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  1. THE FIRST TEST • Rome could easily defend its borders if attacks came from one direction at a time • From either the Germans or the Parthians • But it attacks occurred simultaneously, Rome was trouble • Roman policy had always made sure that this would not happen • Parthian Empire kept weak by Roman encouragement of corruption and well-time pre-emptive attacks • But in 226 AD, the Parthian monarchy was overthrown by the Sassanians and suddenly Rome was faced with a vigorous and aggressive enemy of its eastern frontier

  2. GERMANS • Along the German frontier, Roman policy aimed at keeping the various tribes on the other side continually fighting among themselves so they would never be able to unite and threaten the border • Movement of new tribes into central Europe around 200 AD forced more established ones to unite into nations and push hard on the Roman frontier • Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Franks, Alamanni

  3. BORDER DEFENSES • Problems made worse by the fact that legion were concentrated only on the frontier and units were fairly isolated from each other • Therefore when barbarians did break through border defenses, there were no troops further inside the empire to check their progress • German tribes broke through Rhine defenses four times between 254-280 AD and advanced as far as Spain and North Africa before they were finally stopped • Ostrogoths broke through Danube defenses and plundered Greece

  4. ROMAN RESPONSE • Romans strengthened their defenses • Towns and cities now surrounded by fortified walls • Forts constructed away from border • Cavalry units enlarged and consolidated into mobile legions to quickly catch and defeat tribes who had broken through border defense • In short, Rome divided army into internal, mobile forces and static frontier garrisons • All this was a good idea but very expensive

  5. CUTTING PARTS • Rome let go of some of its hardest to defend territories • In order to concentrate its military strength on more important areas • Let go of part of Rhine frontier, Dacia, and Mesopotamia • Borders restabilized by 384 AD • Army morale was lower, occasional mutinies and desertions were more frequent and an increasing number of soldiers were of German barbarian origin • But the army still held the advantage against the barbarians

  6. SEVERAN DYNASTY Elagabalus Alexander Severus Caracalla

  7. Maximinius Thrax Gordian III Decius Philip the Arab

  8. Valerian Gallus Gallienus Aurelian

  9. Tacitus Carus Probus

  10. Carninus Diocletian Numerian

  11. ROMAN GOVERNMENT • Roman government had become a mess • Fragile system of imperial succession established by Augustus had completely broken down • The basis reason is that the successors to Septimius Severus were so incompetent and inadequate that they managed to totally destroy the image of imperial rule that had been so painstakingly built up over the previous 200 years • Result was ambitious generals and chiefs of the Praetorian Guard felt freer to gamble and seize power • Pressure on the frontier also played a role

  12. SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC RESULTS OF TURMOIL • Steady decline in population • Due to invasions, civil war, and plague • Decrease in manufacturing and agricultural production • Severe drop-off in trade • Overall rise in pessimism and gloom in provinces • But at the same time the demands of the state on the resources of the provinces increased • In short, the economic and manpower base of the empire was shrinking but the demands on that base were expanding • Result was impoverishment of the people of the empire

  13. SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION • City residents were easiest to squeeze with increased and new taxes • People left cities as a result • Wealthy bought villas out in countryside to be safe from tax collectors • Smaller landowners turned to larger ones for protection and aid from tax collectors • In exchange for this they gave up their land to the large landowners

  14. SUMMARY • A process of massive transformation began in the provinces of the Roman Empire • The result of pressure from the state, declining production and population, and the general insecurity caused by civil war and barbarian invasion • Cities shrank to shadows of their former selves • Mainly populated by criminals and people too poor to get away • Both groups kept in line by harsh laws, harsher punishments, and huge garrisons of soldiers • The countryside, at the same time, was developing into a pattern of isolated, self-sufficient, and semi-independent units in which tenants, sharecroppers, and peasants tied themselves to a powerful local landowner and his villa


  16. PRAGMATIST • 40 year old pragmatist who would halt the chaos of previous decades and buttress the empire with a series of reforms that gave it a new lease on life • Consolidated the trend towards authoritarianism that had begun in the days of the Antonines and placed all elements of society in a state of continual mobilization • Also added elements of his own personality • Humble origins, the son of a freedman • Immense practicality • Risen in the army through his own merits and worshipped order and efficiency • Realism was diluted by military background • Believed in government by decree and assumed orders would always be obeyed without question

  17. TETRARCHY • Used precedent from Marcus Aurelius to create Tetrarchy • Two co-emperors (each with title of Augustus) • Each had an assistant and designated heir (with title of Caesar) • Diocletian was one of the co-emperors • But he also retained the position of “chairman of the board” within this system • After 20 years, both Diocletian and his co-emperor retired and elevated their Caesars to their former positions • Hoped that this new system would provide for an orderly succession in the future and free the empire from the recurring nightmare of civil war

  18. PROTOCOL AND PAGEANTRY • Protected himself behind an host of secretaries and courtiers • Size of imperial court rapidly expanded • Also portrayed himself as the earthly representation of a god • Often portrayed with a halo • Wore gorgeous costumes • Golden crown, robes of golden cloth, jewel-studded shoes • Turned position of emperor into a remote, semi-divine figure, protected by a wall of protocol and pageantry

  19. PROBLEMS AT THE PALACE • Successors would become distracted by the pomp of the court • Also isolated by the court • Strong rulers dominated their courtiers but weak ones became the puppets of their own servants • Emperor and family served by eunuchs • From Armenia or Persia • Had more access to ruler than senators or generals • Dependent solely on the emperor • No past or future, no local ties, and no family • Still notorious for the greed and continually involved in plots • Deprived of normal pleasures, they sought money and power

  20. CONSERVATIVE MOTIVATIONS • Creation of Tetrarchy was in large part a response to military crisis • When Diocletian became emperor, Gaul was being ravaged by Franks and Alemanni and peasants were in revolt • Diocletian’s friend Maximian restored order • Diocletian made him co-emperor as a reward • Positions of Caesar were created to deal with other military threats • Young general named Galerius became Diocletian’s Caesar and Constantius became Maximian’s Caesar Diocletian and Maximian

  21. Constantius centered his operations in Trier in Gaul Galerius guarded the Danube River from a fortress in the Balkans Maximian made Milan his headquarters Diocletian resided in Nicomedia and guarded eastern border None of them made Rome their headquarters

  22. MOVE TOWARDS ABSOLUTISM • Diocletian erected a pyramid of absolutism and oppression in piecemeal fashion • Required his people to support a never-ending military effort, an expanding bureaucracy, and four imperial courts • Relied mostly on equestrians for government officials • Because of their experience and their gratitude for advancement

  23. Created 100 new mini-provinces, governed by equestrians, and grouped into 12 large administrative districts known as dioceses Chief administrator for each diocese were called vicars and were drawn from the equestrian class Despite his best efforts, the system still swarmed with parasites and required a network of spies and secret police Separated civilian and military authority in the frontier provinces where most of the army was stationed

  24. BIG ARMY/HIGH TAXES • Local officials required to furnish a certain number of recruits to the army each year or else pay money to hire soldiers in their place • Diocletian decreased size of legions but increased their number • Army probably numbered 500,000 men • To pay for all this, Diocletian stabilized currency and reformed the tax structure • Many taxes now paid in kind • Cash head tax on farm laborers and tenant farmers

  25. UNFAIR SITUATION • Heavy taxes provoked tenants to abandon farms and run away • When a community could not meet its projected tax obligations because of this, local officials had to make up the difference out of their own pockets • They were also responsible for putting down rural discontent and capturing runaway tenants • Great landowners managed to avoid paying their fair share of taxes by bribing state officials and secret agents

  26. INFLATION • Rampant inflation had been a serious problem for the 50 years before the advent of Diocletian • Prompted by war and swollen government expenditure • Diocletian’s monetary reforms prompted speculation in coins among his officials • Who knew in advance that their value would change • To get a handle on the situation Diocletian specified maximum prices, wages, and freight charges • Ordered death penalty for violators • Motivation was to stop inflation and protect his subjects from overcharging profiteers • But edict was indifferently enforced and greedy merchants risked death penalty to hoard products and sell them for high prices on black market • Edict was no longer in effect by the time of Constantine

  27. PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS • Diocletian ordered that all palace officials worship the state gods of Rome in 299 AD • Galerius pushed to extend order to the army and to purge Christian officers • Produced oracle who predicted destruction of the empire unless this was done • Diocletian bans Christian rites and confiscating books and churches • Two fires broke out in palace and Galerius convinced Diocletian that Christians had started them • Diocletian then launches full-scale attack on Christians

  28. CHANGING OF THE GUARD • Diocletian visits Rome in 304 and orders baths to be built to commemorate visit. • Now 60 years old and seriously ill • Galerius convinces him to retire later that same year • Maximian retired at the same time • New Augusti, Galerius and Constantius, appoint new Caesars • Galerius: nephew Maxentius Daia • Constantius: drinking buddy Serverus • Diocletian retires to his villa and spends his last days gardening

  29. RISE OF CONSTANTINE • New power struggles erupted between new Tetrarchs • Ultimately resulted in all their deaths and the victory of Constantine • Son of Contantius • Born in Balkans and poorly educate • Won final battle at Mulvian Bridge • Between him and Maxentius Daia • Had vision the night before the battle that he would win if his soldiers had Greek symbol of Christ on their shields • Later elaborated and exaggerated the dream

  30. POWER • After victory, Constantine entered Rome, disbanded Praetorian Guard, and left • Never to return again • Repaid debt to Christian god by endorsing a policy of toleration • Became patron and protector of Christians • Originally had a co-emperor and both had a Caesar • But he ultimately eliminated them all • Was sole Augustus by 324 AD and named his two sons as his Caesars • Believed in dynastic succession

  31. DEVELOPMENTS • Constantine favored senators over equestrians and placed members of the aristocracy in high positions • Roman society became stratified along class lines • Began to resemble caste system • Many occupations deemed necessary to national defense were made hereditary • Municipal officials known as decurions were locked into their jobs • Tenant farmers were reduced to virtual serfdom • Prohibited from leaving their land and completely under the control of local landlords • Senatorial class avoided its obligations through bribery • Corruption of judges and administrators remained a big problem • Created elite mobile military force made up of cavalry and mercenary specialists • Issued stable gold coinage but most taxes still collected in kind

  32. CONSTANTINOPLE • Converted old city of Byzantium into a “New Rome” • New capital renamed Constantinople • Not far from Diocletian’s old headquarters in Nicomedia • Reflected shift of empire’s center of gravity to the east • Filled with massive public buildings • Immigrants lured to new city with cash gifts and promises of free food and public entertainment

  33. FIRST CHRISTIAN EMPEROR? • Did not want to anger pagan majority and thus went through motions of supporting pagan rites • But support for Christianity became official policy in 312 • Mulvian Bridge emblem put on all his banners and crucifixion abolished • Not interested in theology but impressed by organizational strength of the Church • Became more religious as he became older • Built a number of churches and increased the influence of bishops at his court • But postponed baptism until he was on his deathbed

  34. SAINT OR SINNER? • Lauded by Christian apologists and detested by pagans, Constantine’s reputation has not been high among modern skeptics • He was a worldly, blood-splattered emperor who was impatient with the fine points of theology • But he was in awe of Christian magic and willing to turn his back on 1000 years of pagan tradition • He was a revolutionary in a religious sense and put the Roman state under the protection of a new god and into the hands of a new religious sect

  35. REVITALIZATION • As reconstituted by Diocletian and Constantine, the empire survived its first test and enjoyed new burst of prosperity, stability, and intellectual vitality • Witnessed by amazing construction boom • Constantinople grew virtually overnight from nothing to a huge, beautiful metropolis • In the West, Trier, Milan, Ravenna, and Rome experienced major facelifts and expansion • Capital in West moved from Rome to Milan and then to Ravenna for defensive purposes • But Christian bishops in Rome built huge basilicas