The early Roman Empire existed from 27 BC with the crowning of Augustus as the first Roman Emperor until the death of Nero in 69 AD. This time period was drastically different then the middle and late republic due to 5 elements which were unique and helped to define the early Roman Empire.
There are 5 elements which define the early Roman Empire. First, during the early Empire the Roman provinces held a higher degree of autonomy. Second, in the early Empire auxiliary legions served to protect their native region. Third, during the early Roman Empire provincial culture remained largely unchanged. Fourth, all power was centered around the imperial household during the early empire. Fifth, the early Roman Empire had one of the fastest growing economies out of the entire Roman Empire.
The early Roman Empire is considered to have started with Augustus and ended with the death of Nero. During this time 5 emperors would have run the empire; Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. With the death of Nero the Flavian dynasty would emerge and start the middle Roman Empire which lasted for nearly 300 years.
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Without further ado, here are the 5 elements which defined the early Roman Empire.
1.) During The Early Empire The Roman Provinces Held A Higher Degree Of Autonomy
One of the five elements which defined the early Roman Empire was the degree of autonomy the Empire’s provinces had.
From Augustus up through Nero there were two types of provinces in the Empire. First was an imperial province. This type of province was held under direct control of the emperor.
Here the Roman emperor could exercise absolute control over all matters of state. However, often Roman emperors would simply leave cultural institutions in place and have local leaders obtain tax. These local leaders would then in turn report to imperial tax collectors who would then give the tax to the imperial household.
This would often result in a local culture being semi autonomous. If you could travel back to Gaul in the 1st century AD chances are you would not recognize it as a Roman province outside major settlements.
The second type of province was senatorial. While tax collection was different for senatorial provinces during the early Empire the local customs and cultures still were largely unchanged. We know this from numismatic evidence coming from coins minted across the Roman provinces detailing the Julio-Claudian dynasty in accordance with local belief systems.
As such most of the Roma provinces were semi-autonomous during the early Empire. This would change under the middle empire with the creation of the Flavian dynasty due to a more direct control over taxation and cultural iconography in an effort to legitimize the new imperial dynasty.
The large degree of autonomy the Roman provinces had is one of the main elements which defined the early Roman Empire.
2.) During The Early Empire Auxiliary Legions Served To Protect Their Native Regions
Another main element which defended the early Roman Empire was the fact that Roman auxiliary legions fought to defend their local areas when not on active campaign.
From Augustus to Nero it was typical for an auxiliary unit to defend the regions from which they were conscripted. This was a normal practice that started under the Republic.
However, as the demands of the Roman Empire increased it would begin to push several tribes and allies of Rome to the breaking point.
Towards the end of the early Roman Empire this would prove to be a huge problem as rebellions would often pull the auxiliary legions into defending their homeland against the Romans.
This happened during the Boudican revolt under the reign of Nero. During this revolt historians theorize that one of the main reasons Boudicca’s revolt was so successful was because of Auxiliary troops helping her.
Another good example of auxiliary troops defending their homeland against Roman legions would be in the revolt of the Batavian auxiliary legions in 69 AD.
The act of having auxiliary legions stationed in their homeland during peacetime would cease under the Flavian dynasty marking the transition from the early to middle empire. During the middle Empire all Roman legions would begin to move around to prevent bonds with a local population.
As such one of the 5 main elements which defend the early Roman Empire was the stationary aspect of the Roman auxiliary legions.
3.) During The Early Empire Provencal Culture Remained Largely Unchanged
One of the main elements that defined the early Roman Empire was that within the provinces traditional culture of the people remained largely unchanged.
From the reign of Augustus up through Nero the Roman provinces of the early Empire did not look Roman. While Rome ruled over these people and their lands much of the local culture remained unchanged.
Archeological evidence from the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire in Gaul, northern Italy, and Hispania demonstrates that the local culture and customs remained largely unchanged; even after a century of Roman rule.
As such, if you were living in Spain during the early Empire you might have heard of Rome but chances are you would not see anything that we would call today Roman. Occasionally you might see a Roman veteran emulating Roman culture but other than that most of your traditional customs would have remained in place.
It was not until after the early Empire that Roman ‘colonies’ across the provinces started to get large Roman monuments and buildings that we would identify with being Roman.
A prime example of this can be seen in the Aqueduct of Segovia in the modern autonomous community of Castile and Leon in Northwestern Spain. While historians don’t know the exact date of creation for this famous aqueduct we believe that it started during the early middle Empire under the reigns of Domitian.
As such one of the 5 elements which defined the early Roman Empire was that for the large part local tradition and culture in the provinces remained largely unchanged.
4.) All Power Was Centered Around The Imperial Household During The Early Empire
One of the defining elements of the early Roman Empire was the fact that absolutely all power was centered around the imperial household.
Unlike other periods during the Roman Empire which saw a rise of factions, the early Roman Empire saw a condensation of power around the Imperial Household.
From our ancient sources such as Tacitus, Cassius Dio, and the Latin writers we see that the early Roman Empire was plagued by horrendous emperors who ruled with absolute authority and remained unchecked in their power.
By far the two worst emperors of the early Empire were Caligula and Nero. Both of these emperors were able to wield absolute power because the Julio-Claudian Dynasty raised emperors to remain unchecked in their power.
Caligula was the 3rd emperor of Rome and he was known for his brutality and lavish spending that nearly bankrupted the entire empire. An example of this can be seen in the gladiatorial games of Caligula. When Caligula was present he was known to randomly select audience members to fight against wild animals in the arena.
Nero on the other hand was so infatuated with himself that he burned down 35% of Rome to build a massive imperial palace. In the center of this palace Nero erected a 103 ft. tall bronze statue of himself which styled him as a god.
While other dynasties in the middle and late empire held absolute authority. There was often a check of some kind held by other figures within the Roman Empire.
Because of this one of the 5 elements which defined the early Roman Empire was a centering of all political power around the Imperial household.
5.) The Early Roman Empire Had One Of The Fastest Growing Economies Out Of The Whole Empire
The 5th element which defined the early Roman Empire was the massive expansion of the economy which was one of the fastest growths in the history of the Empire.
For the longest time period most historians believed that it was during the middle Roman Empire that the economy of Rome expanded. However, recent geological ice cores taken from Greenland indicate that the amount of silver mined peaked during the early Empire from massive byproducts of airborne lead from production.
This is important because silver was the main currency of the Roman Empire. Having such a large amount of silver being mined starting under the reigns of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty demonstrates a massive need for a larger circulating currency supply.
This increase in currency demonstrates that the economy of the early Roman Empire was expanding at an incredible rate. This helps to explain why the early Roman emperors were able to build such lavish statues, sculptures, and wonders of the ancient world.
As such one of the 5 elements which defined the early Roman Empire was the fastest growing economy out of the entire Empire.
There you have it; an entire article centered around what 5 elements defined the early Roman Empire.
The study of the early Roman Empire is a fascinating topic of discussion. It’s one of the few times in history that one civilization went unchecked in their local area, also had an absolute monarchy, and had one of the world’s largest economies. This presented a perfect storm for some of the craziest stories in history.
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