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Late Roman Empire

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In 235, the dynasty ended Severov. During the half-century of power struggles that followed, more than twenty rulers were replaced. The time of strife ended with the coming to power of Diocletian. His reign, which lasted 21 years (284-305), was important for life in the Roman Empire. He gave up the old Republican offices of princeps, consul, and tribune of the people. Backed by a loyal army, Diocletian declared himself master of all the inhabitants of the empire. The emperor's authority over all communities, even over proud Rome, became unlimited. The era of the late empire has arrived.

The Roman Empire before the crisis of the 3rd century AD

Transition from the slave system to feudal relations

The third century was a turning point in the history of the ancient Mediterranean. This entire century is filled with the struggle of two tendencies — the dying slave-owning one and the emerging feudal one. The clash of these trends has created a tornado that has drawn all spheres of public life — the economy, social relations, the state system, and culture-into it. At the turn of the third and fourth centuries, the feudal tendency prevailed, and the development of the Roman state entered the stage of decomposition of the slave system and the emergence of feudal relations.

Since the third century, large autarkic, i.e. self-sufficient, self-supporting estates have been strengthened. Due to the fact that they developed their own craft in addition to agriculture, they were independent of the city market. Hence the decline of urban crafts and trade. Commodity-money relations are being reduced, and there is an acute shortage of money. The State continues to demand monetary taxes from its subjects, but their payment becomes difficult. The treasury is trying to make up for the tax shortfall by issuing a defective coin, which further undermines the economy. The full-chain coin disappears from circulation, settling in the form of dead treasures in the hands of the rich. The depreciation of the coin contributes to higher prices, especially for food. Penalties for tax arrears are being tightened. Indebted colonists flee their allotments (usually from the failing small estates of urban landowners to the larger and more economically stable possessions of magnates, independent of cities). The struggle of peasants, colonists and slaves against the oppressors is intensifying, which sometimes results in armed uprisings. The provincial nobility made attempts to secede from Rome. There was a frequent change of emperors, who were erected and removed by the army. In the third century, Rome's foreign policy situation changed: the balance of power between it and the barbarian periphery characteristic of the previous century ended, and the offensive of neighboring tribes against the empire began. On the eastern borders of the Roman Empire, a huge strain of forces was required by its opposition to another world war .the Sassanid Empire. In the third century, the decline of ancient culture was clearly manifested; Christianity became widespread, denying all the spiritual values of the ancient world.

The main reason for the crisis of the Roman Empire in the third century was that its productive forces had exhausted the possibilities of development within the framework of slave-owning production relations. During the late Republic and early Empire, it turned out that the most rational form of slave production in agriculture was a medium-sized villa with several dozen slaves. On the scale of such a relatively small farm, it was still possible to ensure vigilant supervision of slaves and successfully carry out the specialization and cooperation of slave labor. As practice has shown, the framework of the villa was the limit of the development of commodity agriculture, based on the exploitation of classic-type slaves. The maximum size of a private craft workshop was also limited to a few dozen slaves; a workshop with only a few slaves was more common. The rich owner did not expand his workshop, but opened new similar workshops in other cities of Italy or in the provinces. To increase the productivity of workers, their narrow specialization was especially important. In the old, traditional branches of agriculture and handicrafts, free and slave labor coexisted; in the new branches of production, slave labor prevailed.

To further increase the productivity of slave labor, it was necessary to further develop the specialization and cooperation of production, improve the tools of labor and improve the skills of an increasing mass of slaves. But the slaves who were not interested in their work did not correspond to the increased production tasks. Yes, and the masters were afraid to teach their slaves complex professions, to develop their abilities and intelligence.

The nature of production relations is determined by the forms of ownership of the means of production; in the Roman Empire of the third century, two main forms of land ownership prevailed: municipal and eximated. Municipal landowners who owned estates on urban land had long maintained commodity farms based mainly on the exploitation of slaves; this was no longer profitable, but the narrow limits of small and medium — sized estates did not allow them to transform their farms into natural, self-sufficient ones based on the exploitation of more interested colonists. In addition, urban landowners incurred large expenses in connection with the performance of public duties — liturgies. This included the costs of building and repairing public buildings and structures (roads, bridges, water pipes, thermal baths, etc.), arranging circuses, distributing them to the urban poor, etc. The liturgies were inextricably linked to the very essence of the ancient polis as a civil community. The transition to feudal relations on urban lands was also hindered by the political system of a self-governing city (municipality), which corresponded to ancient slave-owning relations based on the freedom of citizens and the exploitation of non-citizens. Cities were the mainstay of the empire's slave system. During the republic and the early Empire, villages were transformed into municipalities, but since the third century this trend has been stalling. It is replaced by the process of reviving rural communities — not only where they still existed, such as in the Danubian provinces and Northern Gaul, but also where they no longer existed: in urban, imperial and senatorial lands, the dependent rural population — coloni (various landholders) and slaves with peculius — creates their own communities for the purpose of mutual assistance.

During the crisis of the third century, owners of eximated land found themselves in a more favorable position than municipal landowners. Being independent of the cities, they were free from liturgies. In the third century, many senators were already permanently residing in their estates in the provinces, despite attempts by some emperors to return them to the capital. Large estates have long been based largely on the labor of various kinds of dependent landholders, i.e., producers who were more interested in their labor than slaves. In the third century. the transfer of rural slaves to pekuli is widespread: they are put on allotments, given the opportunity to have a family, a separate home, and a small farm. The position of the Coloni and the slaves is getting closer to Peculius. The owners of eximated saltus could set less burdensome payments and duties for their holders than less affluent villa owners could afford. Therefore, the colonists are fleeing from small estates to large ones. The magnates were interested in weakening the cities that challenged their political independence. To the exim type, i.e. the vast imperial lands were also taken out of the jurisdiction of cities and land ownership. Although there were many slaves in the senatorial and imperial estates, the main workers on the land were colonists; the slaves were mainly used as artisans, servants, and local administration.

In accordance with the existence of two main forms of land ownership — municipal and eximated-in the third century, two social groups associated with these forms of ownership collided: urban (municipal) landowners and owners of eximated saltus. It was a clash of two tendencies — slaveholding and feudal. The struggle between slaveholding and feudal tendencies in the third century, which manifested itself in the antagonism of the two main groups of the ruling class, the popular movements and the barbarian offensive, was the beginning of a social revolution that in the following centuries led to the complete collapse of the slave formation throughout the Mediterranean.

Diocletian's Reforms

By the end of the third century, various strata of the ruling class of the Roman Empire, which, as we have shown above, have very significant contradictions among themselves, temporarily rally around the imperial power, frightened by the economic crisis, popular movements, and barbarian invasions. In this situation, Diocletian, an Illyrian by birth, came to power, promoted by the army.

Diocletian (284-305) created a new form of empire — the dominatum. Its name comes from the Latin word dominus — "lord", as Diocletian ordered to call himself. Actually . since the beginning of the third century, the principate was replaced by a military monarchy, but formally it was considered to be preserved. Diocletian ended it. Imperial power was deified and acquired an openly monarchical character. A lavish and elaborate ceremony was introduced at the court, following the example of the Persian royal court. This to some extent protected the emperors from the assassinations that were so frequent in the third century. All citizens of the empire were considered subjects of the emperor.

Diocletian and his successor Konstantin is subjective, apparently, sought to restore the former (i.e. the slave) the Roman Empire, but, as will be shown, objectively, their reforms, although contributed to the crisis of the third century, meant the adaptation to the changing historical conditions and the recognition of the fact that the Empire suffered at the turn of the III and IV centuries on the path of feudalization.

Under Diocletian, the Bagaudian movement in Gaul was suppressed; Britain was restored to Roman rule; attacks by the Germans who invaded Gaul were repelled; captive barbarians were settled as colonies on the imperial lands and on the estates of magnates.

Since the events of the third century showed that it was impossible for a single ruler to cover the entire empire under his supervision in conditions of internal and foreign political crisis, a tetrarchy, i.e., a tetrarchy, was created. Diocletian divided the Roman Empire into two parts for ease of administration — the western and eastern. He took the eastern half for himself and made his residence in Nicomedia on the northwestern coast of Asia Minor, and assigned his co-ruler Maximian to manage the western half of the empire with a residence in Mediolana (Milan) in Northern Italy. Diocletian and Maximian assumed the titles of Augustus. Each Augustus received an assistant-deputy, who became known as Caesar. Diocletian's Caesar was Galerius, whose headquarters were located on the Danube. Maximian's Caesar was Constantius Chlorus, whose headquarters were located on the Middle Rhine. The Augustans married the Caesars to their daughters and pledged to raise the Caesars to the rank of Augustus and retire to private life in 20 years. In matters of dispute, Diocletian, as the elder Augustus, had the final say. It was assumed that the tetrarchy would provide centralization of power and at the same time efficiency of management.

The entire empire was divided into 12 dioceses, which in turn were divided into provinces, and about 100 provinces were formed. The size of the provinces was reduced compared to the previous ones, which weakened the governors, but at the same time increased the number of officials; each governor had his own bureaucratic apparatus. Civil power in the provinces was separated from military power. The borders of the military districts did not coincide with the borders of the provinces. Military and civil officials were supposed to keep an eye on each other and report everything to the emperor. These measures were intended to prevent the provinces from falling away, to prevent governors and military leaders from seizing power locally.

At the end of the third and first half of the fourth centuries, a military reform was carried out. The total number of troops was increased, but at the same time the number of each individual legion was reduced — now this unit numbered about a thousand soldiers. Before Diocletian, the army recruited mercenaries-volunteers mainly from the population of the empire. This was not enough to complete a large army. Diocletian ordered large landowners to supply recruits from among the slaves, colonists and freedmen. They were also required to serve in the army and lethe, captive barbarians settled on Roman territory — on imperial and senatorial lands. Finally, whole detachments of barbarians, the so-called Federates, were accepted for military service.

Previously, the legions were stationed in the provinces and closely connected with the local population. It was difficult to transfer such troops to the threatened part of the border. Under Constantine, the troops were divided into two categories — border and mobile units. Border guards were constantly located on certain sections of the border; mobile ones were located inside the country and could move in the right direction at any time. By breaking up and dispersing the legions, greater efficiency of the military forces was achieved, and the goal was to weaken the power of the generals and prevent them from seizing the throne.

Due to the decline of commodity-money relations in the empire, the army, as well as officials, were largely transferred to subsistence allowances.

Emperor Diocletian, 3rd century AD

Konstantin's Reforms

Constantine (306-337), son of Constantius Chlorus, destroyed or outlived all other pretenders to power, destroyed the tetrarchy, and became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. The dominatum was formed in its fullest form during his lifetime. Constantine continued Diocletian's policy in many ways, but in some respects broke with his predecessor. Their religious policies were particularly different: Diocletian fought fiercely against Christianity, and Constantine recognized it as the state religion(Later a legend was launched that before one of the battles of Constantine with rivals, he saw Christ in a dream with a banner on which a cross was depicted and the inscription "this is to win". The opportunistic nature of the transaction with Christianity is evident from the fact that Constantine, although he happened to preside over a church council, was baptized only before his death. However, he allowed his mother Elena to go to Jerusalem to find the alleged remains of the cross of Jesus.).

Under Constantine, Christianity actually became the dominant religion. In 325, a church council in the Asian city of Nicaea was held with the participation of the emperor. The obligatory foundations of the Christian faith were formulated. Pagan cults from this time began to be replaced, although they were officially banned only at the very end of the IV century. The dominant church began to be called Christian, apostolic, Catholic (universal) and Orthodox (i.e., the only correct one).

Having received official recognition, the Christian church is transformed from a persecuted one to a strong and rich organization. Gifts from emperors and magnates, gifts under wills, payments for church services, income from the exploitation of slaves and colonies in church and monastery farms flow into its hands. The Church becomes a major landowner and slave owner. A whole hierarchy of ecclesiastical positions is being created, headed by archbishops and bishops. The bishops of the largest cities-Rome, Alexandria, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Antioch-rose above the rest and assumed the title of patriarch. The patriarchs of Rome and Alexandria were also called popes; later this title was retained only by the Roman Patriarch.

Emperor Constantine I, 4th century AD

The higher clergy of the Christian Church became an ally of the state power and the ruling class, especially the land magnates. At the same time, social struggles often began to take the form of heresies, i.e. religious movements that disagree with the official church.

Constantine moved the capital from Italy to the East. This was due to the fact that in the fourth century the western half of the empire fell into economic decline, while the economy of the eastern provinces remained at a higher level. The economic center of the empire shifted to the East, so Rome lost its importance as a political center. In addition, by leaving Rome forever, Constantine emphasized a break with the old political traditions and the final establishment of the dominant-the despotic power of the emperor. The new capital of the Roman Empire since 330. It is an ancient Greek city of Byzantium, located on the European shore of the Bosphorus Strait between the Aegean and Black Seas. In the Byzantine Empire, it was renamed Constantinople, i.e. the city of Constantine (now Istanbul). The location for the capital was chosen well: the city is located at the crossroads of military and commercial (sea and land) roads, it had an advantageous strategic position, occupying a hill facing the Golden Horn Bay on one side. There was a lot of construction going on in the new capital. Among other buildings, Constantine built both Christian churches and pagan temples here.

After destroying the tetrarchy, Constantine retained, however, the division of the Roman Empire into four parts for ease of administration. These units became known as prefectures; the officials who headed them, the prefects, reported directly to the emperor.

In the fourth century, the estates of colonists, artisans, soldiers, and curials were formed, and there was a tendency to enslave them by legislation in order to provide agriculture and crafts with labor, the army with soldiers, and the state with taxes.

In 332, by decree of Constantine, the colonists were attached to the land: they were deprived of the right to transfer from one estate to another. Fugitive colonists were ordered to be shackled, enslaved, and returned to their former places. Later, the laws on attaching columns were repeatedly confirmed, which indicates the prevalence of column flight. The edict of the emperors Arcadius and Honorius (late IV or early V c.) calls the coloni "slaves of the earth" and allows them to be sold along with their estates.

Artisans employed in state workshops were attached to their craft; the rescript of Arcadius and Honorius of 398 even ordered these workers to be branded, "so that they might be more easily found if they went into hiding." Self-employed artisans, forced by economic necessity to unite by profession (as many professions as there are in a given city, so many corporations or colleges), were attached to the colleges: having enrolled in the number of artisans of any profession, a person could no longer leave his craft without the permission of the authorities. The Board was generally responsible for collecting taxes from its members.

In the fourth century. Constantine and his successors issued a series of decrees on the enslavement of the curial class — urban landowners, which consisted of city councils-curia. They were forbidden to leave the city, and their rights to sell their estates were restricted. Belonging to the Curial class became hereditary. The most important state duty of this class was the responsibility for collecting taxes from the urban population and from rural residents assigned to the city. Earlier honorary membership in the Curial class (in the third century). it was called the Decurion class) became a heavy burden for most of them.

According to the rescript of Constantine of 326, the sons of veterans had to either become curials or go to military service. A significant part of the Roman army consisted of recruits drawn from the rural population (colons, etc.); recruits were branded on the hand.

The slaves did not disappear, the productivity of their labor remained the same, but it finally turned out that the exploitation of workers who manage independently is more economical, and the available means of violence already fully allowed for such exploitation; therefore, slaves were relegated to an auxiliary role in production. This did not make their situation any easier. On the contrary, it is precisely from the time of Constantine that the treatment of slaves has been tightened by law. Decree of Constantine of 319 released the master from responsibility for the murder of a slave, if the latter's death was caused by whipping or whipping, or by being put in chains. It was forbidden only to deliberately kill slaves with a club, stone, weapon, hanging, throwing from a height, being torn to pieces by wild animals, fire, poisoning. The list of prohibited methods of killing slaves given in the edict eloquently testifies to the actual reprisals that took place with them.

The Roman Empire in the 3rd century AD


In the last two centuries of the Roman Empire's existence, the role of rural communities increased — not only free rural communities where they still exist, such as in the Danubian provinces and in Northern Galia, but also communities of dependent colon peasants who sat on foreign land-private, imperial, urban. The process of revival of the rural community was connected with the need of small farmers for mutual assistance. As the colonists became the main category of producers in agriculture, the rural community became a historical necessity. The community of this period was already a phenomenon of a new quality, since it united not free citizens, but dependent (in fact, already feudally dependent) peasants.

In the late Roman Empire, two ways of life coexisted: slave-owning, represented in cities, and feudal, represented by eximated Saltus with colonies and rural communities. These systems interacted, and the slave-owning system allowed for a large staff of slave craftsmen and administrators in Saltus, which made saltus autarkic; rural communities also emerged in Saltus. When this way of life (saltus and communities) became dominant, the predominant form of exploitation became the exploitation of direct producers who own their own means of production, which is also characteristic of the stadially close countries of the East. Hence the widespread thesis about the" orientalization " of the empire, which must be understood primarily in the socio-economic sense. At the end of antiquity, the Greco-Roman ("ancient") a society acquires a structure similar to that of other societies at the same stage of development.

The process of economic and political decentralization, anticipating feudal fragmentation, was particularly pronounced in the western provinces, where private land ownership was more developed than in the eastern provinces, with their more numerous and richer cities and large imperial land holdings. This seems to have contributed to the conquest of the western half of the Roman Empire by barbarian tribes in the fifth century.

Related topics

The Roman Empire, Diocletian, Constantine I the Great, Dominant, The crisis of the 3rd century in the Roman Empire