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|Reign of Constantine:|
1067 (314)-1092 (339)
|Reign of Agricola:|
1092 (339)-1113 (360)
|Reign of Sapiens:|
1113 (360)-1148 (395)
Receiving a stable financial situation from his father, the young Gnaeus Aurelius Agricola only needed to avoid major follies and he could be remembered as a good emperor. However, there were high expectations for the adopted Greek. Public knowledge of his publications on natural philosophy and stoicism led senators to infer he was of a similar mind to Marcus Aurelius. They were right not only in terms of Agricola's ideals but also his similar horror imperii about taking the curule throne.
Tax & Census reform (339-350)
On 14 May 339 CE, Caesar Agricola began his reign by doing nothing. After a brief inaugural festival, he dismissed the Senate for the day and retired to the Domus Augustana on the Palatine. On the following day, senators received messages from him that ordered the cessation of all discretionary spending, maintaining only those services necessary for the public (e.g. army, hospitals). Vague reference to something unpleasant, should they refuse, cautioned senators and officials from ignoring his demands.
More observant senators noticed that some funds were still being spent by Agricola himself, for the purpose of sending couriers out into the provinces, but otherwise, no one directly interacted with Agricola for seven months. There were rumors among the people of Rome that horror imperii (fear of power) had claimed the emperor's mind and made him snap, supported by the tendency for a message to arrive near the start of sessions for the Senate, telling them not to convene.
Fortunately, people's fears were assuaged when letters were distributed before the end of the year, asking senators to attend an assembly of the Senate on the first day of the new year. The promise of seeing the new and reclusive emperor brought nearly the entire governing body to the Curia on that day. The speech that Agricola delivered when the Senate convened changed the minds of many senators, who had previously believed that the emperor was craven or insane.
As his first public action, Agricola announced sweeping tax reforms throughout the empire. The head tax that Heracleitus had imposed on citizens was repealed for plebs and lightened for patricians; internal duties on shipping goods from Mediterranean ports were abolished but tariffs on foreign mercantile goods were more than doubled to lessen the fall in revenue; and more than a dozen other changes were imposed, generally decreasing the number of existing taxes but raising the burden of others. Over the course of half an hour, the new emperor had cut revenue for the state down by a third (back to around 5% of GDP).
After specifying these changes, Agricola announced the union of the treasuries for the Senate and imperial family, combining them into one account, known as the Fiscus, owned by the emperor but shared with the Senate, allowing an emperor to openly restrict funding to magistrates or the Senate itself when deemed necessary. Using this control, Agricola would maintain a near total balance of spending throughout the rest of his reign, neither overspending nor spending too frugally.
Before discussing one last reform, the emperor spoke at length about the failures of present tax farming practices in the province and praised the efficiency of the mode of collection in Italia, where civil servants gathered taxes from citizens. He described the process of allowing publicani to bid for contracts to collect taxes in a province as an uncivilized way to treat Roman citizens and as only appropriate for the military subjects of the empire. Arguing that even peregrini (non-citizens) ought to be treated as civil subjects as citizens are, Agricola posed a procedure for abolishing tax farming throughout the empire, over the course of a year.
Overhauling taxation was a difficult task, requiring an entirely new sector for the administration in Rome. Agricola proposed the election of one quaestor (fiscal supervisor) for each of the 46 provinces, excepting the imperial properties of Aegyptus and Armenia. These men of senatorial rank would be tasked with supervising a team of civil servants hired throughout the year to collect direct taxes throughout the assigned province of the quaestor. In this capacity, a quaestor would act beyond the jurisdiction of the governor of his province and would report directly to the Senate that elected him. As part of his duties, a quaestor had the supreme authority of auditing financial records within his province, especially those of his numerarii (accountants) and fisci (civil tax collectors). As always, some taxes would be collected in currency whereas some farmers would pay in grain, olive oil, or whatever foodstuffs could be transported to Rome or to army camps. In all their work, tax collectors in the new system were to be directed using information gathered as part of the Census.
For this reason, the other project for which Agricola has long been remembered is the expansion of the Census. His aim was for the Census to furnish a list of every person living within the empire that would associate factors relevant to wealth with each of those people - whether a civis (citizen) or peregrinus (non-citizen). Among these factors were monetary income, location, social order, financial savings, family ties, profession, and property value. For the purpose of gathering such information, Agricola hired hundreds of more censitores (census-takers) and had numerous censitoria (census offices) established in cities throughout the Roman Empire. A tremendous amount of papyrus and numerous wax tablets were to become staple purchases to record all of the information gathered by censitores, for transport to storage vaults in the capital.
Using this data, people were classified under income brackets, grouping them according to their ability to pay taxes. Of course, since most people did not have a monetary salary, the Census was designed to account for alternate means of payment. For example, in surveying a farm, a census-taker would ask how much land its tenants planned to devote to growing certain crops. The amount of each would get recorded, allowing an estimate of their harvests for the following few years. A quaestor was to have a number of numerarii (accountants) to perform most calculations required to implement such a system. The financial analysis using data from the Census was primitive and employed qualitative reasoning rather than quantitative statistical reasoning but it did the job well enough to avoid dramatic inefficiencies or gross injustices - all in all a drastic improvement over earlier procedures.
While less wealthy citizens were exempt from the head tax, they were expected to pay a modest income tax, taking a proportion of wages that grew with personal income (a progressive mode of taxation). For example, a person earning less than 50 denarii in a year did not pay any direct monetary taxes, but may owe the state taxes in-kind, such as in wheat or in metal ingots. Anyone who owned land had to pay a property tax which varied from one province or city to the next. Agricola pioneered the widespread utilization of property taxes to control the migration of people, a practice that future administrations would use to great effect. There have been times since Agricola when the Senate publicized that a certain city or province was exempt from property taxes for a specific period of time, motivating people to immigrate to there. In the future, colonization of new territories would be heavily encouraged using advertised property tax exemptions or other financial incentives.
Coming on the heels of a major abolition of other taxes, the income tax of Agricola was not poorly received by the public, even the wealthy citizens who were most severely affected. Although state revenue still fell from its levels ever since the Urban crisis, the tremendous rise in efficiency of tax collectors and the permanent end to abuses under the tax farming system were recognized for their positive effects even by contemporary commentators.
Since tax collectors were now employed and could not simply be hired during certain times of the year, taxes were to be gathered continuously in the new system. In this way, fewer collectors could gather a large amount by spreading their collection throughout the year based on location within a province. Further reducing the number of required fisci was the practice of getting people living near a banca (bank) to pay through their local bank, at a time of year that varied from one province to another. Households that were assigned this mode of payment during the Census (as taxes and surveys were done by household rather than by person) would receive simple instructions on how much to pay the bank at the appointed time. Meanwhile, each bank assigned this duty was required to record all payments. In principle, someone whose taxes were not recorded as paid at the specified location would be approached by a fiscus to resolve the discrepancy (either the bank neglected to record the payment or the taxpayer did not pay his due taxes). Of course, discrepancies could also be overlooked.
Households situated far away from any banks paid their taxes when a fiscus came in person to collect. Either an amount of coin specified during the last Census had to be paid to the fiscus or a specified quantity of something in-kind had to be available for transport. Merchants or soldiers who would be away from home during tax collection were required to arrange other means of payment through the Census or by special arrangement at one of the censitoria found in most towns. In more wild locations, the Senate arranged with chieftains or village leaders to pay some amount of tributum (poll tax) on behalf of their people.
Indirect taxes continued to be collected in various forms. However, the number and complexity of these taxes was reduced by the first reorganization of taxes. An inheritance tax for citizens above a certain net worth was always taken at 5% of the inheritance (vicesima hereditatium) while the manumission tax under Agricola was brought as low as 1% of the slave's price. In the future, the manumission tax would rise as high 20% of the original price to discourage the freeing of slaves. A major source of income was the portoria (customs duties) on imports and exports through Roman ports. Although Agricola had abolished the interprovince form of this tax, future administrations would implement a new one when money became tight. In general, Agricola inspired a strong and persistent movement for freedom of trade within the Roman Empire, making it a symbol of Roman civilization, so such a tax was a highly unpopular and often strongly opposed tool for raising state revenues.
Other indirect taxes were applied to salt, jewelry, dyes, silk, and certain fruits somewhere during the commercial process. These varied frequently enough that tracking their changes, additions, or removals through time would be nearly impossible and highly tedious. Nevertheless, they are worth mentioning at least once in a complete history. Most taxes on goods were enforced at a fixed rate for a certain quantity of the item and were almost never collected at the market stage of their distribution.
An advantage of the new tax system was predictability for taxpayers. After a Census, someone living in the empire was locked into a certain amount of direct taxes until the next Census. Private spending became easier to plan around annual payments and saving money in a bank became less risky once people knew exactly how much they would owe the government. More importantly, the new system protected taxpayers and the government from collectors who hustle people for more money or pocket some of what they gather. Neither crime was feasible in the face of the meticulous bookkeeping of the quaestorian accountants. The downside was that someone who suffered a calamitous loss of wealth or income would be incapable of meeting the agreed taxes - a situation that was partially accounted for through the option of requesting re-evaluation of wealth at a censitorium.
Overall, Agricolan taxation can be summarized as the transition from tax farming to civil tax collection. As in Italy, tax collectors in all the provinces were now being paid a fixed salary and the merchants who would have bid on contracts to collect taxes were no longer spending their money on unproductive investments, freeing some more money for more entrepeneurial endeavors. Instead of wealthy merchants, tax collectors were now drawn from the literate, lower class.
As for the new Census, there were now almost five hundred censitores employed in censitoria across the empire. Each one would visit hundreds of homes per day, eventually covering the entire population of the Roman Empire over a period of four to six years when combined with his coworkers. Within a few decades, the regular visits of census-takers to Roman homes entered popular culture as a well-established trope, becoming the topic of plays, jokes, and novels.
One minor reform implemented a few years into his reign was the practice of recycling coinage in Italy. Although the state always took old coins to mint new coins whenever convenient, Agricola started the procedure of actively collecting all coins in Italian cities through deposits made in bancae (banks) by citizens. Whatever money was in a bank would be regularly exchanged with collectors for more recent coins, ensuring the widespread distribution of new coinage. In the empire, coins served a secondary purpose of mass dissemination of information and propaganda, motivating the state to keep the circulation of coins as fresh as possible. At this time, banks were sufficiently widespread and the emperor sufficiently saavy to implement such a system in the homeland.
Future emperors would employ the same practice to varying degrees - from ceasing to collect coins on this scale to collecting coins from the banks of multiple provinces. By the 9th century, the procedure of replacing coins in banks became a permanent feature for all provinces in the empire. The Senate viewed the renewal of coinage as essential to keeping the common people appraised of the situation in the capital, both by the image of the emperor on one side and by the changing symbolic image on the other side.
As taxation became more sophisticated, Agricola deployed the resources of the treasury to improving other aspects of the empire. In his view, a weakness of the present system of government was the imbalance of wealth between Italy and the provinces, which he had mitigated by bringing the Italian method of taxation into the latter realm (reducing the chances of abusive tax collection). Like a brain greedily drawing blood from its extremities, Rome had hurt itself by consuming more and more of the provincial wealth. The capital and the empire as a whole were expected to benefit greatly from attention to major cities elsewhere.
For this purpose, Agricola wanted to develop strong commercial and administrative centers outside Italy. Several committees were formed in 340 by senatorial decree to organize the allocation of spending in a number of major cities. Devoting the wealth of the treasury toward cities outside Italy was unusual for Rome, with the exception of the minor transfer payments to the Consuls of each client nation, so the development programs of Agricola had strong effects on local wealth and commerce. For illustration, the three cities that received the most extensive improvement are discussed below:
In 212, the colony of Corellia was founded as an administrative capital for the province of Caledonia (Scotland). By 340 CE, it had reached a population of 90,000 citizens, making it the largest city in Britain after Londinium. For defense, early governors had built the original city within a circular wall and later governors had encircled the growing city in a second layer. From afar, Corellia was an impressive sight but up close, it did not meet the standards of other urbes (cities); there was an amphitheater of unimpressive size from before the growth of the city and marketplaces were haphazardly distributed throughout the city. To make matters worse, the aqueduct service only met the necessities of its residents, leaving little water for public baths and fountains.
Despite the relative infertility of Scottish farmland, Roman agriculture was sophisticated enough for the few farmers to improve the land and work it with an efficiency close to 200 kg of grain per acre of barley. Even at this rate, most of the arable land in the region was used for pastures. Since Corellia was one of the few major settlements in the area, the region could afford a large population growth without needing to draw from nearby supplies of food.
The highest priority in improving Corellia was to expand the viae (highways) and aquae (aqueducts) feeding into the city. Access to fresh water was more than tripled over the next decade while small roads branched into the far reaches of the Scottish highlands. A third layer of circular walls was built half a kilometer outside the earlier outer walls. Within this ring, the foundations were laid for a ~518 m long circus. Constructed from southern stone, this Circus Caledonis was the grandest spectator arena outside Rome, bringing national prestige to the province upon its completion.
A northern section of the outer ring became an urban park called the Horti Agricolae (Gardens of Agricola), with terraces fed by aqueducts. A public hospital (galenaria) was built near the city center, a large bakery was converted into a bank, and the original forum was expanded by almost 2.5 times its old size by relocating people living nearby. In the middle of the forum, residents could now walk up stairs onto a terrace whose edges were lined with gardens and whose center featured a prominent fountain. The floor of this terrace rose 4.7 m above the surrounding forum, allowing residents to look down to the markets from through the trees of its small gardens. Romans seeking a place to sell their wares were encouraged by the government to set up shop in this Forum Sullae as efforts were made to tear down the little markets that dotted the city.
Docks on the mouth of the Fluvius Clota (River Clyde) were expanded and shoddy wharves were torn down to open up navigable space among the new docks. Wool and hides were the major export materials of Scotland but a burgeoning silver industry was beginning to be noticeable as more veins of ore were discovered and more workers came to exploit them. The presence of legions in Scotland and nearby Hibernia (Ireland) made iron a heavily demanded product for import into Corellia. Overall, the city was well on its way to becoming a major trading power in the Oceanus Atlanticus, lacking only the population that would come with time.
With its recent development under Constantine, the city of Byzantium was a natural target for urban improvement by the treasury. There were explicit directions from Agricola to focus on the commercial and financial development of the new city. With no taxes on property, subsidies for colonization, and rumors of indoor plumbing in every house, Byzantium easily went from 9,000 citizens in 340 CE to 118,000 citizens only ten years later. This population of relatively wealthy citizens had an impact on the success of the city in the more sophisticated financial markets of Roman society.
No project contributed more to the central importance of Byzantium to the Roman economy than the construction of the national treasury vaults on the plateau of the second hill from the Bosporus straits. The enormous Aerarium (Treasury House) had a coin capacity equivalent to fifty times the revenue for the year construction started (a total of 20 billion denarii). Another vault lay beneath the main floor for the storage of raw gold and silver in form of bars (libralea). Over two decades, the precious reserves in Rome were transported to Byzantium for permanent storage in the new aerarium.
Constantine himself had already prepared enough aqueducts for hundreds of thousands of residents but there was no proper road network within and around the city. Highways spacious enough for four carriages connected Byzantium to two of the main highways in the region - one to Athens and another to Aquileia. Arrangements were made for Pera, the fertile land across the Keras (the Golden Horn) to be sold to national and local aristocrats as a place for suburban villas free from urban congestion but close enough to see the skyline and to send slaves to the markets. Villas were comfortably spaced by their buyers to leave room for large public and private gardens on that side of the Horn.
Some people complained that reaching the city was difficult from there, requiring their slaves to travel by ferry across the Golden Horn. The emperor sent messengers assuring them that he would remedy this situation. Sure enough, in 353, a bridge across the Keras was finished, extending from a point between the third and fourth hills of Byzantium. Agricola's Bridge (Pontum Agricolium) crossing a 403 m gap, with a central arch spanning a record 62 m across up to a height of 71 m at its keystone. This would allow ships to go farther into the planned harbors of the Golden Horn despite the presence of the bridge.
An extension to the forum was implemented, in 349, by adding another plaza south of the Basilica Valeria. This addition was smaller than the Augustaeum but allowed for a larger number of market stalls in the area and created space for the main slave market in the city. Auctions for goods, services, and slaves could be led by an auctioneer shouting from the porch at the top of an imperial staircase at the southern end of the extension - directly opposite the Basilica Valeria. The upper landing or porch for this staircase was a popular spot for merchants to relax, whenever there were no ongoing auctions in the forum. Looking out from one of its railings gave one a perfect view of the stunning Basilica Valeria, with the new Arch of Constantine able to be seen standing behind it near the center of the Augustaeum.
By the end of the century, the population of Byzantium had risen to about 320,000 citizens with their 18,000 slaves. A small number of peregrini would visit the city for commerce but they were not permitted to own land, forcing them into rentable apartments (insulae) that were generally regarded as slum housing. Overall, Byzantium had risen to the foremost settlement in Greece, surpassing Athens and Corinthia in size and influence. Only Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome rivaled its grandeur.
Second only to Rome, Alexandria was a beautiful city full of historical landmarks, bustling markets, and productive academies. As a locus for the grain supply to Rome, Alexandria had maintained its earlier supremacy from under Ptolemaic kings. Millions of modii of food annually passed through its ports and thousands of wealthy merchants called it their home. This city more than any other was vital to the survival of Rome and the wealth of its empire.
Located on an isthmus between Lake Mareotis and the Mediterranean Sea, Alexandria had one of the largest harbors in the world, situated in the waters separating the Isle of Pharos from the rest of the city. The legendary Lighthouse of Pharos had fallen lately into disrepair, prompting the committee to renovate it and expand it to a height of 151 m. When construction finished in July of 357, Pharos Lighthouse had become the tallest structure in the world, surpassing the Great Pyramids. Its island could still be reached along a causeway called the Heptastadion which also served as an aqueduct bringing water to the fort and the Temple of Isis Phariae on the southern shore.
Workers were sent into the harbor waters to excavate the sea floor, deepening the harbor and removing dangerous sections so that ships could more easily maneuver in port. Little islands in the harbor were also flattened into the sea bed. With the extra room, docks were expanded so that dozens of more ships could simultaneously enter port. A plaza extending into the harbor was built around the Timonium, the theater on the water, so that residents could relax by the shore while listening to music and plays emanating out from the theater.
Near the navalia (docks), the Institution of the Muses (Musaeum) was once the foremost center of scholarship in the West, cementing the intellectual influence of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. Under the Roman Empire, the Musaeum had long since declined due to purges toward the end of Ptolemaic rule. Agricola sought to reestablish this library as an academic crossroads. Scholars throughout Italy and Greece were invited with generous incentives to relocate to Alexandria. About sixty specific mathematicians, poets, and philosophers were brought to the city by 351 CE using these incentives.
Buildings on the eastern side of the Museaum were demolished to create space for an enclosed gardens or cloister (claustrum) where artists and poets could work in peace and quiet. This was a massive enclosure, surrounded by an 84 m long colonnade with dozens of 7.6 m tall marble Corinthian columns. Scholars traveling back to Greece brought news of the beauty of this private space, encouraging more academics to visit or work in the Musaeum. Improvements to the Musaeum generally aimed at providing a more welcoming and inspiring atmosphere for artists, poets, and philosophers. All works from the Serapeum, a religious institute for scholarship and a subset of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Library of Alexandria), were forcibly relocated to the Musaeum as a means of further magnifying the prestige of that institution.
Surveyors working for the committee, along the harbor, noticed that some of the land along the eastern shoreline was subsiding into the harbor. The subsidence was only evident as cracks in the road and awkward sloping of some buildings but it posed a possible future risk for houses and the old Antirrhodus Palace out on the harbor. Careful digging permitted the installment of brick supports underneath sections of the palace as well as some houses in the region. Over a period of about a dozen years, the road was excavated to place a new road upon firmer foundations with their own drainage to prevent nearby subsidence.
After the founding of the Ecclesia Catholica through a national council held in the Didascalium Alexandriae, the school took off as the most celebrated theological school in the empire. A handful of Augures, who were the ultimate Christian authority on interpreting the Biblia (the Book), had permanently relocated to the Didascalium, guiding its direction and teaching students. Orthodox doctrine was unflinchingly enforced here, with official views decided by the resident augurs.
Numerius Volusius Victor was a student at the Didascalium, taught under the augur Quintus Junius starting around 367 CE. After several years of study, Victor traveled to Syria where he learned Hebrew under the guidance of a converted Jew and spent time with local Jewish Christians. Parts of the Hebrew Gospel were translated by Victor during this time. On his way to Rome, he was ordained by Bishop Epiphanius of Cyprus, after a brief stay in Salamis. What he found in Rome shocked his fragile sensibilities. Immediately, Victor spoke out against the hedonistic lifestyles of wealthy Romans. His condemnation of the wives of several prominent Roman senators led to some adopting his ascetic practices and other vocally retaliating against him. When Eusebia, daughter of Consul Vorenus, died five months after following Victor's instructions on an ascetic lifestyle, Rome became polarized against Victor, forcing him to return to Antioch. Several female and a few male friends accompanied Victor, who acted as their spiritual adviser. He brought them to Hierosolyma (Jerusalem) where some resolved to spend the rest of their days.
When his followers had learned enough, Victor sailed west to Alexandria, himself seeking to learn from other ascetics. There he taught at the Didascalium while learning about asceticism in the tradition of Anthony. This future saint had inspired hundreds of other monks and priests in Egypt by his long exile in the desert during the persecution of Christians under Heracleitus. Written after his death was the observation that "[f]or monks, the life of Anthony is a sufficient example of asceticism." Victor learned his philosophy and went out into the desert for two years. Upon his return, he conveyed some of his own teachings to other monks before leaving to Bethlehem in 391 to pursue the rest of his years as a hermit. There his old followers brought him books in his secluded home and spread word to other priests about his writings.
For the rest of his days, Victor wrote incessantly, producing dozens of translations and original treatises. Most of Victor's more important works belong to these final 23 years of his life: extensive scriptural commentaries, a version of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew, and a summary of the lives of several prominent Christian authors from Alexandria. Among these later texts are eloquent apologetics in support of Pelagianism - the Christian doctrine that there is no original sin and that human intellect is naturally capable of both good and evil, with every choice depending on that person's free will.
The latter works argued that human beings were created as rational creatures, in their similarity to God. Impulses were identified with the non-divine aspects of mankind and the weakness of a will, in allowing such inclinations to direct the intellect. In acknowledgement of the Jewish tradition of bar mitzvah, Victor wrote that at a certain age, a person becomes responsible for his or her actions and becomes capable of sin. For this reason, infant baptism was unnecessary except as a customary way of welcoming a child into the community and proper baptism should occur once a person had at least passed the age of 13. Victor recommended that the baptism should happen willingly, citing the example of Jesus in the New Testament.
Writings of Victor form the basis for the slow phasing out of infant baptism by the Church and the eventual adoption of a practice wherein young adults would be baptized when they expressed willingness to join the Christian community. So persuasive were his writing that Augustine of Hippo is recorded to have changed his position on infant baptism after being presented with Victor's reasons for delaying baptism until adulthood. In 418, a great synod was held in Alexandria - the Second Council of Alexandria - wherein numerous bishops and the Pope himself adjudicated in favor of Victor on the subject.
The life of Saint Victor is only one of the more prominent accounts of Christian scholars whose lives and works were propelled by their studies at the Didascalium of Alexandria. Although the school was not directly improved by the committee, it benefited from the growing academic community of the city fostered by the growth of the Musaeum.
By the end of the century, Alexandria would reach a population of 780,000, over half the number of people in the capital. By the same year, Corellia grew to encompass 170,000 people, keeping pace with the growing city of Londinium. Other cities that saw similar growth due to the efforts of Agricola include Londinium, Parisium, Treverorum, Napoca, Aelana, and Saguntum. Ports were expanded, specific crafts developed, and Roman facilities (e.g. banks, hospitals, temples) were commissioned as these places became further integrated into the national commerce and culture of the empire.
There were several reversals of traditional Roman demographic characteristics during the 4th century CE. Urbanization outside of Italy ramped up as citizens immigrated to other provinces and infrastructure within major cities steadily improved. The public postal service permitted reliable communication between merchants and nobles situated throughout the empire, allowing for longer distance agreements for trade to form, with some merchants disseminating general proposals for trade in an early form of advertising. Interested merchants in the targeted cities could respond by mail with a deal, opening direct trade.
Another major shift of this century was the explosion of Christianity within a formerly polytheistic population. As with most shifts in the Roman Empire, this process can be summarized by separately discussing its causes among the nobility and the commoners.
Before the Valerian Edict was passed, the equites already accepted Christianity by a strong majority and nowhere was this more noticeable than in the Senate. The interest of the Roman elite in Christianity was largely the result of the popularity of Stoicism; its monadic worldview and characterization of divinity as a single, impersonal force was dissonant with polytheism. However, there was also the constant exposure of wealthy Romans to news of Christian persecutions and a growing sympathy toward Christians for their pacifism under these persecutions. Sympathy turned into agreement, driven in part by the consonance of Christianity with their prevailing views about the divine.
Plebes went through their own conversions for entirely different reasons. Their inclination toward Christian values was on a more directly emotional level, in liking the thought of a bodily resurrection of the dead and reward for suffering in life. These doctrines were appealing to the lower-classes, bringing them into the Christian fold at the same time as the elite. Christian practice of helping the poor through charity also accelerated conversion of the masses, as centers of Christian worship were often the primary recourse for the poor in larger towns and cities.
Scholars were a third demographic whose religious convictions shifted from polytheism to Christianity during the 3rd century. Stoics aligned themselves with Christians for the same reasons as the upper-class but they were not the only ones. Followers of the Greek philosopher Plotinus supported Christian doctrine, identifying their concept of the Infinite with that of God. Through many philosophers and theologians in this Platonic school, aspects of Christian doctrine were actually shaped by the ways of thinking espoused in the Platonism of Plotinus (a position which could be distinguished by the term Neoplatonism). Not only did Neoplatonists strongly influence Christianity but early Christian ideas had large effects on Neoplatonism.
One of the most influential works of the Platonic tradition of this era is the Enneads, a collection of the writings of Plotinus that was published by his student Porphyry around the reign of Aurelian. Covered in that text are such diverse religious, ethical and cosmological topics as causes of motion in the stars, optical effects of distance, happiness in relation to virtue, freedom of the human and divine wills, the nature of thought and immortality of the soul. Among its sections was a criticism of Gnosticism, a Platonic religion teaching that the creator of nature is evil (i.e. dystheism) and that goodness can be achieved through certain ascetic-philanthropic practices. Gnostic views came under heavy criticism as Church influence spread.
Neoplatonism played no role in the demographic growth of Christianity during the 3rd century but its influence on Christian beliefs were sufficiently widespread to garner the philosophy greater support in the empire, to the point that a new Platonic Academy was created by one of its members in 412. On a national level, Stoicism remained the dominant philosophy for intellectuals and remained a driving force for the spread of Christianity within educated demographics.
A more straightforward demographic shift in the empire was the gradual stagnation of its population size. Concentration of people in cities created breeding grounds for diseases such as smallpox and malaria. Outbreaks were usually local - not posing a threat to the empire at large - but were consistent enough to seriously affect growth. Citizens were far less negatively affected by disease than peregrini as they would be quarantined at a galenaria (hospital) upon their next visit to a medicus and had social customs which were much more restrictive toward the sick, passed down from doctors who would warn about the dangers of proximity to the sick as a part of their preventative medicines. Equestrians regarded people who seemed ill as though they were lepers while other citizens would at least tread cautiously around the sick.
With such depopulation, it is easier to list the cities and regions that did not suffer widespread illness. All of Italy was comparatively safe both due to its unmatched access to hospitals and its fewer impoverished urban non-citizens for spreading disease. Greece, Egypt, and Judaea suffered few regional epidemics for similar reasons; and the cities of Corellia, Londinium, Carthago, Lugdunum, Antioch, Emerita Augusta, alongside about a hundred small coloniae were proportionally well enough equipped to prevent the excessive spreading of disease within their city limits. Citizens everywhere had broadly free access to hospitals, giving them advantages in cities riddled with the sick but these particular cities offered the additional benefits of adequate fresh water supplies and in some cases sewage systems as well as public latrines to prevent the spread of disease.
Agricola made a point of draining marshes around Italy and Caledonia, imitating the practices of Ancient Romans. This policy went a great distance toward preventing the spread of diseases in these ill times. Malaria incidence over the next few centuries drastically diminished without the marshes around Rome and other Italian cities.
In cities losing people through disease, decline was slow and often mitigated by a rural exodus. Farmers would tend to have such a large number of children that even of the ones that survived, one or two from every family would emigrate to one of the larger cities, seeking a mercantile lifestyle or jobs with wealthy craftsmen. Caesarea and Leptis Magna were some of the few disease-ridden cities that managed to steadily increase in population by offsetting their losses with rural immigrants. Enough farmers were moving to cities that there were also few regions whose rural population noticeably increased.
In discussing population decline from disease, it is important to be clear that depopulation due to disease was not constant or consistent in the sense that over the century there were people dying every day at a gradual, unchanging pace. Rather, this depopulation was the result of sporadic epidemics similar to the Antonine Plague in 165 or the Plague of Carthage in 250. Although most cases were less severe than these two epidemics, there was the notable Plague of Constantine in Pannonia around 331, as well as the Maurian Plague in 352. While the latter two killed a combined 130,000 people, many millions more died over the period of 230-540 through occasional and usually provincial epidemics.
Population growth and dissemination of Romans was also proportionally moved along by a combination of laws promoting the bearing of more children by citizens and incentives pushing Romans out of Italian cities. Roman citizens multiplied like no other group within the empire and spread themselves among the provinces.
Altogether, the effect of this situation was a growing share of the total population for Italian and Greeks. By the end of the 10th century CE, nearly 75% of the population were Roman citizens while more than 10% of people had mixed Hellenic-Roman heritage. As Egyptians, Numidians, and Syrians acquired citizenship on a grand scale, they began to enjoy similar growth in numbers. This demographic shift stands as one of the most significant developments during the classical era and is the driving factor behind the prominent ethnographic shifts that became evident toward the 8th and 9th centuries.
Administrative & judicial reforms (351-360)
Provinces in the Imperium Romanum were governed through a simple system. Either a Legatus Augusti would be appointed by the emperor as governor of the province and its legions, in which case it was an imperial province, or a Proconsul would be elected in the Senate to govern the province, in which case it was a proconsular province. Only the former had garrisons of more than a few legions, lessening the chance that the Senate would try to seize power from the Caesar. As of the time when Octavian established this system, only Achaea, Macedonia and Epirus in Greece; Baetica in Hispania; Bithynia, Cyprus, Asia and Lycia in Anatolia; Cyrenaica and Africa Proconsularis in Africa; Aquitania, Narbonensis, and Alpes Ulterior in Gaul; and obviously Corsica, Sardinia, Sicilia, and Italia around Italy were proconsular provinces.
Emperors after Sulla were reluctant to return control over their imperial provinces to the Senate but Agricola was no such ruler. A number of provinces had proven themselves sufficiently stable to merit the redistribution of their legions and return of control to the Senate. Agricola had no motivation to continue holding tightly onto these provinces and saw benefits to concentrating legions into the provinces which were most in need of their protection.
On this head, Agricola handed control over Lugdunensis to a Proconsul in March of 350 CE. Soon to follow was Galatia in 351 and Moesia Superior in 352. When the committee for Byzantium was disbanded in 357, Thracia became proconsular to reflect its supposedly greater civic freedom, according to senatorial propaganda. In the same year, Alpes Maritimae and Cilicia also became proconsular provinces. The last administrative changes were the transitions of Dalmatia and Belgica to proconsular status on the year of Agricola's death. This change in past trends was a tremendous leap in the power of the Senate, effectively bringing the majority of the empire under its direct governorship.
As a brief note, provinces that were still governed by imperial legates were Hibernia, Caledonia, Britannia, Raetia, Noricum, Germania Inferior, Germania Superior, Pannonia Inferior, Dacia, Moesia Inferior, Cappadocia, Armenia, Judaea, Syria, Mesopotamia, Arabia, Aegyptus, Mauritania Caesarensis, Mauretania Tingitana, Lusitania, Tarraconensis, and Nubia. In total, this covers the 46 provinces that constituted the Imperium Romanum.
Legions from what had become proconsular provinces were relocated, allowing for a moderate reorganization of the peacetime distribution of troops. Along the Dacian frontier were four legions, shared by the legati augusti of Dacia and Moesia Inferior. Four legions were stationed on the limes germanicus, concentrated south of the Vallum Germanicum where they would be most useful. Another three patrolled between Vindobona and Aquincum. On the limes tripolitanus there were two legions, spending most of their time in Mauritania away from the wall. On both sides of the Vallum Magnum Judaecum Agricola allocated nine legions, leaving about two-thirds outside the wall. In total, there were 22 legions along the frontiers of the Roman Empire.
Among the remaining imperial provinces there were two legions in Hibernia, one in Britain, two between Nubia and Egypt and the remaining two legions were shared between the provinces of Hispania. Under this reorganization, two legions were able to be disbanded, lifting some of the financial burden of maintaining the grand armies of the empire. Agricola codified this distribution into a small set of laws that were immune to modification by the Senate but permitted temporary redistribution in case of war. There were similar re-distributions of auxiliary troops among the various imperial and even proconsular provinces. The new military network of Agricola was an important stage in Rome's transition to a more unified territory.
As the number of citizens beyond Italy grew, demand increased for more courts of Roman law in which to settle criminal and civil disputes between citizens (peregrini were permitted to settle their private disputes but were subject to certain public laws). In Rome, judicial procedure fell under the jurisdiction of Praetores, the highest magistrates for presiding over law beside emperors. For regular cases of private law, a judge would be proposed by the prosecution and permitted by the defendant, from a list of licensed judges maintained collectively by the praetors. For delicta publica (crimes dangerous to the public), a praetor would serve as presiding iudex (judge). Over the last four centuries, various fields of crimes that threatened the public were gradually recognized by the magistrates of Rome, motivating the institution of specific magistrates to judge criminal cases in each field.
By the time of Agricola, there were eighteen praetors presiding over the public courts of Rome:
- Praetor Urbanus, issuing the Edictum Perpetuum, the criminal laws upheld at the reigning emperor's discretion so that previously legislated civil law could be modified or extended by an emperor
- Praetor Peregrinus, who arbitrated in public conflicts between peregrini (freeborn non-citizens) and cives (citizens)
- Praetor Fiscus, who arbitrated between the public accounts (fiscus) and private citizens
- Praetor Repetundae, who presided over the extortion courts for claims against corrupt magistrates or governors
- Praetor Ambitus, who presided over the courts on electoral law, such as cases of bribery in the Senate
- Praetor Majestas, who presided over the treason courts
- Praetor Peculatus, who presided over the embezzlement courts
- Praetor Familias, who presided over the adultery courts
- Praetor Falsum, who presided over the perjury courts, such as cases of someone bearing false witness in court
- Praetor Sacrilegius, who presided over the sacrilege courts
- Praetor de Fideicommissa, who presided over the inheritance courts
- Praetor Tutela, who presided over the courts on guardianship
- Praetor de Sicariis et Veneficis, who presided over the courts on assassination and murder
- Praetor Furtus, who presided over the larceny courts for claims of theft or unlawful use of leased goods
- Praetor Damnatias, who presided over the defamation courts
- Praetor Mancipatus, who presided over the courts on the slaves, such as cases of mistreatment against one's slave
- Praetor Obaeratus, who presided over the debtors courts
- Praetor Fraudulosus, who presided over the fraud courts, such as cases of violating business contracts
Not only did the praetor for a specific jurisdiction preside over the highest court for relevant charges but he decided which judges were permitted to preside over less public cases of similar crimes. These lists were solely for Italy, with the major courts of law residing in the city of Rome. In other provinces, the governor acted as chief justice, presiding over the highest provincial court. While corruption did not run as rampant in the provincial courts of the time as it did during the Republic, benefactors of governors and enemies of governors received their respective special treatment in public court. As a result, wealthy and influential citizens had the freedom to defeat litigation against themselves whenever weaker citizens opposed their illegal activities.
As a means of reducing corruption and creating more public courts, Agricola gave the Senate the power to appoint a Praetor Provincialis in each city with more than 40,000 citizens. This office would bear the responsibility of organizing a list of judges for his appointed city and of presiding over cases he deemed dangerous to public safety. Provincial governors lost the authority to serve as a judge in a court of law, putting a new check on their regional powers. The eighteen praetors in Rome were recognized as Praetores Curules to distinguish their authority from that of the provincial praetors, symbolized by their curule thrones.
With the decree in 352 of the lex juridica generalis romana, acting praetores provinciales began to be appointed in cities. By 379, there were over a hundred of them. Under Agricola, the cities Byzantium, Athens, Milan, Lugdunum, Londinium, Corellia, Antioch, and Alexandria each received a praetor as its judicial authority. Funding of private and public courts was not shifted to the Senate since the normal ways of financing the courts in Rome were used in these other cities. Perhaps the most commendable facet of what Agricola had done here was to set a precedent for future emperors, implying that Roman Law had a universal audience and required uniform enforcement across the empire. Successors to Agricola would have little choice but to continue to spread access to official courts of law for settling disputes and administering justice. This attitude differed from the earlier beliefs in the exclusivity of Roman Law and was partially incongruent with the prevailing view of the empire as a community of nations that were clients of Rome (namely, with the nominal independence of each foederata (client nation)).
Some clarification of how the judicial system of Rome functioned may be useful at this junction:
A iudicum (judgement) could be formed by a iudex (judge) on the basis of leges (statutes) and mores (customs) and through his own sense of right and wrong. Customs came from either the past judgements in similar cases or the educated opinions of jurists. Scholars of legal science were considered the authorities on how to handle cases in a court of law, leaving jurists in the empire an important role in establishing how legal disputes would be resolved. In this way, most of Roman law at the time of Agricola had been determined by jurists studying legal science rather than by decrees of an emperor or senatorial assembly.
Roman law recognized three types of entities in its statutes and juridical customs - personae (persons), res (things) and actiones (legal actions). There was an additional legal distinction between that which is privatus and that which is publicus. A persona privata referred to a cives (citizen) who was neither a magistratus (magistrate) nor a miles (soldier). Things was a sufficiently broad term so as to encompass objects, contracts, decisions, and slaves - though a distinction was made between the legal right to use a thing (ownership) and the mere ability to use a thing (possession). Res publicae were the affairs of the public and included such things as highways, aqueducts, sewers, and the statutory laws (leges) themselves.
Statutes and customs pertaining to the citizens according to the authority of legislators and jurists encompass the Ius Civile (civil law) of the Roman Empire. Peregrini were not legally permitted to cite these laws for their protection nor were they forced to obey these laws. However, every person was subject to the Ius Gentium (law of nations), even people outside the limites of the empire (e.g. Persians or Indians who had dealings with Roman citizens). As such, the ius gentium encompassed laws relating to private property, private commerce, theft, assault, enslavement, war, and peace. For the most part, the laws of the ius gentium were customary laws, often drawn from the mos maiorum (ancestral customs) of the Romans. Even more generally, Roman jurists recognized a Ius Naturale (natural law), applicable to all living things but able to be overridden by other laws, as in the case of every man being born free by nature but able to be legally enslaved according to the law of nations (as Romans saw slavery).
Within civil law, there were those laws enacted by an assembly of citizens such as the Republican assemblies or the Senate, as well as those laws enacted from the authority of a magistrate. The Urban Praetor maintained the Edictum Perpetuum as a collection of criminal laws formally reenacted upon taking his office, keeping all the previous Urban Praetor's legislation. In effect, this Ius Praetorium was the means by which an emperor controlled private law, as the praetors answered to his will. As direct legislation, an emperor could proclaim a new Constitutio, a modification of public law and the political apparati of the state.
Criminal prosecutions fell under the domain of ius privatum (private law), with the exception of treason. There were also some obligatory legal regulations that people were not permitted to violate and that fell under ius publicum (public law).
In the transition from the Republic to the Principate under Augustus, Rome gradually moved away from reliance on the ancestral customs to following legal precedent. In matters of private law, this meant a transition between referring in a case to traditions and referring to the opinion of legal experts. For public law, this meant depending on the authority of the emperor to settle a matter of the state, unless there were statutes to explicitly direct government actions (as there rarely was).
A Roman trial would result from a plaintiff issuing a libellus conventionis, against a certain person or group, to the praetores. The praetor would submit a summons to the defendant(s), forcing them to appear in a designated court at some appointed time. Unlike older juridical systems, the magistrates bore the responsibility of ensuring that a trial took place and could exercise this duty without the agreement of the defendant. This procedure was vastly more formal than older courts.
For most cases, the resulting trial would be presided over by a judge appointed by one of the praetores, with some specific types of claims being handled by specific praetores. Evidence held far more weight than testimony - a major change from previous court procedure where the oath of a defendant would win him the case. Under the largely customary legal system of the empire, a judge had the final decision on a case, only limited by statutes and customs if they got cited by himself or one of the legal parties in the dispute and if they were accepted at his discretion. An appeals process could be used to bring the case to one of the available praetors after a judgement had been rendered. This process could, in principle, be used to bring a case before the emperor himself. For his part, Agricola instituted regulations on appeals that went beyond the level of praetor, restricting legal access to the emperor except at the discretion of the Urban Praetor.
On the whole, Roman law was a complex system that required extensive knowledge of juridical literature on the part of judges. However, for all the complexity of Roman laws, individual cases were usually resolved quickly and without much fuss through a simple but firm procedure enforced by the state.
Within the provinces of Dacia and Moesia Inferior lived two of the more assimilated Sarmatian groups: the Iazyges and the Roslani (formerly Roxolani). After being suppressed during the Marcomannic Wars, they were forced into a close patron-client relationship with Rome, governing the lands around Dacia on its behalf. By the 330's, their numbers had collectively reached about 1.5 million people but much of their lands had been taken by Roman governors for coloniae (colonies) or Roman farmland. Some mines on their territories had similarly been appropriated by governors exploiting their assigned province.
Iazygean and Roslan community leaders had petitioned the Senate countless times over the last century both to return their land and to receive Roman citizenship as recompense for their efforts in administering territory within the Roman Empire. Even Consuls of the Dacians had little sympathy for their plight, preferring to focus on Dacians who were already citizens instead of the "wilder" groups that also inhabited the nation. Requests to remove or diminish the tributum capitis (poll tax) were similarly ignored. To make matters worse, these locals were increasingly offended by the encroachment of Christian proselytizers onto their land and by the increasingly Christian attitudes of their Roman governors (who nevertheless tolerated the local religions).
Around 350, the discontent of the Iazygean people was slowly amplified by attempts by local men of status to stir up their brethren against the injustices of Roman governors, the most recent of which had gone too far (extorting funds from one's province was not uncommon for Roman governors but its suppression fluctuated to some degree in the more civilized provinces and was largely impossible in frontier territories with few Roman authorities to keep each other in check). When unrest escalated to rebellion, the Roslani took the opportunity on the opposite side of Dacia to express their grievances through similar violence. By late-351, the province of Dacia was held in a colossal pincer of rebel armies coming from the East and the West.
Legions in the province responded only with fractions of available forces, leading to a number of decisive losses that dwindled their numbers. When news reached Rome, the emperor gave Sextus Heliodorus Oneras - the most distinguished commander at the time - the authority to leave his province as legate to bring three legions in as support. By March of 352, the Iazygean mobs had been taken from behind and were scattered, allowing Heliodorus to begin rounding up important figures for punitive action. A year later, the Roslan were similarly defeated and forced to march hundreds of miles north in the freezing February and March weather of 354, killing tens of thousands. After they had crossed the frozen Fluvius Tyras (Dniester River), the Roslan were left to their own devices and threatened against returning to the empire.
Tens of thousands of Iazyges would join them in their exodus but thousands more of each nation managed to stay, since some of the more peaceful communities were left alone (others were implicated in the rebellion and burned to the ground). In the months following the expulsion of these peoples, legionaries built brick and wooden fortifications along the Tyras to keep them away. The makeshift defenses were supplemented by proper stone walls and earthenwork ditches completed in 361. These fortifications were part of the new limes tyranensis (Dniester frontier), a 819 km long system stretching from the Black Sea to the Carpathians.
When he fell to malaria on March 19, 360 CE, Agricola left a stronger and more unified empire than any of his predecessors, as each generation since Nerva had done for almost three centuries. Roman law was slowly spreading into the provinces, accelerated by the presence of praetors and by the creation of coloniae. The frontiers of the Roman world were placed against difficult to pass natural barriers and many sections were secured by vast systems of fortifications. Those few gaps in this national hide were kept safe by the presence of nearby legions and local auxiliary forces.
Regarding internal affairs, the currencies were strong and taxes were efficient but not oppressive (although the later would change in a few decades as less conscientious regimes came to power). There was predictable revenue for the state treasury through taxes and public land while the populace could expect reasonably consistent demands due to information from the public census. The entire territory of Rome was woven with highways, dotted with colonies, and enveloped by walls. Many citizens at the time believed with justification that Rome would not follow the lead of other nations, comparing her continuity to the stories of Sina (China). The empire was too large and interconnected to suffer external threats lightly and too prosperous as well as prestigious for its internal nations to want to leave, unless motivated by some series of calamities or ideological incentives.
Nevertheless, the nearby realm of Persia (Eranshahr) would soon recover from its defeat by Constantine, the land of Aksum was a growing trading power with a navy that eclipsed Roman fleets, and unknown threats could still arise from the far reaches of the lands beyond Magna Germania (Greater Germany). As Romans would soon discover, there was more in the world than was known from their maps and the Earth was further from being under the dominion of Rome than they could possibly imagine.
Statistics for the Roman Empire of 360 AD
Almost two centuries since the Point of Divergence, Rome has become a different place. Secure from external threats and internally stable, its current size is more impressive than the numbers suggest:
Population: 87 million (34.4% of humans), including ~5.5 million slaves
Area: 7,105,000 km²
GDP: 6.1 billion denarii (~$61 billion US)
Treasury: 75 million denarii (~$750 million US)
Government revenue: 407 million denarii (~$4.1 billion US), 6.67% of GDP
Military spending: 180 million denarii (44.2% of revenue or 2.95% of GDP)
Military size: 145,600 legionaries (28 legions), 175,060 auxiliaries and 10,000 praetorian guards
Legislature: 600 senators
Christianity: 71% of citizens
|Reign of Constantine:|
1067 (314)-1092 (339)
|Reign of Agricola:|
1092 (339)-1113 (360)
|Reign of Sapiens:|
1113 (360)-1148 (395)