in ways that foreshadowed Europe’s later political states. In the east, the empire, economically vibrant and politically united, lived on for a thousand years beyond its disintegration and transformation in the west and helped pass on the memory of clas- sical traditions to later Western civilization by pre- serving much ancient Greek and Roman literature. Despite financial pressures and the gradual loss of territory, the eastern half endured as the continua- tion of the Roman Empire until Turkish invaders conquered it in 1453.
Focus Question: What were the most important sources of unity and of division in the Roman Empire from the reign of Diocletian to the reign of Justinian, and why?
Reorganizing the Empire, 284–395 Diocletian and Constantine pulled Roman gov- ernment out of its extended crisis by increasing the emperors’ authority, reorganizing the empire’s defense, restricting workers’ freedom, and chang- ing the tax system to try to raise the money to pay for all these changes. The two emperors also believed that they had to win back divine favor to ensure their people’s safety. This duty, however, was now complicated by concern about the gods’ goodwill that the growing number of Christians provoked among followers of Rome’s traditional religion.
Diocletian and Constantine believed that they could best resolve the empire’s problems by be- coming more autocratic. Since for Romans strength had to be visible to be effective, they trans- formed their appearance as rulers to make their
power seem awesome beyond compare, hoping that this display of supremacy would help keep the empire united. In the long run, however, their de- sire to preserve the empire on the scale created by Augustus became only an empty longing.
From Reform to Fragmentation No one could have predicted Diocletian’s success: he began life as an uneducated peasant in the Balkans, far from the center of power in Rome. In the third-century crisis, however, military talent counted for more than connections. Diocletian’s leadership, courage, and intelligence propelled him through the ranks until the army made him em- peror in 284. He slammed the gate on half a cen- tury of anarchy by imposing the most autocratic system of rule in Roman history.
Inventing the Dominate. The foremost symbol of Diocletian’s new system was the title that he used after becoming emperor: dominus, meaning “lord” or “master” — what slaves called their owners. His- torians refer to Roman rule from Diocletian on- ward as the dominate. Like the emperors before them, the emperors of the dominate continued to refer to their government as the Roman republic (see, for example, the first line in the document “Diocletian’s Edict on Maximum Prices and Wages,” page 201), but they ruled autocratically as “lords and masters.” This new system eliminated any sharing of authority with the Senate, for the emperors of the dominate recognized no social equals. Senators, consuls, and other positions from the ancient republic continued to exist but only as posts of honor; these officials had the responsibil-
Reorganizing the Empire, 284–395 197284–600 C . E .
450 C.E. 500 C.E. 550 C.E.
■ 426 Augustine, City of God
■ 540 Benedictine rule created
■ 493–526 Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy
■ 507 Clovis establishes Frankish kingdom in Gaul
■ 533–534 Justinian publishes law code ■ 451 Council of Chalcedon
■ 475 Visigothic law code
■ 476 The “fall of Rome”
dominate: The blatantly authoritarian style of Roman rule from Diocletian (r. 284–305) onward; the word was derived from dominus (“master” or “lord”) and contrasted with principate.