web counter








This history of the Middle Ages begins with the double revolution worked by the Emperor Constantine the Great within the ancient and decaying Roman Empire and the declining civilization of Antiquity which the Empire embodied. The first of these revolutions was the transfer of the imperial capital to Byzantium on the Bosphorus, an act which sealed the transference, long in preparation, of the centre of gravity of the Empire to its less anaemic Eastern half. The second was the adoption of Christianity as the dominant religion of the Empire. It is not that these epoch-making events created or began the Middle Ages, for medieval times were still some two centuries in the future and, when they came, there were other elements which had no less effect on their origin and development. But these two decisions of one man did lay down conditions without which medieval and modem Europe could hardly have been shaped and grown.

To himself, we may guess, Constantine seemed no innovator, but the divinely led preserver of a civilization hardly won and now in pressing danger, the successor of the long line of autocrats who safeguarded the peace and the existence of the Roman Empire, the only state where human life was truly civilized. To appreciate his task and the evolution he could not foresee we must first reconstruct the Empire of his day, its geography, populations, structure, and economics, its mentality and its armaments, its strength, its internal weaknesses and its external foes.



The Roman Empire under Constantine formed a natural unity cleft into two no less natural halves. Its unity was due to the fact that it essentially consisted of the lands and peoples clustered round the Mediterranean Sea. There its civilization had grown. There its dominion had spread. The way of life of its peoples was formed by Mediterranean climate and conditions. Under the long Roman peace the inland sea had been the easiest and widest route of its commerce, supplemented by the rivers of Italy, Spain, and Gaul. The long Roman roads which spanned the Empire were military and governmental links in the first place, and only secondarily commercial arteries: industrial and commercial cities were predominantly on or near the Mediterranean coasts. The expansion of the Empire was limited in part by climatic conditions. If we follow on the map the isothermal lines of midwinter we find that the average temperature of its European provinces does not fall below freezing-point: beyond that line are obvious military frontiers on or beyond the Danube. If we take the midsummer, the average temperature on the frontier in Asia and Africa stands at near 86° Fahrenheit. The frozen north and the torrid south were equally outside of and alien to the Empire, and the city-life of the Mediterranean was with difficulty adapted even to the edge of its native zone. Further afield, as in Britain, the Romano-British country house, the villa, had to be modified to suit its non-Mediterranean surroundings.

If only by reason of its vast extent, with the manifold variations of soil, configuration, racial composition, and in a subordinate degree of climate which it implied, the Empire had from the first fallen into natural divisions which impaired its overruling and largely political unity. As the central power grew weaker in the political convulsions and disasters of the third century a.d., as the subject populations were taken up into Roman citizenship and furnished the army and the official classes, as the memory of crushing conquest by the Empire evaporated, it was no wonder that the underlying provincial characteristics should pierce through and modify the common culture imposed upon them. Chief of all these divisions, however, were those of East and West, which were due to the dual character of that common civilization itself. The East was the Greek or Hellenized, the West the Latin or Romanized half of the Empire. Though Rome had borrowed its culture from Greece, it did so with a difference, and in turn imbued the West, which had been barbaric, with its own version of civilization, with its unsubtle but dynamic cult of law and authority and with its native Latin tongue, the fit vehicle of both and of its plain, matter-of-fact, if rhetorical, thought. The West was the Latin part of the Empire, however vulgarized and slipshod its common speech might be. Against the West stood the East, home of ancient civilizations which had received directly the vivifying, transforming imprint of Greece before the Roman conquest. Here the language and literature of civilization were Greek. Much of the Greek spirit had been infused into alien peoples, inquisitive, speculative, turning the material world which the Roman took for granted into themes for creative thought. This Greek world was a borrower, too; from Rome it took law and state organization; from the East, as we shall see, it took religious conceptions and mysticism which it in turn passed on to the West. But although they had so much in common, the two halves were separate in language and ethos, and if they had drawn closer to one another in the cosmopolitan first two centuries of our era, they were steadily falling apart in the third. The cultivated class was ceasing to be bilingual.

Both East and West enjoyed but an imperfect inner unity resting on the educated, official classes, for the lower men’s positions were in the social scale, the more they were divided by provincial, local conditions and the less they shared in the common culture of the Empire. Peasant and craftsman might have little Roman about them save their reverence—it was hardly modern patriotism—for the majestic Empire which ruled and protected them, and their uncouth varieties of vulgar Latin or unpolished Greek. There were great territorial aggregates within the Empire, marked out by natural frontiers and conditions as well as by history, which possessed a certain self-consciousness of their separate being. We cannot call it a national or tribal sentiment; it was rather an ever stronger provincialism, which could and did become more disruptive to the Empire than unifying to the territory itself.

To take the West first. There was the imperial, or ex-imperial, land of Italy, now stretching over all the peninsula south of the Alps, impoverished, depopulated, and dethroned, but still encircled by a halo of past greatness, and possessing the eternal city of Rome itself, the maker of the Empire. Save in a scanty resident aristocracy, dignified and idle, the Romans of the offspring of countless immigrants might have little in common with the Romans of old, but the material city they dwelt in retained all its prestige. It was still in imagination the mistress of the world, a marble monument compact of temples, palaces and triumphal buildings, enshrining the imperishable glories of the past, and seeming throughout the Empire she had made to be a pledge for perpetuity. Yet Italy, with her annex Rhaetia, seems to have the least identity of all the lands of the Empire. We can speak of Gauls and Spaniards, but hardly of Italians, when this history begins.

To the east of the Adriatic lay the mountainous lands of the north­western Balkan peninsula, which may be somewhat loosely termed Illyricum. Latin as the spoken language reached here as far as Naissus and Scupi (the modem Nish and Skoplje), though the ultimate political frontier, largely for geographical reasons, left both these places in the eastern half of the Empire. These lands, with their extension, partly mountainous (Noricum) and partly plain (Pannonia), to the Danube, inhabited by a rude and hardy peasantry, had in the years 250-300 furnished the best of the Roman troops, the generals, and the Emperors. They had in fact borne the weight of the Empire’s defence against its external foes and by consequence had ruled it. But they had spent themselves in the task, and their depopulation owing to this and to barbarian inroads was by 300 annulling their preponderance and levelling them with other exhausted provinces.

To the north-west of Italy came the provinces of Gaul, defined by its natural boundaries of the Alps, the Pyrenees, the sea, and the river Rhine. This most Romanized country mainly consisted of two fertile plains, the greater in the north and west stretching from the lower Rhine to the Pyrenees, the lesser in the south on the Mediterranean Sea. Between them rose the mountain range of the Cevennes. The land was linked by ample water-systems, the Rhone in the south-east, the Garonne and the Loire in the west and centre, the Seine in the north, and the Rhine on the north­eastern German frontier. No territory was more fitted to be a bulwark of the Empire and a reservoir of men, but its blood had been drained in the effort, and its eastern districts, half-Germanic at its conquest, were becoming further Germanized by the settlements of the German soldiery.

Across the Channel lay the somewhat detached territory of Roman Britain, with whose physical characters the reader may be assumed to be familiar. But it is to be remembered that much, especially the Midlands, lay under woodland, and that marshy riverine districts tended to be thinly populated. Only the south-east, bounded roughly by a line from the Wash to the Bristol Channel, was thoroughly Romanized, and even there the towns and country houses, the villas, were surrounded by barbaric peasants. In the north-west, save for a few towns like Chester and Viriconium, there were military settlements and camps, such as those along the Roman Wall or at York, but little Romanization of the scanty British population. Britain was a bastion worth having, but its part in imperial politics was occasional and secondary—the very recruits it provided served mostly on more critical frontiers. Its own frontier, however, had some amplitude. By land the free barbarians of the north reached up to the Wall of Hadrian; across the western sea lay Ireland, a less and less peaceful barbaric neighbour; to the east, as we shall see, the Germans were becoming nearer enemies.

In contrast to Gaul and Britain, and even to Italy if we reckon with Italy her alpine Rhaetian appendage, the territory of Spain in 300 had no external frontiers. The Pyrenees, with their few and lofty passes, separated it from Gaul, the Mediterranean from the inner provinces and from Africa, the Atlantic as yet from the outer world. Spain internally was divided by its mountain ridges into several sections of plateau or fertile plain. The most northerly of these latter, the Cantabrian range, continued the Pyrenees westward to the Atlantic. South of it lay the barren mountain plateau divided by the Guadarrama range and watered by the upper Douro and the upper Tagus rivers. But Lusitania, the lower plains of these two rivers on the Atlantic, was rainy and fertile. South of the Pyrenees came the rich Mediterranean watershed of the river Ebro and its kindred eastern coast, Tarraconensis. Most southerly of all, divided from the central plateau by the Sierra Morena, extended the fertile, sub-tropic land of Baetica, fringed near its seaboard by the Sierra Nevada. All these provinces had given men and natural wealth to the Empire.

Across the Straits of Gibraltar lay the African territories. From the Atlantic to the Gulf of Gabes (the Syrtes) they were dominated by the branches of the Atlas range, on the slopes of which or between which lay fertile Roman provinces, the Mauretanias to the west, Numidia (the most Roman) in the centre, and Africa, roughly corresponding to modern Tunis, to the east. Here there were bred the formidable light horse who fought on other frontiers. Their own limit, at the edge of the desert of Sahara, was held against their barbaric kinsmen, the free Moors, by troops from Syria.

As we have seen, Latin and Greek met in the Balkan peninsula that stretched south from the river Danube to the Mediterranean, varying from a continental to a Mediterranean climate. Its dominating feature was the great mass of mountains covering the centre, with its eastern offshoots of Haemus and Rhodope. Around them and parted by them lay wide plains: Moesia, which was the southern watershed of the Danube, Thrace between Haemus, Rhodope and the Propontis, Macedonia round the city of Thessalonica, Thessaly south of Mount Olympus, and the lesser hollows farther south still in Boeotia, Attica, and the Peloponnese. The whole was a land naturally variegated and divided, which had been brought to a unity by Roman rule. True Greece to the south enjoyed still the prestige of its history and its civilization—it was a centre of culture—but it had always been infertile as a whole, and had long been terribly depopulated. Macedonia and Thrace were still populous and wealthy, but Moesia, like Illyricum, had lost the best of its peasantry in the wars and for the legions. It was now a home for Dacians withdrawn south of the Danube when their native province was abandoned to the barbarians.

On the eastern edge of Thrace, between the Black Sea and the Aegean, flowed the all-but inland waters which divided Europe and Asia, the two Straits of the Bosphorus and the Hellespont or Dardanelles and the land­locked Propontis or Sea of Marmora. These coasts were the key-point of both sea and land-routes between east and west and north and south, and it is, perhaps, a testimony to the strength of the Empire which could beat back its separate foes on its many frontiers that it was only towards 300 that an Emperor in search of a strategic centre from which to defend the East fixed his residence on the Propontis at Nicomedia.

Nicomedia was on the Asiatic coast in the peninsular territory now called Asia Minor, which already in prosperity and population was in a way to become the kernel of the eastern Empire. On its wide and productive tableland, girt with a rim of mountain ranges, and in its river-valleys on the west and outer edge of fertile coastland, there dwelt a numerous and hardy people of peasant tillers and herdsmen, with fishermen and traders in the port towns. It could rank as an extension of Hellas, if alloyed. The mountain ranges of the eastern border as far as the upper Euphrates were higher with few passes, so that with their warlike highlanders they formed in Armenia Minor a natural defensible frontier; and the same rarity of practicable passes in the southern range of the Taurus mountains cut off the Cilician coast more from Asia Minor than from Syria.

Much of the Syrian territory, the watersheds of the Orontes and the middle Euphrates, was among the most prosperous of the Empire, and the barren Phoenician coastland flourished on trade and navigation. The large towns were thoroughly Hellenized. Even the frontier land of Mesopotamia could be populous while the Persians were kept at bay beyond Nisibis. Palestine on the south was at any rate a route of transit trade.

Lastly came the river land of Egypt, still, though over-exploited, a chief granary of the Empire. Here lay a great centre of Hellenism at Alexandria, one of the wealthiest of ports, and the Greek element was strong in the Delta and beyond, as it was in Cyrenaica, which was really an appendage to Egypt between the desert and the sea.




It can easily be seen how difficult it was to find a suitable administrative centre, a real capital, for this vast Empire and its divergent provinces, when once the pressure of outer foes had become persistent and severe and the cohesion of its parts was diminished. The wonderful system of strategic roads might lessen physical obstacles to the movement of troops and speed up the receipt of intelligence, but it could not obviate the necessity of the Emperor being within convenient reach of his frontier armies, and able with as little loss of time as might be to hurry to important provinces to quell internal revolt. The problem of a centre of the whole Empire was in fact insoluble. It had already led to the desertion of Rome by the Emperors and their residence in more conveniently placed cities like Milan. Together with the ever tighter centralization needed to hold the Empire together and galvanize the flagging energies of its populations, and with the enormous increase of business at headquarters which accompanied this, it had inspired a short-lived scheme of Diocletian for the division of the Roman world among four co-regent rulers, the two Augusti and their satellite Caesars, each taking charge of a section of the province’s and frontiers. The arrangement had foreshadowed the division between East and West.

But while no single centre fit to control the whole West could be found, the genius of Diocletian perceived that the region of the Propontis was the natural centre of the East. Thence in the heart of the Empire watch could be kept on the frontier of the lower Danube and the still more endangered frontier of Persia. There was the crossing of the routes of trade and armies, east to west and north to south. Even isolated Egypt was barely less accessible by sea from Asia Minor than by land across the desert from Antioch. Diocletian had chosen Nicomedia on the Asiatic shore, with its more sheltered climate, for his residence; the still more gifted Constantine, taught by the experience of his war with his rival Licinius and perhaps by its three years’ siege 130 years earlier by the troops of the Emperor Severus, had the imaginative insight to choose Byzantium for his new eastern capital. There is no need to credit him with an impossible prescience of later history. What he could see was that Byzantium added to the advantages of the Propontine general situation those of an all-but impregnable port, citadel, and arsenal. With the new extent he gave it on its promontory on the inner mouth of the Bosphorus, with its unequalled harbour of the Golden Horn, it commanded the transit between Europe and Asia, between the Black Sea and the inner Mediterranean. It could be the bulwark of either continent if invasion swept one or the other. It could reach out to either for administration and conquest. It was a natural emporium. Once made, the choice seems so inevitable that the blindness of earlier rulers for a capital they did not, in their circumstances, require, can be unfairly blamed. It took fifty years for Constantine’s New Rome, which he founded in 330 and which was known as his city—Constantinople—to become the habitual residence and capital of the peripatetic Emperors, but that evolution Constantine foresaw and planned. He gave it its Senate, which his son made the equal of Old Rome’s, its Forum, its statues, the spoils of Greece, and its games; he gave it, too, its corn-supply from Egypt, like that of Old Rome from Africa, extending an abuse to create a capital. He made it also  pre-eminently a Christian city. Its heathen temples were ghosts left by Byzantium; all that was new, living, and Constantinian was Christian, like his basilica, whose foundations can still be seen beside St Sophia.

We may glance at the future unknown to Constantine. The new creation intensified the division between East and West, for Constantinople gave cohesion to the East and was bound to be a chief, as it was the most secure, seat of Empire. Yet an Emperor there was too far off to control and defend the West; he must have a Western colleague, and his own interests, indeed his mere successes, were to divert the barbarian pressure from the Lower Danube to the Rhine. Thus Constantinople’s prosperity and safety meant a fatal weakening of the more straggling, more exhausted West. It also entailed the survival of the Eastern Empire for 1100 years. With that strong heart and behind that bulwark, the East could repel the attacks of enemies divided by the Propontis and the Straits; it had time for many centuries to reform itself, not once only, and to survive. Not till the recruiting grounds of Asia Minor were largely lost in the eleventh century was its strength fatally impaired; not till its sea-power was lost in the twelfth century did Constantinople cease to be impregnable and fall a victim to the Latins. Even then, when the Greeks recovered it, it could still hold out 200 more years as a frontier fortress of Europe and as the remaining citadel of the ancient world and of Greek thought and literature, which were to be an inspiring guide and teacher to the modern evolution of Europe.

This was possible because Constantinople was a profoundly Greek city and the heir of ancient Hellas. But its Hellenic character was one of the factors which co-operated to cut short the dominions of the Eastern Emperors. It was not only the exhaustion of the Persian wars and the irresistible eruption of the Moslem Arabs which shore off Syria and Egypt from the Empire; it was also the mental incompatibility of the main populations of those Asiatic provinces with the Greek core of Asia Minor and the Balkans. Lack of spiritual sympathy alienated Syrians and Egyptians from their old masters, while an inner resemblance reconciled them to their new ones. This was the political significance of the contest between orthodoxy and Monophysitism in religion, then the one free sphere of the mind in which all, however illiterate, could take a side.

It was in September 323 that Constantine had vanquished his remaining rival Licinius in the battle of Chrysopolis (Skutari). In the November following he traced the line of the walls of New Rome on the opposite shore of the Bosphorus. He had conquered as a Christian Emperor, and it was as such and in charge of the Christian Church that he summoned the First (Ecumenical Council to meet at Nicaea in Bithynia in the summer of 325. The Council was to complete the work of the Emperor, who had already reconciled the Christians to the Roman State, by reconciling the Christians among themselves.

It is hard to say exactly at what moment Constantine had definitely adopted his new faith. The exigencies of a ruler, whose subjects were mainly pagan, the ebb and flow of a convert’s opinions ‘this way and that dividing the swift mind’, would make his steps ambiguous. But at any rate, after the victory of the Milvian Bridge over the heathen Maxentius in 312 instinctu divinitatis, ‘by divine prompting,’ it would be incredulous to deny that Constantine had exchanged the semi-monotheistic worship of Sol Invictus, ‘the unconquered Sun’, for the God of the Christians. But this was as yet the religion of Flavius Constantinus, not of the Emperor. The agreed policy of toleration, put into effect next year, when he met his colleague and then ally, Licinius, which is known as the ‘Edict’ of Milan, shows how far his favour to the Christians might safely go with the approval of pagan opinion. Not only was freedom of worship permitted to all, but the churches and property confiscated from Christian communities in the persecution of Diocletian were restored to them, and private pagan claims were bought out from imperial funds. Heathen deities, even ‘Sol Invictus’, soon disappeared from his coinage. The clergy of the Catholic Church received in 313 the exemption from public burdens which certain pagan priesthoods enjoyed; manumissions of slaves in churches were to be valid as they were in certain temples. It was a most favoured religion privilege applied to Christianity. More marked was his personal intervention in the Donatist schism. He laid the Donatists’ appeal before the bishops in synod at Rome and Arles in 313-14 and upheld their decision. He issued on provocation a decree of persecution against these dissident and disobedient Christians in 316, a measure which he revoked on its failure in 321. In 317 his guards were bearing the monogram ‘Christos’ on their shields, as all his troops had done by his order at the Milvian Bridge. Its meaning must by then have been unmistakable, and it was the Christian Emperor who defeated the heathen Licinius, now again a persecutor, at Chrysopolis. The conversion which had begun, perhaps, as an opinion, had ended in the mystical, inspiring belief that he was the chosen instrument of the One True God and Saviour, the Giver of Victory.

That conviction, not unalloyed with superstition, was powerfully backed by the policy which it sanctioned. Constantine, himself inclined to and then convinced of the new religion with the multiplying proofs of his success, had the native insight to perceive the strength and cohesion of the Christians. They had a universal creed, contrasting with the wavering speculations of the pagans, their local, competing deities, their inconsistent traditions, their mixture of discordant philosophies and ethics combined with popular superstitions and dubious practices. They, he may have felt— for he was not unlettered—were still writing a literature which showed life and contemporary inspiration apart from the endless imitation of masterpieces far in the past. The universal church, with its appeal to every class and province, seemed designed to be the support and the solidifying force of the universal empire. It had been a cardinal error of his predecessors not to recognize the value of this unifying, vivifying force. They had declared war against a mighty potential ally in the name of outworn beliefs which were yearly losing their appeal. The deified Emperor had for forty years already sunk to be the favourite of the god of one or other cult. It was better to be the hallowed vicegerent of the one almighty Summus Deus, Christianity could be a new and living form of patriotism and loyalty, imposing obedience and inspiring veneration. Nor were the immediate gains to be despised. By favouring and then professing Christianity Constantine acquired the support of an active and stubborn minority throughout the Empire: his rivals had only the tepid adherence of interested supporters and habitual, disorganized pagans. And Constantine would know well that imperial favour would be rapidly increasing that minority by the facile conversion of all who wished to rise in this present world. These were powerful political motives to second that confidence in himself and his divine mission which his experience inspired.

As with the foundation of Constantinople, we may look forward to the future then unknown. The revolution worked by Constantine was irrevocable. The abounding life of Christianity could not fail to triumph over the anaemic gods of paganism, and the nostalgic longing for the past was unable to provide more than evanescent attempts at reaction. Only the crasser superstitions of the populace, the underworld of pagan beliefs, had vitality to survive either furtively in an acknowledged magic and spirit­ worship or disguised and reputable in a Christian transmutation. The Roman Empire and ancient civilization became bound up with Christianity, from which they received new life, new power to survive, new ability to be imparted to the oncoming barbarians. Medieval Europe was to evolve and become civilized, to improve in ethical ideals, motives, and behaviour under the guidance of Christianity, through which it also received the remnants of the heritage of the ancient world. In spite of immense inner diversities, Europe was to develop its common distinctive character from its Christian mould.




The government of the Roman Empire, in which Constantine the Great carried through his religious revolution, was an autocracy based on the support of the armies, but also conforming to the rule of law inherited from the days when Rome was a free republic and still permeating thought and life. This reign of law was the hall-mark of the Empire, which it never lost and which it bequeathed to Europe. The monarch could make and alter the law at pleasure, but arbitrary, capricious infringement of it was against the spirit of his office and the Roman State. By constitutional theory all the powers of the Roman people had been transferred irrevocably to the elect of the Senate and armies. Now the Senate was not even a sleeping partner, and the choice or the assent of the armies made the despot. The whole of government, including the association of a colleague or successor, was in his hands, yet not even that could create a right of hereditary succession. The nature of his office derived from its founder, the Emperor Augustus whose name was still his title, and indeed the ever­recurring crises of the Empire forbade the expedient of hereditary rule, however much loyalty and habit might tend to maintain a dynasty which had once attained the throne. The consequent uncertainty was a weakness in that it encouraged revolt and civil war, but a strength in that it helped to ensure the capacity of the Emperors, for the ablest ruler could fight his way to a legitimate crown. The Empire suffered its worst misfortunes when loyalty to incompetent heirs was strongest. It was partly to diminish the danger of military revolts that Diocletian had adopted for the Emperors the oriental pomp and aloofness of the Persian kings. They wore the diadem with the purple robe and shoes; their life became a ceremonial, surrounded by eunuchs and guards; their subjects admitted to audience fell prone in adoration to kiss the hem of their robe. If with the Christian dispensation they ceased to be divine, their persons, acts and possessions were ‘sacred’. An aureole of majesty was made to seclude them from common humanity. But if there was shrewd policy in the system, there was also weakness: the Emperor might not know the Empire and the peoples he ruled. An active life in the world before his accession might compensate for his seclusion after it, but it was hard for him to penetrate the veil of his household and ministers, and if he succeeded to the throne in boyhood, he might become their puppet.

Centralization and despotism required the services of an immense, hierarchic bureaucracy to administer the Empire, and since the days of Diocletian, as a precaution against revolt, the civil administration had been rigidly separated from the military commands. At the head of it stood the Sacred Consistory, the Privy Council of high functionaries which advised the Emperor. Certain chiefs of departments invariably became members. Of these the chief eunuch, the Praepositus Sacri Cubiculi, became one of the most influential, and often the most hated and corrupt. He was in charge of the palace. The Count of the Sacred Largesses was the Treasurer, while the Count of the Res Privatae managed the immense imperial estates. The Quaestor of the Sacred Palace was the chief legal officer: he drafted laws and interpreted them, and advised the answers to petitions. The Master of the Offices was head of the secretariat with its manifold duties. Under him were the central scrinia headed by their magistri, which dealt with all documents, but he also commanded the imperial guards and controlled the arsenals. Perhaps his most formidable charge was that of the agentes in rebus, the imperial secret service. These multitudinous and ubiquitous official spies superintended the imperial postal service, conveyed official commands, and reported real or imaginary delinquencies of all and sundry. They were worse than the abuses they were supposed to prevent; their corruption was notorious, and they added to the ills and oppression of the Empire. Unlike the Master of the Offices, the Pretorian Prefects were an old institution, but although they were officials of the central administration, they were not so closely connected by necessity with the person of the Emperor. There were never less than three, and sometimes there were four among whom the Empire was divided, and unless there were two or more Augusti, only one was in immediate touch with his monarch. The East, Italy, and Gaul were the three certain centres of the prefects’ spheres: when there was a fourth, he was entrusted with Illyricum, i.e. the Balkans. The duties of all may be described as those of minister of the interior and chief justice of appeal. It was a post, like that of the Quaestor, particularly fitted for an eminent lawyer, yet for a trained administrator as well. The pretorian prefect received appeals from the governors in his sphere, but he also superintended the levy of taxes, the furnishing of supplies to the army, and the conduct of the provincial executive officials. The discretion allowed to him was great; he judged without appeal; yet he appears as more important for routine efficiency than for policy.

For the purposes of civil government the Empire was divided into some 120 provinces which were grouped in twelve dioceses. In the West lay the dioceses of Britain, Gaul, Spain, Africa, and Illyricum; in the East Dacia, Macedonia, Thrace, Asia, Pontus, the East (Syria), and Egypt. The vicar of each diocese assisted the pretorian prefect to supervise the provincial governors, and was an alternative judge of appeal from them, appeals from the vicar not going to the prefect but to the Emperor. The provincial governors themselves, most of whom bore the title of President (Praeses), also united executive and judicial authority. Below them were the oligarchies of Curiales, who ruled the cities through their chiefs, the local Senates, the members of which were styled Decurions. An exceptional government was enjoyed by Rome itself. The Prefect of the City, whose office went back to the reign of Augustus, and who alone among officials still wore the ancient Roman toga, ruled the capital and presided in the Senate, while his appellate jurisdiction extended over a circuit of 100 miles. But although the cities with their dependent countryside were the typical units which made up the province, they did not cover all its expanse. The domains (saltus) of the Emperor and the great landowners, mostly senators, were largely exempt from them and the governors and controlled by imperial procurators or private stewards. It was an anticipation of medieval feudalism.

In itself this elaborate hierarchy was cumbrous, but corruption and suspicion made it burdensome to the last degree. Every official was watched and duplicated by the agentes in rebus, whose sins in corruption and extortion were worse than his own. Defensores from among the wealthy were appointed to supervise the cities and aid the oppressed, but the most efficient check was provided by the Christian bishop whose voluntary arbitration was authorized and encouraged by the Emperors: he was the most equitable judge obtainable, and as a refuge to the oppressed deservedly gained much of the influence which he expended in the doctrinal disputes of the age. Here again the coming Middle Age cast its shadow before.

Except in certain frontier districts, where the dux or general of the troops exercised the civil government also, military command was completely separated from civilian rule. The highest office was that of Master of the Soldiers (magister militum), either of the horse (m. equitum) or of the foot (m. peditum), or of both (m. utriusque militiae). In the latter days of Constantine there were four Magistri; eventually there were eight. Two of them accompanied the Emperor, but the function of all was much the same: to command an army and conduct a war. Beneath them the forces on the frontier were commanded by some thirty-five dukes (duces), of whom ten were known by the higher title of counts (comites), i.e. ‘companions of the Emperor. Besides these there were the two Counts of the Domestics, the guards of the Emperor, composed at first of Protectores, who were selected veterans, and of Domestics proper, who were well-born officers in training. The rest of the army fell into three main classes, the limitanei, the comitatenses, and the palatini. The limitanei were almost a garrison militia stationed on the fortified frontiers where they had their hereditary farms in return for military service: they were largely of barbarian extraction, the descendants of the captives of old wars or the residuum of old migrations. The comitatenses, on the other hand, together with the pseudo-comitatenses which Constantine had drawn from the limitanei to reinforce them, were mobile troops, who could take the field anywhere. The palatini formed a similar field-army but were cantoned in the provinces near the Emperor’s residence. The strength of the legions, who were the heavy infantry, was now about 1000 men, for even the older legions, who still numbered 6000 men, were divided in practice into similar regiments. They were levied by a mixture of heredity, conscription, and voluntary enlistment. The auxilia, in contrast, who were cavalry and light infantry, were mainly barbarian mercenaries from outside the Empire, and were of higher repute for their fighting qualities. Among them the heavy cavalry, cataphracts trained in the Persian method, were growing in importance. They wore scale armour, and carried long spears as well as bows. Their charge and volleys were becoming a decisive element in victory even in the non-Persian wars.

The army as a whole was a disciplined and formidable array, but the proportion of barbarians and semi-barbarians within it was a grave danger not because of disloyalty, but because it proved the increasingly unwarlike character of the civilized population of the Empire. The long-continued cult of callous ferocity and sadistic sensationalism in the gladiatorial shows of the amphitheatre had debased the people without preserving their virility. The appetite for this supremely selfish, insane pleasure was fostered by the popularity-hunting government to the destruction of public spirit. In Italy and Egypt self-mutilation, by amputating the thumb, was practised to escape conscription. Yet war was nearer to men than ever before in imperial times. The disastrous civil contests of the third century had been accompanied and followed by barbarian invasions which pierced far beyond the fortified frontier zones and all but wrecked the Empire. It was a sad sequel to the erstwhile Roman peace when the Emperor Aurelian (270-5) undertook the fortification of the cities and even of Rome itself, and the small circumference of the walls of the provincial towns is a striking witness to the decrease in the numbers of a population which had never attained the density of modem Europe. The plague under Marcus Aurelius (165-6), succeeded by a century of war and devastation, had reduced the human assets of the state beyond danger point.

Since the edict of the Emperor Caracalla in 212 every citizen of a city in the Empire was also a Roman citizen and subject to the Roman Law. But that was far from implying the equality or homogeneity of the citizen body. Rather it was becoming ever more split up into classes and occupations which were in process of being hereditary castes. The first cleft was that between the honestiores (honourable) and the humiliores (lower). The honestiores included the senatorial order, the equestrian order (both transformed inheritances from the Republic), the soldiers, and the decurions: their punishments for crime were lighter, and they could only be tortured on special counts. The humiliores were the rest of the population. Among the honestiores the highest in rank were another survival, the two ordinary consuls who gave their name to the year. Surrounded with extraordinary pomp and burdened with expense which only great wealth could bear, the consulship was an empty honour conferred on high birth or eminent services: the Emperors themselves took the office at least once in their reign. Below the consuls came the patricians, since Constantine a personal dignity, unconnected save in name with the hereditary patricians of earlier times. The next rank was that of high officials, like the pretorian prefect, who were styled viri illustres, the next that of officials who were entitled spectabiles, below them again came the clarissimi, who all belonged to the senatorial order, which was much wider than the actual members of the two Senates of Rome and Constantinople. The clarissimi were in the main the descendants of imperial soldiers, officials, and contractors who had made fortunes. But few could trace their male lineage to the nobles of the Republic. Below them came other titles, eminent issimus, perfectissimus and the like, which denoted the precedence an office held in the official hierarchy. The fulsomeness of these titles, disguised by habit, was an expression, as they were invented, of a courtly, servile age and its pompous, privileged bureaucracy.

The class of curiales, or town-dwelling landowners of middle fortune, governed the cities as a hereditary duty. But craftsmen and traders, too, bakers, shipmen and the like, were turned into hereditary corporations from which there was no escape. Even the class of paupers (proletarii) who received the public dole of food at Rome seems itself to have been hereditary. The peasant class of coloni in like manner were tied to their paternal holdings (adscripticii glebae) which they cultivated as a state duty. Freedom of life and occupation had in short largely vanished from the Roman Empire. Men existed to pay their dues to the State and to keep the anaemic fabric of society in working order. The dreadful, callous practice of legal infanticide by the exposure of new-born children, whether unwanted girls or weakly boys, which was endemic in parts at least, and those the most civilized, of the Empire, is perhaps evidence of the small hope men placed in the future, just as the fierce degrading shows of captives forced to fight and criminals exposed to wild beasts in the amphitheatres suggest the jaded boredom of the present to the town dwellers. Both practices were frowned upon by the Christian Church and Constantine.

The causes of this rigid, government-driven system lay partly in the drab and aimless life of men outside the imperial bureaucracy, partly in the economic decline of the overtasked Empire, both perhaps to be summarized as the senility of a civilization and its inducements to action. That civilization had been formed and had made its advance in the free city-states, in an atmosphere of city pride, of patriotic competition, and of dazzling opportunity. City politics were world politics: each citizen could take his part in the common effort and could hope for his share in gain and fame. When monarchy came with Alexander the Great, there was still a civilization to spread and an empire to exploit. The Roman conquest reduced political activity to local affairs, but there was still the Graeco-Roman civilization to impart to pupil races, still the native city to be adorned and to excel its neighbours in an age of peace, still the sense of expanding energy and increasing activity. This was the age of private munificence and municipal extravagance, encouraged by the government. Temples, baths, basilicas for public business, theatres, amphitheatres, spectacles were lavished on the townsmen by their wealthier fellows and their magistrates. But it was largely unproductive expenditure which slowly drained the wealth of each locality without facilitating its renewal. Over parts of the Empire, such as Britain, the city was an artificial institution set up by the government, a luxury only maintainable in times of prosperity. The imperial government was provoked to supervise municipal administration more and more, and to place the towns in leading-strings. Town notables, as town autonomy vanished, found they had become subordinate implements of the imperial bureaucracy, and the life went out of their public functions, which grew every decade more disagreeable, more profitless and more oppressive. They had to be driven to their unwelcome tasks and burdens, which brought no real honour and gratified no ambition. Like beasts at the water-wheel, they plodded a dreary round to haul up the taxes needed by their rulers. Provincial sentiment, although it played a part in the army revolts which had rent the Empire in the third century, did not as yet pro­vide more than a disintegrating force in civil life. It made men sluggish in imperial concerns, rather than energetic in their own. In short, Roman patriotism, though not Roman pride, was in a way the business of the army and the bureaucracy.




The economic decline of the Empire was a still more potent factor in this moral paralysis of its citizens. A long story must here be cut short. The peace of the early Empire and its victories had produced a vigorous interprovincial trade seconded by the labour of a multitude of cheap slaves, won in the wars, and employed on great estates or in workshops. But with the spread of civilization, especially westward, and with the equality of universal citizenship, the provinces provided more and more for their own ordinary wants; inter-provincial trade became far more restricted to the luxuries or quasi-luxuries which had always formed its staple. Indeed, the civil wars of the third century and the dislocation of the Empire must have put an end to most of it, and a full recovery from those disasters never happened. Then, too, with the end of expansion and conquest and with the adoption of the policy of settling barbarian captives as military peasants on the depleted frontiers, the supply of cheap slaves gave out: slaves became a costly luxury. Thus the means of production on a large scale for distribution at a distance were severely limited.

One of the worst evils of the third century had been the debasement of the coinage, when the Emperors were attempting to provide for increasing military and civil expenditure from the taxes of a population reduced in numbers and prosperity by plague and war. The debasement, besides diminishing in the end the value of the revenue, was pernicious to trade near and far and bore its full share in the economic decline of the Empire. So debased and disorganized was the coin that the sacks (folles) of what was really base metal, issued by the mints, were passed from hand to hand unopened, the clumsiest, bulkiest form of a circulating medium. Still more significant was the custom that taxes and salaries, even the soldiers’ pay, were rendered more and more in kind. This avoided the uncertainties of depreciated money, but the ease which it might thereby give the tax­payer was more than counter-balanced by the burden of transport which it imposed upon him and by the waste and expense of storage and deterioration when the crops were on the way to and when they reached the government magazines. Diocletian and Constantine between them did indeed restore the coinage. The new gold solidus retained its fineness for centuries. The new silver coins were genuine silver. But both gold and silver were only legal tender when weighed. Clipping and abrasion no doubt produced a diffidence which the government felt as much as any one. Only the tiny follis (now meaning the separate coin) was merely counted. The gold and silver coins, too, were less plentiful for currency, it seems. The mines in the Empire were less productive. A considerable quantity of the precious metals had leaked to the East in the purchase of luxuries, there being little counter-exports to exchange for jewels, silks, and spices from India and China. Still more perhaps was hoarded in various ways, as a treasury reserve, as the household equipment of the court and the wealthy, as the ornament of temples and then of churches. It did not assist in the revivification of moribund commerce, which might in fact seem to be a risky and needless investment. Nor did it supersede the custom of taxes and payments in kind, which remained to clog and burden the administration and economic life of the Empire.

The luxury trade manufacture within the Empire had its strongest home in the East. Syria produced its dyed webs. There were celebrated wines there, in Asia Minor, and in Italy. Trade in necessaries was scantier, but oil with which food was cooked was sent from the olive-bearing zone elsewhere, and the corn-tribute from Egypt for Constantinople and from Africa for Rome had to be handled under government control. Again, iron and the metals and pottery had their producing centres, whence they journeyed to government arsenals, to the mints, or to shops and private buyers. The profits of this and of local trade cannot, however, have been alluring, for the Emperors made the membership of the trading corporations hereditary and compulsory. It was a crime to fly from an occupation and even in some cases to marry outside its circle. The desire to escape from the burdens of life in the decadent and overtaxed towns was obvious as the fourth century grew old.

Yet there was wealth in the Empire, though vegetative and not produ­cing greater wealth. Strewn over the provinces lay the estates, the latifundia, of the senatorial order, yielding an ample revenue and supplying all save luxury needs to their proprietors. Some of these estates and incomes reached fabulous proportions, and as residence in the capital was no longer required, the clarissimi were becoming in large part a provincial, rural nobility. Given to country sports and imitative, lifeless culture, they lived in their spacious villas or country houses amid their dependants. The domestic manufactures of the estate were almost departments of a self-sufficing area under the control of its lord. A certain portion of the cultivated land was reserved as a home-farm; the rest was divided into small holdings, which supported the coloni and their families, who gave as rent a share of the crops, and supplemented it by prescribed work on the home-farm. The system all tended to a self-sufficing, stagnant economy.

The class of coloni was formed from very different elements. There were the descendants of pre-Roman serfs, whose condition had changed but little; there were those of barbarian captives settled on the land; there were slaves planted out in tenements; there were former free peasants who found life easier and safer by becoming the tenants or prot6g£s of the great land­owner; there were absconding curiales and others from the towns fleeing the taxes. But the general picture is fairly uniform. The peasant was bound to his hereditary plot to which he had an hereditary right. He suffered from the oppressions of his landlord and the government, but each afforded some protection from the other, the landlord the most. Apart from barbarian invasions, such as those which desolated Illyricum, he enjoyed a measure of stability and security. In the course of the fourth century, he was made to pay his taxes through his landlord, which was possibly a benefit, and was deprived of the power to bring a civil action against his landlord, an almost certain grievance. The landlord was his magistrate, and might illegally keep his private prison and his private armed troop. It was a life far on the way to medieval feudalism. The peasant’s best protection lay not in the law, but in the private, obvious interest of the lord, which led him to keep his estate populated and prosperous. Better terms were obtainable by the varieties of tenure under emphyteusis. This was the lease of land with a light rent to redeem it from uncultivation or to turn it into olive-grove or vineyard. The land would be forfeited if the conditions were broken, but otherwise the tenure was in practice perpetual. A valuable tenant was not to be lost. In fact the fear of land going out of cultivation was a constant preoccupation of government and landlord. Derelict land had by law to be taken over by the neighbours; land could not be sold without its coloni. Yet in the fertile lands of Campania, Ionia and Egypt there is evidence of derelict arable, and this was not due to barbarian devastation. The fleeing peasant might take to begging or brigandage or, if he were a devout Christian, to monasticism.

A chief cause of the economic distress, visible in town and country in spite of transient improvement, was the severe pressure of the wasteful taxation needed to keep the revived Empire solvent. It would probably have been bearable if it had not been for the extortions and corruption of the officials and the oppression of the powerful, and these vices no laws, no remedies, no machinery (such as the agentes in rebus) devised by the Emperors were able to prevent: indeed, they were possibly more rampant on the vast imperial estates than on those of the great landowners. The system of taxation had been reformed by Diocletian; it was equitable in intention, and perhaps in practice had it been honestly administered, but at its best it was cumbrous and obscure, even to officials, at least with regard to its chief component, the land-tax or annona. The land of each city and great domain was surveyed and roughly classed in separate units (iuga) according to its extent, its produce, its working resources and fertility. By the combination of these factors, it was liable to a proportion of the annona on the territory to which it belonged, the amount of which was fixed by imperial edict (indictio) for each year. It was supplemented by a poll-tax on the inhabitants. In the towns the tradesmen (collegiati) paid an oppressive tax, the chrysargyrion, and the curiales the five-yearly aurum coronarium, while the clarissimi were subject to the heavy aurum oblaticium. To these taxes we must add that on sales and the various angariae, such as the imperial post, which scarred the districts along the roads.

The worst lot in the system of taxation fell to the curiales. It was their duty to supplement the insufficient income of their town out of their own property in order to cover its expenses. But more onerous still was their function of collecting the imperial taxes which were assessed to their city and its dependent territory. In any case this was a difficult and odious task—in 383 the domains of the clarissimi were removed from their area, which must have been a measure of relief—but the fact that they were obliged to make up any deficiency in the receipts made it intolerable. Flight was forbidden under heavy penalties; they were legally tethered to their city and caste; the land of an absconding curialis or of an extinct family had to be taken over by their fellows. Late in the fourth century inscription as a member of the curia was used as a punishment for certain offences. To live concealed as a colonus on a great estate seemed to many a preferable life if it could be achieved. In self-defence they were extortionate and corrupt when they had the power to be so. In fact, although the East as a whole was better off than the West, the city organization of the Empire was breaking down under its burdens. The lesser landowner, the trader, the peasant-freeholder, and the colonus all had to be chained to their hereditary tasks so as to support the overladen State and provide it with funds and food to carry on. The benefits of civilized life and the pleasure in its activities seemed to be outweighed by its miseries.



It is to be remembered that an appreciable proportion of the Empire’s inhabitants had no share in either its Greek or its Latin civilization. In Britain the majority of the country folk still spoke their native Celtic language, the ancestor of Welsh, Cornish and Breton. Round Trier and elsewhere in Gaul allied tongues were living; St Irenaeus (ob. 202) had preached in Gaulish as well as in Greek and Latin. On each side of the Pyrenees, Basque, which survives today, maintained itself. Germanic was spoken in considerable areas west of the Rhine. In Africa the Moors kept up their still living Berber dialects, and the settled upper class retained the Semitic Punic, introduced by the Carthaginians, and still possibly alive in Malta. In Illyricum, in spite of widespread Latin, the native idiom held its own and has produced modem Albanian. When we look at the East, the pre-Greek languages assume national proportions and possess national literatures which repel Greek with but subordinate infiltration of Hellenism. Copts in Egypt, Aramaeans in Syria, Armenians in the northern mountains, not to mention the Asiatic tribesmen of the Taurus and the Celtic Galatians, who were illiterate, clung firmly to their ancient languages, which embodied their distinctive habits of thought and steadily sapped their cohesion with the Empire.

The Greek and Latin speakers, however, were largely illiterate peasants and artisans, whose varying patois by no means allowed them to appreciate the conservative literary tongue. That was a privilege of the educated classes, and they were perhaps more alive to the externals than to the inner spirit of the heritage that they revered. The investigating curiosity of the Greeks had not survived the Roman conquest; knowledge of natural science had ceased to grow. The system of education in rhetoric, although implying much more than oratory, had concentrated men’s attention on declamatory, exaggerated phrases, on the art of spinning sentences to a patient audience, on the resources of a pleader with a view to his career. Where there were points of law to be discussed, principles of law to be applied, and plain facts to reason on, this society could be highly rationalistic; but in general the rationalism of an earlier generation had disappeared. It was an age of signs and wonders, of emotional credulity and vulgar magic. Partly this may have been due to the mere predominance of the average citizen whether hellenized or romanized, now that, so to say, society had been denuded of those thin intellectual strata which had produced Western civilization. The more primitive rocks now made the landscape. Partly it was the effect of the steady penetration of oriental influences, which had life and originality now denied to the West, and preferred the marvellous and esoteric to the matter-of-fact, which sought for mystical illumination rather than for explanation. The continued disasters of the times, the long absence of the political liberty in which ancient habits of thought had been formed, the loss of even personal freedom in the regimented state organized by Diocletian, the very dead-weight of insuperable, unattainable models in literature, thought, and art, all combined to drive both eastern and western men into themselves, to spin a visionary universe from the unreachable ego. The worship of the stately, idealized Olympian gods had palled and become an ancient custom, that of sheer human power in the deified Emperors seemed less natural as unity disappeared and fleeting rulers were slain or carried captive in civil and foreign wars; the little or local deities who gave fertility, the real, heartfelt religion of average folk, were always perhaps more like familiar spirits than gods, and were less attractive amid derelict fields and scanty offspring. The eastern cult of Mithras seems to have been a soldier’s creed which supplied a divine personal protector by a magical ceremony, which appealed more to credulity than to evidence. Other similar cults like that of Isis differed less in method and aim than in the public they addressed. The official cult of Sol Invictus, the unconquered sun, looks like an attempt to acclimatize a speculative monotheism with ‘a local habitation and a name’. Save in Syria, whence it spread, it was a governmental creed.

The most philosophic form of pagan illuminism appeared in the Neo-Platonism founded by the Egyptian Plotinus (ob. 269) and propagated by the Phoenician Porphyry (ob. 304). An exalted pantheistic monotheism was grafted by Plotinus with subtlety and fervour on Platonic thought. The material world was an emanation from the indescribable spiritual unity and yet a glorious hindrance to the reunion of the soul with its unalloyed original. Oriental asceticism and ecstatic vision were natural concomitants of the system, and the pagan gods were without difficulty accepted, nay cherished, as embodiments, aspects, and glimpses of the One. With the Aramaean Iamblichus (ob. 330) the degenerate, fanatic side of this philosophy took the lead. Magic and miracles, the boosting of any and every superstition so long as it was not Christian, testified to the desperate efforts of educated pagans to retain belief in their multitudinous deities. Unable to be sceptics, averse from a revolutionary monotheism, they slid down from Platonic heights, grasping at any tuft of grass or withered thorn. There must have been a competition, however unacknowledged, for the suffrage of the primitive masses of the population, a suffrage easiest to be gained by an appeal to their ingrained belief in spells and charms and the mystery of petty ritual. But that it should be congenial to the Neo-Platonists reveals the mentality of their credulous age.

The law was a favourite study of the upper-class Roman citizen, whether in the civil service or out of it. But it is noticeable that, although schools of law flourished, the series of the creative commentators, those great jurisconsults who had done so much to develop it, had ended in the middle of the third century. The age of Constantine saw codifiers and collectors. None the less legal studies retained their influence. The education of the schools of rhetoric was largely directed to produce good pleading in the courts. A successful pleader might rise in the imperial service and become a governor or a minister. Lawyers still shared with soldiers the government of the Roman world.

The cultured men of the day, when they were not engrossed in law, philosophy, or Christian theology, tended to an anecdotic antiquarianism which required more learning than intellect. One of the best of these students was the friend of Constantine, the ultra-learned Christian Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea in Palestine. Bred, one may say, in the ample library left by Origen in Caesarea, Eusebius had a critical sense of documentary evidence and a large conception of universal history. His Chronography was to be the basis of general historical knowledge for centuries; his Ecclesiastical History preserved and arranged a mass of carefully compiled information. It is true that precision of statement yields to overcharged general rhetoric. An objective treatment of facts was beyond the reach and the desires of an age devoted to flattery, controversy, and propaganda, but Eusebius is an instance of the intellectual superiority of the Christian writers over their pagan contemporaries. They had a consistent scheme of knowledge, a concrete object of research; they had something to say and still had liberty to say it.

The art of the age is in its turn self-revealing. We find an imitative largeness of conception natural to an ecumenic empire, and the skilful engineering of long experience in practical building—the arch, the apse, and the cupola were great stand-bys for the architect. Withal there spread from the East, from Egypt and Syria, an originality and emotionalism and a sense of colour and gorgeousness which make the hues of their predecessors seem elementary. Of craftsmanship in glass, ivory, metal and stone there was plenty, mostly oriental in origin. But in the West especially there was in building the curse of official bigness and pomposity. The intellectual grasp of reality, the rationalism of Greek art, the delicate, unrelaxing vigilance, the apt simplicity of earlier times were gone. They were not of facile manufacture nor did they produce quick effects; and mere imitation of past masterpieces had little inspiration and ceased to be desired. They were replaced in smaller objects by rich decoration of varied device, often the most effective when least Hellenic in tradition: the barbaric art of the steppes was invading the Empire. And though the same shop might produce for pagan and Christian, the Christian themes, however much they reproduced older emblems and scenes, had a new interpretation, a new conviction of appeal, which made them more living—in short, better art. Ancient statuary and the zeal to represent the human and animal forms with the exquisiteness of nature seem to have died; lumpish, inexact energy in the limbs, a stolid glare in the coarse faces, a tailor-like truth in the dress were the effects aimed at and achieved, unless sculptures were plundered from old monuments to deck the new. But there was both emotion, splendour, and beauty in the schemes of coloured marbles which encrusted the inner walls, and in the variegated glass mosaics which adorned the curved ceilings. Here again Christian beliefs gave the best and novel themes, just as the Christian churches could give meaning and use to the creative invention of the architect. The favourite form among several was the basilica, the rectangular hall ending in an apse, in front of which stood the altar and around which were the seats of the clergy. It was a design which had served for halls of justice and audience, and in the first century appears in a subterranean temple at Rome. But besides its own variants, such as three to five aisles, subsidiary apses, transepts which suggested the cross, and an entrance hall, there were rivals such as the round church, suitable for a baptistery, all of them with appropriateness for Christian ritual and freely designed from the accumulated traditions which no longer oppressed the builder.

The Christian art, like the Christian literature of the age, was in fact a part of the general culture of the Empire, giving greater scope to its practitioners by reason of its new purposes, its new heartfelt subject-matter, and perhaps still more by its new freedom when all else was bound down in thought and action, in caste and livelihood under a bureaucratic, suspicious despotism. The Christians were only a minority in most parts, a half in some eastern provinces, a tenth or merely a twentieth in others and the west, when the Empire in the person of Constantine made its peace with them. But, whether left alone as mostly happened or fiercely assailed in the persecutions, they were an independent community in their religion, with their own way of life, their own theology and inner controversies, and their own officials and institutions. They formed an adult worldwide organization, not derived from the Empire but allied with it, almost a state within the state, accustomed to self-management, where every member counted for something and could take sides in what concerned his church and its beliefs. The Emperor, now a Christian, could share in the Church’s life and influence it, but he could not dominate what the Empire had not created. He was inevitably immensely powerful in the Church, but he interfered chiefly in dangerous crises of disputes affecting the unity of the whole body. In the normal life of the Church, it was self-governing. This external fact agreed with a fundamental tenet of Christianity itself. Pagan religion had been a civic or family function for earthly welfare. The Christian faith was the way for the individual believer of any rank or race to attain eternal salvation. It was not a part of civil life, but beside it and in essence superior to it. The problem of Church and State begins for Europe with Constantine.




The Christian organization may be described as a loose confederation of autonomous communities, held together by the conviction of unity and fraternity in a common faith, fortified in practice by continuous mutual intercourse. Since Christianity had grown up amid the city-state organization of the Empire, its autonomous communities, its ‘churches’, were mostly city-communities, although rural communities, where cities were sparse and great estates, imperial or other, wide, did make their appearance. Of each church the ruler, focus and embodiment of its tradition, was its bishop, elected by the community and considered to be the successor of the Apostles even when the church was not of immediate apostolic foundation. He was assisted in his pastoral office by the presbyters, who in many dioceses, to use a later term, were also taking charge of the districts and their several churches into which the ever-increasing Christian population was divided. Like the bishops, but with a more unanimous assent, they were now considered as a separate order in the Church, possessed by the laying on of hands of the power to consecrate the bread and wine in the Eucharist, the central act of Christian worship. The presbyter was a sacerdos, tepevs, a priest like those of the Jews; the bishop was a summus sacerdos. In the bishop’s administrative duties, he was assisted by the order of deacons. Below these again came the sub­deacons, the exorcists, acolytes, and readers (lectors), and the deaconesses, the minor orders of a later time. A growing custom approved the slow promotion in ordination from the lesser dignity to the higher, but in actual importance the deacons who had charge of church property often outweighed the more sacred presbyters. Here two facts of high significance stand out. Christianity gave to women a position as personalities, not merely as mothers, which paganism had denied them. The old fertility cults had ceased to appeal to the educated class. Women as well as men were martyrs and confessors. Chastity, virginity and the gentler virtues were held in the highest honour; indeed the severity of oriental asceticism had made its way into Egyptian and Syrian Christianity and was rapidly spreading. Constantine’s social legislation, which punished, sometimes with desperate cruelty, offences against morals, is evidence of his conversion to Christianity as well as of his diagnosis of social evils. He discountenanced the callous exposure of unwanted infants and the savage gladiatorial shows. Women were the most zealous of converts and the most effectual of domestic missionaries, for they were in charge in the impressionable years of life. To them was likewise largely due the second fact. In 321 Constantine decreed that the Christian churches could receive by gift or legacy anything from anybody, an unexampled privilege which no pagan temple had ever enjoyed. The result was that wealth flowed into them with rapid profusion, much of it derived from the piety of devout ladies. By a phenomenon which has recurred in other times, the extinction of the male line and the accumulation of wealth by heiresses were not uncommon among the wealthy and well-to-do, and their benefactions, seconded by imperial and other liberality, rendered in a century the Bishop of Rome, for instance, among the greatest of the landed proprietors of the Empire. If some of these riches provided a too alluring bait to the ambitious and worldly and were spent in sumptuous luxury, they also provided means which were zealously used to relieve the poor and distressed, to finance orphanages and hospitals, to build and adorn churches. The spate of conversions to Christianity which set in when the Emperor was a Christian was not exclusively owing to self-interested ambition or fashion any more than to the moral and intellectual appeal of the faith; there was always the active benevolence of the churches to attract the poor and oppressed. The bishop was an intercessor for the unfortunate, his church an asylum for the harshly or unjustly condemned; his arbitration was fairer and less costly than the tribunal’s judgement; Constantine seems to have encouraged his judicial powers. And he was the choice of the people. He could freely persuade them from the pulpit. Can we wonder at the unbridled fervour with which they flung themselves into the doctrinal disputes which affected the whole being and teaching of their community, and which they were free to debate in contrast to the chained submission of the rest of their lives?

While in each city its church under its bishop was effectively organized, it was not the same with the whole body of Christians. Yet the local churches had always been in close touch with one another by personal intercourse and by letters. The bishops of a province and even of a civil diocese were accustomed to act together. Councils of bishops to settle disputed points were growing in frequency: in 314, under Constantine’s patronage, a council of Western bishops met at Arles to adjudicate on the Donatist schism in Africa, and Constantine for some years endeavoured to enforce their decision by persecuting the recalcitrant Donatists. But the most effectual bond of unity lay in the influence of the great sees. The bishop of a provincial capital in the East was the metropolitan of the lesser cities of its province: this was modelled on secular divisions, and the custom became universal in the century after Constantine. More important were the churches of the super-eminent cities. Here, as was natural, the believers were most numerous, the city’s secular rank most impressive, the line of bishops and martyrs most illustrious, the tradition of the past best attested and most ancient, and lastly the prestige of apostolic foundation best remembered and accepted. Rome, Alexandria and Antioch stood out among competitors. Rome, with all the glamour of the Eternal City, declared its bishop the successor of St Peter, the prince of the Apostles, and of St Paul, over whose relics Constantine had built two famous basilicas. Its church claimed that its pure tradition was never sullied with heretical opinions. Antioch, the capital of the East, where the name of Christian was first given, also claimed St Peter as its first bishop. The learned church of Alexandria, the capital of Egypt, was said to have been founded by the evangelist St Mark, the disciple of St Peter, and in secular matters the corn-supply and the artistic productions which went to Rome had long bound it closely to the centre of the Empire. While the influence of other sees depended more on the personality of a particular bishop during his life, Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria gave pre-eminence to each temporary occupant, and how much they owed to their secular standing was shown by the swift rise of the New Rome, Constantinople, to an equal rank.




In traversing the catalogue of the characteristics and the weaknesses of the Tate classical Roman Empire, it is a hard task to give a harmonious picture in which the lights and shades should fall in a just proportion, and in their variety and detail should form a whole and provide some reasonable estimate of the reasons why the Eastern half of the Empire survived for long centuries and the Western half broke up under barbarian conquerors and descended to a lower stage of civilization. Stress may be rightly laid on the share of ‘contingency’, the chance of certain events which drew a long train of consequences after them. The Empire, terribly exhausted by plague and civil war in the third century after Christ, was exposed to the violent pressure of barbaric invasions, which in their turn were due to external developments partly caused by events in the distant East and wholly, wherever they happened, outside Roman control. The Empire was temporarily saved by a succession of most able rulers, but the very means, the rigid centralized organization which they found necessary for survival, were themselves an evil, and time was never given in the West, though it was in the East, for their full effect and at least partial transmutation for the better. But while ‘contingencies’ may give us the deciding immediate impulses to what actually happened, they cannot tell us what would have occurred without them, nor can they throw light on the fundamental state of things which made them so effectual. It may be suggested that the Roman Empire and ‘Ancient’ classical civilization was suffering from senescence and spiritual exhaustion in its polity, in its ideas and culture, in the lack of depth in its contact with the masses of the population, into which it was ceasing to infiltrate, in the stagnant economic system which decayed in material wealth when increasing wealth was urgently needed. Able men in practical affairs abounded, but the rationalism of ancient thought was absent in literature and art, perhaps, too, one may say, in politics; how much the life of ancient, imaginative polytheism had vanished is obvious from the apathy with which the pagan majority accepted a malevolent toleration and then suppression from the Christian Emperors. Tolerated paganism, losing adherents day by day, was the religion of cultured honestiores for old times’ sake with Neo-Platonism as its intellectual backing, and of rude peasants still in awe of the gods of tilth and woodland. The self-administering city was largely an artificial structure west of the Alps, and where it was indigenous had lost its half-free character and therewith its vitality. Under the crushing burden of taxation and with the retrogression of trade, men had to be chained and forced to their occupations as a duty to the State. Universal compulsion succeeded and completed the demise of zeal. The swarming bureaucracy employed to keep the flagging Empire in action was oppressive, corrupt, wasteful, and unmanageable. The very strength of provincial, separatist feeling was a danger to the unity of the ecumenic Empire and therefore to be checked and feared. The most warlike provinces, such as Illyricum, had been depopulated; others, such as Italy, had been drained of their adventurous elements; and the result was that the army was largely made up of barbarian mercenaries or of half-barbarians settled as military tenants on the frontiers. The dangers of the system were immense, for the armies were the source of power, and it would not be long before barbarian generals, uneducated or half­educated, though surprisingly loyal, disposed of the Empire. It is true that this army was cheaper to maintain than the native volunteer, but its discipline and efficiency decayed with its barbarization, and its numbers, perhaps some 300,000 or 400,000 men in all, were in any case too few to protect the interminable frontier and hold back more powerful and more desperate foes.

If this were all, the Empire might have been expected to crumble any moment instead of experiencing a genuine revival under Constantine. But there were better symptoms too. There was still a great reservoir of human capacity in the Empire, men who could plan, act, and govern; there was still a population of hardy peasants and industrious townsmen. In the East there were wealthy, trading towns which had not lost their resilience under their burdens; the Asiatic provinces had suffered less than most others. There were well-chosen defensible frontiers with an elaborate system of fortification scientifically guarded. The Empire indeed, even in its evils, was a triumph of organization worthy of the civilized, ancient world. The Roman law, confusing as might be its sources and its local variants, was a common possession of the citizens, binding the Empire together by its civilized excellence. And the sense of unity and pride in being Roman, a member of the one truly civilized society with its overwhelming prestige, was strong still, if passively obedient. Given time to recuperate, given a faith to revivify men’s trust in themselves and devotion to a cause, given, too, a contraction of the frontiers able to convert provincial preferences into an imperial patriotism which should be identical with a fervently held imperial religion, given in fact what happened in the East and was cut short prematurely in the West, the Empire and its civilization could be preserved and renovated, but not, as its history showed, be rejuvenated. The weight of the past was too oppressive for more than a stabilized vitality.




The map of the Roman Empire reveals one of its major misfortunes, that save on a part of the Atlantic seaboard it was encircled by a ring of actual or potential foes. In Africa the plundering Moorish tribes of the Sahara demanded a frontier garrison at the least; if that was depleted, their inroads meant loss of territory, for they would be joined by provincial Moors, little more civilized than themselves. The Nubians of Ethiopia were indeed inoffensive, and the disunited Arabs across the Red Sea were as yet no danger, while their northern tribes along the Syrian frontier were useful, if predatory, allies. But the great oriental monarchy of Persia or Iran under the Sassanian dynasty was a rival empire and a most formidable enemy.

Sassanian Persia claimed to be, and indeed was, the heir of the Persian Empire of Cyrus and Darius, which had ruled Nearer Asia from the Aegean to the Indus centuries earlier. That eclectic empire had collected, added to, and continued the earlier civilizations, such as the Babylonian, within its area. But the Greek conquest by Alexander had intervened and spread over it a Hellenistic layer, percolating into the native population, deeply in Asia Minor and Syria, more superficially farther east. Then had begun a resurgence of the older culture, a reaction of orientalism, led at first by the Parthian dynasty of the Arsacids, which reconstituted the Iranian empire east of Mesopotamia. In 227 the Arsacids were overthrown and replaced by the vassal King of Persis (Persia proper), the Sassanian Ardashir (Artaxerxes) I. Thus the true Persians of the south recovered the leadership of Iran. But the change of dynasty did not merely mean a change in the particular province which held the hegemony in Iran. It meant a stronger central control: vassal kingships no longer turned the monarchy into a kind of federation. It meant a vividly conscious nationalism: far more than the Arsacids did the Sassanians feel themselves the heirs of Cyrus and the champions of Iran against the European power of Rome in a kind of competition for world dominion. Lastly, as was to happen to the Byzantine Empire, that nationalism was inspired and fortified by a national religion, Zoroastrianism. Though the Arsacids had been Zoroastrians, their zeal was pale beside that of the Sassanians who had begun as priests of the fire-temple of Istakhr. With the accession of Ardashir I a new energy was let loose. Fortunately for Rome, Sassanian Persia had ambitious and deadly foes in Central Asia, on the Oxus and towards the Indus, as well as in the West.

The religion of Zoroaster, or Mazdaism, as it was expounded in Sassanian times, was based on the strife of Ormazd, the good god who was to triumph, and Ahriman, the evil creator whose power and followers were to be resisted by the devout Zoroastrian until their eventual defeat. Only Ormazd and his subordinate deities were to be worshipped. Thus, in its dualism, the religion was essentially a monotheism with a lofty and intolerant doctrine of life and morals. But it was a religion both sacerdotal and ritualistic to a high degree. The priests or Magi were a power in the State. The worship of the sacred fires, the observance of ceremonial purity, the chanting by the Magi of the spell-like hymns of their later sacred books, the dread of polluting the holy elements of fire, earth, and water which led to the exposure of the dead to be eaten by birds of prey, all tended to prevent the expansion of Zoroastrianism outside its native Iran, and to make it a burden even there, although its dualistic cosmogony, borrowed by the eclectic theories of Mani (ob. 273) in his new religion of Manichaeism, found an easy way into both Europe and Asia in spite of persecution on all sides.

Sub-kings, when they existed, were merely highly titled governors; yet great noble families, with wide domains, were a power in Iran. The back­bone of the army consisted of the numerous lesser nobles, who in return for their fiefs formed the heavy mailed cavalry. They were splendid lancers and archers, and such deadly adversaries to the Roman legions that they were imitated in the regiments of cataphracts.

While the Sassanians drew their strength from Iran, the centre of admin­istration and commerce lay for geographical reasons outside Iran in could have more fostered a restless, warlike spirit among chiefs and followers. They produced the dynamic force which thrust the tribes on raids and wanderings. A successful warrior might become a chief; a chief was eager to increase his following and power by increasing his wealth and fame. The institution implied nearly continuous war, and war fostered the power, when it did not cause the appearance, of a central institution, the kingship of a whole tribe or sub-tribe. The majority of the chieftains of a tribe came of families already recognized as noble, but among them there was usually a pre-eminently noble family, which claimed descent from the gods, and from whose members alone the tribal king, if he was desired, could rightly be elected. The oldest of these kingships possibly originated from priest­hoods of ancient fertility cults, but the effective cause of the election of a king among the migrating tribes was the need of unity of command in war. Most of the tribes adopted permanent kingship sooner or later, and the strong feeling that only the race of divine descent could rightfully occupy the throne had, even among Christians, important political consequences. If the privileged family became extinct, tribal cohesion was seriously damaged: any great noble felt he had an equal right to reign with the successful competitor. Loyalty and common action gave way to rebellion and treason. On the other hand, the continued existence of the acknowledged royal house, even in decadence and civil strife, gave a concrete embodiment of tribal unity and common tradition which appealed to a barbaric age.

The god from whom the royal families usually traced their descent was Woden (Odin), the war-god and wily magician, whose character expressed the qualities of the war-chief united to the priest of a magic ritual. It would appear that the nobles and their followers were specially devoted to his worship. Among them, later at any rate in Scandinavia, he was exalted as the Allfather, whose mantle was the starry sky, and who had learnt the secrets of the Fates. He was the death-dealing god who slew his own favourites, the god of the fighting hero in battle and feasting in hall, the god of spells and the lays in which the warriors’ deeds were celebrated. Beside him was the plain war-god Tiu (Tyr), somewhat, it seems, outshone by his cunning compeer. Of wider attributes, though warlike also, was Thunor (Thor), the thunder-god of farmers and of lawful possession. Dimmer gods and goddesses of primeval fertility existed besides these three, though lessened in honour, not to mention the minor spirits of soil and water, spring and woodland. The impression is given of a natural polytheism changing under the influence of the warlike migrations and ill fitted to resist a consistent, stable religion presented with all the glamour of higher civilization. But the ethos which it produced survived it.

The Germanic tribes in the fourth century fell into three main divisions; the Scandinavians, whose activities were barely observable in the back­ground, the West Germans, and the East Germans. The two latter were roughly divided by the river Elbe, and although possessing much in common, were markedly distinct in their tribal habits and destiny. The West Germans between the Rhine and Elbe were, so to say, taking root by now in their territories; they were expansionist rather than migratory; only on the coast did their colonists migrating across the sea slowly lose touch with their former homes. The East Germans, between the Elbe, the Baltic, the Vistula and the Black Sea, were completely migratory, ready to change their habitations entirely in search of richer lands; it was they who really broke down the fabric of the Western Empire in their wanderings and by the foundation of their transitory states.

The most numerous of the East Germanic peoples was that of the Goths, who had crossed, like most of their fellows, from Scandinavia to the opposite coast of the Baltic some centuries before. Thence, soon after 200 they had moved south-east to the steppe-land north of the Black Sea, where they had adopted the nomadic life of the region and soon became the most pressing danger of the Empire. Under their king, Kniwa, they had ravaged the Balkans and destroyed (251) the Emperor Decius and his army. Eighteen years later they received a crushing defeat from the Emperor Claudius Gothicus near Naissus (Nish), which kept them from more than passing raids for several generations, but Illyricum was fatally exhausted by their ravages. Constantine himself had to intervene in 331-2 to repel a Gothic invasion of Moesia. Meantime they engaged in intertribal wars which accentuated their divisions. About 300 their eastern tribe, the Greutungi or Ostrogoths, under a king, held the steppes between the rivers Dniester and Don with a wide supremacy over their neighbours. The Tervingi or Visigoths occupied the steppe and forest between the Dniester and the Danube; they seem to have lacked a king. In modern Transylvania were settled the allied, less active, tribe of the Gepids, while on the Sea of Azov was a fraction of the much scattered tribe of the Heruli, by all accounts the most savage of these Teutonic stocks. Between the Gepids and the Danube, there appeared in Constantine’s last years a part of another East Germanic tribe, the Asding Vandals, who drove out the older inhabitants; the other principal Vandal tribe, the Silings, were settled in modern Silesia, which retains their name.

It is easier to say where the lesser East Germanic tribes had been than where their main branches were in the time of Constantine. The Rugians had been on the Baltic and have left their name in the island of Rugen; they were now, perhaps, north of the Carpathians with the Sciri and part of the Heruli. The Langobards had been on the lower Elbe, where the Bardengau long preserved their memory; now they, too, were somewhere north of the Erzgebirge. The Burgundians, some of whom had appeared on the Don, have left traces of themselves in the island of Bornholm (Burgundarholm) in the Baltic; they had been between the rivers Oder and Vistula; lately they had forced their way westward and were now settled on the river Main and the adjacent Rhineland, pressing earlier invaders farther south.

A more permanent, though not motionless, picture is presented by the West Germans. The Marcomanni and the Quadi, both of the group of tribes known as Suevi, kept their seats in modern Bohemia and Moravia respectively, whence they raided the Empire across the Danube. North­west of them the Thuringians, the ancient Hermunduri, possessed the present Thuringia with wider extension to south and north. Far more enterprising was the recent confederacy of the Alemanni, a mixture, as their name implies, of several clans, among whom the latest come were the Suevic Semnones from beyond the Elbe, who eventually provided an alternative name, Swabia, to Alemannia. The confederacy was in bitter enmity with Rome. The Alemanni were old raiders of Gaul. Driven from the Main by the Burgundians, they had occupied the once Roman territory of the Agri Decumates (in modern Baden and Wurttemberg) and were now pressing furiously on the Roman frontiers of the upper Rhine and upper Danube. North of them along the east bank of the Rhine had arisen another loose confederacy also with a new name, the Franks, composed of tribes long settled there, such as the Sugambri, Chamavi, Chatti, Chattoarii, with perhaps some reinforcement fiom defeated tribes, like the Chauci, moving west. Both Franks and Alemanni were ruled by kinglets (gau- kings) who were not mere chieftains. Further north again, in the coastal marshlands of modern Holland and Hanover, dwelt the Frisians on their terpen or artificial hillocks, where they had been for centuries. Although they had slowly spread over a greater area, the Frisians made no collective conquests; but some are found taking a part in the raids of other tribes. East of the Frisians and Franks were the fierce group of Saxons, the men of the cutlass, a lax confederation whose leading people, the Saxons proper, had spread from Holstein beyond the Elbe, which they still retained; the class of half-free laten, like the liti of the Franks and Frisians, presumably was made up of the remnants of conquered tribes, such as the Chauci. Whether marshmen on the coast or heath-dwellers inland, the Saxons took readily to the sea and were formidable pirates who plundered the coasts of Britain and Gaul. They were much resembled in dialect and habits by the kindred tribe of Angles, who inhabited the peninsular modern Slesvig to the north, but the Angles, unlike the Saxons, seem to have possessed a kingship. North again, the peninsula of Jutland was or had been held in part probably by the Jutes, while the adjacent islands were already occupied by the Danes from Scandinavia. All these coastland tribes were increasing in numbers; they jostled, pressed upon, and allied with one another, broke up and united; all were seafarers, and their migratory instinct led them over seas familiar to them by trade and piracy. Though not impervious to Roman and oriental influences, their barbaric culture was in essentials homegrown. Their religion and their lays and legends expressed the turmoil, the exploits and hardy cunning of their lives, their ‘Heroic Age’.




Equally hostile to the Empire, but less dangerous because of their narrower and isolated zone of attack, were the Picts and Scots of the British Isles. Both invaders had escaped the Roman conquest and retained their barbaric tribalism and culture; they too, were in their ‘Heroic Age’. The Picts or ‘painted (tattooed) people’ were the tribes to the north of the Forth who had never been annexed to the Empire. Possibly they were already coalescing into the loose tribal kingdom of Alban. Their southerly division certainly spoke a Celtic Brythonic dialect akin to ancient Welsh; their northerly members round the Moray Firth, although eminent specialists claim them as Brythonic, are of more dubious origin, and some of their royal names and the ‘Pictish succession’ of their kings, which was not patriarchal but descended through females, suggest that they were, partially, of non-Celtic speech and customs. In any case both divisions assailed their more civilized British neighbours by land and sea. The Scots, although like other peoples of mingled race, were more homogeneous in speech and institutions. They were the Celtic tribes of Ireland, speaking the Goidelic branch of the Celtic languages, the ancestor of modern Gaelic, and organized in clans of kindreds under the rule of patriarchal chiefs. Their civilization much resembled that of the Britons four centuries earlier. Their paganism exhibited a rich mythology, and they were accumulating a store of mythic and historic tales, the substance of which is partly preserved in later lays. They too were tending to coalesce in loosely federate kingdoms and to employ their surplus energies in sea-raids on Roman Britain.

From the present we turn to the future enemies of the Empire. Only a cursory mention need as yet be made of the Slavs, known to their German neighbours as Wends. These prolific tribes, speaking a conservative branch of the Indo-European group of languages, were steadily spreading from their centre of dispersion, the modern Polesia, in and around the Pripet marshes; westward they had reached the Vistula and perhaps the Oder and its mouth on the Baltic, as these lands were evacuated by the East Germans. Northward they were extending towards Novgorod, but were held back by the still more conservative Indo-European Balts in the forests and marshes of Lithuania and Prussia proper. Southward they were roughly bounded by the grass steppes of the modern Ukraine. Deficient in organization and living in their villages under a simple patriarchal system, they were a ready prey to aggressive neighbours such as the Ostrogoths, and their vegetarian diet has been attributed to the impossibility of retaining herds amid their plundering enemies. They were barely known to the Romans.


Far more potentially dangerous and destructive near and far were the nomad horsemen of the vast steppes of Central Asia and south-east Europe, ranging from the mouth of the Danube to the Pacific Ocean, and to some extent divided by the mountain mass north of the Pamirs. They were by no means all of the same race or group of languages, for much of their life and customs was imposed by their habitat, and intermixture of blood by conquest or alliance was common. The Goths during their residence in the Ukraine took up in some measure nomad ways; the blond Alans between the Don, the Volga, and Mount Caucasus were Iranian in speech and partly in blood, and remnants of other Iranian nomads, not to mention descendants of captive women and slaves, were no doubt absorbed into new-coming tribes from the East. But the main and typical mass of the nomads east of the Volga belonged to the yellow Ural-Altaian race which had peopled the eastern steppes from time immemorial. Their languages, in spite of their variety, were of the same group, and their physique and character were all but identical. The Ural-Altaian, or Mongolian as he is often called, was thick set and wiry, but soon corpulent, and bandy legged; his hair was straight and black, and the beard was scanty; his cheek-bones were high and his eyes slanted upward and outward, the lids showing the ‘Mongolian fold’. To other peoples he seemed excessively ugly, and his ferocity deepened the shades. Fearless, enduring, and cruel, he appeared everywhere as a ruthless destroyer, a heartless and incessant plunderer and slave-taker, and, until long intermixture had changed his racial characteristics, incapable of a higher civilization than the simple habits prescribed by the steppes.

Those habits were due to the necessities of a horseman, hunter, and sheepmaster, who changed his camping ground yearly from the winter­pastures of the south or sheltered valleys, burnt up in the hot weather, to the summer-pastures of the north or the uplands, frozen when the cold set in. The distance covered between them might be anything up to 1000 miles, and over this the nomads rode on their horses, their best wealth, famous for their endurance and speed. The horse conditioned their whole existence. Their favourite food was kumiz, fermented mare’s milk. The hours they did not pass in their felt tents were spent on horseback. Their riding and archery were superb, and their ubiquity and elusiveness in war exaggerated their numbers and wore down resistance in a slower foe. It was hard to bring them to close quarters in battle, until they saw their opponents exhausted: their feigned flights proved the most effective tactics; they were never more dangerous than when they tempted pursuit.

Their invasions were partly the result of an overflowing population, and they were allured by the wealth of settled, agricultural races around them; but still more important were migrations due to wars among themselves. One collection of tribes would drive out another from the best pastures. Those of the conquered who did not submit to the victors migrated to treat more distant tribes in the same way. The process ended in an attack on the settled, civilized peoples beyond the steppes. The accumulation of large hordes of invaders was made easier by the elementary organization of the Ural-Altaians. A few families under a patriarchal rule formed a camp, a few camps a clan, a few clans a tribe, all very loosely held together. It would happen that under an able leader tribes would gather in a horde, clans of different tribes would form new combinations and a new but temporary people would arise and conquer. There is a probability that some of the tribes on the frontier of China, whose name the Chinese transcribed as Hiung-nu, retreated westward and passed, doubtless with fresh recruits and with losses on the route, to the steppes east of the Caspian Sea, where they appeared as the Huns. In any case they were a horde hitherto unknown to westerners and set in motion by events farther east. Distant, incalculable upheavals had prepared a revolution in Europe.

The paganism of the nomads had but little advanced beyond a belief in the numberless spirits, good and ill, of earth, water, and air, who could be propitiated and controlled by offerings and magical ritual. Among them the spirits of the dead held a prominent place in the religion of their living kinsmen, and ancestor-worship might be described as their chief cult. But superior creative spirits also appeared in their cosmogony, even perhaps an originating god of heaven. The ancient sword, however, which their king Attila worshipped, was rather the habitation or symbol of his tutelary spirit of war.

Although so barbaric, the Ural-Altaians were not without an art and culture which they shared with and partly borrowed from the old nomad Iranian art of the western steppes. This art, preponderantly the work of the smith, had received potent influences from the Greeks, the Persians, and the Chinese, but it had absorbed and transformed them according to its own aesthetic tendencies. Vigorous, fierce, but stylized animal forms, blended into spirals and volutes for decoration, inlaid enamels of bright colours, these ornamented their weapons, clothing, armour, and utensils. The style was barbaric but impressive; it spread not only with the nomads but to other receptive peoples. Its influence can be traced among the most westerly Germanic and Celtic tribes.

It is very evident that neither Moor nor Persian, neither German nor Celt required external pressure to induce them to invade the Roman Empire. They saw there wealth, fertility, and civilization which were irresistibly attractive. Persia was an expanding monarchy. German and Celt were prolific barbarians little inclined to find room by forest clearance or more laborious agriculture. Their institutions, such as the chief with his sworn followers, and their whole ethos with its glorification of warlike adventure, impelled them to gain fame, land, and wealth by the sword. The Empire had held them back by main force for centuries. Now the Empire was weakened in cohesion, population and morale; it was depending more and more on hired levies from the barbarians themselves. Resistance grew more and more exhausting and difficult, and then, as we shall see, the barbarians were in their turn thrust forward by the hordes from Asia. It is little wonder that the frontiers were permanently broken, and that the overtasked, more straggling western half of the Empire was submerged, while the eastern half with its fortunate capital survived. The sea, which divided the Balkans from Asia Minor made it less vulnerable from the north, and the Persians had their own eastern frontier to protect against the nomads. They, too, were obliged to fight on two fronts.




The chief external dangers to the Roman Empire lay on three frontiers, those of Persia, the Danube and the Rhine, and the course of the struggle on each frontier is clearest when told consecutively. But the three theatres interacted on one another; a defeat on the Rhine might divert or withhold sorely needed troops from the Persian war: the Roman armies and revenues were not sufficient for all the calls upon them. Dynastic questions, too, and rivalries for the throne affected the Empire’s government and defence beyond any group of provinces. There was a contest between the hereditary, dynastic principle, which appealed to men longing for peace and order, and the elective principle inherent in the constitution, which allured the mutinous soldiers of localized armies and the private ambitions of their discontented, distrusted generals. The effects of rebellion could not be localized in fact, although the narrative may have to separate civil wars according to their geographical scene. None the less, as the weightiest and most critical events in each period fall in the range of a particular frontier, some continuity may be observed. The first in order of time may be described in connexion with the Persian war.

While the genius of Constantine, his capacity as a general and ruler, his insight into the world before him, the amazing, sustained audacity of his decisions, stand out consistently, his character exhibits conflicting traits, which have led to very diverse interpretations. Contemporary dishonest panegyric and ill-informed malicious detraction obscure his portrait. The practical shrewd veteran, chaste and humane, degenerated into an elderly fop, devoted to the new politic pomp of the throne, and led by his venal and corrupt entourage of eunuchs and sycophants who fleeced his subjects. It was partly the penalty of an Asiatic secluded despotism, but perhaps the wear and tear of a hectic career had left scars on the mind. He was capable of a mystic enthusiasm which sustained his self-confidence, but made him more liable to bursts of imperious anger; moreover a rational explanation of irrational acts is not to be expected when the acts themselves are scantly known. There was in him as in so many of his successors a strain of savagery. After all they were half-civilized, and the degrading amphitheatre had long been brutalizing the Roman world.

It seems that Constantine was strongly attached to the dynastic principle. The Empire was too vast and centralized to be governed for long by a single man. The system of imperial partners, hastily allied by political marriages, had proved a complete failure; close blood-relationship within the Flavian house offered a better chance of harmony. Yet in 326 Constantine put to death his eldest and promising son Crispus and his wife the Empress Fausta. There may have been mere family discord, for Fausta is accused of contriving the death of her stepson Crispus, or perhaps there was a real plot, or the Emperor may have been egged on to a fever of suspicion and jealousy. His subsequent arrangements show that he hoped for concord and collaboration within the imperial house. His three sons by Fausta were carefully bred to rule, and were given shares of the Empire as Caesars. Constantine II, the eldest, was put in charge of the West beyond the Alps; Constans, the youngest, of the centre with Italy and Illyricum; Constantius II of the East; while two nephews, Delmatius and Hanniballianus, were to rule the lower Danube frontier and north-east Asia Minor respectively, the latter with the oriental title of King of Kings, which suggests a hoped-for expansion eastwards. But scarcely had Constantine breathed his last at Nicomedia in 337, after a baptism more than usually delayed, when the scheme broke down. The soldiers of the army of the East massacred the nephews, brothers, and the hated chief minister of Constantine, only leaving alive two children, Gallus and Julian: none but the sons of the Emperor should rule.

The Persian war had begun. Shapur II had already driven out the Armenian King Arsaces and had vainly besieged the frontier town of Nisibis. Constantius II restored Arsaces, but adopted for years a defensive policy, punctuated by a victory near Singara. His main work was to reform the Eastern army. Henceforward the cataphracts, the heavy mailed cavalry on the Persian model, were the chief arm of the East Roman forces. Not till 359 did Shapur win a dear success by the capture of the key town of Amida (Diarbakr) on the Tigris, and Constantius prepare for more decisive action in the desultory war.

Events within the Empire had held his hands so long. In 340 Constantine II, the senior Augustus, attempted to dispossess the young Constans, but perished in an ambuscade near Aquileia. The valiant Constans took over his brother’s lands without resistance, and proved himself an untiring defender of his frontiers until his vices and misgovernment led to a revolt of the Gallic troops and his murder (350). The old days seemed coming back, for the usurper accepted by the troops was a soldier, Magnentius, of German extraction. Italy and Africa submitted to him, and the army of Illyricum was only kept from full revolt by the elevation to the Empire of its commander, Vetranio, in collusion with Constantius. Fortunately the Persians once again failed to take Nisibis, so that Constantius could move westwards. In a dramatic scene before the armies Vetranio abdicated, and Constantius could advance to inflict a crushing defeat (351) on Magnentius at Mursa (Esseg or Osijek) on the Drave. The cataphracts decisively proved their superiority as a fighting arm over the Gallic legions, but the loss of some 54,000 men in this internecine struggle weakened the Empire’s defensive forces for years. The usurper was not driven to suicide in Gaul till 353.

His brother’s murder, the usurpation by a half-barbarian soldier, and his own childlessness forced on Constantius the problem of the succession and the harmony of the Empire. In 351 he called his elder cousin Gallus from seclusion and made him Caesar with Antioch for his residence and the East for his sphere of government. The choice was unfortunate: the bloodthirsty Caesar exercised a reign of terror without compensating ability, and his wife Constantina, the Emperor’s sister, made his tyranny worse. He became a danger to the Empire. Constantius’ remedy was to invite him to his presence in Italy, where he was tried and beheaded (354). There was now only one Flavian left, Julian, the half-brother of Gallus, and to him the Emperor turned after long years of suspicion and neglect. Both were natural. Julian’s father had been murdered in the massacre of 337 with Constantius’ assent; his half-brother had just been executed; and Julian’s tastes and occupations were studious and literary. His sympathy for paganism was as yet unknown. While he had inherited the energy of the Flavians, his upright, kindly temper stood in contrast to the fierce passions of his cousins and may have been derived from his mother’s family, the Anicians, the most illustrious of the older senatorial houses. Constantius, however, in spite of the dissuasions of his eunuch favourites, appointed his cousin Caesar, gave him a sister to wife, and sent him to Gaul. Julian’s success in administration and war surpassed the Emperor’s hopes, and aroused the suspicions which he was always prone to adopt and which were fanned by jealous or corrupt officials and courtiers. He was already estranged when the revival of the Persian war and the loss of Amida gave him the opportunity to weaken his too popular Caesar.

More troops were urgently needed in the East for a major campaign, and Constantius sent the fatal order—not to Julian but to subordinates—that the pick of the Gallic army should march to Asia. Julian prepared to obey, but the order was hated by the soldiers and they almost forced him to accept the style of Augustus at Paris (360). This was rebellion, which Julian attempted to cover by asking for recognition from the senior Augustus. Constantius, whose sense of duty detained him and his army in the East on the frontier, replied by demanding abdication and submission. A compromise became impossible, and Julian took the plunge into civil war before the Eastern army could advance against him. By rapid and risky converging movements through Rhaetia and North Italy, he first seized the key-city of Sirmium (Mitrovitsa) among the marshes on the Save and then the pass of Succi (Trajan’s Gate, Troyanova Vrata), which com­manded the ascent from the Thracian plain to the Haemus range. The threat could not be neglected, and Constantius started from Syria to oppose it. On the way he died in Cilicia in November 361. The Empire fell unresisting to his cousin. A grim, Dantesque face looks from the statue of Constantius II. If not a great or attractive ruler, he was no weakling; he possessed the tireless energy of his house; he knew how to exact obedience from the tried ministers and generals he promoted; and he felt deeply his responsibility for the safety of the Empire. Himself no brilliant general, he improved the efficiency of the army by his changes. But his merits were vitiated by his intolerance of opposition and his fear of treason, which led him to indiscriminate, cruel injustice and made him a persecuting theologian. He distrusted eminent ability, and listened easily to sycophants who used his favour for extortion and oppression. ‘He had much influence’, it was said, ‘with Eusebius’, the eunuch who was his chief chamberlain. This was the resource of a second-rate prince to whom the possession of high talents meant a potential rebel, and the ineligibility of a eunuch was a recommendation. The strict separation of military and civil commands was a safeguard, but even so the untrustworthiness of Roman-born generals was a permanent disease of the Empire.

The pagan reaction of Julian, like the Christian proselytizing zeal of his predecessor, must be left to the appropriate chapter. In external affairs, during a temporary lull in the West, Julian was free to devote himself to the Persian war in the vain hope of giving a lasting check to Persian aggression. In 363 he assembled his mobile army, 65,000 men—a revealing figure—including the Gallic legions, in Syria, sent a division due east to hold Mesopotamia, and himself struck deep southwards along the Euphrates to capture the capital, Ctesiphon, and paralyse the enemy. In spite of the flooding of central Iraq by the Persians, who cut the canals, Julian reached and crossed the Tigris, but he was in no condition to assault the city: retreat up the eastern bank of the Tigris was the only resource. The northwards march in the heat of summer, through country wasted by Shapur’s order, harassed by the swarms of the Persian heavy and light cavalry, was arduous. Julian’s plans had miscarried. Shapur was a different foe from the haphazard German chiefs he knew and he was forced to fight at a disadvantage. It may be that he had hoped for a diversion from Arsaces of Armenia, who remained prudently neutral; and the Mesopotamian division probably hardly knew their Emperor’s whereabouts. The final blow was a mortal wound to Julian himself on 26 June 363, which deprived his men of a resolute and inspiring leader. The new Emperor, elected by them almost by chance on the extinction of the Flavian house, was the captain of the guard, the Christian Jovian, whose delays rendered an escape that was difficult impossible. At Dura he accepted the ‘shameful peace’ offered by the Persians as the price of a safe retreat. Shapur’s terms were obviously devised to secure a defensible strategic frontier. Singara and Nisibis, the two strong, loyal frontier towns, and the Kurdish provinces east of the Tigris which had been won by Galerius, were ceded to him; Armenia was to be left in the Persian sphere.

This was a peace which the Empire might and did accept as tolerable for the actual frontier, but Armenia as a Persian vassal opened a gate into Asia Minor and the Black Sea. Shapur’s endeavours to annex Armenia—he captured the temporizing Arsaces—and Caucasian Iberia and to convert them both to Mazdaism provoked Valens, Jovian’s successor in the East, to counter-measures; he was successful in Iberia and supported the Christian Armenians who won some victories, but he was called off to the Gothic war, and the death of the great Shapur (380) only partially softened the conflict. With his hands full in Europe, Theodosius the Great, Valens’ successor, was willing to agree to a compromise (387) with the then King of Persia, Shapur III. Four-fifths of Armenia became a vassal state of Persia under a Christian king; the remainder was left to the Empire, first as a vassal kingdom and finally as a province defended by the new city of Theodosiopolis. The Empire had at least barred the gate into Asia Minor, and in spite of subsequent rivalries which ended in Persarmenia being reduced to a Persian province, the frontier assumed a character of bickering permanence. Besides their gains under the compromise, the defence of their own eastern frontier no doubt made the kings of Persia more pacific towards the Empire.




While the defence of the Rhine frontier lacked the grandiose appearance of a conflict of great powers which characterized the Persian war, it was in essentials far more critical, nay disastrous, for the Empire, for it devastated the stronghold of the West; the loss of Gallic man-power, not to mention wealth, was not to be remedied. The evil had begun in the bad days before Diocletian, and Constantine the Great had won his early laurels through his crushing victories over Franks and Alemanni, so crushing and so bloody in reprisals that there was comparative peace on the Rhine till his death. He exposed two Frankish kinglets and a host of their followers to the wild beasts in the amphitheatre at Trier, for he was then still a pagan. But the depopulation of eastern Gaul was shown by the fact that his father Constantius I Chlorus had settled thousands of Franks and Alemanni as laeti, bound to military service, west of the Rhine, which meant steady Germanization and barbarization, while free Franks and Alemanni from beyond the Rhine flocked in as recruits for the field-army. The usurper Magnentius was a Frank by blood. These more peaceful years restored the Germans’ numbers, and Constans was obliged to repress the Franks in 341-2, but the disastrous civil war between Constantius II and the rebel Magnentius brought the usual consequences. The frontier garrisons were depleted, the field-army was moved away and decimated at Mursia, and Franks and Alemanni ranged plundering and slaying over Gaul. Though Constantius attacked the Alemanni, they remained in possession of Alsace, and the Salian Franks, a newly mentioned, perhaps newly formed, sub-tribe, crossed the lower Rhine and occupied Toxandria, which is now Brabant. Cologne fell to the Ripuarian Franks, a similar conglomeration on the middle Rhine. The Germanization of these regions became all but complete.

It was the Caesar Julian who with inadequate forces and disloyal colleagues had to meet this inundation. In brilliant campaigns (356-8) he cleared Gaul of the Alemanni, winning one decisive victory at Strasbourg, and quelled them in their homes beyond the Rhine. He recaptured Cologne from the Ripuarians, and expelled the Chamavi to their old home on the Yssel; but he was obliged to leave the Salians as foederati (vassal allies owing contingents of troops) in Toxandria. The Empire’s armour had here been pierced. A mild and just administration and the repression of extortion did something to heal the wounds of Gaul; so did the repatriation of 20,000 captives carried off by the Alemanni; the frontier defences were restored along the Rhine. But the province needed years of peace, which it did not get, and abundant armies, which were drawn off to the East. When Valentinian succeeded Jovian (364), he saw that a single ruler of the Empire was quite impossible. He left his brother Valens as Emperor in the securer East, and himself undertook the crucial task of defending the imperilled West.

The reign of Jovian had been as brief as it was inglorious. He died suddenly in Asia Minor in February 364. The careful choice that was made of his successor by the council at Nicaea shows that the needs of the Empire were well understood by them. They elected a Christian and a distinguished soldier. Valentinian I was the son of a Pannonian peasant, Gratian, who had entered the army and risen to high rank and wealth. His son had served in Gaul and was an officer in the imperial guards. His energy and soldierly qualities were conspicuous even among these Emperors from Illyricum, and his reign was occupied in the defence of the frontiers. But as a civil ruler he was less efficient. That the Emperor disliked men of birth and breeding and knew no Greek did little harm in the Latin West he ruled, yet it shows his lack of education in all but war. He tightened the regime of castes and the harsh centralization of the Empire in his endeavours to combat the evils of the time. But he could be hoodwinked by his corrupt entourage, and his wayward outbursts of despotic passion and cruelty were harmful to justice and good government. The wicked tyranny of Count Romanus in Africa escaped punishment and was redoubled in spite of complaints and commissions of inquiry, for he had friends at court; it was the honest accusers who were put to death.

Valentinian’s main preoccupations were with the defence of Gaul and Britain. In Gaul the Alemanni were the worst danger. They crossed the frozen Rhine at midwinter, defeated Roman generals, and spread desolation. At last in three victories Jovinus, master of the cavalry, drove them back. Valentinian was able to retaliate by wasting Alemannia, never so effectual a process, as the Germans could flee to the forests. None the less by 375 the Alemanni had been taught a lesson, and peace was arranged with their king Macrianus. The brigandage of uprooted peasants, which followed the raids and was the curse of Gaul, was sternly and ferociously repressed for a season. Meanwhile the Emperor refortified the Rhine frontier and overawed the Franks, whose recruits formed a valuable part of his army. When he was dead and news came of the war of Valens with the Goths, an invasion by the Alemannian tribe of the Lentienses reached no farther than Alsace, and was decisively routed by the Emperor Gratian at Argentaria, near Colmar (378).

It was in Valentinian’s reign that Britain suffered irremediable disaster. Events there and in Gaul reacted on one another. The rumour of invasions spread; the Romans were hard put to it to defend themselves on all sides, and it is the strongest testimony to Valentinian that he quenched for a time the wildfire of ubiquitous ravage. At the very opening of the century Constantius Chlorus had been obliged to undertake a major campaign against Picts, Scots, and Saxons and reorganize the defences of Britain, where he died (306). Besides restoring the Wall of Hadrian in the north against the Picts, he instituted fortifications on the coast against the Saxons under an officer styled significantly the Count of the Saxon Shore. Coast castles, serving as bases for the old-established and enlarged fleet, were built from the Wash to the Isle of Wight. Other harbour forts were built on the Irish Sea. The command of the bulk of the garrison belonged to the Duke of the Britains stationed at York. Britain in fact was now all frontier. But the new system worked, and, although Constans in 342 had to intervene in person, the raids were kept within bounds. But from Julian’s death, or even earlier, they assumed dangerous proportions. Picts, Scots, Saxons, and, it is curious to note, Franks descended on the country from all sides. The villas of the landed proprietors began to be deserted as devastation went farther. The Franks must have been Salians in part, although at this time the Salians were mainly loyal foederati, but it is a legitimate conjecture that they were largely Jutes, whose traditions bring them from Jutland, yet whose culture and customs at a later date show a close connexion with Frisia and the Rhine. They may well have formed part of the Frankish conglomerate. In any case the situation of Britain was desperate: the Wall was lost, overrun by Scots from the west and Germans from the east, and the count and the duke were both slain in their defeat. In 368 Valentinian sent over his best general, Count Theodosius, to Britain, with picked troops as reinforcements. The tables were turned, the marauding bands intercepted, rounded up, and driven out; a mutiny was repressed, the Wall restored, and punitive raids carried out. The Saxon Shore was furnished with signal towers in Yorkshire, and a new province, Valentia, was created, perhaps in Wales, to keep settled invaders down. Yet the respite was transitory owing to the internal revolutions of the West.

The Roman provinces of Rhaetia, Noricum, and Pannonia under the Flavian dynasty enjoyed comparative peace from the barbarians across the upper Danube. Rhaetia served more as a Roman base against than as a victim of the Alemanni. Constantine the Great dealt so effectually with the Sarmatians, a Dacian tribe between the Danube and the Theiss, carrying off the majority of them to be peasant-soldiers in Pannonia, that the remnant were quiet neighbours at the close of his reign. The next generation, however, renewed the assault, and in 357-9 Constantius II crushed the Sarmatians and curbed the Suevic Quadi of modern Moravia. Valentinian’s fortifications, which he extended beyond the Danube in disregard of the treaty, provoked both Quadi and Sarmatians to fresh devastations. The Emperor’s reprisals were decisive, and the cowed barbarians came to beg for mercy at Brigetio not far from the southward bend of the Danube. At their appearance Valentinian in a transport of rage was struck by apoplexy (February 375). His death was a disaster for the Empire. It would have had worse immediate consequences had it not been for the amiable character of his son Gratian, whom he had associated (367) with him as Emperor of the West. The Illyrian army proclaimed Gratian’s step-brother Valentinian II, a child of six, their Emperor, and Gratian accepted his colleague in the spirit of an affectionate guardian. But in spite of soldierly qualities and success against marauding Franks and Vandals, who now were raiding across the Rhine, Gratian lost his hold on the armies. He neglected administration for sport, and his open preference for Alan mercenaries, if justified by their fighting qualities, lost him the devotion of the Gallic troops. This was to give an opening for the ruinous disease of mutiny and private ambition which afflicted the Empire. On the defeat and death of his uncle Valens by the Goths (378), Gratian made the admirable choice of a colleague to save the East in Theodosius the Great, but thereby the rivalry and hopes of another distinguished general, not of the imperial family, were aroused.

The Spaniard Maximus commanded in Britain, where the attacks of Picts and Scots were being renewed. He accepted his army’s proclamation of him as Augustus and sailed with it to Gaul in complete disregard of the island’s interests. The Gallic troops went over to him; the deserted Gratian was treacherously murdered at Lyons (August 383); and the usurper was acknowledged in Spain and Africa. Theodosius saved the Italian diocese for the young Valentinian II at the cost of recognizing Maximus. It was a hollow peace. Maximus tried in vain to trap the Italian Augustus into a meeting; Bauto the Frank held the Alpine passes against an attempt at invasion, while Theodosius prepared for war. Levies of men, principally barbarians, and extortion of money to pay them went on through both halves of the Empire. In 387 Maximus moved, and easily drove the feeble Valentinian II from Italy to Theodosius. The Eastern Emperor advanced through Illyricum. Three hard-fought battles, the last at Aquileia, achieved the overthrow of Maximus; he was captured and put to death (July 388), and his son Victor shared his fate in Gaul. There had been a manly energy in the rule of Maximus, who discarded the employment of eunuchs, which was lacking in the young Valentinian, now made sole Emperor of the West by the conqueror. He was an amiable second Gratian without experience or power, which was in the hands of a general, the Frankish Count Arbogast. In May 392 he was strangled in the night. Arbogast was ambitious, but he was a barbarian and dared not usurp the Empire. Instead he was king-maker of an imperial puppet, Eugenius, who had been his secretary, and who was in touch with the votaries of moribund paganism. In the war that followed Theodosius depended more on Gothic, Arbogast more on Frankish auxiliaries. The issue was decided in the battle of the river Frigidus (Vipao, Wippach) at the head of the Adriatic. Eugenius was executed; Arbogast committed suicide; and the victorious Theodosius united East and West for the last time till his death in 395.

The civil wars from the revolt of Maximus had dealt incurable and unnecessary wounds on the Western Empire. At their close it is evident that the mobile army was composed not only of barbarian levies but of barbarian tribal allies, foederati, fighting in their own fashion and under their own kinglets and chiefs. Not only that, but the highest commands in the army were held by barbarian generals, Bauto, Arbogast, Stilicho, who thus disposed of the fate of the Empire. Meanwhile, barbarian raiders, in the absence of the field-armies, were piercing the frontiers and laying waste the exhausted, dispeopled provinces. When Maximus left Britain the raids there redoubled. The Wall of Hadrian was finally deserted. The landowners fled from their villas even in the south. The diocese was sinking back into barbarism under assaults from all sides. This was the time when Niall of the Nine Hostages, High-king of Ireland (389-405), was the scourge of Britain and even of the Gallic coast. His power is obvious from his suzerainty of his own country. It was in these raids that the British boy, St Patrick, son of a decurion, was captured (389) in his father’s little villa and taken to slavery in north Ireland, whither he was to return years after as a missionary. At the same time Ripuarian Franks and Alemanni were crossing the Rhine into Gaul. Count Arbogast repelled them and retaliated and then levied them for the army which he was to lead against Theodosius. The danger on the frontier was undiminished when the Emperor died (395)




For many years the Flavian dynasty succeeded in maintaining a stable situation on the lower Danube. Constantine the Great was aided in the Black Sea against Ostrogoth aggression by the alliance of the Greek republic of Cherson in the Crimea. His eldest son and namesake inflicted a severe defeat on the Visigoths (332) when they invaded Moesia. The river fortifications were strengthened and a wall built across the Dobrudzha to the Black Sea, where the delta of the Danube did not provide a defensible line. But in the main peace prevailed. Ermanaric, the king of the Ostro­goths, famed in legend as Hermanrich, extended his suzerainty northwards, perhaps to the Baltic, and thus turned away from the Empire. The Visigoths seemed to be settling down under several chieftains. They were foederati of the Empire, and supplied troops under their own leaders at call in return for annual subsidies. Whether from their proximity to the Empire or the number of their Christian captives and serfs or from the decadence of their paganism in their wanderings, a momentous change was penetrating them, the adoption of Arian Christianity. But whatever sporadic Christians there may have been among the Goths, the apostle of the nation and through them of all the East German tribes was Wulfila (Ulfilas) (310—81). He belonged to a Cappadocian family which had been carried away captive in a Gothic raid, and it is significant that he was a Goth by language and ‘nationality’. As a boy he was a hostage in Constantinople, where c. 341 he was ordained bishop for the Goths by the Arian bishop Eusebius. For seven years he preached and organized Christianity among the Visigoths, gaining over large numbers to the Faith. But there was still a powerful heathen party led by one of the greatest chiefs, Athanaric, who conducted a fierce persecution in which those who would not worship the old gods were burnt alive. Wulfila himself with a considerable band took refuge in the Empire, where they were given by Constantius land in Moesia and were known as the Lesser Goths. But many Christians remained, and by degrees the whole tribe was converted. Nameless missionaries carried Christianity to the other East Germans, Ostrogoths, Gepids, Vandals, Heruli, and Burgundians, even to the West German Longobards; by 400 all had embraced the Arian faith. Part of this rapid conversion, which left the more settled West Germans as a whole untouched, was due to the genius of Wulfila, who provided his countrymen with a Christian written literature. He replaced their native script, the runes, which were only fitted for the briefest incised sentences, by a modification of the Greek alphabet with supplementary letters to express the sounds of the Gothic language, and he translated the Scriptures into Gothic. A manuscript of his New Testament, dating from the fifth or sixth century, still survives. In this way the elements of Christianity and Graeco-Roman civilization were acquired by the East Germans who ruined the Western Empire. The benefits of their conversion were real, if slow, but unhappily they were ardent Arians. Their heresy deepened the offence of their barbarism to their Catholic subjects, and made the gulf between the two peoples unbridgeable. Good relations between conquerors and conquered would have been difficult to create in any case; the hostility in religion made them impossible. But it was better than if the East Germans had remained incorrigible, unteachable heathens.

 Meanwhile the Visigoths had been tempted by its civil wars to attack the Empire. In 365 Procopius, a cousin of Julian, persecuted by Valens and a fugitive because of his kinship to the apostate, raised a revolt in Constantinople and gained the Balkans. He was only overthrown by the arrival of the eastern army from Syria (366). But he had called in Gothic aid, and Valens decided on a punitive war (367-9) across the Danube. He drove Athanaric into the Transylvanian mountains and enforced a peace. The first effect was civil war among the Visigoths, and fierce persecution of the Christians by Athanaric. But he lost ground, and Fritigern, who adopted Christianity, took the lead among the chiefs. Then came a cataclysm. The Huns started to move from the east of the Caspian Sea. In 372 they overthrew the Alans, most of whose remnants came fleeing west. Next came the turn of the Ostrogoths. They were broken by the Hunnic onslaught after a desperate resistance and subjected; the aged Ermanaric killed himself, and his son King Withimir was slain in battle. The Visigoths, too, were unable to resist. They were defeated under Athanaric in 375 on the bank of the Dniester. Athanaric withdrew to Transylvania shorn of most of his power; years after he took refuge in Constantinople and died there. But the greater part of the tribe fled under Fritigern and other chiefs to the Danube and clamoured for admission into the Empire. Valens decided to grant their petition on terms. It was a momentous decision to allow so numerous a people to pass the defences en masse. But there were wide vacant lands in Moesia, the Visigoths would provide admirable recruits for the army, and on a smaller scale the same policy had been followed without ill result. The Visigoths, too, were largely Christians, and were required to give up their arms. Once they were ferried tumultuously across the Danube, however, the arrangements broke down. The shameless extortion and corruption of the imperial officials, who kept them in semi­-starvation yet left them their arms in return for bribes, drove the barbarians to desperation. Brawls were inevitable. One occurred while Fritigem was entertained by Count Lupicinus at a feast in Marcianopolis, and the count ordered the massacre of such of the chief’s comitatus as were in the city. Fritigern escaped by a ruse, and the war began. The other Gothic chieftains joined him with their clans, as well as a part of the Ostrogoths with their boy-king Witheric. Not only Moesia, but the untouched province of Thrace south of the Haemus range was desolated and the inhabitants carried away captive. Yet the cities held out securely, and in open fighting the Roman troops at least held their own. The enemy, however, was too strong to be overcome by the forces at hand. Valens brought up the army from the eastern frontier, while his nephew Gratian sent detachments in aid and followed with his army from the West. By ill advice Valens, who had reached Adrianople, refused to wait for his nephew and offered battle on 9 August 378. He was completely out-manoeuvred by Fritigem. His cavalry were too weak against the Ostrogothic horsemen, his infantry were mishandled, and he himself fell with two-thirds of the Roman army. They had fought as well as ever, but incompetent leadership and the disadvantage of too weak a force of cavalry produced a major disaster. The Goths were now inside the frontier, the Balkans were still more dispeopled, and the regular army fatally depleted. The defeat of Adrianople is a landmark in the decline of the Roman Empire.

The Emperor Gratian did the best in his power to remedy the catastrophe. He summoned from retirement in Spain the most able general of the Empire, Theodosius, put him in command, and soon created him Emperor of the East. In view of the disloyalty of Roman generals this was a risky measure, and Theodosius had wrongs which he might have avenged. His father, Count Theodosius, after his success in Britain had subdued a serious Moorish revolt, but he had also revealed the crimes of Count Romanus and the miscarriage of justice that followed. This made him powerful enemies, who obtained his execution on the death of his master Valentinian (376). His son, already distinguished, had been disgraced at the same time. Now the son, Theodosius the Great, was called on to save the Empire. He did so as much by diplomacy as by arms and at great cost. He reformed the army, repelled the Goths from the siege of Thessalonica, his headquarters, drove back a fresh invasion of Ostrogoths at the Danube delta, and hemmed in the Visigoths in Moesia. But in the war they had devastated Macedonia and Thessaly, while the Ostrogoths and Alans invaded Pannonia. At last, with Fritigern dead, a treaty was made in 382. The Visigoths were settled as foederati in Moesia, and besides their obligations as self-governing vassals they supplied plentiful recruits to the Eastern army. A little earlier Gratian had adopted the same course with the Ostrogoths, who were given Pannonia. It was an unsatisfactory peace. The Danube had ceased to be a frontier; barbarian states were inside the Empire, providing much of its armed force, and many of the Goths were in favour of renewing the war and continuing their conquests. It was, in fact, only a respite. In 390, with the aid of Huns from beyond the Danube, Alaric led a part of the Visigoths to devastate Thrace and was not rounded up till 392. It is significant that the victorious general was Stilicho, a Vandal bred in the Roman service. By the end of Theodosius’ reign (395) the Roman generals were mostly barbarian mer­cenaries and the Roman armies largely composed of barbarian foederati.



When Constantine the Great took over the Eastern provinces of the Empire from the fallen Licinius, he was met by a controversy which threatened to cleave the unity of the Christian Church. It concerned the most fundamental of Christian beliefs, the divinity of Christ, and both as a convert and as a statesman the Emperor had every reason to desire that his instructors should agree on the basis of his new faith, and that the Church as a whole should continue to be a solid support for the throne and a cement for the Empire. Thus nothing could be more natural than that he should use all his influence to end the Arian schism.

The controversy arose from the difficulty of combining the divinity of Christ, the incarnate Logos, with the unity of God. Already in the third century Sabellius had stressed monotheism to the extent of declaring that the Logos was a function of God the Father rather than a separate Person, but his view had comparatively few adherents. The majority of Eastern Christians held firmly to the separate Person of the Redeemer without defining too plainly the sense in which the Father and the Son were the One God. The doctrine of Ari us, in which he had precursors, was that there was an eternity when the Son was not, that he had been begotten by a once lonely Creator, and that the Incarnation was the dwelling of the Logos in the human body of Christ. In his endeavour to be monotheistic, Arius taught the existence of a secondary, inferior God, whose humanity was merely physical. He was a respected presbyter of Alexandria, and his bishop Alexander vigorously opposed his theology. Arius was driven to Palestine, but though he was condemned by a small Council of bishops at Antioch (324), his partisans were numerous; he had crystallized a type of Christian thought by what seemed a simple explanation, if its ease was superficial, and although it made the worship of Christ as God almost contradictory to its monotheism. It might, too, be more congenial and seem more natural to recent converts from paganism, accustomed to a gradation of deities in existence, rank, and power. It certainly attracted the East Germans, as we have seen, when they were converted. But the opposition to it in the Graeco-Roman world was intense, and produced a more definite form of the counter-doctrine, which should not be either Sabellian or polytheistic. This asserted in terms that the Son was the co-eternal Logos of the Father and had taken on Himself human nature at the Incarnation.

It was now that Constantine intervened. He first vainly urged recon­ciliation on a basis of live and let live with an irreducible minimum in the divinity of the Redeemer, a policy to which he steadfastly adhered. Then he took control of the situation by summoning the proposed synod at Ancyra in Cappadocia to sit in his presence at Nicaea in Bithynia as an Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church. Some 300 bishops came at his call in 325. They were almost all Easterners, though deputies represented the Bishop of Rome, and a most important member was Bishop Hosius of Cordova, much in the Emperor’s confidence. Other leading figures were Arius himself, Bishop Marcellus of Ancyra, the Sabellian, Alexander of Alexandria and his deacon Athanasius, and the two Eusebiuses, the Bishop of Nicomedia and the learned Bishop of Caesarea, who belonged to the conservative, inclusive majority of the East. It was easy to agree in condemning the extreme opinions of Arianism and Sabellianism, but a common formula to unite the other parties was hard to reach. At last, under the Emperor’s influence, the Council devised and accepted with only two dissentients the original Nicene Creed. The Only-begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, was declared to be of the same substance, omoúsios, with the Father. The Council dissolved, leaving an indelible mark on Christian doctrine and government as well, for it had legislated in canons binding on the whole Church, besides formulating articles of faith in the creed which were to prove permanent. Constantine hoped that on its broad basis reunion and reconciliation of the disputants might take place.

He was prepared to enforce subscription to the new creed by banishing the recalcitrants, and even Arius subscribed at last. But the obstacles were greater than the practical Emperor thought. On the one hand, the definitely Nicene party, headed by Athanasius, now Bishop or Patriarch of Alexandria, insisted that the creed, with omoúsios, should be understood in their strict sense, and that Arius should not be forgiven without express ac­ceptance of his adversaries’ meaning. On the other, the conservatives of various shades, headed by Eusebius of Nicomedia, who feared Sabellianism most of all, distrusted the word omoúsios, and looked on Arius as a pardonable, too-precise extremist. They formed the wide, amorphous party of semi-Arians, whose difficulty was to find a common formula save by the addition of fresh anathemas on the solutions proposed. They began, however, by attacking the chief members of the Nicene party, and in 335 a Council at Tyre deposed Athanasius on trumped-up charges. The Patriarch appealed in person to Constantine, at first with success, but soon he was banished to Gaul, though no fresh Patriarch filled his see. At Tyre Arius had been readmitted to communion, just as the Emperor wished: his enemies rejoiced that he died suddenly the day before the formal ceremony.

 St Athanasius is the hero of the Arian controversy. A subtle Greek metaphysician and theologian, bred to the law, he was too ingenious a case-maker, but his grasp of principles and what they implied was profound, his courage and firmness were unshakable, his insight into men and affairs was piercing. His generosity of temper and his leadership gained him the devotion of the Egyptians and the respect of the outside world. With magnificent persistence he maintained and propagated the Nicene doctrine of the Incarnation against skilful opponents who had the Emperors on their side.

On the death of Constantine (337) Athanasius returned to his see. The new Eastern Emperor Constantius II was personally opposed to him; he had theological tastes and was easily influenced by court Arianizers. In 341 he expelled Athanasius and other bishops by force, and one new version of the creed after another was devised by Eastern synods. But now the West was being roused to the theological problem. Less metaphysical and less given to subtle distinctions than the East, the West venerated the Council of Nicaea and was content with its creed. Julius, the Bishop of Rome, gave the vast authority of his church to the support of Athanasius. The Emperor Constans, a sordid champion, demanded a new General Council. It met (343) in two discordant halves, the Westerns at Sardica (the modern Sofia) and the Easterns at Philippopolis. The Westerns under Hosius restored Athanasius, the Easterns under Stephen, Patriarch of Antioch, condemned him. But the victory was won for Sardica later, when Stephen was detected in an infamous plot to discredit the Western Bishop of Cologne on a mission to Antioch. In 346 Constantius was obliged to consent to the restoration of Athanasius.

The lull in the controversy, however, only lasted until Constantius became master of the West by the overthrow of Magnentius. From 353 he renewed the attack on Athanasius and the Nicene leaders by councils which acted under pressure. Hosius of Cordova was imprisoned; Liberius of Rome and Hilary of Poitiers were exiled, the one the head of the greatest of the churches, the other the best Western theologian. A surprise attack (356) was made by the soldiery on Athanasius, who barely escaped to a secret life as a fugitive for six years among the desert monks and the devout of Egypt. His rival Patriarch, George of Cappadocia, a dubious character, who had been a pork-contractor, was obliged to flee from the mob in a year or two.

Meantime changes were taking place in the anti-Nicene ranks. The moderates preferred the word omioúsios ‘of like substance’, to omoúsios ‘of the same substance’, but held to the eternity of the Logos who became incarnate. The real extremists were the utter Arians, Anomoeans, who denied even the likeness, and between these grew up a temporizing party, the Homoeans, who omitted the substance while asserting the likeness. It was the latter who enjoyed the vacillating support of Constantius. Ans the Homoeans won.

 At Constantinople in 360 a colourless Homoean creed (the fourth of Sirmium) was adopted under imperial pressure, and the moderate semi-Arian chiefs were sent into exile. But this decision had no effect in the West, where Arians and semi-Arians were few. In the East the sympathies of the moderate semi-Arians were becoming more Nicene and they were listening to friendly overtures from Athanasius. By contrast the Homoeans were definitely Arian in doctrine. When the Patriarch of Antioch, Meletius, preached a Nicene sermon, he was exiled and an Arian set in his stead.




The imperial support, not only of the Homoeans but of Christianity, was lost by the accession of the pagan Julian and by his attempt to put new life into the worship of the old gods. Julian had been brought up, mainly in seclusion, as a Christian and as an enthusiast for the literature of ancient Hellas. The Arianism in which he was bred had scant attractions for him; paganism to him was Hellenism, and at Nicomedia he willingly fell under the influence of a cultured pagan circle which gathered round the great rhetorician and teacher Libanius. In a credulous age Julian was outstripped by none in credulity. The Neo-Platonism of the time was thick with prodigies and marvellous stances, which found him an eager believer. He formed an admiring friendship with the impressive philosophic charlatan, Maximus. He himself was guided by divine voices. Iamblichus seemed to him to have written the final truths of religion. His new pagan education was completed in the schools of Athens, which were the stronghold of the ancient gods. There he became an initiate of the Eleusinian mysteries. Doubtless the secrecy of his conversion and the hypocrisy which as an outward Christian he was bound to practise account in part for the neurotic and highly strung character of Julian. It is to his credit that he showed a humanity, uprightness and chastity rare in the declining Empire. If he was vain and pedantic, he was neither treacherous nor cruel in his pagan fanaticism. He did not have time to develop the ruthless spleen of despotism.

It was not till Julian rebelled against Constantius that he could reveal his true religion as a proselytizing pagan determined to revivify the worship of the gods. His Gallic troops were largely heathen, and from the moment when he reached Sirmium in 361 he spared no pains to increase their fervour and gain over apostates like himself, if less sincere, in the army, court, and administration. No great success attended his efforts at conversion, but the purging of the corrupt civil service and the dispersal of the swarm of court menials and officials which the cult of oriental despotism had fostered gave opportunities for the promotion of pagans, who were numerous in the educated classes. Julian, whose incessant activity and literary tastes allowed him to be a voluminous author, endeavoured to reanimate the pagans and confound the Christians by his polemic writings. They had a vivacious, witty brilliance. As we might expect from the spirit of the age, they are better in criticism and learning than in constructive or penetrating thought. Intended to convince, their appeal was to the Neo­Platonic enthusiast, not to his opponents.

Julian trusted most of all to the exercise of his authority as Pontifex Maximus, high priest of the ancient religion, backed by his absolute power as Emperor. This office had been from the time of Augustus one of the constituent elements of the imperial regime, and had continued to be held by Constantine and his sons, who had employed deputies for its religious functions. Their attitude to paganism had been one of unfriendly toleration. The best statues of the gods were taken to adorn Christian Constantinople. Temples had been despoiled of their lands and revenues for the benefit of court favourites or of Christian churches. The lapse of temple services and sacrifices, as pagan devotion decayed, was encouraged. The temples themselves, in some parts, were allowed to be destroyed or converted to other uses. Constantius II had even removed the altar of Victory from the Senate-house when he visited Rome, in spite of the pagan majority in the Senate (357). But in general the maintenance of the pagan cults had been left to depend on the varying zeal of local magistrates and the proportion of pagans in the population. Julian now set out to use his powers to restore everywhere the rites and endowments of the temples, to rekindle devotion to them, and to reorganize the disconnected cults of the whole amorphous assemblage of gods, Greek, Roman, barbaric, and oriental, as a state church of paganism. He saw the strength that Christianity possessed in its unity and organization, and imitated them in his new creation. But the philosophic, doctrinal basis of his pagan church was to be Neo-Platonic monotheism with its emanations, expressed in the devout worship of the multitudinous departmental gods of tradition. All the temples were to be reopened and all cults zealously performed, however forgotten. The Empire smoked with sacrifices and hecatombs. Julian himself was tireless in his participation in public worship. The priests were to be virtuous and professional; they were even to preach. The provinces were to have their metropolitans, the cities their high priests in an orderly hierarchy. They should organize charitable relief for the religious poor. It is evident how the Emperor took his lesson from the Christianity he hated and hoped to outvie.

But the appeal showed no signs of success. It not only failed with the Christians, who might, as in Cappadocia, embrace the whole population, but it did not inspire the pagans beyond a small circle of Neo-Platonists. The cultured conservatives had no wish to see their ancestral usages brigaded into a religion of enthusiasm. If they wished for religious consolation and visionary ecstasy, they sought them as initiates in the secret rites of the mystery religions of Mithras or Isis or the like, in which Julian himself was an adept. These were experiences for the individual or a select group, not for public worship of state or city-gods. The pagan populace preferred to his austere puritan revival the cruel or sensational games of the amphitheatre and circus, to which Julian gave the minimum of his countenance, and the magical invocation of the rustic gods. Indeed the Emperor was at one with the majority of his subjects only in his credulity, which gave them an unquestioning faith in omens, oracles, spells and magicians. It was the underworld of paganism which had the most tenacious life. Even the Christian Emperors, who punished the practice of magic as a heinous crime, believed in its efficacy.

Julian, when he re-established paganism as the imperial religion, pro­claimed universal toleration. But the effects of his abolition of Christian privileges were harsh enough. State subventions were to cease; so were the exemptions granted to the clergy and the right to receive bequests to the churches. Temple lands and sites were to be restored to their former use, and if the temples had been destroyed, they were to be rebuilt by the destroyers. He hoped much from Christian divisions, the clash of Arian and Catholic. Even his justice was quibbling in his desire to foment them. He revoked the sentences of exile and confiscation which Constantius had decreed against the Catholic bishops, but when Athanasius re-entered on the see of Alexandria, which was vacant by the murder of the Arian George of Cappadocia in a riot provoked by his greed and tyranny, Julian drove him once more into exile as an unauthorized intruder; it is true that he might well fear the influence of the Patriarch. Towards the close of his reign he entered on a path which led to persecution. He forbade Christians to teach in the schools of rhetoric on the masterpieces of ancient literature even to their co-religionists. How should Christians expound the heathen works which they denounced, and which were almost the scriptures of paganism? Tolerant pagans, as well as Christians, condemned the edict, for the culture and education of the day depended on these works; it was an attempt to deprive the Christians of a common cultural inheritance, to make them intellectual plebeians. Julian wished to handicap his antagonists. The vanity of his hopes was shown at his death, when his own army elected the Christian Jovian as his successor.




The change of ruler marked the end of the pagan reaction. Whether from weakness or good sense the new Emperor had just time before his sudden death in 364 to proclaim universal toleration and to recognize Athanasius as Patriarch of Alexandria. Valentinian followed in his footsteps in the West. He adhered to the Nicene party, which steadily grew, but let the Arians and pagans be. Valens, however, who in other matters was loyally subservient to the brother to whom he owed his throne, in religion was a convinced and even persecuting Arian. His personal adherence helped to sustain opinions that were losing ground, for Valens, when his cruelty was not roused by fear, was a good administrator. He reduced the taxes, fortified the frontier, and built splendidly. Until the Gothic migration confronted him with a crisis, his indecision and delays did little harm in secular affairs, while he was fixed in his religious policy by the influence of the Homoean bishops left by Constantius, and especially by Eudoxius, the Patriarch of Constantinople.

During his brief return to his see under Julian, Athanasius had rein­vigorated the Nicene party in the East, but he had also alarmed the conservatives by the express acknowledgement of the Holy Spirit as the Third co-equal Person in the Trinity. Valens, who expelled the returning Nicene bishops, failed to depose Athanasius permanently, nor was he able to quell the opposition to Arianism. When he fell at Adrianople, Athanasius was already dead (373); his place as leader of the Eastern Nicenes was taken by the ascetic St Basil, Bishop of Cappadocian Caesarea, whom Valens had not dared to depose. Although the Arians were strong in some districts, such as Constantinople, the tendency of conservatives and semi­Arians was to accept the Nicene Creed and the full doctrine of the Trinity expounded by Athanasius. It was only the support of Valens which maintained the Arians in power. His death left the Nicene Emperor Gratian in control, and in January 379 Gratian appointed the Spaniard Theodosius, a rigid Nicene, to be his colleague in the East. In 380 Theodosius commanded all his Christian subjects to follow the Nicene doctrine professed by the churches of Rome and Alexandria; next year he ordered the churches of the East to be given over to the Nicenes. An Eastern Council, later recognized as ecumenical, was held at Constantinople in May 381 and reaffirmed the Nicene Creed. It was followed up by new persecuting edicts of the Emperor, which went far beyond the partisanship of Valens: the Arians were forbidden to build themselves new churches even outside the walls of cities; their ordinations were proscribed; they were subjected to civil disabilities. Constantinople, which was their stronghold, if somewhat influenced by the missionary efforts of the preacher, St Gregory Nazianzen of Cappadocia, was in fact forcibly converted by Theodosius. From this time the Arians were a persecuted and dwindling minority in the East as well as in the West. When the young Western Emperor Valentinian II, under the influence of his Arian mother, the Empress Justina, ordered two churches in Milan to be given to the Arians, he was baffled by the indignant protests of the archbishop, St Ambrose, one of the pillars of his throne. Even this passing favour was ended by the conversion of Valentinian to orthodoxy under the influence of his protector, Theodosius. But if Arian Romans became few, the East German tribes who invaded the Empire remained steadfast to the Arian doctrine. Arianism became the badge of barbarian Christianity, and the religious dissidence deepened and widened the cleft between them and their subjects, who clung passionately to their orthodox faith.

The Council of Constantinople took a further step in the development of church organization. It gave to the Bishop of Constantinople the second place in the ecclesiastical hierarchy immediately after the Bishop of Rome, and before those of Antioch and Alexandria. The title of Patriarch came into use for the bishops of these super-eminent sees, to whom was added in the fifth century the Bishop of the holy city of Jerusalem. The Roman world during this period fell under the authority of these patriarchates. Other cities, like Carthage, Milan, or Ephesus, however high in rank or illustrated by famous bishops, took a secondary place. Constantinople achieved its position as the New Rome, the capital of the Eastern Empire, but its secular claims were resented and denied by the ancient capital of Rome, which asserted a universal authority based on its Petrine foundation. The Western Council of Sardica (343) had given the right of an appeal to Rome to a bishop deposed by a local synod. It was under the statesmanlike if worldly minded Damasus (366-84), who obtained his bishopric after fierce faction fights, that the see of Rome put forth its first official definition of its primacy over all other churches, as their type and model and supervisor. While the claim was admitted in the sense of an honoured pre-eminence in the East, it was confirmed as an appellate jurisdiction in the West by an edict of the Emperor Valentinian III.

The establishment of Christianity as the religion of the State undoubtedly brought evil effects in its train to the religion of the Gospel. For one thing, with the power of the Empire at its back, the spirit of persecution, bred among passionately held convictions on the true faith and made familiar by the anti-Christian persecutions of the pagan Emperors, had become endemic in the Church. Not only were Jews, Manichees and pagans penalized, but heretics, i.e. Christians of scantly held or defeated opinions, were subjected to harsh persecution. The despotism of the Empire entered the Church in the endeavour to control men’s thoughts as well as their actions. The toleration of Arian worship appeared a scandalous sin to the eyes of the saintly Ambrose, which may have led him even to countenance pious fraud in the opportune discovery of the bodies of the unknown martyrs, St Gervasius and St Protasius, during his conflict with Justina. On another count, the character of the bishops deteriorated under the influence of court favour and wealthy sees. While many maintained a standard which won the respect of unbelievers, too many were sycophants and careerists, whose lives did little credit to the Church. Again, when the profession of Christianity became profitable and fashionable, swarms of converts entered the Christian community, bringing with them a general decline in Christian morals and behaviour. When all the Roman world had become Christian, it seemed much the same world as it had been before conversion.

Yet there are signs of the beneficial, renovating action of Christianity on that fatigued civilization and its ingrained defects. Men found they had a sacred cause, beyond self-preservation, to plan and strive for. A fresh and vivid interest in things of the mind, which involved the eternal destiny of each and all, sprang up instead of the passive acquiescence in government orders and the little-heeded speculations of cliques of philosophers. It was the doctrine of redemption by the Incarnate Saviour which awoke men from their apathy and servitude. It gave energy and freedom to the disputes on the creed, a nobility to life in spite of mob violence and persecution, and it won the victory for the Nicenes, its most efficient champions.

The beneficial effect of the Church’s authority and its spirit of indepen­dence amid the servility and spasmodic ferocity of a decadent age were evident in the reign of Theodosius the Great. Devout and benevolent as the Emperor was in the main, he was liable to fits of passionate wrath which knew no bounds of mercy or equity. When a disloyal riot broke out (383) in the excitable city of Antioch on the occasion of new and grinding taxation, it was the intercession of the Bishop Flavian with Theodosius which put a stop to the executions and obtained the revocation of his edict degrading the offending capital from its rank and privileges. Still more cruel was the Emperor’s action towards Thessalonica, after Constantinople the most important city of the Balkans. In 390 the mob, long irritated by the billeting of barbarian troops on them, savagely murdered Botheric, who commanded the garrison. By the Emperor’s order, given from Milan, in spite of the pleas of St Ambrose, the soldiers treacherously massacred some 7000 citizens gathered in the circus. St Ambrose at once refused the com­munion until penance was done by the culprit, and the Roman world was amazed to see the Emperor without his purple standing as a penitent in the cathedral of Milan. Perhaps only St Ambrose with his courage and fame could have won such a victory, but he won it by the power of a Christian bishop, who could overawe the temporal autocrat of the State. The dead weight of military despotism and the callous brutality fostered by the amphitheatre found at last an opponent they could not subdue.

The influence of Christian ethics may be traced in the humanitarian legislation, however ineffective and marred by desperately ferocious penalties, of the Christian Emperors. Constantine abolished the cruel punishment of crucifixion, although burning at the stake became customary, and quite vainly denounced the inhuman sports of the amphitheatre. Valentinian had more success in forbidding the condemnation of Christian criminals at least to the arena. It was Valentinian, too, who punished the callous practice of exposing unwanted infants as murder. Constantine had done something to protect the slave from ill usage: to kill him was to be punished like the murder of a freeman. It was forbidden to break up the families of slaves or coloni by sales. Sexual crimes, like rape, were threatened with punishments of such fierceness as to suggest that their prevalence had far passed the danger-point. Parental tyranny was limited; and by a law of Theodosius the conviction of the father was not to involve the complete ruin of his dependants. When the courts were arbitrary and corrupt and spies and informers were a public evil, the right of asylum given to the churches was a protection to the oppressed in spite of its abuse. But more important was the free access given to the bishops’ courts on civil suits and the binding force of their decisions: it showed their fairness and the evil reputation of the civil tribunals. The great St Ambrose, who had been a lawyer and a governor before his election to Milan, was overwhelmed by his judicial duties as archbishop. That the clergy were freed from curial responsibilities and trade-taxes was justified by the abundant charities and humane activity of the Church, but it led to a rush of the unfit for ordination, and Constantine already in 320 forbade a curialis to take orders. The reform cannot have conduced to the recruiting of an educated priesthood, nor did it keep out the careerist: Valentinian found it necessary to cancel the free reception of legacies by clerics who courted the favour of wealthy ladies.

The Church, however, did not only influence the imperial laws and their administration; it had become a new source of law, the scope of which was widened as the number of Christians increased. The Councils which were held legislated on Christian institutions and conduct as well as on the creed. Only certain canons, or church laws, had as yet an ecumenic vogue. The difference between East and West was shown in their laws. In the East bishops only were bound to celibacy, while in the West priests and deacons also were forbidden to marry by the canons. The East accepted the canons of Eastern Councils only; in the West, besides the canons of Nicaea and some other Greek Councils, those of Sardica and of a number of provincial Councils were in force, although the last applied to restricted areas. In the West, too, a new source of Canon Law was appearing in the decretals, or authoritative letters, of the Bishops of Rome. Current usage was applying to the primate of the West the title of Pope (Papa), which effectually distinguished him from his fellow-bishops, and his pronouncements had a corresponding weight.

The veneration of saints and martyrs and a belief in their authority and intercession had long been a characteristic of Christianity. Their relics were treasured; miracles wrought by them in life or after death were readily believed; churches were dedicated to them; the days of their death were held in special honour; the importance of sees depended in part on their apostolic foundation or the Saints who had occupied them. But the hasty conversion of the majority of heathens in the fourth century added enormously to this veneration and credulity. The new converts were accustomed to numerous, varied and local objects of worship and prayer, and they turned willingly from their old gods to the saints and holy relics. Nothing was more in accord with their prepossessions than the array of saints which was almost a new pantheon. Such an event as St Ambrose’s discovery of St Gervasius and St Protasius aroused a storm of enthusiasm. Indeed, apocryphal saints were invented by the wish to convert and to believe. At times and in certain places the old divinity in a Christian disguise retained his ancient worship. Some of the pagan festivals, which occurred at fit seasons of the year for prayer or rejoicing, were adapted to the Christian calendar.




Along with these developments resulting from the rapid extension of Christianity, there were others due to the depth of the religious convictions of the age, the growth of asceticism and monasticism. Ascetic tendencies were of old date and authorized by Scripture. The insistence on celibacy for the higher clergy shows their influence. Celibacy was upheld as one of the highest virtues. So an ascetic life appeared among the devout laity, especially among women: widows and virgins devoted themselves to a religious life and good works. Two factors played a great part in trans­forming these ascetic tendencies into the monastic movement which so powerfully affected the life and ideas of Europe during the Middle Ages. One, the more external, was the evils of the times. It was in the close of the third century that the great impulse to monasticism began, the flight from the evil world, sinful, disordered, unjust, oppressed, extortionately taxed, where a more ordinary life of Christian austerity and renunciation seemed barely practicable. Men fled from the natural ties and duties of life in search of liberty to pray and contemplate. The other factor was the strong influence of oriental ideas on the Empire. The solitary ascetic who undertook a life of religious exercises and self-mortification was an Eastern growth, which naturally appealed to the Eastern provinces and spread from them with Christian theology to the West. There was a general conviction that the ascetic life was the only fully Christian life, the ideal and surest way to salvation. It is significant of the creative power which returned to the Roman world with Christianity that these ascetic impulses formed new and lasting institutions outside the rigid framework of secular society.

The fathers of monasticism were two Egyptians, St Anthony and St Pachomius. St Anthony (c. 250-356) was an Egyptian peasant, who, after an ascetic novitiate of fifteen years, secluded himself in a deserted fort for twenty years of solitary devotion. His renown brought a colony of ascetics round him, and at their petition he organized (c. 305) a form of co-operative hermit-life. It allowed a wide variety in the degree of seclusion. North of Lycopolis (Asyut) the desert fringe of Lower Egypt was populated by Antonian hermits, either singly or in small or large groups. At Nitria (Wady Natrun) in the Libyan Desert, the largest settlement, there were communal bakeries, the monks could live either alone or several together, there was a common discipline by the scourge for faults, they all wove linen for their clothes, but they only gathered for common worship on Saturday and Sunday. At Cellia, a few miles off, however, the hermits lived in complete solitude save for the Saturday and Sunday services. The individual hermit, in short, arranging his life as he wished, was the Antonian ideal. St Pachomius (c. 290-345), on the other hand, was the founder of cenobitic or community monasticism. He began life as a pagan recluse of the god Serapis in the Thebaid, and became a Christian hermit at the age of twenty. Love of the brethren led him to establish (c. 315-20) his first monastery at Tabennisi near Tentyra (Denderah) on the Nile; other foundations followed over Upper Egypt. He established real communities under a Rule. The monks had a common kitchen and eating-room, which they served in turn, and a great variety of work made them a self-sufficing colony. Their day was divided by a fixed routine of church services, Bible reading, and the exercise of the occupations for which they were qualified. They were marked more by their tonsure than their garb. It was a rule which appealed to women as well as men, and there were Pachomian nunneries besides Antonian anchoresses. Taken together, the two saints had given a new expression to the Christian ideal.

The movement spread rapidly outside Egypt. In Palestine, where Hilarion introduced Antonian hermit-life, and in Syria, where it met Asiatic ascetic influences, it remained predominantly eremitical. The cenobia were looked on as training grounds for hermits. In the fifth century, besides the cenobia which followed St Basil’s Rule, there were the lauras, to which St Sabas gave a semi-eremitical constitution. But the Syrian monks and hermits differed from the Egyptians by adopting artificial methods of mortifying the body by self-torture. Such were the pillar-saints, like St Simeon Stylites (395-461), and the hermits who afflicted themselves with chains and weights or those who grazed like cattle. In Asia Minor an advance in cenobitic monasticism was made by St Basil (329-79), Archbishop of Caesarea. He was the father of Greek and Slav monasticism, of which his two Rules set the type. About 360 he retired to a spot near Neocaesarea in Pontus and thence legislated for his new monastery and the others which sprang up in imitation. The Basilian monastery was thoroughly cenobitical. The monks lived under the same roof, ate together, and assembled six times a day in the church. Work, largely agricultural, rather than ascetic practices was insisted upon. The education of boys and the care of orphanages were among their virtues. Not the least important duty of their profession was strict obedience to abbot and superiors, now made an essential, like chastity and poverty, of the monastic life. For St Basil the hermit was not even theoretically more holy than the cenobitic monk.

It was from Egypt that St Athanasius (339) introduced both hermits and cenobites to Rome and Italy. Their increase was speedy. Eusebius, Bishop of Vercelli (ob. 371), made the innovation of placing the clerics of his cathedral under a cenobitic rule, and in this he was imitated by St Augustine in Africa. St Martin, Bishop of Tours, was the founder of monastic life in Gaul (c. 363). He appears to have kept close to the Pachomian model. In one way or another the ascetics spread over the West. Whether men fled most from the burdens or from the sins of society, it was a sign of the whole-hearted and ever wider acceptance of Christian belief.

The numbers of the monks, especially in Egypt and the East, presented a problem to the government. In 390 there were 5000 Antonian hermits in Nitria alone; the Pachomian monks of Egypt numbered some 7000 in all. It was among these indomitable ascetics that St Athanasius possessed a secure refuge from the government. The Arian Valens endeavoured in vain to bend them to his creed by conscripting the young and able bodied at Nitria for the army. Among the crowd of hermits or individualistic monks there existed, indeed, a growing number of impostors who feigned or made capital out of their austerities, an evil which led to canons pre­scribing episcopal supervision. A profound and not entirely desirable influence on the life of the Empire was exercised by the veneration which the ascetics, and especially the more spectacular among them, like the pillar saints, enjoyed among all classes. It produced a hectic mob emotion which distorted the religion of the time. The monks, drawn from the peasantry and indiscriminately recruited, invaded theological and even political controversy with a wild fanaticism with which they infected the populace.




The triumph of Christianity implied its concomitant, the decay of paganism. Julian’s reign had merely suspended the progress of desertion. The rule of Valens in the East was marked by the ruin of numerous temples, if only for lack of repair: their revenues were diverted to public or private use, and where the maintenance of their worship depended on the local magistrates those overtaxed notables, though pagan, cannot have been eager to provide for their upkeep. It was in the great cities and by the support of wealthy senatorial families that the worship of the Olympian deities could be carried on. In Rome the resident senators still maintained paganism as the established religion; the altar of Victory had been restored by Julian; the ancient ceremonies were performed at the government’s expense. In Athens the schools of philosophers were heathen. The Eleusinian mysteries, the Olympic games continued. It was the Emperor Gratian who began to employ more effectual measures against this kind of toleration. He refused to take the title of Pontifex Maximus, confiscated the revenues of the Roman priesthoods, and removed once more the altar of Victory from the senate-house in spite of the forlorn appeals of the pagan senators (382). His action was upheld by Valentinian II, who listened to St Ambrose against the pagan spokesman Symmachus. The conservatives’ hopes were revived when Arbogast placed on the throne Eugenius, who, though a Christian, restored the altar and made an exuberant pagan, Flavian, praetorian prefect. But this wishful thinking was dispelled by the battle of the Frigidus and the supremacy of Theodosius the Great.

The altar of Victory now disappeared for good and all. Theodosius closed the temples, of which many were destroyed by ardent bishops, like that of Serapis at Alexandria (391) by the Patriarch Theophilus. The temple properties were confiscated in East and West. The Olympic games ceased (394). Sacrifices to the heathen gods in any form were prohibited as treasonable. Yet paganism survived as a private, almost quietistic, belief for over a century. Imperial officials could be employed and promoted in spite of their adherence to it. The Eleusinian mysteries only came to an end in 396 (?), when Alaric destroyed the temple of Demeter. Till the reign of Justinian the teachers of Athens were pagans and Neo-Platonists. In literary circles, steeped in the ancient poets, paganism died hard. Indeed the great Christian writers, like St Jerome and St Augustine, were remorseful for the hold that heathen literature kept upon themselves. Pagan philosophy still coloured the intimate thoughts of Boethius, a Christian and a theologian, in the sixth century, when as a creed it had vanished. The old faith lived longest in the more primitive strata of the population, not as a religion but as a magical practice to conciliate or compel familiar spirits or demons who had once been Olympian or petty local deities. But even among these feeble folk the Christian saints were triumphantly superior. The Roman world had accepted Christianity.