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A History of Diplomacy in the International Development of Europe: Vol I The Struggle for Universal Empire
- Europe Under the Roman Empire
by David Jayne Hill, LL.D.


If, when measured by the whole of humanity, Europe seems, notwithstanding its diversity of races, languages, and interests, to possess a unity of its own, it is because the civilization of the different European nations was derived from the same original source and was received, in the main, through the same channels. In the period of the widest expansion of the Roman Empire one government extended over all that portion of Europe which had been reclaimed from primitive barbarism, and over that government presided at Rome one man, clothed with the attributes of an absolute master. Law, religion, and administration emanated from one centre and were directed toward one end. That centre was the imperial will, and that end its universal domination. From the Mediterranean to the North Sea and the British Isles, from the shores of the Atlantic to the confines of Asia, Europe was politically one. The history of every European country, excepting ancient Greece and the Germanic and Slavic lands of the North and the East, emerging from the dim traditions of mere tribal society, begins with the march of Roman legions and the rule of Roman laws. The imperishable memory of that ancient community of interests and the common inheritance of ideas and influences which have survived its dismemberment have played a large rôle in the subsequent development of Europe.

But the Roman Empire was more than a European state, it was an intercontinental power, holding sway over vast areas in Asia and Africa; a World Empire in which that ancient highway of nations, the Mediterranean, had become an inland waterway, and presiding over the destinies of men not only on the Rhine and the Danube, but on the Nile and the Euphrates. The boundaries of the Roman dominion, even before the fall of the Roman Republic, included all the lands of Western Europe between the Mediterranean and the German Ocean, together with the whole of the Italian and Grecian peninsulas, the greater part of Asia Minor, Syria, and a part of Northern Africa. The foreign policy of Rome, originating in the necessity of self-defence, had been stimulated under the Republic by the ambitions of Carthage and Macedonia to the conquest of the entire Mediterranean basin. With the advent of the Empire, whose territories had been greatly augmented by Julius Caesar, it became necessary to confirm these new possessions; and this entailed upon Augustus, in order to defend Gaul against the Germans and to consolidate the East and the West, still further invasions and annexations. In pursuance of this policy, Raetia, Noricum, Pannonia, Illyricum, and Moesia were subjugated, carrying the imperial frontier to the Danube. Under Claudius the conquest of Britain, begun by Julius Caesar, was finally accomplished, and in 51 A. D. that island became a Roman province. Under Trajan Dacia was occupied, carrying the Empire beyond the Danube. In the East, Trajan also acquired Mesopotamia, but Hadrian, considering them useless to the Empire, renounced both Mesopotamia and Assyria; a course which Marcus Aurelius, notwithstanding his pacific disposition, afterward reversed on account of the attacks of the Parthians. The Empire reached the maximum of its territorial area under Trajan (98-117) about the beginning of the second century of our era. At that time all that part of Asia south of the Caucasus and the Black Sea, the entire seacoast of Northern Africa, all of Europe west of the Rhine and south of the Danube, with small regions east and north of those rivers, together with Britain and the islands of the Mediterranean, were included in its forty four provinces.Its borders were almost coincident with the limits of civilization.

On account of the highly centralized organization of the Roman state under the Republic it was not difficult for Octavius Caesar, who assumed the titles Imperator, Caesar, and Augustus, to gather all the power into his own hands. All the attributes of the state, all the "majesty" of the Roman people, were centred in his person. The fundamental principle of Roman political existence in every period was the absolute sovereignty of the state. Its institutions were founded upon obedience, and submission was the primary law of citizenship. Derived theoretically under the Republic from the majesty of the people, the sovereign power, the imperium, lost nothing of its absolute character by the fact that it was confided to an individual. Herein lay the triumphant strength of the Roman organization. When, therefore, Augustus Caesar concentrated all the powers of the state in his own person the only innovation was in the personal centralization of power, not in its imperious quality. When, in later times, the ancient legal forms in which authority was exercised by the earlier emperors were disregarded, the people had become habituated to the exercise of power by an absolute master, whose will had become supreme, and the government assumed the character of an absolute despotism.

As military chief, the Emperor commanded the army and navy. He alone could levy and organize troops, or direct their operations in the imperial provinces. He appointed the officers, and the soldiers took an oath of allegiance to him and were paid by him. As head of the state, he not only commanded the military and naval forces when engaged in war, but could declare war, make peace, and conduct all negotiations with foreign powers. Although the Senate had, under the Republic, almost entire charge of foreign affairs, under the Empire it fell, in this as in other matters, to the rank of a mere advisory body, to be consulted or not at the Emperor’s pleasure. Even the distinction between the "imperial" and the "senatorial" provinces - the former having originally been administered by the imperial legates and the latter by the proconsuls of the Senate - lost all practical importance, and the Emperor acquired the right to command the senatorial proconsuls also.

As first magistrate, the Emperor was the highest appellate judge of the Empire. In both civil and criminal cases appeals were heard by him, either in person or by persons delegated by him for the purpose, the final decision resting always in his hands. The judicial powers originally possessed by the Senate were lost in the third or fourth century, and the imperial judges became the impersonation of the highest judicial authority, although a last appeal to the Emperor himself was not forbidden. The earlier trial by jury gradually disappeared altogether, and trial by imperial officials - the praefectus urbi for Rome, the praefectus praetorio for the rest of Italy, and the provincial governors for the provinces - became universal.

Not only the interpretation of the law but both direct and indirect legislation were within the power of the Emperor. He could issue edicts, decrees, and rescripts which not only determined particular questions, but had the force of permanent ordinances. He had the right to convoke the Senate, to preside over it, to take part in its deliberations, to send written proposals of laws, and to demand the precedence of business proposed by him. Propositions emanating from him were promptly adopted without alteration as an act of courtesy, and were then considered as forming a part of the law of the Empire.

The Emperor had, further, the right not only to pass upon the eligibility of candidates for the position of magistrate before their names were acted upon by the Senate, but many of the imperial officials were appointed directly by him without senatorial confirmation; such as the procurators of finance, the prefects of the city, the officers in command of the legions, and the governors of provinces. He often actually revised the list of senators, making removals at his discretion, and raising to senatorial rank men not strictly eligible to election.

As a member of the great priesthoods, and especially as pontifex maximus, the Emperor had the final supervision of all religious matters, - the naming of priests, the control of the temples, and the direction of everything pertaining to religion which could be of political importance. In addition, he possessed in the minds of the people the attributes of divinity itself, and was regarded as an object of worship even while alive, receiving at his death the title of divus and the honors of apotheosis.

It is not surprising, when so much depended upon imperial favor, that the Senate, which had been the controlling power in the state, lapsed into the mere creature of the Emperor. The local character of the popular assemblies left the Senate the sole legislative body of importance in the Empire, and its consulta had the force of law; but its authority had passed into the hands of its imperial master. It controlled taxation, but only on his initiative. It made appropriations of money, but it did so only at the suggestion of the Emperor, and the sources of revenue were under his control. Its chief function and highest dignity was the choosing of the Emperor; but even here its office was largely perfunctory, as the choice was usually determined either by the will of an emperor concerning his successor, or by the military power of a victorious candidate. As the Empire advanced along the path of centralization of power in the person of its head, the Senate became the mere shadow of ancient republican forms, from which all reality had faded, a degenerate body of mere honorary dignitaries under the control of their master.1

All the officers of the state, whether civil or military, ultimately became the mere agents and instruments of the imperial power, but the organization of control had its origin in the palace and was accomplished only in the course of time. Nearest to Augustus and the earliest emperors stood the pretorian guard, formed of the élite of the army, and modelled after the body employed by the ancient praetors, from which its name was derived. The prefects who commanded this body were accorded a wide range of authority, extending, except at Rome itself, over criminal matters, and even including appellate jurisdiction over the decisions of governors. After the manner of the ancient Roman magistrates, the Emperor had his council, composed of senators and knights. For the despatch of business he had in his household special offices, to which were appointed his personal servants - slaves or freedmen - who enjoyed his entire confidence. Gradually, these personal representatives became the principal organs of the public business, assuming in time an official character, and serving to centralize further the power of the state by mediating between the person of the Emperor and the regular officials of the Empire.

The Greco-Latin conception of a "city" (civitas) includes a totality of men inhabiting a certain territory under a local municipal government, with elective magistrates, local administration, police, and fiscal arrangement.s. The cities were the political units of the ancient world, and when Rome annexed the territories in which they were contained it left them free to continue their own local existence as before, supplementing their municipal arrangements with imperial laws concerning war, justice, and taxation.

Between the cities and the central government intervened larger aggregates, the "provinces," presided over by a magistrate appointed at Rome and representing the absolute sovereignty of the Empire. As representatives of the Emperor the governors of provinces possessed all his authority as regards the local population, ruling their provinces generally in all that pertains to justice, administration, and military direction. Only fiscal matters were excluded from their jurisdiction, these being under the charge of special agents directly responsible to the imperial government.

Serving as a check to the personal severity or rapacity of the governors, the provincial assemblies, nominally chosen by the cities, under the Republic and in the earlier centuries of the Empire afforded a certain protection to the provinces; but in the later period, at least, these assemblies possessed no political liberties and presented no obstruction to the imperial will as regards legislation, taxation, peace, or war. They served chiefly to maintain an illusion of municipal liberty under a system of absolute imperial authority

Throughout the Empire existed a social classification which served as the basis of the political organization. At the bottom of the social pyramid were the slaves (servi), without civil or political rights, yet not wholly without legal protection. To them was assigned nearly all of the manual labor. Next above the slaves stood the freedmen (liberti), released from slavery by a public act before a magistrate, a church ceremony, or the will and testament of their masters; yet ordinarily held to certain duties of obedience and even of service, and not fully invested with the prerogatives of men born free. Next above the freedmen were the plebeians (plebes), citizens of the lowest class, usually possessing little or no property and pursuing the occupations of industry, often associated in corporations protected by imperial laws. Those acquiring fortunes of a certain amount could enter into the class of decuriones, by which they became eligible to the municipal senate and local magistracies. Transition to the orders of nobility was possible to those who possessed sufficient wealth and had In their family no stain of infamy. Admission to the equestrian order required the possession of a fortune of four hundred thousand sesterces; to the senatorial order, a fortune of at least one million sesterces. These orders of nobility opened the way to the higher honors and offices of the Empire,-civil, military, and financial,- official position corresponding closely with social rank. Both socially and politically, therefore, the Empire became an organized plutocracy.

From its very magnitude as well as from its intrinsic character as a universal state, the Roman Empire during its widest dominion could recognize no international law in its modern sense. Comprising the whole of civilization, and regarding the turbulent hordes of the Parthians in the East, the wild bands of the Germans in the North, and the desert tribes of Africa in the South as mere barbarians, imperial Rome, having no co-equal neighbors, could not enter into international relations. Still, the ancient College of Fetials (collegium fetialium), which had originated when Rome was one of many Italian city-states, continued to supervise the ceremonies relating to the declaration and termination of war, down to the end of the fourth century of our era.

Pretending to wage no war which was not just, the Romans regarded the interests of war and peace as possessing a sacred character, and it was to the scrupulous observance of the jus fetiale that they attributed their success in battle. According to these regulations, no war could be waged by Rome until after an attempt to secure a peaceful adjustment of the issue.2 For this purpose, the case was submitted to the Fetials, who solemnly inquired into the cause of the provocation and fixed the responsibility for it. If a wrong had been committed by a Roman citizen, whatever his dignity, he was officially surrendered to the enemy, and the injury, if possible, was repaired. If the wrong was on the part of the stranger, the same reparation was demanded, and a delegation of the Fetials, under the direction of a pater patratus, was sent, bearing the sacred herbs gathered on the Capitoline, and clad in their sacerdotal vestments, to confer with the enemy. This ceremony consisted in a formal presentation of the complaint, attended with a minute ritual. If immediate satisfaction was accorded, the delinquents were exchanged. If redress was not promised, the delegation granted thirty-three days for reflection, renewed its protest, and reported the result to the Senate. If war was decided upon, the pater patratus returned to the frontier, pronounced the declaration of war by the use of a prescribed formula, symbolizing the rupture of peace by hurling a bloody spear upon the soil of the enemy.3

As the territory of Rome expanded, the ceremonial was modified by sending envoys to confer with the foreign power as representatives of the Fetials. In order to execute the symbolic act of hurling the spear, a captive was compelled to buy a few square feet of ground in the Campus Martina, which was then considered as the enemy’s country, and the spear was solemnly hurled upon it. Later, this procedure having been found too troublesome, a column in front of the temple of Bellonus was regarded as symbolizing the frontier, and the spear was thrown over this fictitious boundary, while a general was sent to repeat the declaration and begin the war by entering the territory of the enemy.

To the Fetials was entrusted also the conclusion of treaties, when the pater patratus exchanged solemn vows with the representatives of the other side, repeated the sacramental formulas by which the deities were made participants in the contract, and took into his keeping a copy of the treaty to be deposited in the archives. The compact was then regarded on both sides, not merely as an agreement between them, but as an obligation solemnly entered into with their respective deities.4

It was not by force of arms alone that Rome held her place of proud pre-eminence over neighboring peoples, but by the pursuit of a policy in which justice was the prominent feature. Cicero contrasts the treatment which the Republic accorded to its neighbors and allies before and after the dictatorship of Sulla, whose militarism created an epoch in the history of Rome. Speaking of the earlier period, Cicero says: "The Senate had become, so to speak, the asylum of kings, peoples, and nations. Our magistrates and our generals made it their glory to protect with justice and good faith the provinces and the allies. It is thus that Rome merited the name of protectress rather than mistress of the world."5

An open tribune, situated near the Capitol and called the "Grecostasis," is mentioned by Varro as a place where the envoys of foreign nations and the provinces awaited their audiences with the Senate. Toward the end of the Republic, a usage was established - soon formally authorized by the lex Gabinia - of devoting the month of February to intercourse between these deputies and the Senate, which was at that time charged with the conduct of foreign affairs. At an unknown date, the "Grecostasis" was transferred to the Forum, where it was located just before the Temple of Saturn.6

It was in the "Grecostasis" that, in 304 B. C., Caius Flavius wished to construct a temple to Concord; but funds were not voted for that purpose, and he contented himself with erecting a chapel in bronze with the penalties paid by usurers.

Under the Empire, we do not hear of the "Grecostasis," and with the passing of power into the hands of the emperors the institution and its usages appear to have fallen into desuetude.

With the progress of Rome in the direction of cosmopolitan importance, strangers flocked to the city in ever increasing numbers, and legal questions between natives and foreigners and between foreigners of different countries were greatly multiplied. In the view of ancient jurists, the laws of one city had no application to the subjects of another; and the jus civile of Rome, administered by the praetor urbanus, was regarded as applicable only to Roman citizens. As the foreign colony increased it became necessary to create a new magistrate, the praetor perigrinus, whose duty it was to judge the causes of foreigners among themselves or with native citizens. Since no definite law existed for these cases, the praetor sought guidance by an examination of the laws of the various cities whose subjects were brought into controversy, and thus came into view the important fact that many of these laws were based upon principles that were common to them. As a result of these lessons in comparative jurisprudence it was seen that certain legal conceptions were practically uniform and universal, and thus was developed a body of doctrines which came to be known as jus gentium.

While this process of comparative study was still going on, the doctrines of the Stoic philosophy, which perceived in nature a universal force pervading all things, physical, moral, and intellectual, - a universal reason or natural lawgiver, - became influential in Roman thought, and the principles of the jus gentium, apparently those of right reason, came to be regarded as identical with those of jus naturae.7 That these great principles of natural reason afterward furnished to Ayala, Gentilis, Grotius, and the jurists of the seventeenth century a basis for modern international law, has led to the misconception that the jus gentium of the Romans was of an international character. On the contrary, it was essentially a branch of Roman private law applicable to persons of other cities than Rome, and without application to relations subsisting between separate states. It was, however, destined to furnish a foundation of principles at a later time for the Law of Nations in a wider sense, - a law that should be for sovereign states what the jus gentium was for the provincials at Rome, - a light of reason shining on the path of justice.

But it is the Civil Law of Rome, the jus civile, which marks the main current of Roman jurisprudence, that great system of law which ultimately extended over the whole Empire and became so ingrained in the thoughts and practices of Europe that it has never ceased to influence human action. When Caracalla, in 212, extended to all free men throughout the Empire the full rights of Roman citizenship, there was but one law for the whole western world, - the Civil Law of Rome. A form of government had been brought into existence which embraced in its conception the whole of humanity and embodied the wide diversity of its races and the still greater variety of its local usages in a vast World State. Never before in the history of mankind had a rule so universal been established. Greek and Spaniard, Briton and Syrian, Dacian and Numidian were equally subjects of one imperial master and equally panoplied with the rights of Roman citizens.

The supreme law by which this vast and varied population was governed had profited by centuries of penetrating analysis, carefully balanced decisions, and large administration. All the finer spirit of the jus gentium had been taken up into it, and it had become the embodiment of pure reason in the realm of justice tempered by a wide and diversified application to practice. In theory the Emperor was the source of law,- "Quidquid principi placuit legis habet vigorem"; but in reality it was the experience of the Empire, in a large, impersonal sense, that became registered in the imperial legislation. The edicts of the Emperor had force only during his lifetime, and the mere personal ideas of the emperors had, therefore, no lasting place in the laws of the Empire. It was the decisions of the judges, often inspired by a deep appreciation of natural justice, that really created the Civil Law of Rome. In matters pertaining to the civil order, or relations of equity between man and man, it was never forgotten that the authority of the Emperor, so absolute in matters political, was in reality conferred by the people, -"Utpote quum lege regia populus ei et tn eum suum imperium et potestatum conferat." 8 There was no theory of a divine origin of monarchy until a later age, but the spirit of a generous philosophy, and even of a broad humanitarianism, entered into much of the imperial legislation, and went far toward confirming the popular conception regarding the divine attributes of the Emperor. The wife, the child, and even the slave received legal protection, and the whole tendency of Roman jurisprudence was to place all human rights under the aegis of the imperial power.

Perhaps the crowning benefit conferred by the Roman Empire upon its vast population was the "Roman peace." Within the imperial limits there was little disposition to revolt, for the advantages of just laws, unrestrained intercourse, and uniform administration were highly prized. Classes continued to exist, but the ancient national and racial prejudices and antagonisms largely disappeared. The rapacities of the provincial governors were held in check by the central power, the business of life moved on prosperously, justice reigned, and until the period of crisis came the citizens of the Empire were, in the main, a contented people. Military force was seldom exercised except to protect the frontiers of the Empire, and a general feeling of security added to the enjoyment of existence. Far from considering the Emperor as a hateful despot, the people generally regarded him as a benefactor. At Rome, where the personal vices of the bad emperors were better known to their contemporaries, there was often reprobation and sometimes disgust; but throughout the Empire as a whole the emperors were objects of sincere veneration and patriotic devotion, as indicated by the eulogistic inscriptions upon the monuments dedicated to them and the altars and temples erected in their honor. They were regarded as having rescued the world from war, violence, and the petty tyranny of irresponsible local despots.

With the death of Marcus Aurelius, the last of the "five good emperors," in 180, began a period of change and unrest which lasted till 284, when Diocletian ascended the throne and began his series of political reforms. In this century of turbulence twenty-three emperors actually held the throne, not to mention the great multitude of pretenders, and of this number all but three met a violent death. The opening of Roman citizenship to all free men throughout the Empire was marked by a decline in the power of Rome, and vigorous reforms were rendered necessary. Diocletian endeavored to check the tendency to decentralization. To this end, the provinces were grouped under four prefectures, - those of Gaul, Italy, Illyricum, and the East, - and over each of these were placed separate civil and military officers, under the direct control of the imperial authority. As the Empire had grown so vast, Diocletian divided the imperium between two emperors, one to administer the affairs of the East and another those of the West. In order to render secure the imperial succession, each of these emperors named a successor bearing the title of "Caesar," who served as an assistant, and thus became prepared to bear the imperial honor and responsibility. These reforms were of short duration, but they mark the beginning of a new order of things by which the monarchy was to become more absolute than before.

With the reorganization of the Empire by Diocletian, Rome ceased to be the capital, and each of the four prefectures became of equal importance. When, in 330, Constantine founded a new capital for the whole Empire at Byzantium, to which he gave the name Constantinople, the traditions of the ancient Roman Republic, never wholly obsolete at Rome, entirely lost their significance, and the Empire tended more and more to assume an oriental character. Henceforth, the qualities of Asiatic royalty mark the imperial office, its elective origin is no longer considered of importance, and it becomes not only an absolute but in effect a hereditary monarchy.

Although the Empire was practically divided, and never again ruled by one man after the accession of Honorius and Arcadius in 395,- the former reigning over the West at Milan or Ravenna, and the latter over the East at Constantinople, - the imperium was always in theory regarded as one and indivisible, the imperial office still retaining its unity as a legal conception, although administered by two separate persons. Though never formally dismembered, after 395 the East and the West pursued their ways, each under its own chief ruler, with a difference of administration which marked the practical obsolescence of the imperial unity.

The social crisis of the Empire appears to have had its origin in the organization of a luxurious court and the exemption of numerous classes from taxation, which caused a progressive impoverishment of the people. While the barbarians were filling the army orientalism was pervading the Empire, the sense of justice was relaxing, the frequent and sudden changes in the imperial office were devitalizing the protection of the provinces and leaving them to local mismanagement. Whole classes - the ecclesiastica, the army, the senators, the professors of grammar and rhetoric, as well as certain artisans - were exempted from the payment of taxes. The support of the state fell upon the few, and especially upon those having landed possessions. To rid themselves of this oppression, the small proprietors conveyed their lands to the larger, and the burden fell in turn upon these, until finally the fields were abandoned. Men sought refuge in slavery, and the government was obliged to pass laws forbidding the descent of the population to the level of irresponsibility. The difficulty of finding cultivators of the fields led to a strange provision of law. The power of the master to sell his slave was taken away, and the slave attached to a little patch of soil which he was compelled to cultivate and from which he could not be removed. Thus a condition of serfdom was substituted for that of slavery. Although, in the course of centuries, it proved to be a transition step to personal freedom and the abolition of servitude, serfdom was not intended to benefit the slave, but to enforce the cultivation of the land.

Failing of relief through the action of the public powers, the miserable endeavored to put themselves under the tutelage and patronage of the stronger proprietors and of the imperial officers. Whole towns invited the protection of some powerful master who could shield them from the exactions of the public authority, and thus a virtually feudal relation was sought long before the advent of the feudal age. A long endurance of control from above seems to have dried up the fountains of social initiative and self-dependence. The state had become everything, the individual nothing. So many generations had lived without political activity that the moral fibre of the entire population was permanently weakened. The deification of the state had created among the people a spirit of submission to its mandates and an expectation of its patronage which the degeneration of the public powers rendered truly pathetic. When the barbarian finally took possession of the land, his rude strength was far superior as a constructive force to the enfeebled energies of a decadent civilization. Western Europe had only two possessions that the invaders did not sweep away, - the Roman law and the Christian religion.

The religion of old Rome, like that of most of the conquered provinces, was originally a polytheistic nature worship. In matters of belief, Rome was tolerant, and the local cults, which varied widely, were left undisturbed unless they were found pernicious to the state. With the establishment of the Empire the influence of Rome became more potent, and altars and rites intended to celebrate the divine authority of the Emperor multiplied throughout the Empire. It was not difficult for a people inheriting a polytheistic faith to admit a new deity into their pantheon, and the religious instinct was utilized to promote the popular reverence for the divine head of the state and the unity of the Empire by the inculcation of faith in his glory, his power, and his moral attributes. Even where the old local superstitions were waning and the influence of the philosophers was felt, reverence for the Emperor had a substantial political reason for existence and even served as a substitute for vanishing or discarded faiths. The worship of the Emperor, which gave a certain unity to the religious sentiments of the Roman world, was, however, rather an apotheosis of the state than a deification of his person, until death took him to the company of the gods.

There was one faith, humble in its origin but potent in its influence, against which the imperial power, in general so tolerant, pursued a course of persecution. Between the Empire and Christianity, as it existed in the first and second centuries, there was an inherent and fundamental antagonism. The teachings of Jesus, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s," implied the existence of a power above the state; and, without openly inciting to rebellion, plainly imposed at least a divided, and even a superior allegiance. The secrecy of the Christian assemblies, the reports of their ceremonies and teachings, the refusal of the Christians to offer sacrifices to the pagan deities, or to recognize the divinity of the Emperor himself, called forth the opposition of the imperial officials and brought upon the humble confessors of Christ the heavy hand of a resentful government. On the other side, the followers of Jesus experienced a profound revulsion in the presence of the pagan ritual, the official pomp, the military authority, the social indulgence, the cruel spectacles, and the personal vices which to their minds the Empire represented, and they gladly bore witness to the purity and divinity of their belief by enduring the pains of martyrdom. The proscription of their faith closed to all who survived every avenue of life except the most obscure and humble; yet, notwithstanding the imperial repression, Christianity was destined to a final triumph. By the commencement of the fourth century, in spite of bitter persecution, its secret propaganda had won great multitudes of adherents, and through the Edict of Milan, of March, 313, it became a tolerated religion, and afterward the religion of the court.

Without accepting the legends concerning the conversion of Constantine, it is evident that the Edict of Milan, although in form an edict of general toleration,was expressly intended to favor the Christians.9 The fact that nineteen-twentieths of the population of the Empire were still pagans, is sufficient proof that Constantine’s motives in issuing the edict were not purely political, and the progressive character of his public acts in favoring Christianity confirms the conviction that his first step was not taken solely to gain support.10

A far more just and well grounded theory of his conduct is found in the view that, with a strong personal sympathy for the Christians, whose persecution he had witnessed, and with at least an inclination toward their faith, which he appears finally to have sincerely adopted, his first wish was to rid the Empire of religious conflicts, by which its power of resistance had been weakened. The rapid growth of Christianity under the favor of the Emperor led him to see in it a social force of great value to the unity and strength of the Empire; for it was only in such a deep working leaven as Christianity possessed that a remedy could be found for the enervating luxury, the corroding vices, and the indifference to public interests which were eating out the life of Roman society. Finally, convinced of the vast importance of the Church as a support to the Empire, he did all in his power to secure its unity by cultivating the Catholic faith and preventing the development of independent sects. In 324, he expressed the wish that all his subjects might become Christians; and in 325, the Council of Nicaea, over which be presided, began the condemnation of heretics.

The transition from the toleration of Christianity to the persecution of paganism, in 341, marks the progress of Constantine’s policy toward the definite establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Empire. The pagan reaction under the Emperor Julian was of short duration; and, renounced by the Roman Senate in 388, paganism was finally abolished by the authority of Theodosius the Great, about 391. Christianity had won a definitive victory and had become the only legally recognized religion in the Empire.

The evil from which the Empire had suffered in the period of pagan decadence was the dissolution of faith in the old ideals and virtues which had inspired the past. Moral discipline, patriotic sentiment, social contentment, - all had been swept away by the crumbling of the ancient faith. The process of dissolution, prolonged for centuries, had relaxed and enfeebled the bonds which unite a people to their country, an army to its duty, and public officials to their tasks. The freedom which the Edict of Milan accorded to Christianity introduced a new constructive principle into society, - the fresh vigor of a fervent faith fitted to vitalize the whole of existence. For centuries, no free assembly had met on the soil of the Empire, conscience bad been silenced, and personal conviction had been suppressed. With the toleration of religious teaching, a new order was instituted, and men started out anew in the pursuit of truth.

Although a new force was thus brought into action, it came too late to save the Empire. Before its results could be secured the barbarians entered upon their work of destruction, and the political fabric was swept away; but the energies set free by the edict of toleration created a new "government of souls," - as Littré has expressed it, -" a government the most difficult and the most important of all." 11 Finding but little to attract them in the purely civil order, the noblest minds directed their attention toward the great work of social regeneration. Freed from the restrictions hitherto imposed upon it, inspired by the universality of its own ideals, and encouraged by the misfortunes of the state, the Church began its splendid task of winning the population of the Empire to its creed and gathering the lowly and the great within its fold.

Thenceforth, we find Christianity, which had subsisted only as a personal faith, identified with an official doctrine and an organized hierarchy. Aiming at universality, the Empire furnished it the model of organization. The local bishops, successors of the apostolic pastors, were placed under the authority of metropolitans, whose powers were ordained by the Council of Nicaea. The same geographic distribution served for the civil and the ecclesiastical jurisdiction, the capital towns of the imperial provinces becoming the metropolitan centres of the Church, and this distribution was to continue down to the end of the eighteenth century. Above the metropolitans were ranked the patriarchates, - the churches founded directly by the apostles, as guardians of faith and discipline, - Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome, to which Constantinople was added as the imperial capital. Of these Rome alone was in the western part of the Empire, and hence obtained a primacy over all the western churches, its bishop being regarded as the successor of St. Peter. Thus, the old capital of the Empire rather than the new became the seat of authority for the Western Church; and, after the rise of the barbaric kingdoms upon the ruins of the Empire in the West, the Church became the legatee of its remnant of power and influence. By position, by tradition, and by its own theory of its prerogatives, Rome became the mother of catholicity, the source and tribunal of orthodoxy, and the possessor of those imperial attributes in the spiritual realm which the Empire had possessed in the civil and political. Often left as the sole general authority in Rome, its bishop was sometimes clothed with these latter attributes also; and when the barbarian entered the city he found a throne still unshaken by the shock of war, and seated upon it a venerable and august presence claiming the right by virtue of a power not of this world, to rule the conqueror as he had ruled the conquered.


1. The history of the Roman Senate in its later period has been minutely studied by Lécrivain, Le Sénat romain. Its degeneration as a legislative body was not the only misfortune for the state. By their exemption from taxes and justice, the senators became an arbitrary aristocracy, absorbing the vitality of the people. "En multipliant le nombre des sénateurs, en augmentant constamment leur privilèges, les empereurs se sont réglés tout naturellement sur lee moeurs et les penchants d’une société profondément aristocratique. . . . On voit alors le despotisme au centre, l’anarchie aux extrémités. Le pouvoir s’émiette en tyrannies locales." - Le Sénat romain, pp. 210, 211.

2. Cicero, De Officiis, T, II., says "Ac bell quidem aequltas sanctissime fetiali populi Romani jure perscripta est. Ex quo intelligi potest nullum bellum esse justum nisi quod aut rebus repetitis geratur aut denuntiatum ante sit et indictum."

3. The Fetial, having arrived on the foreign territory, with veiled head, said: "Audi, Jupiter, audite fines, audiat Fas. Ego sum publicus nuntius populi Romani: juste pieque legatus venio, verbisque meis fides sit." Next, he stated his griefs. Then, calling Jupiter to witness: "Si ego injuste impieque illos homines, illasque res dedier nuncio populi Romani mihi exposco, tum patriae compotem me nunquam sinas esse." Having said this on arriving upon the foreign territory, he repeated it to the first inhabitant he met, at the gates of the city, and in the public place. If satisfaction was not given as requested. at the end of thirty-three days, the number being solemnly prescribed, he used the following terms "Audi, Jupiter, et tu, Juno, Quirine, diique omnes coelestes, vosque terrestres, vosque inferni, audite. Ego vos testor, populum illum (naming the people) injustum esse, neque jus persolvere. Sed de istis rebus in patria majores natu consulemus, quo pacto jus nostrum adipiscamur." The envoy then returned to await the decision of the Senate, which was assembled for the purpose of considering the case. Each member was asked his opinion, and if the majority voted for war the Fetial returned to the foreign territory with an iron-pointed spear, or with a pike hardened in the fire and covered with blood, which he hurled over the frontier with the formal declaration: "Quad populi priscorum Latinorum, hominesque prisci Latini adversus populum Romanum Quiritium fecerunt, deliquerunt, quod populus Romanus Quiritium bellum cum priscis Latinis jusset esse, senatusqne populi Romanum Quiritium censuit, consensit, conscivit, ut bellum cum priscis Latinis fieret; ob earn rem ego populusque Romanus populis priscorum Latinorum, hominibusque priscis Latinus, bellum indico facioque." Having said this, he hurled the spear on the soil of the enemy. Livy, History of Rome, 1,32. See also Aulus Gelius, XVI, 4.

4. The pater patratus having been authorized to ratify the treaty, he said after it had been read aloud: "Audi, Jupiter, audi, pater patrate populi Albani, audi tu, populus Albanus (this being the peopie in question): ut illa pelam prima poetrema ex illis tabulis cerave recitata sunt, sine dolo malo, utique, ea hic hodie rectissime intellecta sunt, illis legibus populus Romanus prior non deficiet. Si prior defexit publico consilio, dolo malo, ut illo die, Jupiter, populum Romanum sic ferito, ut ego hunc porcum hic hodie feriam: tanto magis ferito, quanto magis potes pollesque." ‘When be said this, he struck the animal with the sharp stone. The other party to the treaty then ratified it in a similar manner. Livy, History of Rome, I, 24.

5. Cicero, De Legibus, III,20; and De Officiis, I,13 et seq.

6. Daremberg et Saglio, Dictionnaire des Antiquités grecques et romaines, p. 1300, which cites specific classical authorities for the contents of the article.

7. Gaius, in the middle of the second century, recognizes no distinction between jus gentium and jus naturae. Ulpian, at the end of the second century, distinguishes between them. Jus naturae, he says, is primordial and followed by all animated beings; jus genyium is developed in the common experience of all nations; while jus civile is the definite system of a particular state. On these distinctions, see Carlyle, Mediaeval Political Theory in the West, vol. I, pp. 86, 44 et seq.

8. Digest of Justinlan, I, 41. "From the second century, then, to the sixth, we have seen that the Roman law knows one, and only one, ultimate source of political power, and that is the authority of the people." Carlyle, A History of Mediaeval Political Theory in the West, vol. I, p. 70. While this was the theory of the Roman law, in practice the imperial power-the only real authority-"was obtained by every method, but never by that of popular appointment."

9. The Edict of Milan is preserved in two different texts, which differ only in unimportant details. One is found In Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum, 48; the other, in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, X, 5, 2, 15. It is one of the oldest complete documents.

10. Allard, Le Christianisme et l'Empire romain de Néro à Théodose, Paris, 1898, p. 183, holds the opinion that the Edict of Milan was a purely political act.

11. Littré, Etudes, p. 27.

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