HY1010 Columbia Southern Roman Emperor Biographical Sketch Paper Instructions
Choose any of the Roman emperors, and write a biographical sketch explaining what you see as his most notable actions and character traits that impacted Western civilization.
A biographical sketch is shorter and more specific than a typical biography of a person’s character, life, and achievements. It should provide readers with your insights into the person’s character and give people what you consider to be significant information about a historical figure.
Step 1: Choose an appropriate source. At least one source must come from the CSU Online Library. The Academic OneFile and General OneFile are databases in the CSU Online Library that would be good places to start your search. If you need additional help with using or locating information in the online library, there are Library Video Tutorials available on the main page of the online library under the heading “Research Guides.”
You may use additional resources, but those sources cannot include Wikipedia, biography.com, history.com, or other encyclopedias. You may research the person on credible sources online or at your local library to read a variety of biographies about the person.
Step 2: Complete your research. Choose one interesting experience that illustrates the main point that you want to make about that person’s life. Gather details about that incident. For example, write a timeline of the person’s life that will show that you know when and where the person was born; where he lived; what he did throughout the course of his life; and where, when, and how he died. Make a list of the person’s pursuits and accomplishments. You should know this person inside and out before you begin writing your sketch.
Step 3: Draw conclusions, and prepare your thesis. Reflect on the life of the historical figure. Once you have done your research and have gathered enough information about the historical figure, you should sit back to think about what it means, to see if you notice any trends, and to have a better sense of what you want to convey about the person. Your thesis statement will offer your reader the overall insight into this person you have perceived.
Use the following guidelines to help decide on your thesis:
Ask yourself about how the historical figure was shaped by his time period and environment.
Ask yourself how the historical figure impacted the lives of the people around him, the general public, and future generations.
Figure out which of the figure’s achievements and life experiences you may want to emphasize. Figure out which quality of the person you would most like to emphasize, and make sure the facts you present support it.
Find the perfect anecdote to demonstrate the qualities of the person you would most like to show.
Step 4: Write your essay. Your essay should be at least one page in length. You are required to use at least one source from the CSU Online Library for your response.
Be sure to consider the following guidelines in your essay:
The introduction should engage the reader and clearly present the essay’s thesis and a summary of the main points that clarify the writer’s point of view.
Organization should clearly present points arranged to illustrate your opening thesis.
Writing should be clear and concise with no spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors.
The number of sources should meet or exceed any expressed assignment requirements and should be peer-reviewed or academic in nature. At least one source must be from the CSU Online Library.
APA formatting guidelines should be used for reference entries and in-text citations.
If you need assistance with writing or formatting your essay, there are additional tutorials and webinars available in the myCSU Student Portal through the Writing Center.
All other questions should be directed toward your professor. UNIT IV STUDY GUIDE
The Roman Empire, and
Course Learning Outcomes for Unit IV
Upon completion of this unit, students should be able to:
3. Evaluate the causes and effects of major historical events, including the influence of key individuals,
institutions, and ideologies.
6. Appraise relevant and irrelevant sources or evidence.
7. Create conclusions through the examination of facts about Western Civilization.
Chapter 6: The Roman Empire, 27 B.C.E.-284 C.E.
Chapter 7: Late Antiquity, 250-600
The Rise and Fall of Rome
Unit IV covers the history of the Roman Empire, discussing its expansion, culture, and collapse.
Octavian Caesar had assumed total control of Rome. Though he and later emperors would call it a republic
for the next five centuries, it was clear to anyone that it was anything but a republic. He took the title
“Augustus,” meaning revered, instead of his preferred “princeps civitatis,” or “first citizen of the state” (McKay
et al., 2014, p. 156). Augustus ruled from 27 BC to AD 14. The bureaucracy was efficient, carefully keeping
track of all records and responsibilities. He presided over the “Silver Age” of Roman literature, a great
flowering of philosophers and poets, and an empire that encompassed the Mediterranean Sea. Romans
began to refer to it as “Mare Nostrum,” or “our sea.” Rome was at peace for the first time in decades.
He expanded the army to a force of roughly 128,000 men, including a personal army of 9,000 dedicated as
his personal bodyguards. He attempted to expand into what is now western Germany in 9 BC, but faced the
greatest disaster of his reign in AD 9 when three entire legions were annihilated at the Battle of Teutoburger
Forest. Rome would never again claim any part of Germany, and Augustus insisted that his successors adopt
a defensive approach to governing the empire and to not try to expand the empire any further as he believed
it had reached its limit.
Augustus died at age 76 in AD 14, having outlived his children. He chose his son-in-law Tiberius to succeed
him. From 14-37, while Tiberius ruled an empire that was prosperous, stable, and at peace, the man was a
different matter. He had little interest in the day-to-day responsibilities of the throne, and instead he was a
murderer, rapist, and pedophile. His excesses managed to shock even the already jaded Roman public.
Caligula, who ruled from 37-41, was a man driven mad by power. He was often found raving, screaming at
statues and tortured aristocrats. Murder was a whimsical act, and prostituting wives of senators a diversion.
At one point, he named his horse as consul and laughed hysterically at a state dinner over the idea that he
had the power to execute everyone in attendance. Everyone had grown tired of his debauchery and tyranny.
In AD 41, his own guards rose up and murdered him, his wife, and his daughter.
HY 1010, Western Civilization I
His successor, Claudius, ruling from 41-54, was a different sort of man entirely.
was an alcoholic, with most of the damage from his personal failings being what
he did to himself. Rome,
however, welcomed the change.
Nero came to the throne in AD 54. His was a savage and bloodthirsty rule. He forced fathers to attend the
executions of their sons and even kicked his own wife to death. Aristocrats were tortured and executed on the
flimsiest of charges. The first widespread persecutions of Christians began under his rule, with thousands
condemned to their deaths. The aristocracy, however, was mostly concerned with the abuses of their own
ranks. In AD 68, the army rose up against him. Fearing for his life, he committed suicide.
After Nero’s death, the empire descended into a year of civil war as generals and strongmen competed for
power. The year AD 69 is sometimes referred to as “the year of the four emperors” by historians.
With the short reign of Nerva from AD 96 to AD 98, the era of the five good emperors began. In this period,
Rome had nearly a century of peace and prosperity while ruled by men who were themselves emotionally
stable and entirely competent. It was in this period that Rome reached the height of its power. Trajan threw off
the defensive approach that had governed the empire’s borders for nearly a century.
During Trajan’s 19-year rule from 98 to 117, he embarked on an ambitious building program, established a
system to help impoverished parents care for their children, and launched new military campaigns. In his war
against the Parthian Empire in the East, he annexed Armenia and Mesopotamia and forced Rome’s greatest
rival in the Middle East to the anemic role of tributary state. Rumania was annexed. The empire, now at its
height, boasted a population of 50 million people, took up an area roughly the size of the continental United
States, and extended from the Persian Gulf to Scotland. Trajan began pulling back from the Middle East, but
as he did so, exhausted from the strain of the wars, he died.
Hadrian, his successor, ruled from 117-138. He embarked on many important building projects in Rome, but
he withdrew Roman forces from Mesopotamia. As raids into Britain continued from what is now Scotland, he
established Hadrian’s Wall to stem the attacks. The effort was mostly successful, and the wall (which still
stands mostly intact) marks the general border between England and Scotland.
Antoninus Pius continued the reign of the five good emperors, ruling from 138 to 161. His son, Marcus
Aurelius, ruled from 161 to 180. Marcus Aurelius was known for his deep wisdom and Stoic philosophy.
Stoicism was popular among Roman intellectuals of the time, and his book, Meditations, was a popular
collection of his thoughts and Stoic philosophy. It is one of the most well-known examples of second-century
philosophy to survive to this day. However, he faced increased fighting on the Roman Empire’s northern
border as Germanic tribes launched repeated incursions across the Danube River. Facing increased political
problems, he settled on his son Commodus as his successor.
Commodus marks the end of the line of the five good emperors. His rule from 180 to 193 was a disaster as he
gave into bizarre behaviors, such as fighting in the gladiatorial arenas that were so popular at the time.
However, he would make sure his opponents were injured or bound in some way so he could win every
match. He even dressed as a gladiator in the royal palace. He was assassinated when a gladiator came into
the palace and strangled him.
After a period of civil war, Septimius Severus, an African general, came to power in 193. He ruled as a military
monarchy, dedicated to buying the army’s loyalty and using its strength to maintain order. After his death in
211, his son Caracalla came to power after he murdered his own brother. Caracalla made all free inhabitants
of the Roman Empire citizens, but increasing economic problems and instability marked his reign. He was
assassinated in 217. For the next eighteen years, a succession of emperors seized power within the Severan
family until the last of the line, Alexander Severus, was assassinated in 235.
Twenty-two emperors assumed the throne over the next fifty years, and only one died of natural causes.
Decades of civil war ravaged the Roman Empire, causing a sharp decline in Rome’s prosperity. The bright
years of peace and stability were now a distant memory as hardships took hold among the Roman people.
It was not until 284 with the ascension of Diocletian that Rome regained any stability. Diocletian unveiled the
tetrarchy system, or rule by four. Reaching back into Roman history when two consuls would jointly rule
Rome, this system would have two men jointly serving as Augustus and two men serving as Caesar, who
would both become Augustus when the immediate two stepped down. As one Augustus stepped down or
HY 1010, Western Civilization I
UNIT x STUDY
died, the other one would have to do the same. When Diocletian’s emperor Maximian
died in 305,
gave up the throne and retired to Dalmatia. His successor, Galerius, would notTitle
abandon the throne when his
co-emperor died in 306, throwing out the entire system in the process.
Christianity, by the fourth century, had become an undeniable part of Roman life, no matter how much the
state tried to crush the faith. Christianity centers around the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. His threeyear ministry emerged in a time of intense division in the Jewish communities of Roman-occupied Judea. His
teachings emphasized love, charity, peace, and universal brotherhood. Christianity was open to all,
regardless of race, sex, age, or social class. The faith promised that if believers had faith in God, they would
receive eternal life in heaven. Christians believed that there was one God, and Jesus was His son and the
Messiah. Although He was crucified in AD 29, believers stated Jesus rose from the dead and then ascended
into heaven, and Christians called for treating everyone with love and forgiveness. Peace and mercy were
held in the highest regard.
While it began as a reform movement within Judaism, it had emerged as a separate faith by the end of the
first century AD. Churches appeared in all major Roman cities. Their pacifism and rejection of the corrupt and
sinful Roman government and the pantheon of Roman gods—especially the worship of the emperor as a
god—led Roman authorities to condemn them as traitors and embark on a series of campaigns of
extermination. In spite of this, Christianity grew steadily.
By 312, Christianity had reached a tipping point. The Emperor Constantine had converted to the faith just
before winning a major battle to claim the Roman throne. Under Constantine, Rome ended the practice
of persecution and allowed Christians and all other faiths to practice openly. By the time Constantine died
in 337, the Roman state had stabilized, but many Christians still resisted participating in the activities of
Increasingly, Rome was faced by division and corruption that steadily alienated the lower classes. The
Germanic tribes to the north, which had easily been neutralized in the past, were becoming increasingly
problematic as more Romans refused to participate in the military. Economic problems continued to weigh
down the empire as well.
Theodosius came to the throne in 378 and faced an empire in chaos. In order to unite Rome, he banned all
religions but Christianity, making the practice of any other faith a capital offense. He issued a new legal code
in 392 that raised taxes even higher, forced Romans to stay in professions their fathers practiced, and
attempted desperately to clamp down on corruption. Upon his death in 395, he divided the empire into two
halves: the eastern empire (based in Constantinople), which his 18-year-old son Arcadius would rule, and the
western empire (based in Rome), which his 10-year-old son Honorius would rule. While the two empires were
supposed to work together, they rarely did, concentrating on their own interests and own survival instead.
Both halves of the empire faced invasions by Germanic tribes. In 405, the eastern empire was invaded by a
group called the Visigoths. The eastern army barely managed to deflect them, instead pushing them west.
The western army, now 500,000 strong (but composed mostly of Germans), barely managed to contain them
until 410. That year, the Visigoths stormed across Italy and did the unimaginable. In 410, the Visigoths
entered and pillaged the Eternal City of Rome, signaling that the era of Roman invincibility was now at an
end. The Visigoths left after taking anything of value they could find and set up a kingdom across what is now
northwestern Spain and Portugal.
Rome limped along until Honorius’s death in 423, facing increasing invasions. A group called the Vandals had
also broached the Roman border and stormed across western Europe and entered Africa, eventually seizing
Carthage itself and establishing their own kingdom in North Africa. In 455, with Rome distracted by yet
another civil war, the Vandals sailed across the Mediterranean and sacked Rome in 455.
By 456, the German commander of the Roman armies, Ricimer, essentially became the power in Rome. As a
German, he could not become emperor himself, but he remained content with the making and unmaking of
emperors, raising malleable candidates to the throne and having them overthrown and assassinated when
they displeased him. He would continue in this position until his death in 472, with Rome steadily weakening
along the way.
With Ricimer’s death, political power in Rome dissipated. The remaining emperors in the West were
dependent on Constantinople and the collection of Germanic tribes that had taken up residence in the
HY 1010, Western Civilization I
remains of the western empire. In 475, Romulus Augustulus, the 14-year-old son
general and a
Roman aristocrat, was brought to the throne. He was unable to rule, and Rome
was unable to respond to any
external or internal threats. By 476, the Ostrogoth King Odoacer, who ruled a large area just outside Italy,
tired of the arrangement and had him deposed and declared himself King of Italy. With the fall of Romulus
Augustulus, the Roman Empire was dead.
McKay, J. P., Hill, B. D., Buckler, J., Crowston, C. H., Weisner-Hanks, M. E., & Perry, J. (2014). A history of
western society: From antiquity to the enlightenment (11th ed., Vol. 1). Boston, MA: Bedford/St.
The following textbook is optional. It has additional readings that correspond with the topics covered in the
course textbook, and you may find these sources interesting. You will not be tested on any information from
McKay, J. P., Crowston, C. H., Weisner-Hanks, M. E., & Perry, J. (2014). Sources for western society: From
antiquity to the enlightenment (3rd ed., Vol. 1). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
HY 1010, Western Civilization I
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