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Originally appearing in Volume V23, Page 513 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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LATER ROMAN EMPIRE. The reign of Constantine the Great forms the most deep-reaching division in the history of Europe. The external continuity is not broken, but the principles which guided society in the Greek and Roman world are replaced by a new order of ideas. The emperor-worship, which expressed a belief in the ideal of the earthly empire of Rome, gives way to Christianity; this is the outward sign that a mental transformation, which we can trace for 300 years before in visible processes of decay and growth, had reached a crisis. Besides the adoption of Christianity, Constantine's reign is marked by an event only second in importance, the shifting of the centre of gravity of the Empire from the west to the east by making Byzantium a second capital, a second Rome. The foundation of Constantinople (q.v.) determined the subsequent history of the state; it established permanently the division between the eastern and western parts of the Empire —a principle already introduced—and soon exhibited, though not immediately, the preponderance of the eastern half. The eastern provinces were the richest and most resourceful, and only needed a Rome in their midst to proclaim this fact; and further, it was eastward that the Empire fronted, for here was the one great civilized state with which it was in constant antagonism. Byzantium was refounded on the model of Rome, had its own senate, and presently a praefectus urbi. But its character was different in two ways: it was Christian and it was Greek. From its foundation New Rome had a Christian stamp; it had no history as the capital of a pagan empire. There was, however, no intention of depressing Rome to a secondary rank in political importance; this was brought about by the force of circumstances. The Christian Roman Empire, from the first to the last Constantine, endured for 1130 years, and during that long period, which witnessed the births of all the great modern nations of Europe, experienced many vicissitudes of decline and revival. In the 5th century it lost all its western provinces through the expansion of the Teutons; but in the 6th asserted something of its ancient power and won back some of its losses. In the 7th it was brought very low through the expansion of the Saracens and of the Slays, but in consequence. of internal reforms and prudent government in the 8th century was able before the end of the 9th to initiate a new brilliant period of power and conquest. From the middle of the 11th century a decline began; besides the perpetual dangers on the eastern and northern frontiers, the Empire was menaced by the political aggression of the Normans and the commercial aggression of Venice; then its capital was taken and its dominions dismembered by Franks and Venetians in 1204. It survived the blow for 250 years, as a shadow of its former self. During this long life its chief political role was that of acting as a defender of Europe against the great powers of western Asia. While it had to resist a continuous succession of dangerous enemies on its northern frontier in Europe—German, Slavonic, Finnic and Tatar peoples—it always considered that its front was towards the east, and that its gravest task was to face the powers which successively inherited the dominion of Cyrus and Darius. From this point of view we might divide the external history of the Empire into four great periods, each marked by a struggle with a different Asiatic power: (I) with Persia, ending c. 63o with the triumph of Rome; (2) with the Saracens, who ceased to be formidable in the 11th century; (3) with the Seljuk Turks, in the 11th and 12th centuries; (4) with the Ottoman Turks, in which the Roman power went down. Medieval historians, concentrating their interest on the rising states of western Europe, often fail to recognize the position held by the later Empire and its European prestige. Up to the middle of the 11th century it was in actual strength the first power in Europe, except in the lifetime of Charles the Great, and under the Comneni it was still a power of the first rank. But its political strength does not express the fulness of its importance. As the heir of antiquity it was confessedly superior in civilization, and it was supreme in commerce. Throughout the whole period (to 1204) Constantinople was the first city in the world. The influence which the Empire exerted upon its neighbours, especially the Slavonic peoples, is the second great role which it fulfilled for Europe—a role on which perhaps the most speaking commentary is the doctrine that the Russian Tsar is the heir of the Roman Caesar. The Empire has been called by many names- Greek, Byzantine, Lower (Bas-empire), Eastern (or East-Roman). All these have a certain justification as descriptions, but the only strictly correct name is Roman (as recognized in the title of Gibbon's work). The continuity from Augustus to Constantine XI. is unbroken; the emperor was always the Roman emperor; his subjects were always Romans ('Pwµaiot: hence Romaic—Modern Greek). " Greek Empire" expresses the fact that the state became predominantly Greek in character, owing to the loss, first of the Latin provinces, afterwards of Syria and Egypt; and from the middle of the 6th century Greek became the official language. " Lower Empire " (Later is preferable) marks the great actual distinction in character between the development before Constantine (Haut-empire) and after his adoption of Christianity. " Byzantine ` sums up in a word the unique Graeco-Roman civilization which was centred in New Rome. Eastern is a term of convenience, but it has been used in two senses, not to be confused. It has been used, loosely, to designate the eastern half of the Empire during the 8o years or so (from 395) when there were two lines of emperors, ruling formally as colleagues but practically independent, at Rome and Constantinople; but though there were two emperors, as often before, there was only one Empire. It has also been used, justifiably, to distinguish the true Roman Empire from the new state founded by Charles the Great (800), which also claimed to be the Roman Empire; Eastern and Western Empire are from this date forward legitimate terms of distinction. But between the periods to which the legitimate and illegitimate uses of the term " Eastern Empire " apply lies a period of more than 300 years, in which there was only one Empire in any sense of the word. A chronological table of the dynasties will assist the reader of the historical sketch which follows. Succession of Emperors arranged in Dynasties. I. CONSTANTINIAN DYNASTY.—A.D. 324-363. Emperors (founder of dynasty, Constantius I., 305-306) : Constantine I. (306, sole emperor since), 324-337. In west—Constantine II., 337-340; Constans, 337-350. In east—Constantius II., 337- Sole emperors: Constantius II., 350-361; Julian, 361-363. INTER-DYNASTY.—JOVian, 363-364. 2. VALENTINIANEAN DYNASTY.—A.D. 364-392. Emperors: In west—Valentinian I., 364-375; Gratian, 367-383; Valentinian II., 375-392. In east—Valens, 365-378 (Theodosius I., 379-392). 3. THEODOSIAN DYNASTY.—A.D. 392-457. Emperors: Theodosius I. (379), 392-395. In east—Arcadius, 395-408; Theodosius II., 408-450; Marcian, 450—457. In west—Honorius, 395-423; Constantius III., 422; Valentinian III., 425-455; (non-dynastic) Maximus, 455; Avitus, 455-456. 4. LEONINE DYNASTY.—A.D. 457-518. Emperors: In east—Leo I., 457-474; Leo II., 474; Zeno, 474-491; Anastasius I., 491-518. In west—non-dynastic, Majorian, 457-461; Severus, 461-465; (Leo I. sole emperor, 465-467); Anthemius, 467-472; Olybrius, 472; Glycerius, 473-474; Julius Nepos, 474-480; (usurper, Romulus Augustulus, 475—476). 5. JUSTINIANEAN DYNASTY.—A.D. 518—602. Emperors: Justin I., 518-527; Justinian I., 527-565; Justin II., 565-578; Tiberius II., 578-582; Maurice, 582-602. INTER-DYNASTY.—PhOCaS, 602–610 6. HERACLIAN DYNASTY.—A.D. 610-71I. Emperors: Heraclius, 610—641; Constantine III., 64r; Heracleonas, 641-642; Constans II., 642-668; Constantine IV. (Pogonatus) 668-685; Justinian II. (Rhinotmetus), 685-695; (non-dynastic) Leontius,695-698 and Tiberius III. (Apsimar), 698-705 ; Justinian II. (restored), 705-711. II. INTER-DYNASTY.—Philip Bardanes, 711-713; Anastasius II., 713-716; Theodosius III., 716-717. 7. ISAURIAN (SYRIAN) DYNASTY.—A.D.717-802. Emperors: Leo III., 717-740 (alias, 41); Constantine V. (Copronymus), 740—775; Leo IV. (Khazar), 775-780; Constantine VI., 780—797; Irene, 797-802. INTER-DYNASTY.—NiCephOrus I., 8o2-811 ; Stauracius (son of Nicephorus), 811; Michael I. (Rhangabe, father-in-law of Stauracius), 811-813; Leo V. (Armenian), 813-820. 8. PHRYGIAN OR AMORIAN DYNASTY —A.D. 82o-867. Emperors: Michael II. (Stammerer), 820-829; Theophilus, 829–842; Michael III. (Drunkard), 842-867. 9. MACEDONIAN DYNASTY.—A.D. 867-I057. Emperors: Basil I. (Macedonian), 867-886; Leo VI. (philosopher) and Alexander, 886-912; Constantine VII. (Porphyrogennetos), 912-959; Romanus I. (Lecapenus), 920-944; Romanus I I., 959-963 ; Basil II. (Bulgaroctonus) and Constantine VIII., 963-1025; (non-dynastic) Nicephorus II. (Phocas), 963—969, and John Zimisces, 969-976 ; Constantine VIII., alone, 1025-1028; Romanus III. (Argyros), 1028-1034; Michael IV. (Paphlagonian), 1034—1041; Michael V. (Calaphates), 1041-1042; Constantine IX. (Monomachus), 1042-1054; Theodora, 1054-1056; Michael VI. (Stratioticus), Io56-1057. INTER-DYNASTY.—Isaac I. (Comnenus), 1057-1059; Constantine X. (Ducas), 1059-1067; Michael VII (Parapinaces), Andronicus and Constantine XI , Io67; Romanus IV. (Diogenes), 1067–1071; Michael VII., alone, 1071-1078; Nicephorus III. (Botaneiates), 1078-1081. I0. COMNENIAN DYNASTY.—A.D. I081–I204. Emperors: Alexius I. (nephew of Isaac I.), 1081-1118; John II., 1118-1143; Manuel I., 1143-1180; Alexius II., 1180-1183; Andronicus I., 1183-1185; Isaac II. (Angelus), 1185-1195; Alexius III. (Angelus), 1195-1203; Isaac II. and Alexius IV., 1203-1204. INTER-DYNASTY.—AlexiUS V. (Murtzuphlus), 1204. Capture of Constantinople and dismemberment of the Empire by the Venetians and Franks, A.D. 1204-1205. II. LASCARID DYNASTY.—A.D. I206-I259. Emperors: Theodore I. (Lascaris), 1206-1222; John_ III. (Vatatzes or Batatzes), 1222-1254; Theodore II. (Lascaris), 1254-1259. I2. PALAEOLOGIAN DYNASTY.—A.D. I259-1453. Emperors: Michael VIII. (Palaeologus), 1259-1282; Andronicus II. (Elder), 1282–1328 ; Andronicus III.(Younger), 1328–1341; John V., 1341-1391; (non-dynastic), John (Cantacuzenus), 1347–1355; Manuel II.,1391-1425;JJohn VI., 1425-1448; Constantine XI., or XII. (Dragases), 1448-1453. Historical Sketch.—Diocletian's artificial experiment of two Augusti and two Caesars had been proved a failure, leading to twenty years of disastrous civil wars; and when Constantine the Great (q.v.) destroyed his last rival and restored domestic peace, he ruled for the rest of his life with undivided sway. But he had three sons, and this led to a new partition of the Empire after his death, and to more domestic wars, Constans first annexing the share of Constantine II. (340) and becoming sole ruler of the west, to be in turn destroyed by Constantius II., who in 350 remained sole sovereign of the Empire. Having no children, he was succeeded by his cousin, Julian the Apostate (q.v.). This period was marked by wars against the Germans, who were pressing on the Rhine and Danish frontiers, and against Persia. Julian lost his life in the eastern struggle, which was then terminated by a disadvantageous peace. But the German danger grew graver, and the battle of Adrianople, in which the Visigoths, who had crossed the Danube in consequence of the coming of the Huns (see GoTHs and HuNS), won a great victory, and the emperor Valens perished (378), announced that the question between Roman and Teuton had entered on a new stage. Theodosius the Great saved the situation for the time by his Gothic pacification. The efforts of a series of exceptionally able and hard-working rulers preserved the Empire intact throughout the 4th century, but the dangers which they weathered were fatal to their weaker successors. On the death of Theodosius the decisive moment came for the expansion of the Germans, and they took the tide at the flood. There were three elements in the situation. Besides the Teutonic peoples beyond the frontier there were dependent people who had settled within the Empire (as Visigoths in Moesia, Vandals in Pannonia), and further there were the semi-Romanized Germans in the service of the Empire, some of whom had risen to leading positions (like Merobaudes and Stilicho). A Germanization of the Empire, or part of it, in some shape was inevitable, but, if the rulers of the 5th century had been men of the same stamp as the rulers of the 4th, the process might have assumed a different form. The sons of Theodosius were both incapable; and in their reigns the future of the state which was divided between them was decided. The dualism between the east (under Arcadius) and the west (under Honorious) developed under the rule of these brothers into antagonism verging on hostility. The German danger was averted in the east, but it led in a few years to the loss of many of the western provinces, and at the end of ninety years theimmediate authority of the Roman Emperor did not extend west of the Adriatic. The reign of Honorius saw the abandonment of Britain, the establishment of the Visigothic kingdom in Aquitaine, the occupation of a great part of Spain by Vandals and Sueves (Suebi). Under Valentinian III. the Vandals founded their kingdom in North Africa, the Visigoths shared Spain with the Sueves, the Burgundian kingdom was founded in S.E. Gaul. The last Roman possession in Gaul passed to the Franks in 486 (see GOTHS; VANDALS; FRANKS). It is significant that the chief defender of the Empire against the Germans who were dismembering it were men of German race. Stilicho, who defended Italy against Alaric, Aetius, whose great work was to protect the imperial possessions in Gaul, and Ricimer. It was also a German, Fravitta, who played a decisive part in suppressing a formidable Gothic movement which menaced the throne of Arcadius in 399-400. It was characteristic of this transformation of Europe that the Germans, who were imbued with a profound reverence for the Empire and its prestige, founded their kingdoms on Roman soil in the first instance as " federates " of the Emperor, on the basis of formal contracts, defining their relations to the native provincials; they seized their dominions not as conquerors, but as subjects. The double position of Alaric himself, as both king of the Visigoths and a magisler militum of the Empire is significant of the situation. The development of events was complicated by the sudden growth of the transient empire of the Huns (q.v.) in central Europe, forming a third great power, which, reaching from the Rhine to the Caucasus, from the Danube to the Baltic, might be compared in the extent of its nominal supremacy, but in nothing else, to the empires of Rome and Persia. The Huns, whose first appearance had precipitated the Germans on the Empire, now retarded for some years the process of German expansion, while they failed in their own attacks upon the Empire. On Attila's death (453) his realm collapsed, and his German vassals (Ostrogoths, &c.) founded important kingdoms on its ruins. After the death of Valentinian III., the worst of his house, the Theodosian dynasty expired in the west, and the authority of the western emperors who succeeded him in rapid succession reached little beyond Italy. For most of this period of twenty years the general Ricimer, of German birth, held the scales of power in that peninsula, setting up and pulling down emperors. After his death the western throne was no longer tenable. First there was a usurpation; the general Orestes set up his child-son Romulus Augustulus against the legitimate Augustus, Julius Nepos, who was acknowledged by the eastern emperor; but this temporary government was overthrown (476) by a Germanic military revolution headed by Odoacer, who appropriated part of the soil to his German soldiers and founded an Italian kingdom under the nominal supremacy of the emperor at Constantinople, who, however unwilling, recognized his position (after the death of Julius Nepos). The escape of the eastern provinces from the fate of the western illustrates the fact that the strength of the Empire lay in the east. These provinces were more populous and presented greater obstacles to the invaders, who followed the line of least resistance. But it was of immense importance that throughout this period the Empire was able to preserve a practically unbroken peace with its great eastern rival. The struggle with Persia, terminated in 364 by the peace of Jovian, was not renewed till the beginning of the 6th century. It was of greater importance that the rulers pursued a discreet and moderate policy, both in financial administration and in foreign affairs; and the result was that at the end of a hundred years the diminished Empire was strong and consolidated. Theodosius II. was a weak prince, but his government was ably conducted by Anthemius, by his sister Pulcheria and by the eunuch Chrysaphius. , His reign was important for the Armenian question. Theodosius I. had committed the error of consenting to a division of this buffer state in the Roman and Persian spheres of influence, Persia having much the larger. The Sassanid government tried to suppress the use of the Greek language. But the government of Theodosius II. officially supported the enterprise of translating the Bible into Armenian (Mesrob had just invented the Armenian alphabet), and this initiated the production of an abundant literature of translations from the Greek, which secured the perpetual connexion of Armenia with European culture, and not with Oriental. This reign is also distinguished by the building of the great landwalls of Constantinople, by the foundation of a university there and by the collection of the imperial laws in the Codex Theodosianus, which is a mine of material for the social condition of the Empire. It reveals to us the decline of municipal liberty, the decay of the middle classes in the West, the evils of the oppressive fiscal system and an appalling paralysis of Roman administration which had once been so efficient; it shows how the best-intentioned emperors were unable to control the governors and check their corruption; and discloses a disorganization which facilitated the dismemberment of the Empire by the barbarians. In the reign of Zeno it seemed probable that an Ostrogothic kingdom would be established in the Balkan peninsula, but the danger was diverted to Italy (see GOTHS). The kingdom which Theodoric founded there was, in its constitutional aspect, a continuation of Odoacer's regime. He, like Odoacer and Alaric, held the double position of a German king and a Roman official. He was magister militum as well as rex. His powers were defined by capitulations which were arranged with the emperor Anastasius and loyally observed. The right of legislation was reserved to the emperor, and Theodoric never claimed it; but for all practical purposes he was independent. In the 6th century the emperor Justinian, whose talents were equal to his ambitions, found himself, through the financial prudence of his predecessors, in a position to undertake the reconquest of some of the lost western provinces. The Vandal power had declined, and Africa was won back in one campaign by Belisarius in 533. The conquest of Italy was far more difficult. Begun by Belisarius in 535, it was not completed till 554, by Narses. A portion of southern Spain was also won from the Visigoths, so that the Romans again commanded the western straits. Justinian, possessed by large ideas and intoxicated with the majesty of Rome, aspired to be a great conqueror, a great lawgiver, a great pontiff, a great diplomatist, a great builder, and in each of these spheres his reign holds a conspicuous place in the annals of the Empire. His legal work alone, or the building of Santa Sophia was enough to ensure him immortal fame. But deep shadows balance the splendour. The reconquest of Africa was thoroughly justified and advantageous, but Italy was bought at a ruinous cost. In the first place, the Persian empire was at this time ruled by one of its greatest kings, Chosroes I. (q.v.), who was far from peacefully inclined. Justinian was engaged in a long Persian and a long Gothic war at the same time, and the state was unequal to the strain. In the second place, it was all-important for his western policy to secure the goodwill of the Italian provincials and the Roman bishop, and for this purpose he involved himself in an ecclesiastical policy (see below) which caused the final alienation of the Syrian and Egyptian provinces. The reconquest of the West was purchased by the disunion of the East. Thirdly, the enormous expenses of the Italian and Persian wars, augmented by architectural undertakings, caused a policy of financial oppression which hung as a cloud over all the brilliance of his reign, and led to the decline which ensued upon his death. Nor is it to be forgotten that he had at the same time to fulfil the task of protecting the Danube against the Germans, Slays and Bulgarians who constantly threatened the Illyrian provinces. He spared no expense in building forts and walls. Justinian's name will always be associated with that of the gifted Theodora, an actress of doubtful fame in her early life, who shared his throne. Their mosaic portraits are preserved in the contemporary church of San Vitale at Ravenna. She possessed great political influence, and the fact that she was a heretic (monophysite), while Justinian was devoted to orthodoxy,

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