THE 4 KINGDOMS
FLOWING OUT OF
THE BOUNDARIES OF
THE ANCIENT EMPIRES
East Roman Empire
Seleucid Portion - Old Grecian Empire
On The Thumbnail
For A Study Of Each Empire
VISION OF EACH EMPIRE
625 - 539 B.C.
Hammurabi (c. 1792-c. 1750 BC) is surely the most impressive and by
now the best-known figure of the ancient Middle East of the first half
of the 2nd millennium BC. He owes his posthumous reputation to the great
stela into which the Code of Hammurabi was carved and indirectly also to
the fact that his dynasty has made the name of Babylon famous for all time.
In much the same way in which pre-Sargonic Kish exemplified the non-Sumerian
area north of Sumer and Akkad lent its name to a country and a language,
Babylon became the symbol of the whole country that the Greeks called Babylonia.
This term is used anachronistically by Assyriologists as a geographic concept
in reference to the period before Hammurabi. Originally the city's name
was probably Babilla, which was reinterpreted in popular etymology as Bab-ili
("Gate of the God").
THE PERSIAN EMPIRE
The 1st dynasty of Babylon rose from insignificant beginnings. The history
of the erstwhile province of Ur is traceable from about 1894 onward, when
the Amorite Sumuabum came to power there. What is known of these events
fits altogether into the modest proportions of the period when Mesopotamia
was a mosaic of small states. Hammurabi played skillfully on the instrument
of coalitions and became more powerful than his predecessors had been.
Nonetheless, it was only in the 30th year of his reign, after his conquest
of Larsa, that he gave concrete expression to the idea of ruling all of
southern Mesopotamia by "strengthening the foundations of Sumer and Akkad,"
in the words of that year's dating formula. In the prologue to the Code
of Hammurabi the king lists the following cities as belonging to his dominions:
Eridu near Ur, Ur, Lagash and Girsu, Zabalam, Larsa, Uruk, Adab, Isin,
Nippur, Keshi, Dilbat, Borsippa, Babylon itself, Kish, Malgium, Mashkan-shapir,
Kutha, Sippar, Eshnunna in the Diyala region, Mari, Tuttul on the lower
Balikh (a tributary of the Euphrates), and finally Ashur and Nineveh. This
was on a scale reminiscent of Akkad or Ur III. Yet Ashur and Nineveh cannot
have formed part of this empire for long because at the end of Hammurabi's
reign mention is made again of wars against Subartu--that is, Assyria.
Under Hammurabi's son Samsuiluna (c. 1749-c. 1712 BC) the Babylonian empire
greatly shrank in size. Following what had almost become a tradition, the
south rose up in revolt. Larsa regained its autonomy for some time, and
the walls of Ur, Uruk, and Larsa were leveled. Eshnunna, which evidently
had also seceded, was vanquished about 1730. Later chronicles mention the
existence of a state in the Sealand, with its own dynasty (by "Sealand"
is understood the marshlands of southern Babylonia). Knowledge of this
new dynasty is unfortunately very vague, only one of its kings being documented
in contemporary texts. About 1741 Samsuiluna mentions the Kassites for
the first time; about 1726 he constructed a stronghold, "Fort Samsuiluna,"
as a bulwark against them on the Diyala near its confluence with the Tigris.
Like the Gutians before them, the Kassites were at first prevented from
entering Babylonia and pushed into the mid-Euphrates region; there, in
the kingdom of Khana (centered on Mari and Terqa, both below the junction
with the Khabur River), a king appears with the Kassite name of Kashtiliashu,
who ruled toward the end of the Babylonian dynasty. From Khana the Kassites
moved south in small groups, probably as harvest workers. After the Hittite
invasion under Mursilis I, who is said to have dethroned the last king
of Babylon, Samsuditana, in 1595, the Kassites assumed the royal power
in Babylonia. So far, the contemporary sources do not mention this epoch,
and the question remains unresolved as to how the Kassite rulers named
in king lists mesh with the end of the 2nd millennium BC.
MEDO - PERSIAN EMPIRE
550 - 400 B.C
Cyrus II, byname CYRUS THE GREAT (b. 590-580
BC, Media, or Persis--d. c. 529, Asia), conqueror who founded the Achaemenid
empire, centred on Persia and comprising the Near East from the Aegean
Sea to the Indus River. He is also remembered in the Cyrus legend--first
recorded by Xenophon, Greek soldier and author, in his Cyropaedia--as a
tolerant and ideal monarch who was called father of his people by the ancient
Persians and in the Bible as the liberator of the Jews captive in Babylonia.
Life And Legend
Cyrus was born between 590 and 580 BC, either
in Media or, more probably, in Persis, the modern Fars province of Iran.
The meaning of his name is in dispute, for it is not known whether it was
a personal name or a throne name given to him when he became a ruler.
It is noteworthy that after the Achaemenid empire
the name does not appear again in sources relating to Iran, which may indicate
some special sense of the name. Most scholars agree, however, that Cyrus
the Great was at least the second of the name to rule in Persia.
One cuneiform text in Akkadian--the language of
Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) in the pre-Christian era--asserts he was
the son of Cambyses, great king, king of Anshan, grandson of Cyrus, great
king, king of Anshan, descendant of Teispes, great king, king of Anshan,
of a family [which] always [exercised] kingship. In any case, it is clear
that Cyrus came from a long line of ruling chiefs.
The most important source for his life is the
Greek historian Herodotus. The idealized biography by Xenophon is a work
for the edification of the Greeks concerning the ideal ruler, rather than
a historical treatise. It does, however, indicate the high esteem in which
Cyrus was held, not only by his own people, the Persians, but by the Greeks
and others. Herodotus says that the Persians called Cyrus their father,
while later Achaemenid rulers were not so well regarded.
The story of the childhood of Cyrus, as told by
Herodotus with echoes in Xenophon and the Greek historian Ctesias, may
be called a Cyrus legend since it obviously follows a pattern of folk beliefs
about the almost superhuman qualities of the founder of a dynasty. Similar
beliefs also exist about the founders of later dynasties throughout the
history of Iran.
According to the legend, Astyages, the king of
the Medes and overlord of the Persians, gave his daughter in marriage to
his vassal in Persis, a prince called Cambyses. From this marriage Cyrus
was born. Astyages, having had a dream that the baby would grow up to overthrow
him, ordered Cyrus slain. His chief adviser, however, instead gave the
baby to a shepherd to raise. When he was 10 years old, Cyrus, because of
his outstanding qualities, was discovered by Astyages, who, in spite of
the dream, was persuaded to allow the boy to live.
Cyrus, when he reached manhood in Persis, revolted
against his maternal grandfather and overlord. Astyages marched against
the rebel, but his army deserted him and surrendered to Cyrus in 550 BC.
After inheriting the empire of the Medes, Cyrus
first had to consolidate his power over Iranian tribes on the Iranian plateau
before expanding to the west. Croesus, king of Lydia in Asia Minor, had
enlarged his domains at the expense of the Medes when he heard of the fall
of Astyages, and Cyrus, as successor of the Median king, marched against
Lydia. Sardis, the Lydian capital, was captured in 547 or 546, and Croesus
was either killed or burned himself to death, though according to other
sources he was taken prisoner by Cyrus and well treated.
The Ionian Greek cities on the Aegean Sea coast,
as vassals of the Lydian king, now became subject to Cyrus, and most of
them submitted peacefully. Several revolts of the Greek cities were later
suppressed with severity.
Next Cyrus turned to Babylonia, where dissatisfaction
of the people with the ruler Nabonidus gave him a pretext for invading
the lowlands. The conquest was quick, for even the priests of Marduk, the
national deity of the great metropolis of Babylon, had become estranged
In October 539 BC, the greatest city of the ancient
world fell to the Persians. In the Bible (e.g., Ezra 1:1-4), Cyrus is famous
for freeing the Jewish captives in Babylonia and allowing them to return
to their homeland. Cyrus was also tolerant toward the Babylonians and others.
He honored Marduk and conciliated the local population by supporting local
customs and even sacrificing to local deities.
The capture of Babylon delivered not only Mesopotamia
into the hands of Cyrus but also Syria and Palestine, which had been conquered
previously by the Babylonians. The ruler of Cilicia in Asia Minor had become
an ally of Cyrus when the latter marched against Croesus, and Cilicia retained
a special status in Cyrus' empire.
Thus it was by diplomacy as well as force of arms
that he established the largest empire known until his time. Cyrus seems
to have had several capitals. One was the city of Ecbatana, modern Hamadan,
former capital of the Medes, and another was a new capital of the empire,
Pasargadae, in Persis, said to be on the site where Cyrus had won the battle
against Astyages. The ruins today, though few, arouse admiration in the
visitor. Cyrus also kept Babylon as a winter capital.
No Persian chauvinist, Cyrus was quick to learn
from the conquered peoples. He not only conciliated the Medes but joined
them with the Persians in a kind of dual monarchy of the Medes and Persians.
Cyrus had to borrow the traditions of kingship from the Medes, who had
ruled an empire when the Persians were merely their vassals. It is probable
that a Mede was traditionally made an adviser to the Achaemenid king, as
a sort of chief minister; on later reliefs at Persepolis, a capital of
the Achaemenid kings from the time of Darius, a Mede is frequently depicted
together with the great king.
The Elamites, indigenous inhabitants of Persis,
were also the teachers of the Persians in many ways, as can be seen, for
example, in the Elamite dress worn by Persians and by Elamite objects carried
by them on the stone reliefs at Persepolis. There also seems to have been
little innovation in government and rule, but rather a willingness to borrow,
combined with an ability to adapt what was borrowed to the new empire.
Cyrus was undoubtedly the guiding genius in the creation not only of a
great empire but in the formation of Achaemenid culture and civilization.
Little is known of the family life of Cyrus. He
had two sons, one of whom, Cambyses, succeeded him; the other, Bardiya
( Smerdis of the Greeks), was probably secretly put to death by Cambyses
after he became ruler. Cyrus had at least one daughter, Atossa (who married
her brother Cambyses), and possibly two others, but they played no role
When Cyrus defeated Astyages he also inherited
Median possessions in eastern Iran, but he had to engage in much warfare
to consolidate his rule in this region. After his conquest of Babylonia,
he again turned to the east, and Herodotus tells of his campaign against
nomads living east of the Caspian Sea.
According to the Greek historian, Cyrus was at
first successful in defeating the ruler of the nomads--called the Massagetai--who
was a woman, and captured her son. On the son's committing suicide in captivity,
his mother swore revenge and defeated and killed Cyrus.
Herodotus' story may be apocryphal, but Cyrus'
conquests in Central Asia were probably genuine, since a city in farthest
Sogdiana was called Cyreschata, or Cyropolis, by the Greeks, which seems
to prove the extent of his Eastern conquests. The legacy of Cyrus It is
a testimony to the capability of the founder of the Achaemenid empire that
it continued to expand after his death and lasted for more than two centuries.
But Cyrus was not only a great conqueror and administrator;
he held a place in the minds of the Persian people similar to that of Romulus
and Remus in Rome or Moses for the Israelites.
His saga follows in many details the stories of
hero and conquerors from elsewhere in the ancient world. The manner in
which the baby Cyrus was given to a shepherd to raise is reminiscent of
Moses in the bulrushes in Egypt, and the overthrow of his tyrannical grandfather
has echoes in other myths and legends. There is no doubt that the Cyrus
saga arose early among the Persians and was known to the Greeks. The sentiments
of esteem or even awe in which Persians held him were transmitted to the
Greeks, and it was no accident that Xenophon chose Cyrus to be the model
of a ruler for the lessons he wished to impart to his fellow Greeks.
In short, the figure of Cyrus has survived throughout
history as more than a great man who founded an empire. He became the epitome
of the great qualities expected of a ruler in antiquity, and he assumed
heroic features as a conqueror who was tolerant and magnanimous as well
as brave and daring.
His personality as seen by the Greeks influenced
them and Alexander the Great, and, as the tradition was transmitted by
the Romans, may be considered to influence our thinking even now. In the
year 1971, Iran celebrated the 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the
monarchy by Cyrus.
The Kingdom of the Medes in
Iran (c. 700-550 BC)
and the establishment of the Achaemenid Persian Empire
Achaemenian DYNASTY, also called ACHAEMENID, Persian
HAKHAMANISHIYA (559-330 BC), ancient Iranian dynasty whose kings founded
and ruled the Achaemenian Empire. Achaemenes (Persian Hakhamanish), the
Achaemenians' eponymous ancestor, is presumed to have lived early in the
7th century BC, but little is known of his life.
From his son Teispes two lines of kings descended.
The kings of the older line were Cyrus I, Cambyses I, Cyrus II the Great,
and Cambyses II. After the death of Cambyses II (522 BC) the junior line
came to the throne with Darius I. The dynasty became extinct with the death
of Darius III, following his defeat (330 BC) by Alexander the Great. Probably
the greatest of the Achaemenian rulers were Cyrus II (reigned 559-c. 529
BC), who actually established the empire and from whose reign it is dated;
Darius I (522-486), who excelled as an administrator and secured the borders
from external threats; and Xerxes I (486-465), who completed many of the
buildings begun by Darius.
During the time of Darius I and Xerxes I, the
empire extended as far west as Macedonia and Libya and as far east as the
Hyphasis (Beas) River; it stretched to the Caucasus Mountains and the Aral
Sea in the north and to the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Desert in the
The Achaemenian rule of conquered peoples was
generally liberal; the empire itself was divided into provinces (satrapies),
each administered by a satrap who underwent frequent inspections by officials
reporting directly to the king. Royal inscriptions were usually trilingual,
in Old Persian, Elamite, and Akkadian; Aramaic, however, was employed for
imperial administration and diplomatic correspondence.
Building activity was extensive during the height
of the empire, and of the several Achaemenian capitals, the ruins at Pasargadae
and at Persepolis (qq.v.) are probably the most outstanding. Achaemenian
sculptured reliefs and a great number of smaller art objects present a
remarkably unified style for the period. Metalwork, especially in gold,
was highly developed, and a variety of carefully executed examples survive.
The Achaemenid Persian Empire (529-330
BC) under the successors of Cyrus II the Great, Greek rule to c. 250 BC
The empire under Cambyses II, Darius
I, and Xerxes I (529-465 BC): the subjugation of Egypt, establishment of
peace in the empire, penetration of the Balkan Peninsula and the unsuccessful
attempts to conquer mainland Greece
Bosporus, Kingdom of the, also called CIMMERIAN BOSPORUS, ancient Greek
state situated on Kerchensky Proliv (Straits of Kerch) in present-day southern
Ukraine, which reached its peak of power in the 4th century BC.
The kingdom's major city, Panticapaeum (modern
Kerch), was ruled by the Archaeanactid dynasty (480-438 BC), then by the
Spartocid dynasty (438-110 BC), which annexed to Panticapaeum other Greek
colonies--e.g., Nymphaeum, which had been founded in the region in the
7th and 6th centuries. After the second half of the 5th century, Athenian
influence was strong among the Bosporus cities; Athens controlled local
trade until 404 BC and remained the chief customer of the Bosporus throughout
the 4th century.
The Spartocids suppressed piracy in the Black
Sea, and through their management of trade in grain, fish, and slaves,
trade on the Bosporus prospered. Dynastic and financial decline began in
the middle of the 3rd century, and after 110 BC the kings of Pontus controlled
the region. A new dynasty, established in the 1st century AD, ruled for
300 years under the protection of the Roman Empire. After AD 342 the country
was alternately under barbarian and Byzantine control.
THE GRECIAN EMPIRE
The Grecian Empire
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great (Alexander III), king of Macedonia,
overthrew the Persian Empire, carried Macedonian arms to India, and laid
the foundations for the Hellenistic world of territorial kingdoms. Already
in his lifetime the subject of fabulous stories, he later became the hero
of a full-scale legend bearing only the sketchiest resemblance to his historical
He was born in 356 BC at Pella in Macedonia,
the son of Philip II and Olympias (daughter of King Neoptolemus of Epirus).
From age 13 to 16 he was taught by Aristotle, who inspired him with an
interest in philosophy, medicine, and scientific investigation; but he
was later to advance beyond his teacher's narrow precept that non-Greeks
should be treated as slaves.
Left in charge of Macedonia in 340 during Philip's
attack on Byzantium, Alexander defeated the Maedi, a Thracian people; two
years later he commanded the left wing at the Battle of Chaeronea, in which
Philip defeated the allied Greek states, and displayed personal courage
in breaking the Sacred Band of Thebes. A year later Philip divorced Olympias;
and, after a quarrel at a feast held to celebrate his father's new marriage,
Alexander and his mother fled to Epirus, and Alexander later went to Illyria.
Shortly afterward, father and son were reconciled and Alexander returned;
but his position as heir was jeopardized.
In 336, however, on Philip's assassination, Alexander, acclaimed by the
army, succeeded without opposition. He at once executed the princes of
Lyncestis, alleged to be behind Philip's murder, along with all possible
rivals and the whole of the faction opposed to him.
He then marched south, recovered a wavering Thessaly,
and at an assembly of the Greek League at Corinth was appointed generalissimo
for the forthcoming invasion of Asia, already planned and initiated by
Returning to Macedonia by way of Delphi (where
the Pythian priestess acclaimed him "invincible"), he advanced into Thrace
in spring 335 and, after forcing the Shipka Pass and crushing the Triballi,
crossed the Danube to disperse the Getae; turning west, he then defeated
and shattered a coalition of Illyrians who had invaded Macedonia.
Meanwhile, a rumor of his death had precipitated
a revolt of Theban democrats; other Greek states favored Thebes, and the
Athenians, urged on by Remoistens, voted help. In 14 days Alexander marched
240 miles from Pelion (near modern Korçë, Albania) in Illyria
to Thebes. When the Thebans refused to surrender, he made an entry and
razed their city to the ground, sparing only temples and Pindar's house;
6,000 were killed and all survivors sold into slavery. The other Greek
states were cowed by this severity, and Alexander could afford to treat
Athens leniently. Macedonian garrisons were left in Corinth, Chalcis, and
the Cadmea (the citadel of Thebes).
Beginnings Of The Persian Expedition
From his accession Alexander had set
his mind on the Persian expedition. He had grown up to the idea. Moreover,
he needed the wealth of Persia if he was to maintain the army built by
Philip and pay off the 500 talents he owed.
The exploits of the Ten Thousand, Greek soldiers
of fortune, and of Agesilaus of Sparta, in successfully campaigning in
Persian territory had revealed the vulnerability of the Persian Empire.
With a good cavalry force Alexander could expect
to defeat any Persian army. In spring 334 he crossed the Dardanelles, leaving
Antipater, who had already faithfully served his father, as his deputy
in Europe with over 13,000 men; he himself commanded about 30,000 foot
and over 5,000 cavalry, of whom nearly 14,000 were Macedonians and about
7,000 allies sent by the Greek League.
This army was to prove remarkable for its balanced
combination of arms. Much work fell on the light armed Cretan and Macedonian
and the Agrianian javelin men. But in pitched battle the striking force
was the cavalry, and the core of the army, should the issue still remain
undecided after the cavalry charge, was the infantry phalanx, 9,000 strong,
armed with 13-foot spears and shields, and the 3,000 men of the royal battalions,
Alexander's second in command was Parmenio, who
had secured a foothold in Asia Minor during Philip's lifetime; many of
his family and supporters were entrenched in positions of responsibility.
The army was accompanied by surveyors, engineers, architects, scientists,
court officials, and historians; from the outset Alexander seems to have
envisaged an unlimited operation.
After visiting Ilium (Troy), a romantic gesture inspired by Homer, he confronted
his first Persian army, led by three satraps, at the Granicus (modern Kocabas)
River, near the Sea of Marmara (May/June 334).
The Persian plan to tempt Alexander across the
river and kill him in the melee almost succeeded; but the Persian line
broke, and Alexander's victory was complete. Darius' Greek mercenaries
were largely massacred, but 2,000 survivors were sent back to Macedonia
This victory exposed western Asia Minor to the
Macedonians, and most cities hastened to open their gates. The tyrants
were expelled and (in contrast to Macedonian policy in Greece) democracies
were installed. Alexander thus underlined his Panhellenic policy, already
symbolized in the sending of 300 panoplies (sets of armor) taken at the
Granicus as an offering dedicated to Athena at Athens by "Alexander son
of Philip and the Greeks (except the Spartans) from the barbarians who
inhabit Asia." (This formula, cited by the Greek historian Arrian in his
history of Alexander's campaigns, is noteworthy for its omission of any
reference to Macedonia.) But the cities remained de facto under Alexander,
and his appointment of Calas as satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia reflected
his claim to succeed the Great King of Persia.
When Miletus, encouraged by the proximity of the
Persian fleet, resisted, Alexander took it by assault; but, refusing a
naval battle, he disbanded his own costly navy and announced that he would
"defeat the Persian fleet on land," by occupying the coastal cities. In Caria, Halicarnassus resisted and was stormed; but
Ada, the widow and sister
of the satrap Idrieus, adopted Alexander as her son and, after expelling
her brother Pixodarus, Alexander restored her to her satrapy. Some parts
of Caria held out, however, until 332.
Asia Minor And The Battle Of
In winter 334-333 Alexander conquered
western Asia Minor, subduing the hill tribes of Lycia and Pisidia; and
in spring 333 he advanced along the coastal road to Perga, passing the
cliffs of Mt. Climax, thanks to a fortunate change of wind. The fall in
the level of the sea was interpreted as a mark of divine favor by Alexander's
flatterers, including the historian Callisthenes.
At Gordium in Phrygia, tradition records his cutting
of the Gordian knot, which could only be loosed by the man who was to rule
Asia; but this story may be apocryphal or at least distorted. At this point
Alexander benefited from the sudden death of Memnon, the competent Greek
commander of the Persian fleet.
From Gordium he pushed on to Ancyra (modern Ankara)
and thence south through Cappadocia and the Cilician Gates (modern Külek
Bogazi); a fever held him up for a time in Cilicia. Meanwhile, Darius with
his Grand Army had advanced northward on the eastern side of Mt. Amanus.
Intelligence on both sides was faulty, and Alexander was already encamped
by Myriandrus (near modern Iskenderun, Turkey) when he learned that Darius
was astride his line of communications at Issus, north of Alexander's position
(autumn 333). Turning, Alexander found Darius drawn up along the Pinarus
River. In the battle that followed, Alexander won a decisive victory. The
struggle turned into a Persian rout and Darius fled, leaving his family
in Alexander's hands; the women were treated with chivalrous care.
Conquest Of The Mediterranean
Coast And Egypt
From Issus Alexander marched south
into Syria and Phoenicia, his object being to isolate the Persian fleet
from its bases and so to destroy it as an effective fighting force. The
Phoenician cities Marathus and Aradus came over quietly, and Parmenio was
sent ahead to secure Damascus and its rich booty, including Darius' war
In reply to a letter from Darius offering peace,
Alexander replied arrogantly, recapitulating the historic wrongs of Greece
and demanding unconditional surrender to himself as lord of Asia. After
taking Byblos (modern Jubayl) and Sidon (Arabic Sayda), he met with a check
at Tyre, where he was refused entry into the island city. He thereupon
prepared to use all methods of siegecraft to take it, but the Tyrians resisted,
holding out for seven months. In the meantime (winter 333-332) the Persians
had counterattacked by land in Asia Minor--where they were defeated by
Antigonus, the satrap of Greater Phrygia--and by sea, recapturing a number
of cities and islands.
While the siege of Tyre was in progress, Darius sent a new offer: he would
pay a huge ransom of 10,000 talents for his family and cede all his lands
west of the Euphrates. "I would accept," Parmenio is reported to have said,
"were I Alexander"; "I too," was the famous retort, "were I Parmenio."
The storming of Tyre in July 332 was Alexander's
greatest military achievement; it was attended with great carnage and the
sale of the women and children into slavery. Leaving Parmenio in Syria,
Alexander advanced south without opposition until he reached Gaza on its
high mound; there bitter resistance halted him for two months, and he sustained
a serious shoulder wound during a sortie. There is no basis for the tradition
that he turned aside to visit Jerusalem.
In November 332 he reached Egypt. The people welcomed him as their deliverer,
and the Persian satrap Mazaces wisely surrendered. At Memphis Alexander
sacrificed to Apis, the Greek term for Hapi, the sacred Egyptian bull,
and was crowned with the traditional double crown of the pharaohs; the
native priests were placated and their religion encouraged.
He spent the winter organizing Egypt, where he
employed Egyptian governors, keeping the army under a separate Macedonian
command. He founded the city of Alexandria near the western arm of the
Nile on a fine site between the sea and Lake Mareotis, protected by the
island of Pharos, and had it laid out by the Rhodian architect Deinocrates.
He is also said to have sent an expedition to discover the causes of the
flooding of the Nile.
From Alexandria he marched along the coast to
Paraetonium and from there inland to visit the celebrated oracle of the
god Amon (at Siwah); the difficult journey was later embroidered with flattering
legends. On his reaching the oracle in its oasis, the priest gave him the
traditional salutation of a pharaoh, as son of Amon; Alexander consulted
the god on the success of his expedition but revealed the reply to no one.
Later the incident was to contribute to the story that he was the son of
Zeus and, thus, to his "deification." In spring 331 he returned to Tyre,
appointed a Macedonian satrap for Syria, and prepared to advance into Mesopotamia.
His conquest of Egypt had completed his control of the whole eastern Mediterranean
In July 331 Alexander was at Thapsacus on the Euphrates. Instead of taking
the direct route down the river to Babylon, he made across northern Mesopotamia
toward the Tigris, and Darius, learning of this move from an advance force
sent under Mazaeus to the Euphrates crossing, marched up the Tigris to
oppose him. The decisive battle of the war was fought on the plain of Gaugamela
between Nineveh and Arbela. Alexander pursued the defeated Persian forces
for 35 miles to Arbela, but Darius escaped with his Bactrian cavalry and
Greek mercenaries into Media.
Alexander now occupied Babylon, city and province; Mazaeus, who surrendered
it, was confirmed as satrap in conjunction with a Macedonian troop commander,
and quite exceptionally was granted the right to coin. As in Egypt, the
local priesthood was encouraged. Susa, the capital, also surrendered, releasing
huge treasures amounting to 50,000 gold talents; here Alexander established
Darius' family in comfort. Crushing the mountain tribe of the Ouxians,
he now pressed on over the Zagros range into Persia proper and, successfully
turning the Pass of the Persian Gates, held by the satrap Ariobarzanes,
he entered Persepolis and Pasargadae.
At Persepolis he ceremonially burned down the
palace of Xerxes, as a symbol that the Panhellenic war of revenge was at
an end; for such seems the probable significance of an act that tradition
later explained as a drunken frolic inspired by Thaïs, an Athenian
courtesan. In spring 330 Alexander marched north into Media and occupied
its capital Ecbatana. The Thessalians and Greek allies were sent home;
henceforward he was waging a purely personal war.
As Mazaeus' appointment indicated, Alexander's views on the empire were
changing. He had come to envisage a joint ruling people consisting of Macedonians
and Persians, and this served to augment the misunderstanding that now
arose between him and his people. Before continuing his pursuit of Darius,
who had retreated into Bactria, he assembled all the Persian treasure and
entrusted it to Harpalus, who was to hold it at Ecbatana as chief treasurer.
Parmenio was also left behind in Media to control communications; the presence
of this older man had perhaps become irksome.
In midsummer 330 Alexander set out for the eastern provinces at a high
speed via Rhagae (modern Rayy, near Tehran) and the Caspian Gates, where
he learned that Bessus, the satrap of Bactria, had deposed Darius. After
a skirmish near modern Shahrud, the usurper had Darius stabbed and left
him to die. Alexander sent his body for burial with due honors in the
royal tombs at Persepolis.
Campaign Eastward - To Central
Darius' death left no obstacle to Alexander's
claim to be Great King, and a Rhodian inscription of this year (330) calls
him "lord of Asia"--i.e., of the Persian Empire; soon afterward his Asian
coins carry the title of king.
Crossing the Elburz Mountains to the Caspian,
he seized Zadracarta in Hyrcania and received the submission of a group
of satraps and Persian notables, some of whom he confirmed in their offices;
in a diversion westward, perhaps to modern Amol, he reduced the Mardi,
a mountain people who inhabited the Elburz Mountains. He also accepted
the surrender of Darius' Greek mercenaries.
His advance eastward was now rapid. In Aria he
reduced Satibarzanes, who had offered submission only to revolt, and he
founded Alexandria of the Arians (modern Herat). At Phrada in Drangiana
(either near modern Nad-e 'Ali in Seistan or farther north at Farah), he
at last took steps to destroy Parmenio and his family. Philotas, Parmenio's
son, commander of the elite Companion cavalry, was implicated in an alleged
plot against Alexander's life, condemned by the army, and executed; and
a secret message was sent to Cleander, Parmenio's second in command, who
obediently assassinated him.
This ruthless action excited widespread horror
but strengthened Alexander's position relative to his critics and those
whom he regarded as his father's men. All Parmenio's adherents were now
eliminated and men close to Alexander promoted. The Companion cavalry was
reorganized in two sections, each containing four squadrons (now known
as hipparchies); one group was commanded by Alexander's oldest friend,
Hephaestion, the other by Cleitus, an older man. From Phrada, Alexander
pressed on during the winter of 330-329 up the valley of the Helmand River,
through Arachosia, and over the mountains past the site of modern Kabul
into the country of the Paropamisadae, where he founded Alexandria by the
Bessus was now in Bactria raising a national revolt in the eastern satrapies
with the usurped title of Great King. Crossing the Hindu Kush northward
over the Khawak Pass (11,650 feet), Alexander brought his army, despite
food shortages, to Drapsaca (sometimes identified with modern Banu [Andarab],
probably farther north at Qunduz); outflanked, Bessus fled beyond the Oxus
(modern Amu Darya), and Alexander, marching west to Bactra-Zariaspa (modern
Balkh [Wazirabad] in Afghanistan), appointed loyal satraps in Bactria and
Aria. Crossing the Oxus, he sent his general Ptolemy in pursuit of Bessus,
who had meanwhile been overthrown by the Sogdian Spitamenes. Bessus was
captured, flogged, and sent to Bactra, where he was later mutilated after
the Persian manner (losing his nose and ears); in due course he was publicly
executed at Ecbatana.
From Maracanda (modern Samarkand) Alexander advanced by way of Cyropolis
to the Jaxartes (modern Syrdarya), the boundary of the Persian Empire.
There he broke the opposition of the Scythian nomads by his use of catapults
and, after defeating them in a battle on the north bank of the river, pursued
them into the interior.
On the site of modern Leninabad (Khojent) on the
Jaxartes, he founded a city, Alexandria Eschate, "the farthest." Meanwhile,
Spitamenes had raised all Sogdiana in revolt behind him, bringing in the
Massagetai, a people of the Shaka confederacy. It took Alexander until
the autumn of 328 to crush the most determined opponent he encountered
in his campaigns. Later in the same year he attacked Oxyartes and the remaining
barons who held out in the hills of Paraetacene (modern Tadzhikistan);
volunteers seized the crag on which Oxyartes had his stronghold, and among
the captives was his daughter, Roxana. In reconciliation Alexander married
her, and the rest of his opponents were either won over or crushed.
An incident that occurred at Maracanda widened the breach between Alexander
and many of his Macedonians. He murdered Cleitus, one of his most trusted
commanders, in a drunken quarrel; but his excessive display of remorse
led the army to pass a decree convicting Cleitus posthumously of treason.
The event marked a step in Alexander's progress toward Eastern absolutism,
and this growing attitude found its outward expression in his use of Persian
Shortly afterward, at Bactra, he attempted to
impose the Persian court ceremonial, involving prostration (proskynesis),
on the Greeks and Macedonians too; but to them this custom, habitual for
Persians entering the king's presence, implied an act of worship and was
intolerable before a man. Even Callisthenes, historian and nephew of Aristotle,
whose ostentatious flattery had perhaps encouraged Alexander to see himself
in the role of a god, refused to abase himself.
Macedonian laughter caused the experiment to founder,
and Alexander abandoned it. Shortly afterward, however, Callisthenes was
held to be privy to a conspiracy among the royal pages and was executed
(or died in prison; accounts vary); resentment of this action alienated
sympathy from Alexander within the Peripatetic school of philosophers,
with which Callisthenes had close connections.
Invasion of India.
In early summer 327 Alexander left
Bactria with a reinforced army under a reorganized command. If Plutarch's
figure of 120,000 men has any reality, however, it must include all kinds
of auxiliary services, together with muleteers, camel drivers, medical
corps, peddlers, entertainers, women, and children; the fighting strength
perhaps stood at about 35,000.
Recrossing the Hindu Kush, probably by Bamian
and the Ghorband Valley, Alexander divided his forces. Half the army with
the baggage under Hephaestion and Perdiccas, both cavalry commanders, was
sent through the Khyber Pass, while he himself led the rest, together with
his siege train, through the hills to the north. His advance through Swat
and Gandhara was marked by the storming of the almost impregnable pinnacle
of Aornos, the modern Pir-Sar, a few miles west of the Indus and north
of the Buner River, an impressive feat of siegecraft.
In spring 326, crossing the Indus near Attock,
Alexander entered Taxila, whose ruler, Taxiles, furnished elephants and
troops in return for aid against his rival Porus, who ruled the lands between
the Hydaspes (modern Jhelum) and the Acesines (modern Chenab). In June
Alexander fought his last great battle on the left bank of the Hydaspes.
He founded two cities there, Alexandria Nicaea (to celebrate his victory)
and Bucephala (named after his horse Bucephalus, which died there); and
Porus became his ally.
How much Alexander knew of India beyond the Hyphasis (probably the modern Beas) is uncertain; there is no conclusive proof that he had heard of the
Ganges. But he was anxious to press on farther, and he had advanced to
the Hyphasis when his army mutinied, refusing to go farther in the tropical
rain; they were weary in body and spirit, and Coenus, one of Alexander's
four chief marshals, acted as their spokesman. On finding the army adamant,
Alexander agreed to turn back.
On the Hyphasis he erected 12 altars to the 12 Olympian gods, and on the
Hydaspes he built a fleet of 800 to 1,000 ships. Leaving Porus, he then
proceeded down the river and into the Indus, with half his forces on shipboard
and half marching in three columns down the two banks. The fleet was commanded
by Nearchus, and Alexander's own captain was Onesicritus; both later wrote
accounts of the campaign. The march was attended with much fighting and
heavy, pitiless slaughter; at the storming of one town of the Malli near
the Hydraotes (Ravi) River, Alexander received a severe wound which left
On reaching Patala, located at the head of the Indus delta, he built a
harbour and docks and explored both arms of the Indus, which probably then
ran into the Rann of Kutch. He planned to lead part of his forces back
by land, while the rest in perhaps 100 to 150 ships under the command of
Nearchus, a Cretan with naval experience, made a voyage of exploration
along the Persian Gulf. Local opposition led Nearchus to set sail in September
(325), and he was held up for three weeks until he could pick up the northeast
monsoon in late October. In September Alexander too set out along the coast
through Gedrosia (modern Baluchistan), but he was soon compelled by mountainous
country to turn inland, thus failing in his project to establish food depots
for the fleet.
Craterus, a high-ranking officer, already had been sent off with the baggage
and siege train, the elephants, and the sick and wounded, together with
three battalions of the phalanx, by way of the Mulla Pass, Quetta, and
Kandahar into the Helmand Valley; from there he was to march through Drangiana
to rejoin the main army on the Amanis (modern Minab) River in Carmania.
Alexander's march through Gedrosia proved disastrous; waterless desert
and shortage of food and fuel caused great suffering, and many, especially
women and children, perished in a sudden monsoon flood while encamped in
a wadi. At length, at the Amanis, he was rejoined by Nearchus and the fleet,
which also had suffered losses.
Consolidation Of The Empire
Alexander now proceeded farther with the policy
of replacing senior officials and executing defaulting governors on which
he had already embarked before leaving India. Between 326 and 324 over
a third of his satraps were superseded and six were put to death, including
the Persian satraps of Persis, Susiana, Carmania, and Paraetacene; three
generals in Media, including Cleander, the brother of Coenus (who had died
a little earlier), were accused of extortion and summoned to Carmania,
where they were arrested, tried, and executed.
How far the rigour that from now onward Alexander
displayed against his governors represents exemplary punishment for gross
maladministration during his absence and how far the elimination of men
he had come to distrust (as in the case of Philotas and Parmenio) is debatable;
but the ancient sources generally favourable to him comment adversely on
In spring 324 he was back in Susa, capital of Elam and administrative centre
of the Persian Empire; the story of his journey through Carmania in a drunken
revel, dressed as Dionysus, is embroidered, if not wholly apocryphal. He
found that his treasurer, Harpalus, evidently fearing punishment for peculation,
had absconded with 6,000 mercenaries and 5,000 talents to Greece; arrested
in Athens, he escaped and later was murdered in Crete. At Susa Alexander
held a feast to celebrate the seizure of the Persian Empire, at which,
in furtherance of his policy of fusing Macedonians and Persians into one
master race, he and 80 of his officers took Persian wives; he and Hephaestion
married Darius' daughters Barsine (also called Stateira) and Drypetis,
respectively, and 10,000 of his soldiers with native wives were given generous
This policy of racial fusion brought increasing friction to Alexander's
relations with his Macedonians, who had no sympathy for his changed concept
of the empire. His determination to incorporate Persians on equal terms
in the army and the administration of the provinces was bitterly resented.
This discontent was now fanned by the arrival of 30,000 native youths who
had received a Macedonian military training and by the introduction of
Orientals from Bactria, Sogdiana, Arachosia, and other parts of the empire
into the Companion cavalry; whether Orientals had previously served with
the Companions is uncertain, but if so they must have formed separate squadrons.
In addition, Persian nobles had been accepted into the royal cavalry bodyguard.
Peucestas, the new governor of Persis, gave this policy full support to
flatter Alexander; but most Macedonians saw it as a threat to their own
The issue came to a head at Opis (324), when Alexander's decision to send
home Macedonian veterans under Craterus was interpreted as a move toward
transferring the seat of power to Asia. There was an open mutiny involving
all but the royal bodyguard; but when Alexander dismissed his whole army
and enrolled Persians instead, the opposition broke down. An emotional
scene of reconciliation was followed by a vast banquet with 9,000 guests
to celebrate the ending of the misunderstanding and the partnership in
government of Macedonians and Persians--but not, as has been argued, the
incorporation of all the subject peoples as partners in the commonwealth.
Ten thousand veterans were now sent back to Macedonia with gifts, and the
crisis was surmounted.
In summer 324 Alexander attempted to solve another problem, that of the
wandering mercenaries, of whom there were thousands in Asia and Greece,
many of them political exiles from their own cities. A decree brought by
Nicanor to Europe and proclaimed at Olympia (September 324) required the
Greek cities of the Greek League to receive back all exiles and their families
(except the Thebans), a measure that implied some modification of the oligarchic
regimes maintained in the Greek cities by Alexander's governor Antipater.
Alexander now planned to recall Antipater and supersede him by Craterus;
but he was to die before this could be done.
In autumn 324 Hephaestion died in Ecbatana, and
Alexander indulged in extravagant mourning for his closest friend; he was
given a royal funeral in Babylon with a pyre costing 10,000 talents. His
post of chiliarch (grand vizier) was left unfilled. It was probably in
connection with a general order now sent out to the Greeks to honour Hephaestion
as a hero that Alexander linked the demand that he himself should be accorded
For a long time his mind had dwelt on ideas of
godhead. Greek thought drew no very decided line of demarcation between
god and man, for legend offered more than one example of men who, by their
achievements, acquired divine status. Alexander had on several occasions
encouraged favourable comparison of his own accomplishments with those
of Dionysus or Heracles. He now seems to have become convinced of the reality
of his own divinity and to have required its acceptance by others. There
is no reason to assume that his demand had any political background (divine
status gave its possessor no particular rights in a Greek city); it was
rather a symptom of growing megalomania and emotional instability. The
cities perforce complied, but often ironically: the Spartan decree read,
"Since Alexander wishes to be a god, let him be a god."
In the winter of 324 Alexander carried out a savage punitive expedition
against the Cossaeans in the hills of Luristan. The following spring at
Babylon he received complimentary embassies from the Libyans and from the
Bruttians, Etruscans, and Lucanians of Italy; but the story that embassies
also came from more distant peoples, such as Carthaginians, Celts, Iberians,
and even Romans, is a later invention. Representatives of the cities of
Greece also came, garlanded as befitted Alexander's divine status.
Following up Nearchus' voyage, he now founded
an Alexandria at the mouth of the Tigris and made plans to develop sea
communications with India, for which an expedition along the Arabian coast
was to be a preliminary. He also dispatched Heracleides, an officer, to
explore the Hyrcanian (i.e., Caspian) Sea.
Suddenly, in Babylon, while busy with plans to
improve the irrigation of the Euphrates and to settle the coast of the
Persian Gulf, Alexander was taken ill after a prolonged banquet and drinking
bout; 10 days later, on June 13, 323, he died in his 33rd year; he had
reigned for 12 years and eight months. His body, diverted to Egypt by Ptolemy,
the later king, was eventually placed in a golden coffin in Alexandria.
Both in Egypt and elsewhere in the Greek cities he received divine honours.
No heir had been appointed to the throne, and his generals adopted Philip
II's half-witted illegitimate son, Philip Arrhidaeus, and Alexander's posthumous
son by Roxana, Alexander IV, as kings, sharing out the satrapies among
themselves, after much bargaining. The empire could hardly survive Alexander's
death as a unit. Both kings were murdered, Arrhidaeus in 317 and Alexander
in 310/309. The provinces became independent kingdoms, and the generals,
following Antigonus' lead in 306, took the title of king.
THE ROMAN EMPIRE
330 B.C.- 1453
THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE
The city of Byzantium grew from an ancient Greek
colony founded on the European side of the Bosporus. In AD 330 the Roman
emperor Constantine I, in an attempt to strengthen the empire, refounded
Byzantium as Constantinople, the "New Rome" and capital of the eastern
half of the empire. At his death in 395 Emperor Theodosius I divided the
empire between his two sons, and it was never reunited. Theodosius also
made Christianity the sole religion of the empire, and Constantinople assumed
preeminence over other Christian centres in the East as Rome did in the
West. The fall of Rome to the Ostrogoths in 476 marked the end of the western
half of the Roman Empire. The eastern half continued as the Byzantine Empire,
with Constantinople as its capital.
The eastern realm differed from the western
in many respects. It was heir to the Hellenistic civilization, a blending
of Greek and Middle Eastern elements dating back to the conquests of Alexander
the Great. It was more commercial, more urban, and richer than the West,
and its emperors, who in the Hellenistic tradition combined political and
religious functions, had firmer control over all classes of society. They
were also more skillful in fending off invaders, through both warfare and
diplomacy. With these advantages, the Byzantine emperors, who still considered
themselves Romans, long nourished the dream of subduing the barbarian kingdoms
of the West and reuniting the empire.
The greatest of these emperors was Justinian
I (reigned 527-565), who with his able wife Theodora prepared for the reconquest
by defeating the Persians on the eastern frontier and extirpating various
heresies that had alienated the Roman Catholic church. He sponsored a compilation
and recodification of Roman law and built the magnificent Hagia Sophia
cathedral. Justinian's reconquests of North Africa and Italy were short-lived.
The later years of his reign were marred by renewed war with the Persians
and incursions by Bulgar and Slavic tribes, which created severe shortages
of manpower and revenue. The weakened empire, preoccupied with internal
problems, grew less and less concerned with the West. Although its rulers
continued to style themselves "Roman" long after the death of Justinian,
the term "Byzantine" more accurately describes the very different medieval
Perhaps the most significant cultural feature
of the Byzantine Empire was the type of Christianity developed there. More
mystical and more liturgical than Roman Christianity, it was also less
unified because of age-old ethnic hostilities in the region, the survival
of various heresies among the clergy in Syria, Egypt, and other provinces,
and the early use of the demotic (vernacular) languages in religious services.
This disunity partly caused the sweeping success of the Arab invasions
that began after Muhammad's death in 632. Within 10 years Syria and Palestine,
Egypt and North Africa were under Muslim Arab control. Religious disunity
continued to weaken the empire throughout the Iconoclastic Controversy
(a dispute over the use of religious images, or icons) of the 8th and early
9th centuries, which left the Eastern Orthodox church split into factions
and further alienated from Rome. A formal schism between Eastern and Western
churches was mutually agreed to in 1054. By that time the Eastern Orthodox
church had been revitalized by successful missions among the Russians,
Bulgars, and Slavs, some of them directed by the monks Cyril and Methodius,
whose invention of Slavonic alphabets (still called Cyrillic) made possible
the translation of the Bible and the spread of literacy along with Christianity
in Slavic lands.
Although the empire had lost much territory
to the Arabs and to the independent kingdoms established in the Balkan
Peninsula, its remnants were strengthened by a number of institutional
reforms. A new administrative unit, the theme, was introduced along with
a system of military land grants and hereditary service that ensured an
adequate supply of soldiers. It also laid the foundation for the emergence
of great landed families who in later centuries would wage dynastic struggles
for the imperial throne. The Byzantine economy was actually strengthened
by the loss of territory, as the shrinking empire allowed greater freedom
to merchants and agricultural labour.
All of these developments led to a golden age
marked by a literary renaissance and brief resurgence of military and naval
power under the Macedonian dynasty, whose founder, a peasant adventurer
named Basil, murdered his way to the throne in 867. The Macedonian emperors
supervised the Hellenization of the Code of Justinian, into which they
wrote the principle of imperial absolutism tempered only by the spiritual
authority of the church. They also reversed for a time the military defeats
of their predecessors and reconquered large areas from the Arabs and Bulgars.
No matter how centralized their administration
or how absolute their power on paper, the emperors were unable to stop
the feudalization of the empire and the concentration of land and wealth
in a few great families. The rivalry between rural and urban aristocracies
led each faction to nominate its own imperial candidates. While they were
engaged in civil disputes, new enemies, the Normans and the Seljuq Turks,
increased their power around the eastern Mediterranean.
In the late 11th century, Emperor Alexius I
reluctantly sought help from the outside. He appealed to Venice, to whom
he gave the first of the commercial concessions that helped make it a great
maritime power, and to the pope, who in turn appealed to the feudal rulers
of the West, many of them, ironically, Normans. These doubtful allies rapidly
turned the ensuing Crusades into a series of plundering expeditions not
only against the Turks but also against the heart of the Byzantine Empire.
The Fourth Crusade resulted in the fall of Constantinople to Venetians
and crusaders in 1204 and the establishment of a line of Latin emperors.
The empire was recaptured by Byzantine exiles in 1261, but under the final
Palaeologus dynasty it was little more than a large city-state besieged
from all sides. In the 14th century the Ottoman Turks replaced the Seljuqs
as the major enemy in the east. Almost the entire Balkan Peninsula fell
to them, but their siege of Constantinople, begun in 1395, was prolonged
by the city's near-impregnable strategic position and by Turkish factionalism.
It ended in 1453, when the last emperor, also named Constantine, died fighting
on the walls and the Turks took the city. The final stronghold of Greek
power, Trapezus (modern Trabzon, Turkey), fell to the Turks in 1461.
THE ROMAN AND CHRISTIAN
Unity And Diversity In The Late
The Roman Empire, the ancestor of the Byzantine,
remarkably blended unity and diversity, the former being by far the better
known since its constituents were the predominant features of Roman civilization.
The common Latin language, the coinage, the "international"
army of the Roman legions, the urban network, the law, and the Greco-Roman
heritage of civic culture loomed largest among those bonds that Augustus
and his successors hoped would bring unity and peace to a Mediterranean
world exhausted by centuries of civil war.
To strengthen these sinews of imperial civilization,
the emperors hoped that a lively and spontaneous trade might develop among
the several provinces. At the pinnacle of this world stood the emperor
himself, the man of wisdom who would shelter the state from whatever mishaps
fortune had darkly hidden. The emperor alone could provide this protection
since, as the embodiment of all the virtues, he possessed in perfection
those qualities displayed only imperfectly by his individual subjects.
The Roman formula of combating fortune with reason
and therewith assuring unity throughout the Mediterranean world worked
surprisingly well in view of the pressures for disunity that time was to
multiply. Conquest had brought regions of diverse background under Roman
rule. The Eastern provinces were ancient and populous centres of that urban
life that for millennia had defined the character of Mediterranean civilization.
The Western provinces had only lately entered upon their own course of
urban development under the not always tender ministrations of their Roman
Each of the aspects of unity enumerated above
had its other side. Not everyone understood or spoke Latin. Paralleling
and sometimes influencing Roman law were local customs and practices, understandably
tenacious by reason of their antiquity. Pagan temples, Jewish synagogues,
and Christian baptisteries attest to the range of organized religions with
which the official forms of the Roman state, including those of emperor
worship, could not always peacefully coexist.
And far from unifying the Roman world, economic
growth often created self-sufficient units in the several regions, provinces,
or great estates. Given the obstacles against which the masters of the
Roman state struggled, it is altogether remarkable that Roman patriotism
was ever more than an empty formula, that cultivated gentlemen from the
Pillars of Hercules to the Black Sea were aware that they had "something"
in common. This "something" might be defined as the Greco-Roman civic tradition
in the widest sense of its institutional, intellectual, and emotional implications.
Grateful for the conditions of peace that fostered
it, men of wealth and culture dedicated their time and resources to glorifying
that tradition through adornment of the cities that exemplified it and
through education of the young who they hoped might perpetuate it.
Upon this world the barbarians descended after
about AD 150. To protect the frontier against them, warrior emperors devoted
whatever energies they could spare from the constant struggle to reassert
control over provinces where local regimes emerged. In view of the ensuing
warfare, the widespread incidence of disease, and the rapid turnover among
the occupants of the imperial throne, it would be easy to assume that little
was left of either the traditional fabric of Greco-Roman society or the
bureaucratic structure designed to support it. Neither assumption is accurate.
Devastation was haphazard, and some regions suffered while others did not.
In fact, the economy and society of the empire as a whole during that period
was more diverse than it had ever been.
Impelled by necessity or lured by profit, people
moved from province to province. Social disorder opened avenues to eminence
and wealth that the more stable order of an earlier age had closed to the
talented and the ambitious. For personal and dynastic reasons, emperors
favoured certain towns and provinces at the expense of others, and the
erratic course of succession to the throne, coupled with a resulting constant
change among the top administrative officials, largely deprived economic
and social policies of recognizable consistency.
The Reforms Of Diocletian And
The definition of consistent policy in imperial
affairs was the achievement of two great soldier-emperors, Diocletian (ruled
284-305) and Constantine I (sole emperor 324-337), who together ended a
century of anarchy and refounded the Roman state.
There are many similarities between them, not
the least being the range of problems to which they addressed themselves:
both had learned from the 3rd-century anarchy that one man alone and unaided
could not hope to control the multiform Roman world and protect its frontiers;
as soldiers, both considered reform of the army a prime necessity in an
age that demanded the utmost mobility in striking power; both found the
old Rome and Italy an unsatisfactory military base for the bulk of the
Deeply influenced by the soldier's penchant for
hierarchy, system, and order, a taste that they shared with many of their
contemporaries as well as the emperors who preceded them, they were appalled
by the lack of system and the disorder characteristic of the economy and
the society in which they lived. Both, in consequence, were eager to refine
and regularize certain desperate expedients that had been adopted by their
rough military predecessors to conduct the affairs of the Roman state.
Whatever their personal religious convictions,
both, finally, believed that imperial affairs would not prosper unless
the emperor's subjects worshiped the right gods in the right way. The means
they adopted to achieve these ends differ so profoundly that one, Diocletian,
looks to the past and ends the history of Rome; the other, Constantine,
looks to the future and founds the history of Byzantium.
Thus, in the matter of succession to the imperial
office, Diocletian adopted precedents he could have found in the practices
of the 2nd century AD. He associated with himself a coemperor, or Augustus.
Each Augustus then adopted a young colleague, or Caesar, to share in the
rule and eventually to succeed the senior partner. This rule of four, or
tetrarchy, failed of its purpose, and Constantine replaced it with the
dynastic principle of hereditary succession, a procedure generally followed
in subsequent centuries.
To divide administrative responsibilities, Constantine
replaced the single praetorian prefect, who had traditionally exercised
both military and civil functions in close proximity to the emperor, with
regional prefects established in the provinces and enjoying civil authority
alone. In the course of the 4th century, four great "regional prefectures"
emerged from these Constantinian beginnings, and the practice of separating
civil from military authority persisted until the 7th century.
Contrasts in other areas of imperial policy are
equally striking. Diocletian persecuted Christians and sought to revive
the ancestral religion. Constantine, a convert to the new faith, raised
it to the status of a "permitted religion." Diocletian established his
headquarters at Nicomedia, a city that never rose above the status of a
provincial centre during the Middle Ages, while Constantinople, the city
of Constantine's foundation, flourished mightily. Diocletian sought to
bring order into the economy by controlling wages and prices and by initiating
a currency reform based upon a new gold piece, the aureus, struck at the
rate of 60 to the pound of gold. The controls failed and the aureus vanished,
to be succeeded by Constantine's gold solidus. The latter piece, struck
at the lighter weight of 72 to the gold pound, remained the standard for
For whatever reason, in summary, Constantine's
policies proved extraordinarily fruitful. Some of them--notably hereditary
succession, the recognition of Christianity, the currency reform, and the
foundation of the capital--determined in a lasting way the several aspects
of Byzantine civilization with which they are associated. Yet it would
be a mistake to consider Constantine a revolutionary or to overlook those
areas in which, rather than innovating, he followed precedent. Earlier
emperors had sought to constrain groups of men to perform certain tasks
that were deemed vital to the survival of the state but that proved unremunerative
or repellent to those forced to assume the burden. Such tasks included
the tillage of the soil, which was the work of the peasant, or colonus;
the transport of cheap bulky goods to the metropolitan centres of Rome
or Constantinople, which was the work of the shipmaster, or navicularius;
and services rendered by the curiales, members of the municipal senate
charged with the assessment and collection of local taxes.
Constantine's laws in many instances extended
or even rendered hereditary these enforced responsibilities, thus laying
the foundations for the system of collegia, or hereditary state guilds,
that was to be so noteworthy a feature of late-Roman social life. Of particular
importance, he required the colonus (peasant) to remain in the locality
to which the tax lists ascribed him.
THE 5TH CENTURY:
PERSISTENCE OF GRECO-ROMAN CIVILIZATION IN THE EAST
Whether innovative or traditional, Constantine's
measures determined the thrust and direction of imperial policy throughout
the 4th century and into the 5th. The state of the empire in 395 may, in
fact, be described in terms of the outcome of Constantine's work.
The dynastic principle was established so firmly
that the emperor who died in that year, Theodosius I, could bequeath the
imperial office jointly to his sons, both of whom were young and incompetent:
Arcadius in the East and Honorius in the West. Never again would one man
rule over the full extent of the empire in both its halves. Constantinople
had probably grown to a population of between 200,000 and 500,000; in the
5th century the emperors sought to restrain rather than promote its growth.
After 391 Christianity was far more than one among
many religions: from that year onward, imperial decree prohibited all forms
of pagan cult, and the temples were closed. Imperial pressure was often
manifest at the church councils of the 4th century, with the emperor assuming
a role he was destined to fill again during the 5th century in defining
and suppressing heresy.
"Reprinted with permission from the Encyclopaedia Britannica ©1998-2000 Britanica.com Inc. All rights reserved.
THE MUSLIM EMPIRE
THE HASHEMITE KINGDOM
USE YOUR BROWSERS BACK BUTTON
TO RETURN TO WHERE YOU WERE
to Maps at top of page.