Georgetown University Ch 8 The Late Roman Empire Response Instructions ••• 1- in 500-750 words, answer the pertinent question and explore the relevant top

Georgetown University Ch 8 The Late Roman Empire Response Instructions •••

1- in 500-750 words, answer the pertinent question and explore the relevant topic. Defend any arguments you make using the source at hand.

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Georgetown University Ch 8 The Late Roman Empire Response Instructions ••• 1- in 500-750 words, answer the pertinent question and explore the relevant top
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2- Be certain to let me know within the introduction the argument you intend to follow.

3- Then, give evidence for your belief, analysis and interpretation of that evidence, and your conclusions.

Paper layout•••

1- paper must be cited throughout.

2- You should do this in Chicago Style (author, title of source, publication date, and page number if you can find one) or by footnote[1].

The Assignment•••

Read the selections on : the “Fall” of the Roman Empire, and the accounts in The West in Question 8 and Mathisen’s.

What are the chief theories?

Do you agree with Peter Brown that the end of the Roman Empire should be considered a “change and continuity rather than a “decline and fall”?

Text Book:

Ralph Mathisen, Ancient Mediterranean Civilizations: From Prehistory to 640 CE, Oxford University Press… 1
Chapter Eight: The Late Roman Empire: Decline or Transformation?
Rome had influenced Mediterranean civilization for almost 700 years. Then, in the later fifth
century CE, the Roman emperor was removed from power in Italy. Traditionally, we refer to this
period as the “Fall” of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Middle Ages. However, there
is debate today about the nature and speed of that transition. Was there a decline in Roman
power, followed by a “fall”, or was it a gradual transition, marked by a few dramatic episodes,
from the collapse of western Imperial government to new European societies?
It is difficult to define, let alone understand, ‘late antiquity”. As recently as fifty years ago
there was little disagreement that Rome’s fall brought on centuries of darkness. The classical
description of Rome’s final years was given by Gibbon in the eighteenth century.
…the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness.
Prosperity ripened the principle of decay: the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of
conquest; and, as soon as time or accident had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous
fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight. The story of its ruin is simple and obvious; and,
instead of inquiring why the Roman empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it
had subsisted so long…The emperors, anxious for their personal safety and the public peace,
were reduced to the base expedient of corrupting the discipline which rendered [the army] alike
formidable to their sovereign and to the enemy; the vigor of the military government was relaxed,
and finally dissolved, by the partial institutions of Constantine; and the Roman world was
overwhelmed by a deluge of Barbarians…
The Romans were ignorant of the extent of their danger, and the number of their enemies.
Beyond the Rhine and Danube, the northern countries of Europe and Asia were filled with
innumerable tribes of hunters and shepherds, poor, voracious and turbulent; bold in arms and
impatient to ravish the fruits of industry. The Barbarian world was agitated by the rapid impulse
of war…the endless column of Barbarians pressed on the Roman empire with accumulated
weight; and, if the foremost were destroyed, the vacant space was instantly replenished by new
assailants. (Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Ed. J. B. Bury, 7 vols.
(1896-1902), vol. IV, pp. 160-169)
The Question: What is the traditional view concerning Rome’s “decline and fall”?
Gibbon would be one of the first to look at the history of late Rome. He saw several reasons for
Rome’s fall, most importantly a weakening of what had made Rome great. Gibbon and others
saw Rome as having been fatally wounded by factors like the degradation of older Roman values,
ethnic dilution, Christian interference and barbarian invasions. In the end, Gibbon claimed,
Rome declined in greatness, resulting in dramatic collapse. This view would hold into the
twentieth century.
The counter-argument was initiated by Peter Brown in the mid-twentieth century:
To study such a period one must be constantly aware of the tension between change and
continuity in the exceptionally ancient and well-rooted world round the Mediterranean. On the
one hand, this is notoriously the time when certain ancient institutions, whose absence would
have seemed quite unimaginable to a man of about AD 250, irrevocably disappeared. By 476,
the Roman empire had vanished from western Europe; by 655, the Persian empire had vanished
from the Near East. It is only too easy to write about the Late Antique world as if it were merely
a melancholy tale of “Decline and Fall”… On the other hand, we are increasingly aware of the
astounding new beginnings associated with this period…
Looking at the Late Antique world, we are caught between the regretful contemplation of
ancient ruins and the excited acclamation of new growth. What we often lack is a sense of what it
was like to live in that world. Like many contemporaries of the changes… we become either
extreme conservatives or hysterical radicals. A Roman senator could write as if he still lived in
the days of Augustus, and wake up, as many did at the end of the fifth century AD, to realize there
was no longer a Roman emperor in Italy…
…Perhaps the most basic reason for the failure of the imperial government, in the years
between 380 and 410, was that the two main groups in the Latin world – the senatorial
aristocracy and the Catholic Church – disassociated themselves from the fate of the Roman army
that defended them…having hamstrung their protectors, they found, somewhat to their surprise,
that they could do without them…
The barbarian invasions did not destroy western Roman society, but they drastically altered
the scale of life in the western Roman provinces… In western Europe, the fifth century was a time
of narrowing horizons, of the strengthening of local roots, and the consolidating of old loyalties.
(Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity. 1971 pp. 7-8, 119, 126)
The Question: In the opinion of Brown, why should we be looking at “change and
continuity”, rather than “decline and fall”?
Brown and others talk of transition from ancient Rome to medieval Europe, arguing that older
values were slowly replaced by more expedient values guided by Church, local interests and the
new barbarian rulers. While there was tension and disruption, people got on with their lives and
society adjusted. Gibbon’s history sees a break between a grand ancient world and a grim
Germanic dark age. Instead of outright decline, Brown envisioned a period where antiquity
shaded into medieval. Today, “”late antiquity” is used to describe the period from the reign of
Constantine to the disappearance of Romanity,, a heritage that lingered in many places well after
the western Roman empire had disappeared.
This chapter will address the question of when and how Rome “ended”. Section One will
ask what role if any Christianity and the institution of the Church had in the transformation or
collapse of Rome. Section Two will look at the popular belief that the barbarians brought Rome
down. The final section will look at what we mean by “Decline and Fall” and the immediate
consequences of the collapse of the western government.
The backdrop to late antiquity in some ways begins with Constantine the Great, who
established a new capital city at the old Greek town of Byzantium. Constantine had recognized
that power, wealth and military concerns now lay to the East, where a reinvigorated Persian
Empire made its presence known on the eastern frontier. The West was simply not as important
economically, and the city of Rome too far removed from the frontiers. Constantine moved his
court to the newly named Constantinople, making it clear that he was building a new and
religiously purer Rome on the Bosporus Straits. With him went the most powerful and most
ambitious elites and churchmen. Those who stayed in Rome were generally the older or more
conservative families. The city of Rome quickly lost political relevance. The political division
between east and west had cultural consequences as well. The Hellenistic world had remained
Greek in character and language under the Empire. When Rome had been the imperial capital,
the East had looked west to Rome. However, with the establishment of Constantinople, the
Greek East now looked no further west than the Balkans.
By the death of Emperor Theodosius in 395 there were signs of economic hardship. The
decline was certainly not consistent across the empire, and some places continued to prosper, but
monies for government and armies had already begun to dwindle in the reign of Diocletian, who
tried to bring the economy under state control. By then, the middle class and cities had become
overburdened with taxes, with diminishing benefits. At the height of the Roman Empire, elected
city offices held coveted status, but the appeal declined as elites increasingly found themselves
mandated to run for office and make up the tax shortfalls out of their own pockets. As no one
wanted to volunteer the family fortune for the good of the state, elites abandoned city life for their
villas in the countryside, away from imperial reach. The old civic centers of Roman life eroded
in the west, except where bishops maintained some imperial representation. Cities endured,
especially in the east, but politics became increasingly more regional. On the other hand, some
areas of the empire continued to prosper, and we can detect a new urban landscape as physical
centers shifted from the forum to the churches.
The military was also affected. Military service had once been part of the elite Roman’s
training for future leadership. Now, few aristocratic families sent sons to the frontiers. The best
officers came from the periphery and were increasingly of partial barbarian descent. The
emperors came to prefer such men as military officers. Loyal to those who promoted their
advance, they would have a more difficult time leading any sort of usurpation because of their
Thus, there is a period after Constantine when there are noticeable social and economic
changes. In some places there was certainly upheaval. In other places life went on in ways that
would still be seen as quite Roman. Two other factors have been examined in great detail for
their contribution to late antiquity and the collapse versus change question: the influence of the
Church and the activities of the barbarians.
Section One: Christianity in Many Forms
Constantine waited until days before his death to become a baptized Christian. This was not
uncommon in a world that believed that baptism wiped away prior sins. However, no matter
what his actual perceived state of grace, he had significant impact on the Church in his lifetime.
There is agreement among historians that the Church played an enormous role in politics from
Constantine on. However, did the Church weaken the late Roman state or help prolong it?
Again, the classic view was forwarded by Gibbon:
As the happiness of a future life is the great object of religion, we may hear without surprise
or scandal that the introduction, or at least the abuse of Christianity, had some influence on the
decline and fall of the Roman empire. The clergy successfully preached the doctrines of patience
and pusillanimity; the active virtues of society were discouraged; and the last remains of military
spirit were buried in the cloister: a large portion of public and private wealth was consecrated to
the specious demands of charity and devotion; and the soldiers’ pay was lavished on the useless
multitudes of both sexes who could only plead the merits of abstinence and chastity. Faith, zeal,
curiosity, and more earthly passions of malice and ambition, kindled the flame of theological
discord; the church, and even the state, were distracted by religious factions, whose conflicts
were sometimes bloody and always implacable; the attention of the emperors was diverted from
camps to synods; the Roman world was oppressed by a new species of tyranny; and the
persecuted sects became the secret enemies of their country. Yet party-spirit, however pernicious
or absurd, is a principle of union as well as of dissension. The bishops, from eighteen hundred
pulpits, inculcated the duty of passive obedience to a lawful and orthodox sovereign; their
frequent assemblies and perpetual correspondence maintained the communion of distant
churches; and the benevolent temper of the Gospel was strengthened, though confirmed, by the
spiritual alliance of the Catholics. The sacred indolence of the monks was devoutly embraced by
a servile and effeminate age; but if superstition had not afforded a decent retreat, the same vices
would have tempted the unworthy Romans to desert, from baser motives, the standard of the
republic. (Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Ed. J. B. Bury, 7 vols.
(1896-1902), vol. IV, pp. 160-169
The Question: Why does Gibbon believe Christianity weakened the Roman Empire?
Gibbon suggests that Christian values of pacifism and charity sapped Roman strengths, and that
religious struggles led to too much preoccupation with church affairs, to the detriment of the
armies. Heather, on the other hand, suggests that the impact was limited:
But while the rise of Christianity was certainly a cultural revolution, Gibbon and others
are much less convincing in claiming that the new religion had a seriously deleterious effect upon
the functioning of the Empire. Christian institutions did…acquire large financial endowments.
On the other hand, the non-Christian religious institutions that they replaced had also been
wealthy, and their wealth was being progressively confiscated at the same time as Christianity
waxed strong. It is unclear whether endowing Christianity involved an overall transfer of assets
from secular to religious coffers. Likewise, while some manpower was certainly lost to the
cloister, this was no more than a few thousand individuals at most, hardly a significant figure in a
world that was maintaining, even increasing, population levels. Similarly, the number of upperclass individuals who renounced their wealth and lifestyle for a life of Christian devotion pales
into insignificance beside the 6,000 or so who by AD 400 were actively participating in the state
as top bureaucrats…
Nor was there any pressing reason why Christianity should have generated such a crisis,
since religion and Empire rapidly reached an ideological rapprochement. Roman imperialism
had claimed…that the presiding divinities had destined Rome to conquer and civilize the world…
After Constantine’s public adoption of Christianity, the long-standing claims about the relation of
the state to the deity were quickly, and surprisingly easily, reworked. The presiding divinity was
recast as the Christian God… The claim that the Empire was God’s vehicle…changed little: only
the nomenclature was different. (Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire. 2006, pp. 122-3).
The Question: In Heather’s view, what was the impact of Christianity in the relationship
between Empire and the divine? Is the idea that only a few thousand were involved believable?
While Heather accepts that there was a cultural change in the way Christians viewed their
relationship with the Classical world, from a political and comparative standpoint there was little
difference in the monies and attention given to the Church, nor did it have a measurable role in
weakening the empire. This did not stop non-Christians over the next century, however, from
believing that it had.
During most of the fourth century, Christianity and paganism coexisted in joint legality. The
formidable theologian Augustine, who served as bishop of the North African city of Hippo, for
instance, was raised by mixed parents, and had a foot in both traditions. However, it became
increasingly difficult to maintain pagan worship, and those who did so were subject to violence
from churchmen and the Christian community. Temples could be publicly desecrated, often in
humiliating ways, the stones recycled for churches. The gulf between the Christian and nonChristian view of Rome’s future grew wider.
Much of the debate lies in the nature of Christianity itself by late antiquity. Before
Constantine the Church had been an underground movement that advocated social justice for the
oppressed. Once Constantine legalized the faith, he made Christianity a partner of a military state
that emphasized victory, conquest and lordship. The language of the church changed into a
militant cry for battle against the unbeliever. The Church itself became a weapon of the state.
Of course, defining “the Church” was also problematical. Even 300 years after the life of
Jesus of Nazareth, there were still many unresolved questions concerning the nature of
Christianity, and the Christian life, especially those issues dealing with the actual life and nature
of Christ before and after ascension, the nature and structure of the Trinity, and the necessary
steps towards redemption and salvation. Now that the Church had an imperial stamp of approval,
the Church was faced with the challenge of establishing a standard belief system. Deviations,
now called heresies, were not to be allowed.
Donatism was one such alternate interpretation labeled as heresy. Donatists, so-called after
the views of Bishop Donatus during Diocletian’s Great Persecution of the early fourth century,
believed that apostasy (turning away from the faith) should be severely punished in penitence.
Moreover, clergy who had apostatized should not be allowed to take up their office again. In
most Christian churches, apostates had been allowed back, but the Donatists of Africa, where
Christians had suffered greatly in the Persecution, had little sympathy for the weak-spirited.
Although Donatists refused to follow mainstream church guidelines on readmitting lapsed
Christians, Donatist churches and liturgy otherwise looked very much like the orthodox (“correct
word”) Church.
The debate over Arianism presents the problem faced by Constantine as he tried to work
through the vicious politics of the various bishops defending their beliefs. Many of the bishops
were from the elite families that once would have produced senators and governors in an
unforgiving political environment. They understood power politics, and played games with the
lives of rivals in a way that reminded one scholar of a wild animal hunt.
Much of the debate centered on the nature and structure of the Christian Trinity – God as
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, somehow all at once and yet distinct. Many Roman Christians had
had difficulties seeing Jesus as having the same substance and power as God. After all, in a good
Roman family sons are not equal to fathers. Named after its chief apologist, Bishop Arius,
Arianism saw Jesus as Son of God but still a creation and thus not equal to God.
To his very dear lord, the man of God, the faithful and orthodox Eusebius, Arius, unjustly
persecuted by Alexander the Pope, on account of that all-conquering truth of which you also are
a champion, sendeth greeting in the Lord.
… the bishop greatly wastes and persecutes us, and leaves no stone unturned against us. He has
driven us out of the city as atheists, because we do not concur in what he publicly preaches,
namely, God always, the Son always; as the Father so the Son; the Son co-exists unbegotten with
God; He is everlasting; neither by thought nor by any interval does God precede the Son; always
God, always Son; he is begotten of the unbegotten; the Son is of God Himself. Eusebius, your
brother bishop of Cæsarea, Theodotus, Paulinus, Athanasius, Gregorius, Aetius, and all the
bishops of the East, have been condemned because they say that God had an existence prior to
that of His Son; except Philogonius, Hellanicus, and Macarius, who are unlearned men, and who
have embraced heretical opinions. Some of them say that the Son is an eructation, others that He
is a production, others that He is also unbegotten. These…
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