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Text 3. The Decline of Rome


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The Pax Romana had been a 200-year period of peace and great achievements for Rome. But the Pax Romana ended in A.D. 180 when Emperor Marcus Aurelius died. He was succeeded by his 19-year-old son Commodus, who proved to be an unpopular and wicked ruler. He was finally killed in A.D. 193. This was the beginning of a period when military leaders fought for power and the empire began to decline.

Even worse times were ahead. In the next 50 years, 25 different emperors ruled Rome. Some ruled only a few months. All but one were killed.

Political upset was only of the many problems troubling the empire. The economy was a disaster. Prices were out of control.

At the same time, the empire was under attack from outside forces. Tribes from northern Europe overran the borders.

To pay for the empire’s defense, the government raised taxes. Many people left their farms and jobs because they could no longer pay the high taxes that Rome demanded.

Warfare left much of the empire in ruins. There wasn’t enough food to go around. Trade was disrupted. Poverty and unemployment increased. With unrest inside and threats form outside, the empire badly needed strong leadership.

Finally, in A.D. 284, the army declared Diocletian emperor. Diocletian then ordered the persecution of Christians in the hope of making the gods look with favor upon the empire once again. However, he also used more direct means to restore order.

Diocletian introduced a number of major reforms. That is why his reign is called the “New Empire.”

In order to improve the economy, Diocletian issued the Edict on Prices. This edict,or command, told farmers and merchants how much they could charge for various items.

To fight off foreign threats, Diocletian increased the size of the army.

To run his huge empire more efficiently, he divided it into four regions. Each one had its own government and army. Although this new government was more efficient, it was also more costly. To pay for it, Diocletian created a new tax system and raised taxes.

In order to keep this new system running, the government had to make sure that its citizens worked hard and paid their taxes. Strict laws were passed to keep people on the job. Farmers could not leave their farms, and workers could not change or leave their jobs. Children had to work at the same job as their parents. Sons of soldiers had to enter the army.

Diocletian’s actions reestablished order, but they also brought about a harsher style of rule. The emperors who ruled during the Pax Romana had come from the Senate and were called “first citizen.” Beginning with Diocletian, emperors came from the army and were called dominus, or “master.”

Diocletian also tried to put an end to the civil wars which had troubled the empire. He divided the empire in two. Both the eastern and western portions had their own emperor. He set up a system to ensure that after each emperor’s reign, power would transfer peacefully to the next emperor.

However, when Diocletian retired in A.D. 305, his system did not work. Civil war broke out again, and military leaders fought for power for the seven years. Finally, in A.D. 312, Constantine became emperor of the western part of the empire. Twelve years later, Constantine took control of the entire empire.



He built a new capital for the empire.

He chose for his capital the ancient Greek city of Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople after himself. Constantinople had several advantages as a capital city. It was centrally located between Greece and Asia Minor, connecting Europe and Asia.

The location was also ideal for defense.

Constantine rebuilt the city, making it a magnificent capital. To decorate the new buildings, he brought statues and artwork from pagan temples in other cities. Constantinople was dedicated in A.D. 330, and it became the “new Rome.”

When Emperor Constantine died in A.D. 337. One of his nephews, Julian, became emperor in A.D. 361 and tried to restore the pagan religion. However, his effort failed, and by A.D. 400, Christianity became the official religion of the empire. During this period, the church continued to gain strength and support, but the once all-powerful empire was in decline.

By A.D. 400, the empire had permanently split into two parts. The Eastern Roman Empire, with Constantinople as its capital, was to last for another 1,000 years. The Western Roman Empire, with Rome as its capital, was nearing its end.


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