1st Century – 7 Historical Events that happened in the 1st Century

In the 1st century AD, the Roman Empire was still on the ascent, enjoying its golden era even in the face of civil war. Elsewhere, the death of Jesus and the continuation of his ministry by his disciples established Christianity in its own right, while the long and ancient rule of the Han in China was briefly interrupted by a usurper. In this article, we will look at 7 key events that took place during the 1st Century.

Brief interruption of the Han dynasty (9-25 AD)

After two centuries of rule, the Han dynasty began to wobble when the consort Wang Mang was appointed regent of the child emperor Ping and he began exerting his own power in the country. But by 9 AD, Ping had died, and the next successor had been pushed aside, as Wang proclaimed that the Mandate of Heaven had passed from the Han to himself, establishing what we know now as the Xin dynasty. However, Wang and his attempts to reforms were unpopular and, combined with flooding throughout China which devastated many villages, peasants fled to rebel, ultimately leading to Wang being ousted in 23 AD by forces led by a Han. Two years later, they were re-established on the throne, and this new Han rule would last another two hundred years.

Death of August (14 AD)

Having ruled since the conversion of the Republic to the Empire in 27 BC, Rome’s first Emperor died in 14 AD. Replacing any successful ruler is always challenging, and as the Roman Empire expanded and stabilized, the job of replacing a successful first emperor of 40 years as Augustus appeared an extremely difficult one. But for Rome, its next leader proved to be exactly what they needed. Tiberius was Augustus’ adopted son and stepped into the role with some reluctance, but he was shrewd, spending his two-decade reign strengthening the empire rather than growing it, and building a good economic base that would benefit future emperors who looked to expand. Tiberius’ later years would be far more chaotic, but this first, successful transition of power extended Rome’s golden era throughout the 1st century.

The death of Jesus (c. 31 AD)

Following the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, c. 31 AD, his teachings began to spread beyond the original borders in which he lived and operated. By the end of the 1st century, Christianity had turned into a religion recognizable from traditional Judaism vast enough to reach the attention of the Roman persecution. Early instances of this included the stoning of Stephen in c. 34 AD, and in 64 AD when the Great Fire of Rome was blamed on the Christians, and they were thrown into the flames by Nero, though he probably caused it himself. Much of the early spreading of Christianity was done by Paul, and as early as 70 AD the word “Christian” was seen in texts, differentiating the branch from the traditional Jewish faith.

Rome conquers Britannia (43 – 87 AD)

Britannia had long been a target for Rome from as early as Julius Caesar’s days in 55 BC, but a full invasion had not been needed, with small expeditions enough for the Britons to surrender and agree to tribute payments. But by around 40 AD, the political situation on Britannia changed when the King installed by Rome was overthrown, finally giving the Romans a good excuse for conquest. In 43 AD, Emperor Claudius assembled his invasion force, which crossed the channel in three divisions (and included war elephants), decimating the Britons, taking much of the south, and founding Londinium (modern-day London). The most successful defense was that of Queen Boudica in Wales, who initially pushed the Romans back around 60 AD before being quelled at the Battle of Watling Street. After that, until around 87 AD, Rome took all of modern-day England and Wales and established rule that would last 300 years.

The Year of the Four emperors (69 AD)

Emperor Nero’s tyrannous reign motivated several generals to try to take his place. Galba, the governor of Hispania, was the first to seize power, being accepted by the senate as the terrified Nero killed himself in 68 AD to avoid capture. But in the first weeks of 69 AD, Galba was murdered, and Otho proclaimed himself emperor in his place. Meeting his rival Vitellius at the First Battle of Bedriacum, Otho was defeated and he chose to kill himself in the aftermath. However, Vitellius couldn’t enjoy his title for long, contending with a fourth general, Vespasian, who was immensely popular after crushing the Jewish rebellions a few years earlier. Vespasian won the ensuing battle, and with that, the civil war came to an end, and the empire was stable once more. The Year of Four Emperors was the first civil war of the Roman Empire, but would not, by any means, be the last.

Pompeii destroyed by an eruption at Mount Vesuvius (79 AD)

Located in southern Italy, at the time part of the Roman Empire, Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD was one of the deadliest in Europe, obliterating many towns in its vicinity with ash and rock deposits, and preserving them for archaeologists hundreds of years later to stumble across. The people who lived in the area were unconcerned by rumblings and earthquakes in the days leading up to the eruption, having experienced a smaller one in 62 AD, believing this was just part of life here. Some 20,000 either fled for their lives or were killed unaware, as a column of ash exploded out of Vesuvius and rained ash and stone below. Pompeii was destroyed and buried nearly 20 feet deep, while other villages in the area, including the smaller Herculaneum, met a similar fate

The codex appears in Rome (c. 100 AD)

It is uncertain exactly when the codex was first invented, but some time in the late 1st century its first use was seen, possibly as an experiment. The ancestor of modern books, codices initially consisted of wax tablets strung together and were used for informal, unofficial things like note-taking, while scrolls were used for everything else. Over the decades it evolved, with the wax tablets replaced by sheets of papyrus, favored by the Christians who wanted to distinguish themselves from the traditional Jewish and their scrolls. Codices had completed replaced scrolls by the 6th century, and by the eleventh, when the ancient Chinese invention of paper finally reached Europe, the papyrus made way, and modern books arrived.

Did you enjoy this article on the 1st century and want to learn more? Be sure to check out more Centuries Articles!

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