|“||For the reason, therefore, that the gods have so made us their instrument, and that by the help of the gods we have sought out for ourselves, and hold, all these nations for that reason we have also founded, province by province, many Varahrān fires, and we have dealt piously with many Magi, and we have made great worship of the gods.||”|
|“||I'd rather betray others, than have others betray me.||”|
— Cao Cao
The 3rd century A.D. heralded in some significant changes for the Roman Empire and the rest of the world at large. In Rome, the lack of long periods of successful transfers of power between emperors caused many generals and politicians to try their hand, resulting in many assassinations and uprisings. The Crisis of the Third Century, also known as the Roman Warring States Period, had significant ramifications for the future of the Empire. In China, another warring states period emerged as the Tocharian Fu dynasty failed to reunify all of China, allowing other local warlords to try their luck. In India, the Kushan Empire began to decline in the face of new native Indian princes that sought to rule while Indian religion and culture spread to the southeast and north into Tibet. In the New World, the Totonac dynasty of Teotihuacan continued its rise, exerting its influence upon the Maya and other city-states.
The Parade of Pretenders
In Rome, the end of the Sergian dynasty led to a series of unrelated emperors that often proved to be shortlived. Emperor Heluius Pertinax ruled for a few years before being assassinated in Maximus Lupus, a military commander, who took the throne. Lupus was one of the most successful emperors during the beginning of the Crisis of the Third Century, ruling for twenty years and establishing important reforms during that time. The most important was the Constitutio Lupianae, which made all free men in the Empire Roman citizens, enabling a much larger component of the population to be taxed and drafted in times of emergency.
Emperor Lupus died a natural death. However, he did not appoint an heir in time, leading to a power struggle within the Roman government. Senator Didius was the first to gain control, becoming emperor in 215 A.D. upon his recognition by the Senate. He ruled for three years over a corrupt administration and was overthrown by general Septimius Severus, who rules for eight years. Severus died a natural death, the last one for a while, leaving the throne to his son Geta. Geta is murdered by the Praetorian Guard in 227 A.D., who auction the throne to the equestrian politician Macrinus. He is assassinated after only two years as emperor. His son Diadumenianus flees Rome for his safety yet claims the throne for himself. Rome's political establishment place Heliogabalus, a young child, on the throne in the belief that he will be easily manipulatable.
This pattern of coups, assassinations, and rebellions would continue for the next forty years, briefly interrupted by the short-lived Philipian dynasty of Philip the Arab and his two sons. The widespread instability and inability of government to function properly led to widespread corruption and a collapse of several important political institutions. Emperors more and more began to rely upon their armies and political favors to rule their lands rather than a complex but loyal bureaucracy. In addition, the frequent wars of succession sapped treasuries and ruined large areas of landscape, depleting Rome's ability to fund projects, bribe enemy rulers, and limit dangerous inflation. A great plague believed to be hemorrhagic fever caused by viral strains, named the Plague of Cyprian after the Christian bishop that described it, broke out in 249 A.D. and ravaged the Empire's populations. Only with the succession of Claudius Gothicus in 268 A.D. would these affairs begin to change for the better.
The Warring States Period
During the middle of the century, Roman rule was becoming increasingly weak. While many generals and politicians sought to become Emperor, there were others that wanted to bring change to their own realms and establish their rule in those areas. The first instance of this was in 260 A.D., when the Gallic Empire split from Rome, although it did still bear some nominal fealty towards its parent state. In 263 A.D., a similar Empire was proclaimed in Carthage and numerous peasant communities called Baguadae were formed, with the first one being in Noricum. These communities demanded higher autonomy and lower taxes for their lands as well as immunity from the wars that plagued the Empire. Finally, in 266 A.D., a coalition of eastern monarchs led by the charismatic Queen Zenobia were successful in seceding Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, and half of Anatolia away from the Empire.
By this point, the Roman Empire was a rump state that occupied Italy, Greece, the Balkans, and small sections of Anatolia and Africa. Its two main sources of grain, Egypt and Africa, were now the seat of potentially hostile powers. This disintegration was unacceptable to the incoming Roman emperor Claudius Gothicus, who resolved to reunite the Empire, by force if necessary. Renowned as a general for his defeat of a wandering army of Goths in the Balkans, the seceding states feared Gothicus and made alliances against him should he advance upon their territories. The war began in 269 A.D., less than a full year of Gothicus being on the imperial throne.
Carthage was Gothicus' first target, as it was the most isolated of the secessionist states and its capture would be enough to feed much of the Roman Empire during the campaigns against the other states. While the Carthage of old was a formidable naval power, imperial Carthage was substantially less so. The Roman navy easily defeated Carthage's navy, allowing Gothicus to land his forces in Africa. The Carthaginian emperor, Carus, gathered his own army to do battle against the Romans. In 270 A.D., Gothicus was successful, defeating Carus in the Battle of Vaga and reclaiming control of Carthage and all of Africa for Rome.
Believing that the eastern monarchs would be best positioned to intervene against Rome, Gothicus moved against them next. Early attempts to liberate Carthage and return Carus to power were beaten, allowing Gothicus to plan his next move. His lieutenant and master of the horse Severus was placed in charge of the offensive into Egypt through Africa and Cyrenaica while Gothicus would take the majority of his troops and move against Anatolia. To further help with the campaign, the resurgent Sasanian Persians began to move against the Three Sovereigns as well, believing that they could reclaim lost territory and weaken Rome in the long run. What began as suppressing secessionist nobles became a race to preserve much of the Empire's eastern borders.
Queen Zenobia, for all of her brilliance in political bouts and public administration, was not an experienced military commander. Her Egyptian counterpart, Isidorus, a priest by trade, was even more inept. The only one adequately suited for a military command was the Anatolian noble Artacamas, who did manage to gather some forces from his own lands and northern Syria to oppose Gothicus' oncoming legions. However, Gothicus could not be halted, forcing Artacamas back through Anatolia into Syria after devastating his army. Isidorus was captured and put to death by Severus, leaving Egypt under the control of the Romans once again. Zenobia and Artacamas maintained control only over Zenobia's original domains and a few isolated cities in Anatolia.
Believing that they would share Isidorus' fate if they were likewise captured, Zenobia and Artacamas rallied much of their remaining forces to oppose Gothicus. Despite their best efforts, they were defeated, unable to defend against both legions and the advancing Sasanians, who had begun to eat away at the borders of Media. Gothicus was successful in capturing Bucephala and the two remaining leaders of the Sovereigns, ending the revolt in the east. Artacamas was also put to death like Isidorus, but either through charm or self-professed Roman manners Zenobia was spared and exiled to the outskirts of Rome, where she and her family would remain for the rest of her life.
With the east secured under the Empire once again and Severus in Mesopotamia to deter more Persian attempts at Media, Gothicus moved west to snuff out the final independent state. Gallia had been largely silent the last few years, perhaps hoping that Rome would fail in the east or be too weak to launch an attack. Even so, their influence spread throughout the western provinces, with notable effects in Hispania. Indeed, Hispania and its local rulers alternated between loyalty to Rome and the Gallic emperors. However strong this influence, it was no good, and Emperor Tetricus II was defeated by Gothicus in 274 A.D. and was exiled. Gothicus had saved the Roman Empire, but that was all he could do. The Emperor died soon after of plague, returning the Empire to frequent succession wars and the Bagaudae remained a constant internal threat.
The First Schism
In Persia, the ruling Sasanian dynasty remained strong, although always at threat from yet another Roman invasion. In addition to their political consolidation, there were also major cultural changes undertaken. The preceding Arsacid dynasty's Parthian influences were largely purged from the Sasanian court in favor of more mainland Persian culture. This new attitude towards abandoning older preferences for newer ideas also moved to religion. Zoroastrianism remained the dominant faith of Persia, although new faiths such as Christianity and Manichaeism had also entered Persian culture at this time. The early Sasanian emperors were generally tolerant at this time, although they still promoted their own faith.
While Zoroastrian orthodoxy held that Ahura Mazda was the only divinity and that Angra Mainyu was just an evil spirit, this position began to change during the reign of Shapur I. Early in his rule in 243 A.D. several Zoroastrian priests led by Narseh proposed an ulterior idea. In this alternate belief Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu were equal but opposite twins and were formed by a primordial entity called Zurvan. Spearheaded by Narseh's lieutenants Hormizddukhtak and Bahram and supported by Shapur I, the new Zurvanist faith spread throughout much of Persia. However, many of the Zoroastrian clergy in Balkh and the far east of the Sasanian Empire rejected Narseh's ideas, leading to the first split in Zoroastrianism's history.
Struggles with Rome
The Sasanians, in part because of their desire to restore Persia's greatness, obsessed with the idea of striking at Rome and avenging the defeats of the preceeding empires. In particular, the Sasanians hoped to push to the Mediterranean coastline through Syria and Anatolia, and the weakness of the Romans during the Crisis of the Third Century offered the perfect opportunity, especially during the Warring States period. While Rome was focused on reconquering those secessionist states, Sasanian emperor Shapur I and his son, the future shah Hormizd I, prepared to launch an invasion into Media, reclaiming a defensible border with the Romans. Media was ruled at the time by the Syrian queen Zenobia, who was more concentrated with the impending invasion of Emperor Gothicus.
However, disaster nearly struck as Shapur I died before the campaign could begin. Hormizd I, now the shah, was ill and nearly died, but vowed to continue the campaign by any means. With the aid of his brother Bahram, Hormizd I began the campaign and was able to quickly siege down several Roman forts within Media. Because Gothicus was marching ever closer to Zenobia's center of power, many forts were left undermanned, allowing the Sasanians easy victories. The capital of Media, Ecbatana, fell within a few months. Hormizd I died soon afterwards, leaving the throne to his brother who would continue the struggle against Rome and other enemies to the east.
India remained divided and fractured between various Mahayana, Theravada, and Hindu kingdoms and nation-states. The Mahayana Kushans continued to dominate much of northern and central India. However, their grip began to weaken because of internal struggles and strife with the neigboring Tocharian Western Fu Dynasty, which commanded much of the trade revenue through the Silk Road. In addition, other powers began to challenge Kushan dominance such as the rising Gupta dynasty, which did not yet possess a state of its own but did possess much political influence and wealth. The southern Tamil states continued to dominate trade in the Indian Ocean, with networks stretching from Roman Arabia to China, bringing them great profit and connecting the three regions in a manner similar to the Silk Road.
Expulsion of the Tocharians
In China, the country was still split between the Tocharian Fu Dynasty in northern China and the squabbling local nobles in the south. The first Fu Emperor, Sapadbizes, was unsuccessful in conquering the south, as was his son Haripushpa. However, they were successful in regaining control over the Tarim Basin following political intrigue with the Kushan Empire in 148 A.D. as well as significantly spreading Mahayana Buddhism throughout northern China. Compared to the war-torn south, the Tocharian north prospered, especially thanks to Tocharian control over the Silk Road. Despite claims to much the same borders as the Qiang, and gradual adoption of Chinese ideologies like the Mandate of Heaven, the Fu Emperors did not command nearly the same respect in or out of their territory as their predecessors did.
In 207 A.D., the Fu Emperor Nali began to plan an ambitious conquest of Southern China. To do this, he began to construct a large fleet to control and cross the Yangtze River. Opposing Nali was a coalition of Chinese states led by the charismatic noble Cao Cao, who was one of the first nobles to oppose the Tocharians moving south. When the Fu fleet was prepared in 209 A.D., it moved south to the delta of the Yangtze, with the Chinese fleets hoping to hold the river. Large armies accompanied both fleets, hoping to press the attack against the enemy if one of them landed. However, the battle turned out to be disastrous for the Fu dynasty. Their fleet managed to gain control of the delta and some neighboring tributaries, but many of their ships were caught in the current and dashed against the southern shore, where Cao's forces were able to torch them. With many ships and men lost, the Fu dynasty was unable to secure territory beyond the Yangtze.
The defeat at the Red Cliffs shattered much of the control that the Fu maintained over their Chinese subjects. Emperor Nali died soon after from an illness, reputably caused by his defeat in battle. His successor Niruimo was on the throne for only a short time before discontent had reached a boiling point. Anti-foreign sentiment exploded in the Red Turban Rebellion of 216 A.D., where thousands of Chinese peasants revolted against foreign influence in the forms of Tocharian and Buddhist rule. Supported by Cao Cao and other Chinese factions, the Red Turbans were successful in casting out the Fu dynasty from much of China. Apart from a few isolated pockets of resistance, the Fu dynasty was confined to the Tarim Basin. In history this period is known as the Western Fu Dynasty, as its rulers maintained their claim to all of China.
War for the Throne
While the Red Turban Rebellion was successful in driving out the Tocharians, it was unsuccessful in establishing a new dynasty in its place. There were many Red Turban leaders with their own ambitions. Northern China had effectively collapsed into a patchwork of warlords and petty nobles. Cao Cao had gained the most from the victory against the Tocharians, pushing the boundaries of his realm north of the Yangtze and being a short distance from the imperial capital of Tianjing. However, this conquest established Cao Cao as the imminent threat for the remaining southern and northern states that also hoped to unify China under their banner.
These warlords were largely disorganized and in traditional history are not considered to be separate states as they were during the Warring States Period before the Kai Dynasty. The southern states, formed earlier following the collapse of the Qiang dynasty, were more organized and developed, presenting a larger threat to any who wanted to reunify China. However, Cao Cao's strength meant that, barring unforeseen catastrophe, he would be the one to claim the Mandate of Heaven and reunite China under a new dynasty. Over the next decade and a half, Cao Cao was successful in conquering all of the northern and southern states in China. He would be crowned as the first emperor of the Sheng, or holy, dynasty, to differentiate it from the apparent greed of the preceeding Tocharians.
The Third Century A.D. in Anahuac saw the continued dominance of the growing Totonac Dynasty in Teotihuacan, although its expansion had not yet reached its golden age. Even so, the empire was apparently successful in pushing outwards during this time period, as archeological discoveries and records indicate that the Zapotec and Olmec became tributaries of the Totonac within the Third Century. Totonac military power also appeared strong at this time, as there is little to no evidence of towers or fortifications at Teotihuacan from the Totonac period.
In Peru the Nazca culture progressed through their Early development stage, with occasional expansion deeper into the Peruvian valleys and constructing more of their famous Nazca lines. However, archeologists have found little evidence of substantial political development during this century.