The first symptoms of the crisis appeared in the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180). The trans-Danube and trans-Rhine tribes had by this time achieved significant development in agriculture, crafts, and military affairs, began to form military alliances and led an offensive against the empire. After a grueling war with Parthia, Marcus Aurelius had to fight wars with the Danube tribes of Quadi, Marcomani, and Yazigi for most of his reign, to which Commodus, who succeeded Marcus Aurelius, pledged to pay tribute in order to buy peace. The wars and the plague had taken a toll on the empire’s economy. In Egypt, where the Fellahs were cruelly exploited, they fled en masse to the Nile Delta and raised an uprising known as the “Bukolah” shepherd rebellion. In Northern Italy and Southern Gaul, the deserter Matternus had assembled a band of slaves and peasants to frighten the landowners. In Syria, the governor Avidius Cassius rebelled. Under Commodus, relations between the imperial government and the Senate again deteriorated, and in 192 Commodus was assassinated.
A civil war broke out between the various armies that had put forward their pretenders to the throne. The victory was won by the protégé of the Danube army, a native of Africa, Septimius Severus. From his reign began a century-long struggle between the so-called soldier (henchmen of the army) and the senate (henchmen of the Senate) emperors. The roots of the difference between senators and emperors were no longer the same as in the first century. The Senate, half made up of the largest landowners in the western and eastern provinces, wanted the government to pursue a policy that was beneficial to them. The Eastern nobility, whose program was formulated by the historian Dion Cassius, a senator originally from Nicomedia in Asia Minor, demanded a strong imperial power that suppressed both the freedom of the cities and the “willfulness of the rabble”, while relying on the” best”, the army and the state apparatus. All were required to receive compulsory education in public schools in order to learn to obey the emperor and not to think about freethinking. Philosophers, atheists, and preachers of new religions should have been severely punished. The Western nobility wanted to see in the emperor, elected by the senate, only the commander-in-chief, who was obliged to fight, acquire new lands and those who should cultivate them. He should have maintained the army at his own expense, curbed the willfulness of the soldiers, and left the administration of internal affairs to the Senate and the representatives of the provincial aristocracy.
It was not recommended to restrict the freedom of thought and cults. The only thing the two factions agreed on was that the emperor should sell or transfer his lands to private hands. The” soldier ” emperors, relying on the army, also enjoyed the support of the urban strata, in some cases closely associated with the army. These strata also had their own program, according to which the cities should be given a certain freedom, the activities of the urban elite, philosophers and generally educated people should be encouraged. The claims of the rich should be curbed, not to give free rein to the common people and “demagogues”. The emperor should maintain the army well, but try to pursue a peaceful policy, making concessions to his neighbors.
Septimus Severus and his son and successor Bassian, surnamed Caracalla, tried to support the cities, but their policies in this regard were contradictory: In an attempt to preserve the cities as civil communities, they multiplied the duties of the city magistrates and decurions in favor of the cities and increased the responsibility of the latter for the receipt of taxes from the city territories. As a result of the confiscation of the property of the nobles who supported the rival of Septimius Severus, Clodius Albinus, the size of the imperial lands in the west of the country greatly increased. An increasingly important role was played by the administration of these lands, which often operated unchecked in the provinces. The agents of the fisk (treasury) were obliged to inform on those who evaded paying taxes.
In an effort to establish the administration of the empire, the Severians paid special attention to the development of Roman law. The most prominent jurists now held the office of praetorian prefects, the second most important person in the state after the emperor. Their writings (as well as some of the writings of the second-century jurists) on the interpretation of laws, the execution of various transactions and contracts, on the right of inheritance, on the duties and rights of officials, as well as people of different statuses and estates, later formed (together with the collection of responses of the emperors to complaints and requests addressed to them) the basis for the codification of Roman law, made in the sixth century. Emperor Justinian (the so-called “Digests” and “Codex Justinian”).
Since the time of the Severs, the equality of citizens has completely disappeared. Caracalla granted Roman citizenship to almost all the inhabitants of the empire, but the citizens were now divided into classes — the noble (senators, horsemen and decurions) and the lower — the common people. Legally, the act of self-sale of citizens who have reached the age of 25 was issued (then this age was reduced to 20 years). The patronage of slaves, who actually became owners of the means of production and vicar slaves, testified to the disintegration of the classes-estates of Roman society. The first Severs made the main bet on the army (its number increased to 600 thousand). people), which was recruited mostly from the Danube provinces, where there was still a large peasant population. The soldiers received increased pay, and were allowed to have families and land holdings. Class restrictions for holding command positions were removed, and a soldier could rise to a high post. Centurions were included in the class of horsemen. Many government positions were replaced by the military. These measures were supposed to ensure strict order and raise the combat capability of the army. The latter was all the more necessary because the offensive against the empire of the Zarein and Zadunai tribes began again and relations with Parthia became strained.
After Caracalla was killed as a result of the conspiracy, successive” soldier “and” senate “emperors (they ruled for several years, or even months) waged almost continuous wars with the “barbarians”, suppressed soldiers ‘ rebellions, uprisings in the provinces. When they were in need of money, they even resorted to defacing the coin, which led to the depreciation of money and an increase in prices. The salaries of officials were paid in kind — food, clothing, utensils, and a staff of servants. The land was abandoned.
By the middle of the third century, the crisis had reached its climax. The Sassanid dynasty that came to power in Parthia began a new offensive against the Roman Empire. In addition, the tribes of the Goths, Franks, Carp, Sarmatians, and Moors already stood at its borders. A large part of the provinces was devastated, and many villas were destroyed and looted. The Emperor Valerian (253-260) was captured by the King of Persia Shapur — a disgrace that Rome had never known before. His son Gallienus (253-268), in contrast to his father, beloved by the Senate, was a “soldier” emperor. At the same time, he was a highly educated man, tried to support the cities, limit the duties of the colonists, patronized cultural figures, in particular the founder of the neo-Platonic school Plotinus, stopped the persecution of Christians announced by his predecessors Decius and Valerian, among whom there were already many representatives of municipal circles. In the interests of the soldiers, he banned senators from entering the army and made it easier for the soldiers to advance in the service.
He was popular among the soldiers, but the nobles hated him. In many provinces, she instigated rebellions, nominating her henchmen to the Roman throne. In most of the provinces, the rebels did not last long, defeated by troops loyal to Gallienus. But Gaul, Spain, and Britain formed an independent Gallic Empire that lasted 15 years. In the East, unable to resist the Persians, Gallienus recognized as his co-ruler the noble Palmyrian Odenathus, who, gathering troops from Syrians and Arabs, drove Shapur away. However, after the mysterious murder of Odenathus, the anti-Roman party, led by Odenathus ‘ ambitious and domineering wife Zenobia, took over. It broke away from Rome, seized Syria, Arabia, a large part of Asia Minor, and Egypt, where it was supported by a strong anti-Roman party.
In Africa, an insurrection broke out between the Colonists and the peasants, who allied themselves with the Moors.
In 268, Gallienus was killed, but his military reforms began to bear fruit under the successors known as the” Illyrian emperors ” (all of them were from the military service of the Danube provinces)— Claudius II, Aurelian, Probus, Carus. Claudius II, nicknamed the Gothic, defeated the Goths, converting the prisoners into colonists and military settlers. The last Gallic ruler, Tetricus, the richest landowner in Aquitaine, frightened by the rebellions and rebellions of the Rhenish army, secretly asked for the help of the Emperor Aurelian and surrendered to him with his army. The Gallic Empire was returned to Rome. Aurelian also ended the kingdom of Zenobia. Only Dacia was finally lost. Probus won a number of victories over the Franks and settled many of them in the western provinces of the empire.
Under such conditions, the unity of the empire could only be preserved with the help of a strong despotic power. The emperors of the third century decisively break with the ostentatious democracy of the Antonines. They call themselves “lords and gods”, tell them to depict themselves in a diadem of sun rays, are proud of their proximity to the Sun, emphasize their “invincibility”, “eternity”, their merit in establishing the golden age. They already demand that every speech addressed to them, and even the petitions of the peasants who complained about their bitter fate, begin with the praise of the universal happiness granted by the emperor. Of course, no one believed in this official propaganda anymore. Previously, popular teachings failed, including stoicism. The work of the last stoic, Marcus Aurelius, is full of pessimism, the belief that everything in the world has always been bad, people have always been and will always be vicious and unhappy, the glory of even the great people themselves is futile, and they do not need it after death, only the inner Genius — virtue remains, but what to direct it to is unknown.
From philosophy, people increasingly turned to religion, which preached a departure from the world and its affairs, seeing the goal in overcoming the fatal necessity and merging with the divine world of true freedom and harmony in contrast to the earth with its alienation of people from each other and from the cosmos. Ideas were spread about future disasters even more terrible than the present ones, and a world conflagration when the earth, mired in evil, would burn down. Interest in science has almost disappeared. It continued to live and develop only in Alexandria, where until the fifth century. scientists worked, generalizing and improving knowledge in the field of mathematics, mechanics, and medicine.
Plotinus made an attempt to revive the ancient perception of the world as a perfect and beautiful representation of the world of Plato’s ideas. But his system was too complex and found understanding only in a relatively small circle of philosophers, mainly from the intelligentsia of eastern cities. All of this was a symptom of the changing ideology and culture of the class going back in time. On the contrary, among the strata from which the classes of the new society subsequently developed, the ideas of the need for active life and struggle prevailed. Among the provincial nobility, the cults of the horseman gods are promoted. Having long existed among the tribes of the province, they, enriched with ancient ideas, were now depicted as trampling on enemies, symbols of the struggle against evil.
The number of Christians who actively preached anti-Roman ideas grew. Christian communities became strong organizations. They were headed by bishops who managed the treasury, which was replenished by donations from rich Christians. The old democracy of the early Christian communities was replaced by the iron will of the bishop. The bishops of the cities of one or more provinces gathered for councils, discussed issues of church organization and doctrine, and declared dissenters heretics. Thus appeared the concept of heresy, alien to antiquity, which did not know the obligatory religious dogma for all.
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