Ancient, Christian, and Modern

I’ll divide what follows into my usual groups, Ancient, Christian, and Modern Rome. My focus in this first section is on Rome’s geopolitical situation, not the layout of her streets.


The map below shows Rome near the peak of her imperial expansion, at the time of Trajan and Hadrian.It does not show how much or when Rome grew to imperial proportions, and it does not show that the Empire would be divided or that Western Empire would collapse and lose the ability to defend itself, while the Eastern Empire would endure for another thousand years, until 1453. The map does capture the vast scope of the Empire at its peak and thus asks us to evaluate its various advantages and disadvantages. The European Union invites similar reflections.

The Roman Empire near its peak, in the time of Trajan


Interactive map of Rome in the time of Augustus:


No single map could ever convey the ups and downs of Rome’s politics during the Middle Ages, but this one has the advantage of suggesting Rome’s political insignificance, which was often true to the facts and makes for an easy contrast with the Rome that was the capital as a vast empire. As the map suggests, the so-called Holy Roman Empire, that mass of purple, extended north of Rome and over central Europe, and often claimed and exercised the right to determine who was pope and how Rome would be governed. If you investigate the Guelf versus Ghibillene conflict, you will learn about the rivalry between popes and the emperors to the north.

The map makes it too easy to believe that these kingdoms and empires were united and stayed that way, but this was far from the case. This is just one exaggerated snapshot of a dynamic situation. Nevertheless, it is useful to see the Moslem-ruled parts of North Africa and Spain, the emergence of France, and the remains of the Roman Empire, now moved east to cover Greece, the Balkans, and eastern Turkey.

Europe in the Twelfth Century, when Rome was surrounded by powerful neighbors

For an animated map that shows how Rome’s geopolitical situation changed over time, from antiquity to modern times, click here.


The map below shows the Italian peninsula before it was politically united in the years 1859-1870. Since we do not now think of popes as being heads of state, the biggest surprise is perhaps the yellow section in the center, which marks the area ruled by the pope. Few travelers to Rome are used to thinking of Sardinia-PIedmont as a powerful state, but there it is in green, the part of Italy that would become the whole. The white at the top, which includes both Milan and Venice, was ruled by Austria, the most militarily potent barrier to unification. But the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the south, shown in Red, was also potent.

Italy just before its unification in the 1860’s, when the peninsula was divided up among seven sovereignties, most influenced by Austria