1 minute read

Empire and Imperialism

OverviewRoman Imperium

The ancient Roman conception of empire differed from the Greek. The term came from the Roman concept of imperium, meaning jurisdiction or lawful authority. A Roman official who ruled a subject population or who commanded troops possessed imperium, an authority symbolized by the fasces, which was borne as a sign of authority before the consuls who ruled Rome. The fasces, a band of rods bound around the handle of an ax, symbolized the power to flog or to execute those under Roman jurisdiction. The associated term imperator identified an especially successful general, someone who had won a significant battle in the service of Rome. What neither imperium nor imperator meant was rule over a specific territory and the office of the one who ruled over a specific place in the modern sense of empire and emperor.

The terms imperium and imperator did become permanently associated with rulership over a designated region with the reign of Augustus Caesar (27 B.C.E.–14 C.E.). Although in theory Rome remained a republic, the end of the civil wars following the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.E. saw the formation of a hereditary monarchy under Augustus, who bore the title of imperator. The vast collection of lesser units that comprised the territory over which Augustus exercised imperium became the Roman Empire, at least in the eyes of subsequent generations. To later observers, the Roman Empire was the rule of a single man over a large space occupied by a wide variety of peoples and maintained by an army.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Electrophoresis (cataphoresis) to EphemeralEmpire and Imperialism - Overview - Roman Imperium, Christian Conceptions, Holy Roman Empire And Church Versus State, Evolution Of Europe