|Reign of Aurelian:
1015 (262)-1031 (278)
|Reign of Heracleitus:
1031 (278)-1067 (314)
|Reign of Constantine:|
1067 (314)-1092 (339)
Although Septimius had enriched the empire, his appeasement of a dangerous foreign power left a mess for his son, Aurelian, to handle. When Aurelian failed to end the Saxon threat, the task fell to generals under his adopted son Heracleitus. Once victorious against the Saxons, Heracleitus ceremonially closed the Gates of Janus, signalling a new era of peace similar to that initiated by his grandfather. Under its new emperor, Rome would transition from an amalgamation of nations tied together by a single military power and trade network into a more unified state but its government would also weaken itself through a lack of financial prudence and would be forced to burden the populace with crushing taxation.
- 1 National postal service
- 2 International trade
- 3 Armenian War
- 4 Securing the Imperium (281-300)
- 5 Imperial honors
- 6 Provincial specialization
- 7 Growth of Christianity
- 8 Urban crisis (301-310)
- 9 Conquest of Ireland
- 10 Later rule & Death (311-314)
- 11 Statistics for the Roman Empire of 314 AD
National postal service
Communication over long distances was a fundamental problem in pre-industrial societies. A government needed a mechanism for acquiring information about its more distant territories and regular people often needed a way to stay in touch with friends or family living outside their immediate area. For the purposes of civil unity, the cohesiveness of a society depends in large part on the uniform distribution of information (whether on recent events, ideologies, technologies, etc.) and uniformity of worldviews (whether in the form of shared political, religious, or moral views, or a shared understanding of how the world works). Without these two things, a "society" has no single culture and is instead a patchwork of different nations (whose worldviews and knowledge are related to the degree that nations can exchange information and ideas). One step toward the ideal of information distribution is the availability of a public postal service across the territories of a society.
Since the reign of Caesar Augustus, the government and army of Rome had used a nationwide postal network to communicate military reports, tax revenues, census info, foreign news, and other public affairs to the proper officials. This cursus vehicularis was exclusively for affairs of the state and private citizens were not typically given access to its services. A Roman citizen who wished to send a letter would need to be lucky in finding someone traveling to the intended destination and willing to deliver the letter. No other form of long-distance communication was available to private citizens.
During the reign of Caesar Heracleitus, the cursus was opened to the citizens of the empire. By opening the cursus to cives privati (private citizens), Heracleitus revealed a source of potential profit and commercial benefit to Rome. The new postal service used two systems of transportation: the cursus velox (swift service) employed messengers going on horseback, carrying military reports in a distinct baton, administrative messages in a purse slung over a shoulder, and private letters in saddle bags; and the cursus clabularis (cheap service) employed mule-driven carts carrying letters and packages along the mail routes. A regular journey on the cursus velox was broken into stages involving two independent transfers: (1) switching the horse and (2) switching the courier. An urgent report from the military to the emperor required the original courier to continue the journey concurrently to Rome, even after passing on the baton to another courier. In this way, the report itself would arrive in Rome as swiftly as possible and the emperor would still receive an oral account from someone with first-hand knowledge.
A courier changed his horse every time he reached a mutation (change station) on his journey. Before Heracleitus opened affairs to the public, the average distance between two mutationes in the cursus was about 12 km (~8 Roman miles). Existing routes did not get modified but new routes had mutationes separated by precisely 10 Roman miles (~15 km). Depending on its frequency of use, a mutation would have anywhere from ten to forty horses, maintained by a proportional number of grooms.
As for the courier himself, he passed his deliveries onto a fresh messenger after about six hours of straight travel, allowing the system to maintain a constant flow of messages throughout the entire empire. Such an exchange happened at one of the regular mansiones (rest stations) along courier routes. These stations were privately managed lodges that were equipped to provide food, lodging, and smithing for weary travelers of any kind. Its manceps (tenant) provided services to couriers without charge, under the conditions of his rental of property from the state. Before implementing this system, the Senate had to work out deals with existing homeowners to house couriers of the cursus vehicularis but Heracleitus arranged for the purchase of land and construction of new facilities that could be rented as tabernae (taverns) to prospective managers. Every mansion operated as a mutation for the cursus, carrying the appropriate number of horses for the fresh courier.
Under these parameters, the cursus velox could deliver a message at a reliable and fast pace. Switching horses took ~10 minutes and a horse only needed to be switched after a ~40 minute trip. On this leg of a journey, a courier covered an average of 15 km. Assuming some delays, such as chit-chat, this data implies that the service could transport messages a respectable 375 km every day at a minimum. News of unrest in Athenae would reach Rome in a mere six days, where earlier methods would take two weeks to cover the same distance over land. This drastic increase in the rate of transportation would not have been possible without the ability to profit from the increased capacity of the network, from its opening to private users. However, only major routes benefitted from this speed and messages starting on the outskirts of the system had to reach a mansion by less efficient means of transport before they could, as it were, ride the wave of couriers.
Unfortunately for your average Gaius, the cursus velox was far too expensive for his needs. A citizen could have a letter delivered to any major city in the empire over the fast service for a fee of 20 denarii. At this price, it is fortunate that there was another service dedicated to less urgent deliveries. This cursus clabularis consisted of carts driven by mules along the major highways. Traveling at the trotting pace of mules and without the elaborate exchanges of the cursus velox, the clabularis could manage a modest 30 km per day. Sending a letter by cart from Brundisium to Mediolanum, across only the length of Italy, took around 42 days at this rate of travel. Unlike the cursus velox, designed to send messages over land across the empire without interruption, the clabularis had routes bounded by certain waypoints, effectively limiting deliveries to certain zones.
Going north from Rome, a message could continue as far as Aquileia, if bound for the East; Mediolanum, if bound for the North; or Taurinorum, if bound for the West. Other waypoints are Doclea, Byzantium, Tarsus, Damascus, Petra, Augustonodunum, and Tolosa. In general, no provinces in Africa are incorporated within the cursus clabularis, whereas the cursus velox covers the entire system of roads within the Roman Empire. A letter or package could be transferred to a new carriage at a waypoint, letting even this cheaper route carry messages a great distance. Sending a letter by cart within the distance of a single waypoint only cost a single denarius. If the sender failed to pay for the actual number of transfers taken by his letter, then the receiver was obliged to pay the remainder or risk losing the letter. For a price of 50 denarii, a citizen could send a package within the range of a single waypoint of the cursus, but he would have to make other arrangements outside the system to deliver one any farther.
A user of the cursus vehicularis could only post a letter at one of the designated stationes (post offices), eventually found in all major cities. Payment for a delivery was stored in a chest, after details of the transaction - e.g. sender, destination, recipient, and starting date - were recorded for bookkeeping. If records did not match the revenue of the station or were found inconsistent with the records of stationes that had received deliveries from that station, then an investigation would usually be made to resolve the discrepancy and punish whoever had pocketed money or made a clerical error.
Although a manceps was not employed by the government, the apparitores vehiculares (postal workers) who ran the post offices were civil servants and received a respectable daily wage of one denarius, equal to the payment of couriers on the routes. Even a city as large as Rome only had one station, as a means of simplifying the processing of deliveries and cutting costs.
Overall, around 110 apparitores vehiculares and over 1,400 couriers were employed by the Senate once the new cursus vehicularis and its stationes, mansiones, and mutationes were done expanding (roughly around 288 CE). Construction and procurement costs for stations, carts, and horses amounted to nearly 84 million denarii. Maintenance of the system at its current size required a further 2,700,000 denarii each year but was more than offset by the nearly three million denarii the service procured in revenue over the same period. In this way, the cursus was both profitable and useful for the government of Rome.
Future of the Postal Service
The cursus vehicularis slowly evolved into the modern Cursorium, founded in the 11th century CE. Before the reformation, the cursus slowly improved by the assimilation of new inventions. Paper cut the cost of writing a letter in the 7th century down to less than a twentieth of its price in the 3rd century. Paper records and tickets also brought down the direct prices of the service itself. Metal rims for carriage wheels and iron horseshoes both reduced maintenance costs and allowed the system to use less horses, since they wore out at a slower rate. Most importantly, the service benefited from a rising volume over the centuries, to the point that printing houses by the 9th century would use the cursus clabularis to distribute books printed only at one location and guilds by the 6th century would maintain nationwide commercial connections through a college of letters, i.e. a community constituted by the constant long-distance communication between specialists within a certain field or craft.
From its opening to the public, the cursus connected the Roman Empire in a nationwide social network that reached across the cultural boundaries that divided the region. During the Summer, a person could maintain a conversation with a person on the total opposite end of the empire within a 30 day cycle of letters going out and then returning. Furthermore, the relatively central city of Rome could hear from governors in the farthest reaches of its empire within less than 13 days, permitting a level of control that a kingdom a tenth of its size could expect within its own territory. This speed was a marvel of social engineering. No system would match the cursus vehicularis until the advent of steam-driven vehicles and of electric transmission of information.
Seeking more direct trade with the lands of the Far East, in avoidance of the Silk road and Persian merchants, the Senate went through a twofold program to increase the capacity for maritime trade and to focus that capacity toward the lands farther afield than the Kingdom of Aksum. For this purpose, over the course of 279 to 285, ports on the Mare Rubrum were expanded, including the commission of a vast port in Petra that was the size of the ports and shipyards of Alexandria - known as the Grand Harbor of Petra. These ports provided the infrastructure required to strengthen commercial ties with the Orient.
Getting closer to merchants and monarchs in the Far East was a difficult task. Although the successor states of the Kingdom of Andhra were still loyal partners of Rome, other lands in India and cities in Somalia were more reluctant to deal with the strange foreigners. To grease the wheels of business, the emperor paid for a group of envoys to travel to the coastal towns of the Kushan Empire to spread Roman money around and assist local suppliers to build relationships. By the time Emperor Vasudeva II sent a message of greeting to these envoys (in 291), trade between Roman and the Kushan was well on the rise. In 294, the Senate and this Indian king forged a trade agreement granting Roman merchants privileges in Kushan ports while publicizing their business. To the surprise of Romans, the Kushan had Hellenistic style commercial practices and used coins similar to the tetradrachma of the ancient Greeks. Curious historians were drawn to India to study this analogue of an ancient culture (perhaps at a rate of one scholar every few years). Trade with the Kushan went through their vassals, the Kshaharatas who controlled much of the western coast and referred to themselves as the Western Satraps (Western Governors) of the Kushan.
Meanwhile, Sinica (China) was too far to feel the direct influence of Roman trade. Unified under the Jin Emperors, the Chinese were intent on fighting internal instability, a threat that would split the nation in war among eight Jin princes in 291 and produce the infamous Wu Hu uprisings in 304 CE. Although Jin Emperors would maintain a modicum of power through these hard times, their empire would be reduced to territories south of the Huai River while the north entered a period of fragmented kingdoms. While the Chinese continued to trade along the Silk Road, Roman merchants would rarely risk a journey as far as China or the other nearby kingdoms of the Orient. Instead, Indians tended to mediate trade with China and the southeast islands of Asia.
Despite the desire of the Senate to avoid strengthening Aksum, the mighty African kingdom only grew more powerful as Roman trade on the Red Sea expanded. Over the first three decades of the reign of Heracleitus, the Kingdom of Aksum roughly doubled its trade output with Roman cities, enriching its capital from taxes but solidifying its dependence on Roman commerce. By 320, the kingdom had grown to almost a fifth of the size of the Roman Empire and its wealthiest residents enjoyed similar luxuries as the elite of Rome, although they missed out on the advantages of Roman medicine and infrastructure.
Other cities on the Erythraean Sea grew as maritime trade between East and West gained momentum. Cities in Somalia, such as Opone and Sarapion, saw similar benefits as the Kingdom of Aksum. They were rich sources of slaves and cinnamon for Rome and Aksum. Over the next few centuries, Somalia would be driven toward moderate urbanization through the effects of this trade, slowly following Rome in the level of sophistication of its society.
Sassanid Persia was one state that did not benefit from increasing Red Sea trade. Although the Senate had extended a trade agreement in 274 with the Persians, Heracleitus pressured the Senate with news from his vassal, Armenia, into declaring war against the new dynasty in 281 to retake Armenian lands and procure Persian mines that were near the border. Five legions were sent into Persia. Shah Bahram II retaliated with 83,900 troops while Armenia supported Rome in its defence by contributing around 22,000 soldiers led by King Tiridates III of Arsacid himself. Historians know this as the Great Armenian War.
The Roman coalitions consisted of 25,600 legionaries, 5,400 sagittarii, 6,700 light horsemen alongside the 19,000 infantry and 1,500 chariots from Armenia. Where they lacked numbers, the coalition forces outshone the Persians in both discipline and equipment. Roman legions were infamous on the battlefield for support by ballista (artillery) of various designs. A manuballista was a handheld sniper-crossbow designed by Hero of Alexandria and effective at ranges approaching 500 m. The standard for equipping the manuballistae was 60 of the weapons per legion, or one in each century. Even more infamous was the polybolos, a mechanical semi-automatic arrow cannon which fired bolt after bolt without stopping.
Entire cavalry charges could be wiped out before engaging while enemy infantry were harassed by snipers. These were tactics unique to the legion and were something the Sassanid commanders were not expecting, having only heard reports of Roman military tactics from retired Parthian soldiers. A particularly effective tactic involved sniping the lead horse in a cavalry charge, often with the result of entirely halting the advance.
Brief stints of battle allowed the coalition to gradually diminish Persian forces to a more manageable size. When logistics were in Rome's favor, a cavalry charge was employed against the daylami heavy infantry of Persia at the Battle of Hatra. Wiping out the majority of these units removed one of Persia's strongest defenses against frontal assaults, opening Roman tactics to more aggressive options in the heat of battle.
With the loss of its elite infantry and faced with raids from Turkish tribes in the east, Persia sued for peace in 284, despite its capacity to levy a militia 150,000 strong should defense of the capital become necessary. Rome and Armenia accepted their surrender for access to the desired mines, two million denarii in gold and silver, and a truce for the foreseeable future. This peace would only last 40 years before the next Caesar would break the treaty.
King Tiridates died in the Battle of Agbatana, leaving his son to rule Armenia as Khosrov III. Indebted to Rome for its defence and offered an impressive bribe by Rome, Khosrov stepped aside to offer his kingdom to Caesar Heracleitus, as a few other client-kingdoms of Rome had done before. In this way, Rome inherited the kingdom of Armenia in 284 and stationed 3 legions along with 18,000 local auxiliaries in the new province for defending the eastern border.
The arrangement specifically had the Caesar inherit Armenia, designating the region private imperial territory in the manner of Egypt. For this reason, a member of the equestrian order was named praefectus armenicus, governor of Roman Armenia living in the former royal palace in Noarakaghak, referred to by Romans as Noaracagac. Coins were minted by the Senate to commemorate the annexation of a new province, bearing the inscription "ARMENIA IN IMPERIUM ROMANUM" (Armenia under Roman authority). With Persia defeated and Armenia annexed, Rome firmly controlled the Near East, for now.
Securing the Imperium (281-300)
With its annexation of Armenia, Rome was at its largest ever size. This empire of one city, Rome, had grown under its princeps civitatis - functionally absolute autarchs - to inordinate proportions, beyond what could possibly be governed by a single polity. Despite facing no competitive rivals on the international stage, the empire of Rome could still lose enormous sums of denarii and a large number of citizens through wars with powerful kingdoms such as Persia and Saxonia.
Unlike other nations, Rome distinguished itself from others by marking the boundaries between its territories (imperium romanum) and the foreign, barbaric outer world, using the term limites romanes - the frontiers of the empire. These geographic borders were as clearly delineated by fortifications and terrain as the cartographical borders were on maps of the time. In the Roman world, provinces on the limites were regarded with more disdain by citizens and tended to hold different political status, as provinciae augustium (imperial provinces or provinces of the Emperor) in contrast to the more favorable provinciae populi Romani. The former included the regions of Dacia, Pannonia, Mauretania, and Germania Minor (Lesser Germany), which were governed by a governor appointed by the emperor himself - a legatus augusti. Walls (valla) along the limites stretch a total of 1603 km but had varying degrees of robustness, age, and overall reliability.
Easily the most troublesome frontier for Rome had been the Limes Arabicus - the great eastern frontier with Persia - forcing most emperors to maintain a strong military presence in the region. During this period of peace, Heracleitus sought to alleviate the great vulnerability of his empire by constructing a great wall from the Pontus Euxinus (Black Sea) to the Mare Rubrum (Red Sea).
Cutting through the land with geometric precision, the Vallum Magnum Judaecum (Great Wall of Judaea) physically divided the Near East, leaving only a few gaps for lakes in its 1451 km fortifications. Only the provinces of Armenia and Mesopotamia lay outside of its protection, freeing up enough legions to use those lands as a place to concentrate Roman forces. Originally, the plan was to only build a wall from Aelana to Palmyra and Palmyra to Carrhae but Heracleitus, in his vanity, forced an escalation to extend the planned barrier from Edessa through the mountains to the great fortress of Satala and the coastal town of Trapezus. This section of the wall would prove the most difficult to construct due to the terrain and bodies of water in the area.
Engineering techniques of the time sufficed to finish something by 315 CE that was impenetrable from the east. The rear wall was 17.8 m tall and 10.4 m wide at its base. Constructed in two layers, this single wall was solid enough that even the largest siege weapons of the time could only chip its outer surface. Its east-facing layer consisted of 1.48 m thick stone blocks layered into three meters of solid rock. By contrast, its posterior layer was made of brick and mortar, effective for absorbing the shock from heavy blows to the outer surface of the wall. The outer surface sloped to soften direct hits from ranged siege engines. At each (Roman) mile along the length of the VMJ, a watchtower was built, housing anywhere from 100 to 1000 sagittarii. Exactly 4210 polyboloi were spaced along the main wall, manned by a proportionate number of libratores (operators) and ballistarii (artillery observers).
Ahead of the main wall by several meters was a brick and mortar wall with half its dimensions. This second structure was more vulnerable than the primary fortifications; medium to heavy onagers could tear it down from afar. In front of this wall was a 4.44 m deep, 2.96 m wide fossa (ditch) along most of its length (with short gaps where appropriate for the local geology). This ditch terminated a few miles from the seas on either end of the VMJ. The easternmost permanent feature of the VMJ was a 1.48 m tall solid concrete palisade, intended to block the direct approach of siege engines and horses to the secondary wall. Neither the palisade nor the secondary wall had watchtowers, facilitating their construction.
Construction of a structure on this scale was a monumental undertaking, even for an empire as large as Rome. Somewhere near 3.8 billion kg of concrete was required for the forward palisade alone. The brick wall was built using the output of mobile kilns from eight legions, in addition to the output of nearby towns and cities. Stone for the primary wall was hardest to procure since around 80 million m3 of various kinds was needed for its outer layer. Whatever hard stone could be most easily quarried within reach of the site was used for this layer. Putting this into perspective, an average of 18,000 tonnes of stone had to be added per day to complete this one layer of the primary wall for the fortification. The wall was truly the grandest work of this era.
Accelerating these efforts was the massive surveying project undertaken prior to construction. The eventual positions of every section of the wall could be predicted to within several meters of uncertainty. The advantage conferred by the land surveys was that construction could begin at multiple points along the wall simultaneously. Only slight corrections were necessary as one construction site approached another, with ongoing surveying ensuring no mistakes. With this logistical preparation, the final product was as straight as intended in its design. Even if anyone were in orbit to look down upon the structure, there would be few noticeable deviations from its two straight segments, distinguished only by a slight turn to the west near the city of Palmyra.
Numerous strategic considerations went into the construction of the Vallum Magnum Judaecum:
- Persia was Rome's most sophisticated enemy and had the power to field larger siege engines than any known civilization
- No siege technology in the 3rd century could break through the primary wall, except at its few gates
- Even so, stone missiles flung at the primary wall would tend to strike the secondary wall instead
- Neither battering rams nor siege towers nor cavalry could approach the walls due to the short concrete palisade and infantry would be forced to climb an obstacle of their height in the midst of battle to reach the walls
Even with the advent of cannon, these walls could withstand hours of bombardment, with the secondary wall blocking direct hits. In principle, the most vulnerable locations along the wall would have been one of the five gates for trade to the east. However, the garrisons were especially concentrated at these spots and a massive castrum lay behind the gate itself, as any merchant who crossed into Rome could report to someone outside the wall. The Great Wall of Judaea was an intimidating sight for travelers and merchants entering the empire. From any road passing through its gates, the wall would appear to stretch indefinitely in both directions and the fortifications at the gate itself towered over the landscape. On its own, the mere presence of this wall sufficed to prevent an invasion from the east. When combined with the actual defensibility of the fortifications, the Limes Arabicus was secure for the first time in Roman history and the threat of Persia to the Mediterranean provinces was heavily mitigated.
During construction of the VMJ, another fortification was built along the border of Mauretania Caesariensis to restrict the threat of Berber tribesmen and foreign Mauri to the North African provinces. With the wall completely deterring the primitive weapons of raiders beyond the frontier, legions could be concentrated in Africa Proconsularis, where they could be more effective and more easily resupplied by sea. The Vallum Tripolitanum built along the border was composed mostly of brick and brick-faced concrete, an easily produced material for local construction. In this way, the 832 km wall was completed by 299.
When only land surveys were underway for these new fortifications, the Imperium was celebrating victory in 286 over the Saxon Kingdom. Coinciding with the victory over Persia, this second military triumph for Rome allowed Heracleitus to usher in another era of peace, leading a procession from the Gates of Janus to the Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace) as his grandfather had done before him to signal the end of the Marcomannic Wars. This declaration of peace was more genuine than that of Sulla: the two most historically troublesome frontiers of the empire were now secure and the Legion had been repeatedly proving itself capable of defeating a wide variety of foes across a long span of time. Safe behind its walls of stone and men, the empire flourished.
Heracleitus had the silver purity of the denarius raised to 93.1%, from 3.42 to 3.68 grams of silver, in 292. This revaluation of the main currency only compared with its purity of almost 95% under Augustus. More than the requisite supplies of gold and silver were mined throughout the empire to sustain the currency and major banks had long begun to store hundreds of tonnes of these precious metals as other forms of demand could not meet the supplies coming into Rome and Byzantium. At such times, the cheap prices of gold and silver encouraged the Senate and the banks to build reserves for future needs.
Meanwhile, the province of Noricum, famous for its unusually high quality of iron, had its iron mines expanded by the Senate over the 280's CE, nearly doubling their combined output. Iron produced in Noricum went on to forges that would create the military equipment used by legionaries, from a gladius blade to the plates in a lorica segmentata. This material was so distinct from other iron that it was given its own name, norica, from the only province that could supply such fine metal. Later chemists would discover that the low carbon content of this iron was what conferred its peculiar properties. Ironworks in the province were expanded to match the growing supply of ore from the mines.
A sweep of the North African coastline for pirates began in 283 under direction of the Senate. About a dozen ships, recognized by merchants for attacking them at sea, were scuttled and their owners, if they were not arrested, were compensated then told to seek other professions. This search for piracy was more drastic than the routine anti-piracy task of the Roman navy, with hundreds more pirates being arrested over the next decade than earlier decades. There had been no crises of piracy since the reign of Octavius but this sweep was sufficiently brutal as to leave an indelible mark on the seafaring culture of the Mediterranean Sea, discouraging potential pirates even more than before and allowing the Senate to reduce its naval forces in its sea.
As piracy in the Mediterranean tended toward non-existence and internal trade routes were reliably mapped, the risk of maritime trade within the Roman Empire was becoming drastically lower than anywhere else in the world. As trade missions became less and less risky, the motivation for guilds and entrepreneurs to invest in commerce rose. As time went on, the profitability of commerce between Roman provinces grew and economies became more interconnected, further encouraging the integration of local guilds into larger empirewide collegia. The scale of business within the empire had become unmatched.
Heracleitus was the first emperor of the Antonine dynasty to fully embrace his authority and place of importance. He did not leave behind the system of government that Caesar Augustus had established - where a monarch ruled using the tools and appearance of the Republic - but the customs of the princeps civitatis (First Citizen) took on a more openly autocratic style. In general, his reforms only affected the treatment of an emperor by other citizens and the symbolism associated with his office. The majority of the reforms that stemmed from Heracleitus himself came after he spent time in Persia during the Armenian War and are likely the result of Persian influences on the relatively young emperor.
For his own appearance, Heracleitus, following the fashion of the Persian Shah and Egyptian Pharaohs, began wearing a diadem - a circlet of gold, silver, and emeralds in the form of a wreath - about a decade into his reign. When he appropriated it as a symbol of his political authority, Heracleitus forbade other citizens from wearing any sort of golden or silver crown, ensuring that he would stand apart from other Romans by wearing this garment.
When visiting his provinces, Heracleitus pioneered the custom of an emperor wearing recreations of the regal fashions known to the locals, always adding a distinct Roman flavor to the style of dress (e.g. Tyrian purple fringes and Roman imagery such as a wreath or eagle). This practice offended some senators but was met with marked approval by the intended audience.
A more formal custom was his enforcement of a unique military salute to the princeps civitatis by any legionary or member of the Praetoriani (Praetorian Guard). The salute had the soldier slap his right fist to his chest before extending the fist, still clenched, in the direction of the emperor, accompanied on less private occasions by the exclamation, "Ave, Caesar!" About a decade after this practice was instituted in the Legion, senators copied the form of address for greeting the emperor when he spoke to the Senate.
As a mark of recognition, Heracleitus inaugurated the practice of recognizing citizens and foreigners with the title of Nobilissimus when they had performed a great and noble service to Rome. The first person to be recognized in this way was King Khosrov, who became Most Noble Khosrov after gifting his kingdom to the emperor. A handful of other men received this honor during the life of Heracleitus but future emperors would occasionally draw upon the custom to reward people for grand displays of loyalty.
Other titles used by Romans were exclusive to members of the Senate, recognizing them for their status within Rome. Over the first two centuries of the Principate, senators came to be referred to as viri clarissimi (most distinguished men) and over the reign of Heracleitus, the princeps civitatis came associated in documents with a notation of vir praestandis (a magnificent man). Honorifics of this sort would remain important in the class-based society of the Roman Empire for many centuries to come.
One historical theme permeating the development of Rome from the 3rd century to the 6th century was a gradual specialization of several provincial economies. Although economic theory had not attained any concept of comparative advantage in producing goods across different regions, senators recognized the absolute advantage inherent in focusing a region's productive capacities toward a single type of good. Norican iron is an early case of implementing this realization but it appeared in other cases such as Egyptian wheat then eventually Nubian gold and German lumber. Associated processing industries are included in the mention of these resources and their primary regions of origin. For example, iron ore was mined, smelted, and shaped into equipment without any material being transported outside the province of Noricum. Obviously each province had internal suppliers for most necessities but the interprovincial presence of most provinces was coming to revolve around the trade of specialized goods that were produced in greater quantities there than in other parts of the Roman community of nations.
As far as an understanding of these advantages went, senators and moral philosophers would have known a few things:
Someone watching the expenditure of a smelting, woodworking, or other processing operations would notice either the owner or the supplier of raw materials incurred more costs as some production factors changed. Some moral philosophers studying out of the Lyceum had been making such observations, particularly noting ongoing changes around iron processing in Noricum. They noticed that concentrating multiple operations into a single facility would cut total costs for the manufacturers. One treatise made the analogy of the advantage of a single army over many smaller armies with the same combined number of troops.
This same treatise coined the term amplificatio cum moles (economies of scale, or literally amplification with size) for the cost advantage accompanying an increasing scale of production. Factors that were known at the time to influence the advantage of economies of scale were:
- Lower cost of storage per unit volume with larger volumes of goods since volume increases faster than the surface area of any containers or storehouses as their dimensions increase.
- Suppliers of raw materials provided cheaper prices per unit on larger purchases.
- Lower cost of transport per unit when transporting in bulk and less total distance transported when steps in a manufacturing process happen closer together.
- Larger productions operations can employ more specialist workers and these specialists are more efficient at the required tasks than generalized laborers or managers.
- More workers leads to faster training of new workers and a higher average level of skill as workers are more exposed to people of the same trade.
- Local infrastructure or natural resources may be suited to producing a certain type of good.
These factors were presented with warnings that they could not be taken to the extreme. A massive sprawling warehouse could be large enough that storing or retrieving goods is impeded by the time taken to locate and reach these goods. One region may not have sufficient raw materials to supply an upscale processing operation. Such issues were among the many dangers noted by the treatise De Amplificatio cum Moles written in 302.
Although a name was attached to the concept of economies of scale, it was a poorly understood concept at the time, despite the effectiveness of the advice offered in the original treatise on the subject. The limits of economies of scale, from too great an increase in the size of a manufacturing operation, were only recognized, with no attempt to quantify the transition to dis-economy. For the most part, the theory only synthesized what would be plain to someone aware of any entire production process that went from raw materials to something sold to the public and the language was nowhere near as precise as can be expressed today.
Growth of Christianity
Rome had long ago taken note of the minor cult that grew from the execution of a Jewish rabbi Joshua - known to his followers as Khristos - and governors in regions where it flourished were sometimes alarmed by the rate at which it would spread. The province of Mesopotamia was the first to become a de facto Christian province, undergoing a demographic shift from local and national religions to this new cult. After the addition of Armenia to the empire, the empire had another province with a Christian majority on its hands and insufficient motivation and awareness to handle this accelerating shift in demographics.
Christianity endorsed certain ideals which resonated with the lower classes of the empire - resurrection of the dead and being rewarded for suffering through life. These ideals helped spread support for the cult with almost viral effectiveness. Nevertheless, proselytization was limited by geography, with membership branching out from its origins in Judaea (whose population resisted Christianity) into Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the northern part of Syria Palestina. By sea, missionaries spread their beliefs to the provinces in Hispania, Britannia, Mauretania, and Italia itself, within the lifetime of the prolific St. Paul.
In the Western provinces, Christianity met resistance from the priesthood of the polytheistic religions of the Greeks, Romans, and Phoenicians. The four great religious orders of Rome - the Augurs, the Pontiffs, the Sybils, and the Epulones - held strong influences over the politics and private lives of Romans through their scriptures, rituals, oracles, and dignitas. For Christianity to emerge as a public presence in Rome, these collegia (orders) would need to be matched or even supplanted so that a foothold with the people would be gained beforehand. This eventual replacement involved decades of gradual conversion.
However, Christianity had another advantage besides the desirability of its ideals for the rabble. Patricians were drawn to the cult for its inherent pacifism, an attitude that was strongly praised at social events for the elite. Stories of martyrs who allowed their persecutors to execute them rather than defend themselves for their faith were nice tales for sharing at dinner parties, garnering both sympathy and admiration from those discussing the events. Over time, the sympathetic stance of Patricians was the right environment for the next generation to associate themselves more emphatically with the cult. By the turn of the 3rd century, the proportion of the upper class professing this new faith was close to a third. At the same time, intellectuals and philosophers in Greece met Christianity with stronger approval, many joining its ranks as prominent theologians. Stoics and Neoplatonists were the most common converts within those circles, given the great compatibility between those doctrines and Christian doctrines on monotheism, omnipresence, virtue, and the human soul. Indeed, these philosophers played pivotal roles in formulating the precise theological doctrines of what was slowly becoming a religious community rather than a mere cult.
Major philosophical figures in the development of doctrine are Ignatius of Antioch, who stressed the importance of the eucharist and the divinity of Jesus; Tertullian, who formulated a precise doctrine of Trinitarianism; and the numerous theologians from the Didascalium Alexandriae (Theological School of Alexandria) founded by Pantaenus. Their works marked the origin of the formal concepts of homoousia and hypostasis (consubstantiality) as well as the solidification of nonanthropomorphism, biblical hermeneutics, apostolic succession, asceticism, and transubstantiation of the Eucharist. Some ideas that were proposed by early Christians but subject to great controversy in their community included gender equality, ecclesiastical celibacy, depilation, and transmigration of souls. Issues such as the observance of Jewish customs and the ecclesiastical hierarchy for the growing community were resolved to varying degrees depending on the region.
Judaea was one place where the Christian cult met only disdain from both the common people and the elite. In 302, the Roman military commander for the region, Georgios of Lydda, was accused of favorably allocating grain shipments to Christians over Jews and to spending provincial funds on Christian priests. These were serious accusations in the day since Caesar Heracleitus respected the Jews and particularly disliked the followers of Christ. Provincial governors were given free reign to persecute anyone who openly professed adherence, forcing many senators and Plebs to worship in secret. When news of George's actions reached his ears, Heracleitus felt conflicted. Georgios was one of his finest commanders but what he was doing both offended his tastes and risked upsetting the population of Judaea.
As a response, Heracleitus issued the lex ritua romana, forcing every officer in the Legion to perform the regular sacrifices to the Roman gods whenever stationed in a secure castrum (fort). There was little resistance to this law as legionaries tended to come from a section of society that had the least inclination toward Christianity. Any legionary officers who were Christians obeyed these orders as they valued their loyalty to Rome and their lives more than a few of their beliefs.
Georgios was not among such officers. Using his prestige and rank, Georgios arranged a meeting in Alexandria with the Caesar, denouncing the new law to his face and proudly declaring his membership in the Christian cult. Disturbed by the excessive zeal of one of his favorite legates, Heracleitus spared no expense in bringing the most eloquent Roman priests to argue the case for the empire's illustrious state religion. George did not concede his blasphemous position, giving the emperor no choice but to set an example by executing him on grounds of heresy.
After donating his possessions to the poor, Georgios met his executioner outside the Porta Esquilina with dignity. A crowd consisting of tens of thousands of Roman Christians, some even from the Senate, assembled to witness his martyrdom.
Urban crisis (301-310)
Rome had surpassed Alexandria as the largest city in the world in the 1st century BCE when they each had 400,000 people. By the turn of the millennium, Rome housed over a million people, and by 300 CE, was home to a population of nearly 1,700,000 of which 1.2 million were citizens and 500,000 were slaves. A city of this size was unprecedented in Western and human history; new techniques of social engineering were necessary to maintain this behemoth.
Farms in Italy could barely supply a third of the agricultural needs of Rome, despite supplying virtually all of its wine, olive oil, and garum. Half of the food in the city came on ships arriving at the ports of Ostia and Naples. These ships would transport wheat, fruits, and other consumables directly from Egypt, Syria, Sicily, Africa, and Hispania. The rest of the food for Rome was brought by road from Gaul and Germania Superior. Most Italian cities were similarly dependent on the rest of the empire. While this was a fragile system, there was no alternative means of sustaining cities of their size.
Overurbanization finally snapped the system in 302 when the eastern portion of the empire suffered a series of droughts that led to famines. Heracleitus had a difficult decision to make: who would suffer? Italia or half her empire. Shortages from the supplies in Egypt and the Near East were felt in Rome by Winter. As a countermeasure, large quantities of food were transported from the western provinces and Mauretania. Some farmers in North Africa had to be forced to relinquish their reserves, leaving many in the region sharing in the suffering of the rest of the empire. Nevertheless, these efforts mitigated loss of life in Italy.
Unfortunately, more than 400,000 people died in that first year, despite four million denarii dedicated to relieving the famines. The following year brought no rest from the crisis as farmers attempting to compensate for low crop yields managed to only render their fields infertile. Egypt and Syria were hit the hardest, instigating the issue with Georgios through his duty to allocate grain shipments to the starving people of Judea. In any case, the next year saw another few million deaths. The escalating disaster became known as the Articulus Asticus (Urban Crisis), as many recognized that the dependence of Italian cities on imported grain as the reason the Senate could not properly address the eastern famines.
Short-term relief for the hungry may have helped but the Senate knew that only regulative legislation could fix the fundamental problem of overurbanization. Bringing rural flight to a manageable rate required a new law, the lex migratus urbanus which forced anyone buying property in the cities of Rome, Naples, Mediolanum, Pergamon, Lugdunum, Ephesus, Alexandria, Athens, Petra, and Antioch, ten of the largest settlements in the empire, to first acquire a permit from the provincial government. Permits were only issued if the buyer submitted to a background check. Applications for purchasing property must wait for the following year if the buyer did not already own property in the city or if the yearly quota had been met for immigrants to the city. The Senate took a year to establish reasonable immigration quotas and these numbers were changed on a regular basis to meet whatever conditions were changing in those cities from one period to another. Furthermore, the number of cities subject to quotas on immigration steadily increased as the demographic landscape of the empire evolved.
Identifying a reasonable limit to the number of immigrants to a city was a difficult task. For some cities outside Italy, the last census would have been from decades earlier, requiring qualitative estimates for the growth of the city based on data even further in the past. Rome alone had tremendously precise and recent data from its regular census. Adding an accurate map to this data, the Senate had little trouble implementing quotas for immigration into the capital. Other Italian cities had similarly recent and precise census data, facilitating calculations for those settlements.
After the crisis subsided, the Senate sought more censitores (census-takers) for the provinces. Instead of occasionally getting information on the provinces, Rome would send censitores to one of the ten major cities every year. In this way, a permanent reserve of census-takers could be retained without waste. A census in the city of Rome itself was far more involved than one taken in other cities or provinces. Every lustrum (five years), each citizen in Rome would pass through the Campus Martius at some time during a period of several weeks. On the Field of Mars, he would be interviewed by one of the illustrious Censores of the empire, keepers of public morals and masters of the list of citizens. A scribe would record every interview for future reference, since a censor could hardly be expected to recall the details of his thousands of interviews. In the provinces, the master of each residence in the targeted region was interviewed by a censitoris in a similar manner, with the censitoris writing his own record. This process would occur over several months for one major city but the procedure would be accelerated when a full census of the province was ordered, an event that continued to be irregularly requested by the Senate after long intervals.
A census in the city of Rome carried special weight since anyone recorded as a citizen there had the right to vote and anyone noted as an equestrian was eligible for political offices according to his position along the cursus honorum of Roman politics. For this reason, nearly all upper class citizens traveled to Rome for the census. A census anywhere else only assisted the Senate in contracting publicani for tax collection. Although accurate census data was hardly necessary for this task, it helped the Senate profit more from taxes under the Roman system of tax farming (obviously taking away from the profits of the publicans).
All of these measures were parts of new laws being passed by the Senate to prevent a recurrence of the urbanization crisis. The largest such countermeasure was an omnibus bill passed in 306 which added and modified a host of regulations for large cities. This Magna Lex Urbana (MLU) legislated on such requirements as: sewer coverage based on population, number of city gates per person, number of street cleaners per heredium (5047 m²) of urban land, minimum width of city streets under different circumstances, maximum height of private homes, and suggestions for locating banks, markets, hospitals, and post offices with mention of how many should be permitted in a city based on size of the population. The new regulations forced the construction of cloacae (sewer systems) for the cities of Lugdunum, Antioch and Alexandria.
As a final measure, Heracleitus initiated a program subsidizing coloniae in Dacia, Raetia, and Belgica. Roman citizens were variously offered sums of money to move from Italian cities to these other provinces. Efforts to fund colonization, in the Roman sense of the term, were continued under the next two emperors. Nearly half a million citizens were relocated over the years through these programs, coming at a cost of around 230 million denarii spent over almost a century. As this constituted about 3% of the population of Italy at the time of Heracleitus, its effect on urbanization was not insignificant (given that the urbanization rate of the province was around 38% and only urban residents were paid to emigrate).
Altogether, the Senate and Heracleitus successfully defused the problem of urbanization that precipitated the urban crisis. As for the crisis itself, famines only persisted until the end of 305, when the Autumn brought a strong enough harvest. Nearly five million lives were claimed directly and indirectly by the crisis as a whole, with millions more suffering through the worst years of their lives. The financial cost of the crisis and its resolution for the Senate dramatically dwarfed the cost of the banking crisis from the previous century and set a new standard for the scale of disasters in the Roman Empire.
Conquest of Ireland
One interesting effect of the crisis came out of the way Heracleitus solved the issue of feeding legionaries in Italy during the food shortages. Prior to the Articulus Asticus, Heracleitus had fancied conquering the island of Hibernia (Ireland) as a means to exerting greater control over the Mare Germanicum. Some Saxons had set themselves up as warlords over the local villages, building ships to engage in piracy of Roman trade routes across the northern seas. When he needed somewhere to send troops away from Italy, Heracleitus saw the perfect opportunity to resolve two problems with one action.
Heracleitus found a way to derive even greater benefit from the expedition. Several years earlier, a young man of the Valerian family had proven himself over a stellar military career on the Danubian frontier, where soldiers were often sent on raids of larger pagis (cantons) in Magna Germania, after becoming a commander for his actions during the invasion of the Saxon homeland. Flavius Valerius Constantinus, as he was known, had drawn the attention of the emperor, who adopted him as his successor. However, Constantine had grown restless in his more sedentary role in the capital. An invasion of Hibernia to depose Saxon warlords was the perfect opportunity to send Constantine back into battle and further test his mettle.
Landing in the southeast, Constantine prepared his four legions in 305 around one of the larger coastal towns before setting out and sweeping the coast. By deposing the warlords along the coast and burning their ships, Constantine removed the expected avenue of escape for the other chieftains who ruled villages further into the island. Native Hibernii who were freed by the Legion were either neutral toward the presence of the Romans or grateful for removing the Saxons from their land. Some were even recruited as replacements for losses in the auxiliary forces that accompanied the legionaries. Constantine was careful to treat these soldiers well, hoping that they would speak highly of Rome when they eventually returned to their homes.
Unfortunately, the size of Hibernia had drawn out the conflict over many years. The last major warlord was deposed in 314 CE and brought back to Rome with the other Saxons for a Triumph in honor of Constantine - the first military parade in four decades. Given the economic and demographic insignificance of Hibernia, the scale of the parade was absurd in some sense but it marked the addition of 84,421 km² of land and came long enough after the annexation of Armenia. Any expansion of imperial territory was being celebrated in Rome. For several years, coins were minted bearing the inscription "HIBERNIA ROMANA".
Gaining political control over Hibernia was a cumbersome but realistic project. Compared with the empire, the island was a wild territory, with virtually no infrastructure and poor access from other provinces. The people could only be conversed with in dialects of the Pictish family, known throughout Britannia and Caledonia but nowhere else. Moreover, the Hibernii were unaccustomed to civil authority. Throughout their history, they only answered to the authority of local chieftains, who had the respect of his people, and of military power, which kept people in line through fear. Rome could elicit both experiences with enough effort.
Fear was introduced through the two legions stationed on the island. The commander there was ordered to send his men on constant patrols through different villages. Legionaries were told to respond to any disrespect with violence, but not to abuse the populace without reason (this rule occasionally received its own abuse). Although it would take two generations, a deep mark was left on Hibernian culture by the constant presence of legionaries. Their heavy armor and seemingly inexhaustible stamina fostered the belief that they weren't human, with various superstitions spreading among the villages. This image of Romans only became magnified by the other project the Romans implemented on the island.
Reverence was induced by exposing the Hibernii to the cult of personality for dead emperors - ancestors of the living Caesar. Temples that towered over their villages were built honoring Divus Claudius, Divus Julius, and Divus Sullus. Natives had never seen such grand structures before, constructed from local stone and distant marble. The cost of these temples was worth the effect their presence had on the local attitude toward the Romans. By the reign of Agricola, the Hibernii already referred to the Caesar, in their own tongue, as the "god of the marble lands". Only by the 6th century were the Hibernians more properly assimilated into Roman culture, both from centuries of contact and the gradual colonization of the land by Roman citizens.
Construction of the fortress Collinora in the southeastern mountains of Hibernia left the natives even further in awe of Romans. No expense was spared in preparing the site so that the castle stood as though it were itself one of the mountains. When the fort was completed in 322, Collinora could house an entire legion of soldiers in its barracks and would be the headquarters for all Roman operations on the island. Rome ensured that the locals were aware of this fortress and its relation to the legionaries.
Later rule & Death (311-314)
Heracleitus had run the treasury into nothing by 307. In 284, a congiarium celebrating the closure of the Gates of Janus had been given to the citizens, with a value of 400 denarii per citizen in the capital and this was only the largest of four congiaria given before the urbanization crisis. Prioritizing his important expenses, by 314, Heracleitus brought the national debt to a record ~45% of GDP. Interest payments were cutting into government expenditure on the consolidation of Hibernia and colonization subsidies. Matters were made even worse by the growing unwillingness of banks to offer loans to other customers, given how much of their wealth had already gone to the Senate. Somehow, Heracleitus needed to repay the public debt before fees overwhelmed tax revenue. Unfortunately, he died before he could see the results of his efforts to fix this crippling debt.
Before his death, taxes were raised across the board: to 13% on private land, 12% on certain areas of shipping, 9% on purchasing property, and a host of other increases. Heavier taxes on citizens were publicly justified by the need to maintain the peace they were enjoying behind the new frontier walls. While revenues rose above 500 million denarii, military spending did not diverge from its recent upward trends, slowly reaching 190 million denarii or a smaller fraction of government revenue than almost any other period in the history of the empire.
Unfortunately, the years of public debt through which the government had to pass were hard on Rome's growing economy. The minting of new coins in ever greater quantities, for the purpose of paying banks, caused inflation while high taxes softened the willingness of citizens to spend what money remained in their possession. Fortunately, those who were still converting their wealth into currency were saving this money in the banks, as taxes on savings were still an unknown concept, making it advantageous to store one's taxable wealth as an account with one of the strong banks. These increases in the amount people were saving helped fund more loans to the Senate, albeit only in time for the government to start to repay small fractions of its debt.
Overall, the austerity measures of Heracleitus combined with consistently high taxes brought economic growth to a halt; a stagnation from which Rome did not recover until 346. An absence of any profitable wars left Rome with no external means of restarting its slumping economy, as soldiers with spoils of war had always boosted economic consumption upon their return.
There was little to report on the growth of knowledge either. Merchants and cartographers were content with copying and reusing the Carta Mediterranea for navigational purposes and study; doctors and surgeons happily followed the texts of Galen for their practice of medicine; and mathematicians were still discussing and spreading the discoveries of the 2nd century and of the great Diophantus of Alexandria, who had introduced positive rational numbers into the mathematical repertoire. Furthermore, Diophantus had published the single largest collection of mathematical problems in history, making his Arithmetica the most important mathematical text in the empire and a foundational volume for the nascent study of algebra.
Internal progress of the empire had slowed in economic and scientific arenas but Rome had never had greater security than on the death of Heracleitus in September of 314. Its ancient rival Persia was at last held at bay, impotent outside an impenetrable wall along the Limes Arabicus and separated by the buffer provided by the provinces of Mesopotamia and Armenia. A secure Rhine frontier was joined with well-defended Danubian and Tripolitan frontiers. Only the Egyptian frontier and the Mare Axeinum remained as largely undefended borders. Even with these paltry vulnerabilities, Rome controlled armies that were a match for any other force in the world. For the time being, Rome and her empire were safe.
Statistics for the Roman Empire of 314 AD
Population: 85 million people (31.5% of humans), including ~5 million slaves
Area: 6,424,000 km²
GDP: 6 billion denarii (~$60 billion US)
Treasury: 3 million denarii (~$30 million US)
Public debt: 1.49 billion denarii (24.0% of GDP)
Government revenue: 511 million denarii (~$5.1 billion US), 8.5% of GDP
Military spending: 191 million denarii (37.4% of revenue or 3.2% of GDP)
Military size: 156,000 legionaries (30 legions), 253,150 auxiliaries and 10,000 praetorian guards
Legislature: 600 senators
|Reign of Aurelian:
1015 (262)-1031 (278)
|Reign of Heracleitus:
1031 (278)-1067 (314)
|Reign of Constantine:|
1067 (314)-1092 (339)