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History of Ancient Rome

Ancient Rome

Rome – the city, according to legend, founded in 753 BC, within a few centuries conquered the entire Mediterranean and became the greatest of the states of antiquity.

The history of ancient Rome is traditionally divided into the following periods:

1. The imperial period (753 – 509 BC).

2. The Republican period (509 – 31 B.C.)

a. Early Republic (509 – 265 B.C.)

b. Late Republic (265 – 134 B.C.)

c. Crisis of the Republic and the Civil Wars (134 – 31 B.C.)

3. the Imperial Period (31 BC. – 5th – 6th centuries CE (the traditional end date of the period is 476))

a. Principate (31 B.C. to 235 A.D.)

b. The Crisis of the 3rd century (235 – 284 CE)

c. Dominate (284 – 476 AD)

The Apennine Peninsula in the first half of the 1st millennium BC

The Apennine Peninsula is washed by the Ionian Sea to the south and the Adriatic Sea to the east. It is characterized by a climate favorable for farming and cattle breeding, rich pastures and fertile lands. Its geographical position contributed to the early and active development of seafaring among the numerous tribes that have long inhabited the peninsula.

In the 1st millennium BC, the Apennine Peninsula was inhabited by multilingual peoples at different stages of socio-economic development.

The northwest of the Apennine Peninsula was inhabited by Etruscan tribes. It is assumed that the Etruscans came to Italy from Asia Minor at the end of the 2nd – beginning of the 1st millennium B.C. At the end of the 7th century B.C., the twelve largest Etruscan city-states formed a union ruled by an annually elected king and a high priest. This union extended its influence over much of northern and central Italy. According to legend, Etruscan kings of the Tarquinii family ruled from 616-509 BC in Rome.

Etruscan dancers and musicians. Detail of a fresco. Ok. 480-470 BC

 

Etruscan craftsmanship reached great heights. Under the influence of the Greeks, the Etruscans developed a distinctive culture. Already in the 7th century BC they had a written language and used the Greek alphabet.

The influence of the Etruscans was very noticeable in the early period of Rome’s history. Etruscan cities were a model for the Romans in the organization of the state and the army, in applied arts and construction. The Romans inherited a number of political and religious institutions from the Etruscans.

Another people who influenced the emergence of the Roman state were the Greeks. Their colonies appeared in the south of the Apennine Peninsula in the VIII – VI centuries BC. The developed cultural and political traditions of the Greeks became a role model for the indigenous inhabitants of the peninsula.

The region of central Italy was inhabited by the tribes of Latins. In the IX – VIII centuries BC the Latins began to decompose the tribal system, the first cities appeared. In the middle of VIII century BC several tribal communities located on the banks of the Tiber River united into a single entity – the city of Rome. In fact, this unification laid the foundation for the formation of the Roman civil community (civitas), a political formation typologically similar to the Greek polis.

The Imperial Period (753 – 509 B.C.)

According to legend, Rome was founded by the brothers Romulus and Remus, the first of whom became king of Rome. According to the legend after Romulus Rome was ruled by 6 more kings: Numa Pompilius, Tullus Hostilius, Ancus Martius, Tarquinius Priscus, Servius Tullius, Tarquinius the Proud. The last 3 kings were representatives of the Etruscan dynasty, which suggests that in the 6th century BC. Rome came under the influence of the Etruscan confederation. The power of the king was initially close to that of a tribal leader – the king performed the functions of commander and high priest, but his real influence on the internal political life of Rome was largely limited by the tribal aristocracy. It was only during the reign of the Etruscan dynasty that kings began to claim unlimited power.

Capitoline she-wolf nursing Romulus and Remus, c. 500-480 BC

 

In the imperial period, the entire full-fledged population of Rome – the “Roman people” (populus romanus) – was divided into 300 clans, 10 curiae (30 clans each) and 3 tribes (10 curiae each). The supreme body of state administration was the people’s assembly (comitia), in which all full-fledged inhabitants of the community could participate. Initially, only patricians – descendants of the original inhabitants of Rome – were considered full-fledged population, plebeians – descendants of the clans that moved to Rome – had no right to participate in the comitia. Another governing body was the council of elders – heads of 300 clans – senate (from Latin – senex (old man)).

Only under King Servius Tullius (the middle of the VI century) plebeians were introduced among the members of the Roman community. The patrimonial administration was replaced by the censorial one: the whole population of the Roman community was divided into 5 categories, according to the property status. The census division of the community members became the basis for the organization of the Roman army, as well as the political system of Rome: voting in the people’s assembly, previously held by clan curiae, was replaced by voting by census units – centuriae.

Roman Republic (509 – 30 B.C.)

Establishment of the Republic

In 509, King Tarquinius the Proud, who had abused his power, was expelled from Rome, after which the republican way of government (from the Latin Res Publica – common cause) was established. Power was placed in the hands of officials elected by the Senate – magistrates. The prerogatives of royal power were transferred to two consuls elected by the Senate from among the patricians. Later, there were magistracies of quaestors, who were in charge of judicial proceedings and finances, as well as aediles, whose duties included the conduct of urban economy. In special cases, unlimited powers could be granted to the dictator for a period of six months. The magistrates were elected by the Senate from among the representatives of patrician families, thus establishing an aristocratic regime in Rome.

Roman consul accompanied by bodyguards-lictors. Drawing by a contemporary author.

 

During the 5th – 3rd centuries, the main content of the internal history of the Republic was the struggle of the plebeians to limit the power of the patriciate and the Senate. As a result, the plebeians were able to achieve a number of major successes. In 494 B.C., under pressure from the plebeians, the Senate established the position of people’s tribunes – defenders of the interests of the plebeians, who had the right to veto any decision of the Senate. Soon plebeians were allowed to use public land. The influence of the popular assembly was strengthened. By 367 B.C. the plebs were admitted to the consulship. In fact, by the beginning of the 3rd century, the distinctions between plebeians and patricians began to blur. The top plebeians and patrician families, which retained their influence, gradually formed a new ruling stratum – the nobilité.

Foreign policy of the Roman Republic

The foreign policy of the Roman Republic was characterized by continuous wars. The Roman army of a period represented the national militia united in kinds of armies according to property status. The basic military unit was a legion (6000 people), divided into 30 tactical units of maniples, capable of autonomous actions during the battle.

Latin Warriors 5th century BC

 

In the first decades of the Republic, Rome endured the heaviest war with the Etruscan confederation. In the V century, having defeated their immediate neighbors, the Romans established their authority over the lower reaches of the Tiber River. Tiber. In the beginning of IV expansion of Rome was suspended by a devastating invasion of Celtic tribes – Gauls, who ravaged Rome in 390 BC. By the end of the IV century, Rome finally established its dominance in the Latin Confederation, a union of cities founded by Latin tribes. During the Samnite Wars (343 – 290 BC) Rome subjugated all of central Italy to its authority and began to threaten the Greek colonies in the south of the peninsula.

The intervention of King Pyrrhus, ruler of the small Hellenistic state of Epirus, in Rome’s struggle with the Greek colony of Tarentum marked the beginning of the Pyrrhic War (280 – 275 BC).

Pyrrhus of Epirus

 

Despite the fact that Pyrrhus, using war elephants, inflicted a number of defeats on the Roman armies, the Romans were still able to drive his forces out of Italy. After defeating Pyrrhus, Rome finally extended its influence throughout Italy.

After the conquest of Italy, Roman expansion went beyond the Apennine Peninsula. Here Romans had to face one of the largest states of the Western Mediterranean – Carthage. Wars of Rome with Carthage (so-called Punic wars) lasted (with breaks) more than 100 years. As a result of the I Punic War (264-241 BC) the Roman Republic acquired overseas possessions – the islands of Corsica, Sardinia, part of Sicily. These territories became Roman provinces.

During the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), the famous Carthaginian commander Hannibal invaded Italy and inflicted a number of defeats on the Romans (at Trebia in 218, at Lake Trasimendo in 217, in the general battle of Cannes in 216). Despite the fact that Hannibal for 16 years threatened Rome directly, the troops of the Republic, under the command of Scipio Africanus (the Elder) managed to transfer the fighting to the territory of the enemy, and eventually defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama (202 BC).

As a result of the II Punic War, Rome gained territories in Spain and actually became the hegemon of the Western Mediterranean.

At the end of III Rome began to expand in the Eastern Mediterranean. During the three Macedonian Wars (215-205, 200-197, 171-168 BC), the Romans extended their rule to the Balkan Peninsula. After the Syrian War (192-188 BC) against the Seleucid king Antiochus III, the Hellenistic states of Asia Minor entered Rome’s sphere of influence. Finally, during the Third Punic War (149-146 BC), Carthage was finally destroyed. Rome became the largest Mediterranean power.

Crisis of the Roman Republic

The wars of conquest contributed to the radical transformation of the socio-political and economic structure of Roman society. The victorious wars caused the influx of a huge number of cheap slaves to Italy. Slavery gradually became the basis of production relations in Italy.

Slave labor on a slave owner’s estate

 

Hundreds of thousands of slaves flocked to Italy, and slave revolts became a regular occurrence. For example, in 138 BC the slaves of Sicily revolted. The rebels took control of the whole island and even tried to create their own state. Only in 132 BC the Roman army was able to suppress this movement. In 104-99 BC there was an equally large-scale II Sicilian slave revolt. In 74 BC the largest slave revolt in the history of antiquity took place under the leadership of Spartacus. Only thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the Roman Republic was the revolt suppressed in 71 BC.

The development of large latifundial economy, based solely on the exploitation of cheap slave labor, caused mass ruin of medium and small peasant farms unable to withstand competition and the landlessness of broad layers of Roman citizens. The pauperized Roman poor (plebs) accumulating in the cities became a source of constant unrest and civil clashes.

In the 30s of the II century BC the rights of the plebs began to defend the representative of the aristocratic family, the people’s tribune Tiberius Gracchus. To solve the land question, he proposed to establish the maximum amount of permissible land ownership and to divide the surplus among the poor Romans. Overcoming the strong resistance of the nobility Gracchus achieved the adoption of the law, but was soon assassinated. In fact, the reform was not realized.

The Gracchian brothers

 

Tiberius’ reform activities were continued by his brother Gaius Gracchus. To solve the land issue, he proposed to start distributing the land fund of the conquered provinces among the poor Roman citizens. These initiatives of Gracchus caused unrest in Rome. In 122 BC the reformer was assassinated. The death of the Gracchus brothers only intensified the social strife.

In addition, the spread of Roman influence to distant territories promoted the development of trade and commodity-money relations. Wealth flowed to Rome from the provinces ravaged by Roman troops and viceroys. In Rome appeared the merchant and usurious nobility – horsemen, entering the struggle for political dominance with the senatorial aristocracy (nobilitet).

The position of the upper strata of the Italic communities, who aspired to full equalization in rights with the Romans, was also strengthened. Gaius Gracchus proposed to grant Italians the rights of Roman citizenship. This proposal was one of the main reasons for his assassination. In the beginning of the I century BC the struggle of Italians for their rights intensified. In 91 BC the people’s tribune Drusus repeated Gracchus’ proposal for emancipation to the Italics. The bill’s failure in the Senate prompted the outbreak of the Allied War (90-88 BC), a general revolt of the Italic communities against Rome. Despite the fact that the Italians were defeated, the Senate was still forced to make concessions and include the entire population of the Apennine peninsula in the Roman civil community. This in turn led to the fact that the people’s assembly actually turned into a legal fiction.

Against the background of growing socio-economic contradictions, the crisis of the Roman civitas is vividly manifested. Republican political institutions, formed as the authorities of a small rural community were not able to effectively manage the colossal territories that became part of the Roman state. Thus, the provinces were actually placed at the complete disposal of the viceroys appointed by the Senate, who ruined the provinces with endless and, in fact, uncontrolled levies. Rebellions against the rule of Rome were constantly breaking out in the provinces. The largest attempt to throw off the Roman yoke was a series of wars with Rome by King Mithridates VI, ruler of the small Hellenistic state of Pontus, located in Asia Minor (89-85; 84-82; 74-63 BC).

Age of Civil Wars

The last century of the existence of the Roman Republic was a ceaseless struggle of various strata of Roman society, periodically turning into a civil war.

By the end of the II century BC in Rome finally formed two opposing parties: the optimates (supporters of preserving the power of the nobility) and the populares (advocating the need for reforms). The highest point of the struggle between these movements was the period of activity of Gaius Maria and Lucius Cornelius Sulla.

Marius rose to the top of Roman political life during the war against the Numidian king Jugurtha (111-105 BC). After the conclusion of the military conflict, Marius instituted a military reform. The military conscription of the censored elements was replaced by a professional army. The poorest strata of Roman society, whose property status depended directly on the success of their commander, were admitted to military service. The army and its leaders became an independent political force, actually independent of the Senate. Thanks to the army reform, Rome was able to successfully repel the invasion of the Germanic tribes of the Cimurs and Teutons (102 – 101 B.C.)

The Roman army of the first century B.C.

 

In 89 BC, the First Mithridatic War began. The Senate assigned the war to the aristocrat Sulla, but the people’s assembly nominated the plebeian Maria. The struggle around this issue led to the fact that Sulla sent an army preparing to march to the East against Rome. For the first time in the city’s history, Rome was taken by Roman troops. After Sulla and his army were sent to the East, the dominance of Rome passed into the hands of the supporters of Marius. Upon Sulla’s return to Italy, the political struggle between the parties escalated into open civil war. Again taking Rome by battle, Sulla established (in 82 BC) a dictatorship supported by political terror (the system of proscriptions). In fact, Sulla’s dictatorship (82-79 BC) was the last attempt to maintain the political dominance of the nobilitate and the power of the Senate.

Cesare Maccari – “Cicero Makes a Speech Against Catiline”

 

In 70-60 BC, Gnaeus Pompey the Great rose to power. He participated in the suppression of Spartacus’ revolt, became famous in the war with Mithridates, his campaigns in West Asia and Transcaucasia, and the fight against Mediterranean pirates. In 60 BC. Pompey, together with the oligarch Marcus Crassus and the aristocrat Gaius Julius Caesar formed a political alliance (I Triumvirate), whose members, relying on the army, shared power over the provinces.

Caesar was given control of Illyria and Gaul, most of which was not under Roman control. During the Gallic War of 58-51 BC, the entire country was subjugated to Caesar. The victorious war brought the commander huge booty, which Caesar used to strengthen his political position and popularity among the Roman plebs.

Lionel Noel Royer Painting – “Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar”

 

The threat of strengthening Caesar forced Pompey to collude with the Senate and order Caesar to disband the army and come to Rome for trial. Caesar did not obey and crossed the border of Italy – the Rubicon River, actually declared war on the Senate. During the civil war (49 – 45 BC) Caesar won a number of victories over Pompey and his supporters in Greece, North Africa and Spain. In 45 he was proclaimed “father of the fatherland” and dictator for life, effectively the unlimited ruler of the Republic. The increasingly overtly monarchical nature of Caesar’s power displeased the aristocratic opposition. On March 15, 44 BC Caesar was assassinated by a group of conspirators led by Brutus and Cassius.

Caesar’s death led to renewed civil wars. The supporters of the Republic were opposed by the Caesarians: Julius Caesar’s associate Mark Antony and Caesar’s grandnephew Octavian, who in turn also competed for the dictator’s succession. In 43 BC, Antony, Octavian and Lepidus, who had joined them, formed an alliance (II Triumvirate). The triumvirs dealt harshly with the opposition and then turned against the Republicans. In the Battle of Philippi (42 BC) the Republican army was defeated, its leaders Brutus and Cassius committed suicide. After the victory over the Republicans, a struggle began between the triumvirs Octavian and Antony, who was supported by Ptolemaic Egypt. The war between them ended with the victory of Octavian’s fleet at the Battle of Cape Actium in 31 BC and the annexation of Egypt to Rome.

Octavian Augustus

 

In 30 B.C. Octavian became sole ruler, and in 27 B.C. the subservient Senate presented him with the title “Augustus” (Holy). The state, without formally eliminating republican institutions, became essentially a monarchy – the Roman Empire.

Roman Empire

Principate (30 or 27 B.C. – 193 A.D.)

The state system established in Rome under Octavian Augustus was called the Principate. Its characteristic feature was the preservation of the external “facade” of the republic: the Senate, magistracy, etc. with an actually monarchical way of government. The power was concentrated in the hands of emperors – princeps of the Senate, who in addition had the highest military power – imperium, lifetime tribunal power, i.e. the right to veto any decision of the Senate, censor power, i.e. the right to exclude members of the Senate, the title of the high priest. The official titles were honorary names – “Caesar” and “Augustus”. Under the personal control of the emperors were most of the provinces, the treasury (fiscus), and an ever-growing bureaucratic apparatus.

Octavian Augustus as Jupiter

 

The Senate formally remained the supreme body of state administration, but in fact its power was limited. Under the emperors of the Julian-Claudian dynasty (27 B.C. – 68 A.D.), the principles of the relationship between the emperors and the Senate largely depended on the personality of the ruler. Thus, under Octavian Augustus (27 B.C. – 14 A.D.) and Claudius (41 – 54 A.D.) the emperors, striving to prevent the growth of opposition sentiments among the senatorial aristocracy, maintained the appearance of senatorial privileges. Under the emperors Tiberius (14 – 37), Caligula (37 – 41) and Nero (54 – 68), whose power took on a despotic character, senators were subjected to repression. This, in turn, provoked speeches and conspiracies of the senatorial aristocracy against individual emperors and imperial power in general.

The political crisis became extremely aggravated under Emperor Nero, whose tyrannical rule turned against him not only the capital’s nobility, but also the provinces (during his reign, the largest rebellion of the Jews, the so-called I Jewish War, broke out) and the army.

Nero’s suicide in 68 led to the outbreak of a civil war between the warlords Galba, Othonus, Vitellius and Vespasian, who claimed the throne.

The latter emerged victorious in the struggle and founded the Flavian dynasty (69-96 CE). Vespasian (69-79 AD) and his son Titus (79-81 AD) sought to normalize relations with the Senate and at the same time broaden the social base of their regime. Under them, prominent representatives of provincial nobility were included in the Senate, and the rights of Roman citizenship began to be extended to wealthy provincials. The relations between the imperial power and the capital aristocracy once again aggravated under Domitian (81 – 96), whose authoritarian style of government caused sharp protest of the Senate. In 96 Domitian was assassinated in a conspiracy. The elderly senator Nerva came to the throne.

Nerva became the founder of the third imperial dynasty of Rome, the Antonines (96 – 192). The period of reign of the Antonines (Nerva (96 – 98), Trajan (98 – 117), Hadrian (117 – 138), Antoninus Pius (138 – 161), Marcus Aurelius (161 – 180)) is traditionally considered the “Golden Age” of Rome. The transition of power from one emperor to another was ensured through the adoption of talented military leaders and administrators elected with the approval of the Senate and the army. This principle was violated by Marcus Aurelius, who bequeathed the throne to his own son, Commodus (180-192), who lacked the qualities necessary for the effective administration of the empire.

An equestrian statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius

The social backbone of the Antonines was the provincial aristocracy, which actively penetrated the Senate, as well as relatively broad layers of medium and large provincial landowners (decurions), a significant part of whom received Roman citizenship in the 2nd century AD. The process of equalization in the rights of the Italian and provincial population was finally completed in 212 AD with the granting of Roman citizenship by the edict of Emperor Caracalla to almost all freeborn inhabitants of the empire. The army, which numbered about 500,000 men by the end of the second century, was also a pillar of imperial power.

Legionaries who served 20 years received large land grants in the provinces of the Empire, peregrines (subjects of the Empire who were not Roman citizens) for 25 years of service – land and Roman citizenship. Settling in provinces veterans became conductors of the policy of Romanization in the region. A special role was played by the Imperial Guard, a corps of Praetorians with considerable privileges, stationed in Rome.

Most of the population of the empire was made up of urban and rural plebs. The urban plebs consisted of the middle and lower strata of the urban population: traders, artisans, hired workers. With the establishment of the Empire, it finally lost its political significance: in Rome and other cities of the Empire, the people’s assemblies were placed under strict state control. The loss of political importance of the plebs was partly due to the state policy of supporting the poorest strata of the urban population. In Rome and a number of other cities of large empires, the poor received free bread, butter and meat.

Free distribution of bread to citizens. First century fresco

 

The rural plebs were represented by small landowners, communal peasants, and colonists – tenants of urban and imperial lands.

The unfree population included slaves and freedmen (libertines). The gradual cessation of wars of conquest reduced the total influx of slaves into Roman power. Slaves became increasingly expensive. This affected the attitude of slave owners towards their “speaking property”. The life of a slave began to be valued more highly and attitudes towards them improved. The imperial power tried by any means to prevent rebellions of slaves and, on the one hand, gradually limited the arbitrariness of slave owners (it was forbidden to kill slaves, to keep them forever in fetters, to give them to gladiators by force), and on the other hand toughened the responsibility of slaves for disobedience. Thus, in 10 A.D. the so-called Silanian senatus-consult was issued, which punished with death all slaves in a house where a slave killed the master. The decrease in the number of slaves vividly revealed the inefficiency of slave labor. To increase their profits, masters increasingly gave slaves economic independence: they gave them a workshop or a plot of land (peculium). Slaves planted on the peculium had the right to a part of their production and, therefore, were more interested in labor. The position of freedmen was dual: they were legally dependent on their patrons, but their real status varied greatly. Thus, imperial freedmen could occupy the most prominent positions in the system of state administration.

In the I – II centuries there was a rapid growth of the economy of the provinces. Under Octavian Augustus, the arbitrariness of profiteers and Roman officials was limited, and their activities were organized under strict state control. The provinces ceased to be exclusively the object of Roman extortion and became organic parts of the state. As Augustus’ successor Emperor Tiberius said: “A good shepherd shears the sheep, but does not skin them.

In fact, the cities-municipalities (the Latin equivalent of the polis), which were under the authority of Rome, received wide internal autonomy, the right to collect and distribute part of the tax revenues for the organization of urban economy (construction of water pipes, repair of public buildings, maintenance of schools and hospitals).

Ruins of the Roman city of Leptis in North Africa

 

The self-governing body of municipalities were curiae – city councils, whose members (decurions) were elected from among the wealthy strata of the population.

The establishment of lasting peace in the Mediterranean contributed to the strengthening of trade relations between different regions of the empire, commodity specialization of regions and the development of commodity-money relations. The entire empire was covered with a network of convenient roads.

The mail was running smoothly. The barbarian provinces were rapidly Romanized. Dozens of new cities sprang up. On the periphery of the ancient world penetrated the achievements of Greco-Roman science, art. Developed and foreign trade. In the I – II centuries. empire established permanent trade relations with Southeast Asia, equatorial Africa, the Baltic.

The foreign policy of the emperors of the I – II centuries was characterized by the continuation of Rome’s expansion. Under Julius-Claudius, Thrace, Pannonia, Dalmatia, Rhecia, Noricus, Mauretania, the southern part of Britain were annexed to the territory of the Roman power, and small Hellenistic states finally lost their autonomy. In the II century the empire reached its greatest territorial expansion. During the victorious wars of Emperor Trajan, Dacia, Arabia, Armenia and Mesopotamia were annexed to the empire. However already the successor of Trajan – Hadrian, realizing inability to keep all conquests of the predecessor, has refused from new conquests (at it Romans have left Mesopotamia and Armenia) and has passed to strengthening of existing borders. Under him on borders of empire the system of fortifications – limes was organized.

The only serious foreign policy competitor of Rome in the I -II centuries AD was the Parthian kingdom, wars with which in 54-66, 114-117, 163-165 were waged with varying success, as well as barbarian tribes (Germans and Sarmatians) conflicts with which regularly took place on the northern and northeastern borders of the empire. The barbarian onslaught gradually intensified due to the socio-economic development of these peoples. In 166-180, only thanks to the extraordinary exertion of forces, the empire endured the most difficult war with a large confederation of Danubian tribes (the so-called Marcomann War).

Crisis of the 3rd century (193-284 AD)

The “Golden Age” of Rome did not last long. Already during the reign of Commodus (180-192 AD), soldier mutinies and unrest in the provinces began. The crisis deepened during the reign of the Severus dynasty (193 – 235 years) and especially after 235 AD. Constant invasions of barbarian tribes, usurpations led to the decline of agriculture, crafts and commerce, the collapse of inflation. Entire provinces plunged into the abyss of peasant revolts and rebellions. Separatist movements manifested themselves in a number of provinces. Under Emperor Gallienus (260 – 268) Gaul, Spain and Britain fell away from the empire, forming the so-called Gallic Empire, and Palmyra, whose rulers subjugated Syria and Egypt. The Romans suffered heavy defeats in the war with Persia, which established the rule of the Sassanid dynasty. The provinces were devastated by the constant raids of the Germans, Sarmatians and Arabs.

Among the main causes of the crisis was the growing unprofitability of the slave-holding mode of production, the dissatisfaction of provincial nobility with the privileged position of Italy, the growth of political ambitions of the army and the socio-economic development of barbarian peoples who posed an increasing military threat to Rome.

Only thanks to the activities of the Illyrian emperors Claudius II (268 – 270), Aurelian (270 – 275) and Probus (276 – 282) managed to restore the territorial integrity of the empire, to bring back under the authority of Rome all the fallen provinces, except Dacia, and to stop the attack on the Roman power of the barbarian peoples.

Dominate (284-476)

The final overcoming of the consequences of the crisis is connected with the activity of Emperor Diocletian (284-305). Under him the empire finally lost the last republican features. The power of the emperor was declared unlimited and divine, and the emperor himself was declared dominus et deus.

The self-government of urban communities was severely restricted. A complex military bureaucratic apparatus was created to control the empire. The danger of rebellions and usurpations forced Diocletian to strictly separate the civil administration from the army command. So that the viceroy did not have too much power, the emperor more than doubled the number of provinces by splitting them into smaller territorial units. Italy was deprived of its exclusive position and was equalized in rights with other lands subject to the Emperor.

To ensure the smooth collection of taxes, Diocletian went to limit the mobility of the population: tenants-colonies were legally attached to their plots, landowners-decurions to curial councils, artisans were deprived of the opportunity to change their profession.

Taking into account the intensified centrifugal tendencies, the ever-increasing barbarian onslaught on the borders Diocletian proclaimed the commander Maximian as co-emperor, to whom the western half of the empire was entrusted. For normalization of system of succession Diocletian and Maximian, proclaimed by Augustus, jointly have chosen to themselves younger co-emperors – Caesars. They had to help senior emperors, and in 20 years to accept from them supreme authority and, in turn, to appoint to themselves new co-emperors. This is how the system of quadruple power (tetrarchy) was formed.

The Roman army was divided into mobile troops and landed frontier troops. Barbarian troops were extremely actively recruited to serve in the Roman army. In exchange for joining the Roman army, entire barbarian tribes were moved into Roman territory and given land on the borders.

The Tetrarchs were able to strengthen the borders, inflicted a number of defeats on Persia, and suppressed several usurpations. However, the system of government that had developed under Diocletian functioned to a large extent only because of the will of its creator. After Diocletian’s voluntary abdication of the throne, his heirs entered into a fierce struggle for power. Emperor Constantine I (306 – 337), who united the entire empire under his rule, emerged victorious. Under his rule, a new religion, Christianity, was established in Rome.

Early Christianity

Christianity emerged in Judea in the first half of the first century A.D. The plight of the broad masses of the Jewish population under the Roman yoke led to an active ideological and religious search. At the turn of the era, several sects (Pharisees, Essais, Zealots), which opposed the existing socio-economic relations, emerged from the official Temple Judaism. Hopes for social justice were reflected in the spreading doctrine of the Messiah (Mashiach), the Savior of the Jewish people, which was spread by many itinerant preachers.

One of them was the semi-legendary Jesus of Nazareth. His life and preaching is described in 4 canonical, i.e., recognized by the Church, and several dozen unrecognized-apocryphal gospels. His preaching of love for all human beings, divine forgiveness, and posthumous retribution resonated widely among the oppressed populations of Judea.

The fundamental difference between the teachings of Jesus and other religious systems was the rejection of ethnic and social divisions in matters of faith. The popularity of Jesus, who sharply criticized the morals of the high priesthood, displeased the temple aristocracy in Jerusalem. Jesus was handed over to the Roman authorities and, as a rebel, was subjected to the painful execution of crucifixion on a cross.

The religious tradition, which had already begun to take shape under the apostles, Jesus’ disciples, presented Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah (Christ) and the Son of God who, after being executed, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven to return to earth at the end of time to judge mankind. Thanks to the preaching of the apostles, the teachings of Jesus began to spread throughout the Roman Empire. As early as the second half of the first century, Christian communities sprang up in many of the major cities of the empire. Christianity invariably attracted the disadvantaged: slaves, freedmen, and the urban poor.

The social composition of the initially very democratic Christian communities began to change in the 2nd and especially in the 3rd centuries. The crisis of the Roman Empire attracted to Christianity a certain part of the educated strata of society, representatives of the aristocracy, who in the condition of the general decline of statehood, the collapse of traditional socio-economic relations lost faith in traditional deities. Under the influence of these processes, the structure of Christian communities also changed – bishops, who were in charge of the community treasury, took the first roles in them. By the 3rd century, close ties were established between the various communities, a unified Christian doctrine began to form, a common Christian hierarchy was established – the Church emerged as an all-imperial socio-economic and political institution.

Changes in the social composition of Christian communities, the complication of their social structure, and the development of Christian dogma lead to the emergence of groups of Christians who disagreed with the majority on issues of faith or community organization. Such doctrines (heresies) were condemned by the official Church, and their followers began to be expelled from the communities and persecuted.

The attitude of the official authorities toward Christians was negative for a long time. Because of the consistency of the preaching of monotheism, Christians did not participate in the state pagan cults, including the cult of the deified emperor, and thus were considered disloyal citizens. In addition, Christian communities were considered secret societies, the organization of which was strictly persecuted by the Roman authorities. For this reason, Christians were repeatedly persecuted. The most extensive persecutions of the followers of the new religion took place under the emperors Decius (249 – 251), Valerian (257 – 260) and Diocletian and his immediate successors (the so-called “Great Persecution” 303 – 313).

The persecution was stopped by Emperor Constantine, who published the Edict of Milan in 313. The Edict of Milan, which authorized the free practice of Christian worship. Under Constantine, Christianity began to enjoy the support of imperial power. Pagan cults, which had no unified organization and doctrine, could not serve as an ideological support for the empire centralized by Diocletian’s reforms. Christianity, on the contrary, already had a unified all-imperial organization, hierarchy of clergy, experience of persecution of dissenters in its ranks.

In 325, Emperor Constantine summoned Christian bishops to the I Ecumenical Council in Nicea. The Christian doctrine, the Creed, was finalized at the Council. In fact, under Constantine the Church began to be built into the system of state administration of the empire, church affairs acquired state importance. Thus, the persecution of heretics began to be carried out with the help of the state repressive machine.

The most notable heresy of the 4th century was Arianism, which arose out of disagreements about the essence of the relationship between the persons of the Christian Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Unlike the official Church, the Arians taught that God the Son was not equal to God the Father, but only similar to him. The theological dispute acquired the character of a church-wide conflict in which the imperial power actively intervened, supporting one side or the other. Only at the II Ecumenical Council in 381 Arianism was finally condemned.

In addition to Arianism, pagans began to be persecuted. Against the background of the spread of the new faith, Christians, with the support of Christian emperors, began to destroy and ravage pagan temples and destroy works of ancient culture. Against this fiercely opposed pagan intellectuals, part of the aristocracy of the eastern and western provinces, especially members of the Roman Senate.

The only attempt to change the religious policy of the empire was made during the reign of Emperor Julian the Apostate (361 – 363). He stopped state support of Christianity and returned privileges to pagan temples and priesthood. After his death, which occurred during a military campaign against Persia, all his reforms were abolished.

Julian the Apostate

Under Emperor Theodosius I (379 – 395), Christianity was finally declared the state religion of the Roman Empire, and the practice of pagan cults was forbidden. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule the entire empire. In 395 he divided the power over the western and eastern provinces between his sons. Although legally the empire continued to be a single entity, this division gave rise to two independent states, the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire.