Jump to content
UNRV Ancient Roman Empire Forums
  • Time Travel Rome

Divi Filius

Did the emperors bring about the need for a split empire?

Recommended Posts

During the times of the early Principate, armies were rarely commanded by the emperor himself. Throughout most parts of the empire generals were taking care of the provinces -- except for major eastern power, but even then. Unless an emperor wanted some kind of military glory(Claudius) then the generals(or princes) at his disposal could deal with the situation in the provinces.

 

However as times moves forward we see the emperor monopolize the roles and powers of the empire*. As this is happening we start to notice that the emperor is becoming more and more important in his role as general. The size of Trajan's campaigns made his presence a necessity, however Antoninus Pius seems to be the last emperor to carry about a major war by sitting on his throne and legislating. When Commodus retreats from the Danube, the campaign against the Macromanii ends there; while Alexander Severus is forced to abandon his war against the Persians when barbarians cross the Rhine.

 

It seems then that it was the centralizing of the empire under the hand of one man made the emperor ultimately relinquish some of it to an equal(not exactly an equal though, however 'technically') in order to deal with the problems of empire. While troubles in the early empire did not match with those of the later empire, it is in the former that we see men like Corbulo while in the latter its simply the emperor.

 

My question is: could the empirial split have been avoided or was it really a necessity of the times?

 

*The reasons for this are obvious and manifold, so I will not get into them.

Edited by Divi Filius

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The alleged reason for the so-called split, was the growing inability of one man to exercise control over the then vast empire.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The alleged reason for the so-called split, was the growing inability of one man to exercise control over the then vast empire.

 

And it's happend due to fact that the later empire had much more problems than in earlier years when no one could threat Roman power and even disastrous emperors like Caligula and Nero didn't do to it much damage.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There's more to it than that. The early empire had some considerable wealth floating around but this was being gradually distributed and exported as the wealthy paid huge sums for luxuries and entertainment, both for themselves and for political success. Also, the pattern of local government was changing and it moved from short-term career achievements to sinecures given as a result of backhanders. Rome was getting lazy and indifferent after it let its hair down during the Principate. Also, the 'mafia' style family domination of the Principate was giving way to oriental style monarchies. Commodus after all was the 'first man born to the purple'. It is true that the unstable empire of the 3rd century was disastrous and nearly brought the whole edifice crashing down, but Rome survived this period with many older roman traditions and institutions being replaced. In fact, Rome split more than once - The Gallic Empire for instance - although these were usually shortlived.

 

The original question was whether the split could have been avoided. Possibly, but another would have occurred anyway. There were cultural differences between the latin west and the predominantly greek east so the split was fairly natural, and thats why it lasted I believe. The question of wealth rears its head again though. Its no coincidence that the east survived because thats where all the money went. The impoverished west had nothing to support itself apart from increasing taxes etc.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Money does play an important factor in the survival of the East, but at a few points from a contemporary view the East seemed worse off than the West.

 

 

I would largely agree though with caldrail in the differences in not only culture and language. And to continue an eariler point, the late empire years were marked by a need for an emperor to be near the front much more so than he ever would have had to in the Principate. Hence why we had the imperial capitals at Trier, Ravenna and Sirminum. Communications is the real issue. Since it was almost expected that there would be major trouble on several possible fronts the time for an emperor to hear of a major incursion or threat would be long after the event and his response would also be long overdue and possibly pointless since the situation may have changed. Having dual Emperors to govern East and West and then capitals closer to the borders is more necissity than anything and a reason for having a "split" so to speak.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't see how the cultural factor could seriously pose such a great threat. Until the Diocletian split was further imposed by Constantine declaring a new capital, the difference did not seem to have been such a big deal. The way I see it, the splitting of the empire was what made the cultural differences of the two "empires" more apparent, not vice versa. So long as Rome remained at the center of course. When the third century blew this away, then we seem Rome's centralization decline and the rise of the provinces.

 

However, I am with you guys that the split was inevitable at a certain point, my only argument is that: could the emperor have played a greater role in the split by aggrandizing his position in wars at the expense of the provincial.

 

Lets look at the early Principate. Civilis and Boudicca revolt seem to have been quite large, both, for a time, greatly threatened their respective provinces. Boudicca gets the exaggerated figures while Civilis destroyed two legions. The emperors seem to have played little to no role in both of these. The Jewish revolt of 67 stands in great contrast to that of Hadrians period. The former was placed entirely in the hands of the general(Vespasian) while Bar Kokhba saw the involvement of Hadrian.

 

Parthia is another example. The early principate seems to have had far more to fear of the empire then the later one. The former lived in Crassus' defeat memory while the latter in Trajan's victories. However, while invasions of Parthia grow in the post Trajanic period, they seem to be lead entirely by emperor's(Verus, Severus, Caracalla, Alexander). Domitian personally takes charge of wars which are largely deemed unnecessary by contemporaries. In all these occasions the emperor seems to be playing a greater and greater role in the wars, which will make things seem unbearable when the problems of the 3rd century come.

 

This is, however, not to say that leaving more power in the hands of the provincial would have saved the empire.

 

*This is my second time typing this. Ugh! I crossed the page out by mistake just as I was finishing!!!

Edited by Divi Filius

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I wonder if the east-west split simply consolidated a centuries old status quo? The cultural/linguistic divide was there anyway, and from the days of the triumvirate onwards the east was presided over by a trusted general or 'senior governor' (my words). This state of affairs was well under way by the time of Marcus Aurelius, who had a right-hand man responsible for the admin and security of the east.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Parthian Persia was capable of fending of Roman invasions, but not as adept as invading Roman territory itself. The Sassanids were far more capable of organizing Persia's economic and military clout, and presenting a threat to Rome's borders. This required a permanent presence in the East. At the same time, the pressure on the Germanic frontiers in the West became greater. One headquarters was simply not sufficient to deal with the threats.

 

By the later empire, there was an increase in provincial citizens clamoring for a share in the imperial pie. Two imperial governments meant two troughs to dish out resources, titles and favors.

 

Then there was also the cultural split ...

 

I think all the factors worked in confluence. But clearly the most important was the first.

 

For that matter, I don't think the empire was ever really united, except in loosest terms. The "split" had existed informally since at the least the days of the Late Republic with Antony and Octavian, and then Augustus and Agrippa, commanding the respective halves.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
For that matter, I don't think the empire was ever really united, except in loosest terms.

 

The empire was never united and I don't think the Romans would have ever wanted it so, they feasted on the rivalry that existed within(and without) their empire and used it to their advantage. The Roman east and west were no more "united" then the various cities of Latium (and later, Italy) were with one another. Their only connection was an indirect one: Rome.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I don't see how the cultural factor could seriously pose such a great threat.

 

Oh but it does. Cultural differences are behind most of the disputes and sectarian violence that we see on the evening news. The unifying factor was roman culture, which was packaged and presented to client states and annexed territories, or foisted on them if they didn't like it. For example, take Yugoslavia. A peaceful realm but once the original power base is gone the various cultures are at each others teeth.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree, Caldrail. I've always said that from my own studies on the subject, the Greek East was a different cultural entity and was never really fully integrated with the Latin West to begin with.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I agree, Caldrail. I've always said that from my own studies on the subject, the Greek East was a different cultural entity and was never really fully integrated with the Latin West to begin with.

 

 

This is true, the differences between the Roman West and the Roman East would eventually lead to 'Hellenization' of the Eastern Empire under Heraclius in the seventh century. This was invetiably going to happen, even when you take into consideration that the Western Empire had collapsed in the fifth century. The entire make up of the Eastern Empire was diffirent to the West. Socially, the Eastern Empire was Greek. The main language of the East had been Greek since the conquests of Alexander. Politically and militarily it was adminstrated in a different method to the West. The Eastern Empire also had an efficiently run bureaucracy led by a middle class that paid higher taxes, while the West had more nobles, who contributed less to military funds.

 

Militarily the Eastern Empire was administrated differantly from the West. While the West had armies commanded by a Master of Infantry in Italy and a Master of Cavalry in Gaul - plus Counts in command of other armies in the West; the Eastern Emperor commanded armies led by a Master of soldiers in all provinces - including two legions of 'Soldiers of the Praesentalis' - soldiers in the Emperor's presence. The Eatsern's provinces were also better populated, and they only had to worry about Germanic incursions from the Danube provinces - leaving its wealthiest and most valuable provinces out of the reach of Barbarian settlers and federates.

 

Religiously, there were differances between the East and West. According to Brown, the Eastern provinces had been 'Christianized' at a much earlier time than the West, which obviously led to much more ecclesiastical divison and religious divison, than that the West suffered.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Militarily the Eastern Empire was administrated differantly from the West. While the West had armies commanded by a Master of Infantry in Italy and a Master of Cavalry in Gaul - plus Counts in command of other armies in the West; the Eastern Emperor commanded armies led by a Master of soldiers in all provinces - including two legions of 'Soldiers of the Praesentalis' - soldiers in the Emperor's presence.

 

See that always intrigued me, since Theodosius did much to "reshape" the command structure of the Eastern Empire's military hierarchy and yet allowed the Western Empire's version of a dual post of Magister Militum for foot and horse in the West, (with the foot always superior to the horse), to persist even when he had direct and de facto control over the region. I have yet to find any theories as to why this is... my only conjecture is that while he ruled in the East, he wanted a strong and loyal second in command in the West, (like Arbogast), to oversee a weak emperor and see that things went as they should, since allowing Valentinian II to rule led to problems like Magnus Maximus.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Map of the Roman Empire

×