In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Roman History: Imperial, 31 BCE–284 CE

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference works
  • The 3rd Century (235 CE–284 CE)

Classics Roman History: Imperial, 31 BCE–284 CE
David Potter
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0024


The history of the Roman Empire is the history of one of the largest and most enduring multiethnic states in the history of the world, making it an area of study that continues to have great relevance to the modern world. Principal areas of investigation for those drawn to the study of the Roman Empire include the development of institutions needed to govern such a state, the behavior of those institutions, the dialogue of cultures within the empire (especially issues of assimilation, resistance, and evolution between dominant and subaltern groups), and the relationship between Rome and its neighbors. It is also a period that saw significant developments in art, literature, and the history of thought, shaping the heritage of classical Antiquity that has survived through the Middle Ages to help shape the Western tradition of rational thought. It is also a very colorful period, whose leading figures, ranging from Marcus Aurelius and Jesus of Nazareth to Nero and Commodus, continue to excite great interest for their own sake.

General Overviews

Volumes 10–12 of the second edition of the Cambridge Ancient History (Bowman, et al. 1996–2006) cover the period between the death of Cicero and the accession of Constantine. The standard is generally very high, but Volume 11 sets an overall standard of excellence, especially in its treatment of issues connected with institutional and social history. There are two one-volume histories that cover the period: Goodman 1997, for the 1st and 2nd centuries, and Potter 2004 for the 3rd and 4th. Kelly 2006 offers a very good, very short introduction; Wolff 2003 a somewhat longer one. For somewhat more detail, Potter 2009 and Boatwright, et al. 2004 offer somewhat different takes on the subject. Potter 2006 offers introductions to the state of research in many areas that are geared to the nonspecialist.

  • Boatwright, Mary T., Daniel J. Gargola, and Richard J. A. Talbert. 2004. The Romans: From village to empire. New York and Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press

    A very good, lucid survey of Roman history from the earliest times to the time of Constantine, paying significant attention to the sources.

  • Bowman, A. K., A. Cameron, E. J. Champlin, E. J. Garnsel, A. J. Lintott, and D. Rathbone, eds. 1996–2006. The Cambridge ancient history. Vols. 10–12. New York and Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press

    Each of the three volumes opens with a narrative section (43 BCE–69 CE for Volume 10, The Augustan Empire; 70 CE–192 CE for Volume 11, The High Empire; and 193 CE–337 CE for Volume 12, The Crisis of Empire) followed by chapters on the administration, thematic and regional discussions of developments in the imperial periods, and surveys of culture and society. Chapters draw upon the full range of available evidence and scholarship at the time that they were written.

  • Goodman, Martin. 1997. The Roman world, 44 BC–AD 180. London and New York: Routledge

    Goodman offers a narrative of the Roman Empire over the period in question, followed by a series of chapters offering regional and institutional studies.

  • Jacques, François, and John Scheid. 1990–1998. Rome et l’integration de l’Empire: 44 av. J.-C.–260 ap. J.-C. 2 vols. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France

    Volume 1, Les structures de l’empire romain, treats the political structures of the empire, looking at such topics as the position of the emperor, the role of the emperor in the state, religion, the army, provincial administration, the status of persons and communities, the economy, and society. Volume 2, Approches régionales du Haut-Empire romain 44 av. J-C.–260 ap, consists of a series of regional studies. Volume 1 is in its seventh edition as of 2010 (first edition, 1990); volume 2 appeared in 1998.

  • Kelly, Christopher. 2006. The Roman Empire: A very short introduction. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press

    Kelly treats the period from Augustus to Marcus Aurelius, examining the empire’s political, religious, cultural, and social structures as well as the techniques of government. The book also considers the depiction of the Roman Empire in the modern world.

  • Potter, David S. 2004. The Roman Empire at bay: AD 180–395. New York: Routledge

    Potter offers a narrative overview of the period from 180 to 395 with extensive bibliography. The narrative looks to link political, social, and intellectual history to provide a balanced picture of the Roman world.

  • Potter, David S. 2006. A companion to the Roman Empire. Malden, MA: Blackwell

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470996942

    The thirty chapters in this volume offer readable introductions to many topics ranging from the administration of the empire to spectacle, leisure, family life, food, thought, and religion.

  • Potter, David. 2009. Ancient Rome: A new history. New York: Thames & Hudson.

    A broad (and lavishly illustrated) account of Roman history from the foundation of the city to the Arab conquest that draws on much recent scholarship.

  • Wolff, Greg, ed. 2003. The Cambridge illustrated history of the Roman world. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A lavishly illustrated and readily accessible introduction to the Roman world with chapters that offer lucid introductions to the structures of power, the city of Rome, religion, and intellectual history.

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