The Roman Empire is widely acknowledged as being the greatest empire ever. The Romans set the standard for all further empires.
Just the Facts:
After his adopted father Julius Caesar was assassinated, there was a power void in Rome. Those responsible for JC's death were in no position to take over, since they realized that everybody liked JC and nobody liked them. So Octavian (which was his name before he changed it to the more triumphant Augustus) shared power with two other famous dudes: Mark Anthony and this other guy nobody really cares about called Lepidus. This was known as a Triumvate. They were all triumvirs.
Now, Mark Anthony was a bad-ass. The HBO series Rome showed this by casting the role to the same guy that played The Black Prince in A Knight's Tale and Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach in some TV series. He's not black by the way.
Anyway, as is inevitable when there are two bad-asses sharing power, they end up trying to fuck each other over. Fortunately for Octavian, Mark Anthony had decided to hang out in Egypt with the (now confirmed) succubus Cleopatra.
So out of these three pictures, the drawing is the most sexy. That's wierd.
This allowed Octavian to go round spreading rumours about him (that were totally true probably). He also announced to the Senate that he would give up his status as triumvir if Anthony would too. Obviously Anthony refused, knowing full well what Octavian was trying to do. He was probably having his own version of a Triumvate with Cleopatra anyway. That was a sex joke.
So Octavian managed to get the whole Senate to turn against Anthony. They gave him and navy and sent him over to Egypt to see what had happened to this once-great-but-now-pussy-whipped solider of Rome. What happened next was the Battle of Actium. Octavian won decisively. Anthony and Cleopatra, beyond the point of no return committed suicide together. Aww.
On a more serious note, it would have looked nothing like this. This picture is inaccurate in so many ways.
Thus Octavian became Emp... no wait. There's more. But again, this is not important. Fuck this - Octavian won, renamed himself Augustus Caesar and became "the first among men". He never called himself Emperor (opting for princeps) which somehow let him get away with being Emperor in all but name.
The greatest achievement of Augustuseses was the fact that he and 'the Republic' survived. The old system had failed dramatically, and rather than consume itself in chaos, Augustus had taken over while at the same time allowing the spirit, freedom and prosperity of the Roman civilisation to survive practically unhindered. This meant things like slaves were still A.O.K, foreign wars were still 'fine' and if anything, the orgies were about to really kick off big time.
Augustus actually did a pretty good job at establishing an Empire and his reign was called The Golden Age by later writers. But let's be honest, the Empire was an autocratic super-state whose economy was based on slavery, foreign imperialism, militarism and a massive divide between rich and poor. Make your own acerbic comment about the United States if you like, but that's been done already.
But the fact is, despite the might of the Roman military machine, they could never have occupied and suppressed dissent if there was a popular feeling of hatred towards the powers of Rome. People liked being part of the Roman Empire.
They liked it so much in fact, that those who weren't part of it kept trying to bust their way in. The Romans, having a psychotic hatred of beards spent years and years, the lives of thousands of soldiers and however much a lot of sestersii is on keeping them fuckers out.
Are you sure you won't pillage? You look like you might pillage.
The Roman Empire to everyone else was a frickin' holiday resort. There was peace, land, opportunity and orgies. So many orgies. The Barbarians were the frat-boys of the ancient world - large, annoying, over-excited, over-sexed big mouths who saw a great party going on. But instead of getting themselves invited or organising their own competing party, they decided to crash the Roman one, ruining everyone's fun and acting like total douchebags.
Under Trajan, the Roman Empire reached its greatest extent (AD117). To commemorate his victories in the east, he built a massive phallus in the centre of Rome.
Trajan's Column (snigger). That's a dick joke.
Hadrian is most famous for building a wall. Scottish people will tell you that this was because the Caledonian's who lived in Scotland at the time where too strong and mighty to be conquered by the Romans. This is untrue. The man who lead the invasion of Britain, Marcus Agrippa actually conquered Scotland and was planning on invading Ireland from Scotland before being called back to Germany to fight the barbarians there. After seeing what Scotland looked like, Hadrian decided it wasn't worth the hassle so just built a wall. This was enough to completely baffle the Scots.
Not Pictured: Decent Weather
The sad thing is, Nero isn't even that important. But when writing an article about the Roman Empire on Cracked and there's no mention of either Caligula or Nero, people become restless and anxious.
History paints an ill portrait of Nero because he was responsible for the first instance of wide-spread, government sanctioned persecution of Christians. However, this was not his greatest dick move. Neither was playing a lyre while watching Rome burn to the ground. No, his biggest dick move was after the Great Fire of Rome, instead of rebuilding the great city, rehousing those affected and that kinda, you know, leadership stuff you come to expect, he built himself a massive palace and gardens in the gaping hole where people's homes and businesses had been. As would be expected, this wasn't too popular with people who weren't the emperor. Some began to say that the fire was started by him so he could build the palace, sheeple!
He also killed his mum. The remorse he felt for this crime can be seen in the painting below. His face is more emotive of the disappointment following a visit to the toilet to do a shit, only to find it was nothing but a fart rather than the bitter anguish of a mother-killer.
Constantine was the first Christian emperor (so the story goes) and was also responsible for the last revival in Rome's greatness before spiralling into civil war, division and douchebaggery for the next few centuries. He's important for the following reasons: