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Lecture 6: When All Roads Led to Rome

Italy before the Romans: The Etruscans

We've already mentioned Phoenician and Greek colonies in Sicily and Italy, but what about
people in Italy before these colonies? We know relatively little about stone-age farming cultures
in Italy. In about 1200 BCE, Indo-European "Italic" speakers with bronze weapons invaded Italy
from the Adriatic. By about 800 BCE these invaders had settled all along the Italian peninsula
and established the cultures known as the Umbrians, the Sabines, the Samnites, and the Latins.

Also around 800 BCE, peoples called the Etruscans invaded Italy. They were neither Semitic nor
Indo-European, and elements of their burial tombs and religious practices suggest origins in
western Asia. They settled in the region we call Tuscany, but that they called Etruria (hence
Etruscans). These invaders clearly came from an urbanized culture, because they quickly began
building walled cities.

The Etruscan city-states began as monarchies but came to be ruled by councils of aristocrats who
chose annual magistrates (administrators who served one year terms). The Etruscan warrior-
aristocrats ruled over conquered Italic peoples, whom they used as laborers. By the 500s BCE the
Etruscan city-states had entered into a federation (not a centralized monarchy) and had conquered
all of Italy from Naples to the Alps. In the mid-500s BCE, Etruscan warriors conquered the region
of Latium, including a small town called Rome. Rome first rose to importance under the rule of
Etruscan kings.

The Etruscans traded goods with Carthage and the Greek city states, who valued high quality
Etruscan metalworking (which they traded for Greek pottery and textiles). The Greeks had a great
impact on Etruscan culture: the Etruscans adopted the Greek alphabet, they were influenced by
Greek religion, they borrowed Greek hoplite military tactics, and they were influenced by Greek

But the Etruscans were not cultural clones of the Greeks; they had their own distinct traditions,
many of which the Greeks considered barbaric. Unlike the Greeks, the Etruscans did not
segregate and secluded women. Greek sports simulated aspects of combat (wrestling, javelin
throwing, etc.); Etruscans actually engaged in combat as spectator sport (gladiators). Etruscan
religious divination practices also differed from the Greeks. And Etruscans had one skill as
builders that the Greeks never masteredthey understood how to build arches.

What happened to the Etruscans? In around 400 BCE Celtic invaders from Gaul (now called
France) crossed the Alps and seized the northern reaches of Etruscan-held territory in the Po
Valley. Not long afterwards, the city of Rome conquered and absorbed the remaining Etruscan

Royal Rome (before the Republic)

Roman myth (based upon Etruscan myth) says that the twin orphan brothers Romulus and Remus,
who had been raised by a she-wolf, founded Rome in 753 BCE. The truth is less fanciful.

At some point around 750 BCE one of the Italic invader tribes settled in a rich farming region
called Latium. Italic farmers built a small town on seven hills that overlook the Tiber River. This
was Rome, which remained a small town until conquered by Etruscans in the 500s BCE.

Rome drew the Etruscans because of its strategically important location: it had access to rich
farmland and to the sea (via the Tiber River); it was perfectly located to trade with the Etruscan
federation to north and the Greek colonies to the south; and it was a very defensible position.
Under Etruscan kings, Rome quickly grew into a mighty regional power.

Rome's Etruscan kings organized an extremely effective army based upon Greek weaponry and
tactics. Its officers became Rome's aristocrats and had great political power (as in the Etruscan
city-states). Rome's aristocratic Senate "elected" the King as the city's administrator and gave the
King the power of imperiumthe right to command, arrest, fine, and punish any Roman. The
King served as military commander, chief priest, and supreme judge. But in practice, government
power was limited and divided.

By legend, Rome's first king (Romulus) appointed and advisory council of aristocrats to serve as
his councilors--the first Senate. In Royal Rome, 300 Senators served life terms. The Senate
technically had no legislative or executive powers in Royal Rome, but it elected the King and
served as his councilors.

Royal Rome had another government assemblythe Curiate. The King used the Curiate to gain
public approval of major policies. Any man born of two Roman parents enjoyed Roman
citizenship, and all citizens belonged to a set category/group (curia) in the Curiate. Voting took
place by curia. (Each curia gathered separately and its members voted. If the majority in Curia X
votes Y, then Curia X casts its one vote for Y.)

Royal Roman society had two legally-defined social classes: patricians (the aristocrats) and
plebeians (the lower classes). People inherited their status as patricians or plebeians. Only
patricians could serve on the Senate, hold office, or serve as priests, and patricians only married
other patricians. Plebeians had no such privileges. Status was based upon birth, not wealth. A
plebe was a plebe, be he wealthy (non-aristocratic) landowner, a "middling" farmer, or a poor
urban or rural laborer.

A practice called clientage linked patricians and plebeians. Powerful "patrons" provided
protection and economic assistance (e.g., land grants) to their "clients"; in return, the client
worked and fought for the patron and supported him politically. The patron-client relationship,
called fides (trust, fidelity), constituted a mutual moral obligation. Hereditary patron-client
relationship between families passed on from generation to generation. By the time of the
Republic, clientage among patricians had become a path to power and influence.

This brings us to the organization of the Roman family. Under Roman customary law, the father
exercised imperium over the family and could punish his children as he saw fit (including selling
them into slavery). The husband had limited power over his wife, however; women, while not
considered equals to men, had greater legal standing in Rome than in any of the Greek city-states.

Legal recognition of marriage (connubium, necessary to protect the transfer of property within
families) was one of the "traditional" rights of Latium peoples that the Etruscan-based monarchy
continued to recognize. Other elements of the "Latin Right" included commericum (the
enforceability of contracts) and migratio (transfer of citizenship in moving from one town to

Popular belief that citizens (and especially patricians!) had unalienable rights probably fueled an
aristocratic rebellion against the king in 509 BCE. Legend says the Romans rebelled after King
Tarquin's son Sextus raped a virtuous Roman woman named Lucretia. For Romans, this myth
symbolized the untrustworthiness of kings.

The Early Republic (500-150 BCE) and Constitutional Rule

Having cast off their king, Roman aristocrats created a constitutional form of government called a
Republic (in which the people are sovereign and participate in power through electoral
institutions). Under the unwritten constitution of the early Republic, only the patricians exercised
political power. The patrician Senate, which now met continuously, played a direct role in
policymaking and controlled state finances.

If the Senate was composed of patricians, how did the Republic determine citizenship? The
Senate elected from among its members two Censors, who served five-year terms. The censors
conducted "censuses" that defined each man's taxation category and social status, and from these
they drew up lists of men who were legally citizens. Eventually the censors also drew up lists of
senators. If the censor removed you from the lists, you lost your status as a citizen (or as a
senator); therefore these were very powerful positions.

The new constitutional order created a new legislative body, the Centuriate Assembly. This
assembly elected the government's executives, voted on proposed legislation, declared war, and
served as an appeals court. Its members represented the Roman Army, which was organized into
units of 100, called "centuries." Again, the patricians dominated: centuries were organized by
types of unit (cavalry, archers, etc). Since soldiers had to supply their own weapons and armor,
these represented categories of wealth. Most plebeians had no political voice.

Each year the Assembly elected two patricians to the office of Consul. The two Consuls
exercised limited imperium: they led the army, were head priests, and served as chief judges. But
they could not invoke capital punishment inside Rome's city borders without approval of the
Assembly. The Consuls sought Senate support for policies, and after serving as Consul a man
became a senator for life.

In cases when Rome was in crisis--generally during wars-- the Consuls had the power to appoint a
"dictator," who for a period of six months held imperium both within and outside the city's borders
and could punish citizens without restrain by the Assembly. And the early Republic was often at
war. As its armies fought longer and more distant wars, its constitution changed: the Assembly
created the Proconsulship, extending Consulars' terms when they were leading the army. And it
created the office of Preator, generals who served for one-year terms and also had the power of

In its early stages, the Republic was a tool of the patricians and the patricians alone. But patrician
families accounted for less than 5 percent of Rome's population. The plebeians, the other 95
percent, found themselves taxed and forced to serve in the wartime army, but excluded form any
political voice. The great injustices of this system led to a series of plebian rebellions in the mid-
400s BCE.
Plebeian rebellions (the "Struggle of Orders") forced Rome's government to democratize,
although the process was painfully slow. Around 450 BCE the Senate created the institution of
the Tribune, two ombudsmen for the plebeians with the power to veto acts passed by the
Assembly. In the mid-400s the Assembly issued Rome's first written law code, the "Law of the
Twelve Tables." Next, plebeians won the right to serve as low-level judges. In the mid-300s the
Senate first chose a plebeian as Consul. Soon, wealthy plebeians began serving as senators. And
in 287 BCE Rome created a new legislative assembly made up only of plebeians, the Concilium
Plebis, which could make laws that the Senate could not revoke.

Although these reforms gave wealthy plebeians greater power, the gulf between rich and poor in
Rome grew in the 400s-200s BCE. Moreover, a relatively few patrician families still dominated
the Senate (particularly after laws were passed banning senators from participating in merchant

Economy and Culture in the Early Republican Period

Rome had been founded by farmers, and agriculture remained the core of its economic life under
the Republic. Commerce and artisan crafts existed, of course, but they were less important in
Rome than in most Greek cities. (Thus, as Coffin points out the Romans did not have a fixed
currency system until the mid- 200s BCE.) In the early Republic most agricultural production
depended upon small family farms.

This changed as Rome's power military power expanded. In the 200s BCE, more and more
Roman farmers served long tours of army duty and without their labor their families fell into
debt. This added to the economic power of the "Equestrians," businessmen with strong political
connections, who bought up "cheep" land from poor farmers and built huge estates (latifundia).

Patrician/Equestrian landowners found cheap labor for their latifundia in the form of slaves. They
took advantage of the growing number of poor farmers who had fallen into debt slavery. But once
Rome began conquering lands beyond Italy, they also had access to hundreds of thousands of
slaves taken as spoils of war. Rome's economy became entirely dependent upon slave labor.

Commerce also grew along with Rome's territorial expansion. More and more trade came into
the capital from conquered territories. Also, expansion required more weapons production, which
required more raw materials (more mining and forestry), and more infrastructural development
(road building, canal building, ship building, etc.) Equestrians controlled most of these ventures,
so that Rome's military growth meant wealth in the hands of the elites. And as Rome's power
expanded, its leaders built more monuments and public buildings, project that employed slaves
but also thousands of artisans and artists.

Yet Republican Rome's culture still reflected its status as an agricultural societyfor instance,
fertility cults remained central features of their religious practice (as with other ancient peoples).
Many aspects of Roman cultural life were changing, though, as Rome engaged in almost constant

Fathers still enjoyed household imperium, but the status of wives in patrician households changed
somewhat; women now could keep property inherited from their fathers and had the right to
initiate divorce. Both measures were really about protecting patrician property, which grew
increasingly important as war made Rome "richer." Moreover, patrician women now had slaves
to do all household tasks, so their daily life increasingly focused on luxury and pursuit of
Fathers still served as priests in household worship. Each family had its own household gods,
including ancestors to whom they prayed in hopes that the dead would intervene with the gods in
the family's favor. In addition, Romans publicly worshipped a pantheon of gods that included
their own versions of Greek gods (Jupiter = Zeus; Venus = Aphrodite; Neptune = Poseidon; Cupid
= Eros; Mars = Ares; Saturn = Kronos; Bacchus = Dionysus etc.). Temples of religious cults
functioned as branches of the state and in the 200s and 100s BCE the Senate intervened directly in
establishing and banning certain religious cults (e.g., it banned the cult of Bacchus and the cult of
the Greek mother goddess Cybele).

The family served as Rome's basic educational institution. Fathers taught their sons how to farm;
how to read, write, and do basic math (it was expected that a Roman could at least read the
Twelve Tables); how to conduct religious rituals; the history of their families; and how to fight as
Roman warriors. The goal of this education was to teach a vocation and to instill piety and

The emphasis of education changed somewhat in the 200s BCE, as a result of Greek influence.
Increasingly, patrician boys were expected to learn humanitaslanguages (esp. Greek), literature,
and philosophy, with an emphasis on critical thinkingfrom a grammaticus (a hired teacher).
From the 200s BCE the Romans began producing their own literature, although still strongly
influenced by the Greeks (as were their arts). Again, this was tied to warfare.

The Early Republic's Wars of Expansion

From the 390s to the 260s BCE, Rome's wars aimed at expanding its dominance over Italy. Rome
often practiced a strategy of "divide and conquer," making alliances to fracture resistance then
conquering both ally and foe. Rome promised loyal conquered Italians Roman citizenship and put
down all resistance with brutal force. The turning point in Roman expansion in Italy came in 295
BCE, when Rome defeated a coalition of Italian states and won control of all Italy between the Po
Valley and Naples. By 265 BCE it had control over the Greek colonies in southern Italy.

That same year, Rome entered its first war with Carthage. Carthage, remember, had been a
Phoenician colony (Romans called them "Poeni"), that had grown into a wealthy independent
city-state. By 300 BCE Carthage ruled much of the western Mediterranean. When the
Carthaginian tyrant of Syracuse (Sicily) launched an attack on Messina in 265, it looked as though
Carthage had designs on the Italian peninsula.

In 264 BCE the Roman assembly voted to enter the war against Carthage, which began the First
Punic War (264-241 BCE). Fighting in Sicily proved a long, costly stalemate. But in 241 BCE,
Rome's fleet sank the entire Carthaginian fleet. Carthage then agreed to pay an "indemnity" and
gave Rome Sicily and several other islands (Rome's first possessions outside Italy).
Rome now competed with Carthage for dominance over the western Mediterranean. In particular,
the Romans felt worried at Carthage's expansion in Spain. In 218 BCE, Rome launched a "pre-
emptive" war against Carthage (the Second Punic War, 218-201 BCE). At first this seemed a huge
blunder: the Carthaginian general Hannibal made an amazing attack on Italy, marching his army
(war elephants and all) from Iberia through Gaul, then over the Alps into the Po Valley. In battle
after battle, Hannibal's armies crushed the Romans (for example, Rome lost 80,000 soldiers in the
battle of Cannae in 216 BCE).
Hannibal ran low on supplies, however, and could not attack key Roman cities. In 212 BCE the
Romans regrouped and went on the offensive, but not against Hannibal. Instead Roman general
Scipio attacked in Iberia, then landed in north Africa. In 204 BCE he forced Carthage to sign a
peace treaty, although Hannibal's army in Italy had not lost a single battle. In 2002 BCE Hannibal
returned to Carthage and convinced the city's leaders to break the peace. But Scipio's Romans
defeated Hannibal at Zama, and in 201 BCE Rome took almost all Carthage's lands and forced it
to pay a huge indemnity.

Rome now ruled the entire western Mediterranean. While stripping Iberia of its silver and other
resources, they treated its conquered peoples as barbarians and committed countless atrocities.
The Iberians refused to accept Roman rule and carried on a seventy-year long war of resistance,
during which the Romans used terror tactics to "pacify" the local population.

The Romans proved just as brutal in their treatment of Carthage. In 150 BCE, Rome's Senate
(whose wealth and power had been increasing with each war) again voted to attack Carthage,
beginning the Third Punic War (149-146 BCE). The war ended when Rome burned Carthage,
butchered tens of thousands of its civilians, and shipped 55,000 civilians back to Rome to be sold
as slaves.

Rome simultaneously fought wars both in the West and in the East. By the late 200s BCE, the
Romans considered the Alexandrian successor states (Macedonia and the Seleucids) threats to
their further expansion. Macedonian King Philip V had revitalized his army and had allied
himself with Carthage in the Second Punic War. In 215-205 BCE, Rome went to war against
Philip V (the First Macedonian War), but did not defeat him. In 200 BCE the Romans
deliberately provoked another war (the Second Macedonian War, 200-197 BCE), and this time
drove the Macedonians out of Greece. Rome then declared war against the Seleucid King
Antiochus and defeated him at Magnesia (in western Turkey, which the Romans called "Asia
Minor") in 189 BCE.

At first, Rome allowed the Greek cities to remain "independent" Roman "protectorates. But this
changed when Rome launched another war against Macedon (the Third Macedonian War) in 172-
168 BCE. After defeating the Macedonians again, Rome began demanding huge sums in tribute
from the Greek cities and took thousands of Greek prisoners as slaves.
By the year 150 BCE, the Romans ruled six huge foreign "provinces" ("Africa," Sicily, Sardinia-
Corsia, Greece-Macedonia, Hither Spain, and Further Spain); it treated these as a source of
income. Rome ruthlessly exploited the raw materials of conquered lands (under the oversight of
the Equestrians, whom each war helped enrich). It was no less ruthless in treatment of conquered
peoples, who became a seemingly endless source of cheap (slave) labor.

Rome's slaves frequently rose in rebellion, especially in the late Republican period. Among the
most important slave revolts were those in Sicily in the 130s BCE (in which a slave army
repeatedly defeated a Roman military army), and the "Spartacus" rebellion of the 70s BCE (in
which a slave army also defeated several Roman armies). Rather than soften its treatment of
slaves, Rome responded to such rebellions with even greater brutality. Most famously, after
defeating Spartacus the Romans crucified 6,000 rebellious slaves.

The Late Republican Period (150-27 BCE)

Roman's census divided its roughly 8 million inhabitants into four legal categories: "senatorial"
aristocrats; equestrians, common citizens, and slaves. Although tensions existed between the
equestrians and the senatorial aristocrats, they generally worked together to control political and
economic power in Rome. These elites lived off of the labor of their slaves, whom they treated as
beasts of burden. (Indeed, dependence on cheap slave labor hampered innovation in the Roman
economy). Slaves and commoners made up the vast majority of the population. Most commoners
still toiled as farmers, but concentration of land in the hands of the wealthy elite continued.
Rome's urban population included hundreds of thousands of poor families, most of whom had lost
their land or been broken by the strains of warfare.

In 133 BCE a faction in Roman political life led by the Gracchus brothers (Tiberius and Gaius)
proposed offering land grants to the poor and limiting the size of patrician estates. Tiberius
Gracchus, who held the post of Tribune, hoped to help poor farmers while strengthening his
faction's political position with the Concilium Plebis. (The land grants would also increase the
number of men eligible for military service.) Faced with opposition from the Senate and the
other Tribune (M. Octavius), Tiberius proposed changes to Rome's constitution that would
weaken the Senate. In reaction, patrician senators murdered Tiberius and many of his inner

A few years later, though, the Senate implemented elements of Tiberius' economic proposals as
well as laws limiting grain prices proposed by Gaius Gracchus. While the Senate saw some
wisdom in satisfying the basic material needs of poor Romans, it rejected Gaius' efforts to reform
government administration (which would have weakened patrician power). Again, there was an
aristocratic backlash; this time Senators not only killed Gaius, but also executed thousands of his
The fall of the Gracchi ushered in a period in military generals dominated Roman politics.
General Marius rose to power as a result of two wars (one against Numidia, near Carthage; the
other against northern "barbarian tribes). The Assembly elected him Consul in 111 BCE, and he
held the post until 100 BCE. In power, Marius made "reforms" in the army that bound soldiers
(clients) in loyalty to their "commander in chief" (patron) rather than to the Roman constitution.
Powerful generals now could use the army to bully the Senate. In 88 BCE, during yet another war
(in Asia Minor), the Assembly elected General Sula as Consul. Having won the war, Sulla
returned to Rome and launched a civil war against his political rivals in 83 BCE. In 82 BCE the
Senate appointed Sulla "Dictator." He then killed his political opponents, turned their wealth over
to the army, strengthened the authority of the patrician Senate, and weakened Rome's democratic
institutions. The Republic was virtually dead.

After Sulla's retirement in 79 BCE, two army generals again battled for control of Roman politics,
Pompey and Julius Caesar. Both were famous for their foreign victories and both commanded
large armies loyal to them alone. The Senate gave Pompey control of the army during yet another
war in Spain in 77 BCE. His authority grew when he returned to Rome and crushed the Spartacus
slave rebellion in 71 BCE. Pompey joined into a political alliance with Senator Crassus to
become a major force behind the scenes in Roman government, while the Senate increased the
scope of his military power in war after war.

In the meantime, Julius Caesar had risen to great authority as commander of Rome's armies in
Gaul. In 60 BCE, Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus entered into an alliance, the First Triumvirate.
Together, these three practically controlled the Roman government. But tensions soon emerged:
Crassus died in 53 BCE. In 52 BCE the Senate called on Pompey to put down rioting in Rome
and gave him extraordinary powers as sole Council. At the Senate's urging, Pompey quickly
moved against his rival Caesar, triggering a civil war.
Caesar then marched on Rome, in 49 BCE. Pompey and his forces fled Rome, and Caesar went in
hot pursuit. In 48 BCE Caesar's army defeated Pompey in Greece. Like Alexander the Great,
Caesar did not stop after vanquishing his rival; instead, he followed the remnants of Pompey's
forces into Asia Minor and then into Egypt. The civil war lasted until 45 BCE, with Caesar
constantly in the field (and away from Rome).

In 45 BCE he returned to Rome a "great conqueror." In his absence, Caesar had arranged
"reforms" that packed the Senate with his own supporters. In 46 BCE the Senate named Caesar's
"Dictator" for a ten-year term , with full power of imperium. But on returning to Rome, Caesar
demanded more, and was appointed "dictator for life." (He was also Consul, Tribune, Chief
Priest, and Prefect of Morals.)

Under Julius Caesar, Rome consolidated its conquests in Europethis was perhaps his greatest
achievement. Not only did it provide Rome with the great resources of Gaul (in particular, grain),
but Julius Caesar also used Europe to solve the problem of staffing Rome's armies. He permitted
men from Iberia and Gaul to gain Roman citizenship, and thus to serve in Rome's armies. In
doing so, he also helped spread Roman (and through it, Greek) culture north into Europe.

In 44 BCE a faction in the Senate decided that the dictator had amassed too much power. With
the help of Caesar's own friends Brutus and Cassius (both republicans), they assassinated Julius
Caesar at a Senate session on 15 March in 44 BCE.

The Early Empire (27 BCE-180 CE)

Julius Caesar's political power was so great that he was able to "will" the position of Consul to his
adopted son, Octavian. In 42 BCE Octavian (an army general) formed a Second Triumvirate with
two generals, Mark Antony and Lepidus, who returned to Rome and crushed the Senate's
republican faction (led by Brutus and Cassius).

For a decade Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus ruled together by dividing up Rome's territories
(Antony ruled Egypt and the East, Lapidus ruled Africa, and Octavian ruled Italy and the West).
But tensions and rivalries arose, particularly between Octavian and Antony. A new civil war
erupted in 32 BCE; it ended with Octavian's victory over Antony at Actium in 31 BCE (Antony
and his lover, Egypt's Cleopatra, later famously committee suicide).

From 31 BCE to 27 BCE, Octavian Caesar ruled as Consul; in 27 BCE he maneuvered the Senate
into naming him "Emperor" and "Augustus" ("victorious general" and "most honored"), but his
legal power rested on his status as "Princips" ("first citizen"). In 23 BCE, Augustus Caesar (his
new title) resigned as Consul; the Senate, however, gave him continuing power of imperium for
life and named him Tribune for life. That meant that Augustus controlled the army, the Assembly
and the Senate; could veto any legislation; could impose judgment and punishment on any
Roman; and was immune from arrest or punishment. Rome still had the faade of republican
institutions, but in practice Augustus Caesar ruled as a king.

In power, Augustus implemented administrative reforms that made the Roman state much more
efficient. These included re-organization of the Senate, recruitment of talented (wealthy)
commoners for government service, division of Rome into rational administrative districts,
organization of Rome's first police force and fire department, and construction of aqueducts to
create an abundant public water supply.
Augustus also reorganized administration of Rome's huge empire, which proved vital to its
success and further growth. He permitted participation of local elites in the administration of the
provinces and appointed new, more competent governors to serve for longer terms. He
reorganized tax collection to reduce corruption and bring in greater tax revenues, and he
encouraged Roman colonization of the provinces.

Augustus also professionalized Rome's armies to a far greater extent than had any previous
leaders. Soldiers now enlisted for 20 years, and in return received decent pay and the promise of
land upon retirement. He kept some 300,000 soldiers stationed in the provinces, which not only
helped maintain Roman rule, but also helped spread Roman culture. The system of rule built by
Augustus lasted long after his death (in 13 CE), and worked smoothly for about 200 years (until
the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 CE).

Under Augustus, Rome conquered most of Central Europe. His dynastic successors extended the
empire into Eastern Europe and Mesopotamia. Rome imposed a system of "peace" (Pax Romana)
over its huge empire through military dominance. But Rome also offered benefits to conquered
lands. Its colonists and soldiers brought their culture and institutions to the new provinces, Rome
built new cities, new monuments, new temples, new roads, new baths, new aqueducts and new
ports. And perhaps most significantly, Roman rule meant Roman Law.

Even the most authoritarian of Rome's rulers recognized the importance of law, and Rome prided
itself on the Rule of Lawthe idea that men were to live according to clear legal principles.
Roman legal experts (jurists) developed a very clearly articulated body of legal theory. They
recognized three divisions of the law: civil law (written and customary law as it applied to
citizens); the "law of peoples" (which applied to everyone everywhere, and focused mostly on
property rights); and natural law (eternal principles of "nature" by which the gods ordered the
universe and according to which all men must act). Roman natural law concepts (such as the idea
that all men are men are born with rights, in fundamental equality, and that the government can
not deprive men of these fundamental rights) provided an abstract philosophical basis for law.

Despite its efforts to assimilate conquered peoples, Rome often had to enforce its "peace" through
military force. The German tribes and the Celtic tribes of the British Isles repeatedly rose against
the rebellions, and the Roman army drowned all resistance in bloodshed. In 70 BCE the Romans
crushed a rebellion in Judea, burned the Second Temple, killed perhaps 500,000 people, and
banned Jews from Jerusalem. Rome's relations with its provinces was complex: Rome seemed to
offer many opportunities to those who assimilated into its culture; at the same time, Romans
borrowed aspects of the cultures they had absorbed, such as religious cultsincluding the mother
goddess cults from Asia minor, Mithraism, and after about 40 CE a new sect in Judaism known as
the Christians.

Life in the Early Roman Empire

Expansion of the empire meant that Rome now traded with the entire "known world" (even
China), especially trade in luxury goods. Again, Rome had its own artisans and manufacturing,
but these were not high priorities in Roman culture (which saw agriculture and war as the source
of wealth). As a result, Rome had a "negative trade balance"it imported goods and exported
little else but gold and silver (to purchase these goods). As a long-term trend, this meant trouble.
Moreover, as I have said before, this was a slave-based economy (which stunted domestic
economic innovation); if the supply of slaves fell, then the economy would decline as well.
Still, the early Imperial period witnessed a great flowering of Roman intellectual and artistic life,
although much of it still rested on Greek foundations. Roman Stoicism, for instance, took its
basic principles from Greek Stoicism (see previous lecture). Like the Greeks, they stressed that
one should seek inner peace by recognizing the natural order of the universe; ethical behavior,
they argued, was in keeping with this natural order.

Roman versions of Greek Stoicism and Epicureanism had great influence on the "Golden Age" of
Roman literature (for instance, in Horace's Odes). Greek influence is most obvious in the works
of the poet Ovid--not only in his retelling of myths, but also in the often caustic, often erotic
poems in the Metamorphoses. The major Golden Age historian Livy was influenced by
Herodotus and Thucydides, although he was far less concerned with accuracy and documentation
then had been the Greeks. Livy's aim was to present engaging patriotic propaganda, much as had
Augustus favorite poet, Virgil (in the Aeneid).

By the end of the first century CE, Roman literature (now in its "Silver Age") took on a new tone
it now frequently exposed the seedier, decadent sides of Roman life, which authors held up for
moral criticism. This is particularly true in the work of Juvenal, for instance (see the "box: in
Coffin, p. 208) and the historian Tacitus (see the selection in Brody in which he praises the
"savage" Germans as morally purer than Romans).

It was in architecture and engineering that the Roman's distinguished themselves most clearly
from the Greeks: they had followed classical Greek models of naturalism in their painting and
sculpture, but they far surpassed the Greeks in building domes, arches, roads and bridges
aqueducts and urban water supply systems, etc. Roman architecture also had its propagandistic
purposesthe point of the grandeur of the Parthenon, the hugeness of the Coliseum, was to
impress upon Romans with the greatness of their Emperors and their empire.

Mention of the Coliseum brings us to one of the most famous aspects of Roman civilization, one
that has made a deep impression in American popular culture: gladiatorial combat.
While the Greeks enjoyed sports that simulated combat, the Etruscans and Romans actually
wanted to watch combat. The Roman "circus" (so called because it was held in round coliseums)
featured huge displays of gladiatorial combatthe scenes in the movie Gladiator with Russell
Crowe actually present a very accurate depiction of such combats. The Coliseum in Rome fit
more than 50,000 spectators and would be filled to capacity for the "circus." All of Roman
society, from the poorest to the wealthiest (including the Emperors) would attend the gladiatorial
combats. Their entertainment came from watching menusually slaves or convictstorn apart
by animals or forced to butcher one another.

The growing decadence of Roman society, the growing strains that super-expansion placed on its
military, and a fatally flawed economic system all foreshadowed crisis. We will begin the next
lecture by discussing that crisis, which came after the death of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in 180

Lecture 7: The Roman Empire and Christianity

The Roman Empire in Crisis (180-284 CE)

When in 180 CE Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius died, he bequeathed power to his son
Commodius. Commodius then found himself caught between the two competing poles of
political power in Imperial Romethe Senate and the Army. Unable to control either,
Commodius drifted into a pattern of bazaar behavior, which included arbitrary executions of
Senators, military commanders, and other public figures. In 192 CE he was murdered by one of
his own servants, and Rome fell back into the familiar pattern of civil war between the factions of
competing Generals. In 193 CE, a general from one of Rome's provinces seized power, Septimus

Severus and his successors (the Severans ruled until 235 CE) were basically military dictators:
they severely weakened the rights of the Senate and put the army at the center of Roman political
life, even using the military directly against their potential opponents. In 235 CE the army turned
against the Severans and murdered Emperor Severus Alexander and his wife. Yet again, Rome
fell into civil war, with general after general seizing power and then being ousted by yet another
military coup. Political chaos gripped the empire until 284 CE.

Not only was the empire in a state of political chaos, but the economic crisis that had been
festering for centuries finally erupted to the surface. Constant war, civil war, and the cost of
appeasing the army had drained the imperial coffers. Emperor after emperor had raised taxes and
issued devalued the currency (with lower percentages of silver and gold), which contributed to a
downward economic spiral. By the mid-200s, war had severed important trade ties; moreover, the
countryside was in ruin and agricultural production had declined severely. Food shortages
contributed to the spread of epidemic diseases, which (along with deaths from warfare) helped
depopulate the Roman countryside. Rome's cities then experienced almost two decades of
plagues (mid-200s).

These new blows would not have been so very crippling were it not for the fundamental weakness
of Rome's economyits dependence on slave labor. Once Rome's external expansion slowed
(around 100 CE), it no longer had an inexhaustible supply of slaves. Rather than concentrate on
technical means of improving agriculture, Roman landowners worked their dwindling slave labor
force more intensively. This contributed to low birth rates among slaves, which were also
probably at least in part the result of slaves' deliberate decision not to produce more children to
serve their Roman masters.

The hunger and plagues of the 200s hit the rural slave population hardest, further depleting the
slave labor force. Between 180 CE and 280 CE, Rome's population probably declined by at least
30 percent. And so by the 200s CE Rome faced a severe shortage of agricultural labor, which was
probably the single most important cause of declining agricultural productivity. The economic
crisis had relatively little impact on the lives of Rome's wealthy aristocrats, but it meant enormous
suffering for ordinary Romans.

One of the other important pressures contributing to Rome's crisis was the threat of foreign
invasion. In the 200s CE Rome's armies were far weaker than they had been a century earlier
the combination of a falling population and decades of bloody civil war had seen to that. The
Persians began carving away at Rome's territories in the East (even capturing and killing one
Roman emperor, Valerian, in 260 CE); in the North, Germanic tribes like the Goths began moving
against Roman territory.
Rome's pattern of authoritarian, militaristic rule had weakened it politically, its reliance on slave
labor had weakened it economically, and its expansionism had created a backlash that weakened
its security. By the late 200s CE Rome was in serious decline, although its self-satisfied, luxury-
loving elites seemed to take little notice.

Diocletian and Constantine: Moving Rome to the East

In 284 CE a general named Diocletian seized power in Rome and instituted important
administrative and economic reforms. While helping to stabilize the empire and stave off collapse
for a time, Diocletian's reforms further emphasized the state's power over its subjects. He also
initiated a shift in the geographic center of Roman power to the Easta process that would be
completed by Emperor Constantine..

Perhaps the most important of Diocletian's immediate reforms was division of military and
civilian administrative spheres, which removed army generals from most matters of domestic
government. He also sought to improve the efficiency of administration by dividing the empire
into two main territorial districts (East, under his personal rule, and West, under the rule of his
protg Maximian). To further improve administration and to reduce the likelihood of future
succession crises (and civil wars), Diocletian subdivided both the Eastern and Western Empire
into four provinces, each administered by a governor; when an emperor died, one of the four
governors would take his place. This last reform, however, lasted no longer than Diocletian's

While addressing the administrative chaos into which Rome had fallen, Diocletian also sought to
shore up the empire's economy. First, he acted to ensure that funds again flowed into the imperial
coffers by reforming the tax collection system. The new system did bring in higher tax revenues
(at the expense of poor Romans), but also inflated the bureaucracy devoted to tax collection.
Some of Diocletian's economic reforms proved relatively successful; he halted the devaluation of
currency. But his effort to set fixed prices for food and other necessities and to dictate fixed wage
levels failed. The most important Diocletian economic reform halted the movement of free
agricultural laborers and tied them to the land on which they worked. While addressing the
Roman economy's most basic weaknesses, the labor shortage, this did little to change Rome's
reliance on un-free labor; instead, it slowly moved Rome towards a new form of un-free labor,

Diocletian is said to have "orientalized" the Roman Empire (meaning to make it more "Eastern").
We can compare Diocletian's steps to those of Alexander the Great some 500 years earlier. Like
Alexander, Diocletian literally moved his capital to the East, in this case from Rome to Nicomedia
in Roman Asia (Turkey). This made sense in practical terms, since the Eastern portions of the
Empire had proven a greater source of wealth than its European lands. Like Alexander the Great,
Diocletian's style of rule echoed that of Persian emperors (e.g., rather than being Rome's "first
citizen," he was Rome's "lord"; he now dressed in Persian royal clothing; and his court followed
Persian rituals). As in Persia, Diocletian's administrative policies bred a large and complex
bureaucracy (each subdivision of territory and of function required a new level of bureaucracy).

Diocletian and Maximian both retired in 305 CE, and were replaced by two regional governors
according to Diocletian's reforms. But within months the other six regional governors claimed the
right to the imperial thrones. Another civil war broke out, which ended only with the military
victory of Constantine seven years later, in 312 CE. (Constantine was son of the governor who
had assumed power in the Western Empire under Diocletian's plan). Constantine ruled only the
Western Empire until 324 CE, but he then used military force to take power over the Eastern
Empire as well, reuniting all Rome's territory.

Constantine is best remembered for adopting Christianity, but he also made a number of other
important changes that require our attention. First, he restored the idea of hereditary kingship in
Rome. Remember, the Romans had thrown off hereditary dynastic kingship in 500 BCE;
Augustus Caesar, et al., had legitimated their rule on the basis of Rome's unwritten constitution
and approval of the Senate (even when the Senate was just a "rubber stamp"). Constantine,
however, viewed kingship as "patrimonial rule"he believed that the empire, its lands, and its
peoples were his own personal property.

In keeping with this new, inflated ideal of patrimonial kingship, in 330 CE Constantine moved the
imperial capital to a new city that he had built on the border between East and West, which he
named after himselfConstantinople. (Today this city is called Istanbul, in Turkey.)
Constantinople's location had great strategic advantages over that of the city of Rome: it gave the
emperor easier access to both the East and the West (Asia and Europe), and it was an extremely
defendable position (on high land with water on 3 sides, good lines of sight in all directions, etc.).
The Empire's culture now became even more sharply divided between the "Latin" West and the
"Greek" East.

Under Constantine and his successors in the 300s CE, the Imperial bureaucracy grew ever larger
and corrupt. A new kind of elite joined the old aristocratic and equestrian familiesthe wealthy
bureaucrat. The gap between rich and poor, which had been growing in Rome for centuries,
reached unprecedented extreme levels. That was because as the slave labor population dwindled,
the state had done all it could to reduce the legal status of "free" laborers, so as tie them to the
land of the wealthy (providing the rich with a fixed "non-slave" labor force). High taxes and laws
restricting free movement weighed heavily on the poor.

As Coffin points out, it is not surprising that in this time of great social misery, the poor turned for
comfort to a new religion that promised them salvation and happiness after death: Christianity.
Ironically, Constantine, whose policies contributed mightily to the hardships of the poor, himself
converted to Christianity in 312 CE. We will return to the topic of the Christianization of Roman
society in bit later. First, however, we will turn to the question of Rome's relations with the
Germanic tribes of Northern Europe.

The Germanic Invasions and the Collapse of the Western Empire (378-476 CE)

Rome faced serious internal problems in the 300s, but it also struggled to control its vast empire.
The Germanic tribes that had risen against Rome in the 200s began to pose a serious threat in the
late 300s.

The Germanic tribes were made up of Indo-European speaking agrarian peoples. They had been
under the influence of Rome and had been borrowing from its culture for some two hundred
years. In the 300s, the relationship between Rome and the Germanic tribes became increasingly
complicated. Rome depended upon the Germans to serve in Rome's army and it had encouraged
the Germans to settle and farm unused lands on the empire's borders in Central Europe. But the
Germanic tribes (the Visigoths, the Vandals, the Lombards, the Goths, the Ostrogoths, the Franks,
etc.) resented Roman rule and coveted rich Roman-controlled agricultural regions.
Moreover, the Visigoths, whom the Romans had encouraged to settle along the Danube River in
Central Europe, found themselves under attack by nomadic raiders from East Asia, the Huns
(around 350). In response, the Visigoths had moved into Roman territory near the mouth of the
Danube (in present day Bulgaria). But their Roman overlords treated them horribly; officials
from Constantinople demanded illegal tribute from Visigoths and took their children as slaves,
raped the women, and tortured the men when the Visigoths refused to pay. In 378, roughly 50,000
Visigoths (including women and children) rebelled against Rome's brutality. They defeated an
army sent from Constantinople. Then, rather than turn against the capital of the Eastern Empire,
they moved through Greece and along the Adriatic Sea towards Italy. Not only did the Western
Empire offer more farm land for the Germans, but it also presented an easier target. Economic
crisis and depopulation had made its cities weak, and the under-manned and de-moralized western
Roman armies put up little resistance. In 410 the Visigoths attacked and plundered the city of
Rome itself. They then seized control over the rich farm lands of southern Gaul (the south of

The Visigoth's victories revealed Rome's weakness, and other Germanic tribes quickly moved to
take advantage. The Vandals (who including women and children numbered about 80,000)
invaded Rome's territories in Gaul, as did the Franks, Alamans, Burgundians, and several other
tribes. Again, these tribes had been displaced from their homelands by the invading Huns. Again,
the Roman Army put up little resistance. The Vandals moved into Spain and from Spain into
North Africa, where they seized control over the rich farm lands of Roman Numidia (present day
Tunisia) in 439. In 455 the Vandals attacked and plundered Rome from the sea. Then in 476 CE
an army of Huns and Ostrogoths again attacked Rome. This time, though, the invaders stayed and
seized power over Italy. The Ostrogoth leader Theodoric declared himself King of Rome.

Western Europe, on which Rome had imposed political unity through imperial force, now became
a patchwork of Germanic kingdoms. By the end of the 400s the Ostrogoths ruled most of Italy
except for the north-east, which was under the control of the Lombards; the Vandals ruled the
former Roman province of Africa; the Visigoths ruled what had been Roman Spain and south-
eastern Gaul; the Franks (led by their king Clovis, who had converted to Christianity) ruled the
west and center of "Roman" Gaul; the Burgundians ruled south-eastern Gaul; and Anglo-Saxons
ruled the island of Britain.

Some elements of Roman culture declined rapidly under Germanic rule. The Germans were
farming people with relatively little interest in urban trade, and so the economic decline and
depopulation of cities in the West accelerated. So did the decay of the western bureaucracy. But
German rule did not mean the end of Roman culture in the West: the Germans admired Roman
culture, adopted Latin as their language of state, and converted to the Christian faith.

This brings us back to the issue of Christianity and the relationship between Rome and the
Church. But before we can discuss the importance of Roman state support for Christianity, we
first need to go back three hundred years and look at the origins of this new religion.

The Origins and Early Growth of Christianity

First, we need to look back to the lecture on the Hebrews: after the re-establishment of the
Hebrew state and the building of the Second Temple (516 BCE), monotheists dominated Jewish
religious thought. But debates over theological doctrine continued. The dominant faction, the
temple priests and their allies, became known as the Sadducees. But other Jewish theologians
challenged the Sadducees' reading God's law. The Sadducees stressed that all Jews must follow
the Ten Commandments, but that most of the other Mosaic laws applied only to the priests. Their
main opponents, the Pharisees, argued that all Jews must live according to all of the 613 laws laid
out in the Five Books of Moses. The Pharisees also argued that God wanted man to follow both
the "written Torah" (the laws recorded in the Five Books of Moses) and the "oral Torah"the
unwritten teachings Moses passed on to his followers and that had been passed for generations
from teacher to student. They preached that the Messiah (the "deliverer" mentioned by the
Prophets) would soon come and that the Day of Judgment was near.

Among the many sects in Judaism by the 100s BCE were the Essenes. Some scholars argue that
Jesus' cousin John the Bapitist belonged to the Esssene sect. The Essenes argued it was not
enough to follow God's laws; to ensure salvation, one had to repent one's sins, withdraw from
worldly life and devote one's self entirely to God.

Although these factional divisions had been growing for generations, it was the Roman conquest
of Judea by Julius Caesar that set the immediate context for Christianity. Rome appointed a king
(Herod) to rule Judea under the oversight of a Roman governor (Pontius Pilate). Rome also
appointed the high Temple priesthood. The temple priesthood and elements of the aristocracy
cooperated with the Romans, but Hebrews as a whole resented Roman rule. Political radicals
called the Zealots called for an anti-Roman uprising, while various religious factions within
Jewish life criticized the Sadducees as collaborators and preached that God would send the
Messiah to free the Jews of foreign (pagan) rule.

[Note: the Jews did rise up in rebellion against Rome in 69-70 CE and again in 132-135 CE. The
Romans crushed both uprisings brutally, in the first case destroying the Second Temple, and in the
second case expelling the Jews from Jerusalem.]

There were many preachers in Judea at this time who claimed to be the Messiah. These included
Jesus of Nazareth. There is no historical evidence regarding Jesus' life other than the four
Gospels, the earliest of which (the Gospel according to Mark) was written down at least 30 years
after the death of Jesus. What seems certain is that Jesus was born between 3 BCE and 3 CE into
the family of a Jewish carpenter. At about 30 years old he became a teacher-preacher in the
tradition of the Pharisees. In his three years of intenerate preaching he emphasized many themes
common to Jewish reformers of that era: the importance of forgiveness, of embracing good, of
"turning the other cheek" to evil and loving one's enemies, and of treating others as you would
have them treat you. Like many Jewish preachers of his time, Jesus spoke of the coming Day of
Judgment, the resurrection of the dead, and the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven. There
were elements of the Essenes tradition in Jesus' teachings as well (the emphasis on the mystical,
personal relationship with God).

Jesus' teachings as reported in the four Gospels directly criticized the Sadducees, and his claim in
the last weeks of his life to be the Messiah posed a direct challenge to the authority of the Temple
priests. Many of Jesus' teachings also outraged the Phariseesin particular, his argument that it
was more important to follow the spirit of God's law than it was to following the letter of God's
law. (For example, the Mosaic laws in the Hebrew Bible saw that the community should stone to
death those found guilty of adultery; Jesus taught that only those who themselves were without sin
could "cast stones" at sinners.)
When, during Passover week in his 33rd year, Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the Temple priests
arrested and convicted him of blasphemy. Since blaspheming amounted to a crime against the
state, the Roman governor (Pilate) determined Jesus' punishment. Pilate sentenced Jesus to the
standard Roman punishment for sedition: crucifixion. Three days after his crucifixion, Jesus'
followers reported that he had arisen from his grave. Now the followers of this Jewish preacher
became adherents of a new religion, the followers of Christ (Greek for "the anointed one"). The
central tenants of this new faith was that Jesus was both the son of God and the manifestation of
God; that he had lived the life of a man so as to suffer for man's sins; that he had been resurrected
and then ascended into heaven; and that he would return on the Day of Judgment.

The single most important figure in propagating this new religion was the Apostle ("missionary")
Paul. Paul, born Saul (in Tarsus, in Asia Minor, in 10 CE), was a Pharisee who had never met
Jesus. Paul by his own words had persecuted the followers of Christ. But he converted to the
new faith when, on the road to Damascus [Syria], he saw a blinding light and heard the voice of
Jesus, who instructed him to become God's missionary. Paul traveled throughout Rome's eastern
empire preaching the new Christian faith, and in the process, defining its differences from other
sects of Judaism.

Paul argued that Christ had come as savior of all men, and not only as the Jews' Messiah.
According the Paul, Christ's coming had consummated God's "old" covenant (the promises of the
Hebrew Bible), so that the Torah's laws no longer pointed the way to salvation. Paul said that
Christ had established a new covenant between man and God. Paul argued that man, born in sin,
could be redeemed (saved) only through Christ. Those who followed the Torah laws but did not
place faith in Christ and in God's grace could not find salvation. In other words, according to
Paul, Judaism was a dead end and Christianity alone was the true faith.

Paul's version of Jesus' teachings appealed to Gentiles (non-Jews) who lived among the Empire's
Hebrew communities (especially in North Africa), and who had been drawn Judaism but had
remained outside that faith. Now they also could have salvation through Yahweh. In this sense,
the Christian faith resembled the Mithras cult, which offered salvation to those who believed and
followed the path of righteousness. Unlike the Mithras cult, though, Christianity offered salvation
to men and women. In the first two hundred years after Jesus' life, Christianity was simply one of
dozens of "small" religions in Rome. It did not emerge as a major religion until the 200s CE.

Christianity as Rome's State Religion

The economic and social crisis and "barbarian" invasions of the 200s and 300s (see above) help
explain the spread of Christianity in Rome. Christianity's promise of salvation appealed most to
the poor, who suffered most the costs of war, who faced heavy economic exploitation, hunger, and
disease. Christian congregations offered hope to the poor Not only as a set of religious beliefs,
but also as communitieslike Jewish congregations, they organized and provided social services
and charity to their members, who felt tied together as part of a community. Also, the late 200s
and early 300s witnessed the spread of "mystery" cults and "miracle working cults" in Rome; the
Christians, too, believed in miracles, and many Christian preachers were said to work powerful
miracles. Moreover, the Church had been evolving a sophisticated priestly hierarchy (we will
return to this later), which gave Christian communities great organizational cohesiveness.

Although the Roman government at times persecuted Christians with vigor (as under Diocletian
and Galerius), generally the Roman authorities tolerated he Christianity in the same way that they
tolerated other "sects." The brief periods of severe persecution, however, proved extremely
important to the culture and traditions of the early church. Martyrs who died for their Christian
beliefs became crucial symbolic figures and martyrdom was considered the ultimate act of
Christian devotion.

By 300 CE, about 3 percent of the Roman Empire's population followed the Christian faith. Most
of these Christians lived in the Eastern Empire. The turning point for Christianity in the Roman
Empire was the year 312 CE, when Emperor Constantine converted. Constantine promoted
Christianity as the Empire's chief religion, he gave Christian clergy special protections and
dispensations, and he built churches across the empire. At the end of his reign (337 CE),
Constantine outlawed "pagan" sacrifices in an effort to undermine Rome's other religious cults.
Emperor Julian (361-363), reversed this decree and promoted paganism. But all the emperors
after Julian were Christians. In 391-392 Emperor Theodosius banned all pagan cults and made
Christianity Rome's one and only official state religion (although it is clear that the ban on
paganism was not very effective).

One result of state support was that Christianity became "fashionable" among the wealthy, who
embraced what had been a faith of the poor. The Emperors were now Christians, and being a
Christian was necessary for upward mobility in the Roman bureaucracy. Not all of the Roman
upper classes embraced the faith; the old aristocratic families in particular resisted; they saw
Christianity as vulgar and associated the old "pagan" cults with the greatness of Rome and its
history. But in the 300s and the 400s CE, the majority of Romans converted to Christianity.

State support also had an impact on the church's organizational hierarchy. Before Constantine's
conversion, each local (parish) priests in a city or large town recognized the authority of that city's
bishop. Imperial support brought the church rapid expansion and growth, which made this
hierarchy more elaborate. Now each region had an Archbishop (or Metropolitan), who served as
the head to the church at a regional (provincial) level. The largest centers of Christian worship
(like Alexandria), came under the authority of an even higher level in the clerical hierarchy, the

Of all of the Patriarchs, that of Rome had the greatest authority. This was the origin of the Papacy
(the Pope). Church doctrine held that Christ had appointed St. Peter as the head of his church and
that the Bishop of Rome served as the successor of Peter. Rome held a place of special
importance in the Church's early history. And since the Roman Emperor now generally ruled
from Constantinople, he counted on Rome's Bishop to help administer power in the western
territories: in 455 CE, Emperor Valenitinian III ordered that all western bishops recognize the
authority of the Roman Pope. (Eastern bishops generally did not recognize papal authority,
foreshadowing the later schism in the church between East and West.) The existence of a clearly
defined priestly hierarchy with trained priest-bureaucrats administering church affairs did much to
advance the influence of Christianity.

The connection between Imperial power and the church also helped to shape church doctrines.
Differences in interpretation of Christ's teachings had existed since the earliest years of the
church. Christianity's status as Rome's state religion, however, gave the church hierarchy great
authority in doctrinal disputes, which allowed the hierarchy to dictate "correct" doctrine and to
define alternative interpretations as "heresy."

One of the most important early doctrinal disputes regarded the concept of the Trinitythe unity
of God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost. The Trinitarian doctrine was especially popular in the very
important North African congregations. But the priest Arius opposed Trinitarianism and argued
that since God the Father had created Christ the Son, the two could not be the same. In the
Council of Nicea (325 CE), the church's hierarchy rejected the so-called "Arian heresy" and
decreed Trinitarianism as "dogma"--the only correct doctrine on this matter. Imperial power
played a direct rule in the determination of dogma; Emperor Constantine himself had called and
presided over the Nicean Council.

The relationship between the Church and the Roman State benefited both parties. Constantine
could argue that his secular power came from his role as Christ's representative on earth. This
approach to legitimating royal power set a precedent for other Roman emperors, and then for
Rome's Eastern successor state, the Byzantine Empire.

The Evolution of Christian Practice and Thought (300s-early 500s CE)

The emergence of Christianity as Rome's state religion and the Church's growing political power
coincided with the general decline of the Western Empire and the Germanic invasions. Many of
the Church's most important theologians argued that worldly existence offered only chaos, misery,
and insecuritythat God tested us in this life to see if we could resist the temptations of sin. This
world, they insisted, was profane and transitory, and only the spiritual world of God's kingdom
offered peace. (If this sounds similar to Plato's Idealist philosophy, it is because classical
philosophy had a considerable influence in shaping Christian theology.)

On response to the "sinfulness" of the world was to withdraw completely into asceticism. In the
400s CE, monasticism emerged as an important trend in Christian devotional practice. Thousands
of laymen who wished to prove their devotion to Christ, and who considered the growing wealth
and power of the church hierarchy as a contradiction to Christ's teachings, chose to live in
isolation and self-imposed poverty. Some hermit monks engaged in virtual self-torture to prove
their faith; more common were communities of monks (monasteries), where they pledge to live in
Christ-like poverty while dedicating themselves to prayer and labor.

The three most important theologians of the early churchSaints Jerome (320-420 CE), Ambrose
(340-397), and Augustine (354-430)each wrestled with the problem of how to live a Christian
life; each in turn helped to shape the core beliefs of the Roman church. Jerome proposed a life of
monastic seclusion, piety, and study. And yet Jerome did not turn his back entirely on the world.
He recognized the value of the pre-Christian Roman and Greek scholars, for instance, and
encouraged the study of classical scholarship subordinated to the aims of Church. Jerome himself
translated the "Old Testament" (which was written in Hebrew) and the "New Testament" (which
was written in Greek) into Latin. Since Latin was the common language to the Germanic elites,
Jerome's translation of the Bible (the "Vulgate") helped speed the spread of Christianity through
the former western empire. One of the central points of Jerome's theology the rejection of
"literalism"; Jerome argued that God intended the Bible to be read as allegory, as metaphor
through which we can find God's truth.

Ambrose, the Archbishop of Milan, also argued for the importance of embracing classical learning
in a form subordinated to the aims of the Christ and the Church. (Ambrose was particularly
influenced by the Roman version of Stoicism.) In wrestling with the problems of worldly misery
and redemption from sin, Ambrose suggested that salvation comes only through Grace, which
God bestows on some but not all Christians. The doctrine of Grace would be most fully advanced
not by Ambrose, but by Augustine. Ambrose's most important contribution to Church history was
his decision in 390 CE to excommunicate Emperor Theodosius. The emperor, Ambrose argued,
had set himself outside the community of Christ by massacring rebellious Christians in the Greek
city of Thessalonica; therefore, Ambrose excommunicated Theodosius. In doing so, Ambrose
established the doctrine that the Church is independent of the Emperor and can impose discipline
upon secular authorities. (Chastened, Theodosius repented.)

Augustine, born in North Africa into the family of a pagan father and a Christian mother,
converted to Christianity at age thirty-three (in 387 CE), under the influence of Ambrose. Within
a decade, Augustine rose in the church hierarchy to the important position of Bishop of Hippo (in
North Africa). Augustine's conversion experience shaped his theology and his approach to the
problems of worldliness and sin. In his memoirs (the Confessions), Augustine explained his own
sinful past and concluded that all men and women are born in sin. God the Creator, he argued,
had given people free will, but this had no bearing on their salvationindeed, Adam and Eve had
chosen sin and thus had condemned all mankind to a life of sin and sorrow. At the beginning of
time, Augustine argued, God the Redeemer had predestined some souls for salvation and
condemned the rest to eternal damnation. In other words, God through the suffering of Christ has
appointed Grace to an elect few. Good works can not earn salvation. But, Augustine argued, men
can not know the mind of God and therefore never know if they are among the elect. Thus the
only proper path in life is that of goodness in hope that one has been granted Grace. For
Augustine, this meant rejecting worldly concerns, living a life of Christ-like charity and love for
one's neighbors.

Augustine's theology not only addressed the question of how one should live, but also why God
permitted the sort of chaos and crisis through which Rome suffered during his lifetime. Augustine
argued that God guides human history, and that behind all events is the mysterious hand of God,
moving history towards Grace, the resurrection of Christ and the Day of Judgment. God created
mankind in two warring faction, Augustine arguedthose who "live according to God" (the
Chosen) and those that "live according to man" (the Condemned). God's Grace united the
Chosen into a community (the "City of God") against the Condemned, but the spiritual City of
God would not become manifest until the Resurrection. Therefore (again), it is best to walk the
path of righteousness.

Like Jerome, Augustine believed that the Bible could not be read literally, and that to begin to
fathom its mysteries required education. Therefore Augustine, who like Jerome and Ambrose had
been strongly influenced by classical Greek and Roman philosophy, argued that the social elite
among Christians should receive a classical education. But also like Jerome and Ambrose, he
instated that classical ideas be subordinated to the teachings of the Church.

The Marriage of Classicism and Christianity

Augustine's ideal of a classical yet Christian education would help meld selected elements of
Roman and Greek learning into a new Christian elite culture. One of the central figures in this
process was the Roman aristocrat Boethius (480-524 CE). Boethius authored texts about many of
the most important Greek and Roman scholarly works, as well as translations on major Greek
works into Latin. His aim in these graceful translations was to preserve elements of classical
learning that he felt best fit into the teachings of Christianity. Thanks to Boethius, these texts
survived into the Middle Ages; his translations, for instance, became the main source of western
knowledge about the works of Aristotle. But Boethius' interpretation of the Greeks was filtered
through Christian theology, and in particular through the teachings of Augustine. He presented
the Greek myths, for instance, as allegories for various Christian concepts.
The problem that faced Boethius and other Christian scholars was how to purge classical learning
of its pagan roots so that they could establish the superiority of Christian doctrine without losing
the wisdom of classical philosophy. This meant ignoring that vast majority of classical literature,
which as a result disappeared. It also meant adopting the very strict position that any classical
text that could not be Christianized should be banned.

Much of the work of "Christianizing" classical texts and reproducing such texts took place in the
monasteries. The monastic movement had became systemized in the early 500s, under the
influence of the monk Benedict (St. Benedict), who laid out a set of rules which would become
the basis for the organization of Christian monastic life (the "Latin Rule"). Monks from the
Benedictine Order took vows of celibacy and of absolute obedience to the Abbot and led simple
lives devoted to labor and prayer.

Note: The Benedictine monks were not alone in taking vows of celibacy; by the 400s, the Church
had begun to insist that priests also remain single and celibate. In an important sense, this
reflected the dualistic image of women in the early Christian church. The Church propagated two
images of womenwoman as Mary, the virginal mother of God; or woman as Eve, the temptress
who through her sexuality led man into sin. The church saw women's sexuality as dangerous, as
tied to sin; hence the celibacy of priests and monks prevented their "spiritual population."
Moreover, by the late 400s the Church insisted that both men and women must remain virgins
until marriage, and that even then the only justification for the debased act of intercourse was to
produce children. The Church did recognize women as having souls and as being capable of
salvation, but emphasized their inferiority to men. A woman's only proper roles, the Church
taught, were that of obedient wife and mother.

One of Benadict's successors, Cassiodorus, added to Benadict's rules the idea that monks should
have a solid understanding of classical learning as well as of the Bible. Thus the Benedictine
monasteries became important centers of scholarship and for the copying of texts. Without the
work of the monasteries, few classical texts would have survived.

The Roman Empire's Last Gasps

In 527 CE, the throne of the Eastern Empire in Constantinople passed to Justinian. One Justinian
first projects was to begin revising and codifying Roman law. The result, the Corpus Juris Civilis
(the body of civil law), reinforced the legal status of emperor's rule by recognizing his powers as
unlimited (although, in the old Roman tradition, the emperor's power was said to come from the
people). The Justinian code would influence thinking about the state, state power, property rights,
and civil law for the next thousand years. Justinian saw the emperor as the legal ruler not only of
the Eastern Empire, but of the entire Roman Empire, East and West. This guided his military
policy, which aimed at reunifying the empire.

In the 530s, Justinian's armies conquered North Africa, most of Italy, and much of Spain. The
Goths, however, resisted stubbornly, and a guerrilla war dragged on into 560s. By Justinian's
death in 565, Rome was again "united." But the cost of the war in soldiers and in taxes was
crippling. With the Empire weakened and its dwindling army tied down in fighting Germanic
resistance Europe, the Persians saw and seized the opportunity to attack from the East.
Constantinople again lost control over most of Italy, Gaul, and Spain. In 610, Constantinople
gave up all pretense of controlling the West. The Roman Empire was dead.