The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Western Roman Empire

The Western Roman Empire is the name given to the western half of the Roman Empire after its division by Diocletian. This part had significant social difference with the Eastern Roman Empire; whereas the East was Greek-speaking and (later) followed Orthodoxy and Monophysitism, the West was Latin-speaking and followed Roman Catholicism. The East (Roman for less time than the West, obviously) had a history of autocratic rule, whereas the West was based on the values of republicanism.


Division in Republican Times

For obvious reasons, the West had been part of Rome for longer than the East. The province of Asia was willed to the Roman Republic in 133 BC by its last king, Attalus III of Pergamon. Syria was annexed by Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus in 63 BC, following the executions of Antiochus XIII Asiaticus and Philip II Philoromaeus. These provinces were administered just like the western ones were.

In 43 BC, after the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar, the chief 'Liberators', Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, fled to the East. Thanks to Marcus Tullius Cicero, they were legally made governors of the provinces of Macedonia and Syria, and occupied Thrace and Achaea as well. Meanwhile, the Second Triumvirate had formed, composed of Marcus Antonius, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. The triumvirs divided the western empire amongst themselves: Octavian received Africa, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, and the Balearics; Antony, the Gallic provinces; and Lepidus, the Hispanic provinces.

The following year, the Liberators were defeated at Philippi, and in 40 BC, the empire was divided again: Octavian received Italy, Gaul, Hispania, and Illyria; Antony, Cyrenaica, Achaea, Macedonia, and Syria; and Lepidus, Africa. Sicily was controlled by pirates under the command of Censored page.

In 36 BC, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa , lieutenant of Octavian, defeated Pompeius. Following his victory, Lepidus attempted to seize control of the legions of Octavian, but was defeated. Octavian unilaterally expelled Lepidus from the Triumvirate, and assumed control of his army and province.

Antony and Octavian continued to fall out, and in 32 BC, the Roman Senate declared war upon the former and his lover, Cleopatra VII of Egypt. Octavian was pronounced dux (commander), and the entire west swore an oath of loyalty to him.

The combined forces of Antony and Cleopatra were defeated on September 2, 31 BC at the Battle of Actium. The couple retreated to Egypt and were followed there by Octavian in 30 BC. Marcus Antonius commited suicide in late July or early August. Octavian and his forces managed to capture Alexandria, the Egyptian capital on August 1, 30 BC. Cleopatra commited suicide on August 12. Her son and co-ruler Caesarion was executed. Their deaths left Octavian in sole control of the Roman Republic.

In 27 BC, Octavian was given the title of Augustus by the Senate, considered to be the start of the Roman Empire. The west and east were ruled as one for the next two-and-a-half centuries.

Gallic Empire

Through the centuries, the East and the West were ruled as one, much the same way as they had been in the Republic. Various usurpers arose in both halves, but either were killed or assumed power over the entire Empire.

Starting on March 18/ 19, 235 with the assassination of Roman Emperor Alexander Severus, the Roman Empire fell into a fifty-year cycle of civil wars known as the Crisis of the Third Century. In 259, Emperor Valerian I was captured by Shapur I of Persia, a ruler of the Sassanid dynasty. His succeeding son, Gallienus was off fighting in the East. His own son and the Praetorian Prefect Aurelius Heraclianus were residing in Colonia Agrippina. The governor of the German provinces, Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus, took it upon himself to assault Colonia Agrippina, kill the heir and the prefect, and create an independent state now known as the Gallic Empire.

Its capital was at Augusta Treverorum, and in time it expanded to control not just the German provinces, but also all of Gaul, Hispania, and Britannia. It had its own senate, and a partial list of consuls still survive. It maintained Roman religion, language, and culture, and was more concerned with fighting the Germanic tribes than other Romans. However, in the reign of Claudius Gothicus (268-270), large expanses of the Gallic Empire were returned to Roman rule.

At roughly the same time, the eastern provinces were rebelling as the “Kingdom of Palmyra”, ruled over by Queen Zenobia. In 272, Emperor Aurelian managed to finally subdue Palmyra and return its territory to the Empire. With the East secure, he turned his attention west, and in the next year, the Gallic Empire fell. Aurelian spared the lives of the Gallic emperor Tetricus I and his son Tetricus II, going so far as to give them important positions in Rome.


After the restoration of Gaul, the west was largely quiet for the remainder of the Crisis of the Third Century.

Permanent Division

To be completed - feel free to add stuff

Fall of the West

To be completed - feel free to add stuff

The Western Empire fell in 476 AD.

Byzantine Reconquest

Campaigns of Belisarius and Narses; invasions of Lombards, Franks, Arabs, etc.

The Continued Tradition of Empire

To be completed - feel free to add stuff - Charlemagne, Holy Roman Empire, etc

List of Western Roman Emperors

Gallic Emperors (259-273):

Tetrarchy (293-313):

Augusti are shown with their Caesares, regents, etc., further indented

Constantinian Dynasty (313-363):

Non-Dynastic (363-364):

Valentinian Dynasty (364-392):

Non-Dynastic (392-394):

Theodosian Dynasty (394-455):

Non-Dynastic (455-480):

Orestes was killed by revolting barbarian mercenaries. Their leader Odoacer assumed control of Italy as a de jure representative of Julius Nepos and Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno.

See also: Gallic Empire; Byzantine Empire and List of Byzantine Emperors; Holy Roman Empire and List of Holy Roman Emperors; List of barbarian kings of Italy; Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Franks, and Vandals; Roman Republic; Roman Empire; Roman Emperors

External Links

  • De Imperatoribus Romanis

Last updated: 02-05-2005 01:25:25
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01