Where was the Roman Empire?

Where was the Roman Empire in relation to modern countries? @daveycam89

Another one for Cameron, because man that guy has a lot of questions. And because it's quick and that's important to me. Now, as we discussed previously, the Roman empire is not a static entity however much we try to insist it is by refusing to acknowledge how vast it was.  In terms of geography, the empire grows and shrinks over time by a variety of methods. Some by conquest, obviously, such as Gaul and some by more diplomatic means such as client kingships.(1) Judea is the most famous example of this, led by King Herod the babykiller but a Roman territory. And many rulers willingly entered the Roman empire, surrendering the autonomy because being in the empire was actually pretty enticing. I KNOW RIGHT! this is the opposite of everything the films taught us about imperialism!  Finally, a good conquest or two is always a fun way for an emperor to make a name for himself and a good excuse for some good architecture.(2) This means that the borders and boundaries of Roman power and influence are actually more porous and changeable than they first appear. But first off, a map. This is a very cool animated map showing the growth and shrinkage of the empire over 2000 years or so which I found on Wikipedia and wish I could take credit for.




As you can see the empire had a rapid growth. The Romans started crushing their Etruscan and Latin neighbours in the 4thC BC, and seemed happy with just that small amount of growth until some Gauls invaded and damaged their city. And that pissed the Romans off. For a really long time.(3) So they started messing up the rest of Italy to protect themselves. And once you control one area, well there's another bit just across there isn't there. What if they're dangerous?  And now you're drawing attention to yourself and pissing off locals by militarily crushing them and ruling their land. Better tidy up around here too so no one threatens you. And so it snowballs. Real fast. Then the annexing of Sicily brought them into conflict with Carthage, now Tunis, forcing them to develop a navy and fight a 120 year war with the North Africans which they EVENTUALLY won, giving them control of the Carthaginian empire. This covered Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Iberia, Libya, Cyprus,Sardinia, Corsica, the Balearic Islands, Crete and Sicily. A huge expansion that set them on the world stage as the leading Western imperial force and in control of the seas and trade routes.

This gave them a foothold in Iberia (Spain and Portugal) and in Greece and Macedonia, allowing them to expand through the territories using a combination of military might and smart diplomacy. By this time the Romans were getting a little high on the thrill of conquest and beginning to fight for the joy and glory of winning all the time. So they start to turn on empires and kingdoms just for the fun of it marching happily through Europe, including Switzerland, Austria, the Dalmatian coast, now Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia and all those other wee countries that do badly in Eurovision.

Naturally this couldn't last, and they were drawing attention to themselves and pissing off everyone around them. And as they were everywhere, there were a lot of people around them. There was constant trouble on the Western borders of Gaul and later the Eastern borders of Greek Turkey. After many long wars with Pontus, Pompey the Great(4) defeated Mithridates IV and gained control of the Pontic empire covering Turkey, Cyprus, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, the Nackchivan Autonomous Republic, Georgia and some smidges of where Russia and Ukraine border the Black Sea. At the same time, our friend JC is conquering Gaul, causing the deaths of millions, and bringing the whole of mainland France and Belgium and also invading Britain for the first time.

The Period of Empire

And there expansions broadly stopped for a while. After Antony and Cleopatra died, allowing Egypt to be absorbed into the Empire, and some low level skirmishes on the German frontier around the Rhine Augustus decreed that the empire's limits should not be expanded and nothing happened of significance for many decades. Until Claudius invaded Britain in 43AD and managed to control up to central Scotland on and off. Hadrian's wall marks almost the northernmost point which was ruled by the Romans.

After Claudius's great triumph, the Romans had to wait until Trajan became emperor in 98AD and worked relentlessly to expand the empire in the East until 117AD when he died. Under Trajan, who incidentally also had the silliest haircut of any Roman emperor and potentially any emperor ever, the empire reached its greatest extent. In particular he conquered the Dacians, centred in Romania, and their empire bringing Northern Macedonia, Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania and the rest of the Balkans under Roman control. He also brought in Nabatea, which spread as far south as Petra in Jordan and Syria, conquered Mesopotamia (Iraq, a little of Iran, Syria and Kuwait), and Assyria (the rest of Armenia) and Judea (Israel and the Palestinian Territories) became a full Roman province after a revolt. Mesopotamia and Assyria were both lost upon Trajan's death and the empire shrank back to what felt like its 'natural' borders. 

The List

So here is the full, insane, very, very long, list of countries currently recognised by the UN (thanks Pointless) encompassed by the Roman empire at one point or another during this period:

  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Andorra
  • United Kingdom
  • France
  • Monaco
  • Luxembourg
  • Belgium
  • Netherlands
  • Germany
  • Switzerland
  • Liechtenstein
  • Italy
  • San Marino
  • Azerbaijan
  • Syria
  • Iraq
  • Kuwait
  • Cyprus
  • Lebanon
  • Jordan
  • Israel
  • Palestine
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Egypt
  • Sudan
  • Libya
  • Tunisia
  • Algeria
  • Morocco
  • Malta
  • Austria
  • Czech Republic
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Croatia
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Hungary
  • Yugoslavia
  • Albania
  • Greece
  • FYR Macedonia
  • Romania
  • Bulgaria
  • Turkey
  • Georgia
  • Armenia

And for those of you who read this far, here is a picture of Trajan's laughable hair as a reward



From a marble bust in the British Museum.


(1) where a territory has the image of autonomy and it's own leader, but is politically and economically subordinate to the larger power.

(2) See Trajan's Column, Marcus Aurelius's column, The Arch of Titus (celebrating the subjugation of Jerusalem and the destruction of the second temple) and so on and so forth.

(3)  They were still talking about it centuries later as though it were recent. This is how into their heritage the Romans were.

(4) You may remember him from such moves as being a member of the first triumvirate, marrying Julius Caesar's daughter and being beheaded on an Egyptian beach.