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|Reign of Sapiens:|
1113 (360)-1148 (395)
1148 (395)-1184 (431)
|Reign of Scipio:|
1184 (431)-1205 (452)
With the death of the last Adopted Emperor, the continuous trend of meritocratically selecting the next emperor had ended. This would lead to a slight reversal of Rome's unbridled prosperity, slowing its growth, as the way into the throne was opened to less competent and sometimes destructive Caesars. Fortunately, Faustilon had wisely expanded the powers of the Senate, allowing the bureaucracy to withstand some of the slack of incompetent leadership.
Caesar Aurelius (395-402)
When Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Theodorus came to power in 395, the empire stood at a historic peak. Although its decline over the coming decades would not be serious, Rome would not recover until expansionism was reignited by a foreign invasion. As the first Caesar not adopted by his predecessor, Aurelius was regarded with a degree of concern by the Senate, who had come to regard adoption as an effective mode of succession and a far cry from the type of monarchy that was still stigmatized in Rome. Faustilon had a sufficiently good reputation - he was not acclaimed as sapiens (the wise) for nothing - that his decision was not only permitted but tolerated by the Senate and people of Rome. However, history takes a harsher view of Aurelius, regarding his reign as a black mark on Christian tolerance despite its obvious positive effects on the demographics of the Church.
Growth of Christianity
Aurelius acquired his religious beliefs from his mother and from private education under the Pontifex Maximus (Bishop of Rome) of the Ecclesia Christiana (Christian community), who (unsurprisingly) taught him that faith was the key to the prosperity of the empire. Building on these childhood lessons, Aurelius sought religious unity for the empire at all costs, aiming for the unilateral growth of Christianity at the expense of superstitiones (unorthodox religions). Census results had shown a distinct split between religious beliefs in the countryside and in the cities (note that the Census questions for religion did not use any of the modern terms for religious denominations). Confronting this situation, Aurelius commissioned large Christian templa (churches) in vici parvi (villages) in the least Christian provinces, namely Hispania, Britannia, and Germania Minor. For the many villages with few Christians, the temples were built in the hope that people would gravitate toward them. Sacerdotes (priests) sent to these unconverted villages were told to simply hold regular sermons regardless of attendance.
This less than stellar plan had varying degrees of success. Some parishes slowly accumulated adherents but others were met with discontent from the local populace. For a few lucky priests, this displeasure simply meant the occasional throwing of rocks or spitting on sandals, but in many cases, the temple was burned down and the priest was killed or exiled from town. These results would suggest that some of the priests were more confrontational than others with their proselytizing.
As he often did, Aurelius sought council on this from the Bishop of Rome and described his plans for retaliation. Histories from the time speak about how the Pope dispelled these violent thoughts from the emperor, citing Matthew 7:12 and adding his own words, "violence only begets more violence." In place of these plans he suggested the emperor seek religious guidance from one of the theological schools, in search of someone who may be more skilled in conversion. In this way, Aurelius met with the future author of De Doctrina Christiana in 398, the theologian Augustine of Hippo. His suggestion to the emperor was to be more concerned with heretical Christians than with people of other faiths, citing the religious schisms that plagued African Christians - namely, the heresies of Manichaeism and Arianism. He assured Aurelius in simpler words than these that once there was one orthodox doctrine for Christianity, conversion of pagans to the faith would occur more easily.
Toward this goal, Augustine advised the creation of didascalia (catechetical schools) for the instruction of priests in orthodox beliefs - many preachers who had been baptized into the faith were simply coming to their own interpretations of the Biblia - or learning their doctrines from other local priests, spreading Unitarian or other heretical ideas. The existence of a canonical edition of the holy book and the regulation of the augurs had been insufficient to enforce orthodox doctrine, since local priests were the direct mediums of religious belief for the people. Schools for priests were especially to be built in Mauretania, Numidia, and Syria, where heresies were most prevalent. When Augustine returned to Alexandria in 401, Aurelius did not wait long before pursuing his own plans of openly persecuting Manichaeans in Africa. These people considered themselves safe enough before the purge to admit their beliefs on the census. Census information facilitated the finding and killing of members of heretical sects over the next year, with the emperor knowing precisely who held unorthodox beliefs and precisely where they lived. Never before had the elimination of undesirables in a state been so horrifically easy for a monarch.
Before these atrocities, Aurelius had been influenced by Augustine to implement another more peaceful approach to conversion. Before this time, all priests were preaching in either Greek or Latin, as these were the available languages of the Bible. However, at the behest of Augustine, another synod was called, this time the Council of Carthage, to translate the holy scripture into the local languages of the empire, producing a Gallic Bible and a Coptic Bible. These were designated the religious lingua franca of explicit Celtic and Coptic liturgies, specific procedures for worship permitted to specific cultures within the confines of Orthodox doctrine. These different liturgical practices obviously involved different languages but also different prayers, feast days, iconography, and rituals. Altogether, there were four liturgies for the four canonical translations of the Bible. By a combination of these efforts, the number of unorthodox sects of Christianity fell and the number of Christian faithful rose dramatically, particularly among the peregrini (non-citizens). Almost half of non-citizens were Christian by the death of Aurelius, while the fraction of citizens that were Christian got closer and closer to totality.
In many ways, Aurelius was something of a puppet to the Pope. Although the Pope exerted no direct control over his decisions, papal council was sought more than the advice of any other public official. As one effect, the wealth afforded to the papacy rose tremendously. The Capitoline Temple, as seat of the papacy, rose in splendor beyond even its prior glory as the center of the Roman religion. Tens of millions of denarii flowed yearly into the pockets of the papacy from the generous gifts of this emperor, much of which was spent strengthening the influence of the Bishop of Rome over the Christian community. Indeed, although the Christian Church came into being in 335 by the efforts of Constantine, it owes Aurelius for its transformation into an institution and for the increase in the temporal authority of the Pope himself. This was the first period for which historians refer to "the Church" as a distinct political entity in Rome. Before this period, Ecclesia had a solely communal sense, referring to the joint authority of the bishops, as led by spiritual supremacy of the Bishop of Rome. Afterward, the latter rose in temporal status and acquired the bureaucratic tools necessary to truly "govern" the dioceses of the Christian community.
Influenced by the Pope, Aurelius enforced the ecclesiastic laws against usury through leges (statutes) pertaining to Christians living under the empire. Anyone identified as an usurer would be forced to donate a tenth of his wealth to a Christian temple, unless he was unaffiliated with the Christian community. In response, banks started to hire more Jews and polytheists as bankers to circumvent the law. When the latter faced persecution under the next emperor, banks would be primarily left in the hands of the Jewish community still spread throughout the empire since their exile from Palestine in the 1st century. There were no longer "official" interest rates in any bank, once each became without regulation by its province's primary bank.
For his part, Aurelius was unconcerned, possibly even left unawares, with the circumvention of his law by private banks. His sole concern had been to follow the Pope's council in saving Christians from committing the "sin of usury".
Meanwhile, Augustine was leaving a more personal mark on Christianity. His primary publication, De Doctrina Christiana, was a broad summary of the theological debates that the Christian community had faced in its brief history. Disseminated in 404, this codex spoke in favor of human freedom and against the doctrine of original sin, saying that scriptural arguments presented in its favor simply pointed to an original capacity for sin. Similarly, he argued along with others that Adam and Eve were mortal before their fall from grace and that the days of Genesis referred to a logical framework for creation, rather than literal days. He also took the position that Christians should be pacifists but had the duty to fight in defense of civilization, specifying that this meant a duty to defend Rome through war, and that non-violence toward preventable injustices was unchristian.
From a philosophical standpoint, Augustine was a revolutionary thinker who contributed a great deal to ethics and theology. Another of his works presented an original discussion of the nature of time, commenting on its subjectivity and its relation to memory. This view went so far as to say that there was no passage of time in nature itself and for God, there was only an eternal present. In his Confessions, Augustine also presents an original hypothesis on language development in children, drawing somewhat on the writings of Virgil and Cicero. He took a firm stance against the existence of magic, saying that nature could not bend to any other master than its creator and that physical laws (leges physicales) were instituted by God to govern all physical things, operating without exception except in the exceptional cases of miracles. Only the soul (anima) was regarded by him as metaphysically distinct from nature (physis) but only as something whose interactions with its body was still governed by laws. Unfortunately, Augustine never considered the problems of interaction for this Dualism, merely noting that mind and body were distinct but not addressing how they could affect one another.
Augustinian philosophy heavily influenced future Christianity and Roman philosophy, receiving both praise and criticism by later philosophers. His influence spelled the end of such theological ideas as original sin and unconditional election while raising up others such as Pelagianism and the Filioque to the level of dogma. No other theologian has left as an indelible mark on a religion before or since Augustine and for this, he is remembered as one of the fathers of Church doctrine.
Among the four dominant civilizations of its day, Rome possessed certain unique technologies, either of Roman design or as an inheritance from Greek or Phoenician civilization.
For its agriculture, Romans had long been using a mechanical reaper that would separate the valuable ears of grain from the rest of the plant as it was pushed by oxen through a field. This device saved an enormous amount of labor for farmers, supporting the high level of urbanization enjoyed by the empire. There had been only minor changes to its designs over the last four centuries and little had been done that improved upon the functions of the reaper.
For milling grain, Romans in Europe and Egypt were heavy users of watermills, providing greater output than animal-powered mills used by other cultures. A unique application of waterwheels by Romans was in a turbine powered off an aqueduct, giving access to a watermill's power to anywhere fed by an aqueduct. This invention had spread from Africa Proconsularis to Italy, Gaul, and eventually the rest of the empire. By the 4th century, waterwheels had been used in creating sawmills for rapidly cutting wood or marble while others could be found near mines for crushing stone in massive stamping mills.
As a way of creating reservoirs for feeding aqueducts, Romans built many gravity dams throughout Italy, Hispania, and Africa. Roman dams rank among their other marvels of engineering, alongside ponta (bridges), aquae (aqueducts), and viae (roads). Concrete had revolutionized dam construction in the 1st century but even more outstanding was the gradual introduction, starting in the 2nd century, of using dams as a power source. One application of this technology was the miling dam but another that became even more widespread was lifting water to a higher elevation. For this process, water would flow through a turbine in the dam, powering mechanisms that raised different water to a higher starting point for supplying an aqueduct. If an aqueduct carried water from a higher starting elevation, then there was more energy to spare for turbines along its length. In a sense, this is the earliest case of energy transmission from a power plant (a dam) to a facility (a mill) that used the energy elsewhere.
Aqueducts were not only needed for milling grain and feeding cities; they also supplied water to mines. Flowing water had many uses in a mine: sweeping away soil to expose veins on the bedrock, removing waste rock from the mining site, and quenching hot rocks that were heated in fire-setting. When water needed to be removed from a low-lying position, Archimedean screws were used to lift the liquid to a higher elevation. Unfortunately, unlike at a dam, screws in mines could not be water-powered, as this would defeat the purpose of elevating one body of water by bringing another body of greater weight down to the same level.
Using these innovative techniques, Rome revolutionized the power output of human beings. Most agrarian cultures had widespread access to power on the scale of horses or oxen, surpassing those cultures limited to available manpower. Romans had a wider access to water as an energy source than any other people at the time. Through their aqueducts, Romans could transmit energy for use or storage elsewhere, permitting industry on an unprecedented scale. Between animal power and steam power, this unprecedented use of water power stood as a middle ground for a developing society and gave Rome the highest power capacity per person than any other civilization by a large margin.
For construction, Romans in the 1st century had invented the treadwheel crane, raising the indirect lifting capacity of one person from 50 kg, using logs and ramps, to about 3000 kg of straight lifting. Overstating the benefits of this technology is difficult but suffice it to say that the vast and rapid construction abilities of the empire are in no small part owed to this device. For moving rather than lifting heavy weights, Romans used a windlass that had pulling capacity to match the lifting of the crane.
All varieties of Roman machinery were enhanced by liberally employing advanced mechanisms for transferring a force from one direction to another or for magnifying a force at the cost of freedom of movement. Among these devices were the crank, hydraulic piston, pulley, force pump, valve, screw, gear, chain drive, turbine, wedge, hinge, lever, and wooden ball bearing. All except the last device saw widespread use and were employed in some of the most complex machines imaginable, with few limits on how Romans were able to employ them. While cranes and mills were two types of machine employing these mechanisms, there was also the mechanical reaper, stationary fire engine, fountain, wind-wheel, differential gear train, hypocaust, aeolipile (steam-powered toy), hydraulic organ, shower, and a number of military engines. Romans had full practical understanding of how their machinery functioned but no one had formulated general principles of operation, lacking an understanding of forces, energy, and work. These concepts would gradually emerge from Roman engineering, out of the more primitive understanding of Aristotelian forced motion and the mechanical geometry of Archimedes and Hero. In fact, the geometry of mechanics is the more direct precursor to force vectors and modern dynamics of motion than Aristotelian mechanics, lacking still a quantitative and explanatory account of motion (that would not arise for several centuries).
Military engines designed according to Roman mechanics were highly elaborate devices that exceeded anything used by other civilizations. Of course, Romans still used the traditional battering ram, onager, and siege towers but even these were on a scale above contemporaries. For instance, a Roman siege tower could be built as tall as 25 m and was iron-plated to deflect enemy missiles, with an internal ballista as a turret to return fire. The ballista was technically a class of siege weapons, rather than one specific device, all sharing a characteristic similarity to a crossbow.
The largest ballistae were crossbow-like machines three time the length of a human and capable of firing 78 kg projectiles at great distances. These were in sparse use by the Legion but were devastating when brought to bear on enemies. More common was the manuballista, a handheld or mounted crossbow used for sniping, accurate as it was up to 500 m. The terrifying precision of this weapon is described in accounts of the Great Armenian War, where cavalry charges would be halted by taking out the lead horses before either army was even in range of traditional weapons. For maneuverability, Romans employed the carrobalista, which could be rapidly deployed on the field from a cart, allowing high flexibility in firing positions.
Perhaps the most frightening of all siege weapons was the polybolos. Using a chain drive operated by a windlass, this device would semi-automatically prepare its next shot over a span of less than six seconds, permitting a high rate of fire. A mere ten of these artillery pieces stationed on a hill and firing into a massed army could easily tear through hundreds of enemy soldiers in the span of minutes, the time between an enemy entering its range and engaging with a Roman army. When several hundred of these weapons are employed, as at the Battle of Hatra, an entire enemy line could be broken, opening them to a direct charge by Roman cavalry or heavy infantry. This move was just one lethal tactic of the Legion that used advanced siege weapons.
Overall, engineering was an integral component of the military. A legion could build kilometers of walls, bridges, causeways, tunnels, paths, or forts within a matter of days while on the move. Since every legionary carried his own shovel and every cohort had its own mobile brick kiln, the entire legion of 5,200 men could contribute at once on a construction effort, allowing for such incredible works of engineering to be done over a short period. As an additional benefit, legionaries could be brought in to work on public works when more labor was necessary. They had the exact skill, discipline, and physical strength that made for ideal construction workers and that facilitated massive projects such as the great wall in Arabia.
While all of these technologies were already being used during the period under discussion, they are mentioned here as summary and as introduction to some contemporary developments. In 399, Aurelius had the entire Domus Augustana redone to incorporate a hypocaust throughout the whole palace and to expand the sewers for a private bath and private latrine that was accessible from inside the palace. The latter came from the designs used in most houses in Byzantium, the site of the most advanced cloaca (sewage system) in the world. In effect, the emperor now had one of the most comfortable domiciles in his empire, with accommodations that compared with modern conveniences in personal hygiene and central heating.
At the same time, the Senate was exercising its newfound authority with the election of a new Magister Fiscalis. At his behest, the Senate commissioned the construction of over a hundred waterwheels at key points that he had identified. There was need for new stamping mills and sawmills in the Carthaginian, Nubian, and Armenian mines while in Italy there was need for more watermills to work on the growing supply of grain. One watermill was even built right inside the city of Rome, running off one of the urban aqueducts. These mills were built and operated by the Senate, providing new sources of income for the government.
Since the decline of the Vesigothi, Vandal King Gundigisel had amassed a force of tens of thousands of Germans which he intended to use to conquer Greece. Approaching the Vallum Alutanum on horseback, Gundigisel taunted the Romans from outside their weapons' range, attempting to goad them into a more equitable open battle. After consecutive days of this affair in 396, one daring Roman archer snuck down the wall as the sun fell and fired an arrow into the gut of this bothersome monarch. Enraged at this front, the army of Gundigisel charged in the direction of the archer, accidentally leaving a dust cloud and kicking up dirt over their leader. Not only did the archer get lifted safely onto the wall but the Germans were dissuaded from pressing the attack, with minimal casualties on either side, and Gundigisel would die four days later from an infected wound.
Chaos overtook the Germans after losing their king but they managed to elect a new leader with little bloodshed. Uniting behind King Alar of the Vesigothi, the Vandals joined their forces with the remnants of the Goths, forming a substantial army of near a hundred thousand men. For the time being, Alar would bide his time as he armed his people for war and used what army he possessed to hold back the approaching Huns.
The actual proximity of this Hunnic Empire to the Imperium Romanum became too close for comfort when an emissary arrived in 398 from its King Alybsi, bringing the head of Burgundian King Rindomer as a gift. Whether this was meant to instill fear or serve as an olive branch to Rome is unknown as the act only served to terrify the Senate and people of Rome. Rumors began to circulate throughout the empire that this new barbarian kingdom possessed a force worth a hundred legions and the reality of the matter was obscured by hundreds of kilometers of dense forests and other fearful Germanic tribes.
Sharing in the fear of his populace, Aurelius commissioned the Vallum Raetianum along the first 312.5 km of the Danube, leaving only a short gap along the border of Germania Superior - one of only three remaining gaps in the northern frontier. Around this gap, four legions were stationed. Altogether, the fortifications along the border of Raetia constituted a new limes raetianus (raetian frontier), a modest barrier when compared with the limes germanicus or the extensive limes danuvius. The other two gaps were Noricum, defended only by the four legions who secured the limes danuvius plus about thirty thousand troops of the Auxilia, and the Pannonian Funnel, a long corridor of land between the River Danube and the River Tisza, neither of which possessed more than a few castra (forts) and watchtowers. Otherwise, there were no stretches of undefended land across all of the borders of Roman Europe, a remarkable situation for Rome.
Traveling to the inauguration of his new wall, Aurelius was forced by illness to stop in the city of Virinum, in Noricum. His condition worsened until his death on January 7 of 402. His second oldest brother, Gaius Antoninus Aurelius, who was next in line for the curule throne, eagerly accepted the news of his brother's demise, ordering a grand inauguration ceremony, that cost well over 20 million denarii, to mark his ascension to power in Rome.
Imperator Antoninus (402-408)
Where Aurelius lacked his father's intelligence, Imperator Antoninus lacked his sanity. He embodies the trope of the mad monarch, receiving the name of the Caligula of the Christian world. In this regard, he is often recorded as professing direct communication with God and is remembered for halting his inauguration ceremonies to inform the assembled crowd that Jesus had come down to bless him and his reign. For these reasons, Antoninus stands as the only emperor of his family dynasty not to be remembered as a legitimate Caesar or Princeps, receiving only the military title of Imperator to note that while he held imperial power over the empire for a time, he lacked authority over its people (nullifying every legal and political decree associated with his rule - a damnatio memoriae for a more civilized age).
Defamation of Imperator Antoninus was facilitated by the circumstances of his ascension. When Antoninus came to power, the priesthood of Rome had amassed tremendous influence, through the actions of Caesar Aurelius. Through personal council, it convinced Aurelius to remove his originally appointed successor in favor of his brother, who was viewed by the priests as a pious individual who devoted his time to prayer. Within a few years, the priesthood came to regret their decision as the pious Antoninus slowly dismantled their new authority and effectively made the Bishop of Rome his political servant.
As a facet of his professed communion with God, Antoninus regarded himself as another messiah, believing that he would carry Christians into the millennial rule of Christ that would precede the apocalypse. Over his brief six year reign, Antoninus had over 500,000 peregrini and 30,000 citizens executed for professing unorthodox beliefs. Again, census data gave persecutions lethal efficiency. Some would be transported as slaves to Rome for gladiatorial combat or brutal arena executions. As the second decade in a row during which polytheists were oppressed by the state, this group became more reclusive and distrustful of emperors. Census data for the next century on religious affiliation is considered inaccurate and the execution of nearly 20,000 Greek citizens for being polytheists would be cited by separatists in the next century to invoke distrust of Rome.
Christian temples commissioned by Antoninus were lavishly decorated with images of Jesus, most modeled on the appearance of the emperor - who more and more saw himself as a messianic leader. Further satisfying his megalomania, he renamed a number of cities like Alexandria and Byzantium to Antonidianna and Antonopolis, while changing the names of major roads such as Via Appia to Via Antonina, sullying his family name. Combined with the millions he was spending on other monuments to himself, his approval ratings in the Senate plummeted.
News of unrest among Patricians reached the emperor through his thick network of spies. He needed to react quickly but in a move that helped earn him his nickname, Stultum (the Fool), Antonine sent assassins to openly attack members of the Senate - senators who were still protected by the Praetorian Guard, which he had personally expanded to 20,000 troops. His advisors failed to inform him of this inconsistency as Antonine found himself baffled by the continuous failure of what would become 396 attempts to assassinate magistrates. Those who he openly ordered to be executed were secretly carried away to enjoy exile outside Italy until the inevitable demise of the mad emperor. Unfortunately, no one had the gall to actually murder an emperor - destructive as his governance was to the empire. Not only had the last instance of such action plunged Rome into bellum civile (civil war) but such an act would establish a precarious precedent for the future of the empire.
As such, even Antonine's military endeavors were tolerated. Seeking great victories in a conquest of Africa, where the two major expeditions - by Scipio Africanus and Augustus Caesar - had brought their generals tremendous prestige, he only succeeded in wasting valuable resources. Since his advisors kept the existence of the wealthy Kingdom of Aksum from him, the emperor resorted to unleashing Rome's armies on the Berber tribes of the great desert. Unfortunately, much to the Senate's surprise, he sent 14 legions on this ill-fated invasion and instructed them to sustain themselves on "the spoils of war".
Were it not for a surreptitious circumvention of the emperor by the Senate, this two year campaign could have ended worse than the brief "rioting" of the legionaries. Running short on supplies and told they would no longer receive their wages, the legionaries marched back into Africa Proconsularis to take from local farmlands. Thousands of farmers were starved and the grain dole to Rome was cut by a third with the loss of shipments from the province. On the second year, after many thousands of local deaths and several thousand starving in Rome, the Senate managed to get a Quaestor from Byzantium to deliver a four years salary to the soldiers in 407 and to dismiss the legionaries back to their original posts, ending this dangerous crisis.
Not all people were as timid about killing an emperor as the Senate and many attempts were made on the life of Antonine, all of which he avoided to his credit. While it was an incomparable paranoia that fuelled his ability to survive attempted assassinations, this paranoia wasn't enough to overcome what little piety genuinely remained in his heart, stopping him from fratricide.
Fortunately, his own sibling had sufficient motivation to overlook any such moral qualms. One night his youngest brother, Lucius Antoninus Aurelius, entered his room on the ides of March, 408, and slit his throat as he sat at his desk. Lucius was caught by his older brother, Sextus Antoninus Sapiens, and the eldest son of Caesar Aurelius, Gaius Aurelius Maximius, who had noticed Lucius discreetly entering the emperor's chambers. Since allowing the murder of an emperor to go unpunished would set a dangerous precedent, action had to be taken but poor Sextus lacked the acumen to go through the proper channels, instead charging violently at his unfortunate, treasonous sibling. Their struggle over their daggers ended in victory for the eldest. Turning around to send his nephew to the Senate, he was surprised to see Maximius clutching a gladius, giving him mere moments to realize his fate before it came to pass. With no witnesses, Maximius had prudently taken the opportunity to prevent his uncle from gaining power, something that would almost certainly have ended any chance he had of becoming emperor.
The next day, Maximius described to the Senate how he discovered his uncles in the midst of murdering the emperor and how he was painfully forced to put them to the sword for their treason. His narrative guaranteed his legitimacy to the throne in the eyes of the Senate and people of Rome. Few mourned the loss of their mad emperor.
Caesar Maximius (408-417)
Although legionaries and magistrates could overlook the excesses of Antonine, the citizens who had suffered crippling taxes and witnessed the defamation of their cities and religion were experiencing something of a crisis of faith in the rule of emperors. This left Maximius with the difficult task of restoring the trust of the people in Caesars - otherwise, he could be the last.
Appeasing the people
There was no more logical first action than to repudiate everything his uncle had done. Names of cities were returned, statues were torn down, taxes were lowered once more, and the bloated Praetorian Guard was shrunk back down to 10,000 men. By the end of the year, Maximius had convinced the Senate to officially state that they had never genuinely supported the reign of the last emperor and that this gave him no right to consider himself Princeps or Caesar. For the empire, Antonine was merely an Imperator (supreme commander) who had ruled by force. Every law he had forced upon the Senate was revoked and everything he had done was publicly condemned by every magistracy. Even coins bearing his image were collected and reforged to remove any trace of the mad emperor's time in power. Maximius had the good sense to focus on improving the image of Caesars.
To ensure public trust in emperors and to lower the risk of bad emperors, Maximius codified the method of adoption into Roman civil law, forcing himself and all future emperors to formally adopt their successors. Although a biological son could be adopted by this means, the law encouraged emperors and their civil servants to avoid this path and specifically demanded that an emperor choose his successor based on merit (a facet of the law that could never be enforced but was encoded nonetheless). Before this change, there was no formal mechanism by which another emperor was chosen and adoption had only been a tradition followed for a number of circumstantial reasons. This law guaranteed a more careful selection of new emperors.
For citizens outside Italy, Maximius redirected grain shipments coming out of Egypt. He extended the annona to the cities of Byzantium and Pergamum while supporting merchants in bringing cheaper grain to other major cities. For the next twenty years, the output of Egyptian farms steadily grew under large subsidies from the government, providing enough grain both for Rome and the cities who now enjoyed the free grain ration as well. In total, ~380 million kg of grain were transported across the empire for the grain dole, out of which a third went toward the salary of legionaries. Of course, as with Rome, this is not to say that free grain was distributed year round, only that there were frequent grain doles for the urban poor. The city of Rome had the greatest access to this service, as her well-being was the priority of the Senate.
As an additional measure, Maximius spent millions of denarii on gladiatorial matches throughout the coloniae of the empire. Critics of the emperor would quote the poems of Juvenal and lament that Romans could be so easily bought with bread and circuses (panem et circenses), making them overlook past mistreatment. There were few emperor before Maximius who spent as much as he did on entertaining and satisfying the masses. Indeed, almost a third of government expenditure went toward his doles and games, draining the enormous treasury that had been built up by Faustilon and that had already suffered from the excesses of the insane Antonine.
Fortunately for civilization, not all of its new emperor's actions went toward superficial activities. In fact, Maximius instigated one of the greatest reformations of Roman culture. Being of Greek heritage, the emperor nourished a deep interest in the culture of Ancient Greece, almost always speaking in Greek to his attendants and the Senate. On its own, this behavior encouraged a number of Patricians to learn the language, either to impress or merely to understand their emperor (those who did not know Greek originally had his senatorial addresses translated when necessary).
Ludi litterarii (schools for children below the age of nine) were offered an annual benefit from the treasury if they taught Greek alongside Latin. In response, grammatici (teachers for children between nine and twelve) switched from only introducing Greek to teaching Greek at the same level as they taught Latin. Of course, these institutions were only available in Italy, Greece, Alexandria, and the various coloniae that dotted the empire. Formal private education in language was a distinctly Roman and Greek activity and yet only the wealthy went further than a ludus litterarius. Other cultures within the empire taught their children language through a variety of informal means, usually directly through the parents. For this reason, children who did not live in such cities, even if they were citizens, tended to have poor grammar and knew little beyond what they learned naturally.
Philosophy was only taught by philosophers and was not part of a traditional Roman education. Schools teaching philosophy were associated with a particular philosophical school. For example, Aristotelian philosophy was taught at the Lyceum in Athens. Other groups, such as the Epicurean and Democritean schools (atomism) or the Platonist school, taught in public gardens, fora, or gymnasia, depending on what was available. Stoic philosophers combined these approaches by teaching from certain public spaces, namely the Stoa Poikile in Athens and the Stoa Erudimena in Rome. At the time, Stoics outnumbered any other school and taught the largest number of students, to say nothing of how many of their books were collected in the libraries of the Roman nobility. Stoics owed some of their dominance to possessing the only major academy of philosophy that operated in Rome. Meanwhile, philosophers of every school conversed and taught in the Musaeum of Alexandria, as this institution was the only universal center of education in all of Western civilization.
The famous Academy of the Platonic philosophers had been lost after the sacking of Athens in 83 BCE but Plato was seeing a resurgence in the followers of Plotinus, a teacher for a modified version of Platonism. These New Platonists occasionally swelled in membership when one of their own founded an academy in his home but these never outlasted his death. For this reason, the New Platonists remained only a small influence on Roman philosophy and theology in comparison with Aristotelians and Stoics. A wealthy Athenian by the name of Arsicydes founded a sister academy to the Musaeum of Alexandria, buying numerous books to turn his home into a formidable library. He became one of many beneficiaries of the emperor, receiving funds in 412 to build the Musaeum of Athens on the ancient site of the Platonic Academy. This structure was nearly twice the size of the old academy, with beautiful high ceilings allowing the balcony of one level to overlook the main floor of its library and letting the windows of this library stretch over 18 meters upward. A new technique for assembling glass windows was implemented in its design.
Philosophers at the new musaeum were a mixture of New Platonists, Aristotelians, and Stoics. The former strongly emphasized the metaphysical and psychological tenets of the New Platonism, presenting it as a demystified philosophy of nature rather than the religion into which other followers of Plotinus had turned Platonism. The influence of this one facility ensured the eventual disappearance of the mystical school of thought, only surviving in Syria until the 6th century.
Arsicydes produced numerous commentaries of Plato and Aristotle with their original texts. Some were for academic interest and for his students but a second set of commentaries was intended to distill Aristotelian writings to a wider audience. These were intentionally sold to merchants traveling to Italy and the coloniae, in the hopes of inspiring wealthy men to attend his musaeum (Romans wishing to study philosophy had to travel to Greece to learn under the philosophers themselves).
Although Maximius supported Platonism for both religious and cultural reasons, he most firmly admired the Aristotelians, in part out of his veneration for Alexander the Great. Additional land was purchased for the Lyceum. All of its books were copied for redundant storage in the musaea and other libraries. Specific patrician families were offered a free Athenian home and transport to Athens if they sent one of their children to the Lyceum. Maximius would introduce this idea to the paterfamilias as a "favor" from the emperor himself - few refused his generosity. Over his reign alone, membership of the Lyceum doubled. With an annual income from the state of 4 million denarii, the Lyceum could open its doors for free to anyone who applied and who could leave a positive impression on the Scholarch (Headmaster) of the school. When the revenue was stopped after Maximius' death, there were enough funds saved by the school to continue the practice for another fifty years.
New life was breathed into Aristotelian philosophy by the growth of its central school. One former student, Quintus Pinarius Petricus, became legatus augustus of the province of Nubia in 416. He sought to confirm Aristotle's suppositions about the Nile - namely, its source and the reason for its floods. Using provincial funds, he sent an expedition, supported by two cohortes of the legion stationed in his province, to locate the source of the Nile. Their journey brought them into the Kingdom of Aksum, whose king had agreed to garrison the journeying soldiers while the cartographers and philosophers were in his land. They had found that the Nile split into two rivers, at a location west of the Kingdom of Aksum, and that the eastern inflow came from there. A lake southwest of the capital of Aksum was identified as the source of this tributary while this lake was found to be fed by a number of small rivers flowing out of the mountains to the north. As Aristotle had predicted, mountains in this general region were the source of the Nile - or rather, the source of the secondary tributary of the Nile.
Satisfied, the expedition left Aksum to follow the western tributary of the Nile. This beautiful river was rich with sediment while the Romans were traveling along its length, earning it the name Nilus Argentus (Silver Nile). Although the explorers restocked in the Kingdom of Aksum, a thirty day journey brought them seemingly no closer to the source. When they found themselves entering a swamp, there was unanimous agreement to return to the Aksumites to resupply before ending the journey in Nubia.
Although this expedition failed to find the primary source of the Nile, it marked the farthest journey south by Roman explorers and was successful in confirming (albeit not in any rigorous fashion) the Aristotelian theory that the Nile originates in mountains far south of Egypt. The journey may have been a milestone for exploration but it was hardly a landmark event. Maps produced from this expedition became widely copied as the only source of geographic data for the region.
Another philosopher studying the Meteorologica of Aristotle was Antipedes of Alexandria who became famous for a lengthy codex synthesizing the views of various engineers and philosophers with those of Aristotle. He was the first person to formulate a principle of transformation regarding the geological features of the Earth based on observations that rivers, marshes, valleys, and other features were changing over time, but he went less far than Aristotle did by recognizing that not everywhere that is now land had to have been sea in the past. Antipedes argued that rivers and winds were forces of change in the landscape, cutting valleys and grinding away mountains. Some of his most famous speculations were that the sand in the African deserts came from the grinding away of a rocky landscape by winds (aeolian erosion), a remarkable theory in its proposal of a mechanism that was not noticeable from any brief observation or comparison over decades.
As another gradual mechanism, Antipedes argued that shorelines were gradually extended into the sea or bay by deposition of grains as small as flour. For this to happen, he believed these grains had to be suspended in rivers and seas only to get stuck once they collided with the shoreline. This theory presented the first limited understanding of sedimentation.
Other positions of Aristotelian philosophy reached a wider audience with the growth of the Lyceum. Among these ideas are the tenets of Aristotelian physics, which by the 6th century became common "knowledge" for anyone with a proper education, exposing these mechanical ideas to anyone receiving even a grammatical or rhetorical education (since teachers would tend to use them as examples in their lessons). In particular, people became more generally familiar with the spheres of elements (the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, photisphere) as the natural places respectively for earth, water, air, and fire. When these ideas gained their prominence, the average person could confidently answer such questions as "why do things fall downward?" with "down is the natural place for the earth in things and every element moves to its natural place". Rather than this being a non-answer of the sort "things go where they go", it was a substantial, albeit wrong, statement of the theory that the universe was divisible into spheres specific to the element that exclusively strives to reach that place. In other words, an object that is not in its natural place will move until it reaches its natural place - this is its natural motion. The heavier an object (i.e. the more earth it contains) the faster it falls to the lithosphere while lighter objects (containing more air or fire) may eventually be light enough to float away from the lithosphere. Natural motion is internally generated but directed to a specific location. [it is vital that the reader recognizes that all of these beliefs, while considered knowledge at the time, are false]
Other Aristotelian concepts that became widely believed (even though not entirely understood) were:
- even an object in its natural place can be moved by being pushed or pulled by another object
- once in its natural place, an object remains at rest unless being pushed or pulled (i.e. rest is the natural state of things)
- all pushing or pulling of objects (i.e. unnatural or forced motion) originates from the pushing of a prime mover that set the world into motion despite itself not being in motion (i.e. an unmoved mover a.k.a. God)
Some more advanced notions that only philosophers considered were:
- space and time are continuous, not being divisible into some smallest, indivisible units of time and space
- when an object moves, its speed is inversely proportional to the density of whatever substance it moves through (meaning, objects are slower in water than air but would have an infinite speed where there is nothing in their way)
- there are no regions of space where there is nothing (i.e. a void or vacuum is impossible) since anything moving through the void would have an infinite speed and would be instantly filled by surrounding material
[again, every one of these beliefs is in some sense wrong]
While Aristotelian ideas gained prominence over the next century, philosophers of the rival school of Atomism argued against them in their texts and private discussions between philosophers. These atomists believed the theories of Leucippus, Epicurus, and the Roman Lucretius, who had postulated, in their own ways, that the cosmos consisted of indivisible particles (atomoi) moving through an empty void. They believed that only collision with another atom could change the speed of an atom and that atoms could link together to create ordinary objects up to and including human beings and stars. Their materialism sharply contrasted with the dualism of theologians and New Platonists while a number of other tenets opposed Aristotelian theories. Conflicts such as: continuous divisibility vs indivisibility; cosmogenenesis vs eternalism; plenum vs void; virtue ethics vs ethical naturalism; and, in extreme discussions, Christian monotheism vs Epicurean atheism, set the stage for the next few centuries of philosophical debates, with Aristotelians taking each of the former and Atomists most of the latter positions.
However, there were at best a dozen Epicurean philosophers at any given time, since the decline of the school over the 1st to 3rd centuries. Most taught from the Musaeum of Alexandria but a handful taught in Greece. Epicureans were a small but vocal group, providing one of the few opposing positions to Christian philosophy and eventually to Aristotelianism.
After the resurgence of Aristotelianism under Maximius, Stoicism began to lose its position of prominence in natural philosophy, although its ethical doctrines stayed their course. Sulla may have disseminated his father's Reflections as a prominent piece of Stoic literature, but its focus on lifestyle and morals allowed it to remain in popularity even as Stoicism declined. Schools that were overshadowed by Aristotelianism were not wiped out and some influences would continue to manifest but by 480 no Roman or Greek could claim expertise on nature unless they affiliated themselves with Aristotelianism.
In this environment, New Platonism became confined solely to epistemological and theological discussions. In a sense, the New Platonists philosophers allied themselves with Aristotelians, teaching that their views were consistent with those of Aristotle. They argued that the Aristotelians were correct in their views on nature but that this nature had its origins in the divine Logos and was infinite when understood beyond mere appearance to the senses. For this reason, the Academy taught all of the non-biological doctrines of Aristotelianism alongside its own positions on knowledge and divinity. While New Platonism would hold sway among theologians as supplementary to Augustinian philosophy, the Lyceum of Aristotle reigned supreme. Furthermore, from the 6th century onward, Aristotelian notions of theology - such as the prime mover and long age of the cosmos - took hold and eventually supplanted the New Platonist ideas about logos and biblical creation.
Another academy founded with the support of Maximius was the Faustian Academy of Byzantium (Academia Faustiana). This new Aristotelian school closely aligned itself with the philosophers of the Lyceum, frequently exchanging staff and students. Due to its proximity to the Pontus Euxinus (Black Sea), the Faustian Academy became a launching site for the work of geologists along its coast, especially in the Caucasian Mountains and the waters around Taurica (Crimea).
Rather than reflecting any discoveries by Aristotelians (limited as these were to theoretical matters in geoscience), the growth in influence of the Peripatetics (Aristotelians) had more to do with the existing communication networks of the empire, the greater cultural focus on receiving a philosophical education, and the greater geographic spread of peripatetic schools from the patronage of Maximius. Together, these factors ensured the academic success of their school of thought.
On the whole, the Greek Renaissance had a staggering effect on the culture and understanding of the empire. Among the upper class, there was nearly a tenfold increase in speakers of Greek, with the language being a requirement for any magistrate by the time Maximius died in 417. His son did nothing to change this development, influenced as he was by his father, and the impact on imperial culture from these two decades would outlast even the Antonine dynasty.
Accompanying linguistic and philosophical change in Greece was the widespread replication of Greek art and architecture in the more civilized parts of the empire. Urns became popular decorations in Roman homes, a trend that local craftsmen noticed and used to their advantage. Citizens who were Greek became popular for this reason alone and praise for Greek civilization was becoming far more common than any other period in Roman history. Of course, the reign of Maximius was only the start to these national trends and a century would have to pass before these effects on Roman culture would fully manifest as they are being described. In addition to these shifts. Greek nationalism entered the public consciousness, with thousands of Greeks looking more closely and fondly upon their histories of independence. The effect of this nationalism would also take a century to peak.
At the same time as the philosophical and artistic resurgence of Greek culture, the City of Sparta received patronage from the emperor in the form of a Spartan Games that was to be held every two years in the city. These games were part of an attempt to restore the Panhellenic Games that once occurred each year in Greece. Of the four games, only the Olympic Games had remained by the reign of Maximius - the ludi olympiae experienced a resurgence proportional to the restoration of Olympia itself.
Unlike the Olympics, the Spartan Games only permitted residents of Sparta as competitors. Maximius created these ludi to serve as a display of the height of Greek culture and the Spartans were the only Greek city to both retain the traditional religion and the traditional lifestyle, namely the particularly militaristic and gymnastic lifestyle for which the Spartans were famous. Indeed, the Spartans had remained a free city-state under Rome, retaining a large degree of control over its internal matters (except for their laws deemed immoral by the Senate). The Spartan Games honored and encouraged this ancient city's culture.
Spectators came from throughout Greece and from the aristocracy of other provinces, almost like people coming to view a gallery of old artifacts from an extinct civilization. Patricians from Italy acquired a certain excitement about Ancient Greece, as the spectacles they witnessed at the Spartan Games enlivened their knowledge of Greek history. Romans began to speak fondly and often of the great battles that the Spartans had fought, many applauding them for their almost perfect record in war. Of course, tourism to the city of Sparta had gone on for centuries but the Greek Renaissance instigated an incredible growth in public interest in Sparta.
More important than the enjoyment of the public, military prowess among the Spartans was also magnified by the Games, as they instilled a renewed competitiveness in the male populace and directly lauded militaristic feats. Previous emperors such as Lucius Verus, Sulla, and Constantine had directly employed the Spartans in special military regiments alongside their legionaries and other auxiliaries, incidentally encouraging the maintenance of a militaristic culture, but the Games ensured that the city of Sparta would devote more of its efforts to breeding strong warriors.
In 408, King Alar of the Vesigothi brought his Germanic armies to bear against Rome. Attacking the Vallum Raetianum with heavy siege equipment, the Visigoths broke through with an army of ~100,000 Vandals and Goths supported by an additional 15,000 Sarmatians, who provided siege engines for the invading army.
Capturing Augusta Vindelicorum and the governor of Raetia, King Alar waged guerrilla warfare against the pursuing legions. For the next two years, Alar managed to evade direct confrontation despite the Roman advantage of speed and supplies, as the size of his armies forced Rome to concentrate its own army during the pursuit. By 410, Alar's troops were exhausted by a harsh Winter, during which the legions did not repeat the mistakes of the previous Winter - never relaxing from their pursuit. Low on all the necessities of an unorganized army - food, rest, and pleasures - the Visigothic army became less mobile and was eventually forced to fight what was now thirteen legions trying to deal with the persistent crisis.
In a battle between 110,000 barbarians and an organized army of 67,600 legionaries escorted by 33,500 sagittarii (archers), there was no contest. Alar may even have been a better commander than the Dux Generalissimus of the Romans forces but his resources were of such inferior quality that his skills meant little. Unfortunately for the Visigoth King, he survived the battle and was brought before the emperor in Rome. Receiving no trial as an enemy of war, Alar was painfully executed on the outskirts of the capital and buried under the repaired section of the wall that had been broken. A monument was built over that section of the Raetian Wall, displaying the personal symbols of Alar. Sitting directly on this monument was an enormous golden eagle, clutching a plaque on which a visible message marking the spot where a powerful king invaded Rome and, as a result of his decision, was buried. Along the wall nearby, meter high letters spelled out the phrase "SPQR VESIGOTHOS VINCIT".
Although none would match the megalomania of Imperator Antoninus, most emperors of the period after Faustilon were given to vanity projects of varying extremes. For Aurelius, his vanity was support of the Cathollic Church and for Maximius, his vice was to style himself as a Greek hero and to fervently want the Greek world to revere him as such.
For example, Maximius renovated the Parthenon and replaced a number of friezes from its colonnade with images depicting himself as a Greek hero (older friezes were brought to his palace for display). A number of fictional and metaphorical trials were shown on the new art pieces, often in imitation of classics such as Hercules and Theseus. Similarly, the old Olympeion in Athens had its Statue of Zeus replaced with a special monuments to the emperors that would be called the Coronaion. This building remained the largest temple in Greece but now depicted an emperor being crowned by angels with a laurel wreath. Ostensibly, the figure is symbolic of caesarship in general but the resemblance to other statues of Maximius is uncanny.
However, one Greek monument that was not defaced was the Statue of Zeus at Olympia. Instead of becoming a templum for the Christian Church or a monument to emperors, this wonder of the ancient world was made into a monument to the Greeks. The statue was touched up but otherwise remained the same while the site was dotted with statues to other Greek gods. Most of the locals had converted to Christianity over the last century but this project was considered an honor to the Greeks and would ironically become a symbol for the separatist movement that started several decades later.
Meanwhile, Maximius tried to earn the reputation of a Greek hero by building gladiatorial arenas in major Greek cities and then fighting in these arenas as a combatant. While less dishonorable than fighting in Rome (since patricians could not be direct witnesses of his "embarrassing spectacle"), the rumors that Maximius was participating in gladiatorial combat were enough to offend the elite and draw more criticism from those who saw him as a figurative whore to the masses. While he only took part in arena combat during the last five years of his reign, his hobby ensured that those years would be his last. Although his fights were always staged to some extent, something went wrong in June of 417 and the emperor was killed on the arena floor.
This turnaround was an outrage for the crowd and the governor of Epirus. The entire gladiatorial school of Nicopolis received the death penalty as accomplices in the death of an emperor. As with other imperial excesses, the games of Maximius, that led to his own death, would provide additional motivation for the Greeks to attempt to procur their own freedom by force.
Caesar Antonius (417-431)
After the murder of his father, Publius Antoninus Antonius came to the curulian throne with little fuss. His reign would be the calm before the Hunnic storm - a period of absolute peace, with no conflicts whatsoever. Persia remained pacified, the nearly half a million Germanic nomads that had settled along the walled borders continued peaceful trade, and the Berbers in the south were unusually quiet. Even the remote province of Caledonia (Scotland) saw enough rest to be accepted as a proconsular province in 419, alongside the transition of Britannia a decade earlier. Their one legion was relocated to Noricum.
For a peacetime leader, Antonius made one of the greatest contributions of any emperor to Roman military strength. In the year 420, Antonius founded an academy for centurions and other legion officers, in the city of Carthage. Drawing parallels with the old fame of the Platonic Academy for philosophy, Antonius called his institution the Academia Bellica. Once construction was finished in 429, the War Academy consisted of six primary buildings. Second largest of these structures was the Biblioteca Bellica, a library filled with every text on strategy, wars, and tactics that the empire could procur - including some prominent pieces of Chinese and Indian literature (such as the Ars Bellis by Suncius). Next largest was a grand series of halls and rooms called the Aulam Deorum (Hall of the Gods), where spoils of past wars and military artifacts would be displayed. Some items were symbolic of defeated enemies, military heirlooms such as the sword of Alar or the menorah of the Temple. Anything that remained from ancient battles and that did not need to be kept elsewhere was brought to these halls. Between doorways in the Hall were statues that honored the greatest generals of Rome, those who deserved to be immortalized in stone.
Among these facilities, the largest building in the Academy was the Ludus Bellicus (military school). With over 50 classrooms, the school of the War Academy could annually host over 2,600 students. From a first year of ~800 students, never any more than thirty would be accepted as officers in the Legion after three years of training. Their procedures were very selective, requiring tactical acumen and physical fitness all at once. Some ambitious patricians would apply a dozen times over their lives, hoping each time to surpass their peers and become a centurion.
The courtyard of the school had one of the largest gymnasia in the world, at nearly a (Roman) mile long. Military exercises were performed several times per week once classes began, enforcing rigid fitness in students (in a way, it may be more accurate to call them recruits). Such was the intensity and broadness of this school that many wealthy Greeks would sent their sons to attend the school simply for the physical and mental training, as the education process closely matched the traditional Greek system of education, with a focus on developing the body as well as the mind.
Although a legionary could rise through the ranks without attending the War Academy, this institution made battlefield promotion to centurion an honor for exceptional cases. Within a century, nearly every commander in the Legion would have come from the War Academy and most emperors would send their biological as well as adopted children there after the age of 18. Such names as Gnaeus Comptus and Faustus Pertinax would come to be associated with these hallowed halls.
Near the entrance facing the rest of Carthage, workers erected a victory arch to Sulla in 426. This monument honored the one emperor that had brought Magna Germania to its knees. In a time when fear of Germans and the Huns was nearing a peak, the Arch of Sulla was an important tool of propaganda, reminding prospective officers of Rome's military superiority. Everyone recognized that the empire had come a long way from that time and few doubted that the actions of Sulla could be repeated when the time for conquest would come.
Sealing the Empire
While the War Academy would cost the empire a modest 52 million denarii, Antonius had time and money to spare on the defense of the frontier provinces. In 424, Antonius commissioned the Vallum Noricanum to close one of the other remaining gaps. These projects left only the border of Germania Superior and the Pannonian Funnel open to the rest of Europe. Legions were reallocated to take two from Noricum to reinforce the former, coming to a total of six legions along the Limes Germanicus.
Building these walls left little more for the Senate to spend in the empire. With military salaries, child subsidies, health care, and a number of other regular costs, emperors were only left with a quarter of public revenue for public works and private luxuries. Repealing these benefits was unthinkable, as tens of millions of citizens relied on them and would quickly revolt against their sudden loss of free medical treatment or child support (cutting wages for the army would be even worse). Three of the last four emperors basically threw away whatever funds were left and ran the treasury into the ground
Grain doles, legionary salaries, and civil servant wages required over three-quarters of annual public funds, preventing emperors from filling the treasury. These conveniences were splendid for the citizens that enjoyed them but it was difficult during this period for the empire to support such a large number of public services, especially given the size of its military. To compensate, ships tended not to be built to replace decayed vessels. After the defeat of the Saxons, the importance of the fleets had dramaticlally declined. Fortunately, the only naval power that was even remotely proximate to the empire was the Kingdom of Aksum and Rome had direct land access to its territory. However, another threat at sea began to make its presence known in the early 5th century.
After decades of emperors and their regimes ignoring the maintenance of the classis in the Mediterranean Sea, piracy had slowly risen in the region, driven even more by the occasional passage of Vesigothic raiders on ships through the Bosporus. Residents of Byzantium were alarmed by the sudden appearance of strange ships in the narrows straits near their walls but only a few token attempts were made by the city senate to bar unwanted travelers. In any case, it was difficult to distinguish foreign traders from foreign pirates and commerce through the Black Sea suffered due to the haphazard attempts to stop the latter.
By 430 CE, rates of piracy in the Mediterreanean had reached their peak as neither Maximius nor his immediate successor made serious attempts to halt pirate activity. The problem had gotten sufficiently bad that merchants in Portus and Ostia were scared to travel to Egypt and the grain supply in the capital was reaching a historic low. Starvation in Rome pressured the men of the Senate and the emperor to combat the threat but Antonius died before measures could be taken.
Statistics for the Roman Empire of 431 AD
Population: 93 million (36.2% of humans)
Area: 7,113,000 km²
GDP: 7.1 billion denarii (~$71 billion US)
Treasury: 3 million denarii (~$30 million US)
Government revenue: 413 million denarii (~$4.13 billion US), 5.8% of GDP
Military spending: 196 million denarii (47.5% of revenue or 2.76% of GDP)
Military size: 145,600 legionaries (28 legions), 193,410 auxiliaries, and 10,000 praetorian guards
Legislature: 600 senators
Christianity: 88% of citizens
Origins of the Toltec Conglomerate
As a young boy, Kich'en C'onle demonstrated an insatiable curiosity and penchant for consistency. When he understood what other people said (language did not come to him until the age of 2, but when it did it flooded his mind), he had the annoying habit of pointing out dissonance, often with things they had said weeks earlier. Indeed, his memory was perhaps the only match for his curiosity and he would accept none of the answers of his elders. As a child, his constant dissatisfaction with explanations steered him wrong ("hey, what if fire isn't hot after the first touch?") but this habit would be a fundamental basis for his revolutionary thinking as an adult.
Perhaps the objects of his greatest fascination were rocks and plants. By the age of 12, Kich'en was already an avid collector of different stones and flowers, classifying them with his own imagined words by their similarities. Once he had many instances of each class of stone, he arranged them into a hierarchy based on ranking in scratching other stones. On his own, the boy discovered uses for flint (known to his people but not to him) as well as an efficient method for cutting stones using string and sand. Such relationships and other characteristics were recorded on bark paper. Many of the plants that he collected contained medicinal or toxic herbs whose effects on animals Kich'en investigated. For example, he found that the nectar of one beautiful yellow flower could kill livestock in two or three days.
When he had enough information on the macroscopic properties of rocks (hardness, color, density, etc.), he started to fracture his stones, recording details of how they broke (since breaking them was the next thing that came to mind). With the rubble, he made many fine powders that he would mix and heat in various combinations just to see what would happen. Once he had a new mixture, he would perform a variety of tests: cooling and heating, showering in sparks, and an investigation with his senses (running his fingers through liquid mixtures then rarely resorting to taste but only after a test on an animal).
By the age of 17, Kich'en had caught the attention of the king of his home city of Yax Mutal (Tikal) when one of his advisors was outsmarted by the boy. Working with the king, Kich'en suggested better sites for buildings wells and organized a more efficient royal court. Trade routes and storage within the city were heavily reorganized to save manpower, both relative to distances traveled and the difficulty of certain paths. However, administration with little authority was not to his liking, as he quickly grew bored of designing better procedures. For this reason, when entering adulthood, he put the modest wealth afforded to him by his position to further his understanding of the inner workings of nature.
Falling short of this lofty goal as all researchers must, Kich'en nevertheless brought a great leap forward for his people. His discoveries were truly groundbreaking. For the following discoveries, it is important to note that Kich'en was attempting different mixtures of compound on an almost daily basis and literally thousands of uninteresting experiments lay between each of his world-changing discoveries. Nevertheless, his efforts were aided by his attention to detail, knack for noticing regularities, similarities, and incongruities, as well as his memory and meticulous recording of results. Perhaps the greatest of his contributions to Mutal's knowledge were his experimental procedures for examining compounds of materials.
In 417, he formulated a wet mixture of quicklime and pottery dust that dried into a hard material taking the shape of its container. He reasoned that if the liquid could be held in a desired shape, then a figure in that form could be made as hard as stone. This cement (tun luk') would find widespread uses for construction in the city. Walls and houses of unbelievably solid construction could be made within a few days using this new material.
Two years later, he had managed to extract a metal (copper) from its ore, taking another year to find a procedure for working it into simple shapes as the liquid metal cooled. His greatest obstacle had been heating a fire to a temperature suitable for extracting something from the rock (he was curious what would come of various stones). Although this discovery marks the start of metallurgy on his continent, it pales in comparison with his following inventions.
In 419 CE, Kich'en tried another mixture of sulphur, charcoal bits, and urine extract. His particular proportions on this attempt (~20%, ~20%, ~60%) formed a compound that would release a spark and pops of energy when heated. Striking a flint over the mixture caused all of the material to pop - a detonation of the powder. His mixture was the first chemical explosive, the infamous black powder (pat k'ak). Seeing none of the violent applications for his powder, Kich'en instead used it to bedazzle the wealth for money, receiving a royal sum after "magically" filling the throne room with smoke using his powder.
Meanwhile, Kich'en improved upon the process for bark paper, breaking plant pulp into a less crude paper, while also using his herbs to create a toothpaste. With every new discovery, Kich'en went before the ajaw (king) to suggest distributing it to his people, bringing techniques for their creation to the masses. A spoked wooden wheel (wol och) was invented in 428, alongside its application in a hand-drawn wagon. This simple machine would magnify the carrying capacity of a human by several orders of magnitude, conferring benefits for military, agricultural, mercantile, and private purposes. Only a year later, Kich'en had used a similar design to create a wind-powered grain mill, allowing the rapid milling of grain without wasting livestock.
With his crude paper, Kich'en drew an accurate map of the city and a map of the 13,000 km² of its territories. Over the next few years, he would use various maps to plan agricultural planting for the entire region. Other early inventions of Kich'en were a simple mechanical reaper (pushed by farmers) and a simple torsion device for storing energy from a crank. The latter would find future application in weapons of war but for now served only as a way of getting a sudden release of energy.
By this time, two windmills (ik' k'uxaj nal) had been built in Calakmul, most of its people had their own wheelbarrows, people were brushing their teeth weekly, and priests were wearing copper jewelry. In this way, Kich'en had rendered his homeland a very different but better place than nearby city-states.
In the year 431, the influence of Kich'en over the royal court had peaked, with the people of his city calling for him to be put on the throne, as they believed that gods were working through him to reveal knowledge to the world. With free rein to control an entire city-state, Kich'en could go about building a lasting civilization.
Statistics for Yax Mutal
Population: 57,420 people, in the city; 1.5 million, elsewhere
Area: 13,000 km²
GDP: ~$1 billion US
|Reign of Sapiens:|
1113 (360)-1148 (395)
1148 (395)-1184 (431)
|Reign of Scipio:|
1184 (431)-1205 (452)