World History Homework Four Answers - Student 5
Answer 5 out of 7:
1. Who is your favorite Roman emperor, and why?
Choosing a "favourite" Roman Emperor is a broad and inherently subjective question, as no parameters of time and geography, nor criteria by which to judge Emperors, are provided. For the sake of argument, I select Diocletian. Diocletian reunited the Empire following the Crisis of the Third Century and, unlike the more famous Emperors, focused on improving Rome's economic and administrative situation alongside military reforms. Diocletian passed various economic regulations which were attempts to reinvigorate the desperate state of the imperial economy. During the civil wars, inflation had skyrocketed and the currency had been devalued - Diocletian fixed the prices of goods and services in order to restore public confidence in the Imperial economy. He additionally fixed prices in an attempt to regulate the profiteering and hoarding that had marked the civil wars. His legislation to make people stay on their farms was necessary to stop the flow of farmers moving to towns, which was greatly reducing the Empire's food production while overcrowding the towns. Diocletian also raised taxes on the rich and divided up the biggest estates, the latifundae (many of which had collapsed financially as the vast slave workforces necessary to produce crops had taken their chance to escape during the civil wars) and redistributed the land to smallholders. By doing this and by making the super-rich pay more substantial taxes, Diocletian greatly increased the Empire's income, food output, and made life a little fairer for ordinary Roman citizens. Politically, he divided power between four Tetrarchs - including himself - who each managed a quarter of the Empire. Additionally, Diocletian was one of the very few Emperors who resigned and retired when the time was right, rather than clinging on to power regardless of the circumstances. It is true that not all of these reforms worked but without the reforms of Diocletian, it is likely that the Empire would have collapsed in the late third or early fourth century, and history would have been very different.
2. Describe what the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire were, including approximate dates.
The Roman Republic can be described as the hegemonic state founded in 509 BC, which gradually absorbed or conquered neighbours and rivals to spread across most of the contemporary known world. At its height in the first century BC, the Republic's boundaries around Mare Nostrum, or "Our Sea", were Mauretania to Egypt in the south, a shifting frontier zone in the Levant and Asia Minor against the Parthians in the east, a similar shifting frontier in the northern Balkans and Lower Germania in the north, and the Atlantic in the west. Britannia had been invaded - but not conquered - by Julius Caesar. However, this polity was not a single state but was composed of various colonia and provincia (such as Gallia and Hispania Ultima) under semi-autonomous governors ultimately answerable to Rome, a number of client-states (such as Judea and Athens) under nominally semi-independent local kings, and allied kingdoms (such as Transnistria and Taurica in the modern-day Crimea). From this peak - with the exception of temporary annexations of Romania and Mesopotamia - the state gradually shrank in terms of territory, economic output, and military strength. The Roman "Empire" is traditionally held to be the centralisation of power in a single figurehead; a state which lasted from the Senate's appointment of Octavian as Princeps et Imperator in 27 BC, ending officially in the West in 476 AD. However the Eastern Empire remained in effect until 1453 AD while the revival of the Imperium Romanorum under Charlemagne in 800 AD endured until its dissolution in 1806. It is worth noting, though, that following 27 BC until the state's dissolution in 476 or 1453, the Roman state officially remained a Republic and the Roman army continued to swear allegiance not to the Imperator but to the Senatus et Populesque Romanorum.
3. Compare and contrast the Roman Empire in the West with the Byzantine Empire.
Following the Crisis of the Third Century in which a combination of economic failures, government mismanagement, foreign incursions, and civil wars nearly fractured the Roman state, the Emperor Diocletian reunified the state. By the time Diocletian finally established himself as the sole Emperor, the empire was badly crippled both economically and militarily, and a noticeable split had developed between the richer, more populated, Greek-speaking East and the poorer, sparsely-populated, Latin-speaking West. The establishment of a Tetrarchy - rule by four Emperors - was partly to prevent rivals from trying to form breakaway empires, partly to try and lessen the gap between East and West, and partly to try and better organise the empire. The political situation was so dire that the four rulers left Rome and established capitals at Milan (Western Augustus/senior Emperor of the West) and Carthage (Western Caesar/junior Emperor of the West), and Antioch (Eastern Augustus/senior Emperor of the East) and Alexandria (Eastern Caesar/junior Emperor of the East). In the West, the Empire continued to suffer severe economic decline and military setbacks. The Western Empire's civil service was remarkably small, hopelessly mismanaged, and had no budget. The overwhelming majority of the imperial economy went straight to the army. The tax system was abysmally mismanaged - most land was owned by a few super-rich aristocrats who were exempt from tax, while the small farmers were crushed by the truly crippling taxes necessary to pay the hundreds of thousands of soldiers necessary to defend the Empire. Inflation continued to rise and the currency became devalued - to the point where bronze coins were plated with silver, thus making people inherently suspicious of currency and causing trade to decline significantly. Many rural farmers abandoned their homesteads because of the civil wars, or because the farms yielded crops below subsistence levels, or because the farmers were so heavily taxed many decided to simply up and move to the towns - which were becoming overcrowded, disease-ridden, underfed, and politically unstable. This situation continued, and thus the Western Empire was incapable of defending itself against increasing migration from across the Rhine, and the increasing tendency of Imperial governors to seek self-management for their provincia - the origins of feudalism and medieval European kingdoms.
In the Greek-speaking, predominantly Christian East, the economic and military situations were significantly better. Although the East faced the Parthians - a far more organised and much stronger single opponent than the various relatively weak "barbarian" factions harrassing the Western Empire - the East had a far larger population. This, in turn, meant much more tax income and trade, and a larger pool of manpower for the military. In addition, the Eastern bureaucracy was larger and much better-organised, while the Eastern army only had to hold a short frontier against the Parthians, unlike the badly overstretched Western army. Migration into the Eastern Empire was less significant than in the West, and a combination of internal strength and external weakness ensured that the East avoided the West's fracturing into semi-independent fiefdoms as a reaction to migrations and the failures of the central government. By the time the Western Empire was officially ended in 476, it had long since ceased to be an effective power - but the Eastern Empire remained strong until the Arab expansion on the seventh century. The Eastern Empire's defeat at the Battle of Yarmouk in 636 began a long decline as imperial trade, tax levies, and military resources lessened. Increasingly poor relations with the emergent Arab states, Seljuk Turks, and re-emergent Western European kingdoms in the Early Middle Ages led to the Eastern Empire's isolation and, ignored by other Christian states and under constant attack from Islamic and Christian powers, the Empire fell in 1453 (although the marriage of Sophia Paleologue to Muscovite Czar Ivan III in 1469 resulted in Russia claiming to be a continuation of the Roman Empire until its fall in 1917; while the Holy Roman Emperors in the West claimed to be a continuation of the Western [and entire] Roman Empire from 800-1806). It is worth noting that the term "Byzantine" was not a contemporary term but one applied retrospectively; as the Eastern Empire continued to call itself - and be called by others - "the Roman Empire".
4. Explain what Pax Romana was.
Like all such purported phenomena (the Pax Britannica, the Pax Sovietica, the Pax Americana), the Pax Romana is something which did not exist. The Romans did bring peace to parts of the known world, at times, most notably 27BC - 180AD. But this was peace in the aftermath of devastating wars. As Calgacus said to the Romans, recorded in Tacitus - "You make a wasteland, and you call it 'peace'." The Roman Empire was characterised by perpetual war; conflict was always happening somewhere on the Empire's frontiers, including the period c.27BC-180AD. Trajan's genocidal conquest of Dacia in the early 100s AD, two abortive invasions of Aethiopia in the first century AD, and of coure Claudius' invasion of Britannia in 43 AD are just three examples of violent wars which occured during the purported Pax Romana. Just because things were relatively peaceful within the Empire (ignoring, of course, the rampant abuses committed against the Empire's vast slave population and religious sects), doesn't mean that there was peace.
5. Discuss Hannibal or Attila the Hun.
Historians used to emphasise the ferocity and barbarity of Attila the Hun, whose armies seemingly overran the Romans in an cataclysm of bloodshed. The reality, as supported by contemporary documentary evidence and archaelogical evidence, is quite different. Indeed, the revised version of Attila is that he was in fact quite an incompetent and easily-swayed leader, and is a major figure in history not because of his inherent traits but because, like so many famous figures, he just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Certainly, his diplomacy was terrible (the Huns made enemies of everyone, not just the Romans) and even his military strategy was shockingly crude, allowing the badly-depleted Roman infantry to inflict a crushing defeat on him at Chalons in 451 AD. Attila's armies used stirrups unlike the Romans, and some historians have even concluded that it was the use of stirrups and rapid horseback travel which allowed the Germanic peoples to render the Western Empire impotent. Indeed, one reason the Romans found fighting the Huns so hard is that while the Romans excelled at close-quarters combat and expected everyone else to follow their example of throwing a lot of armoured infantrymen into a brawl and slugging it out until the better-trained Romans won, the Huns had the tactic of galloping up to the Romans, shooting their arrows, then galloping off again to reload before the Romans had the chance to react. Also, while Roman ideas of virtue and honour demanded that doomed troops stand and fight to the last man (as at Adrianople), the Huns had the cowardly (in the eyes of the Romans), but intelligent, strategy of retreating from fights they were likely to lose, so they could live to fight another day. However, at Chalons Attila became overconfident, decisively losing the battle to Aetius and Theodoric the Goth.
When Attila came back the next year - and by now, there was no army and no Aetius (who had been executed by an Emperor fearful of a military coup d'etat) to stop him. But again, the conventional interpretation of history does not withstand scrutiny. The traditional view is that, although nobody knows what Pope Leo said to Attila, he gently convinced the Hunnic king to depart. A modern interpretation argues that the Pope might indeed have used ethical arguments on Attila, but equally he might have entered into negotiations. There were far more practical reasons for Attila not seizing Rome. It is known that he had a superstition of entering Rome, after Alaric had died shortly after his sacking of the city in 410, and Attila did not have the supplies he needed to march on the city. The Italian harvest had been abysmally low, and Attila could not even sustain his armies where they were, never mind attack Rome. Rome was also heavily fortified, and Attila knew his troops could not conduct real siege warfare. It is much more likely that Attila and Pope Leo met simply as a formal ritual, allowing the Romans to maintain an illusion of power and allowing Attila to withdraw back to his supply base before winter left him and his army, trapped in enemy country and with Roman-foederati troops closing in, with nothing to eat.
Attila's death the next winter is traditionally interpreted as an ironic ar rather pathetic end for the Scourge of God - dying of a nosebleed. Other schools of thought hold that Attila, planning to march on Constantinople for a second time, was poisoned by his latest wife Ildico (a known Roman agent). Or he may simply have died from a cerebral haemmorhage caused by a night of heavy drinking and sexual activity. Following Attila's death, the Huns fractured into warring groups and ceased to threaten the Empire - but the Western Empire, by this point, had already ceased to be anything more than a ceremonial ideal.
7. Julius Caesar: a hero or a villain? Explain.
Caesar was neither hero nor villain. History is not black and white; it is always a shade of grey. Caesar committed atrocities (famously writing to the Senate that he "killed a million Gauls, and enslaved a million more), and annexed territories while dismantling the Senate apparatus in order to accumulate personal power; yet Caesar also improved living conditions for the free citizens of the Empire and reformed the decaying administrative apparatus of the government. Subjectivity is to be avoided in history; and taking an objective view of Caesar as neither angel nor demon arguably more useful to historians than risking Presentism by imposing modern dichotomies of good and evil upon a society now millennia old.
Honors Questions (answer any 2 in addition to the above questions)
H1. Do you agree that the Romans really lacked any understanding of an objective truth, as reflected by Pilate's response to Jesus at His trial? Please discuss.
To answer this, let us consider the narrative provided in the Bible itself. Caiphas and Annas, the High Priests of the Jewish Sanhedrin, did not like Jesus as he preached that the High Priests were hypocrites. Having arrested Jesus and obediently taken him to the local Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate, they said to Pilate, "This man calls himself the King of the Jews!" Pilate considered this a waste of time and sent them packing. Caiphas and Annas thought, and took Jesus back to Pilate saying "This man is telling people not to pay their taxes to the Emperor!". Now, this was a whole different matter. This was treason. Never mind that Jesus has told his followers to Render unto Caesar: Caiphas and Annas didn't tell Pilate this. So, Pilate questioned Jesus and was surprised at his intelligent yet evasive answers. Jesus did not admit to claiming to be King of the Jews, yet neither did he deny it. This placed Pilate in a dilemma.
Pilate had two choices. The first was to decide what crime Jesus was guilty of - the petty crime of claiming to be King of the Jews, or the very serious crime of inciting riot in an extremely volatile provice. The second choice was whether or not Jesus was guilty of anything, the local (and powerful) priesthood clearly wanted him dead. Pilate had to choose between ordering the torture and painful execution of an innocent man in order to win the favour of the local elite, or let him go and risk the local elite making life for the Roman occupation forces very, very hard. So, faced with these awful choices, Pilate tried to convince Jesus to confess to the lesser crime (claiming to be King of the Jews). This could be punished with a simple whipping, Jesus could go free, and the Sanhedrin would have been foiled. But Jesus refused to go along with it as He would not lie. Pilate therefore asked, in depressed, frustrated exasperation, "What is truth?". Jesus was refusing to lie, and that was going to get him killed. Pilate was probably morosely depressed because an innocent man would have to die a very gruesome death in order to satisfy the locals. But Pilate was a decent man, and even went so far as telling the crowds outside that he would release a prisoner. The murderer Barrabas, or Jesus. Their choice. The crowd, to Pilate's dismay, demanded the release of Barrabas and when Pilate stuck his neck out again by asking the crowd what he should do with Jesus, they demanded his death. So he called for a bowl of water, and in front of Caiphas and Annas, Pilate washed his hands saying that his hands were clean, and Jesus' blood was on theirs. Thus, Pilate did not lack of objective truth - he was simply caught in difficult circumstances.
An alternative (and theologically much better) explanation is provided by St Thomas Aquinas in Book II:8 of Summa Theologiae (c.1274). Aquinas reasons that Pilate was indeed trying to persuade Jesus to lie. By confessing to the lesser (corporal) crime of claiming to being King of the Jews, he would only receive a flogging, while if he continued evading the "truth", he would be found guilty of the more serious (indeed, capital) crime of inciting riot against the Roman authorities. So according to Aquinas, Pilate was urging Jesus to lie in order to save his skin. Aquinas concludes that Jesus refused Pilate's invitation to lie - not only because Jesus was destined to die as part of the Grand Plan, but because he had to die without committing a single sin. So even had he wanted to, Jesus couldn't lie and confess to the lesser crime. This forced Jesus to endure a terrible death but that was necessary for our salvation, and Jesus was unable to lie so that he could die without a single stain on his soul and thus save us from our sins.
H2. Which was more influential, the Roman law or the Roman legions?
It is arguable that both the legions and the laws were equally important. Roman law had a far longer legacy as it alloed the Empire to Romanise its provinces and allow Roman control without the need for large garrisons, and Roman law forms the basis for continental Europe's legal systems to this day (including the resucitation of the Roman Empire - the European Union!). Recall Edward Bulwer-Lytton's assertion that "The pen is mightier than the sword". However, also recall Cicero's quip that "Inter arma, silent leges est" - "In times of war, the law is silent". Roman law would not have become so deeply entrenched in European culture had it not been for the absorbtion of most of Europe into the imperium. It is therefore fair to state that Roman laws and Roman legions were equally important, as each required the other in order to endure.
H4. The decline and fall of the Roman empire: what do you think was its biggest cause?
There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of theories explaining why the Roman Empire fell. Beginning with Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 1776, monocausal explanations pointed (and continue to point) to such varied phenomena as the rise of Christianity and the associated decline in militaristic philosophies; economic decline caused by Rome's internal crises, lack of trade and productivity, and the cessation of large-scale income following the end of territorial expansion under Emperor Hadrian; barbarian incursions and near-endless civil wars caused by the unclear process of selecting a new Emperor and the subsequent existence of several rival Emperors at once; the split into East and West which deprived the West of necessary funds and resources; and climate change resulting in lower food production. One theory even argues that garum, a very popular fish sauce which contained high quantities of lead, resulted in widespread lead poisoning. However, monocausal explanations - or even a combination of factors - are inadequate, as no single theory can explan so varied and historiographical a problem as the Fall of the Empire.
Personally, I subscribe to the Pirenne Thesis. This theory, which appeared in the 1920s and has been adopted and adapted since, basically answers the question "Why did Rome fall?" with the answer "It didn't". Henri Pirenne began with the premise that the purported Fall was in fact simply a change. History, after all, is the story of change, and change is inevitable in all things. Taking this as a foundational basis, Pirenne looked at the Roman Empire at various stages and concluded that rather than the Empire entering a period of decline, it simply morphed from the ancient, slave-based Republic to pseudo-Republican/pseudo-medieval Empire, and then into medieval feudal serfdom as provinces looked to their own survival in the face of various changes and an uncaring, incompetent central government. Consider the Empire under Augustus (1 AD); still very much a Republic, with the legions and the temples and all the trappings of Rome we see in films. Now, consider the Empire in 200 AD; very different. Its economic structure, its social hierarchy, its religions, had all changed significantly. By the time Diocletian became Emperor, Rome already resembled more of a medieval kingdom than the ancient Rpublic. Now, consider the Empire in 400 AD; it still existed, but was very different again. The fashions, the faiths, the economy and the social order - even the dominant cities - had changed even further. The Rome of 450 AD was almost unrecognisable next to the Rome of 50 BC. If we forget the concept of a "Fall" and look at Europe in 600 AD, we see this pattern continuing to happen. Pirenne pointed to the continuations - Roman religion, language, culture, architecture, and even institutions continued after the Empire officially ended. The Europe of 400 AD was very different to the evolved Europe of 600 AD, which was very different to the evolved Europe of 800 AD when Charlemagne was crowned the new Roman Emperor. What is crucial in this, is that the changes were not random and unpredictable; Pirenne saw them as the continuation of traits stretching back to Republican Rome. Perhaps the Empire did not decline and fall - it simply changed.