February 14, 2016

1. Ancient Rome

A. Commodus and the Severi:
180 AD to 235 AD

When I discussed the Five Good Emperors (96 AD to 180 AD), I said that Nerva (the first of the five) set the wheels in motion by adopting a man of tested ability, Trajan. The last of the Five Good Emperors, Marcus Aurelius, brought the “good times” to an end by handing the empire to his young and untested son, Commodus.

Our authors describe Commodus as a “voluptuary,” a second Nero. Commodus put a freedman named Cleander in charge of the Praetorian Guards, and in charge of other aspects of government. Cleander put everything up for sale — government offices, the outcome of trials, etc. But even Cleander wasn’t as powerful as the Roman masses, and when the masses became angry over a corn shortage, Commodus replaced Cleander.

While Commodus’ reign lasted twelve years, his Praetorian Prefects were frequently replaced. Commodus tried to entertain the masses with spectacles, and the treasury was depleted. To raise money, Commodus and his henchmen resorted to the old practice of executing wealthy people on trumped-up charges, then confiscating their property. It became dangerous to be wealthy. Commodus had a force of secret police (frumentarii), and he packed the Senate with his supporters. He sunk so low as to kill animals in the arena, while dressed as Hercules. He claimed to be a god, the incarnation of Hercules, and he renamed Rome “the colony of Commodus.”

During Commodus’ reign, there were several plots to assassinate him, followed by attempts by Commodus to execute everyone involved in the plot. The people around him, fearing that they would be executed, were tempted to do away with Commodus. Finally, in 192 AD, Commodus’ Praetorian Prefect, his chamberlain, and his out-of-favor mistress conspired together, and hired a professional athlete to murder Commodus while he was bathing. “His memory was condemned by both Senate and people.”1

Commodus was succeeded by Pertinax, an aging but responsible ruler. Pertinax tried to restore solvency to the treasury, and discipline to the soldiery. But the Praetorian Guards preferred an irresponsible ruler, and murdered Pertinax after a reign of only three months. Then the Guards auctioned the empire, and the winning bidder was a wealthy Senator, Didius Iulianus, who offered 25,000 sesterces to each Praetorian Guard.

But the troops on the frontiers wouldn’t agree to these arrangements, and proclaimed their own commanders emperor — Albinus in Britain, Niger in Syria, Septimius Severus in Pannonia. Severus was closest to Italy, and promptly marched his legions to Rome. As Severus was approaching Rome, Iulianus was killed by the Praetorian Guards; his reign had lasted only about three months. The year 193 AD is called The Year of the Five Emperors (Pertinax, Iulianus, Albinus, Niger, and Severus). The Year of the Five Emperors resembles The Year of the Four Emperors, 69 AD.

Severus dismissed the Praetorian Guards, and replaced them with soldiers from the legions. No longer were the Guards drawn exclusively from Italy. Severus had begun “chipping away” at the privileges enjoyed by Italians, had begun pursuing a “leveling policy.”2

Severus came to an understanding with Albinus, and then threw all his forces against Niger. After defeating Niger’s army near the Black Sea and the Euphrates, Severus turned west to confront Albinus. The armies of Severus and Albinus collided near Lugdunum (Lyon) in 197 AD. In a hard-fought battle between large armies, Severus defeated Albinus, and then his soldiers “sacked [Lugdunum] so thoroughly that it never recovered its former ascendancy in Gaul.”3 Septimius Severus was now the undisputed ruler of the Roman Empire.

Severus had little time to celebrate because there was trouble on the Eastern frontier. In 194, there had been a revolt in Mesopotamia. In 195, after defeating Niger, Severus had suppressed the revolt in Mesopotamia. But when Severus was busy fighting Albinus in Gaul, the Parthian king invaded Mesopotamia. In late 197, Severus regained control of Mesopotamia, and in the following year, he marched on the Parthian capital, Ctesiphon, and reduced it to ruins. (This was the third time the Romans had conquered Ctesiphon: the first was in 116 AD, under Trajan, and the second was in 165, under Avidius Cassius.)

Ctesiphon was on the Tigris River, in the middle of modern Iraq, close to modern Baghdad. The Parthian kingdom faded away after this defeat, and was replaced by the Sassanid Empire, a Persian/Iranian empire. To celebrate Severus’ victory over the Parthians, Severus was dubbed Parthicus Maximus, and a triumphal arch was built in the Roman Forum.

The Arch of Septimius Severus

Severus also had to deal with trouble in Britain. When Albinus transferred his British troops to Gaul, to battle Severus, the border with Scotland was left undefended. Scottish tribes invaded Britain, and seized the city of York. The Roman governor paid a tribute or “danegeld” to the tribes in exchange for their withdrawal north of Hadrian’s Wall.

In 209, Severus tried to crush the Scottish tribes, advancing north of Aberdeen, but he couldn’t bring them to battle. Septimius Severus died at York in 211. His sons, Caracalla and Geta, withdrew Roman forces from Scotland, and established the Roman border at Hadrian’s Wall.

In addition to being a tireless campaigner, Severus built defensive walls and repaired military roads. He built a stone wall and an earthen wall in southern Germany, and he built a 650-mile wall (the Limes Tripolitanus) in north Africa. Severus felt that the empire rested on the military; his dying words to his sons, Caracalla and Geta, were “Enrich the soldiers, despise all the others.” The Roman Empire was becoming a military dictatorship, in which civilians had little power.

Severus expanded the army with three new legions, two of which were stationed in Mesopotamia. He also raised the salaries of the soldiers. To pay for all this, Severus raised taxes, and debased the currency several times, making silver coins lighter, and decreasing their silver content from 82% to 54%.

Before Severus, public money was kept in the fiscus (for public administration) or the patrimonium Caesaris (for the imperial household). Under Severus, however, taxes flowed into a new fund, the res privata, which was Severus’ personal property. “Any practical distinction between public funds and those of the emperor were fast disappearing, and thus the state was closer to being identified with his own person.”4

Citizens were required not only to pay taxes, but also to perform various tasks; these required tasks are referred to as “liturgies.” Examples of liturgies are providing horses for the army, providing lodgings to soldiers, maintaining public buildings, and collecting taxes. In provincial cities, magistrates were burdened with various liturgies, so no one wanted to be a magistrate, and magistrates had to be appointed. Civic patriotism and civic service gradually gave way to “every man for himself.”4B

In the countryside, peasants fled, and sometimes joined robber bands, in order to avoid the burden of taxes, forced labor, etc. Many people were exempt from taxes and liturgies, making the burden still heavier for those who weren’t exempt; among those exempted were government officials, teachers, doctors, firemen, soldiers, and ex-soldiers. In addition to all the usual taxes and liturgies, emperors levied a special tax called the aurum coronarium (gold crown); cities were expected to give this “gift” to the emperors on special occasions like accessions, anniversaries, and adoptions.5

An independent farmer had little chance against robber bands, marauding troops, and imperial tax-collectors. When it was “every man for himself,” only the strong survived, only those who owned vast estates (latifundia) could protect themselves and their dependents. Large landowners could bribe imperial officials, and evade imperial decrees. In order to survive, the farmer had to became a dependent of the large landowner. Here we have the origin of serfdom and the medieval manor. The large estate offered some protection, and some sort of legal system; it was a state within a state. The landowner was both judge and police chief.

At the start of his reign, Severus showed some respect for the Senate, but when some Senators backed Albinus in the civil war, Severus turned against the Senate, and executed many Senators. He filled civil and military posts with men from the military, rather than with Senators. So the old Republican tradition of civilian control of the military was dying.6

Severus also did away with the Republican tradition of standing jury-courts (quaestiones perpetuae), replacing them with courts run by the City Prefect (praefectus urbi) and the Praetorian Prefect (praefectus praetorio). Traditionally there were two Praetorian Prefects (so one man wouldn’t be too powerful). Now Severus appointed a distinguished jurist to be one of the Praetorian Prefects, and to handle judicial matters.

The emperor himself was “the ultimate judicial authority and the final court of appeal.”7 The emperor was the maker of law, and the Supreme Court. But the emperor wasn’t subject to the law (princeps legibus solutus est).

One of the basic principles of modern law is that the law should treat everyone the same. Under Severus, though, citizens were divided into honestiores and humiliores. Senators, equestrians, soldiers etc. were honestiores; they received lighter sentences for the same crimes, and they could appeal to the emperor. If convicted of a capital crime,

the honestior would be put to death quickly and cleanly, the humilior might be thrown to the beasts.... From the time of Severus the principle that the law was a respecter of persons pervaded the whole of Roman criminal jurisdiction, a rule which constituted one of Rome’s most harmful legacies to the Middle Ages.8

In the Severan Age, the emperor was no longer the servant of the state, as under the Antonines, but rather the master of the state. The Senate had neither the power to legislate nor the freedom to discuss; the emperor’s decrees were read to the Senate, and the Senate approved them by acclamation. The number of Senators grew to 900. Many Senators didn’t bother to attend meetings of the Senate.

Julia Domna, the wife of Septimius Severus, was active both intellectually and politically. She invited various writers to visit her court. One well-known writer from this period is Diogenes Laertius, who wrote short biographies of Greek philosophers. One of the most interesting books from this period is the Deipnosophistae (Dining Philosophers), by Athenaeus. This long book describes a series of banquets attended by literary men. Hundreds of writers are quoted; the book includes recipes, and an “unusually clear portrait of homosexuality in late Hellenism.”9 It was published in 1612 by Isaac Casaubon, and was read with interest by Thomas Browne.

While Septimius Severus was alive, his elder son Caracalla competed with the powerful Praetorian Prefect, Plautianus, for the position of heir apparent. Caracalla “contrived to sow mistrust of the prefect in his father’s mind, and once Severus lost faith in his favorite he struck him down as suddenly as Tiberius had turned upon Sejanus.”10 After Severus died, Caracalla had another rival to deal with: his younger brother Geta. In his will, Severus had made Caracalla and Geta co-emperors. They weren’t able to work together; they set up rival courts in separate halves of the palace. After the brothers had competed for about eight months, Caracalla assassinated Geta, and became sole emperor.

“The Severan Tondo”: Septimius Severus with his wife, Julia Domna, and their sons, Caracalla and Geta. After Caracalla murdered Geta, Geta’s face was rubbed out of the portrait, and his memory was damned (damnatio memoriae). Imperial portraits like this one were displayed in offices throughout the empire. Some documents had to be signed in front of an image of the Emperor; in the eyes of the law, this was the same as signing in front of the emperor himself.11

Caracalla is one of the “bad emperors.” The name “Caracalla” is a nickname, like “Caligula.” He was called “Caracalla” from the “hooded Gallic greatcoat which he introduced into Rome” (Caligula means “little boot” and comes from the boots that he wore as a child, while in camp with his father Germanicus). Caracalla began his reign with a massacre of everyone suspected of supporting Geta. He increased soldier salaries still further, and debased the coinage still further. In 212 AD, Caracalla issued a famous edict that turned all freemen in the Empire into Roman citizens.

The long-standing distinction between Italians and provincials, between conquerors and conquered, was virtually obliterated, and the Roman Empire was definitely converted into a commonwealth of equal partners.

“Portraiture continued to maintain a high standard.... A bust of Caracalla... shows all his ruthless cruelty in realistic mode.”12

In 216 AD, Caracalla led an army into Armenia, and turned it into a Roman province. Then he asked to marry the Parthian king’s daughter and was refused. So in 217, he marched toward Parthia, but before he got very far, a group of officers assassinated him.

The leader of these officers, the Praetorian Prefect Macrinus, became emperor. He didn’t last long. Macrinus was promptly defeated by the Parthian king, and driven out of Mesopotamia. In 218, the troops in Syria chose their own emperor, Elagabalus. Elagabalus was Caracalla’s cousin, and claimed to be Caracalla’s son. Though he was only 14, Elagabalus won the support of the Eastern provinces, and his troops defeated Macrinus.

The reign of Elagabalus lasted four years. Our authors describe Elagabalus as “a voluptuary of the stamp of Nero and Commodus, [who] allowed the administration to go to rack and ruin.”13 The name “Elagabalus” comes from a Syrian sun god; the emperor promoted the worship of this god, and built two temples in Rome to this god.

Elagabalus’ grandmother, Julia Maesa, took an active role in politics, and participated in Senate debates. (Our authors compare Julia Maesa to Agrippina the Younger, who played an active role during the reign of her son, Nero.) After a few years, Julia Maesa realized that the Roman people were becoming hostile to Elagabalus, so she advised Elagabalus to adopt his cousin, Severus Alexander, as co-emperor. After doing so, Elagabalus had second thoughts, and wanted to become sole emperor again. This roused the anger of the household troops, who killed him and threw his body in the Tiber. Elagabalus died in 222 AD.

When Severus Alexander became emperor, he was only 13. Throughout his thirteen-year reign, Severus Alexander was under the influence of women — first his grandmother, then his mother.

Severus Alexander tried to check the rising power of the army by bolstering civilian authorities, such as the Senate. He put Senators into the imperial council. Most administrative responsibilities were carried out by Ulpian, a distinguished jurist and Praetorian Prefect. Severus Alexander “showed great tolerance towards all cults, including Christianity.”14 The reign of Severus Alexander was later viewed as a kind of Golden Age, in contrast with the bad emperors who came before and after.

Under Severus Alexander, the government began supervising trade guilds (collegia); this gave the government “pervasive control” over “commerce and manufacture.”15 Certain guilds (such as shipowners) were exempted from taxes, in order to encourage certain activities.

The key question facing Severus Alexander was, Could he control the soldiers? Could he rule the army, or would the army rule him? Early in his reign, Ulpian was killed in the palace during a clash between the Praetorian Guard and the Roman mob. The historian Dio Cassius, another “good disciplinarian,” also incurred the wrath of the Praetorians, and the emperor dismissed him.16

Meanwhile, on the Eastern front, the Parthian Empire had been supplanted by a new Iranian/Persian empire, the Sassanids. This new empire tried to revive the glory days of the Persian Empire, which had stretched from India to Greece.17 In 230, the Sassanid ruler began pushing into Roman territories, so in 231, Severus Alexander and his mother led an attack on Persia, an attack that achieved partial success.

While Roman forces were engaged in the East, a German tribe called the Alemanni invaded Roman territory. In 235 AD, Severus Alexander brought his army up to repel the invaders, but his troops wouldn’t obey him, and he had to buy off the Germans. When he tried to re-establish discipline, the soldiers rioted, and both Severus Alexander and his mother were killed. Thus ended the Severan Dynasty, and thus began fifty years of military anarchy, a period that’s sometimes called The Crisis of the Third Century.

B. The Crisis of the Third Century:
235 AD to 284 AD

The riot that took the life of Severus Alexander was led by Maximinus. Since Maximinus was from Thrace, he’s often called Maximinus Thrax. He was the first peasant emperor, and the first of the “Barracks Emperors.” There would be many more to come in the fifty years of anarchy that followed the death of Severus Alexander.

Maximinus was “a man of immense physical strength,” and a capable soldier.18 During his three-year reign, he was constantly fighting — first against disobedient Roman armies, then on the Rhine front, then on the Danube front, and finally against the Senate and the Italian people. He died in northern Italy, while fighting the Senate’s forces. During his reign, he never set foot in Rome (indeed, he may not have set foot in Rome during his entire life). Many Italians viewed him as a foreigner, a barbarian, not a real Roman.

Maximinus won the loyalty of his troops by promising to double their pay, then sent his procurators to extort money from wealthy people; the distinction between taxation and robbery was erased. These rough tactics sparked revolts in north Africa and Italy.19

In north Africa, Gordian I was proclaimed emperor, but was soon killed by troops loyal to Maximinus; his son and co-emperor, Gordian II, was also killed. The Senate then proclaimed two Senators co-emperors, but these co-emperors were unpopular with the Roman mob, and suspicious of each other; their reign only lasted a few months. The Praetorian Guard murdered these co-emperors, and Gordian III, a 13-year-old grandson of Gordian I, was proclaimed emperor.

238 AD is known as The Year of the Six Emperors. The Roman Empire was in chaos, sometimes described as “military anarchy.” A semblance of order was restored by Gordian III, who chose a capable man named Timesitheus as his Praetorian Prefect and adviser. Gordian III and Timesitheus had to confront the Sassanids, who were driving through Mesopotamia toward Syria. Timesitheus died suddenly of illness, and the new Praetorian Prefect, an Arab named Philip, killed Gordian III and proclaimed himself emperor.

Philip proved himself to be a competent ruler, but couldn’t gain the loyalty of all the legions; “the habit of treason had now fastened like a cancer upon the Roman army.”20 A general named Decius left his post on the lower Danube and invaded Italy; Decius defeated Philip’s forces, and became emperor in 249 AD.

But by abandoning his post on the lower Danube, Decius opened the floodgates to the Goths, who swarmed over the Balkan peninsula. Decius tried to drive the Goths back over the Danube, but was defeated and killed in 251. More civil war, more mutiny.

In 253 AD, a modicum of stability was achieved by Valerian, who reigned for seven years. Valerian was “a man of integrity [and] the last representative of the old republican nobility among the emperors.”21 Valerian made his son, Gallienus, co-emperor. Gallienus reigned with his father for seven years, then by himself for another eight years. At a time when most emperors were uneducated soldiers, Gallienus stands out for his culture, and for his tolerant attitude toward Christianity; Gallienus was a friend of the NeoPlatonic philosopher Plotinus. Plotinus tried to persuade Gallienus to put Plato’s ideas into practice, and start a utopian community in Campania, but nothing came of it.

Valerian and Gallienus faced a host of problems. Years of anarchy had weakened Roman armies, and the barbarians couldn’t be held back. Rome’s border was breached on the lower Danube by the Goths, on the upper Danube by the Alemanni, and on the lower Rhine by the Franks; the Franks “broke into European history with devastating force” in 256 AD.22 The Sassanids were on the march in Mesopotamia, and the Saxons, a north-German tribe, began operating pirate ships in the English Channel. As if this weren’t enough, as if Rome’s cup of trouble weren’t quite full, a plague spread through the Empire, and in 262 AD, killed about 5,000 people a day in Rome.

Gallienus took charge of the Western Empire, while Valerian marched east to confront the Sassanids. In the West, the Franks carved out Lebensraum in eastern Gaul, central Gaul, and even northeastern Spain. When the Alemanni broke into Italy, Gallienus managed to defeat them at Milan, but then had to deal with mutinous generals, who proclaimed themselves Emperor. “Pretenders were springing up like mushrooms in this province and that.”23 This crowd of pretenders is sometimes called The Thirty Tyrants.

These pretenders weren’t motivated solely by ambition. When the emperor was busy in one part of the empire, other parts would feel neglected, and would feel that they needed their own emperor in order to survive the onslaughts of barbarians. The Roman Empire was coming apart at the seams. “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”

The most successful of these pretenders was a general named Postumus, who was based on the Rhine, and received the support of Roman governors in Britain and Spain. Postumus kept power for ten years, minted his own money, and had his own Senate and Praetorian Guard. Initially his coins were inscribed Restitutor Galliarum (Restorer of the Gallic Provinces), but later his coins were inscribed with a slogan befitting an emperor: Restitutor Orbis (Restorer of the World).

Leaving Gallienus to mind the store in Italy, Valerian marched east to check the advance of the Sassanid ruler Shapur. To make himself feared, Shapur was committing atrocities against conquered cities. In 260 AD, the armies of Valerian and Shapur met at Edessa (near the intersection of southern Turkey, northern Syria, and western Mesopotamia). Valerian’s forces had been “decimated by plague,” and they suffered a crushing defeat, surrendering en masse to the Persians. It was the first time that a Roman Emperor had been taken prisoner. Gallienus became sole emperor. Valerian never regained his freedom, dying in captivity.

Shapur continued his westward thrust, conquering and plundering. A Roman officer named Macrianus managed to rally Roman forces, and make a stand in Syria. Meanwhile, Shapur’s forces were being attacked by a military leader from powerful Palmyra named Odaenathus. Challenged by Macrianus and Odaenathus, Shapur pulled back.

Macrianus’ reputation rose, and Roman forces in Egypt and Asia Minor threw their support to him. Macrianus had become as powerful in the eastern Empire as Postumus was in the west; Gallienus controlled only the central third of the Empire. “The unity which Augustus had given to the Mediterranean world might well appear to have collapsed.”24

But Macrianus wasn’t content with the eastern provinces, he wanted more, and began marching toward Italy. Before he reached Italy, Macrianus was defeated and killed by Gallienus’ forces. As for Odaenathus, Gallienus formed an alliance with him, and the eastern provinces were stabilized.

Palmyra become a wealthy “caravan city,” the most important oasis on the road from Damascus to central Iraq. Palmyra provided mounted archers to protect caravans from robbers; in return for this protection, the caravans paid duties to Palmyra.

Colonnade, Palmyra

The stability of the eastern provinces was short-lived. Odaenathus died around 268 AD, and his power passed to his widow, Zenobia. Zenobia “combined perfect Greek scholarship with a personal ambition like that of the last Cleopatra.”25 For Rome, Zenobia wasn’t a cooperative ally; she built her own empire that stretched from the Nile to Asia Minor, and was based at Palmyra.

In 268 AD, Gallienus was murdered by a group of officers, a group that included the future emperors Claudius and Aurelian.

Claudius, who became emperor in 268, had to confront a massive invasion of Goths in 269. The Goths had outstanding cavalry; they had “learnt cavalry warfare on the Russian steppes.”25B The Goths had resolved to permanently occupy the Balkan peninsula, and had brought their families with them. Claudius managed to divide the first wave of invaders from the second, and defeat each wave separately, attacking the Goths by sea as well as land. “This sweeping series of victories removed all serious danger from the Goths for a hundred years to come.”26 The victorious emperor was dubbed “Gothicus,” hence he’s known as “Claudius Gothicus.”

But Claudius Gothicus controlled only the central third of the empire. The eastern third was controlled by Queen Zenobia, the western third by Postumus. When Postumus died in 269, his “Gallic Empire” began to unravel; Spain pledged its allegiance to Claudius Gothicus.

In 270 AD, after a two-year reign, Claudius died of the plague and was replaced by Aurelian. Aurelian managed to beat back two invasions from the north, the first by the Vandals, the second by the Alemanni. Aurelian decided to pull back from Dacia, the province north of the Danube that had been established by Trajan in 106 AD.

Then Aurelian decided to re-conquer the eastern provinces from Queen Zenobia. By 272 AD, he had driven Zenobia’s forces from Asia Minor and Egypt. Then Aurelian struck at Syria, defeating Zenobia’s forces at Emesa (modern Homs). Finally Aurelian decided to march eighty miles east, through the desert, and attack Zenobia’s capital, Palmyra. Zenobia, hoping to get help from the Sassanids/Persians, sallied forth from Palmyra and was captured. Aurelian installed Roman troops in Palmyra, and marched back to the Danube.

Soon, however, news reached Aurelian that the Roman garrison in Palmyra had been massacred, so he returned to Palmyra. “Palmyra now suffered complete destruction, and its very ruins were forgotten until the eighteenth century.”27 Aurelian was proclaimed “Restorer of the East” (Restitutor Orientis), but he had to assert control over the “Gallic Empire” before he could become “Restorer of the World” (Restitutor Orbis).

The Gallic Empire was ruled by Tetricus, a civilian with little military ability. When the forces of Aurelian met those of Tetricus, Tetricus promptly surrendered. In 274 AD, Aurelian celebrated a triumph in Rome; Tetricus and Zenobia walked in this triumph. “By his indomitable energy Aurelian had welded the Roman Empire together once more, and had earned the proud title of Restitutor Orbis.”28 Aurelian was strong-willed, perhaps hot-tempered; his nickname was “Hand on Hilt” (manu ad ferrum).

A few years before Aurelian’s triumph, with German tribes repeatedly invading Italy, Aurelian had decided to build a massive wall around Rome. Construction began in 271 AD, and continued until 275. The wall stretched for 12 miles, and was 12 feet thick and 20 feet high.

Aurelian’s Wall

Before he died in 268 AD, Gallienus had further debased the currency by minting coins that consisted largely of “base metal” (perhaps copper), and had little precious metal (silver).29 The result was inflation, which became a serious problem during the reign of Aurelian. Aurelian tried to improve the situation by calling in worthless coins, and minting a new coin that was 4% silver. Aurelian also replaced the monthly distribution of corn (in Rome) with a daily distribution of bread.

Aurelian brought sun-worship to Rome, building a temple to the sun, and establishing games in honor of the sun. He didn’t try to identify himself with the sun god, or claim a divine right to rule; rather, he used the sun god to focus monotheistic tendencies, and to unite the Empire. Aurelian reigned for just five years (270-275 AD). “He had served Rome so well in his short reign that his premature murder must cause regret.”30

After Aurelian’s death, two emperors, Tacitus and Florianus, reigned briefly; both were probably killed by their own soldiers. Then one of Aurelian’s officers, Probus, became emperor, and reigned for six years (276-282 AD). Early in Probus’ reign, the Alemanni and Franks crossed the Rhine and invaded Gaul, capturing sixty towns, and spreading devastation. Probus managed to drive these German tribes back across the Rhine. In 282, however, Probus was lynched by his own soldiers, partly because he had put them to work on land-reclamation, partly because another army had proclaimed their own commander Emperor.

During the fifty years of military anarchy (also known as The Crisis of the Third Century), at least eighteen emperors had been “set up and knocked down.” Finally, in 284 AD, an officer named Diocletian became emperor, and managed to restore order. “Diocletian held power for twenty years, and when he laid down his crown he did so of his own free will.”31 In our next discussion of ancient Rome, we’ll deal with the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine (284-337 AD).

© L. James Hammond 2016
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1. Ch. 40, #1 back
2. Ch. 40, #2 back
3. Ch. 40, #2 back
4. Ch. 40, #4 back
4B. Ch. 42, #4 back
5. For more on this period, see my earlier remarks on Rostovtzeff. back
6. Under later emperors like Gallienus, this trend continued; Gallienus put legions under the command of equestrian praefecti instead of Senate legati. Under Gallienus, provincial governors, chosen from the Senate, no longer had command of armies, and they gradually lost their civil power, too, and were replaced by equestrian governors. back
7. Ch. 40, #7 back
8. Ch. 40, #4 back
9. Wikipedia back
10. Ch. 40, #5 back
11. Wikipedia back
12. Ch. 40, #7 back
13. Ch. 40, #5 back
14. Ch. 40, #7 back
15. Ch. 40, #6 back
16. Dio Cassius is also known as Cassius Dio. back
17. This earlier Persian Empire is known as the Achaemenid Empire. It lasted from 550 BC to 330 BC, and included such rulers as Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes.

We probably shouldn’t view the Parthian Empire as entirely distinct from the Persian/Iranian Empire; Wikipedia calls the Parthian Empire “Iranian.” The Parthian capital, Ctesiphon (near Baghdad), was also the Sassanid capital. The Parthian Empire is also known as the Arsacid Empire. back

18. Ch. 41, #1 back
19. I discussed this period in an earlier issue. back
20. Ch. 41, #1 back
21. Ch. 41, #1 back
22. Ch. 41, #2 back
23. Ch. 41, #2 back
24. Ch. 41, #2 back
25. Ch. 41, #2. The terrorist group ISIS has recently destroyed some of Palmyra’s antiquities. ISIS killed Khalid al-Asaad, a native of Palmyra and a leading expert on Palmyra’s antiquities. Al-Asaad had named his daughter Zenobia. back
25B. Ch. 42, #8 back
26. Ch. 41, #3 back
27. Ch. 41, #3 back
28. Ch. 41, #3 back
29. Such coins are sometimes called “billon.” back
30. Ch. 41, #3. Elagabalus also brought Sun-worship to Rome. Our authors say that Aurelian’s Sun-worship was “more sober than the excesses of Elagabalus’s Sun-worship.” back
31. Ch. 41, #3 back