|Reign of Heracleitus:
1025 (272)-1067 (314)
|Reign of Constantine:
1067 (314)-1092 (339)
|Reign of Agricola:|
1092 (339)-1113 (360)
On succession of its latest emperor, Rome was frozen in time. The wealth of the empire stopped growing and the population along the fringes was slowly whittling away from disease. Nevertheless, the heartland of the empire grew seemingly without end, forcing thousands to migrate every year from the core cities to the periphery. A return to the old ways, when great generals would pillage other states for their wealth and capture new territory, was long overdue for the empire.
- 1 Constantine (314-339)
- 2 Military campaigns
- 3 Christianity as a religion
- 4 Council of Alexandria
- 5 Conversion of Rome
- 6 Byzantium
- 7 Slavery in the empire
- 8 Funerals and burial
- 9 World in 339 AD
- 10 Statistics for the Roman Empire of 339 AD
Flavius Valerius Constantinus (Constantine) inherited the empire on the death of Heracleitus in 314. Since a grand ceremony had been held for the people of Rome earlier that year, his popularity was high when the titles passed to him. This situation was a blessing for the emperor, maintaining his authority even though he was the first princeps civitatis granted powers in absentia. Rome would experience great change during his short reign.
While he was not inept at statecraft, Constantine was most comfortable and capable at the head of his legions, living among the soldiers in their forts and camps. Indeed, his first years as emperor would be spent on campaign rather than in Rome. Upon his return, Constantine would run his regime as he ran his armies: centralizing authority but decentralizing control over how to exercise that power. This broad class of policies has become famous in studies of Roman political history and compares well with the ideas of Augustus and Sulla in their reforms of provincial administration.
As a leader, Constantine had benefited from the tutelage of some of the greatest military minds of the time, Georgius of Lydda and Lucius Calpurnius Piso Saxonicus. These men and their ideals were persistent influences throughout his life, even after the former was dishonored for sacrilege toward the state religion.
Over his entire reign, Constantine only commissioned a single project of civil engineering, devoting the majority of public spending toward profitable military campaigns. Nevertheless, the sheer magnitude of this one project merit detailed discussion at a later point in this history. For now, Constantine's activities as a general are the topic of interest.
When his adoptive father died, Constantine was away in Hibernia (Ireland), subjugating its native people. Constantine had come home earlier that same year for a Triumph, celebrating the defeat of the last foreign warlord. He was forced to return immediately to maintain the military presence needed to fight unyielding local chieftains and quell violent mobs. Constantine did not return to the capital until the fortress town of Collinora was completed in 322, allowing a strong legion presence.
The emperor was restless during his time in Rome, keeping himself occupied by following the minutiae of his recent acquisition. After only three years, he had prepared himself and his legions for an expedition to solve the ongoing debt crisis.
In 325, Constantine openly broke the truce between Rome and Persia, sending a diplomat with a clear declaration of war before crossing the Vallum Magnum Judaecum into the border province of Mesopotamia. Constantine led his eight legions along the River Euphrates toward Ctesiphon. Instead of taking the heavily defended Persian capital, he raided the surrounding farmlands and towns for supplies for his army. Major cities that were captured were forced to pay crippling tribute to him and his legions. Persia had long since recovered from the Great Armenian War but this next invasion crippled its economy. Shah Shapur II levied over 80,000 troops who were to be assembled in the east, preparing to retaliate alongside the daylami heavy infantry that numbered only 18,000 after being wiped out by the armies of Heracleitus.
When there were no major attacks by the Persians throughout the entire first year of the invasion, Constantine send word back to Syria Palestina for the two legions he had in reserve to join his forces in preparation of a concentrated attack and for another two legions from Hispania to take their position west of Anatolia. With these reinforcements, Constantine regrouped his forces west of Ctesiphon during the Spring of 326. His timing was impecable as three months later, the Persian forces converged on them before they could reach Ctesiphon. At the Battle of Seleucia, Rome was victorious through superior numbers, tactics, and technology, crushing the main Persian army. Shah Shapur fled from the defeat, hiding in Nishapur in the eastern half of his land. Unopposed, Constantine marched on Ctesiphon in 327, not long before the feast of Saturnalia which was refused to his men while they occupied the city. In compensation, he promised the legionaries massive shares of the spoils of war.
It is difficult to estimate the return in slaves, gold, and artifacts when such a large portion filled the pockets of common soldiers but what is recorded is revenue worth over 250 million denarii for the emperor. Constantine was adamant that these funds go into his personal purse rather than the national treasury. Nevertheless, the Senate did not receive the short end of any stick. With a third of its armies no longer requiring wages or food, military expenditure fell to a historic 127 million denarii, around two-thirds what it was before the invasion of Persia. With explicit orders to the Senate not to engage in any public construction, the natural surplus consisted of nearly 60% of ordinary revenue while Constantine was out on campaign. When soldiers returned to Italy with their spoils of war, new life was breathed into the regional economy, a throwback to the days of Julius Caesar or Pompey when the empire had highly expansionist policies. Transporting this wealth with his armies was an exercise in itself, requiring the appropriation of thousands of animals and vehicles from the stables of Persia.
Despite holding Persia in the palm of his hand, Constantine had no intention of annexing its territory. The cost of rebuilding and maintaining such a large and hostile region was distasteful to even contemplate and he needed his armies for another campaign. On the very day he captured Ctesiphon, Constantine sent a message to the two legions in Anatolia, ordering them to invade the territories of the Sarmatiae. Their land on the Mare Axeinum (Black Sea) was loosely controlled by an alliance of Gothi and Sarmatian chieftains, functioning as a kind of feudal kingdom with a single Sarmatian lord.
When five legions from the Persian campaign invaded with the two from Anatolia, the Sarmatians faced a war against Rome on two fronts. Constantine crossed the Caucasus with his legions in March of 328 while the Anatolian legions crossed the Danube a month later, catching the now distracted Sarmatians off-guard. Although the tribes of Sarmatia had united to field a powerful army for their civilization, they were defeated in the face of Roman tactics and weaponry. The alliance was shattered by the failure to protect its High King and the loss of tens of thousands of able-bodied men while Constantine returned triumphantly to Rome in 329 with an additional 160 million denarii worth of plunder and slaves.
Back in the capital, Constantine held a grand Triumph for the citizens, encompassing a week of celebrations and parades. His legendary series of conflicts left a distinct impression on the public memory, proving that Rome could easily repeat the successes of its glory days (unknown by the people to have been far worse times than their present, but such is nostalgia). Where other recent emperors had only retaliated against powerful foes or conquered insignificant plots of land, Constantine had walked straight into Persia then wrung it by the neck before conquering another great power on his way back to Italy. More than this, Constantine had performed such military feats while defeating the dreaded treasury debt by the same action.
Using the profits from his campaigns, Constantine raised the weight of the denarius to 4.12 grams with no loss of silver purity relative to its previous size of 3.95 grams. While this revaluation of the currency would have massively deflated prices, the increase in demand from returning soldiers ensured only moderate deflation. If there were some foreign currency for which the denarius could be traded for 20 units before the war, then on revaluation, the denarius could be exchanged for 22 such units.
Once his famous civil project was moving forward under its own momentum, Constantine returned to campaigning beyond the frontiers of the empire. In 335, he led five legions into the peaceful state of Meróē, a land famous for its great metalworking. Conquering the small kingdom in four years, due to halting the campaign, Constantine inaugurated a new imperial province for the empire. This territory would become one of the greatest sources of Roman wealth. Over the next few decades, its borders would slowly expand as Rome and the Kingdom of Aksum agreed to split the lands of the nomadic Blemmyae tribesmen.
Constantine was told by translators from Egypt, his base of operations for the invasion, that Meróē was where the empire traded for much of its nub (gold) and so when he returned to Rome, the emperor announced his annexation of the province of Nubia. Indeed, Meróē had fame across Africa for its iron bloomeries and gold refineries. These were preserved during the conquest and inherited by the emperor for the profit of the state. Their scale of production for both goods was impressive by the standards of other Roman provinces. Where the region once traded a great deal of its wares to India and China, it would now focus its goods on the markets of the empire. Unfortunately, Nubian production of iron had already reached the limits for its population and no amount of investment from the Senate could accelerate the output of its bloomeries and mines. Still, their addition to the empire entailed a rise in revenue for the state despite Constantine removing some of the taxes that had been implemented under his father.
Adding the population of Nubia to the empire also offset the declining populations of many of the border provinces, where there was scarce access to Roman hospitals and the people were dying from disease faster than children were being raised. The only other factor offsetting this decline was the growth in numbers of Roman citizens, who had the benefit of Roman medical care and were encouraged to bear children through the financial support of the Senate.
Christianity as a religion
As a means of decentralizing control without compromising the power of the Senate and Caesar, Constantine rerouted the selling of contracts to publicani - people who financed tax collection, road maintenance, postal service, etc. - through banks where the bidding between merchants for each contract could take place. Starting prices would be decided by Quaestores according to the most recent census data and would be passed on to major banks throughout the empire. Tax collectors throughout the isles of Britannia would all buy contracts in Londinium whereas those collecting throughout the Near East would go to Antioch. This reduced the risk for merchants investing as publicani since they did not incur the additional cost of travel to Rome. Furthermore, this reduced the chance of bribery since the managers of the auctions for contracts had no real power over the process, merely extending orders passed down from the quaestores and supervised by representatives from Rome. Constantine also fixed the time at which bids would be held for tax collectors at September 1 of each year.
Meanwhile, Rome was in the midst of religious upheaval. Over the last two centuries, the upper and lower classes had been gravitating toward the practices of the Christian cult, sandwiching the largely polytheistic middle classes and non-citizens. At the time Constantine returned to Rome, about 54% of citizens were Christian - a major shift from the 1st century. When the matter of how the growth in the population of Christians should be handled had come up in the Senate, there was a long debate over how to settle. The empire had reached a turning point. No one religion held singular sway over the hearts of the people. In the meantime, Constantine had opened the political routes to a change when he allowed the Senate to pass an edict of toleration ending the Heracleitian persecutions and enforcing tolerance of all religions by Roman officials (not all were orthodox religions or licita).
Under Heracleitus, the only discussions in the Senate about Christians had been how severely to persecute them and the elite was now cautious about the open profession of beliefs, despite the favorable rumors about Constantine. In the end, senators closest to Constantine, who knew directly of his sympathies, broached the issue. His decision was swift as on May 12 of 330 CE, Constantine issued the Constitutio Valeria (Edict of Valerius), expressing the recognition of Christianity as a religio licita, freeing it from its former status as one of many superstitiones frowned upon by Roman culture. Careful not to upset his soldiers and the order of knights, Constantine did not go so far as to enforce the state endorsement of Christianity through laws.
However, Constantine was quite clear through his actions that his loyalty lay with this growing religion. He reportedly had visions before leading the Siege of Ctesiphon and is recorded as attributing his greatest military insights to divine inspiration. Depictions of these "events" can be found on the triumphal arch dedicated to Constantine by his successor. Of course, the most telling actions for how Constantine felt about Christianity were how he chose to spend money from his imperial purse and how he treated the templa (sacred grounds) of the polytheistic state religion during the later years of his reign.
Restoration of Judaism
Another aspect of the Edict of Valerius was the separation of Syria Palestina into the provinces of Syria and Palestina and the official renaming of the city of Aelia Capitolina to Hierosolyma (Jerusalem). Given the distaste of many Jews in that region for the Christians, this was likely a means of appeasing that culture whose priestly elite had long supported Roman persecution of early (or should we say late) Christians. Combined with the separation of the Foederata of Arabia into the federations of provinces known as Judaea and Arabia, these measures also served to effectively isolate Rome's new benevolent treatment of Christians from the activities of the Jews. However, this did not stop Constantine from dedicating the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre on the Hills of Golgotha outside Hierosolyma (making it one of the few Christian temples in the province of Judaea).
The backlash from this action was countered by supporting the Jewish community in its main ongoing project. Ever since the Jews returned to Jerusalem and their banking took off, the community there had discussed building the Third Temple according to the description in the Book of Ezekiel. Collectively, they had been slowly accumulating Roman money for the last century but religious leaders still did not believe they could afford its construction. As a show of good faith, Constantine offered to cover any costs that they could not afford in realizing their vision. Despite minority objectors, construction began by the priests on the Temple Mount in the year 336, continuing into the reign of the next emperor, who upheld his father's patronage, before finishing the project in 349.
With the reconstruction of their temple, the kohanim (priests) resumed their korban (sacrificial offerings) inside the temple. After asking for permission from the reigning emperor, the priests reformed the Great Sanhedrin that would preside over Jewish law within the Third Temple. This body of 23 priests then appointed a new kohen gadol (high priest) for the Jewish community of Judaea. After the building of the temple was a period of great change in the Jewish community, restarting a number of their old traditions and practices that depended on the existence of their temple. As much as possible, the successor of Constantine ensured that these renewed practices were integrated with the governing bodies of the Foederata of Judaea, both maintaining continued cooperation between Roman and Jewish policies as well as leaving the Senate a great deal of control over this client nation.
One of the more controversial actions taken by Constantine after his edict was stripping the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus of its statues of the Roman Pantheon - collectors in Mediolanum (Milan) purchasing the colossal Jupiter that once filled its halls. He intended to consecrate the site as a Christian temple. There were protests from many of the merchants in Rome but they were assured the continued existence of other temples to the gods throughout the city and kept in check by the praetorian guard.
Constantine also approached many of the legions stationed in Italy and Gaul over his own conversion. These were men who had seen his brilliance as a general and held deep respect for him as a leader and an emperor; many legionaries converted over the next few years. The laws of Heracleitus requiring commanders to make sacrifices to Roman gods had been repealed by the edict.
Once renovations to the Temple were complete in 332, Constantine brought the father of the Christian community, Sylvester, to accept his new temporal seat of power (unrelated to his spiritual authority). This was only the first of many gifts that the emperor would lavish upon the Bishop of Rome, the most influential of the patriarchs of the Christian community.
Members of the College of Augurs were notorious for their Christian sympathies, which had effectively stagnated their activities of taking auspices for the Senate and public. After the non-violent removal of the remaining polytheists from its ranks in 334, the College was re-instituted as an oracular body for Christians. Adding several leading theologians to its ranks, the Augurs took the mantle of interpreting the primary Christian text - the Biblia - for the will of God. This function would be formalized in the founding of the Christian Church in only a few years.
In 336, the Collegium Pontificum was abolished by order of the emperor, after decades of declining in influence. Only the Vestal College continued to operate after the dissolution of the College of Pontiffs. As a final nail in the coffin of this order, Constantine eventually gave the recognized successor to St Peter, formally the Bishop of Rome, the imperial title of Pontifex Maximus (Pope), further elevating the authority of this position in the Christian community.
The Epulones, who organized the religious festivals to the Roman gods, were similarly purged of non-Christian members. They would be charged with managing religious festivals for Christians. This has contributed to the tremendous similarities seen today between Christian celebrations and polytheistic festivals. Some of the festivals that would eventually be adapted by Christians (over the next century) include the following Roman feriaea (religious festivals):
- Saturnalia would be adapted under the primary name Christomassa as a celebration of the birth of Jesus each year on December 22. As before, this would be a time when even slaves would be given breaks from their traditional duties.
- Paternalia would become a festival starting with private acts of respect toward one's deceased friends and family starting on February 14 then ending with a holiday where people would pray for their dead at Christian temples on February 21.
- Matronalia would be a day of religious observance for women on March 1, with ceremonies for Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Dozens of other feriaea would be adapted for Christianity. Indeed, the continuation of traditional religious holidays under the new religion and the end of these same rituals under the old religion became a major reason for the conversion of the rest of the city of Rome over the next century. This conversion would coincide with the dissolution of the flamines (high priests) of the Roman gods and the deconsecration of Roman temples either to become basilicae (public spaces) or be reconsecrated by Christians. Nearly all of the temples in Rome would be maintained through this treatment, often retaining their older secular functions. This process of converting all the old temples would take several centuries and the last vestiges of Roman polytheism in Italy would not disappear until well into the 6th century CE.
For example, the Temple of Castor and Pollux on the Forum Romanum became the Basilica Commercia, a public space where merchants could sign contracts in the presence of a judge and where the official weights and measures were kept for public use. Other temples deconsecrated under Constantine include:
- the Temple of Trajan near the Forum Traiani, becoming the Tabularium Traiani (Archives of Trajan) for storing financial records for the Bank of Rome (requiring the addition of vaults beneath the former temple).
- the Temple of Divine Antoninus and Faustina west of the Forum Romanum, becoming the Basilica Patriae as the new location where the state would distribute the grain dole and the financial incentives for the children of citizens.
- the Temple of Minerva on the Transitorium, becoming the Biblioteca Minervae (Library of Athena) and, within a decade, the largest library in the capital.
- the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine Hill, being torn down to expand the gardens around the Domus Augustana.
A prominent temple that was deconsecrated long after Constantine was the Temple and House of the Vestals, whose fire went out in 391 before getting relit two years later with the consecration of the Templum de Virgo Maria. After this point, the fire had become the symbolic Sacred Fire of Rome, tended to by a convent of priestesses living in the nearby Domus Pontificus, the house they shared with the reigning Pope. Any Pope who had not taken a vow of celibacy would usually instate his wife as the Magistra (Christian High Priestess) of this convent.
In general, the most prominent temples of the Roman religion were the last to be deconsecrated by emperors, with the notable exception of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus due to its symbolic and cultural significance. Among these more prominent temples:
- the Temple of Magna Mater on the Palatine Hill was reconsecrated in 399 as the Aedes Sanctam Sapientiam Dei (Temple of the Holy Wisdom of God) or simply the Sanctam Sapientiam (αγία Σοφία)
- the Temple of Mars Ultor in the Forum Augusti was deconsecrated in 404 and became the Basilica Milites, a monument to the accomplishments of the Legion and a place where citizens could pledge themselves as recruits to the army.
- the Temple of Juno Moneta on the Arx of the Capitoline Hill was demolished in 384 and replaced with a gardens around which an open quandrangle of columns was constructed.
- the Temple of Divine Julius on the Forum Romanum was deconsecrated in 351 and became the Basilica Divi Julii, as a bureau of justice where citizens could issue legal summons, the list of judges (album iudicum) was kept, and praetores often spent their time between sitting as a judge in a public court.
- the Temple of Venus and Rome by the Flavian Amphitheater was reconsecrated in 367 as the Templum Illustres Romae (Temple of Illustrious Rome), a Christian temple glorifying the state of Rome.
Council of Alexandria
Christianity was in a disorganized ideological state when Constantine declared the acceptance of its practices. Bishops were struggling with the Arian controversy and the matter of determining certain orthodox doctrines. The principle issue was if they should believe in Trinitarianism - whether or not Jesus and God were the same being. Numerous theologians had pontificated on the debate but there was no clear agreement. Constantine sought to resolve the controversy by inviting all the Christian bishops across the empire to the city of Alexandria for a council on establishing Christian orthodoxy.
The resulting doctrines settled on by the Council of Alexandria were as follows:
- The Bishop of Rome is pontifex maximus (Pope) and sole successor to St Peter
- Augurs are the body with the final word on interpretations of the Biblia
- Everyone who recognizes the spiritual authority of the Pope belongs to the Ecclesia Christiana (Christian community)
- God, Jesus of Nazareth, and the Holy Spirit are of one substance, in a mutual homoousia of divinity (divine trinity)
- Jesus, as consubstantial with God, is an equal in divine essence, a human hypostasis of the divine
- Although Jesus was human, God has none of the anthropomorphic qualities of other gods
- Baptism by priests who once renounced God is no less valid than baptism by the persistently faithful
- Priests are not obligated to take vows of celibacy and may marry as well as father children
- Women could be ordained as priests but could not achieve apostolic ranks such as bishop or pope
- Pascha is to be celebrated according to universal measures independent of the Jewish calendar
- Twenty foundational laws of the Ecclesia Christiana or kanones were written to govern priests and the faithful
- Jewish laws agreed upon in the Acts of the Apostles are the only components of mosaic law valid for Christians
Termination of the Council on August 25, 337 has become recognized as the formal start of the papacy and Catholic Church (Ecclesia Catholica). Every Christian in the Roman Empire could look for the first time towards a singular, unified leader of the community; one created by a joint action of nearly 90% of all bishops - those who attended the Council of Alexandria. This deliberation of theological minds had definitively plotted the future course of Christianity.
Conversion of Rome
On return from the Council, Constantine formally declared the state sponsorship of the Religio Christiana. This meant that the Senate and emperor were openly supporting practitioners of Christianity and the spread of the faith but it did not force the common people to worship as Christians. Other religions that had been religiones licitae before the change remained as such. News of how the Senate and emperor now endorsed Christianity spread throughout the Roman world.
Transition to a new state religion was an awkward one. Religion was an integral component of a Roman lifestyle, handed down as the mos maiorum (ancestral customs) that largely determined public morals and practices. Much of Roman language and culture centered around religion and changing to a new set of customs would be a breaking of old habits and would be seen as vitia (impious behaviour) by the more conservative citizens.
Primarily, there was the ambiguous division between religio and superstitio. The latter involved behaving or believing in ideas that were outside public knowledge of the gods. By analogy, for Romans, superstition was to religion what ineffective farming practices were to effective agriculture. Superstitious reverence toward gods was seen by most people as inappropriate - an abuse of religio. Where religio meant strict observance of the mos maiorum, superstitio was excessive or unorthodox religio. As the above analogy implies, religious practice before the advent of Christian doctrines was governed by commonly agreed knowledge rather than speculation or faith, as the people regarded the status of their beliefs at the time.
By the intertwining of religion with other customs, justice was viewed as inseparable from religious practice, in the sense that the traits of pietas (piety) and fides (faith) were considered to make a man suitable for society. Someone who could not even show respect toward the gods was seen as incapable of showing respect to his fellow man and was not to be trusted. Pious action made a man worthy of dignitas (social standing) while injustices were impious and dishonorable. Failing to observe religious customs was a failure of disciplina (self-control), a mark of an incontinent moral faculty. So much of social interactions in the classical era revolved around expression of these qualities and religious practice was one of the more public ways this was done.
For this reason, the conversion of the empire from polytheism to Christian monotheism was more of an evolution of religio. This process was the more fundamental reason for retaining the Epulones and their festivals, and is the reason that much of Christian doctrine reflects former rituals and language of traditional Roman religion. Eventually, superstitio would come to mean any belief in spirits that were not recognized by the Church (Ecclesia Christiana); augury came to mean the practice of reading and interpreting the Bible toward some purpose; devotio became the promise by a Roman general to offer his life in battle for the glorification of God and benefit of the Church; and vitia would refer to any profession of beliefs heretical to the Church. These terms, alongside others, were smoothly assimilated by Christians from their original usage under the Roman religion.
Such developments were already underway when Constantine declared that the state would sponsor the Religio Christiana in place of the traditional Religio Romana. Other religious practices would continue to be permitted but public funds would no longer be directed toward their institutions or rituals, and the government now recognized the Ecclesia Christiana as the body with the highest auctoritas moralis in the empire. Belief in the mos maiorum was accommodated by this support for Christianity rather than supplanted by the shift in authority. The interaction of old customs and Christian doctrines would present interesting problems for emperors over the next few centuries and the actual demographic dominance of Christianity would not occur for another century.
Opposition to conversion
Although Constantine's reputation had assured the loyalty of soldiers and generals that he had personally fought alongside, other soldiers had only civil obligations to obey him and the Senate. At a time when most soldiers followed the Roman religion, the latter group, consisting of most of the legions in Germany, was primed for rebellion against the changes occurring in Rome. At first, the legalization of Christianity in 330 had upset some generals and most common soldiers but there had been insufficient motivation to openly oppose the change - their religio Romana remained the de jure faith of the empire.
With the announcement of a new state-sponsored religion in 337, levels of unrest immediately spiked. Enough generals and lesser officers were from the upper classes and had converted that most of the Germanic and Dacian legions kept quiet (with only a few records of restlessness among the ranks - no open conflict). However, the generals on the European frontier - who had not fought with Constantine - that were loyal to the Roman faith directed their displeasure toward a collaborative effort to attempt to install a more friendly regime in the capital. Surreptitiously moving their legions toward Aquileia, near the border between Italy and the rest of the empire, five of these legions prepared themselves in March of 338 for the capture of Rome itself.
Their invasion was exceptionally well planned. By attacking in March and while Constantine was away conquering Nubia, they were ensuring that the emperor and his armies could only intervene by sea during the stormiest time of the year. The only flaw was that a conspiracy of this size was impossible to keep under wraps and news of their plans had already reached Rome two months before they had gotten near the border of Italy. Constantine received a plea for aid from the Senate within weeks of the plot coming to light and was already on his way with six legions when March came to an end.
Avoiding traveling by sea as much as possible, Constantine took his troops on a lengthy march across the coast of Africa to the city of Carthage, taking ships from Carthage to Sicily and from Sicily to the heel of Italy. Unfortunately, by the time Constantine had made it as far as Neapolis (Naples), the rebellious armies had taken Rome. Although the city had not been sacked, the Capitoline hill was set ablaze and the Pope was killed, among hundreds of other Christian priests, and dozens of senators lay dead in their homes as the chaos allowed the generals to remove old rivals. The Senate itself was being forced to convene and legitimize the new regime in Rome, as martial law reigned in the streets filled with legionaries. In loyalty to Constantine, the praetorian guard had fought the invaders at the walls and were all but eliminated by this time. This force of nearly 10,000 hardened soldiers had cut the enemy forces down by more than a quarter but had been insufficient to defend the city alone.
Constantine offered clemency to the rebel soldiers on the condition that they bring him their officers either in chains or on spikes but this offer was difficult to disseminate to most of the now defenders. Nevertheless, it was enough to incite distrust within the ranks of the enemy and improved the already significant advantage that Constantine had by having nearly twice their numbers (more importantly, his own soldiers had fought large scale battles in Persia and Nubia, making them more experienced in real combat than border duty had made the rebels). Entering Rome through its sparsely repaired gate, Constantine's forces made short work of the rebel armies, especially as parts of their forces surrendered when given the opportunity.
Rome was damaged in the chaos of its loss and recapture but only a few thousands deaths were reported and the Senate itself remained largely intact, despite the loss of some prominent members. Constantine spent several months in the capital reassuring the people and the Senate before vowing to rebuild using the wealth of Nubia; he returned to that conquest. It would take several decades for the city to fully recover, delaying the work of the next emperor on other cities, but the wealth that Constantine had procured for Rome was facilitating these simultaneous efforts. The hardest part of recovery was rebuilding the numbers in both the Legion and the praetorian guard, from which tens of thousands had been lost. This temporary weakness would last several decades and require the reallocation of forces from the East to Dacia, made possible by the even weaker condition of Persia.
The Christian community would also take time to recover from its losses. Constantine ensured a rapid rebuilding of the Capitoline and other temples but the losses of the clergy could not be as easily replaced. Nevertheless, the entire empire was on an inevitable trend of Christianization and Rome was its focal point. The new norm would be restored by the end of the 4th century.
Rome had numerous advantages as a capital for an empire. Aside from a central position in the Mediterranean, Rome was largely safe over land due to the Alps and had greater infrastructure than any other city in Europe or Africa. However, there were distinct disadvantages to its distance from the frontier provinces, especially from the important river systems in Europe. In particular, the empire needed a powerful city that stood near the Danube but had access to the Mediterranean. This settlement could never be a replacement to Rome as a capital but its existence would project the power of Rome farther than ever before.
Acutely aware of the military need for such a city and a supporter of de-centralizing the administration, Constantine resolved to rebuild the Greek town of Byzantium as a new administrative and commercial center. Using funds from the imperial purse, he had homes, temples, squares, and roads in the old city demolished to allow a new city to be built from the ground up. Byzantium had the perfect geographical location for his purposes and had space along its coast for a massive harbor.
Designs laid out by Constantine asked for a rectangular grid of roads branching out from a central forum that he designated as the Augustaeum. As the city's heart, on the third hill from the Bosporus, the Augustaeum was surrounded by the grandest structures of Byzantium. Spread over an area of ~18 acres, the plaza was closed on its entire western side by an elaborate housing district. On the northern side, the plaza contracted and rose by stairway onto a beautiful square at the front of the Cathedral of Georgios, the seat of the Bishop of Thrace. To the east was the central bank of Byzantium, a facility owned by the Banca Romae (Bank of Rome) but easily three times its size. Beside the bank was a small praetorium for the gathering of the legates and generals of the European frontiers - an austere building closed permanently to the public.
Modelled after the Basilica Ulpia in Rome, only nearly twice its length and height, the Basilica Valeria occupied part of the southern side of the forum. Rather than sitting on the edges of the plaza as the other buildings did, this public building was nested inside the forum space, and the nearby edges of the plaza were instead covered in a honeycomb of shops spreading around the entire southern end of the forum.
On the old acropolis of the first hill from the Bosporus stood a new walled acropolis, where a senate house that dwarfed the Curia Julia in Rome and surrounding gardens was laid out for the enjoyment of magistrates. The Curia Valeria had an assembly chamber similar to the Senate in Rome but was intended for a local city senate. Access to the acropolis was barred for the public, except one day a week when no sessions could be held. A modest palace complex was built across the water from this acropolis and was intended to serve as a villa for the emperor.
In preparation for future growth, a cloaca (sewer system) was excavated beneath Byzantium, extending across all seven hills and dumping its waste safely into the Bosporus. No expense was spared in the construction of these sewers. They started as a square ring around the Augustaeum, allowing direct waste disposal from the market stalls and basilicas of the main forum. Branches came out from this ring and traveled along planned directions for the main roads leaving the forum. Constantine intended for every house in Byzantium to have direct access to the sewers, such that waste disposal could be done within one's own home. This would prove expensive and would be abandoned by the end of the century, once the city had already reached a population in the hundreds of thousands. After expansion stopped, the Cloaca Bospora had cost the state over 10 million denarii but would require thousands of denarii in yearly maintenance costs throughout its lifetime.
As a general note, construction of a sewer system on unoccupied land was an interesting process. Instead of tunneling through the ground, construction workers would dig an open-air ditch as deep and as large as the planned sewers. Bricks and cement would be used for the walls and floor of this open drain then a ceiling would be built over the drain and heavily reinforced to bear the weight of any structure built above. Access could be provided either by a sealed ladder from inside the serviced building or from a sealed hole accessible from the street. Primary channels for the sewage system were large enough to drive a carriage through them, requiring careful construction not to comprise structural integrity.
Usage of the sewers was immensely beneficial in a private home. Although residents would still piss into pots like any hygienic Roman, they had the option to dump the urine down a hole, unless some was needed to produce ammonia for washing clothes. Richer residents who had access to running water once aqueducts were built for the city could actually bathe in the privacy of their own homes, letting the water wash away into the same hole they dumped their piss. Someone with a large enough house might even had had one hole solely for bathing. With private baths in some homes and private latrines in all homes, the new city started with the greatest sanitation system in the entire ancient world. Only a century later would public latrines be built to service the outer districts of Byzantium, as the continued cost of extending the sewers to every house was too high.
Although a small aqueduct had been built by Princeps Hadrianus to service the old city of Byzantium, the new city would need an expanded system of aqueducts. The first aqueduct Constantine commissioned stretched 250 kilometers to reach the city and could supply over 16 million gallons of water per day. Excess from the aqueduct fed into a building on the nearest hill east of the great forum, a cistern able to store 280 million gallons. Since this cistern connected to the main distribution systems, extra water could be supplied whenever demand was high and stored while demand was low. With all these basic systems in place before many residences were even built, Byzantium was primed for rapid growth.
Government revenue was devoted to subsidizing the colonization of Byzantium. Starting in 339, these subsidies were paid in addition to the subsidies started by Heracleitus to reduce urbanization in Italy. However, these were far more directed than the older program, targeting merchants and artisans who would be directly asked to relocate, rather than offering a standing benefit to anyone who offered the Senate their relocation for the reward. A citizen moving from Italy to Byzantium could expect anywhere from 600 to 1800 denarii depending on their profession. The presence of these businesses attracted other immigrants from Syria, Greece, and Southern Italy.
As this city combined Italian, Greek, and Syrian architecture, the nascent settlement had the appearance of a global village, with a diversity in its population to match its appearance. Unfortunately, Constantine died before he could visit his new city in all of its glory, leaving the task of completing his project to his adopted son.
Slavery in the empire
Although the conversion of the empire to Christianity did not influence its general policy toward slaves, the wars instigated by its emperor certainly affected the demography of slaves. For one thing, over a million slaves were captured during the short reign of Constantine: ~700,000 Persians, ~300,000 Scythians, ~200,000 Nubians, and tens of thousands more from regular trade with Germanic and African tribes. This reversed a trend over the last century of relative peace, under which the number of slaves had steadily fallen despite economic discouragement of manumission by taxes and regulations. Furthermore, it offset the release of several hundred thousand slaves with an order that any slaves who came from the persecution of Christians had to be released.
Constantine began a trend of basically using Persia as a source for slaves, starting a demographic shift in the slave population. Future emperors would continue to capture large numbers of slaves whenever they went to war with Persia. This policy only had the effect of encouraging more wars with the oriental giant, one of the primary reasons for the devastating Roman-Sassanid War of the 5th century CE. When Rome was not expanding, such conflicts maintained an average of six million slaves in the empire for the next few centuries, despite moderate growth in the population.
Slaves enjoyed relatively decent treatment under Roman masters. From Augustus to Marcus Aurelius, emperors had given slaves rights, such as suing their masters in court for mistreatment, and had recognized them as people (personae) in front of the law. Emperor Sulla had expanded the rights of slaves to provide for their health and guarantee a higher standard of living, almost to the point that, in the empire, it was better to be a slave than a foreigner. Romans also believed that every person was free by nature but that under circumstances of civil societies the freedom of men was reduced to a state of servitude to another person.
In addition to releasing those enslaved for heresy under earlier emperors, Constantine also outlawed capturing anyone who was a Christian as a slave. Although slaves who converted to Christianity could be kept (a weird dissonance in policies intended to stop dishonest conversion by slaves), anyone captured with items of Christian worship would have to be released by the legionaries or the traders who found the person. A person enslaved in spite of this law could fight their case in court (with varied success).
Funerals and burial
Roman funerals were highly visible events. People with even modest wealth were expected to hold an elaborate, public funeral procession from the deceased's home to where the person would be cremated or inhumed. Although inhumation had become more and more common since the time of Trajan, many funerals still involved cremation. As patricians converted to Christianity, they abided by most traditional funeral customs of Romans. For this reason, the practices that were spreading among Christians, mostly inherited from Jewish culture, were entirely ignored by patricians. In support of the discretion with which patricians before Constantine practiced their religion, priests told Roman citizens that there were no Christian obligations for particular funeral practices, except that the body must be treated with respect.
Once Christianity was endorsed by the state, precedents had been set and the new community naturally adopted Roman customs for funerals. However, sacrifices and libations to the deceased and to Ceres were replaced by Christian burial rites given by a sacerdos (priest) within the community. Inhumation would now be preceded by consecration of the grounds where the body would be lain. Christians saw no spiritual necessity in these practices but they were seen as respectful to the dead.
Constantine solidified the continuation of Roman practices with his own funeral. When he died in 339 CE, his funeral procession began with the consecration of his body in the partially repaired Capitoline Temple, proceeding down to the Forum Romanum and along the Via Sacra to the Flavian Amphitheater. From there, his body - accompanied by tens of thousands of mourners - passed the Circus Maximus toward the Porta Capena, out of which he would be taken to his modest mausoleum far from Rome. As a matter of symbolism, this procession acted as the reverse of a Triumph, taking the imperator away rather than toward Rome. His body was lain in a sarcophagus of ornate design, reflecting both Roman and Christian conceptions of the afterlife.
World in 339 AD
Rome was a warm hearth for the fostering of human civilization, but it was hardly its only home. In the Far East, the Chinese prospered under the Jin dynasty, despite the loss of a third of its territory to barbarians from the north. Although lacking in the firm stability of Rome, the Jin had a far more advanced country than any in the Western world. Almost completely unaffected by events in the Roman Empire, China boasted more than 50 million people, over half the population of Rome, and held sway over nearly 3,000,000 square kilometers of territory. Nothing affiliated with the Senate could compare with the efficient bureaucracy of the Jin and only the Great Judaean Wall was a comparable structure to the immense canal system running through China.
Beyond the Atlantic, city-states of the Maya civilization flourished through trade with Mexica settlements. The most remarkable of all cities on this continent was Teotihuacan, an incredible agglomeration of over 200,000 people. These states were poised to enter a period of growth and prosperity, if only lacking a sufficient technological push.
Statistics for the Roman Empire of 339 AD
Population: 86 million people (32.5% of humans), including ~6 million slaves
Area: 7,016,000 square kilometers
GDP: 6.1 billion denarii (~$67 billion US)
Treasury: 11 million denarii (~$121 million US)
National debt: -none-
Government revenue: 545 million denarii (~$5.99 billion US), 8.9% of GDP
Military spending: 185 million denarii (33.9% of revenue or 3% of GDP)
Military size: 156,000 legionaries (30 legions), 202,970 auxiliaries and 10,000 praetorian guards
Legislature: 600 senators
Christianity: 67% of citizens
|Reign of Heracleitus:
1025 (272)-1067 (314)
|Reign of Constantine:
1067 (314)-1092 (339)
|Reign of Agricola:|
1092 (339)-1113 (360)