From Rome to Byzantium AD 363 to 565: The Transformation of Ancient Rome

From Rome to Byzantium AD 363 to 565: The Transformation of Ancient Rome

From Rome to Byzantium AD 363 to 565: The Transformation of Ancient Rome

From Rome to Byzantium AD 363 to 565: The Transformation of Ancient Rome


The Edinburgh History of Ancient Rome is a chronological history of Rome and the Roman world in eight volumes. From the city's first settlement to the collapse of the western empire and the emergence of Byzantium some 1,500 years later, each volume encapsulates the ever-changing identity of Rome, providing overall unity to its dramatic history.


The empire’s geopolitical context

In the mid-fourth century the Roman empire encompassed almost as much territory as it had during the second century – the period often regarded as the peak of Roman power. Although the mid-third century had been a turbulent period for the empire, not least on its frontiers, it had survived surprisingly well territorially, with only minimal losses of land: the most substantial of these had been that of the province of Dacia north of the lower Danube (modern Romania), with the other significant area being the region known as the Agri Decumates, the wedge of territory between the upper reaches of the Rhine and the Danube (the Black Forest region of modern Germany). The Mediterranean Sea remained a ‘Roman lake’ in the fourth century, and the empire continued to control virtually the same amount of land mass as it had for a number of centuries, with all that that implied for tax revenues in an age when government income derived overwhelmingly from agricultural production.

Nevertheless, the empire of the fourth century did find itself in significantly changed geopolitical circumstances from the empire of the second century. To the east, the Parthian Arsacid rulers had been replaced by the Sasanian Persians. A leading aristocratic family from Persis in southern Iran (modern Fars), the Sasanians had overthrown the Arsacids in the 220s and quickly proved themselves much more politically adept and militarily aggressive neighbours, so much so that by the fourth century they had staked a strong claim for Persia to be recognised as the Roman empire’s political and military

1. Cf. Gibbon’s famous description of the ‘prosperous condition’ of the empire between the reigns of Nerva and Marcus Aurelius in the early chapters of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–88). For good accounts of the empire’s history during the first half of the fourth century, see (in addition to the relevant sections of the general histories noted on p. 312 below) D. Potter, The Roman Empire at Bay, AD 180–395, London: Routledge, 2004, chs 8–13, and J. Harries, Imperial Rome AD 284 to 363: The New Empire, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.

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