The traditional date for the founding of Rome is 753 BC and the traditional date for the fall of Rome is 476 AD. Between these two dates, Roman history can be conveniently divided into three major periods:
1).753-509 bc Traditional date for the founding of Rome to the founding of the republic.
2).509-30 bc The Roman Republic.
3).30 bc-ad 476 The Roman Empire.
The first period, between Rome's founding and the establishment of the republic is a period of monarchy. It is also a time when Rome was dominated by the Etruscans.
The second period saw the establishment of a republic. It also saw Rome grow from a small inconsequential city on the Tiber river to the dominant world power with vast land holdings all over the Mediterranean area and Europe. Unfortunately the pressures that naturally arose from growth and power led to civil wars and the rise of an emperor. The power of the Roman Senate decreased and became centered in one man, the emperor.
The third period, the period of the empire, was at first a period of relative world peace, the Pax Romana, as the power and might of the Roman Empire established an order in the Roman world that lasted nearly 200 years. However, as time went on, continued pressures and invasions from peoples in the East and German tribes in the North, plus internal decay, led to Rome's fall in 476. The bulk of our study centers on this period of Roman history, both because it is intrinsically interesting and because the histories of Europe and Christianity are so greatly influenced by this period.
The Bronze Age came to Italy about 1500 bc. Between 2000-1000 bc invaders from across the Adriatic and around its Northern end imposed their language and social structure on almost all of Italy. These Indo-European invaders, Latins, Sabines, Samnites, Umbrians, spoke a set of closely related languages we call Italic. The Latins settled in the lower valley of the Tiber River, a region that became known as the plain of Latium.
During the ninth century B.C. the Etruscans, a non-Indo-European people who probably came from Asia Minor, brought the first city-state civilization to Italy. Expanding from the West coast north to the Po valley and south to the Bay of Naples, the Etruscans organized the Italic peoples into a loose confederation of Etruscan dominated city-states.
About 750 bc Greek colonists migrated to southern Italy and Sicily.
FROM THE FOUNDING OF ROME in 753 bc TO THE REPUBLIC
There are many legends about the founding of Rome and how it got its name. The best known is the story of Romulus. He was said to be a descendent of Aeneas, a hero of the Trojan War, who escaped when the Greeks destroyed Troy and came to Italy. When Romulus and his brother Remus were born the King of Alba gave command that they be destroyed. The man who was supposed to kill them carried them in a trough to the river so he could toss them in. However, seeing the river swollen and being afraid, he merely placed the trough by the river and left. The trough was carried down river by the surging water and landed safely on dry ground under a fig tree. Here they were nursed by a she-wolf and fed by a woodpecker. Eventually, the story continues, when they were grown the two brothers founded the city of Rome. Romulus eventually killed Remus in an argument. There are many variations on this story.
The non-legend explanation for the founding of Rome is less romantic. Around the Palatine hill in an area that was often marshy, Sabine shepherds from the north and Latin Shepherds from the south would come to pasture there flocks. The first Latins to settle in Rome settled in a largely uninhabited area that was naturally advantageous. There was an island nearby in the Tiber river that facilitated its crossing, making Rome a spot that helped connect the north (Etruria) with the south (Magna Grecia). It was also an area that was crossed by the salt route with linked the Apennine mountains with the Tyrrhenian Sea to the West. Thus it was an area that would greatly benefit from trade. Besides the Latin settlement on the Palatine, there were probably Sabine settlements on the Capitoline, Quirinal, and Viminal hills which face the Palantine. In the eighth century bc the inhabitants of these small settlements established a common meeting place located in the low areas around these hills. This was the area that would eventually become the Forum. In the seventh century bc the Romans founded Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber and spread to the Esquiline and Aventine hills. They also built the first bridge across the Tiber.
The Etruscans conquer Rome, approx. 600 bc
Around the beginning of the 6th century bc the Etruscans, from Etruria to the north, conquered the area of Rome. They helped drain the lowlands that would become the Forum. Food and cattle markets were organized. The Circus Maximus was built between the Palantine and Aventine hills and the temple of Jupiter was built on the Capitoline hill. The Etruscans had a great effect on the Romans. They passed on to the Romans the alphabet that they had borrowed from the Greeks. The Etruscans gave to the Romans their first constitution and their first civil and military regulations. The Romans adopted some of the Etruscan gods and goddesses. The Romans also borrowed from the Etruscans the practice of examining animal entrails and the art of building, especially the arch.
The Etruscans divided heaven into sixteen regions, each ruled by a different god. They believed these gods would also get into the animal livers and by this means give the signs that could be read in the entrails.
Early Rome was ruled by kings elected by the people. After the Etruscan conquest, this elective system continued. The kings executive power, both civil and military, was called the imperium, which was symbolized by an eagle-headed scepter and an ax bound in a bundle of rods (called the fasces). Although the imperium was conferred by a popular assembly made up of all arms-bearing citizens, the king turned for advice to a council of nobles called the Senate.
The upper classes of Roman society constituted the patrician class. The other class, the plebians, or commoners, included farmers, artisans, and clients or dependents of patrician landowners.
EARLY REPUBLIC 509-133 bc
Establishment of the Republic
In 509 bc the patricians expelled the last Etruscan king and established what they called a republic (Res publica, meaning "belonging to everybody"). The Senate remained as a part of the government. The imperium was transferred to two new officials, senior magistrates (civil officers), called consuls. The consuls were elected annually from the patrician class. They convened and presided over the Senate, initiated legislation, carried out laws and administered justice. Since they were two in number, they administered the government on alternate months. In war they led the army on alternate days. In the event of war a dictator could be substituted for the two consuls and given absolute power for six months. During religious festivals the consuls frequently conducted the ceremonies.
By the third century bc the senate had a membership of 300. Each senator was appointed for life usually from a list of senior government magistrates (civil officers) -- those who had served for many years.
There was also a popular assembly based on early tribal divisions, called the Comitia Curiata, that elected the senior magistrates and approved or rejected the proposals of these magistrates. Over time the importance of this assembly diminished.
In order to run for office, a candidate had to have served in at least ten military campaigns. Generally officials progressed from lower offices to higher ones. Thus office holders were normally men of great experience.
Struggle for equal rights
For more than two centuries following the establishment of the republic, the plebians struggled for political and social equality. They organized a sort of unofficial legislature, called the Concilium Plebis, so that their views could be represented in an organized manner. The Concilium Plebis was presided over by officials called tribunes. The laws passed by this assembly were called plebiscites and were subject to approval by the Senate. Election to the assembly took place in the tribes by a simple majority. The tribunes called the Concilium Plebis together and had the power to veto any action of the government except during war. In general, these tribunes did not use their power to obstruct the government.
Because the consuls often interpreted Rome's unwritten customary law to suit patrician interests, the plebians finally demanded that the law be written down and made available for all to see. Therefore, about 450 bc the law was inscribed on twelve tablets of bronze and set up publicly in the Forum. Little by little the plebians acquired more power. In 367 bc one consulship was reserved for the plebians. Before the end of the fourth century bc plebeians were eligible for other important magistracies which the patricians had in the meantime created, including, praetor (in charge of the law courts), quaestor (acted as treasurers for the state), and censor (they examined the record and character of candidates, supervised education, and inspected public buildings under construction).
In 287 bc the Concilium Plebis was recognized as a constitutional body, henceforth known as the Tribal Assembly. Tribunes could convene and address the Senate and veto any of its proposals. The government maintained this organization until the end of the republic.
The Roman Citizen
The fundamental unit of early Roman society was the family. The father's power was absolute, and strict discipline was imposed to instill in children those virtues to which the Romans attached particular importance -- loyalty, courage, self-control, and respect for laws and ancestral customs. Many Romans saw the greatness of Roman power as a direct result of these virtues.
Roman Conquest of Italy
Soon after ousting their Etruscan overlords, Rome and other Latin peoples in the vicinity of Rome, entered into a defensive alliance against the Etruscans called the Latin League. By the 4th century bc this league had become the chief power in central Italy. Rome's increasing strength within the group alarmed the rest of the league and led to a break out of war among these former allies. Rome's victory in the war in 338 bc saw the break up of this league. (338 bc also is the year when Macedonia conquered Greece.) The other Latin cities were forced to sign individual treaties with Rome.
This war of the Latin League signaled the beginning of Rome's expansion from a relatively small community on the Tiber river to the greatest power in the world. The process of expansion was done one piece at a time over a period of many years. The next part of the expansion occurred when border clashes with aggressive Samnite tribes led to three fiercely fought Samnite wars. Rome was again victorious and the extension of Rome's frontiers pushed southward toward the Greek colonies.
Fearing Roman conquest, the Greeks prepared for war and called in the Hellenistic Greek king, Pyrrhus of Epirus. Pyrrhs's war elephants, unknown in Italy, twice routed the Romans but at so heavy a cost that the victory was not worth the losses that were suffered. Such a triumph is still known as a "Pyrrhic victory." When a third battle failed to induce the Romans to make peace, Pyrrhus is reported to have said, "We are waging a war against a hydra," and went home. (The hydra was a monster with nine heads. When one was cut off two more grew back in its place.) The Roman army then moved into southern Italy and by 270 bc had subdued the Greek cities there.
The Romans generally treated their conquered peoples fairly, creating a strong loyalty to Rome. Most defeated states were required to sign a treaty of alliance with Rome which bound them to adhere to Rome's foreign policies and to supply troops for the Roman army. No tribute was required, and each state retained local self-government. Roman citizenship became a desired and prized possession.
Roman Conquest of the Mediterranean
After 270 bc only Carthage (an important city in northern Africa) remained Rome's rival in the West. Carthage was governed by a commercial aristocracy which hired mercenaries to do the fighting. Carthage and Rome fought three wars, called the Punic Wars:
The First Punic War 264-241 bc -- The First Punic war broke out in 264 bc when Rome sought to oust a Carthaginian force that had occupied Messina on the northeastern tip of Sicily. This war cost Rome 200,000 men who were killed in disastrous naval engagements. But Rome was victorious and Carthage sued for peace in 241 bc As part of the treaty Rome received the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. They were annexed as the first provinces of Rome's overseas empire, governed and taxed by Roman proconsuls (Proconsuls had generally been consuls and governed provinces; procurators governed territories before they became provinces).
The Second Punic War, 218-201 bc -- Hannibal, the great general from Carthage, precipitated the Second Punic War by attacking Saguntum, a Spanish town claimed by Rome as an ally. Rome declared war, and Hannibal, seizing the initiative, in 218 bc led an army of 40,000 men, 9,000 calvary troops, and a detachment of African elephants across the alps into Italy. He wandered around in Italy for fifteen years defeating Roman armies everywhere he went. At Cannae he destroyed 70,000 Roman troops with an army of 50,000. Hannibal received help in 215 bc from Philip V, king of Macedon. Philip made an alliance with Hannibal and launched a war to recover his influence in the Adriatic. However, in spite of his help from Philip and his numerous victories, Hannibal could not inflict a mortal blow on the city of Rome. He received little aid from Carthage and had neither the numbers or the supplies to attack walled cities like Rome. Finally, the Roman general, Scipio, invaded Africa in 204 bc Hannibal was forced to return to Carthage. By 201 bc Carthage was defeated and forced to sign a harsh peace treaty. The prize for this victory was Rome's annexation of Spain.
In between the second and third Punic wars, from 200-146 bc, Rome fought several battles in the East. The outcome of these battles was that Rome acquired Greece and Macedonia as Roman territory.
The Third Punic War, 149-146 bc -- By 149 bc Rome had grown suspicious of Carthage's reviving prosperity. Extremists demanded war. Cato the Elder ended every one of his speeches in the senate with "Ceterum censeo delendum esse Carthaganem" (Besides, I think Carthage must be destroyed). In 146 bc Rome wiped it out. The city was plowed and salt was poured in the furrows. The area of Carthage was annexed as Roman property.
In 133 bc the King of Pergamum (western Turkey), dying without an heir, bequeathed his kingdom to Rome. Apparently he was afraid the masses would revolt after his death.
With possessions now on three continents, Rome was supreme in the ancient world. The governors of the provinces exercised full imperium. The old practice of granting citizenship to conquered peoples stopped at the borders of Italy. Rome collected taxes by farming them out to the highest bidder.
LATE REPUBLIC 133-30 bc
Largely as a result of territorial expansion, Rome began to face difficult social and economic problems by the midpoint of the second century. Two of the more important ones were the disappearance of the small land owner and corruption in the government.
Improved farming methods learned from Greeks and Carthaginians had encouraged rich aristocrats to buy more and more land. They abandoned the cultivation of grain and introduced large-scale scientific production of olive oil and wine, or of sheep and cattle. The small farmer, unable to compete with cheap imported grain, sold their farms and moved to Rome. The land problem was further complicated by the government's earlier practice of leasing part of the conquered Italian territory to anyone willing to pay a percentage of the annual produce. Only the wealthy could afford to lease large tracts of land. Fewer people owned land and more people became jobless.
Corruption in the government was another mark of the growing degeneracy of the Roman Republic. Provincial officials seized opportunities for lucrative graft, and a new class of Roman businessmen scrambled selfishly for the profitable state contracts to supply the armies, collect taxes in the provinces, and lease mines and forests. To exacerbate these problems the tribunes had become "yes-men" of the Senate.
By the middle of the second century bc, the government was in the hands of the wealthy, self-seeking senate, which was unable to cope with the problems of governing a world-state. Ordinary citizens were for the most part impoverished and landless. Rome swarmed with fortune hunters, imported slaves, and discontented war veterans.
Reform movements of the Gracchi
Tiberius Gracchus was elected tribune in 133 bc He sought to arrest Roman decline by restoring the small landowner. He proposed to the Tribal Assembly that the act limiting the holding of public land to 320 acres per person be reenacted. The Tribal Assembly adopted the proposal by a wide margin but the Senate induced one of the other tribunes to veto the measure. Tiberius, on the ground that a tribune who opposed the will of the people forfeited his office, had the Assembly depose the tribune. The Senate claimed this was unconstitutional. Despite the Senate's objection the measure was passed.
To ensure the implementation of his reform, Tiberius violated custom by standing for reelection after completing his one-year term. At the elections, a riot broke out, and a mob of senators and their clients killed Tiberius and 300 of his followers and dumped their bodies in the Tiber River. This is the first case of internal bloodshed in Roman political history.
The revolutionary proposals of Tiberius and the resort to bloodshed by the Senate created a new situation. Heretofore, Roman political struggles generally involved struggles for honor and reputation between great families. From now on Romans could pursue a political career that was based on pressure from the people rather than honor and influence within the aristocracy.
Tiberius' brother, Gaius, was elected tribune in 123 bc To protect the poor against speculation in the grain market, Gaius committed the government to the purchase and storage of wheat and then to the distribution of grain to the urban masses at about half the former market price. Unfortunately, what Gaius intended as a relief measure later became a dole, whereby free food was distributed to the entire working class--all too often for the advancement of astute politicians.
Another of Gaius' proposals would have granted citizenship to Rome's Italian allies, who were being mistreated by Roman officials. This proposal cost Gaius the support of the Roman working class, which did not wish to share its privileges of citizenship or endanger its control of the tribal assembly. In 121 bc Gaius failed to be reelected for a third term. The Senate was emboldened to resort to force again. Martial law was declared. 3,000 of Gaius' followers were arrested and executed. Gaius committed suicide.
The Senate had shown that, 1) it had no intention of initiating needed reforms, and 2) it would resort to force if necessary. Continued political blunders like these by the senate led to civil war.
The First Civil War: Marius versus Sulla
Between 111-105 bc Roman armies were unable to protect Roman capitalists in North Africa and to prevent Germanic tribes from overrunning southern Gaul (southern France). Accusing the Senate of lethargy and incompetence, the people elected Gaius Marius to the consulship in 107 bc The Tribal Assembly commissioned him to raise an army and deal with the foreign danger.
Marius pacified North Africa and crushed the German threat. In the process he created a new-style Roman army. Instead of an army of Roman citizens who owned property, he created an army of landless citizens recruited for long periods of service. These professional soldiers identified their own interests with those of their commanders to whom they looked for bonuses of land or money, and were therefore ready to follow in any venture. Aspiring generals would soon use their military power to seize the government.
In 88 bc the ambitious king of Pontus in Asia Minor declared war on Rome. The Senate ordered Cornelius Sulla to take charge of the affair. The assembly sent Marius. In effect, both groups were claiming ultimate authority in the state. The result was civil war between the generals. Sulla emerged from the war completely victorious. In 82 bc he had himself appointed dictator for an unspecified period of time so he could reorganize the republic. Sulla restored the preeminence of the Senate and place restrictions on the tribunes and Tribal Assembly. He retired after three years in 79 bc
The Second Civil War: Pompey versus Caesar
Increased factionalism and discontent encouraged the ambitions of individuals eager for power. The first to push himself forward was Pompey. In 70 bc he was elected consul. He courted the populace by repealing Sulla's laws against the tribunes and the Tribal Assembly.
Another strong individual was Julius Caesar. He was elected consul in 59 bc. Following his consulship, Caesar spent nine years in Gaul (France), fighting the Celtics and accumulating wealth through plunder. In the process he also trained a loyal army. During these wars he kept his name in front of the people by sending home published accounts of his military feats.
Jealous of Caesar, Pompey conspired with the Senate to ruin Caesar. The senate demanded in 49 bc that Caesar disband his army. Caesar brought his army home, crossed the Rubicon river in northern Italy, the boundary of Caesar's province, and marched on Rome (to "cross the Rubicon" is an axiom that even today means to make an irreversible decision). Pompey and most of the Senate fled to the East. Pompey was soon killed in Egypt. Caesar assumed the office of dictator for life and initiated reforms. He granted citizenship liberally to non-Italians, packed the Senate with many new provincial members, reduced debts, inaugurated a public works program, established colonies outside Italy, reduced the number of people receiving free grain from 320,000 to 150,000 by freeing one third of the slaves in Italy, and reformed the calendar. In March, 44 bc, led by ex-Pompeians whom Caesar had pardoned, conspirators stabbed Caesar in the Senate.
The Third Civil War: Antony versus Octavian
The people remained unmoved by the conspirators' cry of "Liberty, Freedom, Tyranny is dead." The majority were ready to accept a successor. The question was who?
Caesar's 18 year old nephew, Octavian, allied himself with his chief lieutenant, Mark Antony. The ex-Pompeian conspirators' army was routed and for more than a decade Octavian and Antony ruled Rome together. Then Antony became infatuated with Cleopatra and went so far as to give her a part of Roman territory. Octavian roused Italy against Antony and defeated him in a naval battle off Actium in Greece. Antony and Cleopatra fled to Egypt and committed suicide in 30 bc.
THE ROMAN EMPIRE
THE PAX ROMANA 30 bc-ad 180
Reconstruction under Augustus
In 27 bc Octavian announced that he would restore the republic. He did so only outwardly, blending republican institutions with his strong personal leadership. He provided the Senate with considerable authority, consulted it on important issues, allowed it to retain control over Italy and half the provinces, and gave it the legislative functions of the nearly defunct tribal assembly. The Senate gave Octavian the title "Augustus" meaning the revered (a title previously used for gods). However, Augustus kept the power of tribune, which gave him the right to initiate and veto legislation, and the governorship of the frontier provinces, where the armies were located. Control of the army meant his power could not be successfully challenged. He took the title princeps, which means first citizen. This title helped the people feel that republican government was still in place even though most real power was in Octavian's hands. The modern title of emperor is derived from another of Octavian's ancient titles, "imperator," meaning "victorious general."
Augustus faced several societal problems, including an aristocracy that was too decadent to be patriotic and an unemployed mob in the cities that had enjoyed circuses and free food for so long that it had lost interest in work. To combat these problems he instituted several measures. First, he created a civil service that was open to everyone. This greatly reduced the corruption that had flourished in the late republic. He created a permanent professional army stationed in the frontiers and therefore kept it out of politics (at least for a time). In 2 bc he established an elite group of household troops to guard the emperor called the praetorian guards. The praetorian guard consisted of 9 cohorts of 1,000 foot soldiers each distributed between Rome and other Italian towns. They had a higher rank and better pay than normal troops. Augustus also sought to encourage the return to the old Roman republican virtues. He tried through legislation and propaganda to check the moral decline that he believed existed. His reforms were successful in engendering a new patriotism and optimism.
The following is a list of the Roman emperors who succeeded Augustus Caesar. Its purpose is to
1) give some understanding of the major players in the Roman empire,
2) show how the empire eventually grew weak and fell,
3) give some understanding for the society that Christianity grew up in, and
4) help the student be ready to begin examining the European middle ages.
The Julio-Claudian line (ad 14-68)
Tiberius (14-37). Tiberius was emperor for all of Christ's adult life. His mother, Livia Drusilla, divorced his father when he was four so that she could marry Augustus. Tiberius divorced his own wife in 12 bc so that he could marry Julia, the daughter of Augustus. The marriage was unhappy and Julia was exiled in 2 bc. Tiberius was adopted by Augustus in ad 4 thus designating Tiberius as his successor. Tiberius was a republican at heart and accepted the emperorship with some reluctance upon the death of Augustus. Ironically, he did not get along very well with the Senate. He took care to preserve the traditional dignity of the senators but did not feel that members of the senate were very capable.
In ad 23 Tiberius authorized the praetorian prefecture (the leader of the praetorian guard), a man named Sejanus, to bring all the praetorian guards into a single new barracks at Rome, thus concentrating them and making possible the power they later gained to make and depose emperors. Sejanus shortly became Tiberius' closest advisor. He accentuated Tiberius' fear of plots and revolts. He multiplied treason trials and executions to get rid of his enemies. In ad 26 Tiberius, a bit of a loner, moved to the island of Capreae. He never went back to Rome. Since Sejanus controlled access to audiences with the emperor, his power increased even more. In ad 29 Sejanus convinced Tiberius to banish two of the three sons of his nephew, Germanicus. They were the probable successors to the throne. In ad 31 he overstepped himself as he plotted to eliminate Gaius (the future emperor Caligula), the third son of Germanicus. Sejanus' mother-in-law informed on him. The Senate arrested and executed him.
Tiberius was not popular as emperor. He did not communicate well and did not cultivate popular tastes. He did not even pretend to like gladiatorial games. He had a deep fear of thunder.
Caligula (ad 37-41). A son of Germanicus (Tiberius's nephew), Gaius got his nickname, Caligula, from wearing small army boots, caligae, when he was boy on the German frontier. He was married four times. He began his reign with tremendous popularity. Soon after his ascension he became very ill. Upon recovery he seems to have changed for the worse. He became very suspicious of treason and began many executions of supposed rivals or plotters. He made his horse a senator. There is a story that on a military expedition to the north he had his soldiers pick up seashells on the shores of the English Channel. He had a 2-3 mile bridge of ships built across the Bay of Naples so he could claim that he had ridden across the waters like Neptune. He began harassing the Senate, ordering prosecutions against those suspected of plots and insisting that when he attended the senate he be able to bring a military escort and sit on a high inaccessible platform. The rumors about his sexual life included sadism, homosexuality, and incest with his sisters.
Finally, Caligula openly accused one of the two praetorian prefects of planning his assassination. The prefect, alarmed at being so accused, joined a party of disgusted senators and had Caligula murdered. The man who stabbed him, along with two helpers, was a senior praetorian officer that Caligula had made fun of for being effeminate.
Caligula was not kind to the Jews. Problems between Jews and Pagans in Alexandria had led a delegation of Jews to the emperor in 40 to remark that they could not sacrifice to him but would be happy to sacrifice for him. The emperor remarked that failure to recognize his divinity was not so much criminal as lunatic. To make matters worse, the Jews in Jamnia (in Judea) destroyed an altar the Greeks had set up in honor of Caligula. He, therefore, decreed that the Jews' places of worship should all be converted into shrines for the imperial cult, and commissioned a statue of Zeus (that looked like Caligula) to be placed in the Jerusalem temple. He was persuaded by his Jewish friend, Julius Agrippa, to cancel the command. Fortunately for the Jews, Caligula died soon after this event.
Claudius (ad 41-54). Claudius was the nephew of Tiberius and brother of Germanicus. When Caligula was murdered, Claudius was hiding on a palace balcony. A praetorian guard discovered him and took him to the praetorian camp where he was hailed as emperor by the guards. The Senate hesitatingly concurred. This would be the first of many occasions when the Senate did not choose the emperor. Claudius was the first of many emperors to make the praetorian guards a huge gift after claiming the throne.
A revolt by the governor of Dalmatia was easily quelled but caused Claudius to adopt tight security measures. The six conspiracies on his life (including one launched by his 23 year old wife and her lover) all fell short of their goal. Claudius added south and central Britain to the Roman empire as a province called Britannia. He opened the possibility of non-Italians becoming senators. He worked hard in his judicial duties. He was apparently completely heterosexual, a novelty for Roman emperors. He was tall and well built, but stammered, slobbered, ran at the nose, and suffered from a nervous tic. He frequently ate and drank himself into a stupor. He was prolific writer.
Claudius' fourth wife, his niece Agrippina (granddaughter of Germanicus), whom he married in ad 49, was able to contract the marriage of her son Nero (from a former husband), with Claudius' daughter. A year later Claudius adopted Nero as his son paving his way for him to succeed him. When Claudius died at 64 years of age the story was that Agrippina had poisoned him with bad mushrooms.
Nero (ad 54-68). At two Nero and his mother, Agrippina, were banished by Caligula. Claudius, however, recalled them. After his mother's marriage to Claudius, Nero received a good education. In fact, the eminent stoic philosopher, Seneca, was his tutor. In the first part of his reign he was a reformer. He sought to improve public order and reform treasury procedure. He abolished indirect taxes and forbade provincial governors from extracting large amounts of money for their gladiatorial shows. He worked hard, particularly at his judicial duties. As time went on, however, he relaxed in his duties and gave himself more and more to horse-racing, singing, dancing, acting, writing poetry, and sexual activity of prodigious amounts. His mother began speaking badly of him, particularly in reference to his un-Roman tastes in art and his effeminate Greek dress habits. He, therefore, had her murdered, and reported to the Senate that the murder was necessary because she had plotted against him.
Seneca retired in ad 62 and Nero's reign worsened even more. Nero divorced his wife and married a young beauty who bathed in ass's milk. He began acting on stage, something unacceptable to Roman sensibilities. These activities did not generally disturb the peace in the empire as a whole. One noticeable exception to the general peace was an uprising in Britain of Iceni under their queen Boadicea. 70,000 Roman soldiers died before that revolt was put down. When the Great Fire of Rome in 64 destroyed numerous homes, spreading great discontent, Nero blamed the Christians (still seen as a Jewish sect) and persecuted them. Rumors persisted that Nero himself started the fire so he could acquire land for his Golden House, the largest palace ever built in Europe.
Nero's relations with the Senate were not good. After a plot in ad 65 was discovered 19 people were executed, including Seneca, a daughter of Claudius, and the Poet Lucan, who had once been Nero's close friend. In the years that followed more punishments were meeted out to important personages. In ad 68 Nero faced rebellions from several governors and generals. He lost the allegiance of the praetorian guards and the Senate. He committed suicide on June 9, 68 by stabbing himself in the throat with these final words, "What a showman the world is losing in me." He wore his hair in curls and when he granted audiences he often dressed in an unbelted silk dressing-gown and slippers, with a scarf around his neck.
Galba, Otho, and Vitellius ad 68-69
Galba (68-69). Galba was the first man to be made emperor by his legionnaires. However, he did not remain popular with the army very long. By 69 some of the army had begun a revolt. He also did not pay the bonuses to the praetorian guard that he had promised them. Therefore, at the instigation of Otho, they cut off Galba's head and presented it to Otho.
Otho (69). Otho was the first emperor to approve in advance his predecessor's murder. Challenged by Vitellius, he committed suicide after being defeated in battle.
Vitellius (69). Vitellius was nominated emperor by the legions stationed in Germany and confirmed by the Senate. However, he was challenged by Vespasian and his army from Syria. In the fighting, the temple of Jupiter, the very symbol of Rome, was burned down. Vitellius was captured by troops and murdered.
The Flavian Emperors ad 70-96.
Vespasian (69-79). Vespasian was in charge of the armies that were quelling the Jewish rebellion when he heard that Nero was dead. He began to make plans to become emperor. His armies had captured Rome by Dec, 69. He left his son Titus in charge of the armies fighting the Jews and went to Rome. His ascension to the throne ended the civil wars. As emperor, Vespasian revived the office of censor and used it to exert open control over the Senate. He increased the number of senators from the provinces. He began the building of the Colosseum. He was conscientious and hard working. He died of fever. His joke at his death was "Oh dear! I think I am turning into a god."
Titus (79-81). Titus was a skillful rider, could sing and play the harp, and wrote poetry in both Greek and Latin. As praetorian prefect he had gained a reputation for being harsh and for riotous parties and sexual behavior. Married twice, Titus was nonetheless deeply attached to the beautiful, rich, Jewish princess Berenice whom he lived with. However, this arrangement provoked criticism so he sent her away shortly before becoming emperor. As emperor he ruled with mildness. His reign saw three calamities: 1) the destruction of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other towns by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, 2) a fire in Rome that burnt for three days, 3) and one of the worst epidemics of plague on record. The Colosseum was finished during his reign. On the last day of the celebrations, Titus broke down and wept openly without explanation. He died possibly of disease, though amid speculation that his brother Domitian had poisoned him.
Domitian (81-96). Domitian was the second son of Vespasian. He believed that his father had wanted him to reign jointly with his brother but that Titus had had this provision removed from the will. As emperor, his overriding aim was to be a triumphant conqueror. He was successful in many campaigns. He loved dressing up in a general's costume, even to Senate meetings. He was an able administrator, an exceptional builder, and staged many costly public shows.
Domitian was devoted to the antique Roman religion. He sentenced three Vestal Virgins (a special type of Roman priestess who took vows of chastity) to death on one occasion and their leader seven years later because of their conviction of immorality. He continued two policies begun under Vespasian, one, of tracking down and killing Jews descended from the house of David, and two, of collecting with rigor the tax levied on Jews. Furthermore, many Jews who would not sacrifice to the divinity of the emperor were condemned. Christians were still seen as part of the Jews and were likewise persecuted.
Under Domitian the Senate lost most of its remaining power. He wanted to rule as an absolute monarch. He renewed treason trials, executing at least 12 ex-consuls. His suspicious nature finally got him assassinated. The two praetorian prefects, whom he suspected of plotting against him, had him killed before he could kill them. His wife Domitia was involved in the plot.
Domitian was addicted to sexual activity. Among other affairs, he seduced the wife of Titus his brother. She died after he forced her to have an abortion. He was cold and cruel. He liked gladiatorial fights between women and dwarfs. He asked senators to dinner parties at which the decor and services were all in black and funereal, with conversation to match. His guests often left terrified. He had bad nerves and could not stand the noise of oars. When traveling by water, he had to sit in a separate boat that was towed by the vessel being rowed.
The Antonines ad 96-180. The next five emperors are called the Five Good Emperors because they were effective rulers.
Nerva (96-98). Nerva was the choice of the Senate, though the soldiers deeply resented Domitian's murder. However, he courted the army with a big pay bonus. He was a reformer and even sold off much of his own private property to pay for some of his reforms, which included grants of land to the poor, repair of aqueducts, and the building of storehouses for grain. Nerva's greatest contribution to Rome was to adopt on merit a man outside his family, Trajan, as his son and heir. Trajan was the most distinguished soldier of his day. Thus Nerva inaugurated the system of adopting the best man as the heir to the throne. Nerva died shortly after the adoption.
Trajan (98-117). Trajan came from the province of Umbria in northeast Italy but his family moved to Spain. As emperor he created a new body guard of 500, later 1000, mounted soldiers, mainly from Germans and Pannonians. By this act, he showed that he trusted foreigners as much as the mainly Italian praetorian guard. He actively pursued expanding Roman borders by conquest. His imperial army consisted of 400,000 men. He was an effective administrator and defended the privileges of the Senate. He devoted himself to the needs of the people, safeguarding the grain supply, continuing free distribution of grain, beginning financial subsidies for poor children, lightening taxes on the provinces, and choosing governors with care. One of those governors, Pliny of Bithynia, asked him what to do with the Christians of his area. Trajan responded that they should not be hunted, but if they were accused and convicted then they should be punished unless they would change and worship the Roman gods. During Trajan's administration there was a growing increase in public works, including a network of roads and bridges. He liked boys and wine. Trajan was well regarded by his people and by Roman historians.
Hadrian (117-138). Hadrian believed that Trajan's expansionist policies had outrun the empire, so he quickly cut back on that ambition. He did, however, travel throughout the empire gaining a thorough understanding of his subjects' needs. He saw the empire, not as a collection of conquered peoples, but as a commonwealth. He strengthened the armies and border defenses (including the building of Hadrian's wall in northern Britain), stabilizing the situation of the outer provinces. There were only infrequent rebellions during his reign, the most notable being the Bar Kochba Jewish rebellion from 132-135, led by a man named Simeon Bar Kosiba. For this rebellion, Hadrian instituted the total prohibition of circumcision and banned Jews from entering Jerusalem. Hadrian's relations with the Senate were not good. He diminished their authority and executed some of their members. Roman law under Hadrian was a golden age, carefully administered. Still after he decided on his successor he had his aged brother-in-law put to death, as well as, his bother-in-law's grandson, because he feared they would be rivals to the succession. When he died, possibly from dropsy or tuberculosis, he was buried in a mausoleum (it is now known as Castel Sant' Angelo).
Hadrian was an initiate of religious mysteries, and was greatly interested in astrology and magic. He loved sightseeing and literature. He painted. He inspired a whole new trend of Greek-influenced art. Among the buildings he had constructed are the Pantheon and Hadrian's villa.
Antoninus Pius (138-161). Antoninus' reign was peaceful, with very few uprisings. As often as possible, he used diplomacy rather than force. He modified the ban on Jewish circumcision to apply only to converts. Antoninus never left Italy and emphasized it in his policies rather than the provinces. His relations with the Senate were good. In many ways his reign was, for most people, the best period in the history of the empire.
Marcus Aurelius (161-180). Marcus Aurelius was given the best education of the day. At about the age of 25 he adopted the Stoic philosophy, one that would guide his decisions for the rest of his life. When he became emperor he asked the Senate to appoint Lucius Verus (161-169) as co-emperor, with full similar powers except that Aurelius would be the sole Pontifex Maximus. This precedent of naming a co-emperor would be often followed by many other emperors. In 166, to celebrate a victory over the Parthians, Aurelius gave his two young sons, Commodus aged five and Annius Verus aged three, the title of Caesar (this term designated an associate as sharing imperial power) and allowed them to take part in the procession of the triumph. In the same year a terrible plague hit Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and parts of Europe up to the Rhine. Whole districts were depopulated, contributing substantially to the future weakening of the empire. About the same time many German tribes had begun to cross the Danube river wanting to settle in Roman territory. This was the first time that this had happened. During most of his reign Marcus Aurelius had to contend with beating back the Germans. He not only fought them but allowed many German settlers to come into the empire, attached to the land and Roman proprietors. He also attempted to expand Rome's borders further north, something that was not as successful. Aurelius saw Christians as self-dramatizing martyrs who refused to participate in the life of the Roman Empire. They were persecuted in Gaul during his reign.
Aurelius died in his sleep peacefully. He had been an able administrator and had treated the Senate with care. However, his seven large distributions of cash, necessary to keep up public morale, and the protracted military campaigns, as well as increased bureaucracy, placed a huge strain on the finances of the empire. His book Meditations is as famous as any book ever written by a monarch. It presents the Stoic philosophy that Aurelius lived by.
The decline of the empire
Commodus (180-192). Commodus was the eldest son of Marcus Aurelius, thus ending the promotion of emperors by adoption. He was a cruel and degenerate megalomaniac. He attacked the Senate in a variety of ways. Among others, he seized senators' property to replenish a treasury that he extravagantly wasted. Commodus passionately identified himself with Hercules, even abandoning the normal Roman imperial clothing for a lion-skin like the one that Hercules was supposed to have worn. He carried a club like Hercules. He renamed Rome "Commodiana" after himself. Commodus willingly relinquished the rule of his government to the praetorian prefects of the time. They had never held so much power.
At the beginning of Commodus's reign he had uncovered a plot on his life involving his sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. Executions and exiles followed. Years later another plot succeeded. Commodus had plans to celebrate his upcoming consulship by leading a procession from the gladiators' barracks on Jan. 1, 193, himself arrayed in a gladiators uniform. He was obsessed by his prowess in the ring. He often made the senators attend his gladiatorial contests and shout repeatedly, "Thou art lord and thou art first, of all men most fortunate! Victor, thou art, and victor thou shalt be! From everlasting Amazonian, thou art victor!" The planned procession was too much. A group of conspirators, which included the praetorian prefect, Commodus's mistress, and the court chamberlain, had him strangled by his wrestling partner.
Pertinax (193). Pertinax was made emperor by the praetorian guard and 87 days later killed by them. He made them angry by not giving them the bonus he had promised and by executing some of their members. He was killed by a spear and his head was paraded through the streets of Rome.
Julianus (193). After the death of Pertinax, Julianus went to the praetorian camp and openly bid for the throne against Sulpicianus, in auction faction, promising the guard increasing amounts of gold. He won with 25,000 sestertii (1 sesterce= 1/4 denarius) per soldier. This embarrassing display reinforced the idea of emperors made by the army. Three governors of provinces soon declared themselves emperor and started to march on Rome. Julianus was assassinated at the instigation of the Senate after 66 days as emperor.
The Severan Dynasty ad 193-235
Septimus Severus (193-211) Septimus Severus emerged victor from the civil wars of 193-197 and established a dynasty. He executed 29 senators who had supported one of the other claimants to the throne. He displaced the old praetorian guard with his own Illyrian soldiers. He greatly increased the military and for the first time stationed a legion inside Roman territory. He was a favorite of the army. He reestablished some order at Rome. He was a good administrator. He built many buildings and monuments, including his triumphal arch. He married a rich woman from Syria named, Julia Domna, who was descended from the priestly family of that country. He issued a proclamation in 202 prohibiting Christians from proselyting. The law said that while Christian leaders could teach existing communities, conversion to Christianity was punishable by death. Severus disliked Christians for several reason. They denied any god but theirs, would not worship the emperors, refused to serve in the army or occupy civil posts, and did not really participate in the empire. There were some executions but in general this persecution against the Christians was not harsh. Some governors even ignored the edict. It had ended by 207.
Severus died from illness while on a campaign in Britain. His reign was a bridge between the stability of the second century and the crises of the third.
Caracalla (211-217) and Geta (211). The two sons of Severus were supposed to reign jointly but they hated each other passionately. After a short reign together, Caracalla had his brother stabbed in their mother's presence. 20,000 people suspected of being Geta's supporters were also executed. Not all the praetorians were pleased with Geta's murder, but Caracalla gave them each 2,500 denarii and they calmed down. One of the other things Caracalla did first after becoming emperor was to execute his wife. The marriage had been arranged and he had never loved her. Caracalla sometimes struck a pose as a moral reformer. He had four Vestal Virgins (one of whom he had tried to rape) convicted of adultery and executed. Towards the end of his life there were rumors that he and his mother, Julia Domna, were incestuous. The people of Alexandria, Egypt nicknamed Julia "Jocasta" and Caracalla they called "Oedipus." (In the story of Oedipus the king, Oedipus unknowingly has children by his mother.) He marched his army to Alexandria and murdered and pillaged the city for several days.
Caracalla got his name, actually nickname, from the long Gallic robe that he wore. His decidedly un-Roman look also included wearing a wig of blond hair so he would look more German. The most famous act of his reign was the granting of citizenship to the entire population of the empire, with the exception of the slaves. This occurred probably for financial reasons, since only citizens had to pay direct tax on inheritance. But one of its effects was to wipe out the traditional distinction between citizen legionnaires and non-citizen auxiliaries. Caracalla fought many wars. Alexander the Great and Achilles were two of his heros. To pay for his wars he raised taxes and created new ones.
According to the ancient historian Dio Cassius, Caracalla and Geta "outraged women and abused boys, they embezzled money, and made gladiators and charioteers their favorite companions." Caracalla fought beasts in the arena and drove in chariot races.
On a campaign in the Near East, Caracalla's praetorian prefect, Macrinus, got word that his life was in danger. So Macrinus moved first to ensure his own safety. He had Caracalla stabbed as the emperor descended from his horse to relieve himself. Julia Domna committed suicide.
Macrinus (217-218). Macrinus was a Moor. He wore an earring and had worked as a gladiator, huntsman, and courier. He was the first non-senator to occupy the throne. The army proclaimed him emperor. Julia Maesa, sister of Julia Domna, raised a rebellion against him. Macrinus was killed in Antioch.
Elagabalus (218-222). The people of Rome had not seen an emperor since 213. Caracalla had been on constant campaign. Macrinus never had made it to Rome. Their new emperor would be one of the more unusual in all its history. Julia Maesa's 14 year-old grandson, Bassianus, held the hereditary priesthood of the Syrian sun-god El-Gabal. She bought the support of some of the legions and raised her grandson to the throne. Known as Elagabalus, his devotions to his sun-god and his eccentricities were much stronger than they were to the empire. The citizens of Rome were accustomed to their emperors indulging in some homosexual activity with boys, but Elagabalus was apparently homosexual first and foremost. He insisted on a marriage with a favorite slave, Herocles, his "husband" as he called him. He often stood nude at the door of his palace, as harlots did, shaking the gold curtains behind him and soliciting passersby. He painted his eyes and rouged his cheeks. His family contracted several marriages, at least six, with various women to help his reputation. One of the women was a Vestal Virgin, which created great scandal. He married her twice. He refused to wear the woolen Roman toga and insisted on wearing silk, something that Roman men would not do.
From the time of Septimus Severus worship of the sun god had become more and more prominent. It was part of a move to monotheism. But, Elagabalus defied tradition and caution as he pushed his own sun god to the forefront of Roman religion. He built a huge temple to El-Gabal on the Palatine Hill. There he placed a black phallic meteorite from Syria, as well as the sacred relics of Rome from the Temple of Vesta. He took some of the sacred vestal fire to the new temple. He married El-Gabal to Minerva. To consecrate himself to his god he had himself and his friends circumcised. He danced daily around the altars of his god to the accompaniment of cymbals and drums played by Syrian women while senators and knights were made to stand and watch. On midsummer's day each year he took the sun god by chariot in a procession to the suburbs in a richly ornamented procession. He ran backward in front of the chariot, facing the god.
Elagabalus had extravagant tastes even by emperors' standards. The couches where he ate were of solid carved silver with purple pillows stuffed with feathers from the underside of partridge wings. His food was served exclusively on gold or silver table services which he liked to give away after banquets. His chamberpots were gold. He spread gold and silver dust on the floors of the porticoes where he walked. He ate exotic foods like nightingale tongues, rooster combs, or camel heels. For fun he mixed exotic things in his guests' food. For example, he had little bits of gold put in their peas, amber in their beans, and onyx in their lentils. He fed parrots to his pet lions. He once had a naval battle staged in canals of wine. On another occasion he had his slaves gather 10,000 pounds of spiders' webs. His spectacles were enormous and different. He had chariot races with the chariots pulled by tigers, lions, camels, deer, or dogs.
His grandmother finally decided that she had made a bad choice. She inspired the praetorian guard to kill Elagabalus and his sexually immoral mother. The guard drug their bodies through the streets of Rome and threw them in the Tiber. The black stone was sent back to Syria.
Severus Alexander (222-235). Alexander was the son of Julia Mamaea, another daughter of Julia Maesa. He was, therefore, cousin to Elagabalus. His reign was apparently an excellent one. He was different than his cousin. He economized. He religious views were closer to normal Roman views. A council of sixteen senators helped him administrate the empire. He worked hard. He was conscientious in the choices he made for men for public office. He punished corruption. He made five distributions of money and grain. He encouraged industry, was generous in times of crisis, and tried to reduce taxes. He supported learning and loved to learn himself. The chapel to virtue where he worshiped included statues of good emperors, his own ancestors, Alexander the Great, Orpheus, Abraham, Apollonius of Tyana, and Christ. He was sympathetic to both Christianity and Judaism, but was a devout follower of Cybele, the Great Mother and was addicted to astrology.
He was not popular with the army. On a campaign in Germany he and his mother were murdered by his troops at the instigation of Maximinus.
Emperors of the Army ad 235-284
Maximinus (235-238). Maximinus was of peasant Gothic stock. He never went to Rome. He spent most of his time waging war. It is reported that he was over eight feet tall and was so strong that he could break a horse's leg with his fist and grind pumice to powder in his fingers. He reportedly ate forty pounds of meat at a meal and drank six or seven gallons of wine. He is pictured by historians as crude and cruel. Eventually, the Senate chose others to replace him. His soldiers, growing tired of a siege against the city of Aquileia, cut off his head and his son's head and sent them to Rome.
Gordian I and Gordian II (238). They reigned jointly for 22 days. Gordian II was killed in battle by the troops of the governor of Numidia. Gordian I hung himself. Gordian II owned 62,000 books and had children by 22 women.
Balbinus and Pupienus (238). They reigned jointly for 99 days. The praetorian guard became jealous of Pupienus's bodyguard and moved to the palace to take it over. The two emperors were killed by the praetorian guard as they stood in the palace arguing about whether they should call for Germans in the army to come protect them.
Gordian III (238-244). Gordian III was probably assassinated at the instigation of Philip the Arab.
Philip the Arab (244-249). Philip was the first Arab to inherit the throne. During his reign Rome celebrated its 1000th birthday in 248 with lavish Games and traditional religious ceremonies. Philip faced three different rebellions within the empire, led by three different men who claimed to be emperors. He put Decius in charge of restoring order, which he did. Then Decius proclaimed himself emperor. In the ensuing battle Philip was killed. Philip promoted public works. He was tolerant towards Christianity. He passed laws against homosexuality and castration.
Decius (249-251). Decius was intent on restoring the pagan religion. He systematically persecuted the Christians believing that they were undermining the unity of the empire. He executed Pope Fabianus. He demanded that everyone participate in one pagan ritual, after which the person would receive a Certificate of Sacrifice. Decius was killed in a disastrous battle with the Germans, the first emperor ever to die in battle against a foreign foe.
Gallus (251-253). Gallus was made emperor by the army. During his reign a terrible plague began that lasted 15 years. There were losses in battle to the Goths and Persians. He continued the persecutions of Christians, imprisoning Pope Cornelius, who died while under arrest. Aemilian raised rebellion against him and Gallus was killed by his own soldiers.
Aemilian (253). Aemilian was killed by his own soldiers, who deserted to Valerian.
Valerian (253-260). Valerian ruled jointly with his son, Gallienus. They inherited an empire overrun with invasions by Germans and Persians. In a meeting to negotiate for peace with Shapur I of the Persians, Valerian was treacherously taken prisoner and sent to Persia. He never returned. Tradition has it that his body was stuffed with straw and placed in a Persian temple for many ages. His capture was a terrible disgrace for the Romans.
Valerian persecuted the Christians, ordering the leaders to sacrifice to the state gods. A second edict made being a clergyman punishable by death. Pope Sixtus II was burnt to death at Rome. The property of Christian senators and knights was confiscated. Some members were killed or sent to the mines.
Gallenius (253-268). Gallenius faced a series of insurrections. A commander named Posthumus set up a second Roman state with headquarters in Germany that lasted from 260 to 268. Gallenius was able to put down many of the insurrections and turn the tide somewhat on the many invasions. Gallenius had been initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries. He had also inspired the neo-Platonist Plotinus to set up a philosophers' state in Campania (Neo-Platonism is a philosophy that became very popular at this time). He abandoned the persecutions of the Christians to build allegiance in the eastern Christian communities against the Persians. He was assassinated, the leaders being a praetorian prefect and a general.
Claudius II (268-270), Claudius II died of plague while on military campaign.
Quintillus (270). Deserted by his soldiers in the insurrection by Aurelian, Quintillus committed suicide.
Aurelian (270-275). Aurelian faced many invasions by German tribes. He built a new wall around Rome as a preventive against barbarian invasions. He also had to deal with Roman provinces breaking away to establish their own state. He was successful in doing so. Aurelian tried to stabilize the finances of Rome. He established a massive, strongly subsidized cult of the Unconquerable Sun (Sol Invictus). He built this god a new temple, appointed a new college of priests, and appointed the celebration of his birthday to be on Dec. 25. Aurelian was assassinated by his officers while on campaign in Thrace (NE Greece).
Tacitus (275-276). Tacitus was either murdered on campaign or died of fever.
Florian (276). Florian's soldiers tired of the civil war they were fighting with Probus, so they murdered him.
Probus (276-282). Probus fought successfully against the Germans. After announcing his intentions to attack Persia, Probus was killed by his soldiers. They were tired of fighting.
Carus (282-283). Carus was found dead in his tent on campaign, killed by lightning some said, others said illness. It may have been his praetorian prefect.
Carinus (283-285) and Numerian (283284). These two sons of Carus ruled jointly. Carinus was assassinated by his own senior officers while fighting Diocletian. He had been married and divorced 9 times. He filled the palace with actors and harlots. He was apparently killed by a man whose wife he had seduced. Numerian was killed by his praetorian prefect.
The Tetrarchy and the House of Constantine, ad 285-364.
Diocletian (285-305) and Maximian (286-305). In 293 Diocletian divided the empire into east, where he ruled, and the west, where Maximian ruled. Each coemperor was called an Augustus. Each Augustus had an assistant and successor called a Caesar. These posts were supposed to be gained by merit. Each of the Tetrarchs were to have a capital. Diocletian doubled the number of provinces from 50 to 100 and grouped them into 13 dioceses, each under a governor-general. The dioceses were grouped into four prefectures, each under a prefect who served directly under the emperor. The governor-generals reported to the prefects.
Diocletian revamped the military and increased it to over 500,000 men. To support the army he greatly increased taxes, though he tried to do so fairly. The tax system had been based on agriculture, and was under Diocletian. But as he took new steps to take into account bad harvests and soil conditions, he accentuated the existing tendency to freeze the populace to their land, guilds, corporations, or government positions, for generations. He renewed the persecutions of the Christians, even though his wife was one. He wanted to totally eliminate the religion. He prohibited all assembly for worship and commanded that Christian churches and books should be destroyed. He ordered that all who would not sacrifice to pagan gods would be arrested.
A breakaway empire in Britain and northern Gaul was established in 286 by Carusius. He was murdered in 293.
Diocletian's headquarters were first at Nicomedia in Bithynia (in Turkey) then in Antioch, where he created a new capital. He did not visit Rome until 303, when he came in order to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his reign. In 305 he abdicated and forced Maximian to do the same. He died in 316.
Maximian came out of retirement in 307 to rule with his son Maxentius who had staged a coup. He married his daughter, Fausta to Constantine, son of Constantius I Chlorus. In 308 he turned against his son Maxentius to bid for the throne himself. He was driven back to the court of Constantine in Gaul. But he soon turned against Constantine. He fled to Massilia and was soon found dead, officially by suicide, maybe by murder instigated by Constantine.
Galerius (305-311) and Constantius I Chlorus (305-306). Constantius had had a son, Constantine, by an inn-keeper's daughter. He repudiated her and married Theodora, daughter of Maximian, having three children by her. On campaign in Britain Constantius died in 306.
Galerius named Severus (306-307) as coemperor to replace Constantius. However, this act offended Maxentius and he declared himself emperor with backing from the praetorian guard. Severus lost a battle with Maxentius, was captured and eventually put to death. Galerius raised Licinius (308-324) to the throne. Galerius persecuted the Christians. He died, possibly of cancer.
Constantine I the Great (306-337). Constantine's troops hailed him as Augustus in 306 at the death of his father. Galerius did not recognize this declaration. Constantine spent the next few years trying to solidify his position as emperor in the midst of civil war. When Galerius died in 311, Constantine invaded Italy to undo Maxentius. The final battle took place at the Milvian Bridge on the Tiber. When Maxentius's troops retreated in confusion across their bridge of boats, it collapsed. Thousands, including Maxentius, drowned. Legend has it that Constantine had had a dream that he would win this battle if he put the Christian sign of Chi/Rho on his soldiers' shields. From this moment on he became the patron of Christianity. When Constantine left Rome he donated the old palace of the Laterani family, where the empress Fausta had stayed, to Pope Melchiades. He also ordered that the basilica, St. Johns Lateran, be built at his expense. This is still today the cathedral church of Rome. The Lateran Palace was the papal palace for another 1,000 years. After this battle the Senate confirmed him as emperor, with Licinius, his brother-in-law, (308-324) as coemperor. Their relationship deteriorated and by 324 Constantine had defeated him in battle and had him executed.
Constantine abolished the praetorian guard for good. It had fought for Maxentius. He passed legislation that was favorable to Christians. He exempted clergy from municipal obligations, and gave episcopal courts the right to act as courts of appeal for civil cases. In 321 he proclaimed Sunday a day of rest as the "venerable day of the Sun." He built many churches, including St. Peter's in Rome. Constantine inherited a Christianity that was now divided by the Arian controversy, which saw Christ as a creation of the Father. To unify Christianity and the empire he called and presided over the Council of Nicea in 325. Over 300 delegates, mostly from the east, attended. He himself proposed the key word, homoousios, meaning "of one substance," that decided the issue against the Arians.
In 326 Constantine executed his wife, Fausta, her stepson Licinianus, and his own son, Crispus, on suspicion of treason. He selected Byzantium for a new capitol and renamed it Constantinople. It was dedicated on May 11, 330. In 337 Constantine's health began to fail. He was baptized shortly before he died in 337.
Constantine II (337-40), Constantius II (337-61), and Constans I (337-50), the three sons of Constantine received the empire together when their father died. Constantine II died in a war with Constans I. Constans I, a Nicene Christian, who sponsored persecutions against Jews and pagans and repressed the Donatist heresy (the Donatists believed that sacraments performed by impure bishops were not valid), died in a rebellion led against him by a usurper. Constantius II was an Arian Christian and had Athanasius (the leader of the movement against Arianism) removed from his bishopric. He died of fever trying to put down a rebellion led by his cousin Julian.
Julian the Apostate (361-363). Julian was a great supporter of paganism. He granted freedom of worship to all pagans, gave them subsidies, and organized them along the lines of the Christian church. He deprived the Christian church of its financial privileges, excluded Christians from teaching posts, and announced his intentions to reconstruct the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. He felt that these measures were necessary to heal a sick society. He was more prolific as a writer than any other Roman emperor. He was a hard-working, conscientious administrator. He died in a war with the Persians.
Jovian (363-364). Jovian returned the empire to Christianity. He died in his bed.
The House of Valentinian, ad 364-455
Valentinian (364-375) and his brother Valens (364-378) ruled jointly. They faced grave military emergencies, particularly attacks by the Germans. Valentinian got so mad at the insolence of a German peace delegation that he broke a blood vessel and died. A Christian, he, nevertheless, issued an edict of toleration. He was an energetic administrator. He was chaste and kept a tight reign on the morals of his court.
Valens was an Arian who persecuted Nicene Christians, even condemning some to death. In 372 the Huns, nomads from Central Asia, crossed the Volga river and subjugated the Ostrogoths. For protection the Visigoths petitioned Rome to be able to settle inside the empire. Their petition was granted. However, corrupt Roman officials robbed, cheated, and badly mistreated the Visigoths. They rebelled and defeated the Roman army at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. Valens lost his life and the infantry in his army was annihilated. This battle destroyed the legend of the invincibility of the Roman legions and foreshadowed the transformation of the old way of life at the hands of the Germans.
Gratian (367-383) and Valentinian II (375-392) ruled in the West. Gratian was a devout Christian. He dropped the pagan title Pontifex Maximus. He withdrew subsidies to pagan ritual and eliminated the pagan altar of victory from the Senate house in Rome. He fought the Germans. He was assassinated by one of his supposed supporters during an insurrection.
Valentinian II decided against the senators who protested against Gratian's removal of the altar of victory. He was killed by his Master of Soldiers, a Frank, after Valentinian had tried to dismiss him.
Theodosius the Great (379-395). Theodosius ruled at first in the East and then later became sole emperor. He started the practice of accepting German troops as federati. The federati had separate status as a nation with their own leaders within the Roman empire. They provided buffer zones against other tribes and peoples and were to provide soldiers and farm workers to Romans. (The Romans and Germans had had contact for centuries. Roman trade had reached into Germany and Germans had entered the empire as slaves. During the third century many Germans had been invited to settle on vacated lands within the empire or to serve in the army. By the end of the fourth century the Roman army and its generals in the West were mostly German.)
Theodosius greatly increased taxes. He was a devout Catholic. In 380 he pronounced that Christianity was the only true religion. In 381 he proclaimed that all churches should be placed in the hands of Catholic bishops. He persecuted Manichaeans (a group who believed in a radical separation between the evil material world and the good world of the spirit). By 391 all pagan worship was banned. Bishop Ambrose of Milan had prompted many of these measures. On two occasions Bishop Ambrose showed how much power he had over Theodosius -- once when he withheld communion from Theodosius until he lifted punishment from a bishop who had burned a synagogue, and once when he withheld communion until Theodosius had done penance for ordering a massacre of 7,000 people at Thessalonica (NE Greece) for the lynching of the Master of Soldiers. Before he died, Theodosius divided the empire between his two sons who ruled as equals. Heretofore, someone had generally been the senior emperor.
Arcadius (east 395-408). Many regard him as the first "Byzantine" emperor. He was unremarkable. But there are some important personages that he dealt with. The Visigoths that Theodosius had settled in Dacia rebelled under Alaric and then began to attack the West. Also the patriarch of Constantinople, John Chrysotom, was exiled by the emperor twice for condemning his wife, the empress, for luxurious living.
Honorius (west 395-423). Honorius who had lived at Milan, moved to Ravenna in 404. It remained the capital of the West throughout the rest of the empire's existence. Honorius dealt with invasions by Ostrogoths, Vandals, Suevi, Alamanni, Alans, and Burgundians. These barbarians spread out over Gaul leveling the old barriers of the empire. A usurper took Britain, Gaul, and parts of Spain. In 410 Alaric, king of the Visigoths, sacked Rome, occupying the city for three days. Rome had not been captured by a foreign army for nearly 800 years. St. Augustine wrote, The City of God, to counteract the argument that nothing so terrible had ever happened under pagan rule. Augustine also came to the conclusion, because of riots by pagans and other problems, that religious dissidents should be subject to coercion by the state. Honorius supported him in this belief with various government measures.
Theodosius II (east 408-450). Theodosius II ruled longer than any other ruler. Individually he was not very involved in government, but he had excellent advisors who accomplished much. During Theodosius's reign good relations with the court at Ravenna were established, useful measures were taken to ensure adequate grain supplies, a peace treaty with Persia was signed, and the Theodosian Code of Laws was compiled. These codes would have influence on the Code of Justinian as well as on legislation of the rising German peoples. Also during this reign, the walls around Constantinople were enlarged and improved. They would repel attacks for ten centuries.
Johannes (west 423-425). Johannes was made emperor by his soldiers but was not accepted by Theodosius II. In the war that followed Johannes was captured in Ravenna by the armies of the east. They cut off his right hand and paraded him in the circus on a donkey. Later he was killed.
Valentinian III (west 425-455). In 429 Gaiseric moved his Vandals from Spain to North Africa. By 439 he controlled Carthage and the source of grain supply for Rome. There he declared himself independent of Rome. As had become usual, there were occasional uprisings among the German tribes that Valentinian dealt with generally successfully, though by now there were huge shortages of manpower for his armies. Valentinian's administration also saw the rise of Attila the Hun. Prior to the year 450, the eastern emperor had bought off Attila with subsidies. When those payments stopped Attila turned to attacks on the West to renew his supplies and treasury. About this same time, Valentinian's sister refused to marry a Roman whom she did not like and sent her signet ring to Attila. He interpreted this as a proposal of marriage and demanded half of the empire as dowry. Being turned down he marched into Gaul. He was defeated, the only time in his life, by the general Aetius and his allies the Visigoths. Attila then attacked Italy and sacked Milan. He was persuaded by Pope Leo I the Great to turn back and not sack Rome. The Huns' empire disintegrated after 453 A.D. when Attila died of a popped blood vessel after his marriage banquet to a German princess.
Valentinian lived in Rome during the later part of his life. He showed little interest in governing. He preferred chasing women and other pleasures. But he did publish hard edicts against the Manichaeans and took a historic step in 444 by assigning supremacy to Pope Leo I as the bishop over the provincial bishops, a power many of those bishops had been unwilling to concede. Valentinian was assassinated by Petronius Maximus.
The Fall of the West, ad 455-476
Marcian (east 450-457). Marcian called together the Fourth Ecumenical council at Chalcedon in 451, an important council which pronounced that Christ was a perfect God and perfect man, was consubstantial with the Father, and was made known in two natures (in contrast to the Monophysite belief of one nature). It also widened the developing rift between the eastern and western churches. Pope Leo's delegates kept emphasizing his claims as leader of the universal church. However, the Council voted to confirm the eastern patriarch's precedence over the eastern bishops and enlarged his jurisdiction. This upset Pope Leo I.
Marcian's reign was remarkably free of military and political problems. It was looked back at as a golden age. He died of illness.
Petronius Maximus (west 455). Petronius married, Eudoxia, the widow of Valentian III. She held him responsible for her husband's murder and appealed to Gaiseric, Vandal king of Carthage, for help. He gladly sailed towards Rome with an army. Many of Rome's inhabitants fled, including Petronius. As he rode out of the city, abandoned by his friends and bodyguards, people threw stones at him. One hit him in the temple and he died. The crowd mutilated the body and threw it in the Tiber. Gaiseric's troops ravaged Rome thoroughly for two weeks. He then sailed home with Eudoxia and her two daughters, one of whom married Gaiseric's son.
Avitus (west 455-456). Hailed as the emperor by his soldiers at the suggestion of a Visigothic king, he was eventually deposed by soldiers and died in the attempt to flee from them.
Leo I the Great (east 457-474). He was contemporary with the Pope Leo I the Great. Leo legislated harshly against pagans and heretics. He died of dysentery.
Majorian (west 457-461). There was no emperor in the west for six months before Majorian's ascension. He dealt with uprisings during most of his reign. He was forced to abdicate by one of his generals, Ricimer. Five days later he was dead, probably murdered.
Libius Severus (west 461-465). Libius was a figurehead, presiding over a government dominated by Ricimer, the German Master of Soldiers. He was unrecognized by the eastern emperor and Gaiseric's Vandals also opposed him. The Vandals launched an expedition against Rome. During these events Libius died, probably poisoned by Ricimer.
Anthemius (west 467-472). Appointed by the eastern emperor, Leo, Anthemius gave his daughter in marriage to Ricimer, and was confirmed by the people, the barbarian federates, and the Senate. Eventually, because of poor showings in battles with the Vandals and some of the Germans, Anthemius and Ricimer fell out. Ricimer marched on Rome from Milan. After a three month siege Ricimer's armies broke through to the center of the city. They found Anthemius hiding in a church as a beggar. They beheaded him.
Olybrius (west 472). Ricimer died vomiting blood forty days after Olybrius became emperor. Olybrius died of dropsy 5 or 6 months later.
Glycerius (west 473-474). The Master of Soldiers, Gundobad, made Glycerius emperor. However, Leo I, the eastern emperor, did not approve. He sent an army. It deposed Glycerius who accepted ordination as a bishop in Dalmatia.
Julius Nepos (west 474-475). During Julius's reign the Visigoths declared their Gallic kingdom to be free of Rome. His Master of Soldiers, Orestes, deposed Julius and made his son Romulus Augustus emperor. Julius escaped to Dalmatia, finally being murdered in 480.
Zeno (east 474-475, 476-491). Zeno was chased from the throne for a short while. This attempt to depose him was perpetrated by his mother-in-law, Aelia Verina, the widow of Leo I. Her brother, Basilicus, became emperor during the short time of Zeno's displacement after killing Aelia's lover. She had wanted her lover to be emperor.
Basilicus (east 475-476) supported the Monophysite position and caused great religious controversy. He lost supporters for many reasons. When Zeno returned, he locked Basilicus and his family up in a dried reservoir, where they starved to death. Zeno was emperor when the West fell.
Romulus (west 475-476). In 475 Orestes, the Germanic commander of the troops, forced the Senate to elect his young son Romulus Augustulus as emperor in the West. In the following year the German troops rebelled over a land issue. Another Germanic commander, Odovacar, slew Orestes and, seeing no reason for continuing the sham of an imperial line, deposed Romulus Augustulus, proclaiming himself king. No single date is accurate as the date for the fall of Rome but 476 (when this event occurs) at least symbolizes the end of the Roman Empire in the West.
Theodoric's kingdom in Italy: In 487 or 488, Theodoric of the Ostrogoths made an agreement with Zeno, the emperor in Constantinople, that Theodoric would lead his people into Italy, overthrow Odovacar, and rule Italy as an Ostrogothic kingdom. In 488 Theodoric began the move with his people into Italy. By 493 he had signed a truce with Odovacar. Both leaders would rule Italy jointly and share the palace at Ravenna. A short while later Theodoric invited Odovacar, his son, and others to a banquet in his part of the palace. When Odovacar sat down to eat, Theodoric cut him in half--from shoulder to thigh -- with his sword and then had his son executed. Theodoric ruled Italy, alone, as viceroy for the emperor in Constantinople from 493-526 A.D. When Theodoric died without an heir Italy was reconquered as part of the Byzantine empire by the emperor, Justinian, after twenty years of fighting.
The Lombards: The Lombards conquered most of Italy in 568 A.D. and ruled until conquered by the Franks in 774 A.D. Southern Italy, Ravenna, and Venice escaped Lombard rule and were held by the East emperor. The pope was the virtual ruler of Rome.