Williams College Williamstown: Arts with Honors in History, Massachusetts April (2006)
The Roman Empire holds a special place in Western historical thought for a wide variety of valid reasons. The Roman Empire has acted as the theoretical blueprint for many, if not most, of the empires that sought to dominate the European continent in the centuries after its decline. Charlemagne attempted to forge a new Roman Empire in Western Europe, while his contemporaries, the Greek Byzantines, sought to maintain their own claim as the empire’s literal successors in the east. Many, many, centuries later, Muscovite Russia termed itself the “third Rome”; Napoleon adopted the Roman symbol of the eagle for his army, as did Nazi Germany as an avatar for its political ambitions.
The fascination European thought has had with the Roman Empire is the result of several salient characteristics particular to that empire. Rome was the only political entity to successfully found an empire that united all the elements of the Mediterranean world. Rome’s impressive geographical dimensions were matched only by her surprising longevity. The empire itself lasted for close to five hundred years; the republic on which the empire was built was another five hundred years old. Add on to this the survival (of the eastern half of the former empire for another thousand years, and you have a Roman tradition that spans close to two millennia.