements throughout the war. On August 10, 48 BCE, The Battle of Pharsalus was the deciding factor, and Caesar reigned victorious. Declaring himself a lifelong dictator, however, Caesar didn't receive a warm welcome back in Rome, and he was assassinated on March 15, 44 BCE.
After Caesar's death, two men had a strong claim to become his heir, and they decided to fight it out on the battlefield. The first was Marc Antony, Caesar's deputy, and the second was Octavian, his grand-nephew. This map doesn't reveal every move they made, but it does demonstrate the most powerful: The Battle of Actium, in 31 BCE. Antony was with Cleopatra in Egypt, and both had to flee by sea from Octavian's advancing army. Their plan didn't come to fruition, however, as they were intercepted along the way. While both safely escaped, Octavian won the battle. Officially changing his name to Augustus, he became Rome's first emperor in 27 BCE. An empire was born.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE left behind a treasure trove of evidence on how everyday Romans lived. Covering rich urban centers like Pompeii and Herculaneum with thick layers of ash, hundreds of structures remain incredibly well-preserved. This map reveals the location of the eruption, the cities it affected, and their proximity to other Roman centers of arts and commerce. Within the ruins, archeologists uncovered luxurious homes and temples brimming with upscale artwork, inscriptions, graffiti, and frescoes describing enticing rituals and ways of living.
In Pompeii, archeologists uncovered a vital aspect of Roman society — the baths. A staple of cities and towns throughout the empire, public bathing was a pivotal part of daily life. This map reveals just how expansive a single bathing structure could be. Within, men and women bathed separately, and the amenities they enjoyed were surprisingly luxurious, much like modern spas today. Changing rooms for both sexes, pools with different water temperatures, saunas, and outdoor exercise yards all had their space inside these facilities. These baths were popular places to relax after a long day, share gossip, or take business associates.
Rome became prosperous on the backs of the slave class. Many enslaved people were defeated enemies, but those who failed to pay debts could also become enslaved as punishment. In other words, they came from all areas and from diverse walks of life. Many slaves were highly skilled, and plenty were well-educated, as well. Those taken from Greece, for instance, went on to become tutors and secretaries for well-heeled Romans. This map reveals the extensive scale of the slave revolt that began in 73 BCE. Spartacus led over 120,000 freed sleeves in a powerful army, of which only 6,000 survived before being crucified on their way back home.
Christianity began within the early Roman Empire, as Jesus's birthplace was located in the province of Judea. It started spreading during his lifetime and continued onward and outward during one of Rome's most prosperous eras. While Christians faced persecution within the empire, that didn't stop the religion's spread. This shows where and when Christianity took over across the empire, from Ireland to Armenia.
Our modern eyes can only imagine how difficult it was to traverse such vast territory, but the Romans had travel plans down to a science. The journey was a long one, however, if not excruciatingly slow. Getting from Rome to Alexandria, for example, could take two weeks on the water. Coastal locations in the west, such as modern-day southern France, took one week, on average. Reaching interior enclaves was the most time-consuming, however, as it required extensive land and water travel. Getting to modern-day London from Rome, for instance, could easily take a month, while traveling from one end of the empire to the other took seven weeks!