The Roman Empire at Bay: AD 180-395

The Roman Empire at Bay: AD 180-395

The Roman Empire at Bay: AD 180-395

The Roman Empire at Bay: AD 180-395

Synopsis

David Potter's comprehensive survey of two critical and eventful centuries traces the course of imperial decline, skillfully weaving together cultural, intellectual and political history.Particular attention is paid throughout to the structures of government, the rise of Persia as a rival, and the diverse intellectual movements in the empire. There is also a strong focus on Christianity, transformed in this period from a fringe sect to the leading religion.Against this detailed background, Professor Potter argues that the loss of power can mainly be attributed to the failure in the imperial elite to respond to changes inside and outside the empire, and to internal struggles for control between different elements in the government, resulting in an inefficient centralization of power at court.A striking achievement of historical synthesis combined with a compelling interpretative line, The Roman Empire at Bay enables students of all periods to understand the dynamics of great imperial powers.

Excerpt

This book is about the way that an empire changed in the course of two hundred years. I would say evolved, were it not that the metaphor implies improvement, and whatever else one may conclude from the pages that follow, the Roman Empire was a less powerful state at the end of the period that I am covering than it was at the beginning. In the pages that follow, I shall argue that the strength of the Roman Empire derived from the way that the empire was formed. At the height of its power the Roman Empire was an ad hoc collection of acquisitions brought together at various times that, because there never was any grand plan of empire, were governed in ways that suited them. The geographical diversity of the empire was mirrored in its administrative diversity.

The equilibrium of the first and second centuries was impossible to maintain because governments must change; no large institution can exist in a steady state. The way that the institution will change may be affected by the nature of the managerial class - is the management open to new ideas and new perspectives? Does it have a decent strategic plan? Can it understand the capabilities of its rivals? What sort of people rise to the top? In talking about the government of the Roman Empire we are often talking about what constitutes its corporate culture, and how well that corporate culture is in tune with factors that may determine the success or failure of the institution. In the case of the Roman Empire I argue that the rise of the court bureaucracy in the early third century was at odds with earlier traditions of decentralization. Decentralized power strengthened the hands of emperors who were able to negotiate between different interest groups, avoiding, if they were successful, excessive dependence on any one class. The difficulty that inhered in the earlier tradition of government was that it made tremendous demands on the emperor himself, a fact that was implicitly recognized by claims that the emperor was the "best man" in the state, ruling because he alone had the qualities necessary to govern. Behind this rhetoric lay the unfortunate reality, not just of monarchies, but of all systems of government including a chief executive officer, that some who obtain these positions are unequal to the demands of the job. . .

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