Early Empire:
726 (-27)-933 (180)
Reign of Sulla:
933 (180)-981 (228)
Reign of Marcian:
981 (228)-1015 (262)

This History of the Roman Empire chronicles the reigns of emperors after Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. On the eve of his death, Marcus Aurelius left behind an empire afflicted with war and plague. Even in this maligned state, Rome was an unmatched economic and military power, not far from its peak. As nearly the largest and most populous state until that point in human history, Rome had the potential to continue its rise, if only under more cautious leadership. The following pages document the continued rise of this most illustrious empire of the Western World and the challenges that it faced in maintaining its existence.

A Young Emperor


Princeps Civitatis Sulla Magnus (painted 770 CE)
Sulla's reversal of Roman treatment of Jews
would be long remembered (see his helmet)

Princeps Marcus Aurelius died on July 2nd of 180 CE in his quarters of the Domus Augustana. His return to Rome, after a major victory in the ongoing war, was ended there by a sudden illness. Ever the modest Stoic, he requested only a simple funeral to lay him in his grandfather's tomb. As the most distinguished man of his time, he was mourned by the millions who knew him as leader or commander.

A later encomium by Cassius Dio said of his death that:

... [Marcus] did not meet with the good fortune that he deserved, for he was not strong in body and was involved in a multitude of troubles throughout practically his entire reign. But for my part, I admire him all the more for this very reason, that amid unusual and extraordinary difficulties he both survived himself and preserved the empire. Perhaps only one thing kept him going through many of these hard times, namely that after rearing and educating his [Sulla's] person in the best possible way he was greatly pleased with him. This matter must be our next topic; for our history carries us from a kingdom of silver to one of gold, as was thought by the Romans of that day.

Gaius Correlus Sulla, son and heir of Marcus Aurelius, was recognized by the Roman Senate as pontifex maximus and princeps civitatis on July 6 of the year 180, under the name Caesar Gaius Aurelius Antoninus Sulla Augustus. Contemporaries expected little of this new emperor, born of plebeian rank, yet by his death he would earn the cognomen Magnus (the Great). Ultimately, history regards him as one of the most prosperous of the Princepes Boni (a term coined by a historian of the 6th century in his legendary Romana Historia for the emperors during this productive period of the Principate).

Following his senatorial salutation, Sulla did as was expected and ordered the generals on the frontier to continue to press the enemy in the war - that is, to block the Quadi and Marcomanni tribes from returning to the lowlands east of the Little Carpathians after their defeat by praetorian prefect Tarrutenius Paternus. This victory had marked a turning point in the Bellum Germanicum et Sarmaticum (Marcomannic Wars) and would allow Roman generals the logistical freedom to focus on the Iazygean tribes west of Dacia. However, the legions would continue this fight without the direction of a commander-in-chief - now merely a young boy.

Bad omens

Only sixteen years of age when he became princeps, Sulla operated under the supervision and support of his brother-in-law Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus - who had returned from the frontier to act as his regent. During this uncertain period of regency, Sulla devoted his time to seeing clients of the imperial family, to hearing appeals in his public court, and to presiding over the usual state rituals as pontifex maximus. His industrious application to imperial duties was grudgingly commended by the Senate. Although senators had nothing of substance for which to denigrate the new princeps, many were discomforted by his humble birth - a mere son of Roman colonists before getting orphaned by plague then adopted by Marcus Aurelius.

When a prediction that his reign would be bloody and short was presented to the Senate by the augures, his opponents spread the news and aggravated his early troubles. The sign that was given voice by the augures was the portentous change around 181 CE of the sky above Rome - and most of the world - to an eery red hue. The natural cause of this phenomenon had been an eruption of volcanic vents under a lake on the other side of the planet - the largest geological event for centuries - but its interpretation as a bloody omen from the gods was all that could be known in this time and place.

Nevertheless, the seriousness with which the citizenry - especially among the ranks of the plebs - took this sign is often exaggerated by historians. In truth, the declaration of a bad omen was more effect than cause of the weak support for Sulla in the Senate and even those negative opinions would slowly soften in the face of Sulla's pietas in observing the state rituals, constantia in sacrificing his own convenience for the war, and personal gravitas in speaking before the Senate. Still, clearer public support from outside the Senate was needed before these qualities could sway his more ardent senatorial opponents.

Under this pressure, Sulla made whatever concessions he could to the Senate. Once he began to regularly attend sessions of the Senate - after he had reached a respectable enough age to sit among senators - he put forward two motions in an effort to endear himself to his many opponents. Both measures reinforced the role of the Senate in provincial administration, without seriously diminishing his own administrative power.

First, the drawing of lots for provinciae populum Romanorum was moved earlier in the year, ensuring that these lots not only assigned each proconsul his province but also selected which senatorial men would be proconsulares for that year, without any prior selection of these candidates by the princeps (in short, he gave up his control over who would get to govern a senatorial province). Second, term limits of three years were imposed on the governorship of provinces by legati Augusti pro praetore, with extensions only permitted by prorogation through the Senate. Both motions were proposed and carried through by senators supporting Sulla without his open involvement, signalling that he firmly intended to play down the autocratic aspects of his position. Naturally, his approval would have been implicit in who proposed the motions and in his demeanor throughout discussion but his avoidance of direct contributions sent its own message. Few senators were swayed by his cooperative attitude so far but his persistent amiability set the stage for other (more persuasive) factors to improve the opinions of the more conservative, patrician senators.

Emulating his father and committing himself to the responsibilities of office, Sulla spent a great deal of his early reign (180 to 185) personally receiving appeals in court - hearing disputes and settling public petitions through his own judgement. For his just rulings and fervent commitment to the judiciary, Sulla found his most ardent early supporters among jurists and advocates. Sulla's personal involvement in law would persist throughout his life, whenever he was in Rome to receive appeals from the quaestiones perpetuae (senatorial courts) and the lesser courts. In his judicial and senatorial work, Sulla did as little as possible with force, drawing on none of the tyrannical instruments of control available to a princeps - informers were punished, the word maiestas (treason) was scarcely uttered, and correspondence with the Senate was respectful.

Further acts of piety during this early period came through the great works typical of an emperor. Restoration and renovation of the Pantheon, lavishly decorating it in gold bas relief as well as repainting statues and the building exterior, served to curry the favor of the gods (in the face of poor omens). Construction of a templum to his father - who was deified by the Senate shortly after his death - took place in the southern districts of Rome and employed his dwindling private finances. Being son of a god was only a part of the presumption of piety placed upon Sulla - as the locus of the genius populi Romani, an object of worship through the imperial cult, Sulla was owed not only the support of the Senate and people of Rome but also the support of the provincial cities (where aedes for such worship were commonplace). For this reason more than anything, the firmly religious also had a great deal of approbation for the young and untested emperor.

Germanic and Sarmatian Wars

The Bellum Germanicum et Sarmaticum raged on for five more years after the death of Marcus Aurelius, hanging like a shadow over the early reign of this new princeps. Throughout these five years, the young emperor made frequent trips to the frontier, appearing before the soldiers and conferring with his generals. During one of these excursions, Sulla spent several months in Venetia drumming up local volunteers for the war. There he oversaw the raising of two legions - Legio I Histria and Legio IV Italica. The presence of the emperor, along with his stirring, albeit uninspired, rhetoric - drawing on the recent siege of Aquileia, the need for old values in these difficult times, etc. - brought many volunteers but, as was required earlier in the war, conscription filled much of the ranks.

Financing the war, a task made all the more difficult by the expansion of the army, had pushed Sulla at the start of his reign to sell palace slaves and dramatically reduce his retinue of chamberlains. In his tenuous position, he chose not to burden the people with new taxes or the senators with new duties. The constant shortage of money in the imperial purse demanded great personal austerity from the emperor, otherwise the task of keeping the army supplied, holding games to keep the people happy, and sustaining the grain supply in Rome would have been nearly impossible alongside irregular expenditures.

It was at last in 184 when news reached Rome that the last Iazygean king was subjugated. Generals Tarrutenius, Clodius AlbinusPescennius Niger, Helvius Pertinax, and Valerius Maximianus were - in an unprecedented decision by Sulla - jointly granted a triumphus for this success. Although the generals had been fighting under the auspices of the emperor and only a general fighting in suis auspiciis could be granted the right to triumph, the young Sulla assured the Senate of its constitutionality. Although this Triumph was patently unconstitutional, no one opposed the desire of an emperor to honor the five generals who commanded most of the armies in Europe. Going to the frontier for a final time, the young emperor returned to Rome in the company of the victors, giving himself a place of distinction in their grand triumphal celebration.

In return for the triumph, the victorious generals saluted Sulla as Imperator and conferred upon him the names Germanicus and Sarmaticus, titles of his father, as affirmation that their legions had his back (the common soldiers gave their personal oaths of allegiances following the lead of their generals). Although Sulla was young, the boy had spent years on campaign with the generals alongside his adoptive father and was well-known to them by this time as the beloved child of their first, late Imperator. This image of Sulla definitely played into their opinion of the new leader but there were more than enough other incentives to ensure their lawful relinquishment of military power.

Over the next year, Sulla coordinated closely with legati on the Danube to maintain Roman control over the subdued peoples. For this purpose, a provincia augustum (imperial province) of Marcomannia was established beyond the limes danuvius on the border of Pannonia. Also, around Dacia, the five year campaign against both the Iazyges and the Roxolani had extended Roman territory in two directions. Now, after the war, Rome would continue to administer land up to the Fluvius Tisia (River Tisza) by her authority over Iazygean client kings and land between Dacia and Moesia Inferior - beyond the limes alutanus - through Roxolan client kings. This arrangement effectively brought about the ambition of Marcus Aurelius to create a province of Sarmatia (albeit by integrating it into Lower Moesia). Over time, Iazygean territory and wealth would slowly be appropriated by provincial governors, for themselves and for Rome, eventually undermining these kings and poisoning their relations with Rome (a serious problem for the stability of the region but not a problem for this emperor).

Under the growing crisis of manpower, the triumphant legions were reorganized to accommodate their low numbers. Legiones III Italica and IV Flavia Felix were united as Legio III Gemina while Legiones II Italica and X Gemina were combined into Legio IV Gemina. This formality gave the empire its ante bellum number of legions and would allow the army to eventually settle into a more sustainable equilibrium. In the wake of the plagues of the last two decades, Sulla could only rely on time to bolster military strength, at least without austere measures of recruitment that could scarcely be justified in the absence of a pressing threat.

Before the Triumph, the emperor published the Stoic reflections of his father, asking Stoics in Athens to create copies in Greek and to translate the writings into Latin for imperial gifts to senators. Sulla himself was a firm believer in the Stoicism of his father and this distribution of his father's writings would only be the beginning of the further dissemination of Stoic ideas among the educated classes. By the end of Sulla's reign, Rome will have been under a Stoic princeps for over half a century - the effects of this lengthy presence are addressed later.

After the Triumph, Sulla assisted in the raising of a Victory Column immortalizing the military achievements of his father, giving a special place in its reliefs to the five generals who he had celebrated, alongside his in-law Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus who had lost his opportunity to triumph when he returned to Rome to act as regent for the young princeps. The column was erected in the Transitorium, i.e. the Forum Nervae north of the Forum Romanum, directly in front of the Temple of Minerva, both showing respect for Marcus' great-great-grandfather and recognizing the late emperor for his strategic brilliance.

Popular support

With clear support from the legions, Sulla rose dramatically in reputation in the eyes of the Senate and people of Rome. As a signal of peace, the denarius, the primary coin for state expenditure, was revalued from a silver purity of ~79% to ~83% in a coin struck at 102 to the pound. Despite the added strain this would impose on the treasury, Sulla even gave away the first batch of the new denarii during a ceremony for closing the Gates of Janus, a symbol of peace depicted on one side of these coins.

In light of financial strains, the Senate approved more vigorous tax collection over nearby Gaul and Illyricum, without imposing new taxes. Later that same year, Sulla went personally from Rome to dozens of the towns in northern Italy to express gratitude to their decuriones for quartering and supplying troops throughout the war. On these visits, he impressed upon them the financial troubles facing the empire in its wake and the need for them to do their part to return the civilized world to proper form. In this vein, Sulla requested a more extensive exercise of the usual munera (civic obligations) practiced by the municipia and coloniae. More couriers would run the cursus publicus (state postal service) through Italy to the frontiers, roads would need more regular maintenance, and more spectacles would be needed to entertain the humiliores (peasants). A similar need for extraordinary euergetism was impressed upon the Senate, as the treasury finances were to be spent farther afield at the expense of public games in Rome. The fiscus (imperial purse) would obviously continue to provide the greatest contribution to these spectacles but the senators were implored to bear some of the burden, with the benefit of the prestige they would thus earn. To formally enforce contributions, Sulla explicitly restored the role of the aediles curules, by then a purely nominal title, in financing public spectacles. This final move was a risky decision for an emperor even though it would not give an opening for any nobiles (aristocrats) to match his own spending on the public.

For the rest of his annus mirabilis of 184, Sulla focused on coordinating military efforts toward maintaining control over the Marcomanni and other tribes in his new province. For this purpose, the other major frontier of the Rhine was put under the command of Pertinax with Clodius Albinus in Gaul nearby and Tarrutenius was promoted to legatus augustus pro praetore for Marcomannia. The other generals returned to the Senate with praise and a promise of future consulships. These men became the linchpins for the inner circle (contubernium) of an emperor still working to solidify his political position.

Where Sulla had done little but see clients and participate in religious ceremonies for his first five years, he now entered the more active, second period of his reign. His rule had been sufficiently secured, in all respects except his standing over the Senate, that he could begin taking riskier, more rewarding actions as he struggled to recover from the storm of war and disease that had raged during the reign of his father.

Despite these challenges - a weak treasury and waning manpower during a period of provincialization and recovery from war - the empire was as stable as ever in the coming peace. Continuous stability and the constant flow of money (through trade and competitive euergetism) fostered an environment of progress in art and philosophy. Few areas of inquiry best reflected these flourishing traditions at this time than the Hellenistic art of medicine.

Advances in medicine

Physicians in the Hellenistic tradition were a diverse breed in the early empire, with vague lines separating priestly healers at temples of Æsclepius, learned practitioners of Hippocratic doctrine, herb-gatherers, and skilled artisans-of-a-sort practicing bone-setting, midwifery, or other procedures. Beliefs and methods among these practitioners were far from homogeneous but their services were viewed by most as continuous rather than competing. Such a situation of diversity in medical practice persisted until the time of Galen.

Famous already for a tenure as private physician to Marcus Aurelius, Galen returned to Rome in 181 to work his art in the court of Sulla. He devoted himself to this familiar job for a time, putting his writings on hold, treating many men of distinguished status and earning ever greater fame. This dry spell in his writing career was, as history shows, the calm before the storm, setting Galen up for an unparalleled period of patronage.

During the previous decades, Rome had been afflicted by a series of epidemics. A threat of the plague loomed over the empire when Sulla came to power. Seeking to bolster Rome against this illusive enemy, the emperor placed the æsculapeum (temple of Æsclepius) in Alexandria under the control of the respected Galen in 183 CE, before funding an expansion to accommodate its future role. After a four year construction period, this Academia Medica Galena was inaugurated as a center of healing and inquiry.

Designed to facilitate study of the human body and its ailments, this academy - named for the philosophical school of Galen's hero, Plato - consisted of four connected buildings: a library of medical texts, a clinic for tending to patients, an operating room for surgeries, and an office for its medical staff. Most sections of this facility were additions onto the old temple but the earlier structure was still recognizable. A new tower at the heart of the academy could be seen across Alexandria, helping people find care in their time of need.

Copies of medical texts from libraries in the major cities were shipped to the academy, rapidly filling its shelves with the majority of known works on medicine. This great fraction of the literature would be essential for many of the purposes of the academy - in particular, for its role in training apprentice doctors in the best methods and beliefs of the day. At no earlier point in history could a student of medicine find so much of his culture's medical knowledge in one place. Apprentices developed a close familiarity with these texts as they were often tasked with copying them for doctors elsewhere, both for the sake of their own learning and for dissemination of practices at the academy throughout the Hellenistic world.

On top of being a pedagogical boon, this great library had a tremendous effect on the evolution of medical philosophy, instigating shifts in the accepted doctrines of physicians.


Physicians before Galen could be broadly distinguished by their methodologies; disagreements on how to approach medical care largely hinged on whether or not theoretical speculation about the human body and the origins of disease was worthwhile. Few learned doctors considered themselves bound to a doctrinal orthodoxy but those known as Dogmatici (Rationalists) drew from the natural philosophies of Hippocrates, Herophilus, and Erasistratus - as well as those scholars who followed them - in forming their own theories of medicine. Despite vast differences in views, the "rationalists" agreed on the value of θεωρία - in short, physiological theory and knowledge of human anatomy - for πράξης - diagnosis and treatment of patients - on the shared belief that medicine had to treat the hidden causes of disease rather than solely reacting to symptoms and evident (or visible) causes.

Their earliest and most prominent critics, known as Empirici (Empiricists), opposed speculation about the underlying properties of the human body and focused entirely on selecting treatments that had worked in the past on patients showing similar symptoms and with similar personal histories as the present case. Only these visible symptoms and visible causes (known from patient history) were seen by "empiricists" as relevant to treating a disease whereas medical theory - whether physiological or anatomical - was thought to provide no information or assistance to medical practice. In short, "empiricists" were those physicians who criticized the values and goals that motivated any natural philosophy of medicine.

A third sect, known as Methodici (Methodists), arose in response to a perceived excesses in the complexity of either "rationalist" or "empiricist" approaches to medicine. These "methodists" rejected not only anatomy and physiology but the entire search for the causes (hidden or visible) of disease. In their place, "methodists" held that treatment could be simplified down to a single premise: sickness is simply a localized blockage or flux of atoms in the body, experienced as tenseness or laxness in specific body parts. Treatment followed directly and methodically from this premise alone and investigation of the causes of disease (by observation and speculation) could be ignored. Their methodology could be taught in mere months rather than years and their treatments could be selected within minutes rather than hours or days, earning "methodists" popularity among the more pragmatically-minded Roman aristocracy.

A few other physicians subscribed to doctrines drawn from Stoic principles of natural philosophy applied to the human body, earning the name Pneumatici (Pneumatists) from their focus on the flow of pneuma (as vital heat) from one organ to another. On the whole, these different schools of thought left even learned medicine itself in a state of diversity (of beliefs and methods) - a situation ripe for change.

Galen was the dominant personality in discussions at his academy, steering consensus on doctrinal disputes toward a unified theory of physiology, anatomy, and pathology based on his own writings and observations (described below). Followers of Galen, known demagogically as Galenici (Galenists), ascribed to this blend of "rationalism" - insofar as they employed speculative medicine - with "empiricism" - insofar as they drew on thorough collections of case studies and on detailed descriptions of disease symptoms. As this label became more, starting around 202, the unity and efficacy of Galenic medicine helped gather momentum toward a homogeneous, academic medical community - one whose physicians used the same technical vocabulary and acknowledged the same, systematic medical theory.


Academic medicine before Galen differed from other Hellenistic forms of medicine in being naturalistic - the efficacy of remedies was not thought to depend on the gods - and in being critical - the practices followed were evolving as physicians criticized each other's writings or the lessons of their teachers. By comparison, a temple-healer or "back-alley" surgeon might not be literate, might not seek to understand his art, or might draw blindly upon earlier practices. Despite this diversity, the profession of medicus (physician) had a good reputation and was trusted to some degree (military and gladiatorial doctors - working from valetudinaria - were the lowest in status but still heavily relied upon for their services) even before its culmination in Galen.

Becoming famous among academic physicians, Galen inspired, in 204, a group of wealthy private doctors to request from the city of Pergamum their own "Galenic" institution on the local æsculapeum. Following the model of the academy, the physicians expanded their galenaria - a name that would soon attach to these sorts of comprehensive centers for learned medicine - with separate wings for surgery and quarantine (an old practice improved by Galen) as well as a library of books from the Hippocratic and Galenic corpus.

Pergamum was the first city with patrons following on the coattails of Galen but it was far from the last. As part of the euergetism of the curial class, institutions in the Galenic tradition started to appear in other Hellenistic cities. Men of wealth were increasingly seeing medicine for the humiliores as a proper outlet for their typical public beneficence, as Sulla seemed keen to do through Galen and his academy in Alexandria. Although most galenariae were supported locally, a special few were funded by provincial governors using public wealth at their disposal, similar to the typical patronage of a library or school by its city.

Returning in 205 from a campaign, Sulla further encouraged the distribution of medicine by financing a galenaria in Rome, using some open land on the Campus Martius (Field of Mars). Dwarfing others of its kind, this institution was a clear gift of the emperor to the people, staffed by an array of learned physicians already practicing in the capital and entirely dependent on imperial patronage. Propaganda portrayed this gift of health (salus) alongside the gift of food (alimentum) also provided by imperial generosity. Analogously, a senatorial position of curator curationum - equal in rank to the curator alimentorum - was created to administer the facility and audit its services for abuses (against the people or the state finances).

Also similar to the grain dole, the services of this galenaria could not draw purely from imperial finances and not all patients could be cared for without fees. In Rome, a person could plead poverty for free services but, otherwise, patients paid a fee for any herbal or surgical treatments. Therapy, by contrast, was free at most galenariae - as in Rome and Alexandria - as it had been before Galen (therapeutic treatments generally in the form of medical advice on a curative regimen). Despite the homogenizing of Hellenistic medicine, costs did still vary wildly with local conditions, namely with the finances the patrons of each institution.

Among the texts common in galenariae, one essential resource - partially the reason homogeneity of services was even possible - was Galen's unprecedented On Diagnosis. Originally written in 195 but updated a few times before Galen's death, this handbook carefully described the symptoms of specific diseases with an eye to diagnosis, with extensive reference to case studies, and with a structure based on his classification of diseases according to his general theory of medicine. Useful both in pedagogy and in practice, this text was a landmark for Hellenistic medicine - the first comprehensive encyclopedia of diseases.


A comprehensive handbook of disease was far from Galen's only contribution to medical practice - in fact, his research and writings were the largest advance in Hellenistic medicine since even Hippocrates. By his time, a learned physician might already, for a patient, suggest diets or exercises (known collectively as regiminae) or administer purgatives, laxatives, emetics, narcotics, expectorants, salves, plasters, and other curative or palliative measures (known collectively as medicinae). Furthermore, there was already a long history in the art of chirurgia (surgery), mostly for trauma patients and for patients "needing" blood-letting or trepanning. To some degree, Galen accomplished the task not only of uncovering the mechanisms behind known treatments or therapies but also of expanding the medicinal toolkit of the physician.

Perhaps his contribution of greatest efficacy was his emphasis on hygiene and sterilization, in following his theory of infection. For mouth disease, he prescribed teeth-cleaning with a brush and paste, even advising healthy patients to prevent its occurrence by adopting a regular regimen of cleaning teeth (with the added benefit, as he says, of "a more pleasing and healthier mouth"). For surgeries, concentrated vinegar had long been used to sterilize equipment and dress wounds but Galen prescribed a more general use of the disinfectant to cleanse the bodies of surgeons and avoid exposing patients to infectious matter (on the basis of his notion of how people get infected). Galen learned from experience that contact with the dead or the sick spread some diseases and that even healthy doctors, without cleansing, could cause illness in patients. For these purposes, vinegar would remain the preferred disinfectant.

Another advance from his theory of infection was an elaboration upon earlier approaches to a quarantine. Given how he believed diseases spread, Galen outlined ways to isolate a sickness in various social contexts: from a ship to a port, from a port to ships, across the walls of a city, among people within a city, etc. Later works described how to quarantine the sick within a city hospital; the Antonine Plague was an obsession of his throughout his life and clearly motivated the formulation of procedures for dealing with plagues. Mainly, he advised isolating patients within one room, allowing only a few doctors to visit for treatments and forcing those doctors to cleanse their entire bodies (in attached baths) using vinegar and oils.

Preventative measures aside, Galen also elaborated upon the existing palette of drugs that a physician could administer to cure specific ailments. Not only did Galen identify new pharmaceutical properties from known substances but he developed systematic explanations of various herbal remedies and proposed novel uses for already accepted drugs. In particular, he introduced a dosage system for narcotics and purgatives, in the form of numerical charts varying by patient weight and gender as well as the severity of the condition. For bowel disease, he prescribed various purgatives (to varied success) alongside the usual regimental diet and exercise advised by learned physicians for almost any chronic illness. On the whole, the methodological contributions of Galen to curative measures far exceeded his contributions of new herbal remedies.

Disease prevention and other cures failing, surgery was often the last resort of the physician. Perhaps the most detailed contributions of Galen to medical practice were in this particular craft - though nothing would match the efficacy of his new emphasis on both earlier and modified hygienic standards. Several texts from the Galenic corpus contain complete surgical protocols to guide different procedures. For eye surgeons, he describes cataract extraction by suction, replacing the earlier dislocating of the lens in couching, and demonstrated how to treat some cases of glaucoma by reducing intraocular pressure. For brain surgeons, his writings cover cases improved by reducing intracranial pressure and closing internal bleeding, noting how much the fragility, complexity, and importance of the brain complicate local surgery. Building on studies of carcinomae (malignant tumors) by Hippocrates, Galen discovered that treatment was sometimes possible by surgical removal of the tumor, cautioning that removal was difficult without prior exploratory surgery (one of the many practices made more effective by Galen). Among other surgeries, Galen improved upon earlier approaches to setting bones, letting blood, and ligating arteries, as well as specific procedures for tracheotomy, lithotomy, reducing dislocations and fractures, and repairing hernias. His protocols both facilitated surgical training and more systematically grounded surgical techniques, leaving the surgeons of future generations more capable of performing even the most audacious of pre-modern surgeries.

All of these procedural advances for medicine drew on the physiological and anatomical discoveries Galen was making over his long career. Experience with surgery was an essential source for praxis but his bolder contributions were impossible without frequent dissections of human cadavers, often in an attempt to find the cause of death of a patient (pioneering systematic procedures for autopsies). However, Galen had more than imperial sanction simply for human dissection; on request, he was authorized to use local convicts for human vivisections, but their full role in his discoveries are a matter of historical speculation. Certainly, a number of his discoveries seem most plausibly to result from either human or animal vivisections. None are more plausibly attributed to these vivisections than his astonishingly accurate descriptions of the activities of the different physiological systems in the (living) human body.

Discoveries & theories

As a general remark on his anatomical work, Galen was the first to introduce a conceptual collection of parts of the body into distinct systems of organs spread throughout the human body. His own classifications are a useful tool for organizing a descriptions of his anatomical and physiological discoveries and theories. Before describing these ideas it is worth considering their philosophical context. More than an outcome of luck and persistence alone, Galen's discoveries can be attributed (as he himself says in On Demonstration) to a better methodology than his predecessors (as described below) and to his meticulous study of the works of those predecessors with a willingness to criticize their mistakes and a boldness to introduce entirely novel concepts (distinctions, classifications, etc.). Anticipating a description of his methods and methodology later, here is a survey of the contributions of Galen to medical knowledge:

From his detailed maps of the nerves, Galen noticed their convergence on the brain - rather than on the heart or the liver - and situated the rational, controlling part of the mind within that organ. In opposition to the Platonists and Stoics, he not only treated the mental as identical to the physical - specifically to the physical matter of the nervous system - but regarded the mind as distributed throughout the body and as distinguishable into three separate, active faculties. These hypotheses can be better understood through his overall fluidic theory of the mind and its contrast with the contemporary theories that he rejected.

Galen rejected the Atomistic theory for its incompatibility with sensation, as the atomoi it postulated were conceived as not only indivisible but unalterable and capable solely of motion and collision. The perceived absurdity of something feeling anything without being affected by anything made the Atomist's proposal not even merit empirical study. Similarly, the Stoic theory, that the mind is a distinct substance that is entirely mixed into the body and that interpenetrates every part of the flesh, blood, bones, and sinews of the body, was also rejected but for incompatibilities with specific physiological theories. Lastly, Galen rejected the Aristotelian theory, that the mind is the form and function of the body rather than a specific material within the body, for its incompatibility with the observed functions of nerves and theories about the nervous system - this reason was likewise one of his reasons for rejecting the Stoic mixture theory of the mind.

Less anachronistically, it might be more accurate to say soul here instead of mind, since Galen and his predecessors distinguished ψυχή from νους; the latter is specifically the rational part of the soul. However, this translation better expresses how these theories of the soul fit into an overall picture of what is mental as distinct from other functions of the body and how psychological theories fit into overall physiological theories - in this respect, mind is not too misleading a translation of ψυχή. When discussing the views of Galen, this translation is even more appropriate given his divergence from his contemporaries in situating all parts of the soul entirely in the nervous system, distinguishing different faculties - of a tripartite mind - by the activities of the nerves on specific organs (better described in the context of the relevant physiological systems).

For his part, Galen agreed with the Stoics that the mind consisted of an active substance but, rather than being mixed with the body (as a separate substance occupying the same space as bodily substances), he thought mental substance was a fluid within nerves. He believed this fluid is partially composed of material pneuma (breath) that reaches the brain through the connection of the lungs to the heart by the pneumatic veins and the connection of the heart to the brain by arteries feeding into the cerebral arterial circle. The psychic pneuma produced by the brain from the vital pneuma in arteries was thought by Galen to fill nerves and to mediate between the rational part of the mind and the rest of the body. Following Erasistratus, Galen categorized nerves into sensory and motor nerves in order to connect a number of specific nerves to specific functions (e.g. the recurrent nerve to speech). Looking at the brain itself, he mapped out its folds and structures in a number of different people, identifying the corpus callosum, putamen, and other structures as features common to all human brains. While no artist himself, Galen hired cartographers from the Alexandrian harbor to draw his many anatomical sketches (in particular, creating the first sketches of the structure of the eye among other minute anatomical details never described before).

A comprehensive theory of pneuma fits within an overall humoral theory of human physiology and intersects with a number of Galen's theories for different physiological systems. The other systems most directly related to pneumatic theory are the circulatory and respiratory systems, combined by Galen into a single system mediated by the arteries and centered on the lungs. A later book, De Motu Cordis, covers his developed views on the heart. In earlier writings, Galen supported the theory that the two types of blood (arterial and venous) were each generated in its own organ (heart and liver respectively) then consumed throughout the body. Only by On the Motion of the Heart had Galen converted to a circulation theory for blood.

Following Erasistratus again, Galen described the heart as a mechanical pump expelling blood in a regular pattern observed as the pulse. Observing its direction of flow, he found that blood was received by the heart in two unconnected chambers and expelled from the heart by two other chambers, as evident from directions that the cardial valves would open when pressed. From here, several observations convinced Galen that blood circulated rather than being generated and consumed: the septum being impermeable, eliminating the possibility that the heart converted venous into arterial blood; the flow of venous blood to the lungs and arterial blood away from the lungs, indicating that the lungs rather than the heart converted the former into the latter; and, perhaps most convincing, the amount of blood pumped from the heart being noticeably too much for the liver to be generating ab initio from food.

His proposed circuit for blood through the body runs parallel to the refinement of pneuma by various organs. Chyle from digested food gets drawn through the hepatic portal veins from the intestines to the liver which works it into an impure blood - turning the remains of an animal or plant into pneuma physicon or natural pneuma - for distribution through the venous system. In most organs, this natural pneuma fuels the repair and maintenance of the body (or allows growth before adulthood) but, in the lungs, more air is added and any impurities removed to produce purified blood - containing pneuma zoticon or vital pneuma - for distribution by the heart via the arterial system. In most organs, vital pneuma fuels any active functions, notably the motion of muscles or the bellowing of the lungs, but, in the brain, the blood is charged by the fiery soul into its most active form - consisting entirely of pneuma psychicon or psychic pneuma - for use within the nervous system.

In its purest and most active form, pneuma was seen by Galen as the material that carries thought. But he also believed that the rational part of the mind could not function by transmission alone. A more complex process resulting from the balance of humors inside the brain was needed, reasoning that while psychic pneuma could transmit thoughts it could not on its own, as the brain does, generate thoughts. A notable feature of this overeall circulatory picture - in opposition to earlier generative theories of blood - is that most venous blood was thought to come from the recycling of arterial blood carrying natural pneuma alongside its distinctive vital pneuma. On this view, the generation of venous blood in the liver from digested food was only the original source of natural pneuma and, in daily life, a supplement for whatever was consumed in organs - unconsumed natural pneuma returned through the veins to the lungs for purification.

Galen saw these three pneumatic systems - venous, arterial, nervous - as reliant on the digestive system for the natural pneuma extracted by the liver from the remains of other living things. The breakdown of food into chyle was described by Galen, starting from the mouth, and explained as the mixing of different fluids (saliva, stomach acid, etc.) into the food - e.g. gall bladder secreting biles whose "dry" qualities opposed the "moist" qualities concentrated in the stomach. This mixture theory of digestion, again, was a particular case of Galen's overall humoral theory of physiology and was continuous with his pneumatic accounts of nerves, arteries, and veins. Aside from the theoretical virtues (explanatory power and comprehensiveness) of his accounts of digestion, Galen also made the novel discovery of the appendix, learning that it was an organ that could be removed without killing a person - an operation that could relieve certain cases of stomach pain, which Galen thought came from an accumulation of biles left by chyle entering the colon (one of the many common sites of suppuration emphasized by Galen).

Together, Galenic theories of systems of organs were a culmination of the humoral theory of physiology, originally attributed to Hippocrates and slowly developed by Galen's predecessors. A humoral account of the body's functions understands biological processes as mixtures of four elements - for Galen, the specific mixture of elements within an organ constituted - as opposed to merely caused - the function of that organ - i.e. what it is for an organ to do what it was doing was to contain a specific mixture of elements. Interactions between organs was thought to be an exchange of elements through systems of tubes and malfunctions of organs to be an imbalance (dyscrasia) of its elements away from the natural balance (eucrasia) for that organ (functions - good or bad - were explained as the elements being mixed in different proportions).

On this view, diseases are simply malfunctions of organs (imbalances of elements in organs) caused by mechanical trauma to organs (fractures, bruises, and other injuries), ingestion or excretion of too little or too much of some element (poor diet, inactivity, and other bad lifestyle choices), or contamination from environmental sources of "pollution" (corpses, sickness, swamps, trash, and other pollutants). Trauma and poor lifestyle were evident enough causes of disease but contamination was more complex, requiring a sophisticated miasmatic theory of infection. Already prominent among academic physicians, miasmatic theory was expanded by Galen with his account of how miasma (polluted air) entered the body through the lungs or stomach and of how miasma clung to surfaces near its source, allowing for the until then unknown possibility of indirect infection (be careful of the relatively anachronistic use of "infection" here).

Despite its propensity to malfunction, the human body was Galen's primary example of divine providence in the natural world - an illustration of the unimpeachable design of the creator (his account of design in nature is clearly influenced by Plato's Timaeus and his notion of creator is clearly the Platonic Demiurge). Discussing the defects of illness, Galen admonishes his readers to marvel at the ability of the body not to become imbalanced (most of the time) in the face of the host of unbalancing influences acting in daily life. His wonder at the disease resistance of the body is best reflected in his account of the lymphatic system as a system of tubes that redistributes humors when they become too concentrated or diffuse in one part of the body (e.g. the system takes up excess blood from an organ which has an imbalance of blood). He cites the swelling of lymph nodes during illness as evidence that the system fulfills this role.

A list of the concrete discoveries of Galen would be incomplete without adding his descriptions and (simple but accurate) illustrations of the inner structures of the eye, ear, mouth, hand, and male genitalia (nearly all of his anatomical research subjects were male). These contributions to medical knowledge were directed primarily at surgical practice but also informed physiological theory - notably, the Galenic account of human reproduction which opposed the Aristotelian theory of a substantial form being implanted from the male into the matter within the female with a theory of each person contributing an active seed. On the whole, Galen left behind a great breadth of anatomical data for later commentary.

The work of Galen prior to his death at the ripe age of 89 set the stage for the next 1,400 years of medicine in the Roman world. Advances from his time up to the 1600's CE were slow enough to prompt the statement that "Galen was for medicine what Aristotle was for logic". Perhaps even this understates the facts. Galen's academy was a model not only for galenariae - setting the stage for an advantageous distribution of medical care across the empire - but also for natural philosophers. Although little would be learned from the methods of Galen in his own day, the undeniable progress he made in one area of knowledge would eventually serve as a model for rigorous inquiry into nature. Until then, scholars across the empire were still engaging each other in discussions continuous with the Hellenistic traditions of philosophy and mathematics.


Before the year 200, Galen alone published over 300 works on medicine, covering topics as diverse as oral hygiene, medical botany, paralysis, optics, and even logic alongside the more general topics of physiology and anatomy. Public and private donations flowed into his academy, supplying ample funds to expand its operations and to accommodate greater numbers of patients, bodies, and books.

These three resources were essential for the advance of knowledge on the body. For his part, Galen was exceptionally well-read not only as a physician but as a philosopher. Characterizing himself as an eclectic - one who belonged to no school of medicine or philosophy - he drew from sources as diverse as Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, Chrysippus, Erasistratus and Herophilus in expounding a method of his own.

Agreeing with Aristotle, Galen held that the role of the philosopher was to explain the phenomena found in nature, requiring observation to supply that which is to be explained. More specifically, he addressed how descriptions of nature from observation logically related to theories purporting to explain the observation. Building on syllogistic logic, Galen expounded on a relational syllogism, for inferences about relative quantity as in 'A is equal to B, B is equal to C; therefore A is equal to C', and a hypothetical syllogism that formalized the conditional statements of the Stoics using syllogism.

Conditionals were essential to Galen's methodology. A typical experiment of his would present opposing theories about some phenomenon - say the Stoic theory that the ruling faculty of man is in the heart and the Platonic one that it is in the brain - then find a syllogism the truth of whose premises could be known by observation and the conclusion of which was one of the competing theories. Candidate theories were a key part of this method since the proposed observational test would vary with the conclusion - in this case, if the brain is the ruling faculty, then movement and sensation would cease by cutting off the connection to the brain (this evidence was especially impressive in the case of the nerve controlling the vocal cords since the screams prior to cutting the nerve contrast with the sudden silence once the subject is mute).

More is involved in this method than appears at first glance. First, the subject (e.g. ruling faculty) must be defined in a way agreed upon by the opposing researchers (e.g. as the source of movement and sensation). Second, premises from which a given conclusion (e.g. the ruling faculty is in the brain) can be inferred must be conceived. For this step, Galen draws on the categories of predicates discussed by Aristotle, since he saw each statement in a syllogism as predicating something of a subject and agreed with Aristotle that the ten categories identified the essential classes of predicates of things in nature. Identifying the category (e.g. location) of the attribute (e.g. in the brain) being predicated of the subject by a theory sufficed to conceive of what premises form a syllogism whose conclusion is the theory. Naturally enough, the third condition is that the truth (or falsehood) of the premises corresponds with a test. Premises must be chosen such that there is something that can be observed to know whether they are true or false. Using relational and hypothetical syllogism, larger and more complicated chains of syllogisms can be conceived in conceiving of premises to test a given theory, permitting justification of more abstract theories without diluting the certainty one has in the observations (Galen rightly saw deduction as perfectly preserving truth from premise to conclusion).

Based as they were on the categories, the syllogisms Galen sought in designing his experiments tended to demand a wide variety of types of observations, whether that involved locating an object somewhere, timing one event with another event, or isolating different substances from within an object. None of these were terribly novel features of his method but where Galen did innovate was in applying the category of quantity to his observations, holding that quantitative measures could show an attribute of something. His focus on this category likely resulted from his theory that sickness and health are only differences in the proportions of various fluids, motivating the importance of careful observation of their quantities. Few quantities were emphasized more by Galen than pulse. Renowned physicians Praxagoras and Herophilus were the first to use the pulse as a diagnostic tool but Galen elevated its use to the point that one of the first things that a doctor after him would check is the pulse (the sight of a doctor holding out a man's arm to check his pulse at the wrist became the go-to image for portraying a doctor for centuries after him).

As a development upon the eudoxic method of Aristotle, this method of demonstration was a great leap forward in the history of the scientific method, subordinating traditional wisdom to the role of directing experimentation (so that less hinges on those beliefs being true) and providing some method (lacking as it does in modern rigor) for designing an experiment to test a theory. Ultimately, the logical and methodological works of Galen - notably On Demonstration and The Best Doctor is also a Philosopher - received nowhere near the attention of his anatomical and physiological works but would slowly exert an influence on how other philosophers of nature approach their investigations.

Mathematical sciences

As medical science flourished, no other field of knowledge enjoyed its simultaneous advantages of individual brilliance and public funding. Worse, the four Chairs of Philosophy that Marcus Aurelius had established in Athens had their salaries reduced as cuts on unnecessary expenditure were made in the shadow of the costly Marcomannic Wars. Nevertheless, under the ongoing pax Romana, city officials and men of wealth could still be relied upon, when the fees for students did not suffice, to finance schools of mathematics and philosophy in cities where these traditions were strong.


Aeolipile built and designed by Hero as an amusing display

Notably, over the last century, there was a rising trend of intellectuals moving to Rome to find wealthy students and disseminate their writings. A notable example from the last century was Menelaus of Alexandria, who moved to Rome before writing the treatise Sphaerica as perhaps the first step into the field of spherical trigonometry, comparing the geodesics (great circles) on spheres to straight lines on planes as the shortest paths between any two points. Other mathematicians in Rome may not have matched the ingenuity of Menelaus but they contributed to an accelerating spread of Greek mathematics to Rome.

When works were not being written in Rome, they were at least being translated into the imperial language of Latin. Among these were the Pythagorean number theory of Nicomachus of Gerasa, who claimed that the truths of geometry depended on arithmetic truths, and, more significantly, the eclectic works of the brilliant Hero of Alexandria.

Without a doubt, Hero was the Archimedes of his time. Believing firmly in not only the beauty but the utility of mathematics, he applied what he knew to the construction of numerous devices. For entertainment, there was the aeolipile, showing how fire could produce "wind" from water, and the wind-wheel, the first device to directly harness the power of the wind in nature. For specific tasks, he invented a displacement pump, adopted in Rome as a fire engine; pulley systems, for behind the stage in a theater; a syringe, for quickly delivering fluids into the body of a patient; and a fountain powered by the storage of hydrostatic energy as in a water tower. While his curiosities were popular in some temples, his practical devices were adopted throughout the Roman world. In particular, pump-operated fire engines were becoming essential to the civil services in large cities, especially after a famous fire in 208 convinced officials in several cities to take active steps in mitigating the risk of citywide infernos.


Astronomers of this period were largely following in the wake of Ptolemaeus of Alexandria, who had died in 168 CE about a decade after finishing his already famous Syntaxis Mathematica. In this treatise, he developed a sophisticated mathematical model for a geocentric cosmos. Following Aristotle, he placed a stationary Earth at the center of the universe but had the planetai (wandering stars) each move uniformly on its own little sphere (epicycle) whose center orbited around a point (the punctum aequans) on the opposite side of another point (the punctum deferens) from the stationary Earth. While he put an end to describing the heavenly spheres as rotating uniformly around the Earth, he preserved both their uniform rotation (only about a different point) and the motionlessness of the Earth (as the only thing in the cosmos known at the time to have weight, it seemed obvious to ancient astronomers that the Earth was stationary).

Aside from this innovation, Ptolemaeus neatly summarized the discoveries of prior astronomers, with special credit to Posidonius of Rhodes and Hipparchus of Nicaea. This synthesis of astronomy included: the tilt of the ecliptic of the Sun relative to the orbital axis of the fixed stars; the reflection rather than emission of light by the Moon; the sphericity of the Earth based on its lunar shadow and on astronomical shifts with latitude; the shift in apparent position of the Sun by greater refraction of light near the horizon; the sizes of the Moon and Sun as well as their distances to Earth; the precession of equinoxes; and detailed data on the motions of the Sun, Moon, wandering stars, and over a thousand fixed stars. Virtually the entire field of astronomy was contained within this treatise, providing a concise handbook for future astronomers.

Despite his authoritative status, Ptolemaeus was not obeyed blindly by his successors. His measurements of the circumference of the Earth opposed those quoted by the astronomer Cleomedes from the works of Eratosthenes, who calculated a circumference of 252,000 stadia (39,690 km or 46,620 km), and scholars afterward would variously take sides based on their own biases or even their own measurements. Other astronomical measurements in the Syntaxis were changed at a more steady pace, as more decades of stellar observations were undertaken in a never ending study of the heavens.

Meanwhile, the only competition for the more abstract geocentric theory elaborated upon by Ptolemaeus was the Pythagorean cosmos that placed the Sun at the center. The primary mathematical model in favor of this tradition was developed by the Pythagorean astronomer Aristarchus of Samos centuries earlier. While geocentrism dominated in the day of Sulla, for the reasons mentioned earlier, this opposition would remain a source of debate for centuries to follow.
Map of Europe

Map of Europe produced in 824 CE based partially on
the Carta Mediterranea


With the goal of improving shipping routes, Sulla had naval forces begin in 206 to map the Mare Internum going clockwise from Rome. Over three decades, their measurements were compiled into a series of maps that became known as the Carta Mediterranea - drawing on the name used in the works of Claudius Aelianus.

Employing the best surveying techniques known to the Romans (primitive even by the standards of 9th century agrimensores but nonetheless sophisticated), the team of surveyors attempted to map every coast and island from the Pillars of Hercules to Syria. Original copies of these maps were stored as an 80-page codex in the public archives at Rome, for military and administrative uses, starting around 238 CE. Afterward, copies were repeatedly made by merchants, ship captains, and mathematicians for their own uses, spawning the new science of tablographia (cartography) dedicated to editing and improving these maps.

Early rule

Although its cities prospered, Rome had stretched herself close to the limits of her resources and her modes of governance, as she opened herself to the threat of facing more problems than could be handled at once. Germania and Dacia had been pacified for some time but there remained unruly tribes who existed outside the confederations on which Rome had imposed treaties. Constant effort was required by the Dacian legions - presently under Tarrutenius Paternus - to maintain the peace. Meanwhile, in the north of Britannia, an old threat re-emerged - Picts had overrun the virtually abandoned Antonine Wall (Vallum Antoninum) and were putting pressure on Hadrian's Wall farther south. Reports of their raids on British cities alarmed even senators in Rome, who looked toward the Imperator for a response.

As commander-in-chief, Sulla transferred auxiliary cohorts from Alpes Cottiae to Britain, distributing existing Britannic cohorts along the wall itself. In order to main the military presence in the now undefended Alpes Cottiae, he combined the province with its neighbor, Alpes Poeninae, into the provincium augustum of Alpes Ulterior, spreading the cohorts of the former throughout the combined province. The main highway connecting Colonia Ludgnum and Taurinorum, which passed through the larger castra (forts) in the Alps, was also renovated to reduce the risk inherent in diluting the military presence. Lastly, the prominent general Avidius Cassius, a renowned disciplinarian, war hero, and former governor of Syria, was appointed legatus augustus pro praetore over Britain.

From his position as governor, Cassius raided ports along the eastern coast of Caledonia (Scotland) until about 188, when he had effectively quelled the roving bands of Caledonii harassing British settlements. In leading local legions, his disciplined mode of command was given weight by his reputation (for defeating the Parthians twenty years ago). Through his determined efforts, the Caledonii were kept at bay, allowing the cities of northern Britain to rest at ease, and the loyalty of the British legions was only strengthened.

Inner circle

With the German wars over, Rome was poised to enjoy a period of reasonable stability.The other regions of Hispania (Spain) and Gallia (Gaul) had been restful for the last century but for one small rebellion so it came as a surprise when, in 186, the Gauls rose against Roman taxes, forcing a response by the legate Clodius Albinus. Unfortunately, Clodius was killed during the uprising by a stray arrow. As a war hero, he was mourned by hundreds of thousands of Romans and given a state funeral in Rome. Afterward, the Gauls were vilified in Italy, inspiring efforts by the Gallic curiales (provincial elite) to show Rome that they were firmly in its favor, as well as pacify their own people with donatives and games. By the early 3rd century, their efforts would bear fruit as the emperor transferred Gallia Lugdunensis to the authority of the Senate and reduced the garrisons to a level befitting a provincia populi Romani.

Meanwhile, the legate of Germania Superior, Publius Helvius Pertinax, handled some local threats in 188 when, under a deficiency of legionaries, he defeated an organized invasion by the Chatti with a decisive use of auxiliary archers. Pertinax made every attempt to play up his victory to his senatorial peers. After returning to the frontiers in 196 as governor of Dacia, he would add several cohortes milliaria sagittariorum to the local forces. The Dacian talent for archery would already be growing by this time from Sulla's response to Pertinax's achievement on the field - an encouragement of archery, through tournaments and the like, in villages where people already possessed a penchant for the ars sagitta. These skills were intended to be drawn upon for auxiliary forces throughout the empire and would prove invaluable in future conflicts but would take time to foster in appreciable number; Pertinax would only be able to muster these new auxiliaries long into his governorship as the few alae that had been trained had already been taken, at his behest, for a major war beginning at the time of his appointment.

As brother-in-law to Sulla and the old benefactor of Pertinax, Tiberius Pompeianus was well-placed in Rome as he entered his twilight years - even holding a key position on the Consilium Principis (Imperial Council) and receiving an important place on the victory column dedicated to his father-in-law. However, Pompeianus had become only one of many advisers to Sulla, within an inner circle of generals from the German wars. Holding his third consulship in 187, he was sent to Syria Palestina to serve the following year as legate, allowing him to supervise the province during the mass migration of the Jews begun by Sulla's reopening of Aelia Capitolina to circumcised men. In particular, he is cited as prosecuting Roman colonists who had attacked their new neighbors. His return to Rome in 192 ushered in the start of a rising period of violence within Aelia Capitolina. Sadly, a year later, Pompeianus passed away, receiving a funeral on a similar scale as Clodius Albinus. His widow, Lucilla, would be married to Lucius Fabius Cilo, the former proconsul of Gallia Narbonensis who had been appointed legate to quell the rebellion in his neighboring province after the death of Clodius Albinus. Although only a Hispanian, he was a rising senator, of an age with the middle-aged Lucilla, and had distinguished himself in his handling of affairs in Gaul through negotiation rather than solely through battle. A prime candidate for an imperial marriage.

Even with the loss of Pompeianus, Sulla continued to listen carefully to his consilium, earning a reputation for patience and open-mindedness. Many of his reforms throughout his reign bear the distinct mark of members of this active component of his inner circle - especially, the inventive administrative minds of Pertinax and Cassius Dio, as well as the legal expertise of men such as Aemilius Papinianus and Annius Ulpianus, most of whom were only beginning to come to the attention of the new emperor at the time Pompeianus died. These advisers would prove themselves well in the coming decades.

While his senatorial allies performed adequately in their appointed offices, his enemies in the Senate were moving to oppose him behind the scenes. In 186, there was an attempt on the emperor's life by Ummidius Quadratus, his cousin and, apparently, someone sympathetic to conservative interests in the Senate. Sulla responded to the attempt by confiscating the fortune of Quadratus - through a trial before a senatorial court on charges of treason - and publicly devoting this wealth to creating a new fleet for securing grain from North Africa to Rome - the classis annona africana.

Treasury management

The benefits of the new merchant fleet were manifold. Over the prior two years, Sulla had garnered a public reputation for stinginess. Public games had been lackluster after the triumphal parade, despite his best efforts to bring senators into more energetic involvement as aediles and as public benefactors. As such, his enlargement of the annona (frumentatio) to 250,000 recipients was a long time coming. The first expanded shipments of grain from Africa were timed in 187 with a major festival for Ceres. On the whole, the mere existence of a new grain fleet renewed the decline in the frequency and severity of piracy in the Mare Internum (Mediterranean Sea) - a long overdue confrontation of raids on internal trade routes.

Funds diverted from spectacles during this time were not all required for the army. Sulla devoted whatever he could afford to construction projects and major commercial ventures, in an attempt to procure more sources of permanent revenue for the state. With the goal of procuring more gold and silver, mining operations in Hispania and Dalmatia were expanded, despite the relative paucity of easily workable seams. At the same time, money went to assisting the German and veteran colonists on the Danubian frontier, who were restoring farms that had been abandoned during the war. These efforts to re-appropriate land would take about a decade to truly bear fruit as tenant coloni and independent farmers helped make the frontier garrisons more self-sufficient. As these farms expanded, Sulla graciously repealed the extraneous tribute laid on the Iazyges and Roxolani, which he had exacted upon them in excess of foederatus status, to provide for the agricultural needs of nearby legions.

Some more concrete programs of expenditure were the construction of the Galenic Academy in Alexandria and the restoration of more temples to the Roman gods. However, his greatest early construction project was the restoration of the Pontum Traiani (Trajan's Bridge) spanning the Danube north of the town of Bononia in Upper Moesia. Stretching over 1.1 km in length, this segmental arch bridge had allowed for the original conquest of Dacia by Princeps Trajan but had been partially dismantled by Hadrian to remove the risk that barbarians would take control of it and cross into the more secure provinces. With Dacia more pacified, the utility of the bridge outweighed the risks and its reconstruction was deemed less costly than building a new bridge. The archways on either side of the bridge were integrated into stone forts with commercia (customs posts) from which travelers had to gain permission to cross the Danube. These forts were placed under the control of a single cohors of 500 auxiliary soldiers from Dalmatia.

During this period, public funds were separated into three official accounts: the aerarium populi Romani, for ordinary expenditure by the Senate; the aerarium militare, for paying the pensions of legionaries; and the fiscus, for personal expenditure by the princeps civitatis. In practice, Sulla controlled the spending of all three treasuries - in addition to the reserve treasury known as the aerarium sanctius - but he only directed the spending of the senatorial treasury indirectly through his influence in the Senate. Salaries for legionaries and payment for major public works came from the fiscus, as no other senator could be paymaster for the armies. The items of greatest value in the state - legionary standards, tables of law, and other artifacts of the Eternal City's history, were stored in the aerarium Saturni alongside the wealth of the Senate - secured within the Temple of Saturn on the main forum and overseen by appointees of the emperor with praetorian rank, such was its importance to the affairs of the state.

Nearly three-quarters of public revenue was spent on maintaining the military and another tenth sustained the grain supply (cura annonae) for Roman citizens - both from the wealth of the fiscus alone. Although the dole (frumentatio) itself now only amounted to enough grain to feed about 250,000 people, the subsidies were important for maintaining the price of grain around one denarius per modius (6.67 kg). The rest of revenues paid for public works, civil servants, public festivals, and the support of curiae (municipal councils) that operated under the auspices of Rome. On the whole, the regime of Sulla adopted proportionally low enough expenses to maintain stable finances in these times of weak revenue, pressing provincialization, and high prices of grain for the urban poor.

Grain prices had risen around 186 alongside an alarming rise of general prices in Ægyptus. Some senators blamed the heavy inflation on the revaluation of the denarius, leaving the Egyptian drachma of weakening stature. Regardless of the cause, the new grain fleet and some senatorial loans to merchants had a positive effect on restoring local prices. However, the situation would not settle entirely for another few decades, eventually restoring the price of grain and calming the frustrations of the Egyptian poor, who were not as insulated from the effects of the inflation as were the plebs in Rome.

Parthian War

Over 194 to 195, news reached Rome about the tampering of Roman loyalties with its foederatus (client kingdom) of Osroene by Shah Vologeses V of Parthia. After diplomatic efforts went nowhere, Sulla took this as a sufficient casus belli for war with the Persians. Bringing three legions in 196 to supplement the eastern legions, Sulla broke the peace that had followed the end of the Germanic and Sarmatian Wars by leading an army against the vassals of Parthia.

Armenia fell first. Showing clemency to the Armenian nobility, even the royal family, Sulla captured King Khosrov in order to use him in fomenting dissent among the Persian forces, especially those remaining from Armenia, and in bringing other Persian allies out of the war. In contrast, Kartlia served as an example to other vassals that might choose to oppose Rome alongside their King of Kings. The execution of King Rev served to emphasize this fact, as well as to show Khosrov the consequences of failing to comply with Rome. While his brother Rev had been uncooperative, Khosrov had personally no issues with the Romans and, by this time, surely saw the writing on the wall for the future of his position within the Parthian Empire.

In contrast to Trajan decades before him, Sulla offered a truce to whatever cities would agree to support his march on the capital. The city of Assur (among others) served as another example of failure to comply while the commercially powerful city of Atra went a step further than other negotiations, forging a quick alliance with Rome that would ultimately outlast the war. Reaching Ctesiphon by late 198, Sulla sacked the Parthian capital, approaching from the southeast to cut off the escape of the Shah and to force a reorganization of defending forces. With the fertile plains of Parthia under its control and the armies of its great enemy in ruins around the capital, Rome showed little mercy to its longtime foe. Shah Vologases V was killed - in a manner that avoided humiliation to his family - and some token land around Osroene was taken for Rome. Most importantly, the royal treasury - valued in the millions of denarii - was taken by the emperor, after distributing a portion of its riches to his triumphant soldiers.

In the wake of his father's death, the absence of any siblings in the capital, and tacit support from the Roman military presence, Khosrov took the throne and began to secure the allegiance of his family's vassals. Only the kingdoms of Armenia and Kartlia did not answer. On the way to Rome, Sulla stopped in the Caucasus to check the situation in Armenia. Vagharshapat had devolved into a squabble for power among the local nobility, as the instated successor of Khosrov had been deposed. As soon as Sulla arrived with his armies, he and his men were showered with honors in an attempt to garner favor with Rome in light of the fall of Ctesiphon. One of the larger and more respected houses, the Khoguvtuni, were named Kings of Armenia as a new foederatus of Rome, creating a dynasty that Romans would refer to as the Cogutunidae. In the eternal back and forth over Armenia, Rome had securely returned to the lead position, for now. Wrapping up this ordeal, a few legions under Pescennius Niger were sent to Kartlia to secure its loyalty, forming another eastern client for the empire.


Punishing King Agbar of Osroene for flirting with an alliance with Persia, Sulla had him deposed and his kingdom annexed alongside conquered Parthian land as the provincium augustum of Mesopotamia. Agbar and his family were all offered Roman citizenship and estates in North Africa, where their new equestrian status would allow future careers in the Roman Senate (a situation that none in the family could contest given their situation). The new province had its capital in Nisibis - a loyal fortress city - and would be governed by Pescennius Niger, who had assisted in the war alongside general Lucius Septimius Severus, who had distinguished himself in his support of Sulla. Severus became a close military adviser for the emperor, joining his inner circle after the triumphus celebrating the victory over Parthia.

Mesopotamia became a second bastion for the eastern legions, alongside Syria, allowing a division of eastern forces between two legates. Most of their legions at this time were nowhere near full strength, as the war had exacted its toll during a time of already seriously low manpower for the empire. The only full legion was Legio V Syriana, which Sulla had founded before beginning his invasion of Parthia, in anticipation of needing reinforcements for the later stages of the war - this supplemented the seven weakened legions that would be divided between the two provinces.

In this difficult position, it is unfortunate for Rome that tribals in the northern reaches of Western Europe were once again causing trouble for Roman Britain. The Picts had undergone something of a resurgence and Sulla wasted little time bringing a legion of his veterans, blood hot from their glorification at the triumph in Rome, to put an end to the threat posed by native tribes on the island.

Conquest of Scotland

Although the famous general Avidius Cassius had subdued the Caledonii by 188, they were raiding towns with renewed vigor in 198. Using three legions and a legate with local knowledge, Sulla wasted no time in pursuing a solution to this persistent problem (though Cassius would not be around for the whole conflict).

His strategy was as ruthless as it was effective. Under the climate in 198 of roving tribes, engaging in violence on both sides of the Vallum Hadrianum, Sulla selected several isolated villages not far north of the wall and had them systematically surrounded as their entire population was slaughtered. Messengers were sent to other Caledonian villages warning of the destruction of these villages by the "same tribes that had sacked Roman towns" and offering the aid of Rome against their rapine neighbors. The rumors polarized the people of southern Caledonia toward Rome; those who chose to ignore this veneer of Roman aid armed themselves for a more organized conflict. As a result, the local enemies of Roman rule were brought to the forefront and the assimilation of Caledonia was accelerated.

Fighting continued in Britain until a letter arrived in the Senate in 205 declaring the conquest of land up to the major rivers of Caledonia. The guerrilla tactics of Rome's Caledonian enemies had prolonged the war, as Sulla chose a slow, cautious strategy rather than allow the guerrillas to dictate when and where battles were fought, and dissuaded the emperor from a full conquest of the region. As treaties were formed with the non-belligerent tribes and the scorched earth tactics of the fighters lent credence to the official story, the conquest gradually unfolded in the favor of Rome. Caledonia was declared a new provincium augustum separated from Britannia by Hadrian's Wall and the armies hailed Sulla as Britannicus, having recently hailed him as Parthicus after the sack of Ctesiphon.

During the war, the fleets in the Oceanus Britannicus had been greatly expanded and trade encouraged between Gaul and Britain, both as means to keeping the legions fed in the face of fewer local supplies. This growth in the number of ships in the region came at a high cost to the treasury, especially since the campaign offered few sources of revenue, but was sustained by the wealth coming in from Parthia.

With further distinctions from his role in Caledonia, Septimius Severus was assigned as governor of the conquered territory and given the directive to pursue peaceful trade with the natives beyond the Antonine Wall - once more the frontier of Roman Britain. He would only remain there for three years before returning to Rome to attend to other matters as he was quickly becoming a favorite of the emperor.

Garamantian campaign

Since Avidius acted as a military expert on local geography during the annexation, he became the only major general alongside Sulla when Septimius was sent elsewhere in 202 CE to respond to news of escalating incursions by the Garamantes into Africa Proconsularis. It seems likely that the news had been distracting to Septimius Severus, who hailed from the African city of Leptis Magna, since a prominent general of an ongoing invasion and a great deal of resources were devoted to this Garamantian campaign. Through these efforts, the war culminated in the capture of the capital Garama in 205.

At the behest of Sulla, Septimius forced the Garamantians into a treaty as a foederatus. Although this rather uncomfortable alliance would not outlast Sulla, it let Rome to take a greater hand in the Trans-Saharan caravan trade for a few decades. At the same time, the limes tripolitanus was fortified in the wake of the war to weaken the chances that other African tribes would threaten the cities of Northern Africa - building towers to stand vigil over the surrounding desert.

With both wars successful and another great general of his father gone, Sulla devoted the following decades of his reign to politics rather than war, strengthening his personal network in Rome using his military prestige and the surviving remnants of supporters of his Marcus Aurelius.

Power & politics

Upon returning to Rome, Sulla collected vexillationes from among the armies that had fought with him over the last decade and had them assemble north of Rome for his reditus. Once he entered the city, he had the Praetorian Guard dispersed either into retirement or into centuriones in legions throughout the empire, only to replace the entire ranks of the guard with his loyal soldiers. Installing entirely new praetoriani, he took this opportunity to restructure their ranks and the broader relationship of the guard to the emperor. Naturally, this reform came at the heels of the third triumphus of his reign and was announced to the old guard in the presence of his thousands of loyal veterans.

Although praefectus praetorio would remain a prestigious military post, their number was multiplied to 16 - one for each cohors in the roughly 8,000-man guard. Each prefect would answer directly to the emperor and be an equal in rank to every other prefect. Otherwise, the role of the guard itself remained much as it had before this restructuring. However, the role of its commanders became purely defensive, losing a great deal of their administrative and juridical influence. This reduction of the power of the praetorian prefecture was the most dramatic shift Sulla had yet instigated within the imperial court - castrating the influence of an increasingly central office. Assisting in this transformation was Papinian, who held the prefecture before the changing of the guard and had been tasked with cooperating with the praetores in Sulla's absence.

Although there had been no recent acts of treason by the guard, its commanders had been on a frequent rotation whenever Sulla was in Rome, as potential interests against him came to light regarding its prefects. In this regard, Sulla had been slowly expanding the role of the frumentarii (provincial grain collectors). In 186, after the closest attempt on his life, Sulla had expanded the operations of the frumentarii into Italy as part of his reform of the grain supply through its new fleet and expansion of the frumentatio. Two frumentarii were given roles alongside the consular praefectus annonae while another two had been appointed within the praetoriani as part of an effort to involve the latter in the distribution of grain within Rome (a role that appealed to its members due to a rise in public opinion through association with the frumentatio).

With the reform of the guard, praetoriani continued to be involved in the distribution of grain but no single prefect would fulfill this role for any significant amount of time. Only the emperor could be permanently associated with free grain. Although the threat of praetorian assassins was reduced, Sulla was also making every attempt to diminish the involvement of individual guard commanders in political affairs, so this decision fit within an overall reaction to the former political prominence of the guard. However, it is equally as likely that the office of praefectus praetorio was weakened as a show of favor to the Senate, a body that Sulla continued to appease in his efforts to prove that his plebeian blood did not impede his rule over Rome.

Senatorial prominence

In abolishing the singular office of praefectus praetorio, Sulla diverted greater judicial authority back to the formal judges appointed by the Senate, namely the praetores within the city of Rome and the four iuridici consulares assigned to separate districts of cities across Italy. Senatorial quaestiones perpetuae (public courts) had their judicial roles informally enforced with this development, extending their authority once more over matters of public order in this central territory of the empire, and the consilium principis had its direct role as a court restricted to the activities of the emperor (where before the praefectus praetorio could preside over judgements made by the consilium in cases presented before the emperor).

Another example of Sulla's provisions (or rather concessions) to the Senate had been the creation in 195 of a committee to supervise the collection of vectigaliae and fulfillment of munerae in Italy. Partially in reaction to the escalating duties of the Italian curiae and partially as part of an overall trend in the growth of the correctorial system in the provinces - from which Italy had been exempt - the emergence of a similar system in Italy was slowly becoming necessary for the efficiency of taxation. Befitting the prestige of Italia, this decemviri missus ad corrigendum statum Italiae (Committee of Oversight in Italy) consisted solely of senators with praetorian rank, tasked with visiting the municipalities of Italy during their year of appointment (by the Senate) to ensure an appropriate level of commitment to taxes and public responsibilities at that level of administration.

On the whole, deliberate edicts were an exception among Sulla's attempts to endear himself to senators. The majority of his efforts involved his overall handling of senatorial proceedings. He approached meetings of the Senate as a peer - participating in discussion but never dominating, encouraging opposing opinions through his own senatorial friends (who set an open example of acceptable behavior to others), and avoiding the open use of his considerable constitutional powers (tribunicia potestas, imperium consulare maius) in the Senate. His time in power engendered an atmosphere where freedom of speech could flourish and no senator could justifiably claim that his peers were not constantly involved in governing the empire, despite the continued concentration of power in the princeps civitatis.

Given the constitutional reality of his role, this cooperative relationship with the Senate - present despite the surreptitious belligerence of many senators - could not outlast his reign, without serious transformations in the structures of political power, but it was at least a temporary swing of the pendulum of power away from the Legion and toward the Senate. For now, the Senate was the locus of imperial power.

On a more personal level, Sulla was affable and approachable to other senators and never flaunted his now considerable military accomplishments (his full name included Germanicus Sarmaticus Parthicus Britannicus) to others seeking the more limited military fame available to senators - as Pertinax, Albinus, and others had gotten while the emperor was younger. How much of his modesty and cooperativeness was a deliberate act and how much was genuine is unclear. Despite an affable demeanor on the Senate floor, Sulla is described in a more personal setting as lacking expressiveness in, as Cassius Dio went on to say, the manner of the Stoic with control over the range of his emotions. Certainly, when his wife Polonia died in childbirth in 186, he is known to have mourned publicly, but he would also remarry within less than a year, so it's unclear.

Imperial family

The familia Caesaris played an important role in pushing these improving relationships with the Senate. Alongside Pompeianus, whose essential role has been discussed, the family had the supportive Marcus Petronius Sura Mamertinus, whose swift participation in the increased euergetism of the Senate helped Sulla's suggestion gain some momentum (albeit not enough), and Marcus Peducaeus Plautius Quintillus, who was influential with the high aristocracy that disliked Sulla and likely played an important part in endearing his brother-in-law to many of these patricii (albeit not enough). Last of the brother-in-laws, Lucius Antistius Burrus became a reliable legate for Sulla, serving in a number of theaters of war, including the Garamantian campaign. Over time, the children of these in-laws would join the ranks of the Senate and became similarly involved in affairs of state as the next generation took center stage.

Even closer to the emperor was his first daughter, Domitia Aurelia, who was his only child before the loss of his wife and potential son. Polonia, a former attendant in the imperial court, had reportedly been very close with Sulla, to the extent that she is implicated by ancient historians in the death of Commodus, but she was a frequent target of senators deploring the status of the imperial family after the death of Marcus Aurelius (neither the emperor nor the empress being of senatorial or equivalent descent). For his second wife, Sulla was directed to the Syrian city of Emesa, where the wealthy, senatorial and formerly royal family of Julius Bassianus had a daughter looking to marry. This young Julia Domna was nearly of an age with the emperor, only a little younger, and, aside from her high birth, brought with her an impressive dowry as well as a large estate of her own, inherited from her uncle Julius Agrippa. As much as this appeared to be a marriage of convenience for both parties, a match that has been variously supposed to have been initiated by a prophecy or astrological prediction, Julia and Sulla were well-matched. Her intellectual proclivities and interest in the details of Roman politics blossomed under the support of her husband and Sulla enjoyed a cooperative household with a wife who handled the affairs of the familia Caesaris with a noblewoman's grace during his long absences.

Roman agriculture

Since the reign of Augustus, agriculture was shifting from the landholding peasantry to landed estates owned by the nobility. By the time of Sulla, the latifundium (landed estate) was steadily encompassing more and more of the agricultural production in the empire. The situation was worse in the provinces than in Italy - e.g. over half of farms in proconsular Africa were in the hands of only six landowners - but there were evident signs, recorded even in the time of Pliny, that the disparity in land ownership would only become more severe and eventually find its way to Italy.

As more Italian farmland was appropriated by senatores and equites, not to mention acquired by the fundi patrimoniales (estates of the emperor), the number of unemployed plebs in the capital grew. By the reign of Sulla, displaced farmers were a pressing concern for the state finances, motivating the new grain fleet, among other policies, and for the stability of the city of Rome, aggravating the persistent dry spell in public entertainment. Against this threat, in 192, the emperor, supposedly at the behest of Pertinax, enacted a program of giving all land which was not under cultivation to private citizens, with secure tenure over the land and a ten-year exemption in taxes. This sweeping policy extended from the provinces up into the heart of Italy, raising the production of foodstuffs, in the wake of its decline as land was abandoned or former tenants were killed by the plague.

When Sulla returned from Caledonia, he extended this policy by purchasing land from major landowners then renting it out to coloni to work as though it were their own. Millions of denarii were spent on this program from 205 to 207, resulting in a major expansion of the imperial patrimonium and in the efficiency of Italian farmland - with the majority of these purchases being made close to Rome itself.

The importance of a landholding peasantry in Italy would be emphasized by the emperor to his adopted son, setting a precedent that his successors would continue for two centuries. His strategy of buying latifundia and only leasing that land to peasants had the large advantage of preventing the resale of the farms to the nobility, since an emperor was less likely than a pleb to acquiesce to patrician demands. Future emperors with fewer scruples than Sulla would incidentally expand the program, appropriating land from senatorial families found guilty of trumped up charges

Still, sharecropping would be treated with special care by some emperors after Sulla. Measures were put into place by Sulla's son to enforce strict two-field crop rotation and by a grandson to procure mechanical reapers for Italian coloni who could not afford them. Unfortunately, all this effort would only curtail the eventual population collapse that was inevitable with the rising population of Italy. The plague had been keeping the number of people in cities down during the time of Marcus Aurelius but repopulation was well on its way under Sulla, as cities recovered from the epidemics and embraced a better medical system. While the urban population had not yet reached its breaking point, Sulla still faced food shortages in his cities.

A project initiated by Sulla to drain the Lacus Fucinus in 219 opened more than 14,000 acres of arable land for the state to lease to the urban poor. This massive effort built on the work of Princeps Hadrianus, who had drained the lake to its size at the time. Sulla only had his engineers finish the job. The plains on the former lake were some of the most fertile land in Italy and, over the next century, also became famous as a symbol of the public land due to their unique and stunning topography for farmland. At the same time, numerous regulations were enforced for use of land on the Fucinus, in an effort to maintain its fertility, acting as a barrier to future efforts to sell the land to patricians (the fate of most of the public land in Italy).

Restoration of Judaea

Before his series of wars, Sulla had sought to defuse tensions with the Jews in 185, repealing Hadrian's edict that outlawed circumcised men (Jewish males) from entering Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem). Believing that his predecessor had made a mistake in listening to his advisers and not rebuilding the city for the Jews, he worked with the community to resettle the area, until 196 when the war with Persia required public funds. Roman temples and colonists were not removed from the city and the name was not changed but the older sections of Jerusalem were opened for tens of thousands of returning Jews, who flocked to the city as news of his repeal spread throughout the empire. Sulla made their return a grand event, declaring that his actions were an olive branch to the Jewish people and were not to be taken lightly. He warned that they could either cooperate with Rome or face another painful expulsion.

While some moved into Aelia Capitolina, many Jews returned to Syria Palestina in general, coming even from Parthia after the conquest of Mesopotamia. Unfotunately, these exclusively Jewish communities within the holy city became the target of attacks by Roman colonists. Governors tried to prevent these hostilities to varying degrees, certainly enough to prevent any violent retaliation, and, in combination with other factors, managed to keep the new communities peaceful. However, the threat of unsanctioned persecution hung over the lives of many Jewish migrants and seriously hampered attempts to forge new lives there, especially as persecution often involved robbing from these helpless peregrini.

A small number of money lenders and changers handled the conversion from profane currencies to proper religious currencies for locals and pilgrims, receiving a massive boost in wealth as immigrants came from throughout the Roman world. These merchants initially operated from their usual benches but the violence of neighboring Roman colonists encouraged a change in affairs - money changers in Jerusalem were a common target of malcontents. As a community, starting around 197-199, the Jews around Aelia Capitolina pooled resources to construct stone buildings for housing the wealth and business of money lenders and changers - partially copying the Greek practice of using large, stone temples as vaults for money. Designed to safely store the money of clients and conduct exchanges in greater privacy, the welfare of the communities was improved by securing their finances in these establishments.

These tutae bancae (safe benches) - as Roman law recognized them - became an easy means for the governor of Syria to answer the continued calls for protection from violence, outlawing Roman citizens from these buildings. Although the law was not so easily enforced, it provided useful rhetoric for Jews to drive off offenders of the law, discouraged attacks with social pressure, and allowed the Roman governors to satisfy demands from Rome to protect the interests of the returning Jews, as a means of ensuring that persecution would not be met with rebellion as had happened with them twice in the recent past.

Christian scholarship

In the affairs of other religions, two eastern cults steadily gained ground throughout the empire as the reign of Sulla stretched onward. Both cults initiated members with a ritual bath and centered around the deeds of a mythic figure but the similarities scarcely go any further. Where the Mysteries of Mithras placed its god among the syncretic pantheons of the empire, the Christian Church put its god above all others, if not outright denied the existence of other gods. With this difference, Mithraic initiates found a place in Rome, many among them even hailing from the Legion, while Christians were looked down upon by commoners and often killed by their Roman governors, recently at the behest of Marcus Aurelius. Under Sulla, Christians saw less persecution but only through the inaction of the new emperor rather than through active policies.

As the persecutions in North Africa slowly ceased, Christian scholars at the Didascalium Alexandriae (Theological School of Alexandria) came under the Stoic Pantaenus, following a period of missionary work in the Far East. Believing that Christian texts could be reconciled with Hellenic philosophy, Pantaenus inspired a new generation of theologians, including the influential Clement of Alexandria.

Going beyond his teacher, Clement treated Hellenic philosophy as indispensable for understanding scripture, comparing faith without philosophical instruction to harvesting crops without tilling the soil. Drawing on the Stoic notion that belief involves an assent to how things seem, he described pistis (faith or conviction) as a choice to commit to a belief with confidence, as happens when presented with first principles (as pointed to by Aristotle), with demonstrations (as the result of sound arguments), and with scripture. He regarded each as avenues for truth and each as dependent on reasoning to avoid misunderstanding and falsehood. When a secure belief in God is achieved through a reasoned approach to scripture, the faithful attains what Clement pointedly called gnosis, reclaiming a word for knowledge of the divine from the esoteric Gnostic sects.

In a similar way, Clement saw Christianity as reclaiming philosophy from the pagans, agreeing with Philo of Alexandria (c. 50 CE) that Hebrew scripture and the revelations to Moses are the root of the philosophies of Plato and Pythagoras (as a result, also of the Stoics and Aristotelians). In this view, the Hellenic thinkers are worth studying not only for their expertise in grammar, rhetoric, and logic but also for the grains of truth that they carry over from Mosaic teachings, in the manner of valuable coins unearthed in worthless soil (namely, in the pagan ideas Clement saw as covering up the "true philosophy" revealed by God).

His attitude contrasted deeply with that of his contemporary Irenaeus of Smyrna, who saw no use in the works of philosophers except as rhetorical tools for attacking opponents of the faith. Indeed, enemies of the Christian Church were constantly on the mind of Irenaeus both before and during his tenure as the Bishop of Lugdunum. In particular, Irenaeus wrote extensively against the Valentinian Gnostics, who held that the material world was inherently evil as a result of its evil creator and that only a select few people were capable of rising to a spiritual knowledge (again, gnosis) of the true, benevolent God. As Gnostics were doctrinally closer to the Church than pagans, opposing them was a high priority for Christian scholars such as Irenaeus and Origenes of Alexandria, an apologist writing much later in the reign of Sulla.

Origenist theology

When not criticizing his Gnostic opponents, Origen was expounding one of the most detailed metaphysical systems yet to draw on both Christian scripture and Hellenistic philosophy. A core problem confronted by Origen was the inequality of mankind, wherein some people are more naturally gifted or are born into better circumstances than others. As a specific case of the problem of evil, originally treated by Epicurus, there was a conflict between these natural inequalities and the guidance of nature by divine providence as thought by the Stoics then the recent Platonists and Christians. Where Gnostics rejected the latter belief by seeing the creator as evil and where early Christians explained away inequalities, Origen reconciled both scriptural claims of an unchallenged, loving God and his own observations of inequality by boldly taking a third option: all souls were created equal but became unequally flawed as a result of their own choices. On this position, humans possess those souls that fell from God, falling not as far as demonic spirits but farther than angels and other divine spirits. He ascribed an epistemic failure to this descent. Mistakes that made souls flawed were seen as a result of choices not to accept the truths shown to these souls by their creator and these poor choices were ascribed to psychesthai - a cooling down of their love for God out of boredom.

His argument for the pre-existence of soul and their original equality is only one example of his intellectual approach to scripture. Following Clement, his instructor at the theological school in Alexandria, Origen saw Hellenistic philosophy as not only compatible with scripture but as ultimately the product of earlier revelation but, boldly, used philosophical arguments to go far beyond scripture. Indeed, Origen pointed out that those questions left unresolved by scripture could be pursued through arguments, as he did in On Principles.

When engaging with pagan philosophers in his writings, Origen tended to follow their beliefs to their logical conclusions, legitimately considering the possibility, say, of the Stoic world-cycles or the Platonic version of the Greek deities originally presented in the Timaeus and recently espoused by pagan Platonists such as Plutarch and Numenius (wherein even the gods have a singular, divine creator). Despite his open-minded philosophical works, Origen was committed to more orthodox views where metaphysics intersected more with scripture, keeping with the Alexandrian school when discussing the nature of Jesus and the Trinity and, from his influential post at the school, even contributing to orthodoxy with his thoughts on universal salvation.

Ultimately, Saint Origen had a key role in the evolution of Christian doctrine during this formative period. Later Church Fathers would not go as far into Platonism as Origen but would adopt some of his syncretic views relating scripture to Hellenistic philosophy and some elements of his intellectualism on salvation. This influence may be attributable to how, by the time he died in 259, Origen was the leading instructor at the theological school of Alexandria, leaving behind more students than any Christian theologian before him.

Administrative reform

Rome governed more people than almost any other political body in history. The size of her empire posed risks that were acknowledge by the Roman government, knowing that it was held together by little more than military coercion and a promise of stability. Unlike a city or even the Old Republic, the empire was far from being unified by a single political identity, except perhaps across Italia, and had no single cultural tradition uniting the interests its diverse people toward similar goals. Within a foederatus (client kingdom) or civitas (municipal polity), residents might feel beholden to the local elite, obscuring feelings of being a conquered people, but in the latter case, the illusion of localized power was more limited. The curia, known in the East as the boule, of a city ostensibly controlled the affairs of its city but the influence of Rome through its many provincial officials and the burden of the munera stifled its authority to the point that political power within a city was becoming more burden than privilege. Judicious use of the stick and the carrot rendered this state more or less acceptable (with rebellions against the Rome being the exceptions to the rule) but the situation was slowly deteriorating as local power became further obscured.

Personally involved in the affairs of Italian cities, Sulla had direct experience with this growing problem and continuously took measures to reverse its growth, especially to mitigate his increases to the munera. In Italy, he formalized in 206 the office of curator civitatis for a city as a permanent local magistracy. Each year the curia of every city with such an official would designate one of its decuriones (city senators) as curator, with the task of regularly informing the Roman Senate of local affairs. All appointments required approval by the emperor but that step was more or less a formality, with no record of Sulla ever rejecting a curia's choice. As a bridge between Rome and his Italian city, the curator civitatis of a municipium was a prestigious and quite influential individual for his year, meeting personally with senators and the emperor while being relied upon by his fellow decuriones to garner financial help or relief from Rome.

In Rome, Sulla instead expanded the aedileship, going as far as allowing aediles to openly promote their own name in financing a public spectacle. Senatorial euergetism through the aediles was intended by Sulla to serve as an example to the curiales and to lighten his own financial burden, since giving responsibilities without the accompanying honors had earlier failed to make a difference.

Although these two reforms helped in Italy, Sulla sought broader reforms to enforce self-government of the cities on an imperial scale and, in the process, leave behind more durable political structures.

Political structure

For this purpose, Sulla organized the cities of the Populus Romanus (Roman Republic) into collections of nominally independent "nations" as clients of Rome [here nation refers to a community of cities in a kind of commonwealth or federation, a useful shorthand for a concept with only superficial similarity to modern uses of the word]. Politically modeled on the role of Rome in Italia and intended to invoke comparisons with the foederatus, a foederata (client nation) or synoikos was a federation of cities politically gathered around one leading city in its community. No foederata had a military or currency separate from Rome but each one had its internal affairs administered by the curia of its leading city, an assembly presided over by officials of consular rank. These two officials were selected by the Roman Senate from among candidates suggested by all of the curiae in the foederata (no curia allowed to recommend more than one candidate) and were known as Consulares Gentes - loosely translatable as Presidents of the Nation. In short, a provincial consul had the authority to impeach provincial governors within their commonwealth and the right to demand audiences with the emperor in Rome, fulfilling the role of curatores civitates on a grander scale.

Although styled as consulares, in direct analogy to the Roman Consuls, and being of consular rank in their exercise of imperium over provincial governors (even ex-consular ones), these presiding magistrates had their authority explicitly limited to within their foederata. In Rome, a consul gentis only earned the privileges of a senator. These honors were greater than any other member of the curial class could earn without becoming a member of the Roman Senate but this limitation on their imperium kept them from seeming greater than senators and restrained the gain in auctoritas or abuse of imperium from their rise in status.

Other limitations assured Roman senators that power remained in their hands despite co-opting the rank of their highest office for a provincial magistracy. Opponents of replicating the consulship outside Rome may not have accepted Sulla's speeches in favor of his proposal but, whether genuinely or under pressure, the majority of senators voiced their approval. As Cassius Dio records, Sulla spoke of the new consulships as not only leaving the primacy of Italy within the empire intact but extending the reach of Rome into the provincial cities. These consulares gentes would be more agreeable to the decrees of the Roman Senate and were a permanent bridge between Rome and the city councils, or so he claimed. Furthermore, the Roman Senate reserved the exclusive right, alongside the emperor, to reverse any of the appointments.


When this reform was completed in 208, the foederatae of the empire were: Hispania, Gallia, Britannia, Germania, Illyrica, Dacia, Graecia, Phrygia, Syria, Ægyptus, and Africa. Although the range of these titles suggests a wide coverage, only a select list of cities were incorporated into each foederata, based on where curiae or boulai already existed. Furthermore, no cities in Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, or the Alps were included in any commonwealth of cities; instead, around this time, Sulla extended permissions to designate a curator civitatis in a number of these municipalities.

In general, a foederata was not simply a large territory subdivided into provinces nor was it merely a political bridge between Rome and provincial cities. The system was an attempt to replicate the model of Italy within the provinces, emulating the composition of the Roman Senate out of the elite from Italian cities (more accurately, from cities across the empire but all of his rhetoric portrayed the relation of the Senate to the Italian nobiles as the model rather than that of the Senate to the nobiles of the whole empire as was really the case). Italy itself was not explicitly regarded as a foederata anymore than it was considered a province but its similarity to a foederata was emphasized within the leading city of each commonwealth as the curiae of such cities were encouraged to see themselves as lesser imitations of the Senatus Romanus.

Perhaps the greatest sign of increased power and increased dependence on Rome was that curiae presided over by consulares were granted the right to request limited funds from the emperor, formalizing the imperial practice of patronage in cities outside Italy. In return, the responsibilities of these curiae over tax collection and the munera were easier to enforce and expand, somehwat balancing out the increased regularly of spending on projects outside Italy under the new system.

Propaganda portrayed the foederata system as a gift of autonomy, in some cases replacing the honors of the civitates libertae (free cities), many of which joined a foederata while relinquishing their exemption from municipal duties to Rome. While this word foederata denoted a similar freedom as a foederatus, the term implied a closer cooperation with Rome, continuing to share intimately in its commerce and enjoying total protection by the Roman Legion. These etymological hints complemented the very real authority extended by getting a supra-provincial magistrate that exercised true imperium - a legitimate sharing of power with Rome. As these terms and concepts evolved, the federations would denote greater degrees of unity, both to the benefit and to the detriment of the empire, as history would show.

From the perspective of the curial class, the reform was a breath of fresh air, opening a door to far greener political pastures. Since the consulship was largely decided by the local aristocracies, curiales in cities could viscerally feel the effects of their political decisions, easing the burden of their civic duties. More importantly, a curialis now had a clearer route to the Roman Senate, since achieving the local consulship made them eligible for senatorship, and, even though most would never get there, their own local cursus honorum (political career) now had a more prestigious and influential peak. Lastly, the elite in cities that were part of a foederata could now more easily take their grievances to Rome, often with encouraging results.

On a grander level, the closer ties and increasing emulation of politics in the city of Rome was another step toward conceptually separating the civilized world of the empire from a barbaric world that lay beyond its increasingly more clearly defined borders. While the vast majority of residents were not part of any foederata - as only towns above a certain size and with sufficiently organized local officials were asked - this worldview was slowly materializing in the minds of the curiales and, to a lesser degree, even of other urban residents within these select cities. Over time, this way of thinking would only spread further.

Great Fire of Rome

On August 11 of that same year, disaster struck Rome. A fire started in the Subura district spread to large parts of the Collis Quirinalis and the Collis Viminalis, destroying huge swathes of the city and leaving nearly a hundred thousand citizens homeless plus many thousands dead. Sulla and the Senate devoted much of their stabilizing treasuries toward helping the common people rebuild after this disaster. Despite the cost, Sulla ordered that houses be built of higher quality material, favoring brick and stone over wood, and that the streets be made slightly wider than the cramped spaces of older Rome (some roads had even been too thin for more than a handful of people to walk abreast). Despite some senators pushing for fewer blocks of apartments (insulae) in Rome, the decision was made to simply build apartments with less flammable materials and designs rather than abandon this efficient form of housing.

A major design element of houses built after the fire was the lack of confined or unreachable spaces in the structure, as a measure to prevent the nesting of pests such as rats and pigeons. In the long-run, this decision drastically slowed the spread of disease in the capital and reduced the frequency of large outbreaks. These design choices were motivated by the same need that drove the creation of a center for medical research - major concerns over the Antonine plague.

In the wake of the Great Fire of Rome, the Senate and Sulla took administrative steps toward reducing the vulnerability of Rome to future blazes. Although this fire gave the Quirinal and Viminal Hills less risky architecture and the Great Fire of 64 CE had given the Caelian and Palatine Hills better fire resistance, the city still suffered looters and arsonists who assisted the spread of the fires and small fires were a known risk for larger infernos (a small fire in the hearth of an apartment was believed to have set off this latest conflagration). A fire department was founded as a service distinct from the vigiles urbani (watchmen of the city) and manned by slaves volunteered by their masters on a short rotation - in other words, a citizen could put a slave under the authority of a praefectus spartolianum (overseer of fire fighters) for a day or two each week. Over time, various measures would be attempted to ensure that Rome had a sufficient number of spartoliani for its protection from fire.

Slaves who were volunteered to fight fires received training to fill various roles in the service. A siphonarius operated the siphon for pumping water over a fire, an aquarius managed the supplies of water, and all spartoliani carried a mixture of axes, buckets, mattocks, picks, and wired hooks for dismantling masonry. Although spartoliani in some parts of Rome had water carts (aquifera) from which water could be pumped, spartoliani in poorer districts relied on water towers built over houses and apartments. One of the duties of spartoliani when there were no fires to combat was to check the water level in these towers, keep them full, and clean them out on a regular basis to prevent the breeding of mosquitoes in their stagnant waters.

As part of modifications to the municipal government of Rome, Sulla transferred some of the responsibilities of the praefectus urbanus (urban prefect of Rome) to a praefectus collegianum, who supervised the local guilds and kept them from instigating violence in the streets, and gave control over the cohortes urbanae (urban riot police) to a triumviri of equestrian procuratores. By the late 3rd century, the duty of the urban prefect would simply be coordinating between these various overseers of municipal affairs in Rome.

On the whole, the situation in Rome did not return to normal until a decade after the conflagration, when the new services were reaching their stride and the burned districts had finished being rebuilt. Although Rome had recovered, there was no effective way for the Senate to assure no future vulnerability to urban fires. At the same time, the vast wealth procured from Parthia was nearly depleted from reconstruction and from other deficit spending with the fiscus over the last decade.

Medical bureaucracy

Another concern of Sulla was the existence of unskilled or even downright fraudulent doctors, which had long been a problem in most of the Roman world. Against these practitioners, the medical academy in Alexandria had given its students certificates that verified their skill and knowledge. In 214, Sulla issued an edict that severely penalized falsifications of these medical qualifications and disseminated propaganda to discourage citizens from seeking uncertified medici - who remained the most prevalent physicians. About two centuries later, an emperor would issue an edict forcing every practicing medicus and chirurgius to obtain a license by passing federal examinations at any of the national medical schools. By that time, a medical license had to be displayed in the hospital where that doctor or surgeon practiced, unless he was not employed by a public hospital. By 393, the last private hospitals and doctor's offices would be outlawed in cities above a certain size, although a licensed medical practitioner was within his rights to be the private physician of a single client, leaving a viable career path for someone unable to find work at a public hospital. These measures eventually guaranteed a single national standard for medical care.

Reorganizing the Legion

A decade of near total peace throughout the empire was desperately needed for the Roman Legion. With active recruitment and an expanded citizenship, the vacancies in the 29 legions were filled within this time. Furthermore, ongoing transfers of land in Dacia to Roman citizens were lowering the costs of supplying the frontier legions and were bearing fruit with the founding of the first coloniae there around 211, giving the troops a place for leisure among their own fellow citizens.

Meanwhile, the integration of Marcomannia was beginning to go more smoothly. There was regular conflict from Lauriacum to Durostorum over the first two decades of control, mostly not within the many foederati that had been established, although some rebels were themselves client kings. By 195, before he left Italy for a war with Persia, Sulla went personally to Marcomannia to grant local chiefs royal titles that split the failed attempt at a new province into three vassal kingdoms. Each kingdom had a foot in the fertile lowlands on the Danube and a head sticking out into the mountains, where they would faced incursions of less friendly tribes into their Rome-given kingdoms. Some forts in the region were maintained for projection of power by the Legion into the new client kingdoms.

Security of Marcomannia

Before this division, the border of Marcomannia stretched along the Little Carpathians, past the major for of Laugaricio then rising along its adjacent river toward the nearby valley reservoir [known as Liptovska Mara] and from there slightly northeast before going southeast again [past Ostrovany] toward the Fluvia Tisia, where the frontier links back with the Iazygean foederati. These client kingdoms of Sarmatians extended well into the rectangular stretch of plains that lay between the Pannonian Danube and the Tisia.

Fortifications in the Marcomannic region were designed to facilitate awareness of the frontier and enhance response times while slowing the advances of any potential invaders. For this purposes, a sparse number of watchtowers were built in positions overlooking strategic mountain passes, always within sight of the nearest Roman encampment to allow the use of signal fires. In particular, the break in the Little Carpathians to the southwest of Laugaricio had three towers in sight of the fort, ready to warn of anyone using this wide pass. Earthenwork defenses nearly 3 km thick were established here in the wake of the Quadi defeat in 180 to render the frontier west of Laugaricio less passable - essentially a few layers of alternating ditches and raised dirt started by the legionaries after their victory and finished only after the end of the war. As the most accessible entry into Marcomannia, this pass was the focus of external defense.

Watchtowers along the frontier north of Laugaricio had ready access to the fort along the small river running through the valley. Going north from Laugaricio, a number of the small defiles were blocked by clausurae, based on which were deemed most accessible by surveyors. An entirely new fort, Praefastium, was built at the next major pass along the frontier, on plains southeast of the tallest mountains [the Tatras mountains] in the entire Carpathian range. The rest of the frontier was more fluid, consisting of a line of encampments interspersed among the watchtowers that were keeping an eye on some of the valleys.

Overall, the result was a ~470 km long frontier along mostly difficult to traverse mountains rather than the old frontier that left a similarly long border along the Pannonian Danube. By blocking the migration of more tribes into the Pannonian Plains, the Marcomannic frontier also helped to stabilize the Iazygean foederati and entirely removed 900 km of river frontiers that had to be defended before the war. Despite the benefits of the new border, the challenge of maintaining order among the Germanic tribes in Marcomannia made its continued existence an unnecessary risk when starting a war with Parthia. The three new vassal kingdoms fulfilled a similar role albeit with less oversight from the legions, especially weakening the defenses that relied on encampments rather than more permanent forts.

Under the new local regime, the Germanic foederati posed fewer problems for the legions than before, both from less discontent under their own leaders and from less responsibility for dealing with problems that did arise. Nevertheless, Rome needed to ensure the continued loyalty of these kings and there was no more certain means to that end than assuring them that Roman legions were always nearby to come to their aid or to keep them in line. Settling Germanic tribes on the northern banks of the Danube was cheaper than maintaining a province there but was not entirely without its costs.

Roman archery

Dacian archers were becoming a valuable addition to the auxiliary regiments of the army. Their role in the war against Parthia was decisive enough to be noticed by Sulla and to take further steps to recruit archers. After the Marcomannic Wars, the Auxilia fielded 32 archer-units, out of which almost a third were solely horse archers. There were nine more regiments by the end of the Caledonian War. Once he returned to Rome, Sulla began to alter these divisions, reorganizing each regiment into units with 400 archers and installing a number of them permanently within specific legions. Foot archers stationed in rainier regions also had the standard composite bow replaced with a similarly powerful arcus ligneis (longbow). Degradation of bows in the Caledonian rain had shown Sulla a need for weapons that could better handle moisture.

By 233, recruiting efforts had raised the number of foot archers up to 22,000 and that of horse archers to 12,000, nearly double their respective numbers before Sulla. At the same time, other auxiliary regiments were disbanded to maintain more or less equal costs for maintaining all of the auxiliaries. Later emperors would take the growing prominence of archery further but the part Sulla played in this transition is key.

Philosophical schools

As imperial finances stabilized, Sulla restored the salaries of the four Chairs of Philosophy in Athens, doing so on a visit to this illustrious city in 216, as his father had done before him. His second wife, Julia Domna, who had a keen interest in Greek philosophy and sophistry, accompanied him. Their selective patronage of instructors in Athens would leave an indelible mark on the major schools of philosophy going forward.


As the second Stoic emperor in a row, Sulla devoted most of his attention to Stoicism in Athens. Way out in Rome, the popularity of the published Reflections of Marcus Aurelius, as the public had taken to calling the writings that he addressed to himself, brought greater attention to the Stoic school, encouraging the nobiles to send their sons to study under Stoic teachers in Greece or hire Stoic tutors in the capital.

For his part, Sulla left behind no writings of his own and seems to have spent little time on the technical considerations of his philosophy. However, he respected the work of Stoic academics and seems to have wanted to bring their ideas to his fellow citizens. To the latter end, in 205, he paid for the construction of the magnificent Stoa Purata (Pristine Porch) near the banks of the Tiber. Adjacent libraries were filled with the collected works of Stoics from Zeno to Epictetus and dozens of instructors were brought from Athens to give lectures and converse there in Rome. Many of these public lectures would be given from the wide porch that overlooked a stunning garden on the academy grounds. Scholars would continue to receive stipends from emperors to come as Stoic doctrine rooted itself further into the aristocratic culture in Rome.

Once in Athens, Sulla revitalized the Stoic school, which was weathering its brain drain to Rome. A small library of Stoic literature was built beside the Stoa Poikile, in an attempt to encourage its use for teaching as in the early days of Stoicism. Coordinating with the boule of Athens, Sulla arranged for the Stoic Chair of Philosophy to receive a regular stipend to set up more instructors in the Stoic tradition and pay copyists to produce more of the classic texts of the school. One Stoic in the city was commissioned to write a history of the Stoics, in the more naturalistic style of Thucydides, for dissemination in Athens and Alexandria, with a focus on how their doctrine indirectly meshes well with the actions of major figures in Roman history (this work would take more than a decade to complete, the author continuing to write after Sulla died).

Although Stoicism was always close to his heart and seems to have influenced many of his policies, notably the ideas of the brotherhood of mankind as well as the indifference of wealth and power, Sulla seems to have adopted some views from his wife in his later years. Julia Domna was something of an eclectic in her interests and almost certainly agreed with recent Platonists and Pythagoreans about the syncretism of the Hellenistic philosophers. This view emphasizes the agreements between Aristotle, Plato, Chrysippus, and other major figures, painting their thought as working toward the same truths. Under the influence of these ideas, the imperial couple extended their patronage beyond just the Stoa.


As esoteric philosophy became confined to smaller schools, the spiritualist interpretation of Plato grew in popularity. Claiming to be taught from an unbroken line of teachers, the golden chain stretching back to Socrates himself, many Athenian Platonists had a claim to a special understanding of the Platonic corpus, a body of writings that had practically become sacred texts for many educated Greek pagans. A number of these Platonists ascribed to that idea of a unified tradition of all non-skeptical philosophers, with either Plato or Pythagoras presented as the greatest influence on, if not the source of, this philosophy.

Key parts of recent Platonic metaphysics went back, if not to Plato, then at least to Eudorus of Alexandria. As a Pythagorean, who adopted some idea of a unified tradition, Eudorus proposed three principles as the source of numbers. Paradoxically, numbers were both the paradigm of knowledge and, there being infinitely many of them, also unknowable in their entirety. Following the earliest Platonists, Pythagoreans picked out the Monad (Unity) as the source of limitation and knowability (as in how a jar contains and measures an unknown quantity of water) and the Dyad (Multiplicity) as the source of unbounded existence (as in a sea stretching out indefinitely at the horizon). Being Pythagoreans, these pre-Roman philosophers thought that these two causes of existence first generated numbers, by imposing a limit on an indefinite quantity, which begat geometrical figures and eventually the material cosmos known poorly through the senses. Eudorus added a higher principle to this metaphysical scheme to avoid a duality, where one principle was opposed to another fundamental principle. He spoke of this supreme principle as the One (το ένα).

This divine principle, identified variously as the Good (the primary Platonic Form) and a Supreme God, rose to the forefront of dogmatic Platonism through Plutarch, in the 1st century CE, and Numenius, in the second. When Sulla came to Athens, most Platonism came in this form but there were some who took the hard line stance of Atticus, a former Chair of Philosophy, that criticized any deviation from the literal word of Plato. These Platonists were pushed aside as Julia Domna brought fame and fortune to a number of the more syncretic and spiritual Platonist instructors in Athens, ensuring one of their own would be Chair and their ideologies would dominate in the more active philosophical environment that followed the imperial tour.

This environment engendered the academic cooperation of Stoics and Platonists but also of the third major school in the unified tradition, namely the followers of Aristotle.


Although the Lyceum, like the Platonic Academy, had long been dissolved, the Peripatetic school of philosophy was only growing stronger. Most of the works of Aristotle had been carefully collected by the 11th scholarch of the school, Andronicus of Rhodes, to facilitate future study of Aristotelian ideas. His edition and more, notably adding the rejected De Interpretatione to the collected works, were commented upon in the 2nd century by the Peripatetic, Aspasius. His commentaries seem to have driven, or participated in, a surge of interest in the more technical, esoteric writings of Aristotle, from metaphysics to ethics, whereas the popular texts beforehand were more exoteric, namely dialogues and treatises not intended for his students.

Aspasius' commentaries became popular among Platonists in Athens. In particular, the Predicamentae were often the starting point for students of the Platonic school, as an introduction to Aristotelian logic. The study of the Platonic dialogues would usually come after acquainting students with these logical works.

It was in these circumstances that the Peripatetic Chair of Philosophy was held by one of the most prolific Aristotelians since Theophrastus. Born in Aphrodisias, the philosopher Titus Aurelius Alexander began writing his first commentaries of Aristotle early in the reign of Sulla. His lemmatized approach to comments - where an entire text would be cited in pieces that are each followed by a detailed explanation - made his guides to the teachings of Aristotle incredibly popular for an academic. Around 202, he was contacted by the Augusta and offered the position as Chair in Athens, for which he would dedicate his own treatise, On the Nature of Goods, to the imperial couple. Building on the fourth book of the Quaestiones, it delved into the peculiarly Aristotelian position that honor and wealth played a necessary role in human flourishing, albeit one that was subordinate (as a means to an end) to virtue and contemplation. As would become quite characteristic of his later writings, Alexander went to great pains to show that this doctrine was not actually incompatible with the Stoic primacy of virtue and indifference towards all other purported goods.

Another original work that similarly bridged Stoicism with Aristotle was On Fate, where he affirmed that our choices are voluntary when they are determined by our character and that even under Stoic determinism our actions can still be up to us, as long as they are the product of our uncoerced deliberation. Both of these ideas are drawn from excerpts of Aristotle and Epictetus on what is properly "up to us", with Alexander showing that they both ascribed responsibility to whatever our agency (fated or not) produces. Furthermore, (despite attributing the idea to Aristotle and Epictetus) he argued quite originally that divine foreknowledge was equally as compatible with human responsibility, insofar as no one ever determines what happens by knowing it will happen (e.g. knowing that your father will be home later is not what makes him come home). Although he treats these discussions as hypothetical, cautiously avoiding the claim that Stoic Fate does not reflect how he thought nature operated, they closed one of the widest gulfs between Aristotle and the Stoics, opening new roads for navigation by syncretic philosophers.

However, it would be remiss to mention Alexander without discussing how he engaged with the discoveries coming out of the research of Galen. Alexander's two psychological treatises, although following most closely Aristotelian psychology from De Anima, draws heavily on the writings of Galen on the mind. In particular, he fits a recent anatomy of the eye into Aristotle's theory of vision, particularly discussing the kind of medium present within the eye and how that medium transmits color by becoming transparent through illumination (as he incorrectly believed vision to work). Despite being wrong, his arguments opposed Galen, Plato, and (ultimately) Empedocles in their belief that vision involved an emission from the eye to the object seen, and are the first to postulate that the retina is not only the locus of vision but changes color to match the color of what is being perceived (surprisingly close to how cells in the retina become pigmented under light).


Another philosopher who engaged to some degree with Galen was the Pyrrhonian Skeptic and physician Sextus Empiricus, known primarily for his Outlines of Pyrrhonism written around 200 CE. Drawing on the innovations of Aenesidemus and Agrippa on Skeptical practices, Sextus emphasized the complete balance between any two opposing views - neither one belief nor its opposite seeming any more likely than the other. An attitude of epoché (suspension of judgement) over any issue is the result of this balance. True to their namesake as skeptikoi (inquirers), the Pyrrhonian Skeptics propose this attitude only in response to logical arguments that undermine any positive doctrine and embrace it only as it seems to achieve peace of mind (ataraxia) by preventing emotional investment in beliefs and encouraging genuine open-mindedness.

Skeptical arguments, rather than standing as settled beliefs, served as a tool set for approaching any belief, acknowledging that these methods seem to undermine beliefs but never asserting that, therefore, all beliefs were balanced with their logical opposites. In general, these tools come in five modes. First, a dispute is set up by (1) pointing out a disagreement with the belief and (2) noting that the belief is specific to person who holds the belief (e.g. Epicureans believe pleasure is good, but Stoics think it has no value). These initial modes are complemented by the ten modes that present examples of these disputes or relativity. Once a doubt has been raised, the other three modes block attempts to justify the proposed belief. Each justification can itself be disputed by the first two modes, leading to three possible outcomes: a regress of finding a new justification for each previous point, without ever settling the dispute; a hypothesis that one belief in the dispute is correct, without accepting there is any doubt; or a circle of justifying the original belief by showing how that belief supports its own justifications, without any justification outside this circular argument. The regress could end either by meeting itself in a circle or by deciding to stop the regress without justifying that decision but none of those options support either side of the original dispute, leaving the answers balanced.

Despite only discussing the ideas of earlier authors, Sextus Empiricus made three major contributions to the practice of skepticism with his treatise. First, he synthesizes the arguments of Pyrrhonists into a single book and organizes those methods into a clear, approachable document. Second, he invented a specific criticism of induction, detailing how arguing that something will happen because it happened in the past relies on its own conclusion to justify itself. His analysis would be cited centuries later as the scientific method became more sophisticated but was largely ignored in the immediate centuries after his writing. Finally, his examples of regressive arguments in the attempts of various philosophical schools - namely, the Heracleitian, Stoic, Platonic, Cyrenaic, Democritean, and Protagorean doctrines - summarized a number of potent arguments against their positions, providing fodder to undermine the confidence typical of adherents to these schools (non-skeptical opponents of these schools occasionally drew on his criticisms over the years).

As if skepticism were not unpopular enough in an increasingly religious world, Sextus further undermined his own popularity by openly questioning the theories and practices of Galen. Practicing medicine through the Empiricist school, Sextus opposed the growing acceptance of the Galenic school and its Rationalist features, especially his circulatory theory of the heart and humoral theory of disease. Unfortunately, both his Skeptic and Empiricist schools would, in the face of popular opinion, fade away after his death.


After the return of her husband to Rome, Julia Domna traveled to Alexandria under a praetorian escort. Once there, she toured the scholarly and religious sites, lingering for most of her time at the Musaeum where she spoke with some of the finest philosophical and mathematical minds of the day. On the whole, she was less impressed with the more academic environment of Alexandria and tried to change this situation by helping the philosophers from her entourage to establish themselves there. After a few months, she was introduced to a local philosopher whose teachings were more in line with her interests, Ammonius Saccas.

By this time, Ammonius had amassed a following at his own school, teaching his students how to reconcile Plato, Aristotle, and the other major philosophers as "speaking with one voice" as the Romana Historia would describe in contrast to the writings of Lucian. Moreover, his synthesis extended across not only scholastic but religious borders, embracing pieces of Christian and Hellenistic doctrine in different ways. These two sides of his teachings are reflected appropriately in two of his pupils, both named Origen but one a follower of the state religion and one a Christian (and perhaps only a passing student of Ammonius).

His school would soon rise in prominence as Julia paid for a simple yet grand new building in which to house its members and better isolate them from outside distractions. Although the Augusta would not return after its completion, this facility would be a springboard for the dissemination of the ideas of Ammonius.

Although his ideas are best known through his students, Ammonius is known to have followed in a Platonist tradition of Eudorus, positing the existence of the One as progenitor of everything that exists. Ammonius is likely to have contributed: first, the idea of successive emanations from the One, starting with Intellect (νοῦς) as the demiurge from the Timaeus and as creator of the Cosmic Soul (ψυχὴ κόσμου) from which emanate individual souls who both contemplate the Forms as Intellect does and perceive images of these same Forms as the material world. The extent to which Ammonius drew out clear connections between each emanation is unclear but what is certain enough is that he pioneered the mystic practice of achieving union with the One through contemplation - a state of oneness that his pupils would call henosis.

For further developments on his system, historians must turn to the writings of his students, who divided into competing factions that went in different directions from the above metaphysic. The two factions of greatest influence were the more intellectual tradition led by Peridoxus and Kalocles, and the theological tradition led by Talmachus of Apamea, though other less popular Platonist authors also worked in this period. On the whole, these changes mark the boundary between what are today known as Middle Platonism and as New Platonism, soon to be the dominant philosophical tradition in the empire.

Legal science

Building on the achievements of the last two centuries, Roman law reached a point during the reign of Sulla that would the shape the future of all Western law, both inside and outside the empire. At the heart of this evolution in law were two elements: the jurists and the rational methods of their legal thought.


Since before the fall of the republic, lawyers were becoming increasingly central to the state bureaucracy, up to the second century when these lawyer-bureaucrats became fully integrated the imperial administration, some holding imperial office over their entire lives. Unlike senators, these officials held power as a matter of professional standing rather than birth or wealth, earning their role in the bureaucratic machine. Recognition from the emperor by the grant of ius respondendi was their crowning honor, emphasizing their authority to create law (in a loose sense) through their responsa (answers) to questions addressed to them.

Creation of lex (law) remained an evolving process at this point in time. Plebiscita, senatus consulta, and the edictum perpetuum had the force of lex but were nearly stagnant whereas constitutiones principis and responsa prudentium continued to flourish. Among the legal constitutions of the emperor were: rescripta, responses to petitions from officials (epistulae) or from private citizens (subscriptiones); decreta, judgements on cases brought before the emperor; mandata, instructions to state officials; and edicta, formal legislation as a magistrate addressed to the public. Together, these four acts embodied the legislative power of the emperor, beyond doubt in arising from his supreme imperium. By contrast, the responses of jurists were not binding, except in unanimity, and were intended to be drawn upon by judges, who were more generally free to decide a case at their discretion (forced only to comply with written leges or to choose among responsa when these sources of law spoke on an analogous case).


Whether responding or advising, the jurists continued to drive legal thought under Sulla. Although each jurist had his own methods and ideals, they held a shared belief that the law was a self-consistent system whose individual rules could be explained in relation to each other and to this coherent whole. In this way, their jurisprudence was a rational science focused on weeding out inconsistencies in the law and harmonizing legal norms across as wide a range of cases as possible.

Working on this rational project under Sulla were three key figures: Aemilius Papinianus, Julius Paulus, and Gnaeus Domitius Annius Ulpianus, who wrote their own commentaries, responses, case-studies, and monographs while serving as officials in the imperial court. Sulla worked closely with these three jurists, starting with Papinian before leaving for war and continuing in earnest with Paul and Ulpian afterward. Papinian held the post of praefectus praetorio during the absence of the emperor and assisted in the disintegration of its judicial authority. As part of this action, they formally created a new office known as the magister prudentium, a high-salary official tasked with bringing the decisions of judges in Rome before the attention of the emperor and informally designated the primary adviser of the emperor on legal matters. Papianian initially held this office, during a time when his protege Ulpian was secretary ab epistulis Latinis (secretary of Latin rescripts), the next most prestigious juridical position for equestrians. From 205 to 216, all three major jurists served in the consilium with Sulla.

Although these jurists are the sources of many laws, some statements are more significant than others and are worth emphasizing here. From Paul, Roman law gained the formula that "The proof lies on him who affirms, not on him who denies", on the basis that evidence that something was not done is by nature more obscure. From Ulpian, lenders gained a quantitative annuities table, for calculating the annual rate a person should be charged for life annuities or for lifetime loans of personal property, and the state received a reformulated liber mandatorum - the official collection of instructions to provincial governors and their subordinates - as a more effective code of bureaucratic administration. As before, mandata were mostly written according to templates in the liber mandatorum but Ulpian's own commentaries, additions, and reorganization of the liber resulted in a more coherent system of directives and facilitated its future use.

Commentaries by these jurists heavily influenced future interpretations of existing leges. Ulpian and Paul wrote a combined total of 160 commentaries on the edictum perpetuum alone, effectively superseding the interpretations of earlier jurists such as Gaius and Pomponius. More generally, their interpretations of earlier law would continue to be directly applied by judges for the next several centuries.


Despite the prominence of constitutiones and responsa, the legislative authority of the Senate through its senatus consulta was not totally eclipsed. In fact, the Senate experienced a resurgence under Sulla as he leaned almost entirely on their pronouncements and made few orationes principis, requests for action by the Senate, during the early part of his reign. On return from his wars, he had a shift in confidence over the Senate but continued to cooperate with them in judicial and legislative affairs, only circumventing this body through his influence over the jurists of his consilium. Orationes remained mere requests rather than gaining the tone of demands and senatorial control over many appointments remained in force.

As such, there are few constitutiones dated to the reign of Sulla and the major alterations that he pursued in the political structures of the empire were entirely the result of senatus consulta requested through orationes followed by lengthy debate among senators. This procedure more or less followed the examples of Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius, whose ideals Sulla pursued throughout his long reign.


In 207, senators passed the sweeping senatus consultum Antoninum (Citizenship Law). The last half a century had seen less than a decade of peace, leaving the empire with a serious shortage of manpower. Only so many citizens were eligible for legionary service and only so many of those men were willing to risk their lives in battle for Rome. Indeed, Italian citizens were almost universally reluctant to become soldiers, only the threat of having their homes pillaged was enough to motivate volunteers during the Marcomannic Wars. Under this shortage, Sulla took the most readily available option - increase the recruitment base.

More formally, this law abolished the ius latinum (Latin rights) as a mediate stage in acquiring citizenship. With this act, all bearers of the ius latinum were granted full citizenship. Hundreds of thousands more people could now join the Legion and no time was wasted asking that they return this gift of citizenship by serving (conscription was not used as propaganda and campaigning in formerly Latin colonies drove this program). Adding widespread grants of citizenship in the cities of Epirus and Achaia, the edict greatly increased the availability of recruits, helping the army recover its numbers during this time of relative peace.

Aside from this concrete benefit, the edict left only the rights of cives (citizens) and peregrini (non-citizens) to distinguish the free residents of the empire. Propaganda emphasized a clearer boundary separating the citizenry from provincials and foreigners, with imagery on coins circulated in Italy connecting citizenship to the protection of civil law and with praecones (heralds) in many municipia paid to speak highly of being a citizen (a particularly notorious phrase getting passed around was omnes cives honestiores est, abusing a term reserved for men of privilege by implying the inclusion even of humiliores). Despite some controversy, the propaganda represented an increase in the prestige and desirability of citizenship, partially driving but also riding the motivating force that already surrounded the idea of being a citizen.

Aside from altering citizenship, the law contained brief sections that modified the laws and regulations on slavery. The vicesima manumissionum was raised to a decuma (10% tax) on the price of the slave and the minimum age for freeing a slave was raised from 30 to 40 years. At the same time, higher standards for the treatment of slaves were instituted, including easier access to medical care and restriction of the sale of slaves to public slave markets that have a permit from the local governor. As part of this care, slaves received better facilities for bearing children, as a means of encouraging vernae (slaves born to slaves).

Later in the year of this law, Sulla worked with the Senate on a bill reinforcing Augustan marriage laws - further penalizing bachelor citizens throughout the empire and directly rewarding the bearing of children in the capital. Now, a bachelor receiving an inheritance owed a quinta (20% tax) on the part he or she would have received, in addition to their own inheritance already being caducum (state-owned) upon their death. A male citizen could accept 15 denarii each year for ten years after birth of every child after his first, as long as he was living within Italy. Finally, Sulla legalized marriages between soldiers and native women living near forts and encampments, abolishing the unsanctioned practice of finding a wife among the locals.

Banking in Rome

Remembering the financial difficulties of his early reign and drenched in the wealth of Persia, Sulla sought ways to avert a future lack of funds. No effective solutions were implemented for several years. Eventually, the jurist Ulpianus presented an idea based on his juridical studies of the societates publicanorum and on the pooling together of wealth by Jewish money lenders (albeit for the purposes of physical rather than fiscal security). He suggested that money lenders in Rome be assisted in forming large partnerships that would then possess enough financial wealth to loan money for massive public expenditures.

Unique among contracts, the societates (partnerships) of publicani (tax farmers) persisted after the death or departure of any of its socii (partners). Following this old model, in light of contemporary partnerships, Sulla founded three societates argentariorum (banking partnerships) in 214, bringing together dozens of money lenders throughout the city of Rome and supplying millions of denarii of his own wealth as both an incentive to the argentarii (bankers) and a stimulus to their joint organization. A decade later, Sulla formed an agreement with the largest of these societates to front the money to construct a private building owned jointly by its socii for the storage of the money shared in their partnership - as before, the other societates of argentarii had ad hoc policies for storing shared wealth. Since every loan involved a contract, the typical practice of designating an actor societatis (representative) to hold each contract was undertaken, where one of the socii during the completion of each contract.

From a financial perspective, the operations of these societates argentariorum were no different from those of other argentarii. On contract with a client, they offered loans and accepted deposits that could later be withdrawn. Unlike independent argentarii, these partnerships had enough money on hand at any given time that deposits could be returned on demand, as started to become standard practice around 235. As it would happen, the large clientele and flexible finances of these societates would lead to problems in the future but for a time, Sulla got his wish of a sufficiently wealthy lender for the state finances.

Rule Britannia

Following the conquest of Scotland, Sulla devoted a great amount time and energy to the assimilation and improvement of the adjacent provincium Augustum of Britannia. With control over the whole island, Sulla played upon the idea of Roman Britain in propaganda, emphasizing the unity of the island under its patron goddess Britannia and her place within the Roman pantheon. States of the goddess - a beautiful figure who resembled the goddess Minerva and wore a centurion's helmet - were made with greater frequency across the province (and in Caledonia). In many cases, Britannia was portrayed as a proud woman accompanied by a wolf or a Roman legionary in a cooperative context, emphasizing a beneficial relationship with Rome.

A focus of public works on the island was the city of Londinium. The curia of Londonium was assisted in the construction of a galenaria and temples to Divus Claudius and other Roman divinities. The hospital and its Greek staff brought Roman medicine to the island, beginning a pedagogical line that would branch out over the next century to the other cities of Britain. To assist in holding Caledonia, a ~540 km highway was constructed from Londinium to Eboracum, continuing beyond Hadrian's Wall into Roman Caledonia. Once the road was completed in 219, renovation began on the Vallum Antoninum, separating the conquered territory from the unconquered highlands of Scotland. Armies could move effortless north and south across the island using the new road, allowing for more flexible deployment of troops in this wild land.

Over the next two centuries, the island saw increasing Romanization as its cities integrated with the rest of the empire. Although lacking direct access to the Mediterranean, Britain participated more and more with the Gallic provinces and became an indispensable source of iron (ferrum) and coal (carbo). By the end of the 3rd century, features of Roman culture - such as hypocausts and baths - were ubiquitous in British towns and by the end of the 5th, most of the population spoke a dialect of Latin. However, a local Brythonnic would persist on the island and household rituals would continue to be practiced by many locals, even as the more esoteric druidic practices died out almost entirely. Its cultural isolation relative to other provinces would ensure that Britain remained one of the last regions of the empire to adopt new religious traditions.

By 321, the last of the foederati in the unconquered Caledonia would dissolve, once the Votadini were brought under the authority of the governor of Caledonia. Aside from some small enclaves of druids and their kin, far away from Roman settlements, that transition would mark the end of independent rule in Britain.


Becoming increasingly bold and innovative, Sulla continued to reform the political institutions of Rome as he got further into his reign - by then the ire of conservative factions of senators was a distant memory to him. In particular, Sulla had his mind on the imperial succession. By 217, long periods on campaign and poor fortune had left the aging emperor with only one living son, the five year old Gaius Aurelius Bassianus. During his reign, his implied successor from 196 had been Titus Flavius Titianus, as the husband of his eldest daughter Domitia Aurelia and a young man already well into his cursus honorum, but this was not formalized in the decade of war that followed. From 206 onward, the friendship between Sulla and general Septimius Severus hinted at a familial alliance yet a marriage between their children was never arranged. When Severus died in 215, it was not long before Sulla announced that he was adopting the youngest of his three sons, the bright yet timid 23-year old, Publius Septimius Marcianus.

While Marcian's eldest brother, Publius Septimius Geta, had an uneventful military career up to this point and his other brother, Gaius Septimius Severus, had become something of an intellectual, spending his time in Rome with writers and philosophers, Marcian stood out as a patient administrator, requesting an appointment in the curia of Tusculum at the age of 19, where his reputation as a favorite of the emperor not only got him the position but also allowed him to exert some influence among the older decuriones.

Shortly after adopting Marcian, Sulla had him named Caesar as Marcus Aurelius had done for him so many years ago. Coinage indicates that Sulla intended to present the image of a joint-rulership between them, likely in preparation for naming Marcian Augustus alongside him, which he did in 217 when he joined the Roman Senate. At that point, Marcian had equal imperium as Sulla and was vested with tribunician powers, even getting proclaimed Imperator in 219 while leading several legions in the Parthian Civil War before celebrating his own triumphus upon his return to Rome.

From here until the death of Sulla, Rome was definitively governed by two emperors, with Sulla as the senior bearing greater auctoritas and the pontifical titles. For a third time, the empire was a diarchy - this would not be the last. Whether guided by advice from his father, Marcian spent less than a decade in power on his own before he chose a junior Augustus to rule alongside him. His original choice would be disrupted by some affairs more or less out of his hands, resulting in a brief triarchy in Rome, but the practice had begun and it would be only a century until a fifth smooth transition would solidify co-emperorship in Rome.

Foreign contact

Septimius Severus had died on campaign against a growing threat along the Rhine frontier - a confederacy of Germanic tribes known as the Alemanni. Over two years, Severus fought this alliance of Germans north of the province of Raetia, dying of fever shortly before he could enforced peace. The emperor himself came to replace his legate for a little under a year of fighting, before brokering a peace that split up the Alemanni and ordering construction of a ~140 km stone wall along the Fluvius Moenus (River Main) from the castrum of Mogontiacum to where the river separates from the frontier east of Lopodunum.

Beyond the Dacian frontier, tribes of Gothones were gathering in ever larger numbers, pushing the Carpi tribes into the territory of Roman client kingdoms. An invasion of the Carpi in 225 was handled by Marcian over a two-year war after which they were forced to pay homage to Rome by defending the land between Moesia Inferior and the Fluvius Tyras from other tribes. This situation would not last long but sufficed to keep some threats to Dacia at arms length from the empire until they were strong-armed by the Goths.

Before the Carpi collapsed, the Goths were busy fighting for dominance of the Pontic steppes, held at the time by the Sarmatian Alani. This cultural and military contact would shape Gothic warfare for the better (or worse for their enemies) as the Goths adopted horsemanship and heavy cavalry tactics. A client kingdom of Rome was caught in the crossfire of this conflict. Requests from the Bosporan Kingdom for assistance were accepted once Marcian had finished his triumphus for defeating the Carpi, giving his brother by blood, Septimius Geta, his first major military command as his legatus Augusti. The result was a temporary victory, albeit one that seemingly left the Alani and Bospori in a dominant position.

Later rule

Other kingdoms were not doing nearly as well as the Roman Empire during this period. After a length period of instability, the Chinese Empire of Han had dissolved in 220 with the forced abdication of the Emperor Xian. His vassal Cao Pi had assumed the throne by force but faced rejection of his authority by the warlords Liu Bei and Sun Quan, plunging the empire into a civil war between three warring kingdoms. China would take several decades to settle into a lasting peace after the downfall of the Han.

Fall of Parthia

More significantly for Rome, Parthia was steadily collapsing under a series of civil wars with its vassal kings. Initially, the clear threat had been Artabanus, the brother of Shahanshah Khosrov, who opposed the means by which Khosrov came to power and believed he deserved the position more. Their conflict lasted from 204 until they each settled into their own portions of the empire by 209. In 218, Rome responded favorably to requests from Khosrov to help him retake Ctesiphon from his adjacent position of Babylonia. As the civil war re-ignited, King Ardashir of Fars - who had taken his own throne from a brother - began to appeal to other kings for loyalty against the bickering Arsacid dynasty. His rebellion was only noticed in 220 when he had already brought Carmania and three other adjacent kingdoms under his command. By then, Khosrov had just regained his throne, restraining the three Roman legions from sacking the city again, and was still reeling from the costs of his victory (notably the cost of compensating Rome for her assistance).

Fearing another lengthy stalemate, Khosrov gathered his still loyal vassals for a direct confrontation of the self-proclaimed Shahanshah Ardashir. Unfortunately, in their weakened state, the Parthians were soundly defeated in battle after battle, allowing Ardashir to advance into Ctesiphon in 221 to more properly declare himself king among kings in the land of Eran (Eranshar).

Facing the task of bringing the eastern vassal kingdoms into line, Shahanshah Ardashir could not allow the old King of Kings to live long enough to cause more trouble after fleeing to Rome. Sulla agreed to hand Khosrov over to Ardashir in support of peace with the new Persia, much to the dismay of Khosrov. Secure in his western frontier, Ardashir focused his attention on bringing Chorasmia, Gorgan, Khorasan, and the other eastern domains into his empire. This process would take decades and would even occupy the reign of his son and successor, Shahanshah Shapur, who succeeded him in 245 CE.

Under the Sassanians, Persia returned to its status as the eastern giant beside Rome. However, decades of warfare - between Arsacid Shahs, the Arsacids and Sassanians, and other rebellions before the collapse - had vastly depopulated the region, already weakened by the same plagues that had afflicted Rome during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. As a result, Persia had far less than half of Rome's population, especially in its proportion of adult men for fielding as soldiers. With this situation, the Sassanians would maintain peace with Rome for several decades after establishing themselves on the world scene.

Time of peace

By contrast, Rome was in the midst of several decades without war inside its borders. Indeed, Sulla had used his Triumph from the annexation of Caledonia as an opportunity to usher in an era of peace over his empire, only two decades after a massive war against Germanic tribes and a decade after defeating Persia. After the Triumph, there was a ceremonious closing of the Gates of Janus, starting a procession that ended at the Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace). These ceremonies signaled the start of a proper period of peace, with little fighting within imperial borders from 206 to 233. Even more, the years to come were a golden era for the empire, when the leadership of Rome was firmly established and the military strength of Rome over her enemies was undoubted. The two national treasuries stayed steady, the population rose, and trade between cities boomed. In particular, recent developments in medicine marked the start of a persistent natural increase in the numbers of citizens relative to the other people living within the empire (since citizens benefited from less expensive and more effective medicine).

This period was a time for civil reform. In 222 and 225 respectively, the provinces of Alpes Ulterior and Aquitania were converted to proconsular provinces, as was Lycia in 227. The shift allowed the strategic relocation of multiple legions in the direction of more treacherous borders and signaled to the people of Rome that their empire was stable. A more widespread sentiment that Rome was settling permanently into her territory began to spread during the golden age of Sulla the Great.

In 212, the city of Colonia Correlia was founded in honor of the emperor on a confluence of the Fluvius Clota (River Clyde). As the first colonia of Caledonia, Corellia was slowly settled by Roman citizens from Gallia (France) and Italy. Immigration to the new city was encouraged by the cheap cost of land and lower taxes than in other provinces. Over the next century, Corellia would grow rapidly and receive much of the infrastructure expected of a Roman colony (galenariaetemplastatuae, etc.). In addition to a temple to Mars, the colonists erected temples to Marcus Aurelius, Hadrian, and, in a short time, Sulla.


On January 1, 228, Emperor Sulla - who received the cognomen Magnus in 225 - collapsed during a speech in the Senate. The stroke he seems to have suffered, despite his good health, was incurable even by Rome's best medici and ultimately, the leader of the civilized world passed away late that evening.

A grand state funeral was held on January 4th, in stark contrast to Marcus Aurelius' modest private one, to coincide with the public mourning of tens of millions of people - the entire Western world - and to lay the emperor to rest with his ancestors in the Mausoleum Hadriani. On January 5th, the adopted Publius Septimius Marcianus was formally proclaimed Princeps Civitatis by the Senate after the insistence of senators that the apotheosis of Sulla be completed beforehand. In the wake of the acclaim of his father, the timid Marcianus came to power in the Roman Empire.

Statistics for the Roman Empire of 228 AD

Population: 69 million people (26.0% of global population), including ~ 8 million slaves

Area: 5,840,000 km2

GDP: 4.9 billion denarii (~ $49 billion US)

Treasury: 79 million denarii (~ $790 million US)

Government revenue: 274 million denarii (~ $2.74 billion US), 5.6% of GDP

Military spending: 157 million denarii (57% of revenue or 3.2% of GDP)

Military size: 156,000 legionaries (30 legions), ~ 227,000 auxiliaries, and 10,000 praetorian guards

Superpowers World 228 CE
Early Empire:
726 (-27)-933 (180)
Reign of Sulla:
933 (180)-981 (228)
Reign of Marcian:
981 (228)-1015 (262)
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