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    Davenport, Caillan 2012. SOLDIERS AND EQUESTRIAN RANK IN THE THIRD CENTURY ad. Papers of the British School at Rome, Vol. 80, p. 89.

    Appelbaum, Alan 2012. Why the Rabbis of the Yerushalmi Called R. Judah Nesiah “a Great Man”. Journal of Ancient Judaism, Vol. 3, Issue. 3, p. 339.

    Hodgson, N. 2014. The British Expedition of Septimius Severus. Britannia, Vol. 45, p. 31.

    Marzano, Annalisa 2009. Trajanic building projects on base-metal denominations and audience targeting. Papers of the British School at Rome, Vol. 77, p. 125.

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This volume covers the history of the Roman Empire from the accession of Septimius Severus in AD 193 to the death of Constantine in AD 337. This period was one of the most critical in the history of the Mediterranean world. It begins with the establishment of the Severan dynasty as a result of civil war. From AD 235 this period of relative stability was followed by half a century of short reigns of short-lived emperors and a number of military attacks on the eastern and northern frontiers of the empire. This was followed by the First Tetrarchy (AD 284–305), a period of collegial rule in which Diocletian, with his colleague Maximian and two junior Caesars (Constantius and Galerius), restabilised the empire. The period ends with the reign of the first Christian emperor, Constantine, who defeated Licinius and established a dynasty which lasted for thirty-five years.


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  • 1 - The Severan dynasty
    pp 1-27
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    Septimius Severus was born in Lepcis Magna in Africa in 145. The character of Severus' regime was inevitably influenced by the bloodshed, confiscations and terror associated with civil war, and by his dependence on the army. In the Severan era, of the equestrian procurators known to have military experience, about 57 per cent still had held one or more posts in the traditional equestrian militia. The proportion of ex-centurions and tribunes of the guard promoted to procuratorial posts remained roughly similar to that in the second century. The Severan army fought two civil wars, two difficult campaigns in the east, and a costly war in Britain while remaining a powerful effective force, loyal to the dynasty at the accession of Caracalla and Geta, and even after the murder of Geta. Severus himself became a worthy commander-in-chief. He recruited three new legions in Italy, perhaps for the war against Albinus.
  • 2 - Maximinus to Diocletian and the ‘crisis’
    pp 28-66
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    The fifty years following the death of Severus Alexander were among the most disruptive ever experienced by the Roman Empire. Historians conventionally refer to them as a period of 'crisis', which began in 235, reached its peak around 260, and then gradually yielded to the ministrations of a series of reforming emperors, ending with Diocletian. The outstanding characteristic of this crisis was war, both civil and foreign. C. Iulius Verus Maximinus was a man of late middle age. Though of relatively humble stock, he had exploited the opportunities for promotion in the reformed army of Septimius Severus, winning high rank and equestrian status. Between 235 and 285 the Roman Empire experienced great dislocation and distress. The principal causes of these disturbances have now been generally agreed by historians and may indeed be inferred from what Diocletian eventually did to bring them to an end.
  • 3 - Diocletian and the first tetrarchy, a.d. 284–305
    pp 67-89
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    The two decades of Diocletian's reign saw the re-establishment of political, military and economic stability after half a century of chaos, at the price of a more absolutist monarchy, a greatly expanded army and bureaucracy and a more oppressive tax regime. Probably in 286 or 287, a new feature of the imperial collegiality emerged. Diocletian and Maximian began respectively to use the adjectival epithets Iovius and Herculius, bringing themselves into some sort of relationship with the cognate deities, Jupiter and Hercules. The years 287-90 had also seen important developments in the eastern half of the empire, to which Diocletian had repaired after the appointment of Maximian and perhaps a campaign against the Sarmatians in the autumn, reaching Nicomedia in Bithynia by 20 January 286. Iovius for Diocletian and Galerius, Herculius for Maximian and Constantius, epithets survived in the naming of new provincial divisions in Egypt some years after the end of the first tetrarchy.
  • 4 - The Reign of Constantine, a.d. 306–337
    pp 90-109
    • By Averil Cameron, Warden of Keble College, The University of Oxford
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    Constantine emerged as victor first over Maxentius at the battle of the Milvian Bridge in the late autumn of 312, and then over his erstwhile ally Licinius at Cibalae in 316 and Chrysopolis in 324; however, most of the surviving literature favours and justifies his success. Constantine was to reign as sole emperor from 324 until his death in May 337. The episodes of Constantine's campaign are famously depicted on the arch of Constantine: these include his progress through northern Italy and the siege of Verona, as well as vivid scenes of the defeat of Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge and his army's dramatic engulfment in the Tiber. Constantine's first move during the winter of 312-13 was to strike an alliance with Licinius, cemented by a marriage at Milan between Licinius and Constantine's sister Constantia. Constantine himself was a product of the tetrarchic system and in many respects he behaved no differently from his colleagues and rivals.
  • 5 - The army
    pp 110-130
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    The disposition of the Roman army in 235 shows in general terms the main strategical pre-occupations of the empire. Twelve legions and over 100 auxiliary units were concentrated along the Danube from Raetia to Moesia Inferior, while a further eleven legions and over eighty auxiliary units guarded Rome's eastern territories from Cappadocia to Egypt. Aurelian strengthened the army by recruiting two thousand horsemen from Rome's erstwhile enemies the Vandals, and also received offers of troops from the Iuthungi and the Alamanni. This was very much in the Roman tradition of recruiting good fighting peoples from the periphery of the empire and channelling them into the Roman system. Diocletian inherited a long-established military structure, in which many key provinces contained two legions and auxilia. Constantine significantly altered the balance of Rome's military forces established by Diocletian. In the context of the early fourth century, Constantine's arrangements probably provided the best chance of preserving the territory and prestige of the Roman Empire.
  • 6a - General developments
    pp 131-136
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    The novelty of the constitutions in the Codex Theodosianus within the overall context has often unconsciously led historians to believe that the procedures of government and administration attested from the age of Constantine onwards were always genuine fourth century innovations. According to a widely accepted reconstruction of the procedures of government and administration between the Augustan and Constantinian ages, the emperor Theodosius II management of the empire was characterized, on the one hand, by a substantial lack of initiative; on the other, by frenetic activism and personal commitment in the response to appeals from his subjects. While the second-century empire was perhaps less randomly governed and more 'bureaucratic' than is generally thought, its late antique counterpart was surely much less bureaucratized than is suggested by a deeply rooted tradition of studies. The age running from Severus to Constantine was an age of both fracture and continuity.
  • 6b - The age of the Severans
    pp 137-155
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    The victorious contender of the civil war that followed Commodus' assassination, Lucius Septimius Severus, the governor of the province of Pannonia Superior and an African of Lepcis Magna, found it expedient to present himself as Pertinax's legitimate successor. As for the women of the Severan dynasty, they played a decisive role not only during the palace intrigues accompanying the moments of succession, but also in the daily exercise of imperial power and in the very construction of the princeps' image. During the first two centuries of the imperial age the administrative fields dependent on the princeps steadily grew in importance. The Praetorian prefecture had extended its authority to cover matters of public order in Italy during the second century. The greatest changes in the administrative organization of the empire during the Severan age were those resulting from the large accretions of imperial property after the confiscation of individual urban estates belonging to the followers of Niger and above all Albinus.
  • 6d - The new state of Diocletian and Constantine: from the tetrarchy to the reunification of the empire
    pp 170-183
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    In 293, two soldiers, Constantius Chlorus and Maximianus Galerius, were raised to the purple as Caesars. The diarchy was transformed into a tetrarchy. With the partition into four areas, the western parts to Maximian and Constantius Chlorus, the eastern to Diocletian himself and Galerius, the centres of decision were brought closer to the more critical frontier zones. It was an attempt to resolve a structural problem in a large territorial Byzantine empire. To strengthen the new regime a new legitimation of imperial power was devised: one that exploited a particular religious climate, while at the same time aiming to trace its roots in the Roman tradition. The administrative reforms, which were connected with the reorganizations of the army, of taxation and even of the coinage, were an effective response to danger from without and to the threat of disintegration. The main feature of Aurelian's reform was the division of the existing provinces into smaller territorial entities.
  • 7a - High classical law
    pp 184-199
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    The age of the Antonines and Severans witnessed the highest achievements of Roman law, building on the foundations laid down in the last decades of the republic and the first of the empire. At the heart of this high classical law were two elements: first the jurists, and second the scientific approach to legal thought which they embodied. The vast majority of the texts collected together in the Digest of Justinian, compiled in the second quarter of the sixth century, date from this period; one half of the whole work is derived from the writings of just two Severan jurists, Ulpian and Paul. The main focus of the classical jurists was on the detailed analysis of specific legal institutions. The principal works in which this type of analysis occurred were the great commentaries, in particular those on the Edict. Through the last two centuries of the republic magisterial Edicts had been a crucial source of legal change.
  • 7b - Epiclassical law
    pp 200-211
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    The classical period of Roman law is conventionally taken to end in 235 with the death of Alexander Severus. The third-century rescripts which survive cluster into groups. The vast bulk of surviving rescripts is from the reign of Diocletian. The reign of Diocletian saw the compilation of two codifications of imperial rescripts, the Codices Gregorianus and Hermogenianus. The first evidently collected rescripts from the reign of Hadrian up to 291, while the second covered 293-4. The Codex Gregorianus was evidently divided into fifteen or sixteen books up to forty in a book. The five books of sententiae attributed to Paul were the most successful and widespread of epiclassical juristic works. They were used already by the compiler of the Fragmenta Vaticana in about 320 and they were given a boost by being officially approved by Constantine. Some odd surviving works may be best attributed to activity in the schools in the epiclassical period.
  • 8 - Provinces and frontiers
    pp 212-268
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    Under the Severan emperors there was a significant advance of the limits of territory under direct Roman occupation, in Mesopotamia to the river Tigris and in Africa to the northern fringes of the Sahara desert. Only in the later years of Severus Alexander, last of the Severan dynasty, were there indications of new threats to stability along the northern and eastern frontiers. The half-century between the death of Severus Alexander and the accession of Diocletian appears to have been dominated by inroads of peoples from the north and Persian aggression from the east. The years of stable relations with Germans and Sarmatians across the middle Danube came to an end around the middle of the third century. The general character of Roman frontier deployment in the European provinces has long been known but only recently have there emerged detailed accounts of the eastern frontier between the Black Sea and the Red Sea.
  • 9 - Developments in provincial and local administration
    pp 269-312
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    The Roman Empire's need to mobilize continuously and more exactingly than before its economic, financial and human resources in order to meet the demands of collective defence, entailed a strengthening of the administrative structure at all levels-central, provincial and local. The revision of traditional theories has had the effect of modifying the chronological periodization, by showing the Severi to have been more continuators of the Antonines than precursors of Diocletian, and by redefining the tetrarchy itself as a phase in the transition between the classical imperial system and the most characteristic innovations of the late empire, which do not appear before Constantine. Throughout the whole period the diplomatic relations maintained by the various emperors with the eastern cities, in the purest traditions of hellenism seem to conform to the ideal expressed by Aelius Aristides some decades earlier. Severan reforms are said to have revised the political presuppositions and the juridical configuration of the land tax.
  • 10 - Egypt from Septimius Severus to the death of Constantine
    pp 313-326
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    This chapter sketches the social and economic features of the Roman province which have a bearing upon some of the key issues in the history of the later empire. The province of Egypt played a central role in the military and political struggles in the east during the 260s and 270s. The reforms under Diocletian and his immediate successors amount to a radical overhaul of the Egyptian administration, brought about by stages over more than two decades. The changes and developments in Egypt between Septimius Severus and Constantine are exceptionally important, not least because of the implications for the history of the empire in the third and early fourth centuries as a whole. Recent studies of fundamental aspects of the agricultural economy in the Fayum and the Oxyrhynchite Nome reveal management strategies which are both sophisticated in the case of day-to-day organization and relatively stable in the case of landholding and tenancy.
  • 11 - Coinage and taxation: the state's point of view, a.d. 193–337
    pp 327-392
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    Coinage serves as a point of reference in the political, social and military life of the Roman empire. This chapter examines the problems of coinage and tax system in the specific context of the Roman economy, an economy that is neither modern nor archaic, but more simply different from subsequent ones. Coins are among the best preserved and the most thoroughly studied artefacts of imperial period. Throughout the period, the Roman coinage combines, three categories of coins corresponding to three categories of metals: gold, silver and aes or pure copper, or copper mixed with other metals. The currency is made up of a certain quantity of metals minted as coins and put into circulation. The metal stock is actually subject to three types of outflows: hoarding, the export of currency and the wear of coins. At the end of the third century, taxation perhaps replaces the coinage as a unifying factor.
  • 12 - Coinage, society and economy
    pp 393-439
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    From the last decades of the second century to the first decades of the fourth, the economy of the Roman world without doubt suffered the aftershocks of the violent tremors that shook the empire, most of them of a military and political nature. The Roman economy has left behind a large body of material evidence which it has become possible to study more systematically in recent decades thanks to advances in archaeology and epigraphy. This evidence consists of artefacts that have resisted the passage of time: coins; pottery and what can be deduced from it, such as the products transported and sometimes stored in the amphorae-wine, oil and garum. The prosperity of the towns often also has a sumptuary dimension, and bears witness to the structural imbalances in the Roman economy and society. For an economy in which building has always been one of the most prosperous activities, investments in cities are always considered to be a positive sign.
  • 13 - The Germanic peoples and Germanic society
    pp 440-460
    • By Malcolm Todd, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology in the University of Durham, and former Principal of Trevelyan College, Durham
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    The Germanic communities of the early Roman Iron Age had developed settlement forms that were much more complex and sophisticated than would have been deduced from the literary record. In terms of tactics, Germanic warfare probably changed little during the third and early fourth centuries. Weaponry certainly improved, and access to Roman armament, however achieved, added a new dimension. Trading and other exchanges continued unabated between the Roman provinces and the Germanic peoples throughout the late second and third centuries, though with significant changes in the goods which changed hands and in the overall pattern of trade. The status of iron smiths was carefully defined in the later Germanic law codes and it is a reasonable surmise that they enjoyed a relatively elevated position in earlier Germanic society. Cult-places of several kinds are strongly in evidence from the end of the second century and a number remained in use until the fourth or fifth centuries.
  • 14 - The Sassanians
    pp 461-480
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    The rise of the Sassanians is better documented than subsequent history, but even so there are conflicting versions of the origin of Ardashir. The first capital of Ardashir in Fars most likely was at Firuzabad, then known as Gor, although later in the reign of Ardashir it received the name Ardashir-khwarreh 'the glory of A', probably in honour of his victories over the Parthians. The Sassanians respected and feared the mighty Roman Empire and continued to designate the later Byzantine state by the same name, although they knew that different peoples lived in the enemy state and served in its armies. The Romans too learned to respect the Sassanians more than they had the weaker Parthians. Perhaps the most significant changes in outlook, culture and society in the third and fourth centuries, both in the Roman and the Sassanian worlds, were the changes in religion which marked the end of the old 'pagan' religions and the flowering of 'universal' religions.
  • 15 - Armenia and the eastern marches
    pp 481-497
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    In antiquity most of eastern Anatolia was contained within the kingdom of Armenia. As a consequence of the Armenian wars fought in the reign of the emperor Nero, a new dynasty was established on the Armenian throne, that of the Arsacids, a branch of the Parthian royal house. Religion plays a significant role in the struggle over Armenia. The indigenous polytheism had long been mixed with Iranian elements and pagan religion was essentially syncretic. On the eastern borders of Armenia lay the Median march, comprising lands in Atropatene and Adiabene that were wrested from the Persians in 298. To the south were the all-important Syrian and Arabian marches, themselves divided up into a number of autonomous principalities. The Syrian march, formerly the kingdom of Sophene, included the principalities of Ingilene, Anzitene, Lesser and Greater Sophene, each with its own local ruler.
  • 16 - The Arabs and the desert peoples
    pp 498-520
    • By Maurice Sartre, Professeur d’Histoire Ancienne à l’Université François-Rabelais
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    At the end of the second century the majority of the groups inhabiting the desert between the Antitaurus and the Red Sea were in fact Arabs in the modern sense. South of the Euphrates they were almost the only inhabitants, though some of the population of the oases may have been Aramaic, at Palmyra. On the other hand, north of the Euphrates at Edessa, Hatra or Assur, the Arabs were in a minority. The Arab principality of Edessa was one of the most ancient of those on the far side of the Euphrates, originating when an Arab dynasty took control of the Greek city of Edessa and the surrounding area. The disappearance of the sedentary Arab states and dynasties which had controlled the nomadic Arabs of the Syro-Mesopotamian desert forced Rome to find new means to guarantee the safety of Roman Empire along the frontiers.
  • 17a - The world-view
    pp 521-537
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    The only late polytheist thinker considered worthy of serious study by historians of philosophy was Plotinus. Since Plotinus' attitude to conventional religion was misunderstood no less by his contemporaries than by modern scholars, it must be emphasized that he was recognized to be a focus of holiness, a holy man. In polytheism, the pursuit of virtue and the spiritual life were primarily the domain of the philosophers. The effect on the broad polytheist community of hearing the street-corner preaching of a wandering Cynic was scarcely to be compared with the regular instruction received by the Christian community from its bishop during the weekly house-church liturgy. The common ground between the Hermetica and the theurgists' sacred texts, the Chaldaean Oracles, lies not just in their Graeco-Oriental character, but also in their acceptance that humans may attain to the divine by many routes, in which cultic practices as well as philosophical intellection have a part.

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