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can be nobody so petty or so apathetic in his outlook that he has no desire
to discover by what means and under what system of government the Romans
succeeded in...bringing under their rule almost the whole of the inhabited
world. Polybius Histories 1.1.5
273-337 CE Ruled 306-337 ||
Constantine the Great
was the first Emperor to fully embrace Christianity, and his reforms,
including moving the Capital to Constantinople, further transformed Roman
Constantine the Great | Marble |
Capitoline Museums, Rome | Early 4th Cen. CE |
Constantine the Great | Bronze Coin |
Roman | c. 325 CE |
Ammianus Marcellinus (c. 325-c. 395 CE)
CE Ruled 364-378 ||Valens
early military career was successful, but he is most famous for one of
the greatest defeats ever suffered by the Roman army, a defeat which some
say, lead to the demise of the Roman Empire.
his early reign he suppressed the revolt of Procopius. He attacked the
Visigoths under Athanaric, and defeated them in 369. He agreed to allow
the Visigoths under Fritigern into the empire. Mistreated by certain Roman
officials however, they rebelled, and in 378, Valens was killed in the
battle of Adrianople, in which two thirds of the Roman army was destroyed,
leaving the Eastern Empire virtually defenseless.
fortunate to have a highly descriptive account of the battle by the historian
the barbarians, rushing on with their enormous host, beat down our horses
and men, and left no spot to which our ranks could fall back to deploy,
while they were so closely packed that it was impossible to escape by
forcing a way through them, our men at last began to despise death, and
again took to their swords and slew all they encountered, while with mutual
blows of battle-axes, helmets and breastplates were dashed in pieces.
Then you might see the barbarian towering in his fierceness, hissing or
shouting, fall with his legs pierced through, or his right hand cut off,
sword and all, or his side transfixed, and still, in the last gasp of
life, casting round him defiant glances. The plain was covered with carcasses,
strewing the mutual ruin of the combatants; while the groans of the dying,
or of men fearfully wounded, were intense, and caused great dismay all
covered with streams of blood, made their feet slip, so that all they
endeavored to do was to sell their lives as dearly as possible; and with
such vehemence did they resist their enemies who pressed on them, that
some were even killed by their own weapons. At last one black pool of
blood disfigured everything, and wherever the eye turned, it could see
nothing but piled up heaps of dead, and lifeless corpses trampled on without
a dark moonless night put an end to the irremediable disaster which cost
the Roman state so dear.
360 CE ||
The Beginning of the Barbarian Invasions
what some historians see as a major contribution to the collapse of Rome's
empire, sometime during the middle of the fourth century, various tribes,
such as the Goths, Franks, and Alamanni, began to better organize themselves
politically and militarily. They posed an increasing threat to Rome's
capability to defend itself successfully, and in 378, the Goths eventually
defeated the army of Valens at Adrianople. Vandals, Suev, and Alans crossed
the Rhine in 406. Barbarian settlement began to expand over much of the
western Empire. Vandals, Visigoths, Alans, Suevi, Burgundians, Franks,
Ostrogoths and Saxons became an erosive force upon the Empire.
regards to the so-called "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire",
it is wise to remember that the social, political, and cultural evolution
of Rome, from a monarchy to a republic to an Imperial empire and finally
to a Medieval state was complex. One is cautioned against simplistic explanations.
It might be best to create other contexts as well from which to understand
the rich and complex evolution of western society.
had developed the infrastructure to manage an empire, but was forever
in conflict with competing political and social forces, from both within
and without. The conflict between these forces is more important to Rome's
reputed "decline" than, as some would suggest, moral decay.
Vice can be seen in each period of Roman history. Yet, while conflict
is an important contribution towards Rome's continuing transformations,
it too, alone, provides an unsatisfactory explanation for the near complete
transformation of western cultural traditions.
ca. 379 Historia Augusta
f. 414-417 Paulus Orosius
The late period in which Orosius wrote gave him the distinction, in his day, of having composed the longest history of Rome to that date, beginning, as did Livy, in 751 BCE to his own time. His writing was in the context of an apologia, that is, a defense of Christianity. As such, while not without its own problems, it does provide an interesting, critical perspective, of ancient Roman history, whereas earlier authors, even the most objective, were not writing from outside of their own worldview, as this later Christian historian was.
CE d.|| Hypatia of Alexandria
is the most renowned female philosopher from ancient times. A neoplatonist,
her philosophies and status as a woman were threatening to the increasingly
powerful Christian bureaucracy. Hypatia was brutally killed by a Christian
mob. Her death is a powerful symbol for the transformation of ancient
society from Paganism, which here is meant to mean Hellenistic Roman traditions
in philosophy and polytheism, towards a Christian theocratic state. She
is the author of A Commentary on the Arithmetica of Diophantus,
and A Commentary on the Conics of Apollonious. She also edited
the third book of her father's Commentary on the Almagest of Ptolemy.
The Life of Hypatia, From Damascius's Life of Isidore, (Translated by
born, reared, and educated in Alexandria. Since she had greater genius
than her father, she was not satisfied with his instruction in mathematical
subjects; she also devoted herself diligently to all of philosophy...
(she) used to put on her philosopher's cloak and walk through the middle
of town and publicly interpret Plato, Aristotle, or the works of any other
philosopher to those who wished to hear her. In addition to her expertise
in teaching she rose to the pinnacle of civic virtue..."
was Hypatia, as articulate and eloquent in speaking as she was prudent
and civil in her deeds. The whole city rightly loved her and worshipped
her in a remarkable way, but the rulers of the city from the first envied
her, something that often happened at Athens too. For even if philosophy
itself had perished, nevertheless, its name still seems magnificent and
venerable to the men who exercise leadership in the state... "
John, Bishop of Nikiu, from his Chronicle 84.87-103
evidence of how previously accepted Pagan systems of worship, and their
accompanying philosophies, came to be denounced as Satanism:
female philosopher, a pagan named Hypatia, and she was devoted at all
times to magic, astrolabes and instruments of music, and she beguiled
many people through Satanic wiles. And the governor of the city honoured
her exceedingly; for she had beguiled him through her magic..."
persecution and murder of Hypatia was a transformative event. After Hypatia,
the stature of women, which had been enhanced via involvement in Pagan
systems of worship, was significantly diminished. In the end:
dragged her along till they brought her to the great church, named Caesarion.
Now this was in the days of the fast. And they tore off her clothing and
dragged her through the streets of the city till she died. And they carried
her to a place named Cinaron, and they burned her body with fire..."
CE || Gothic King Euric
which had been conquered by Julius Caesar early in his career, became
connected with Rome by means of a treaty, in Latin foedus. The foederatae
civitates were affiliated states which were not Roman colonies, and had
not obtained the Roman civitas. King Euric's followers tended to be Arian
Christians, who denied the divinity of Christ. While in many other parts
of the empire this would have been an unacceptable heresy, in Gaul, the
Romans simply did not have the power to forcibly intervene. c. 474 King
Euric broke the foedus and conquered the remaining imperial territories
in Gaul. In 475 Emperor Julius Nepos (ruled 474 - 475) ceded the rest
of Gaul to Euric in return for Provence (a former province of southeast
France). Further, in 476, Tarraco, an important city in Spain, was destroyed
by Euric, later to be rebuilt.
events dramatically serve to demonstrate Rome's increasing difficulty
in remaining an imperial power, and further, amply demonstrate that by
this point Roman mentalité had been transformed to a Christian
ethos. C. Sollius Apollinaris Sidonius, a Catholic bishop who wrote of
the event in his Epistolae, saw the struggle as a religious war
repugnant is the mention of the word 'catholic' to his (Euric's) mouth
and his heart that one doubts whether he is more the ruler of his nation
or of his sect. He imagines that the success of his dealings and plans
comes from the legitimacy of his religion, whereas it would be truer to
say that he achieves it by earthly good fortune."
Augustulus was declared emperor of the western Roman empire by his father,
the Patrician Orestes, who led a successful coup against the ruling emperor,
Nepos. Nepos fled from Orestes formidible army by sea to Dalmatia.
number of sources tell the tale, including the Auctuarii Hauniensis ordo
Nepos was in the city, the Patrician Orestes was sent against him with
the main force of the army. But because Nepos dared not undertake the
business of resisting in such desperate conditions, he fled to Dalmatia
in his ships. When Nepos had fled Italy and departed from the city, Orestes
assumed the primacy and all the authority for himself and made his son
Augustulus emperor at Ravenna"
was perhaps 14 years old at the time. His name means "little Augustus".
He was primarily a front for his father, Orestes, who maintained power
behind the scenes. Orestes made a critical error in judgement however,
in not providing land grants for his troops, at their request. They were
a diverse lot, from various tribes and factions, and their loyalty to
Orestes was never secure.
Orestes failed them, they turned to the barbarian chieftain Odovacar,
king of the Torcilingi, who promised to grant them their land if they
made him king. They agreed, and, in 476, they advanced against Orestes.
He was killed, and Augustulus, granted mercy for his young age, was banished,
according to Count Marcellinus, to exile in the castle of Lucullus in
ruled for a mere ten months. He is often considered to be the last Roman
emperor of the western Roman empire. The sixth Century chronicler Count
Marcellinus stated that:
western Empire of the Roman people, which first began in the seven hundred
and ninth year after the founding of the City with Octavian Augustus,
the first of the emperors, perished with this Augustulus, in the five-hundred
and twenty-second year of the reign of Augustus' successor emperors. From
this point on Gothic kings held power in Rome"
CE b. Ruled 527-565||
emperor, remembered especially for his legal reforms, including The
Codex Justinianus, the Institutes and the Digest.
time of Justinian's reign was marked by ideological and political rivalry
between religious groups, which at times produced oppressive state reaction
and armed conflict.The philosophical differences of Pagans, Christians,
Samaritans, Jews, and others, created an era of intolerance, bloodshed,
and oppression. Pagans, for instance, were barred from civil service,
and baptised Christians who lapsed into Paganism were put to death, as
were those caught making secret sacrifice to the now fallen Roman gods.
Emperor Justinian | Mosaic | San Vitale | 526-547 |
for the Samaritans, a law of Justinian's ordered their synagogues destroyed,
and when they revolted unsuccessfully in the summer of 529, their leader
Julian was beheaded and the head sent to the emperor. 20,000 remaining
Samaritans were sold into slavery.
Christians were themselves divided, including two principal opposing groups
of the Monophysites, (who believed that Christ had only one nature, the
divine), and the more powerful Orthodox Ministry, which condemned Monophysitism.
They proclaimed that Christ has two complete natures, the divine and the
human. Monophysites were deemed heretical.
Justinian was not a Monophysite, his wife Theodora was. She was to influence
him in this and other matters, and at Theodora's bidding, Justinian sought
to protect the Monophysites from persecution.
the laws of Justinian were many, it is interesting to note that he condemned
prostitution, and especially vilified the pimps who exploited women engaged
in the trade. What makes these passages so especially fascinating is the
fact that Justinian's wife, Theodora, had herself been a prostitute in
provides a number of valuable insights into the manner and practice of
pursue this criminal activity so much that in almost all of this regal
city, as well as in the countries beyond seas; and (what is worse) houses
of this kind exist in close proximity to holy places and religious establishments..."
appears that Justinian was somewhat sympathetic to the women involved,
and that it was the pimps who oppressed and exploited them to whom he
was most opposed:
of these wretches are so unprincipled as to deliver over to corruption
girls who have not yet reached their tenth year...Ten thousand means of
effecting their ruin exist which are not susceptible of being described
in words; and the resulting evil is so great, and the cruelty so widespread
that, while it first was confined to the most remote parts of the capital,
it now not only extends over the city itself but also over all its suburbs..."
absolutely forbid any women to be led by artifice, fraud, or compulsion
to such debauchery; it is permitted to no one to support a prostitute
or to prostitute them publicly, and to use the profits for any other business;
we forbid them to undertake agreements for this and to require sureties
and to do any such thing which compel the wretched women unwillingly to
destroy their chastity."
Theodora have influenced Justinian in this matter? We do know that she
was very influential in many other matters of state. Justinian stated
certain person informed us in secret of this condition of affair some
probably will never know if this certain person was Theodora.
500-548 CE || Theodora
was a very colourful figure. She rose from the lower ranks of Roman society
to become an influential and capable Empress. Her social status was in
fact so low that Justinian, her
future husband and co-ruler, needed to persuade his Uncle Justin, who
was then Emperor, to change the law forbidding the marriage of a Patrician
to an actress in order to marry her.
Empress Theodora | Mosaic | San Vitale | 526-547 |
family were what we might call circus people. Her father worked at the
Hippodrome at Constantinople, and was a bear keeper for the Green faction
in the chariot races. Later however, it was the Blues who came to the
aid of the family, destitute after the death of Theodora's father, Acacius.
Thereafter, both Justinian and Theodora avidly supported the Blues at
still a child, Theodora's mother introduced her to the theatre. Theatre,
to the conservative Christian bureaucracy, was both obscene and immoral,
and they did in fact succeed in banning performance completely in the
late seventh century. Actresses, and we know this to be true of Theodora,
were often engaged in prostitution.
in The Secret History, reveals the erotic behaviour of Theodora
both on and off the stage:
was the kind of comedienne who delights the audience by letting herself
be cuffed and slapped on the cheeks, and makes them guffaw by raising
her skirts to reveal to the spectators those feminine secrets here and
there which custom veils from the eyes of the opposite sex."
even in the theater, in the sight of all the people, she removed her costume
and stood nude in their midst, except for a girdle about the groin: not
that she was abashed at revealing that, too, to the audience, but because
there was a law against appearing altogether naked on the stage, without
at least this much of a fig-leaf. Covered thus with a ribbon, she would
sink down to the stage floor and recline on her back. Slaves to whom the
duty was entrusted would then scatter grains of barley from above into
the calyx of this passion flower, whence geese, trained for the purpose,
would next pick the grains one by one with their bills and eat. When she
rose, it was not with a blush, but she seemed rather to glory in the performance.
For she was not only impudent herself, but endeavored to make everybody
else as audacious. Often when she was alone with other actors she would
undress in their midst and arch her back provocatively, advertising like
a peacock both to those who had experience of her and to those who had
not yet had that privilege her trained suppleness."
in matters of state, Theodora appears competent, ruling jointly with Justinian.
Procopius claims that:
...neither did anything without the consent of the other. For some time
it was generally supposed they were totally different in mind and action;
but later it was revealed that their apparent disagreement had been arranged
so that their subjects might not unanimously revolt against them, but
instead be divided in opinion..."
500 b. c. 560 CE d.||
Procopius of Caesarea
| The Secret History
is the most important historian of the early Byzantine era, as he provides
the most extensive extant source material for the reign of Justinian and
Theodora. Especially interesting is his commentary on The Secret History.
This work was kept in hiding, and not published until after his death.
Procopius claims that:
see, it was not possible, during the life of certain persons, to write
the truth of what they did, as a historian should. If I had, their hordes
of spies would have found out about it, and they would have put me to
a most horrible death. I could not even trust my nearest relatives. That
is why I was compelled to hide the real explanation of many matters glossed
over in my previous books."
vitriolic nature of this text towards Justinian and Theodora, quite unlike
his other works, led some historians to doubt the authorship of Procopius.
Study of the work's grammar and style, however, seems conclusively to
indicate that Procopius is indeed the author. Its explicit nature has
caused some historians to either omit or censor its passages from their
work, including Edward Gibbon, who quoted the text in Latin, in order
to protect his readers from citations such as:
the field of pleasure she (Theodora) was never defeated. Often she would
go picnicking with ten young men or more, in the flower of their strength
and virility, and dallied with them all, the whole night through. When
they wearied of the sport, she would approach their servants, perhaps
thirty in number, and fight a duel with each of these; and even thus found
no allayment of her craving. Once, visiting the house of an illustrious
gentleman, they say she mounted the projecting corner of her dining couch,
pulled up the front of her dress, without a blush, and thus carelessly
showed her wantonness. And though she flung wide three gates to the ambassadors
of Cupid, she lamented that nature had not similarly unlocked the straits
of her bosom, that she might there have contrived a further welcome to
works by Procopius:
De Aedificis: Description of the Hagia Sophia
History of the Wars: On Racing Factions
CE || The 'Nika' Revolt
week long riot begun by factions of fans of the chariot races, which had
larger social and political ramifications, including the proclamation
of a new Emperor, which ultimately failed.
551 CE || Jordanes
The Origins and Deeds of the Goths
those interested in learning about the numerous tribes which lived on
the outskirts of the Roman Empire, Jordanes is an invaluable resource.
His work demonstrates the diversity of cultures outside of the Empire,
for which we have but few references. Himself descended from Goths, Jordanes
provides insight not only into the various Gothic tribes, but many others
as well. Here is an example:
the northern part of the island the race of the Adogit live, who are said
to have continual light in midsummer for forty days and nights, and who
likewise have no clear light in the winter season for the same number
of days and nights. By reason of this alternation of sorrow and joy they
are like no other race in their sufferings and blessings. And why? Because
during the longer days they see the sun returning to the east along the
rim of the horizon, but on the shorter days it is not thus seen. The sun
shows itself differently because it is passing through the southern signs,
and whereas to us the sun seem to rise from below, it seems to go around
them along the edge of the earth. There also are other peoples..."