6.2 The Roman Empire: Rise and Decline

After conquering the Italian peninsula, Rome began to build an empire around the Mediterranean Sea. This expansion brought great riches but created conflicts that divided Roman society and weakened and finally crushed the republic. Out of the rubble, however, rose the Roman empire and a new chapter in Rome's long history.

Relief sculpture of roman soldiers in armor and with shields, standing side by side.

Praetorian Guards were skilled and loyal bodyguards who protected generals during the time of the late republic. Later, they became an elite guard for Roman emperors.


  • Identify the events leading to the decline of the Roman republic.
  • Summarize the fundamental ideas and institutions of Western civilizations that originated in Rome.
  • Explain how and why the Roman empire divided.
  • Identify the factors that led to the decline and fall of Rome.

Key Terms

  • imperialism
  • latifundia
  • census
  • Huns
  • inflation
  • Constantine
  • Constantinople
  • mercenaries
  • Tiberius
  • Gaius Gracchus
  • Julius Caesar
  • Augustus
  • Hadrian
  • Diocletian

Empire Building Through Conquest

Rome's conquest of the Italian peninsula brought it into contact with Carthage, a city-state on the coast of North Africa. Settled by Phoenician traders and people from North Africa, Carthage ruled over a vast trading empire that stretched across North Africa and the western Mediterranean, including parts of Spain. As Rome spread into the Mediterranean, conflict between these two powers became inevitable.

The Punic Wars

Between 264 B.C. and 146 B.C., Rome fought three wars against Carthage. They are called the Punic Wars, from Punicus, the Latin word for Phoenician. In the First Punic War, Rome defeated Carthage and won the islands of Sicily, Corsica, and Sardinia.

The Carthaginians sought revenge in the Second Punic War. In 218 B.C., the Carthaginian general Hannibal (HA nuh buhl) led his army, including dozens of war elephants, on an epic march across the Pyrenees, through France, and over the Alps into Italy. The trek cost Hannibal one-third of his army. But Hannibal still managed to surprise the Romans, who had expected an invasion from the south.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments