How big can the Roman Empire get?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Mr_Fanboy, Oct 8, 2019.

  1. Atamolos Pontifex, princeps, and augustus

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    Honestly, OTL was already a Rome-wank. When I started my TL, I planned to end it with an absurd border on the Vistula with total control of Arabia and outposts in Scandinavia, but since I have settled down and contented myself with simply controlling Germania in addition to OTL's territories. Something else I realized is that the "transport costs" assumes perfect conditions and only includes direct expenses. It probably does not account for indirect factors like supplying pack animals and people for their journey, the portoria (which was more substantial in some areas than others), and most importantly weather. Each of these would create greater barriers to transport both in cost and logistical terms.

    I think the circumstances that led to the assumption of the pharaonic mode of governing and rhetoric were highly particular and contingent on very deliberate administrative decisions made by Augustus and his subordinates. This was done to meet the demands of the new empire which had some 60 legions which would either need to be paid, given retirement bonuses, or both. It is less clear that if Rome establishes a presence in Mesopotamia, there will be the same impetus for deliberate and careful administration in accordance with extant local institutions.
     
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  2. DominusNovus Humbled by Fate

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    Pretty sure that the transport costs do include everything, but its been years since I played around with the Orbis map. I do know they explain their methodology.

    Anyway, as far as what the practical limits are, we have to decide a few questions beforehand:
    - What technological limitations are being applied? Rome with telegraphs or steam engines can be far far larger. Rome with better sailing technology, or better economic technology, etc etc.
    - What political and time limitations are being applied? If Rome can simply endure as a large Mediterranean-spanning empire for longer, they’ll eventually be in a reasonable position to expand again.
    - Is there any reason to assume Rome is differently positioned than any comparably positioned Empire? If so, is that to Rome’s benefit or hindrance?

    All that said, lets see... POD of 27 BC. Posit the Romans industrialize starting a century later, give them 3 centuries to reach modern tech, add one another century for conservatism’s sake, and then another to start really expanding again. So, roughly speaking, by the present day, their maximum frontiers are a rough sphere around the Sun, 1400 light years in radius.
     
  3. Skallagrim Not the one from YouTube. Different other fellow.

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    I have said it before (many times), and I'll say it again (presumably also many times): Rome should have played for keeps with Mesopotamia. That's priority number 1. I know it's going to be absurdly costly, but the profits will outweigh the costs. Mesopotamia was, by itself, more economically profitable than the entire Western Empire. It will pay for itself even if the cost of defending it is absurdly high-- and keeping it out of the hands of whoever rules Persia ensures that this rival is forever critically weakened.

    Abandon Britain if you must. In fact, do that anyway. Britain was always a big damned money-sink and breeding ground for usurpers and trouble-makers. Just secure the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly (for the tin), and use the fleet stationed in north-western Gaul to stave off piracy.

    Once you have Mesopotamia, move north-east instead, and secure the Elbe and the Dniester as borders. That's important to your long-term security.


    Naturally, those are merely my priorities, but I think my reasoning for those is quite solid. Other avenues of expansion are naturally possible. On the map below, I have marked the "Roman core" (essentially the Mediterranean basin) and various additional regions into which Rome could expand. Some were in fact held for varying lengths of time in OTL. Orange borders indicate regions that would serve better as client states and should not be directly annexed (since that would cause more trouble than it would yield benefits).

    [​IMG]


    And then we have my own preferences for "priority annexation". If the map below is achieved, and the regions denoted on it are defended and stabilised in the long term, then the economic wealth derived as a result can finance forther expansions into the regions I have marked as "lower priority". (Note that of those "lower priority" areas, the ones in the north-east still have greater priority than the ones in the north-west and south-west.)

    [​IMG]


    Other regions than the ones marked on these maps are, I believe, not feasible for Rome to effectively control... unless we should be talking about some "Roman industrialisation" scenario. Please note that "effective control" isn't the same as "sphere of influence". I believe that Rome could produce an effective trade strategy for the Indian ocean, for instance, without actually gaining control over parts of East Africa, for instance.
     
  4. Magnum Well-Known Member

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    upload_2019-10-9_22-19-18.png
    This works best IMHO with an earlier PoD.

    - Assuming the British Isles are taken in lieu of efforts in Germania, it's not out of the question that Iceland is discovered and an ambitious governor of Hibernia "annexes" it by settling a couple of hundred people there
    - Expeditions into Nubia and Arabia could have bore fruit if pursued more vigorously
    - Better fought Marcomannic Wars would have yielded the Pannonian basin
    - Mesopotamia, with lots of effort, might have been kept; if that is the case, places like Tylos down the coast of Arabia were natural targets for a proxy war against the power controlling Persia
    - nominal control of more areas along the Black Sea coast by Rome's buddies the Bosphoran Kingdom are not that far-fetched
     
  5. Atamolos Pontifex, princeps, and augustus

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    High quality, as per usual.

    I think this post brings up an interesting point. In my initial post, I said, the following:
    This reference to the Antonine maximum implicitly assumes a system of direct territorial control over peripheral areas, however this assumption is based on the anachronistic idea of static borders that did not really exist until the more modern conception of the state became common. The Roman empire employed graduated levels of control over its peripheral areas for its entire history, but the effectiveness of this indirect control declined as peripheral peoples grew in wealth and sophistication. However, during the Julio-Claudian period, the Roman Empire had essentially the same "borders" as it did during the Antonine Era (minus Dacia), the Julio-Claudian empire actually enjoyed a larger sphere of influence (arguably) because of the relative weakness of all the neighboring polities. My point being that, depending on the time period, intensity of foreign threats, and level of strategic planning at the top level of government, the Roman Empire could theoretically be much "bigger" than its "borders" might indicate. I.e. the Empire's territorial maximum need not necessarily limit the "empire's size". For example, when Tacitus describes the layout of the ROman EMpire's forces in 23 CE, he includes many "independent" nations as being "inside of" the Empire (Thrace, Mauritania, Pontus, Commagene, etc). While these may have been independent on paper, nobody could seriously argue that these polities exercised any sort of exclusive sovereignty within their own borders.

    But to actually answer the OP after all this waffling, I'd say the biggest possible territory the empire could hold (incl. indirect hegemonic possessions) would be something like this:

    OTL's Empire at the time of Hadrian
    +- Britain up to the Antonine Wall
    + Germania up to the Elbe (but not including Bohemia)
    + trunk of the Jutland Peninsula
    + Sarmatian territory between Dacia and Pannonia
    + part of the Arabian Red Sea Coast
    + Northern Mesopotamia (area conquered by Severus and lost by Julian)

    My own TL will eventually include this. However, some peripheral areas will remain under the control of client states (e.g. Cappadocia, Mauritania, Pontus, Armenia, Arabia, Judea), so while the physical land area of the Empire might not be much larger than IOTL, the sphere of the empire's influence would be much, much larger.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2019 at 3:58 PM
  6. John7755 يوحنا Historical Inquiries

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    @Atamolos

    Are you advocating a rule over Assyria and yet leaving Babylonia?
     
  7. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

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    Communications are key.
    @Hecatee 's telegraph is good.
    You pretty much need a Rhône-Rhine-Danube working canal system, and hope someone invents pound locks before long.
    Also. Having regional bases so Legions don't have to March so far, and have shorter supply lines, would be important, too.

    But, yeah, given those things, getting a border somewhere in OTL Poland should be entirely doable.
     
  8. Rèxīn Member

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    That is some mapgasm. Second map seems very plausible but I want to wank on the first map so how and when would you suggest extending to the Vistula-Dniester (also extend to Dnieper and Black/Azov Sea as Roman lake?) if the Romans can't "borrow" infrastructure and institutions with little to no urbanization in these areas? Also hindsight is 20/20 so what compelling case would convince the Romans to go deeper into Germania and further east instead of Britain?
     
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  9. ragnarokalok Well-Known Member

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    A grandiose Roman Empire would also benefit from having a much stronger naval frontier tradition. A Rome that has more self-sustaining trade and naval strength in the border seas (North Sea, maybe Baltic, Black Sea, greater Arabian Sea) would be in a much stronger position to expand and defend, as well as wealthier and more internally-connected.
     
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  10. A Most Sovereign Lady Princess of the Kingdom of Maryland

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    As big as it got was pretty impressive especially considering the relative longevity of the state.
     
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  11. KingOnTheEdge Vive La Revolucion

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    See, i think that Rome could conquer the rest of the british isles, nubia and hold mesopotamia-maybe even colonize yemen for that sweet, sweet indian trade- but the thing is that it will result in an earlier fall. Imperium saved the republic, but a mediterranean empire with horses as it's fastest communication tool can only do so much before it falls. An ethiopian raid could snowball in north africa while the appropriate legions are off in persia, or the germanics that doomed the empire otl could do what they did and Rome, being more thinly spread, would be more challenged to mount a defense.*

    But frankly, i prefer late-medieval to early modern history. so, assuming, for the most simplistic thing, the west still falls in 476, how the middle ages and a bit more would develop imo
    -The Eastern empire would be wealthier and have a larger manpower pool with Mesopotamia and Nubia, leaving it less damaged when persia comes a knocking.
    -Assuming islam isn't butterflied away by Rome's increased involvement in the area, this leaves Byzantium and Persia less damaged.
    --Zoroastrianism is more active in modern history because of islam's isolation
    --Visigoths retain Spain. Frankly i don't know enough about their rule to expand on this
    -Romano-British culture being spread all over the isles likely means vikings are less successful since to conquer the whole thing in the first place, Rome would've had to develop the province more and it would've left more of the military institutions. This also butterflies the Norman conquest, and much of the problems Britain has with the scots and the irish in the first place.
    --Also 'Brittish' in this world would be more latin based, with celtic influence. Rather than German with French influences. I'm simplifying but you get what i mean
    -Here's the thing. The Crusades were a response to islamic aggression, yes, but the Papacy still wanted to get the byzantines to submit to Roman spiritual rule. So i get the feeling there's still gonna be something like the crusades.
    -If islam fails to expand out of arabia, it would be AWESOME for North Africa, because if they weren't conquered by the muslims, they themselves would remain christian and therefore within the appropriate trade routes, which means that they get access to Europe's technological boom.
    --Moroccan Cuba. That is all.**

    *= i do think rome could conquer germany, but then i don't think the 476 fall is possible because of the fact that the Germans who beat up the western empire centuries later, are descendants of the people in germania, pushed westward but the rise of attila/the huns and the goths, so them being assimilated into rome via colonization of germania butterflies too much.

    **Not sure how to get an age of exploration, but the idea came to me and i needed to share it
     
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  12. metalinvader665 Well-Known Member

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    You mean Mauretanian world, right? They could easily be a super-Portugal with all the potential they have. Since it's easy for Berber lords to mess with the trans-Saharan trade, a sea-focused Mauretania can choose to cut around the Saharan caravan routes and go directly to West Africa with its gold and slaves instead. And if they do that, they'll find the New World before long, especially since I don't see the Canaries (here more developed than OTL thanks to its better integration into Europe i.e. Ireland) not becoming some sort of satellite of Mauretania early on (like Ireland to England).

    Since as that map above shows, coastal Mauretania (i.e. Anfa, later Casablanca) is not too far away from Rome and the fertile coastal plain could be another valuable part of North Africa.
     
  13. KingOnTheEdge Vive La Revolucion

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    Fair enough. i didn't really put much thought into how morocco would develop because it depended heavily on the muslim conquests and the reconquista in response, as well as my own ignorance on the subject beyond the general thing.
     
  14. Albrecht Well-Known Member

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    What is the particular result you are looking for? Just Conquest and holding it for a period and then losing it again? Or complete Romanization of the conquered lands?

    The former is pretty easy to get Iran, Arabian Peninsula, Ireland, Germania and parts of Scandinavia, Nubia and even parts of the West Coast of India, in a remote possibility.

    The latter isn't easy to go beyond one or two provinces/regions than the OTL. The successfully Romanized lands were parts of Iberia and the entire Gaul(today France). Beyond these, Romanization didn't completely sink into any other province and they did retain their local identities and cultures, for the most part, than identifying with the Romans. Examples for this are most of the Balkans, Greece and Anatolia, Levant, Egypt and North Africa. The reason for this is while the Gauls and the Pre-Roman Iberians were tribal and loosely structured and hence found it profitable to join the Roman civilization, the ones in the Non-Romanized provinces(except Balkans) already had a rich culture, large population and Ancient civilizations. No reason to abandon your rich heritage and no need for the Romans to tamper with these as they were mostly cool with other Pagan religions and societies and they also didn't want to risk a destabilization. It would rather be that the Romans were influenced more than the other way round.

    And they will have no special love towards Rome, as a community nor would the Romans let their identify define the Empire, too. These were still people who had their own identity, rich History laws and customs. Why would they give up these stuff? So that would influence the next empire who conquers them. So you have a limit on to how many "built-up" regions you can conquer. Hence, the only places I think are feasible for the Romans to get as a Romanized Province are pretty much North Caucasus, parts of Russia and Ukraine, along with a more stable Balkans. That's pretty much it. Arabia, though was underdeveloped in this aspect, would have no use for a Roman conquest or Romanization, and it did happen in one instance . But it was abandoned. Yemen will again be like Syria and Egypt with it's own identity.
     
  15. Skallagrim Not the one from YouTube. Different other fellow.

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    The point about hindsight is completely valid. Here are some ideas on how it could still work out in the intended way.

    -- For Britain, I'd suggest a scenario where either Caesar's invasions succeeds in a more pleasing set-up of allied states, or one of the aborted invasions during the reign of Augustus goes through and yields such an outcome. The Romans secure the "Tin Isles" (Isles of Scilly) and and the Isle of Wight as a staging ground for military action in Great Britain (in case some local polity becomes troublesome) and as a secondary port for the fleet charged with keeping the local trade safe from piracy. This set-up means that direct occupation of Britain just never becomes required, since the existing situation is already sufficiently pleasing.

    -- Also early on, Drusus doesn't fall from his horse, and carves a Roman client state of of Germania up to the Elbe. The Germanic elites benefit from their relation with Rome, and gradual Romanisation soon commences. Increased trade and interaction helps develop this part of Germania, compared to OTL.

    -- As a side-effect, Drusus (who was favoured by Augustus) eventually succeeds Augustus. This prevents Sejanus from ever gaining influence (ideally, Drusus has him killed), and also prevents the reign of Caligula. Since Drusus was a highly capable man, putting him in charge is always a good start when embarking on a Rome-wank.

    -- A further side-effect of success in Germania, combined with no (further) need to devote any attention to Britain, could be more Roman confidence in military expansion elsewhere, during the reigns of Augustus and Drusus. That is: get those ventures into the Red Sea to get a bit more support, leading to Roman trading ports established along the coasts there.

    -- This in turn helps build an economic interest in the East. Presume that things develop largely as in OTL until the inevitable clash between Rome and Persia. Presume that some alt-Trajan still conquers Mesopotamia, but due to the greater economic interests in the region, it is decided to make that conquest permanent.

    -- The inevitable Persian attempt to get back Mesopotamia must then be staved off. This will be very costly. If it is done, however, whoever's in charge of Persia is screwed. It was costly for them, too, but Rome has taken away their wealthiest region; their economic heartland. Rome has just won the big rivalry. Each passing year will now strengthen Rome relative to Persia, as Mesopotamian revenue flows to Rome rather than to Persia.

    -- The next and final step in the east is to carve client kingdoms of out Media and Susiana. Since Rome is a distant benefactor to them, whereas a resurgent Persia would be a more near-by overlord, it's in their interest not to stab Rome in the back. This gives Rome a buffer to any invasions from Central Asia that approach via the Persian highlands. (Also, expand those trade ports to basically follow the whole coast of Arabia, so that Rome can safely move to and from Mesoptamia by sea.)

    -- At this point, Germania up to the Elbe should be relatively Romanised and well-integrated. This will have had an effect on Germania beyond the Elbe, which was sparsely settled woods and swamps in OTL. Benefitting from a developing region to the west, this area will probably be enjoing greater economic wealth (and thus a growing population) as well, compared to OTL. That will make gradual Roman expansion into the region (mostly by establishing small client states and then very gradually absorbing them piecemeal) more feasible. And also more necessary, because more numerous and powerful tribes across the border means more of a threat to your frontier.

    -- I digress here into the fundamental operations of imperialism. There are barbarians across the border. They are troublesome. You sudue them and reduce them to vassals. Over time, they get more and more integrated into your economy and culture. As a result, they demand rights and protection... from other barbarians, who live across the new border. You sudue those, too, and reduce them to vassals... repeat until you reach your operational limits.

    -- With the wealth of Mesopotamia added to Rome's coffers, I daresay that Rome's operational limits can be pushed up to the Vistula, although at that point we're talking about client states that cannot just be annexed directly (too far away for effective control that way). Likewise, you can push your borders up to the Dniester and the Crimea. Keep in mind that Mesopotamia is a bread-basket, and that its surplus production can easily help feed an expanding population. Rome will have more people than in OTL, and will be able to produce correspondingly more legions.

    -- Regarding the Black/Azov Sea as a Roman lake: I think a client state covering that area, basically covering the northern shore, is very possible. I am somewhat hesitant in this regard, however, because too much Roman entanglement in the area can lead to trouble you don't want. I've opted to go for what I believe to be the best defensive borders against steppe invaders. Note the successive defensible lines in the North-east. Dniester is crossed? Fall back to the Carpathians. Those get crossed? Fall back to the Danube. The point is to keep such an invasion from threatening the Imperial core at all costs. Optimising expansion is considerably less important than ensuring a succesful defensive strategy. Basically, I don't want the legions spread too thin. So an ally or client state north of the Dniester-Crimea-Carpathian frontier? Great. But expansion into that area? Don't do it. You can't successfully defend that area from steppe invaders anyway.

    -- Once all the above is done, and assuming the geopolitical situation allows for it (i.e. no threats on the horizon), you can then start thinking about actual expansion into Britain, or into more firmly turning some allied North African peoples into clients.
     
  16. Xenophonte Quod natura non dat, Salmantica non præstat.

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    Question about Britannia...If it's opted between to conquest all of it and to not conquest all of it....Could be more feasible an intermediate option and conquest only the south up to the Thamesis river and keep it as the border? With the rest of the isle left to a serie of allied/vassal tributaries tribal confederations....
     
  17. Skallagrim Not the one from YouTube. Different other fellow.

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    It's certainly possible, although I'm unsure on the overall suitability of the Thames as a border. My main question would be: what's the advantage of this, as opposed to making sure you have allies on the greater island, while merely maintaining outposts to ensure your strategic interest. Actually occupying any sizable bit of Britain, it seems to me, is just disproportionally costly. (Unless you are already so well-established that you can go all-out, conquer all of it, and thus ensure that there will be no border left to guard...)
     
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  18. Xenophonte Quod natura non dat, Salmantica non præstat.

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    I would have thought that could be useful given that would give access/control to the main Britain waterway as well as an buffer for the Gallia...
     
  19. The Undead Martyr GOP Delenda Est

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    It depends. Do we include client ststes?

    I'd say Mesopitamia is vital to neuter Persia. Then expand down the Red Sea and clientize the gulf.
    Dacia should be taken, and is the easiest to accomplish. The Danube is less formidable a frontier than Transylvania and the Silver mines make it lucrative. The Balkans were the Achilles heel for both the wastern and western empire- that and Syria/Palestine for the east and the Rhine/Germania for the west.

    Expanding into Ukraine/Crimea could be accomplished in theory but runs into the problem of the steppe nomads. Probably has to wait for gunpowder a la the Qing.

    and more of Germany up to the Weser or even the Elbe to give the Rhine a vetter buffer.

    At minimum, in an ERE wank, I'd say take the Ottoman Empire at its height, add Italy and Spain, and leave Gaul to client states. Of course that's not really "the Roman Empire" anymore.:biggrin:
     
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  20. TheHandsomeBrute Well-Known Member

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    The Roman Empire could expand in all direction but south across the Sahara with enough effort, the main problem is that Emperors do not trust legates with more then 3-4 Legions and complementary auxiliaries during the Principate and barely one during the Dominate. That's enough to counter everything but a serious incursion by the Parthians or Sassanids. The Emperor will also want to be the one who gets the credit for the successful invasion and conquest which means leaving Rome, and do you trust somebody to hold the fort in Rome while you are away in a far away Campaign?

    Remember Augustus is the only Emperor who has allot of family member who can go out and conduct major wars of expansion and is the only one who also trust them with major commands. Post-Tiberius there isn't allot of Julio-Claudians running around ro conquesat anything. The Flavian Dynasty is never grows beyond its original three. The Five "good" Emperors never had family members of there own to pass the Empire in the first place.

    For the Conquest of British Isles, Central and Eastern Europe the Romans are already on the North European Plain which is a geographic highway from the Atlantic to the Urals with no major obstacles that isn't a problem for the legions. The problem will be there are no population centers to target and concentrate effort at capturing but as seen with Mauritania, Illyria, Northern England Central Asia Minor that isn't a problem with enough effort and time.

    In Mesopotamia the main difficulty is the bad state the Legions before any conflict, they are stationed in the Major cities because that where there is water... but you also have everything a city can offer which will lower discipline the longer they are stationed there, that still a thing in best modern day armies. After the retraining period you can march down the Tigris and Euphrates which after showed by Trajan became and Field man-overs with real swords. There will be some hard sieges ahead but the Romans were good at those. Once you occupy Mesopotamia and have chewed on it a bit. Marching into Iran wont be to much of a problem. There will most likely be no central authority in control of all Iran but "small" kingdoms which are former Parthian vassal states, Atropatene, Elymais and Persis, who have expanded but are still relative small so forcing your way into the Iranian plateau wont be impossibly difficult.

    As I have said its very hard to cross the Sahara with an organized army so expanding south will only possible happen in one place. Along the Nile and down the Red sea. During Augustus time in power there was a small war with the Meroe people who the Romans had no problem defeating once they brought non token forces south. The problem will be supplying any army marching down the Nile past the cataracts and the amount of distance you are marching if you are following the Nile, which you will need to. The Romans also "sent" an invasion to conquer the tribes/states in modern Yemen by marching them though the Arabian desert, they werent the best supplied so had to retreat but after that all the tribes/states sent tribute to Rome instead if there was any talk of invasion so once you figure out supplying them it wont be a problem conquering them.

    Conquering the Steppe, well don't try before you have done the other conquests first for that is a true sink just ask the Han chinese.

    They can conquer anything infront of them and nothing can infront of them can conquer them, its can be like The Blob if it wishes to be. The problem is the political risk an Emperor needs to take for major expansion. Are you going to supervise yourself and be away form Rome? Are you going to let and conquest be made by the Legate on the ground and if you are do you really trust him not to march on Rome just like Caesar did after conquering Gaul? After the third Century crisis the emperor doesn't trust anyone to deal with anything because then they will have resource to challenge you. The only solution for your local problems is to raise an Emperor who can deal with your problems. The major reason Rome fell, if you ask me, was the constant civil wars that always happened after the death of Caracalla until the deposing of Romulus Augustulus.

    Justinian sent small armies to conquest Africa and Italy compared to what it took the for Romans to conquer it in the first time so the Barbarian who took over the West weren't major invasion forces.

    For me the Roman Empire could have lasted to modern day if the Emperors could trust people to simply to defend Roman territory as they could pre-Third Century crisis just because of its vast and endless resources but he doesn't and men sent to solve problems knows he isn't trusted by the Emperor so any questionable behavior means the head mans axe.

    --

    The question of communication comes up and the question then becomes how much should Rome have Direct Rule over? Which is very little outside Italy because there are governors over there dealing with the problems in the Principate that will require Imperial oversight during the Dominate period, meaning that unless there is a major war going that you do not have family members to go and deal with or best friends, Agrippa, you go yourself.

    If you think that it is impossible for Rome to expand away from the Mediterranean Sea due to communication think of any other European pre-industrial revolution Empire, the communication times that are over the Oceans or the steppe are much longer.

    --

    The best Julio-Claudian POD IMO is to have Augustus grandsons Gaius and Lucius survive there deaths in 2 and 4 AD. You will have a complete Julian dynasty were you can kick out the ineffective Claudian part of the family. Tiberius a bitter man who hates the idea of the Principate. Claudius is a very weak man who is easily swayed by his wife and freedmen. The less said about the Germanicus the better. Claudia Livillia is just a classic Claudia. The only effective member of the part funnily enough of the house is Nero Claudius Drusus, Tiberius son, even though he seemingly like to slapped anyone around him...