Important Dates


753 The foundation of Rome

April 21 753 is the date determined in the late Republic by Marcus Terentius Varro, but it is based on little more than guesswork. Varro was advised by the astrologer Lucius Tarutius Firmanus, who calculated June 24, 772 BC, between 7 and 8.15 a.m., as the date and time of Romulus’ conception (i.e., just after the moment when the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia was raped by the god Mars) (Plutarch Life of Romulus 12). Tarutius seems to have made his calculations by a kind of horoscope in reverse, determining the time of Romulus’ conception from the events in his life, rather than making predictions about his life from the time of his conception. Modern opinions on the actual foundation vary considerably.

509 Expulsion of Tarquinius Superbus, the last king of Rome, and establishment of the Republic

494 Traditional date for the first sēcessiō plēbis “Withdrawal of the lower orders”

On several occasions and for various reasons in the 5th and 4th centuries, the plebs resorted to civil disobedience involving their migration outside the walls of Rome. The first sēcessiō, in protest at growing burdens of debt, was said to have been ended by Menenius Agrippa, who persuaded the plebs to return by means of a parable in which the limbs (the plebs) brought about their own destruction by refusing to feed the stomach (the senatorial class).

c. 387 The Gauls sack Rome

c. 340 Rome’s domination over Latium complete

321 The Caudine Forks

In 321 BC, the Samnites, a rival Italian people, trapped a large Roman army led by both consuls at a place known as the Caudine Forks. Uncertain how to capitalize on this success, the Samnite general sent to request advice from his father, a statesman who was now too aged to fight with the army; his father recommended letting the Romans go unharmed. Reluctant to do this, he asked again; his father recommended killing every single Roman. Baffled by this apparently contradictory advice, the general had his father brought to the camp; his father then explained that they must either try to gain the Romans’ friendship or destroy them entirely, since there could be no compromise. Even so, the Samnites adopted a middle course, forcing the Romans to pass unarmed under a yoke in single file. The Romans were thus humiliated without being weakened, and they avenged the humiliation of the Caudine Forks a generation later, decisively crushing the power of the Samnites and their allies at the Battle of Sentinum in 295 BC (Livy, History of Rome 9.1ff.).

c. 290 Rome’s domination over central Italy complete

280-275 Pyrrhus of Epirus invades Italy

264-241 First Punic War (with Carthage)

The Carthaginians (Carthāginiensēs, -ium masc. 3) were also known as the Poenī (-ōrum masc. 2), a name which reflects their origins in Phoenicia, in the eastern Mediterranean. The First Punic War is the longest uninterrupted war fought in antiquity.

218-201 Second Punic War

218, 217, 216 Hannibal defeats the Romans at the Trebia river, Lake Trasimene and Cannae

202 Scipio defeats Hannibal at Zama

149-146 Third Punic War

146 Carthage and Corinth destroyed

133 Tribunate of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus

123 and 122 Tribunate of Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

111-106 War with Jugurtha, king of Numidia

107 Marius consul for the first time

105 The Cimbri, a German tribe, defeat the Romans at Arausio (southern France)

104-101 Slave revolt in Sicily

102 Marius defeats the Teutones, a German tribe, at Aquae Sextiae (southern France)

101 Marius defeats the Cimbri on the Raudine Plain (northern Italy)

90-88 Social War (against the Italian allies [sociī, -ōrum masc. 2])

89 Roman citizenship granted to all Italians

88-85 War with Mithridates, king of Pontus (northern Turkey)

87-81 Civil War in Rome

81-79 Sulla rules as dictator

73-71 Slave revolt in Italy, led by Spartacus

63 Cicero, as consul, suppresses the conspiracy of Catiline

60 Pompey, Crassus and Julius Caesar form the First Triumvirate

58-51 Caesar campaigns in Gaul

53 Crassus killed by the Parthians at the Battle of Carrhae (SE Turkey)

49 Civil War begins

Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon into Italy with an army precipitated the civil war. “Crossing the Rubicon” is proverbial for taking an irrevocable first step in a risky business. According to Suetonius, Caesar took the plunge after long hesitation, with the already proverbial words iacta alea est “The die is cast” (Life of Julius Caesar 32). Plutarch, however, a Greek biographer of Caesar, maintains that he quoted the Greek proverbial expression “Let the die be cast” [νερρίφθω κύβος (anerriphtho kubos)] (Life of Julius Caesar 32, Life of Pompey 60). Plutarch expresses the drama and significance of the moment particularly well in the latter passage: “When Caesar came to the Rubicon, he stood in silence and hesitated, calculating in his mind the enormity of his undertaking. Then, like someone who throws himself from a cliff into a yawning abyss, he closed his eyes to reason and drew a veil over the danger. He shouted out to those who were with him ‘Let the die be cast’ and nothing more. Then he led his army across”.

48 Caesar defeats Pompey at Pharsalus (central Greece)

48-44 Caesar rules as dictator

44 Caesar assassinated

43 Antony, Octavian and Lepidus form the Second Triumvirate; Cicero proscribed

Marcus Aemilius Lepidus had better social and political connections than either Octavian or Antony and, as magister equitum “Master of the Horsemen”, he was the dictator Caesar’s second-in-command. His importance as a member of the Second Triumvirate was, however, negligible, and perhaps his greatest personal achievement was that he survived to die a natural death in 13 or 12 BC. He became pontifex maximus “chief priest” when Julius Caesar was assassinated, and lived on for so long despite the fact that, in so doing, he made Augustus wait impatiently for almost two decades after his victory at Actium before he could assume that politically significant post.

42 Triumvirs defeat Cassius and Brutus at Philippi (northern Greece)

31 Octavian defeats Antony and Cleopatra at Actium (western Greece)

27 Octavian, under the name Augustus, becomes (effectively) the first emperor


9 Massacre of three legions in Germany

14 Death of Augustus

43 Claudius invades Britain

64 The Great Fire of Rome

69 Year of the Four Emperors: Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian

70 Destruction of Jerusalem

79 Eruption of Vesuvius

212 Citizenship extended to all free male inhabitants of the empire

330 Constantine moves the seat of empire to Byzantium (Constantinople)

Byzantium had been founded c. 660 BC by colonists from the Greek city of Megara, supposedly led by one Byzas. In AD 196, Septimius Severus named it Augusta Antonina in honor of his son. In 330, Constantine established his capital there, renaming it Roma Nova, and subsequently Constantinople. The modern name, Istanbul, a corruption of the Greek phrase ες τν πλιν (“into the city”), was not officially adopted till 1930, but can be traced to the 13th century.

410 Visigoths sack Rome

451 Vandals sack Rome

476 Romulus Augustulus, the last ruler of the western empire, is deposed

Officially, his name was Romulus Augustus. It is ironic that the last emperor should be named after Rome’s founder and the first and greatest of its emperors. The diminutive Augustulus, by which he is now universally known, alludes to his youth and political insignificance. He was also referred to by the Greek diminutive Momyllus “little disgrace”.