2. Beginnings of Rome
3. Institutions of Early Rome
4. Etruscan Kings of Rome
5. Reorganization of Kingdom

6. Struggle against Kingship
7. Struggle for Economic Rights
8. Struggle for Equal Laws
9. Struggle for Political Equality
10. Conquest of Latium
11. Conquest of Central Italy
12. Conquest of Southern Italy
13. Supremacy of Rome in Italy
14. First Punic War
15. Second Punic War
16. Conquests in East
17. Reduction of Roman Conquests
18. Rome as a World Power
19. Times of Gracchi
20. Times of Marius and Sulla
21. Times of Pompey and Caesar
22. Times of Antony and Octavius

23. Reign of Augustus
24. Julian Emperors
25. Flavian Emperors
26. Five Good Emperors
27. Decline of Empire
28. Reorganization of Empire
29. Extinction of Western Empire
Outlines of Roman History
by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L.
New York, Cincinnati, Chicago: American Book Company (1901).



Table of contents




The Reign of Diocletian (A.D. 284-305), I.The Reign of Constantine (A.D. 313-337), II.The Successors of Constantine (337-395), III.


   The New Imperialism.—The accession of Diocletian brings us to a new era in the history of the Roman Empire. It has been said that the early empire of Augustus and his successors was an absolute monarchy disguised by republican forms. This is in general quite true. But the old republican forms had for a long time been losing their hold, and at the time of Diocletian they were ready to be thrown away entirely. By the reforms of Diocletian and Constantine there was established a new form of imperialism—an absolute monarchy divested of republican forms. Some of their ideas of reform no doubt came from the new Persian monarchy, which was now the greatest rival of Rome. In this powerful monarchy the Romans saw certain elements of strength which they could use in giving new vigor to their own government. By adopting these Oriental ideas, the Roman Empire may be said to have become Orientalized.

   The Policy of Diocletian.—Diocletian was in many respects a remarkable man. Born of an obscure family in Dalmatia (part of Illyricum), he had risen by his own efforts to the high position of commander of the Roman army in the East. It was here that he was proclaimed emperor by his soldiers. He overcame all opposition, assumed the imperial power, and made his residence not at Rome, but in Nicomedia, a town in Asia Minor (see map, p. 294). His whole policy was to give dignity and strength to the imperial authority. He made of himself an Oriental monarch. He assumed the diadem of the East. He wore the gorgeous robes of silk and gold such a were worn by eastern rulers. He compelled his subjects to salute him with low prostrations, and to treat him not as a citizen, but as a superior being. In this way he hoped to make the imperial office respected by the people and the army. The emperor was to be the sole source of power, and as such was to be venerated and obeyed.

   The “Augusti” and “Caesars.”—Diocletian saw that it was difficult for one man alone to manage all the affairs of a great empire. It was sufficient for one man to rule over the East, and to repel the Persians. It needed another to take care of the West and to drive back the German invaders. He therefore associated with him his trusted friend and companion in arms, Maximian. But he was soon convinced that even this division of power was not sufficient. To each of the chief rulers, who received the title of Augustus, he assigned an assistant, who received the title of Caesar. The two Caesars were Galerius and Constantius; and they were to be regarded as the sons and successors of the chief rulers, the Augusti. Each Caesar was to recognize the authority of his chief; and all were to be subject to the supreme authority of Diocletian himself. The Roman world was divided among the four rulers as follows:

   The Last Persecution of the Christians.—Diocletian himself was not a cruel and vindictive man, and was at first favorably disposed toward the Christians. But in the latter part of his reign he was induced to issue an edict of persecution against them. It is said that he was led to perform this infamous act by his assistant Galerius, who had always been hostile to the new religion, and who filled the emperor’s mind with stories of seditions and conspiracies. An order was issued that all churches should be demolished, that the sacred Scriptures should be burned, that all Christians should be dismissed from public office, and that those who secretly met for public worship should be punished with death. The persecution raged most fiercely in the provinces subject to Galerius; and it has been suggested that the persecution should be known by his name rather than by the name of Diocletian.

   Effects or Diocletian’s Policy.—The general result of the new policy of Diocletian was to give to the empire a strong and efficient government. The dangers which threatened the state were met with firmness and vigor. A revolt in Egypt was quelled, and the frontiers were successfully defended against the Persians and the barbarians. Public works were constructed, among which were the great Baths of Diocletian at Rome. At the close of his reign he celebrated a triumph in the old capital.

   Abdication of Diocletian.—After a successful reign of twenty-one years Diocletian voluntarily gave up his power, either on account of ill health, or else to see how his new system would work without his own supervision. He retired to his native province of Dalmatia, and spent the rest of his days in his new palace at Salona on the shores of the Adriatic. He loved his country home; and when he was asked by his old colleague Maximian to resume the imperial power, he wrote to him, “Were you to come to Salona and see the vegetables which I raise in my garden with my own hands, you would not talk to me of empire.” But before he died (A.D. 313) Diocletian saw the defects of the system which he had established. Rivalries sprang up among the different rulers, which led to civil war. At one time there were six emperors who were trying to adjust between themselves the government of the empire. Out of this conflict Constantine arose as the man destined to carry on and complete the work of Diocletian.


   Accession and Policy of Constantine.—By a succession of victories over his different rivals, which it is not necessary for us to recount, Constantine became the sole ruler, and the whole empire was reunited under his authority. He was a man of wider views than Diocletian, and had even a greater genius for organization. The work which Diocletian began, Constantine completed. He in fact gave to Roman imperialism the final form which it preserved as long as the empire existed, and the form in which it exercised its great influence upon modern governments. We should remember that it was not so much the early imperialism of Augustus as the later imperialism of Constantine which reappeared in the empires of modern Europe. This fact will enable us to understand the greatness of Constantine as a statesman and a political reformer. His policy was to centralize all power in the hands of the chief ruler; to surround his person with an elaborate court system and an imposing ceremonial; and to make all officers, civil and military, responsible to the supreme head of the empire.

   Conversion of Constantine.—Constantine is generally known as the “first Christian emperor.” The story of his miraculous conversion is told by his biographer, Eusebius. It is said that while marching against his rival Maxentius, he beheld in the heavens the luminous sign of the cross, inscribed with the words, “By this sign conquer.” As a result of this vision, he accepted the Christian religion; he adopted the cross as his battle standard; and from this time he ascribed his victories to God, and not to himself. The truth of this story has been doubted by some historians; but that Constantine looked upon Christianity in an entirely different light from his predecessors, and that he was an avowed friend of the Christian church, cannot be denied. His mother, Helena, was a Christian, and his father, Constantius, had opposed the persecutions of Diocletian and Galerius. He had himself, while he was ruler in only the West, issued an edict of toleration (A.D. 313) to the Christians in his own provinces.

   Adoption of Christianity.—The attitude of the Roman government toward Christianity varied at different times. At first indifferent to the new religion, it became hostile and often bitter during the “period of persecutions” from Nero to Diocletian. But finally under Constantine Christianity was accepted as the religion of the people and of the state. A large part of the empire was already Christian, and the recognition of the new religion gave stability to the new government. Constantine, however, in accepting Christianity as the state religion, did not go to the extreme of trying to uproot paganism. The pagan worship was still tolerated, and it was not until many years after this time that it was proscribed by the Christian emperors. For the purpose of settling the disputes between the different Christian sects, Constantine called (A.D. 325) a large council of the clergy at Nice (Nicaea), which decided what should thereafter be regarded as the orthodox belief.

   Removal of the Capital to Constantinople (A.D. 328).—The next important act of Constantine was to break away from the traditions of the old empire by establishing a new capital. The old Roman city was filled with the memories of paganism and the relics of the republic. It was the desire of Constantine to give the empire a new center of power, which should be favorably situated for working out his new plans, and also for defending the Roman territory. He selected for this purpose the site of the old Greek colony, Byzantium, on the confines of Europe and Asia. This site was favorable alike for defense, for commerce, and for the establishment of an Oriental system of government. Constantine laid out the city on an extensive scale, and adorned it with new buildings and works of art. The new capital was called, after its founder, the city of Constantine, or Constantinople.

   The New Court Organization.—Constantine believed with Diocletian that one of the defects of the old empire was the fact that the person of the emperor was not sufficiently respected. He therefore not only adopted the diadem and the elaborate robes of the Asiatic monarchs, as Diocletian had done, but reorganized the court on a thoroughly eastern model. An Oriental court consisted of a large retinue of officials, who surrounded the monarch, who paid obeisance to him and served him, and who were raised to the rank of nobles by this service. All the powers of the monarch were exercised through these court officials.

   These Oriental features were now adopted by the Roman emperor. The chief officers of the court comprised the grand chamberlain, who had charge of the imperial palace; the chancellor, who had the supervision of the court officials and received foreign ambassadors; the quaestor, who drew up and issued the imperial edicts; the treasurer-general, who had control of the public revenues; the master of the privy purse, who managed the emperor’s private estate; and the two commanders of the bodyguard. The imperial court of Constantine furnished the model of the royal courts of modern times.

   The New Provincial System.—Another important reform of Constantine was the reorganization of the Roman territory in a most systematic manner. This was based upon Diocletian’s division, but was much more complete and thorough. The whole empire was first divided into four great parts, called “praefectures,” each under a praetorian prefect subject to the emperor. These great territorial divisions were (1) the Praefecture of the East; (2) the Praefecture of Illyricum; (3) the Praefecture of Italy; (4) the Praefecture of Gaul. Each praefecture was then subdivided into dioceses, each under a diocesan governor, called a vicar, subject to the praetorian prefect. Each diocese was further subdivided into provinces, each under a provincial governor called a consular, president, duke, or count. Each province was made up of cities and towns, under their own municipal governments. Each city was generally governed by a city council (curia) presided over by two or four magistrates (duumviri, quattuorviri). It had also in the later empire a defender of the people (defensor populi), who, like the old republican tribune, protected the people in their rights. The new divisions of the empire may be indicated as follows:

   The New Military Organization.—Scarcely less important than the new provincial system was the new military organization. One of the chief defects of the early empire was the improper position which the army occupied in the state. This defect is seen in two ways. In the first place, the army was not subordinate to the civil authority. We have seen how the praetorian guards really became supreme, and brought about that wretched condition of things, a military despotism. In the next place, the military power was not separated from the civil power. In the early empire, every governor of a province had not only civil authority, but he also had command of an army, so that he could resist the central government if he were so disposed. But Constantine changed all this. He abolished the Roman garrison or praetorian guard. He gave to the territorial governors only a civil authority; and the whole army was organized under distinct officers, and made completely subject to the central power of the empire. This change tended to prevent, on the one hand, a military despotism; and, on the other hand, the revolt of local governors.

   The military ability of Constantine cannot be questioned. In commemoration of his early victories, the senate erected in the city of Rome a splendid triumphal arch, which stands to-day as one of the finest specimens of this kind of architecture.

   Effect of Constantine’s Reforms.—If we should take no account of the effects of Constantine’s reforms upon the liberties of the Roman people, we might say that his government was a great improvement upon that of Augustus. It gave new strength to the empire, and enabled it to resist foreign invasions. The empire was preserved for several generations longer in the West, and for more than a thousand years longer in the East. But the expenses necessary to maintain such a system, with its elaborate court and its vast number of officials, were great. The taxes were oppressive. The members of every city council (curiales) were held responsible for the raising of the revenues. The people were burdened, and lost their interest in the state. Constantine also, like Augustus, failed to make a proper provision for his successor. At his death (A.D. 337) his three sons divided the empire between them, and this division gave rise to another period of quarrels and civil strife.


   Attempt to Restore Paganism.—The first event of grave importance after the reign of Constantine was the attempt of the Emperor Julian (A.D. 360-363) to restore the old pagan religion, for which attempt he has been called “the Apostate.” Julian was in many respects a man of ability and energy. He repelled the Alemanni who had crossed the Rhine, and made a vigorous campaign against the Persians. But he was by conviction a pagan, and in the struggle between Christianity and paganism he took the part of the ancient faith. He tried to undo the work of Constantine by bringing back paganism to its old position. He did not realize that Christianity was the religion of the future, and was presumptuous in his belief that he could accomplish that in which Marcus Aurelius and Diocletian had failed. He may not have expected to uproot the new religion entirely; but he hoped to deprive it of the important privileges which it had already acquired. The religious changes which he was able to effect in his brief reign were reversed by his successor Jovian (A.D. 363-364), and Christianity afterward remained undisturbed as the religion of the empire.

   Revolt of the Goths.—After the death of Jovian the empire was divided between Valentinian and his younger brother Valens, the former ruling in the West, and the latter in the East. Valentinian died (A.D. 375), leaving his sons in control of the West, while Valens continued to rule in the East (till 378). It was during this latter period that a great event occurred which forewarned the empire of its final doom. This event was the irruption of the Huns into Europe. This savage race, emerging from the steppes of Asia, pressed upon the Goths and drove them from their homes into the Roman territory. It was now necessary for the Romans either to resist the whole Gothic nation, which numbered a million of people, or else to receive them as friends, and give them settlements within the empire. The latter course seemed the wiser, and they were admitted as allies, and given new homes south of the Danube, in Moesia and Thrace. But they were soon provoked by the ill-treatment of the Roman officials, and rose in revolt, defeating the Roman army in a battle at Adrianople (A.D. 378) in which Valens himself was slain.

   Reign of Theodosius and the Final Division of the Empire (379-395).—Theodosius I. succeeded Valens as emperor of the East. He was a man of great vigor and military ability, although his reign was stained with acts of violence and injustice. He continued the policy of admitting the barbarians into the empire, but converted them into useful and loyal subjects. From their number he reënforced the ranks of the imperial armies, and jealously guarded them from injustice. When a garrison of Gothic soldiers was once mobbed in Thessalonica, he resorted to a punishment as revengeful as that of Marius and as cruel as that of Sulla. He gathered the people of this city into the circus to the number of seven thousand, and caused them to be massacred by a body of Gothic soldiers (A.D. 390). For this inhuman act he was compelled to do penance by
St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan—which fact shows how powerful the Church had become at this time, to compel an emperor to obey its mandates. Theodosius was himself an ardent and orthodox Christian, and went so far as to be intolerant of the pagan religion, and even of the worship of heretics. In spite of his shortcomings he was an able monarch, and has received the name of “Theodosius the Great.” He conquered his rivals and reunited for a brief time the whole Roman world under a single ruler. But at his death (A.D. 395), he divided the empire between his two sons, Arcadius and Honorius, the former receiving the East, and the latter, the West.


Gibbon, Decline, Ch. 17, “Foundation of Constantinople” (
Gibbon, abridged, Ch. 7, “Reign of Diocletian” (7).
Stanley, Lect. 6, “The Emperor Constantine” (12).
Merivale, Gen. Hist., Ch. 73, “Reign of Julian” (1).
Seeley, Essay, “The Later Empire” (7).


   THE ROMAN BATHS.—Inge, pp. 232-236 (16); Bury, Empire, pp. 609-612 (7); Parker, Arch. Hist., Ch. 10 (9); Guhl and Koner, pp. 396-406 (16); Harper’s Dict. Antiqq., “Balneae” (8); Ramsay and Lanciani, pp. 487-490 (8) ; Becker, Gallus, pp. 366-387 (16).

1 The figure in parenthesis refers to the number of the topic in the
Appendix, where a fuller title of the book will be found.


Table of contents