Introduction xvii This meant that emperors might be made elsewhere and set a dangerous precedent. Vespasian, first of the Flavian emperors, won this contest and brought peace in his 10-year rule. Nerva, the first of the so-called Five Good Emperors, not only ruled over a relatively peaceful empire but also began a tradition of choosing capable heirs. For Edward Gibbon, whose Decline and Fall of the Rome Empire (1776) charted the long story of Rome, this was the happiest period in history. Gibbon saw these men ruling as enlightened, just monarchs, ideas very much in keeping with Enlightenment sensibilities. Only one of these men, the last, Marcus Aurelius, had a son and, not sur- prisingly, designated his son as heir. This man, Commodus, was a poor ruler, and when he died in 192 civil war once again gripped the empire. Septimius Severus (d. 211), the third emperor to rule in that year, began the Severan dynasty and returned order to the Roman world. Under the Severans, the emperors emerged clearly as military dynasts. The senate’s influence was diminished, men of equestrian rank enrolled in more administrative positions, and the old Praetorian bodyguard was removed and replaced with more dependable men from the legions. When Alexander Severus, the last of the Severans, died in 235, Rome was plunged into a destructive period of war, the time of the Barracks Emperors. Over the next 50 years various emperors rose and fell and, in the process, further damaged traditional concepts of rule and laid waste the countryside. This horrific period ended in 284, when one of these soldier-emperors, Diocletian, beat his rivals and restored order. As the first emperor of the period we call the Dominate, he made important changes in the concept of the ruler. Diocletian and his successors created new sources of legitimacy, in particular emphasizing a personal connection to the gods (Jupiter was Diocletian’s patron god) that did not rely on either senatorial or military backing. In a bold but strategically clever move, Diocletian also divided the empire into two halves, each headed by an “Augustus” (senior emperor) and a “Caesar” (junior emperor). This system, the Tetrarchy (Greek for “rule by four”), did much to secure the empire inside and out. However, when Diocletian retired, civil war erupted yet again, first leading to two emperors, one east and west, and finally to only one, Constantine, in 312. Constantine’s reign begins a new chapter in Roman history in several key ways. First, he managed to keep the entire empire intact, not only against internal threats but also from encroaching Germanic peoples who had been pressuring the borders for several centuries. He also kept in check the Sassanid Perisans, the only imperial power to rival Rome. Constantine’s most enduring and life-changing innovation was the legalization of Christianity. A Christian himself, Constantine, just as Diocletian had done, emphasized his role as God’s agent on Earth. This bolstered his own author- ity, but it did something more, something new: it gave recently disenfran- chised Christians imperial patronage. With one exception—Emperor Julian
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