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LECTURE 10: DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

The period of the "Five Good Emperors" was brought to an end by the reign of Commodus from 180 to 192. Commodus was the son of Marcus Aurelius, making him the first direct successor in a century, breaking the scheme of adoptive successors that had turned out so well. He was co-emperor with his father from 177. When he became sole emperor upon the death of his father in 180, it was at first seen as a hopeful sign by the people of the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, as generous and magnanimous as his father was, Commodus turned out to be just the opposite. In The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, it is noted that Commodus at first ruled the empire well. However, after an assassination attempt, involving a conspiracy by certain members of his family, Commodus became paranoid and slipped into insanity. The Pax Romana, or "Roman Peace", ended with the reign of Commodus. One could argue that the assassination attempt began the long decline of the Roman Empire.

The Severan Dynasty includes the increasingly troubled reigns of Septimius Severus (193–211), Caracalla (211–217), Macrinus (217–218), Elagabalus (218–222), and Alexander Severus (222–235). The founder of the dynasty, Lucius Septimius Severus, belonged to a leading native family of Leptis Magna in Africa who allied himself with a prominent Syrian family by his marriage to Julia Domna. Their provincial background and cosmopolitan alliance, eventually giving rise to imperial rulers of Syrian background, Elagabalus and Alexander Severus, testifies to the broad political franchise and economic development of the Roman empire that had been achieved under the Antonines. A generally successful ruler, Septimius Severus cultivated the army's support with substantial remuneration in return for total loyalty to the emperor and substituted equestrian officers for senators in key administrative positions. In this way, he successfully broadened the power base of the imperial administration throughout the empire, also by abolishing the regular standing jury courts of Republican times.

Septimius Severus's son, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus—nicknamed "Caracalla"—removed all legal and political distinction between Italians and provincials, enacting the Constitutio Antoniniana in 212 which extended full Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire. Caracalla was also responsible for erecting the famous Baths of Caracalla in Rome, their design serving as an architectural model for many subsequent monumental public buildings. Increasingly unstable and autocratic, Caracalla was assassinated by the praetorian prefect Macrinus in 217, who succeeded him briefly as the first emperor not of senatorial rank. The imperial court, however, was dominated by formidable women who arranged the succession of Elagabalus in 218, and Alexander Severus, the last of the dynasty, in 222. In the last phase of the Severan principate, the power of the Senate was somewhat revived and a number of fiscal reforms were enacted. Despite early successes against the Sassanian Empire in the East, Alexander Severus's increasing inability to control the army led eventually to its mutiny and his assassination in 235. The death of Alexander Severus ushered in a subsequent period of soldier-emperors and almost a half-century of civil war and strife. Thus the Pax Romana, which had started at the death of Octavian, ended after about 200 years.

The Crisis of the Third Century is a commonly applied name for the crumbling and near collapse of the Roman Empire between 235 and 284. It is also called the period of the "military anarchy".

After Augustus declared an end to the Civil Wars of the 1st century BC, the Empire had enjoyed a period of limited external invasion, internal peace and economic prosperity (the Pax Romana). In the 3rd century, however, the Empire underwent military, political and economic crises and began to collapse. There was constant barbarian invasion, civil war, and hyperinflation. Part of the problem had its origins in the nature of the Augustan settlement. Augustus, intending to downplay his position, had not established rules for the succession of emperors.

Already in the 1st and 2nd century, disputes about the succession had led to short civil wars, but in the 3rd century these civil wars became a constant factor, as no single candidate succeeded in quickly overcoming his opponents or holding on to the Imperial position for very long. Between 235 and 284 no fewer than 25 different emperors ruled Rome (the Soldier-Emperors). All but two of these emperors were either murdered or killed in battle. The organization of the Roman military, concentrated on the borders, could provide no remedy against foreign invasions once the invaders had broken through. A decline in citizens' participation in local administration forced the Emperors to step in, gradually increasing the central government's responsibility.

This period ended with the accession of Diocletian. Diocletian, either by skill or sheer luck, solved many of the acute problems experienced during this crisis. However, the core problems would remain and cause the eventual destruction of the western empire. The transitions of this period mark the beginnings of Late Antiquity and the end of Classical Antiquity.

The transition from a single united empire to the later divided Western and Eastern empires was a gradual transformation. In July 285, Diocletian defeated rival Emperor Carinus and briefly became sole emperor of the Roman Empire.

Diocletian saw that the vast Roman Empire was ungovernable by a single emperor in the face of internal pressures and military threats on two fronts. He therefore split the Empire in half along a northwest axis just east of Italy, and created two equal Emperors to rule under the title of Augustus. Diocletian himself was the Augustus of the eastern half, and he made his long-time friend Maximian Augustus of the western half. In doing so, he effectively created what would become the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire.

In 293 authority was further divided, as each Augustus took a junior Emperor called a Caesar to aid him in administrative matters, and to provide a line of succession; Galerius became Caesar under Diocletian and Constantius Chlorus Caesar under Maximian. This constituted what is called the Tetrarchy (in Greek: "leadership of four") by modern scholars. After Rome had been plagued by bloody disputes about the supreme authority, this finally formalized a peaceful succession of the emperor: in each half a Caesar would rise up to replace the Augustus and select a new Caesar. On May 1, 305, Diocletian and Maximian abdicated in favor of their Caesars. Galerius named the two new Caesars: his nephew Maximinus for himself, and Flavius Valerius Severus for Constantius. The arrangement worked well under Diocletian and Maximian and shortly thereafter. The internal tensions within the Roman government were less acute than they had been. In The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon notes that this arrangement worked well because of the affinity the four rulers had for each other. Gibbon says that this arrangement has been compared to a "chorus of music". With the withdrawal of Diocletian and Maximian, this harmony disappeared.

After an initial period of tolerance, Diocletian, who was a fervent pagan and was worried about the ever-increasing numbers of Christians in the Empire, persecuted them with zeal unknown since the time of Nero; this was to be one of the greatest persecutions the Christians endured in history.

The Tetrarchy would effectively collapse with the death of Constantius Chlorus on July 25, 306. Constantius's troops in Eboracum immediately proclaimed his son Constantine the Great as Augustus. In August 306, Galerius promoted Severus to the position of Augustus. A revolt in Rome supported another claimant to the same title: Maxentius, son of Maximian, who was proclaimed Augustus on October 28, 306. His election was supported by the Praetorian Guard. This left the Empire with five rulers: four Augusti (Galerius, Constantine, Severus and Maxentius) and one Caesar (Maximinus).

The year 307 saw the return of Maximian to the rank of Augustus alongside his son Maxentius, creating a total of six rulers of the Empire. Galerius and Severus campaigned against them in Italy. Severus was killed under command of Maxentius on September 16, 307. The two Augusti of Italy also managed to ally themselves with Constantine by having Constantine marry Fausta, the daughter of Maximian and sister of Maxentius. At the end of 307, the Empire had four Augusti (Maximian, Galerius, Constantine and Maxentius) and a sole Caesar.

In 311 Galerius officially put an end to the persecution of Christians, and Constantine legalized Christianity definitively in 313 as evidenced in the so-called Edict of Milan.

The Empire was parted again among his three surviving sons. The Western Roman Empire was divided among the eldest son Constantine II and the youngest son Constans. The Eastern Roman Empire along with Constantinople were the share of middle son Constantius II.

Constantine II was killed in conflict with his youngest brother in 340. Constans was himself killed in conflict with the army-proclaimed Augustus Magnentius on January 18, 350. Magnentius was at first opposed in the city of Rome by self-proclaimed Augustus Nepotianus, a paternal first cousin of Constans. Nepotianus was killed alongside his mother Eutropia. His other first cousin Constantia convinced Vetriano to proclaim himself Caesar in opposition to Magnentius. Vetriano served a brief term from March 1 to December 25, 350. He was then forced to abdicate by the legitimate Augustus Constantius. The usurper Magnentius would continue to rule the Western Roman Empire until 353 while in conflict with Constantius. His eventual defeat and suicide left Constantius as sole Emperor.

Constantius's rule would however be opposed again in 360. He had named his paternal half-cousin and brother-in-law Julian as his Caesar of the Western Roman Empire in 355. During the following five years, Julian had a series of victories against invading Germanic tribes, including the Alamanni. This allowed him to secure the Rhine frontier. His victorious Gallic troops thus ceased campaigning. Constantius sent orders for the troops to be transferred to the east as reinforcements for his own currently unsuccessful campaign against Shapur II of Persia. This order led the Gallic troops to an insurrection. They proclaimed their commanding officer Julian to be an Augustus. Both Augusti were not ready to lead their troops to another Roman Civil War. Constantius's timely demise on November 3, 361 prevented this war from ever occurring.

Julian would serve as the sole Emperor for two years. He had received his baptism as a Christian years before, but no longer considered himself one. His reign would see the ending of restriction and persecution of paganism introduced by his uncle and father-in-law Constantine I and his cousins and brothers-in-law Constantine II, Constans and Constantius II. He instead placed similar restrictions and unofficial persecution of Christianity. His edict of toleration in 362 ordered the reopening of pagan temples and the reinstitution of alienated temple properties, and, more problematically for the Christian Church, the recalling of previously exiled Christian bishops. Returning Orthodox and Arian bishops resumed their conflicts, thus further weakening the Church as a whole.

Julian himself was not a traditional pagan. His personal beliefs were largely influenced by Neoplatonism and Theurgy; he reputedly believed he was the reincarnation of Alexander the Great. He produced works of philosophy arguing his beliefs. His brief renaissance of paganism would, however, end with his death. Julian eventually resumed the war against Shapur II of Persia. He received a mortal wound in battle and died on June 26, 363. According to Gibbon in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, upon being mortally wounded by a dart, he was carried back to his camp. He gave a farewell speech, in which he refused to name a successor. He then proceeded to debate the philosophical nature of the soul with his generals. He then requested a glass of water, and shortly after drinking it, died. He was considered a hero by pagan sources of his time and a villain by Christian ones. Gibbon wrote quite favorably about Julian. Contemporary historians have treated him as a controversial figure.

Julian died childless and with no designated successor. The officers of his army elected the rather obscure officer Jovian emperor. He is remembered for signing an unfavorable peace treaty with Persia, ceding terrorities won from the Persians, dating back to Trajan. He restored the privileges of Christianity. He is considered a Christian himself, though little is known of his beliefs. Jovian himself died on February 17, 364.

The role of choosing a new Augustus fell again to army officers. On February 28, 364, Pannonian officer Valentinian I was elected Augustus in Nicaea, Bithynia. However, the army had been left leaderless twice in less than a year, and the officers demanded Valentinian choose a co-ruler. On March 28 Valentinian chose his own younger brother Valens and the two new Augusti parted the Empire in the pattern established by Diocletian: Valentinian would administer the Western Roman Empire, while Valens took control over the Eastern Roman Empire.

Valens's election would soon be disputed. Procopius, a Cilician maternal cousin of Julian, had been considered a likely heir to his cousin but was never designated as such. He had been in hiding since the election of Jovian. In 365, while Valentinian was at Paris and then at Rheims to direct the operations of his generals against the Alamanni, Procopius managed to bribe two legions assigned to Constantinople and take control of the Eastern Roman capital. He was proclaimed Augustus on September 28 and soon extended his control to both Thrace and Bithynia. War between the two rival Eastern Roman Emperors continued until Procopius was defeated. Valens had him executed on May 27, 366.

On August 4, 367, a third Augustus was proclaimed by the other two. His father Valentinian and uncle Valens chose the eight-year-old Gratian as a nominal co-ruler, obviously as a means to secure succession.

In April 375 Valentinian I led his army in a campaign against the Quadi, a Germanic tribe which had invaded his native province of Pannonia. During an audience with an embassy from the Quadi at Brigetio on the Danube, a town now part of modern-day Komárno, Slovak republic, Valentinian suffered a burst blood vessel in the skull while angrily yelling at the people gathered. This injury resulted in his death on November 17, 375.

Succession did not go as planned. Gratian was then a 16-year-old and arguably ready to act as Emperor, but the troops in Pannonia proclaimed his infant half-brother emperor under the title Valentinian II.

Gratian acquiesced in their choice and administered the Gallic part of the Western Roman Empire. Italy, Illyria and Africa were officially administrated by his brother and his stepmother Justina. However the division was merely nominal as the actual authority still rested with Gratian.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Roman Empire faced its own problems with Germanic tribes. The Thervingi, an East Germanic tribe, fled their former lands following an invasion by the Huns. Their leaders Alavivus and Fritigern led them to seek refuge in the Eastern Roman Empire. Valens indeed let them settle as foederati on the southern bank of the Danube in 376. However, the newcomers faced problems from allegedly corrupted provincial commanders and a series of hardships. Their dissatisfaction led them to revolt against their Roman hosts.

For the following two years conflicts continued. Valens personally led a campaign against them in 378. Gratian provided his uncle with reinforcements from the Western Roman army. However this campaign proved disastrous for the Romans. The two armies approached each other near Adrianople. Valens was apparently overconfident of the numerical superiority of his own forces over the Goths. Some of his officers advised caution and to await the arrival of Gratian, others urged an immediate attack and eventually prevailed over Valens, who, eager to have all of the glory for himself, rushed into battle. On August 9, 378, the Battle of Adrianople resulted in the crushing defeat of the Romans and the death of Valens. Contemporary historian Ammianus Marcellinus estimated that two thirds of the Roman army were lost in the battle. The last third managed to retreat.

The battle had far-reaching consequences. Veteran soldiers and valuable administrators were among the heavy casualties. There were few available replacements at the time, leaving the Empire with the problems of finding suitable leadership. The Roman army would also start facing recruiting problems. In the following century much of the Roman army would consist of Germanic mercenaries.

For the moment however there was another concern. The death of Valens left Gratian and Valentinian II as the sole two Augusti. Gratian was now effectively responsible for the whole of the Empire. He sought however a replacement Augustus for the Eastern Roman Empire. His choice was Theodosius I, son of formerly distinguished general Count Theodosius. The elder Theodosius had been executed in early 375 for unclear reasons. The younger one was named Augustus of the Eastern Roman Empire on January 19, 379. His appointment would prove a deciding moment in the division of the Empire.

Gratian governed the Western Roman Empire with energy and success for some years, but he gradually sank into indolence. He is considered to have become a figurehead while Frankish general Merobaudes and bishop Ambrose of Milan jointly acted as the power behind the throne. Gratian lost favor with factions of the Roman Senate by prohibiting traditional paganism at Rome and relinquishing his title of Pontifex Maximus. The senior Augustus also became unpopular with his own Roman troops because of his close association with so-called barbarians. He reportedly recruited Alans to his personal service and adopted the guise of a Scythian warrior for public appearances.

Meanwhile Gratian, Valentinian II and Theodosius were joined by a fourth Augustus. Theodosius proclaimed his oldest son Arcadius an Augustus in January 383 in an obvious attempt to secure succession. The boy was still only five or six years old and held no actual authority. Nevertheless he was recognized as a co-ruler by all three Augusti.

The increasing unpopularity of Gratian would cause the four Augusti problems later that same year. Spanish Celt general Magnus Maximus, stationed in Roman Britain, was proclaimed Augustus by his troops in 383 and rebelling against Gratian he invaded Gaul. Gratian fled from Lutetia (Paris) to Lugdunum (Lyon), where he was assassinated on August 25, 383 at the age of 25.

Maximus was a firm believer of the Nicene Creed and introduced state persecution on charges of heresy, which brought him into conflict with Pope Siricius who argued that the Augustus had no authority over church matters. But he was an Emperor with popular support, as is attested in Romano-British tradition, where he gained a place in the Mabinogion, compiled about a thousand years after his death.

Following Gratian's death, Maximus had to deal with Valentinian II, at the time only twelve years old, as the senior Augustus. The first few years the Alps would serve as the borders between the respective territories of the two rival Western Roman Emperors. Maximus controlled Britain, Gaul, Hispania and Africa. He chose Augusta Treverorum (Trier) as his capital.

Maximus soon entered negotiations with Valentinian II and Theodosius, attempting to gain their official recognition. By 384, negotiations were unfruitful and Maximus tried to press the matter by settling succession as only a legitimate Emperor could do: proclaiming his own infant son Flavius Victor an Augustus. The end of the year found the Empire having five Augusti (Valentinian II, Theodosius I, Arcadius, Magnus Maximus and Flavius Victor) with relations between them yet to be determined.

Theodosius was left a widower in 385, following the sudden death of Aelia Flaccilla, his Augusta. He was remarried, to the sister of Valentinean II, Galla, and the marriage secured closer relations between the two legitimate Augusti.

In 386 Maximus and Victor finally received official recognition by Theodosius but not by Valentinian. In 387, Maximus apparently decided to rid himself of his Italian rival. He crossed the Alps into the valley of the Po and threatened Milan. Valentinian and his mother fled to Thessaloniki from where they sought the support of Theodosius. Theodosius indeed campaigned west in 388 and was victorious against Maximus. Maximus himself was captured and executed in Aquileia on July 28, 388. Magister militum Arbogast was sent to Trier with orders to also kill Flavius Victor. Theodosius restored Valentinian to power and through his influence had him converted to Orthodox Catholicism. Theodosius continued supporting Valentinian and protecting him from a variety of usurpations.

In 392 Valentinian II was murdered in Vienne. Arbogast arranged for the appointment of Eugenius as emperor. However, the eastern emperor Theodosius refused to recognise Eugenius as emperor and invaded the West, defeating and killing Arbogast and Eugenius at the Battle of the Frigidus. He thus reunited the entire Roman Empire under his rule.

Theodosius had two sons and a daughter, Pulcheria, from his first wife, Aelia Flacilla. His daughter and wife died in 385. By his second wife, Galla, he had a daughter, Galla Placidia, the mother of Valentinian III, who would be Emperor of the West.

Theodosius was the last Emperor who ruled over the whole Empire. After his death in 395, he gave the two halves of the Empire to his two sons Arcadius and Honorius; Arcadius became ruler in the East, with his capital in Constantinople, and Honorius became ruler in the West, with his capital in Milan and later Ravenna. The Roman state would continue to have two different emperors with different seats of power throughout the 5th century, though the Eastern Romans considered themselves Roman in full. Latin was used in official writings as much as, if not more than, Greek. The two halves were nominally, culturally and historically, if not politically, the same state.

After 395, the emperors in the Western Roman Empire were usually figureheads. For most of the time, the actual rulers were military strongmen who took the title of magister militum, patrician or both—Stilicho from 395 to 408, Constantius from about 411 to 421, Aëtius from 433 to 454 and Ricimer from about 457 to 472. The year 476 is generally accepted as the formal end of the Western Roman Empire. That year, Orestes refused the request of Germanic mercenaries in his service for lands in Italy. The dissatisfied mercenaries, including the Heruli, revolted. The revolt was led by the Germanic chieftain Odoacer. Odoacer and his men captured and executed Orestes. Within weeks, Ravenna was captured and Romulus Augustus was deposed, the event that has been traditionally considered the fall of the Roman Empire, at least in the West. Odoacer quickly conquered the remaining provinces of Italy.

Odoacer then sent the Imperial Regalia back to the emperor Zeno. Zeno soon received two deputations. One was from Odoacer requesting that his control of Italy be formally recognized by the Empire, in which case he would acknowledge Zeno's supremacy. The other deputation was from Nepos, asking for support to regain the throne. Zeno granted Odoacer the title Patrician. Zeno told Odoacer and the Roman Senate to take Nepos back; however, Nepos never returned from Dalmatia, even though Odoacer issued coins in his name. Upon Nepos's death in 480, Zeno claimed Dalmatia for the East; J. B. Bury considers this the real end of the Western Roman Empire. Odoacer attacked Dalmatia, and the ensuing war ended with Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths, conquering Italy under Zeno's authority.

As the Western Roman Empire declined during the 5th century, the richer Eastern Roman Empire would be relieved of much destruction, and in the mid 6th century the Eastern Roman Empire (known also as the Byzantine Empire) under the emperor Justinian I reconquered Italy and parts of Illyria from the Ostrogoths, North Africa from the Vandals, and southern Hispania from the Visigoths. The reconquest of southern Hispania was somewhat ephemeral, but North Africa served the Byzantines for another century, Italy for another 5 centuries, and Illyria almost a millennium.

Of the many accepted dates for the end of the classical Roman state, the latest is 610. This is when the Emperor Heraclius made sweeping reforms, forever changing the face of the empire. Greek was readopted as the language of government and Latin influence waned. By 610, the Eastern Roman Empire had come under Greek influence and became what many modern historians now call the Byzantine Empire, although the Empire was never called thus by its inhabitants (rather it was called Romania, Basileia Romaion or Pragmata Romaion, meaning "Land of the Romans", "Kingdom of the Romans"), who still saw themselves as Romans, and their state as the rightful successor to the ancient empire of Rome. The sack of Constantinople at the hands of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 is sometimes used to date the end of Eastern Roman Empire: the destruction of Constantinople and most of its ancient treasures, total discontinuity of leadership, and the division of its lands into rival states with a Catholic-controlled "Emperor" in Constantinople itself (see Latin Empire) was a blow from which the Empire never fully recovered. Nevertheless, the Byzantines continued to call themselves Romans until their fall to Ottoman Turks in 1453. That year the eastern part of the Roman Empire was ultimately ended by the Fall of Constantinople. Even though Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, declared himself the Emperor of the Roman Empire (Caesar of Rome / Kayser-i Rum) in 1453, Constantine XI is usually considered the last Roman Emperor. The Greek ethnic self-descriptive name Roman survives to this day.

On the Christmas Day of year 800 Pope Leo III crowned the Frankish monarch Charlemagne "Emperor of the Romans" and Imperator Augustus, a direct challenge to the Roman throne in Constantinople. This led to a conscious attempt to replace the Byzantine Empire, with papal authority, as the legitimate Roman state. Although land divisions due to inheritance and rivalry between Charlemagne's successors soon fragmented this medieval state, which historians call the Carolingian Empire, it did have considerable cultural influence.

More than 150 years later the title of Emperor of the Romans passed to the German monarch Otto I, who founded the Holy Roman Empire, consisting of some of the territories of Charlemagne's ancient empire, along with all of modern-day Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and some of modern-day Poland. Although most of the emperors were Germanic, the Holy Roman Emperors thought of themselves as being successors to those of the Roman Empire and called themselves Augusti.

The Empire was formally dissolved on August 6, 1806 when the last Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II abdicated, following a military defeat by the French under Napoleon, thus removing the last claim to the Roman throne in western Europe.

The language of Rome before its expansion was Latin and this became the Empire's official language. By the time of the imperial period Latin could be thought of as at least two languages: the written Classical Latin and the spoken Vulgar Latin. While Classical Latin remained relatively stable, even through the Middle Ages, Vulgar Latin as with any spoken language was fluid and evolving. Vulgar Latin became the lingua franca in the western provinces later evolving into the modern Romance languages: Italian, French,Portuguese, Istriot, Romanian, etc.

Although Latin remained the official and most widely spoken language through to the fall of Rome and for some centuries after in the East, the Greek language was the lingua franca in the eastern provinces.[8] With the exception of Carthage, the Romans generally did not attempt to supplant local cultures and languages. It is to their credit that they generally left established customs in place and only gradually supplemented with the typical Roman-style improvements.[9] Greek was already widely spoken in many cities in the east, and as such, the Romans were quite content to retain it as an administrative language there rather than disrupt tax collection efficiency. As such, it is interesting to note that in the eastern provinces public notices were typically posted in three languages; Latin, Greek, and the local tongue.[citation needed] Moreover, the process of hellenization continued more extensively, well beyond city boundaries, during the Roman period, for the Romans perpetuated "Greek" culture,[10] but with all the trappings of Roman improvements.[11] This further spreading of Hellenistic culture was largely due to the extensive infrastructure (in the form of entertainment, health, and education amenities, and extensive transportation networks, etc.) put in place by the Romans and their tolerance, and inclusion, of other cultures, a characteristic which set them apart from the xenophobic nature of the Greeks preceding them.[12]

During the 7th century AD Greek became the most widely spoken language in the Empire due to the contraction of the imperial borders to the eastern regions where the Greek language was most dominant; the administrative language was actually changed to Greek during the reign of Heraclius (610-641AD).[13] Since the Roman annexation of Greece in 146BC the Greek language gradually obtained a unique place in the Roman world, owing initially to the large number of Greeks slaves in Roman households.[14] It was also viewed as the language of high culture.[citation needed] In the city of Rome itself Greek gradually became the second language of the educated and the elite.[15] Greek became the common language in early the Church (as it's major centers in the early Christian period were in the East), and the language of scholarship and the arts. However, due to the presence of other widely spoken languages in the densily populated east, such as Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Aramaic and Phoenician (which was also extensively spoken in North Africa), Greek never became as imbedded as Latin eventually did in the west. This is directly evident in the extent to which the derivative languages are spoken today. Like Latin, the language gained a dual nature with the literary language, an Attic Greek variant, existing alongside spoken language, Koine Greek, which evolved into Medieval or Byzantine Greek (Romaic).[16]

By the 4th century AD Greek no longer held such dominance over Latin in the Church, Arts and Sciences as it had previously, resulting to a great extent from the growth of the western provinces (reflected in the publication in the early 5th century AD of the Vulgate Bible, the first officially accepted Latin Bible; before this only Greek translations were accepted). As the Western Empire declined, the number of people who spoke both Greek and Latin declined as well, contributing greatly to the future East–West / Orthodox–Catholic cultural divide in Europe. Important as both languages were, today the descendants of Latin are widely spoken in many parts of the world, while the Greek dialects are limited mostly to Greece, Cyprus, and small enclaves in Turkey and southern Italy. To some degree this can be attributed to the fact that the western provinces fell mainly to "Latinized", Christian tribes, whereas the eastern provinces fell to Muslim Arabs and Turks for whom Greek held less cultural significance.

As alluded to earlier, many other languages existed in the multi-ethnic Empire as well, and some of these were given limited official status in their provinces at various times. These languages were well established before the arrival of Greek, and Latin relatively shortly thereafter. Whilst they have been ignored in many historical texts it should be noted that they did not simply disappear with the arrival of the two mainstream classical languages - they remained firmly established within the respective geographic regions where they were spoken for centuries to millennia before. Also widely unacknowledged is the direct cultural influence of the peoples that spoke these languages on Greek civilization (an later, indirectly, Roman civilzation) itself. To name just one example, the Phoenicians gave the Greeks (and Etruscans and Romans) their alphabet. Notably, by the beginning of the Middle Ages, Syriac and Aramaic had become more widely used by the educated classes in the far eastern provinces, in addition to Greek and Latin.[17] Similarly Coptic and Armenian became significant among the educated in Egypt and Armenia, respectively.

The influence that ancient Roman civilization exhibits the world today has been aptly (though with some exaggeration) summarized in a National Geographic article entitled The World According to Rome:

Several states claimed to be the Roman Empire's successor after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. First was the Byzantine Empire, the modern historiographical term used for later period of the Eastern Roman Empire. Then the Holy Roman Empire, an attempt to resurrect the Empire in the West, was established in 800 when Pope Leo III crowned Frankish King Charlemagne as Roman Emperor on Christmas Day, though the empire and the imperial office did not become formalized for some decades. After the fall of Constantinople, the Russian Tsardom, as inheritor of the Byzantine Empire's Orthodox Christian tradition, counted itself the third Rome (with Constantinople having been the second). And when the Ottomans, who based their state on the Byzantine model, took Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed II established his capital there and claimed to sit on the throne of the Roman Empire, and he even went so far as to launch an invasion of Italy with the purpose of "re-uniting the Empire", although Papal and Neapolitan armies stopped his march on Rome at Otranto in 1480. Constantinople was not officially renamed Istanbul until March 28, 1930.

Excluding these states claiming its heritage, if the traditional date for the founding of Rome is accepted as fact, the Roman state can be said to have lasted in some form from 753 BC to the fall in 1461 of the Empire of Trebizond (a successor state and fragment of the Byzantine Empire which escaped conquest by the Ottomans in 1453), for a total of 2,214 years. The Roman impact on Western and Eastern civilizations lives on. In time most of the Roman achievements were duplicated by later civilizations. For example, the technology for cement was rediscovered 1755–1759 by John Smeaton.

The Empire contributed many things to the world, such as a calendar with leap years, the institutions of Christianity and aspects of modern neo-classicistic and Byzantine architecture. The extensive system of roads that was constructed by the Roman Army lasts to this day. Because of this network of roads, the time necessary to travel between destinations in Europe did not decrease until the 19th century, when steam power was invented. Even modern Astrology comes to us directly from the Romans.

The Roman Empire also contributed its form of government, which influences various constitutions including those of most European countries and many former European colonies. In the United States, for example, the framers of the Constitution remarked, in creating the Presidency, that they wanted to inaugurate an "Augustan Age". The modern world also inherited legal thinking from Roman law, fully codified in Late Antiquity. Governing a vast territory, the Romans developed the science of public administration to an extent never before conceived or necessary, creating an extensive civil service and formalized methods of tax collection.

While in the West the term Roman acquired a new meaning in connection with the church and the Pope of Rome the Greek form Romaioi remained attached to the Greeks of the Eastern Roman Empire who still call themselves by that name today.[19]

The Roman Empire's territorial legacy of controlling the Italian peninsula would serve as an influence to Italian nationalism and the unification (Risorgimento) of Italy in 1861.

 

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