The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine

The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine

The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine

The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine

Synopsis

The third century AD in the Roman Empire began and ended with Emperors who are recognised today as being strong and dynamic - Septimius Severus, Diocletian and Constantine. Yet the intervening years have traditionally been seen as a period of crisis. The 260s saw the nadir of Imperial fortunes, with every frontier threatened or overrun, the senior emperor imprisoned by the Persians, and Gaul and Palmyra breaking away from central control. It might have been thought that the empire should have collapsed - yet it did not.Pat Southern shows how this was possible by providing a chronological history of the Empire from the end of the second century to the beginning of the fourth; the emergence and devastating activities of the Germanic tribes and the Persian Empire are analysed, and a conclusion details the economic, military and social aspects of the third century 'crisis'.

Excerpt

The third century opened and closed with the emergence of strong, vigorous Emperors victorious in civil war, each of whom survived long enough to consolidate his power and reorganise the state. Septimius Severus defeated his last rival and embarked on sole rule in 197. Diocletian's turn came nearly a hundred years after Severus in 284. Both made determined efforts to secure the succession, each in his own way, and not entirely successfully in the longer term. Both developed an autocratic style of government, and both relied upon a fabricated divinity and sacrosanctity of the Imperial household to bolster up their absolutist regimes. Both strengthened the frontiers and built or rebuilt fortifications. Finally, both reorganised the army in accordance with their own immediate needs and those of the state. Constantine took the work of his predecessors to its conclusion, creating a sacrosanct, absolutist, dynastic regime, but the changes that he crystallised had already begun under Diocletian.

The similarities between the upheavals of the 190s and the 280s, and the parallel responses of the reforming Emperors, are very beguiling, giving rise to the immediate impression that the Diocletianic reformation was inevitable if not preordained a century earlier. The superficial resemblance between Severus and Diocletian tends to overshadow the important developments of the century that separated them. The problem is that the considerable contributions made by other Emperors from 211 to 284 suffer from a comparative lack of self-advertisement. In many cases there was and is a complete dearth of reliable information, either because none existed at the time or what did exist has been lost, and on occasion the extant information has been subjected to deliberate falsification by contemporary or later authors. Even where some information is available it has been manipulated for ease of use, with the result that the emphasis has sometimes shifted or been distorted. The artificiality of modern chronological divisions in Imperial history imbues certain episodes with more weight than they perhaps deserve. Aurelius Victor pinpointed the assassination of Severus Alexander in 235 as a deeply significant event, before which all was reasonably well and after which things were irretrievably damaged. Following his lead, 235 is

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