2. Beginnings of Rome
3. Institutions of Early Rome
4. Etruscan Kings of Rome
5. Reorganization of Kingdom

6. Struggle against Kingship
7. Struggle for Economic Rights
8. Struggle for Equal Laws
9. Struggle for Political Equality
10. Conquest of Latium
11. Conquest of Central Italy
12. Conquest of Southern Italy
13. Supremacy of Rome in Italy
14. First Punic War
15. Second Punic War
16. Conquests in East
17. Reduction of Roman Conquests
18. Rome as a World Power
19. Times of Gracchi
20. Times of Marius and Sulla
21. Times of Pompey and Caesar
22. Times of Antony and Octavius

23. Reign of Augustus
24. Julian Emperors
25. Flavian Emperors
26. Five Good Emperors
27. Decline of Empire
28. Reorganization of Empire
29. Extinction of Western Empire
Outlines of Roman History
by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L.
New York, Cincinnati, Chicago: American Book Company (1901).



Table of contents




The Times of the Severi, I.The Disintegration of the Empire, II.The Illyrian Emperors, III.


   Review of the Early Empire.—As we review the condition of the Roman world since the time of Augustus, we can see that the fall of the republic and the establishment of the empire were not an evil, but a great benefit to Rome. In place of a century of civil wars and discord which closed the republic, we see more than two centuries of internal peace and tranquillity. Instead of an oppressive and avaricious treatment of the provincials, we see a treatment which is with few exceptions mild and generous. Instead of a government controlled by a proud and selfish oligarchy, we see a government controlled, generally speaking, by a wise and patriotic prince. From the accession of Augustus to the death of Marcus Aurelius (B.C. 31—A.D. 180), a period of two hundred and eleven years, only three emperors who held power for any length of time—Tiberius, Nero, and Domitian—are known as tyrants; and their cruelty was confined almost entirely to the city, and to their own personal enemies. The establishment of the empire, we must therefore believe, marked a stage of progress and not of decline in the history of the Roman people.

   Symptoms of Decay.—But in spite of the fact that the empire met the needs of the people better than the old aristocratic republic, it yet contained many elements of weakness, The Roman people themselves possessed the frailties of human nature, and the imperial government was not without the imperfection of all human institutions. The decay of religion and morality among the people was a fundamental cause of their weakness and ruin. If we were asked what were the symptoms of this moral decay, we should answer: the selfishness of classes; the accumulation of wealth, not as the fruit of legitimate industry, but as the spoils of war an of cupidity; the love of gold and the passion for luxury; the misery of poverty and its attendant vices and crimes; the terrible evils of slave labor; the decrease of the population; and the decline of the patriotic spirit. These were moral diseases, which could hardly be cured by any government.

   Military Despotism.—The great defect of the imperial government was the fact that its power rested upon a military basis, and not upon the rational will of the people. It is true that many of the emperors were popular and loved by their subjects. But back of their power was the army, which knew its strength, and which now more than ever before asserted its claims to the government. This period, extending from the death of Marcus Aurelius to the accession of Diocletian (A.D. 180-284), has therefore been aptly called “the period of military despotism.” It was a time when the emperors were set up by the soldiers, and generally cut down by their swords. During this period of one hundred and four years, the imperial title was held by twenty-nine different rulers,
1 some few of whom were able and high-minded men, but a large number of them were weak and despicable. Some of them held their places for only a few months. The history of this time contains for the most part only the dreary records of a declining government. There are few events of importance, except those which illustrate the tyranny of the army and the general tendency toward decay and disintegration.

   After the reign of Commodus, the unworthy son of Marcus, the soldiers became the real sovereigns of Rome. His successor Pertinax was dispatched by their swords; and the empire was offered to the one who would give them the largest donation. This proved to be a rich senator by the name of Didius Julianus, who offered for the vacant throne a sum equal to $15,000,000. He held this place for about two months. In the meantime three different armies—in Britain, in Pannonia, and in Syria—each proclaimed its own leader as emperor.

   Septimius Severus (A.D. 193-211).—The commander of the army in the neighboring province of Pannonia was the first to reach Rome; and was thus able to secure the throne against his rivals. The reign of Septimius is noted for the reforming of the praetorian guard, which Augustus had organized and Tiberius had encamped near the city. In place of the old body of nine thousand soldiers, Septimius organized a Roman garrison of forty thousand troops selected from the best soldiers of the legions. This was intended to give a stronger military support to the government; but in fact it gave to the army a more powerful influence in appointment of the emperors. Septimius destroyed his enemies in the senate, and took away from that body the last vestige of its authority. He was himself an able soldier and made several successful campaigns m the East.

   Edict of Caracalla (A.D. 212).—The Roman franchise, which had been gradually extended by the previous emperors, was now conferred upon all the free inhabitants of the Roman world. This important act was done by Caracalla, the worthless son and tyrannical successor of Septimius Severus. The edict was issued to increase the revenue by extending the inheritance tax, which had heretofore rested only upon citizens. Notwithstanding the avaricious motive of the emperor this was in the line of earlier reforms and effaced the last distinction between Romans and provincials. The name of Caracalla is infamous, not only for his cruel proscriptions, but especially for his murder of Papinian, the greatest of the Roman jurists, who refused to defend his crimes.

   Alexander Severus (A.D. 222-235).—After the brief reign of Macrinus, and the longer reign of the monster Elagabalus, the most repulsive of all the emperors, the throne was occupied by a really excellent man, Alexander Severus. In a corrupt age, he was a prince of pure and blameless life. He loved the true and the good of all times. It is said that he set up in his private chapel the images of those whom he regarded as the greatest teachers of mankind, including Abraham and Jesus Christ. He tried as best he could to follow the example of the best of the emperors. He selected as his advisers the great jurists, Ulpian and Paullus. The most important event of his reign was his successful resistance to the Persians, who had just established a new monarchy on the ruins of the Parthian kingdom (A.D. 226).


   Foreign Enemies of Rome.—Never before had the Roman Empire been beset by such an array of foreign enemies as it encountered during the third century. On the east was the new Persian monarchy established under a vigorous and ambitious line of kings, called the Sassanidae. The founder of this line, Artaxares (Ardashir), laid claim to all the Asiatic provinces of Rome as properly belonging to Persia. The refusal of this demand gave rise to the war with Alexander Severus, just referred to, and to severe struggles with his successors.

   But the most formidable enemies of Rome were the German barbarians on the frontiers of the Rhine and the Danube. On the lower Rhine near the North Sea were several tribes known as the Chatti, Chauci, and the Cherusci, who came to be united with other tribes under the common name of “Franks.” On the upper Rhine in the vicinity of the Alps were various tribes gathered together under the name of Alemanni (all men). Across the Danube and on the northern shores of the Black Sea was the great nation of the Goths, which came to be the terror of Rome. Under a succession of emperors whose names have little significance to us, the Romans engaged in wars with these various peoples—not now wars for the sake of conquest and glory as in the time of the republic, but wars of defense and for the sake of existence.

   Invasion of the Goths in the East.—The Goths made their first appearance upon the Roman territory m the middle of the third century (A.D. 250). At this time they invaded Dacia, crossed the Danube, and overran the province of Moesia. In a great battle in Moesia perished the brave emperor Decius, descendant of the Decius Mus who devoted his life at Mt. Vesuvius in the heroic days of the republic. His successor, Gallus, purchased a peace of the Goths by the payment of an annual tribute. It was not many years after this that the same barbarians, during the reigns of Valerian and Gallienus (A.D. 253-268), made a more formidable invasion, this time by way of the Black Sea and the Bosphorus. With the aid of their ships they crossed the sea, besieged and plundered the cities of Asia Minor. They destroyed the splendid temple of Diana at Ephesus; they crossed the Aegean Sea into Greece, and threatened Italy; and finally retired with their spoils to their homes across the Danube.

   Invasion of the Franks and Alemanni in the West.—In the meantime the western provinces were invaded by the barbarians who lived across the Rhine. The Franks entered the western regions of Gaul, crossed the Pyrenees, and sacked the cities of Spain; while the Alemanni entered eastern Gaul and invaded Italy as far as the walls of Ravenna. It was then that the Roman garrison, which took the place of the old praetorian guard, rendered a real service to Rome by preventing the destruction of the city.

   Attacks of the Persians in Asia.—But all the disasters of Rome did not come from the north. The new Persian monarchy, under its second great king, Sapor, was attempting to carry out the policy of Artaxares and expel the Romans from their Asiatic provinces. Sapor at first brought under his control Armenia, which had remained an independent kingdom since the time of Hadrian. He then overran the Roman provinces of Syria, Cilicia, and Cappadocia; Antioch and other cities of the coast were destroyed and pillaged; and the emperor Valerian was made a prisoner. The story of Sapor’s pride and of Valerian’s disgrace has passed into history; to humiliate his captive, it is said, whenever the Persian monarch mounted his horse, he placed his foot on the neck of the Roman emperor.

   The Time of the “Thirty Tyrants.”—In the midst of these external perils Rome beheld another danger which she had never seen before, at least to the same extent, and that was the appearance of usurpers in every part of the empire—in Asia, in Egypt, in Greece, in Illyricum, and in Gaul. This is called the time of the “thirty tyrants”; although Gibbon counts only nineteen of these so-called tyrants during the reign of Gallienus. If we should imagine another calamity in addition to those already mentioned, it would be famine and pestilence—and from these, too, Rome now suffered. From the reign of Decius to the reign of Gallienus, a period of about fifteen years, the empire was the victim of a furious plague, which is said to have raged in every province, in every city, and almost in every family. With invasions from without and revolts and pestilence within, Rome never before seemed so near to destruction.


   Partial Recovery of the Empire.—For a period of eighty-eight years—from the death of Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 180) to the death of Gallienus (A.D. 268)—the imperial government had gradually been growing weaker until it now seemed that the empire was going to pieces for the want of a leader. But we have before seen Rome on the verge of ruin—in the early days of the Gauls, during the invasion of Hannibal, and under the attacks of the Cimbri. As in those more ancient times, so now the Romans showed their remarkable fortitude and courage in the presence of danger. Under the leadership of five able rulers—Claudius II., Aurelian, Tacitus, Probus, and Carus—they again recovered; and they maintained their existence for more than two hundred years in the West and for more than a thousand years in the East. Let us see how Rome recovered from her present disasters, and we may also understand how the early empire as established by Augustus was changed into the new empire established by Diocletian and Constantine.

   Claudius II. and the Defeat of the Goths (A.D. 268-270).—One of the reasons of the recent revolts in the provinces had been general distrust of the central authority at Rome. If the Roman emperor could not protect the provinces, the provinces were determined to protect themselves under their own rulers. When a man should appear able to defend the frontiers the cause of these revolts would disappear. Such a man was Claudius II., who came from Illyricum. He aroused the patriotism of his army and restored its discipline. Paying little attention to the independent governors, he pushed his army into Greece to meet the Goths, who had again crossed the Danube and had advanced into Macedonia. By a series of victories he succeeded in delivering the empire from these barbarians, and for this reason he received the name of Claudius Gothicus.

   Aurelian and the Restored Empire (A.D. 270-275).—The fruits of the victories of Claudius were reaped by his successor Aurelian, who became the real restorer of the empire. He first provided against a sudden descent upon the city by rebuilding the walls of Rome, which remain to this day and are known as the walls of Aurelian. He then followed the prudent policy of Augustus by withdrawing the Roman army from Dacia and making the Danube the frontier of the empire. He then turned his attention to the rebellious provinces; and recovered Gaul, Spain, and Britain from the hand of the usurper Tetricus. He finally restored the Roman authority in the East; and destroyed the city of Palmyra, which had been made the seat of an independent kingdom, where ruled the famous Queen Zenobia.

   The “Silent Invasions.”—The successors of Aurelian—Tacitus, Probus, and Carus—preserved what he himself had achieved. The integrity of the empire was in general maintained against the enemies from without and the “tyrants” from within. It is worthy of notice that at this time a conciliatory policy toward the barbarians was adopted, by granting to them peaceful settlements in the frontier provinces. This step began what are known as the “silent invasions.” Not only the Roman territory, but the army and the offices of the state, military and civil, were gradually opened to the Germans who were willing to become Roman subjects.

   The New Class of “Coloni.”—It became a serious question what to do with all the newcomers who were now admitted into the provinces. The most able of the barbarian chiefs were sometimes made Roman generals. Many persons were admitted to the ranks of the army. Sometimes whole tribes were allowed to settle upon lands assigned to them. But a great many persons, especially those who had been captured in war, were treated in a somewhat novel manner. Instead of being sold as slaves they were given over to the large landed proprietors, and attached to the estates as permanent tenants. They could not be sold off from these estates like slaves; but if the land was sold they were sold with it. This class of persons came to be called coloni. They were really serfs bound to the soil. The colonus had a little plot of ground which he could cultivate for himself, and for which he paid a rent to his landlord. But the class of coloni came to be made up not only of barbarian captives, but of manumitted slaves, and even of Roman freemen, who were not able to support themselves and who gave themselves up to become the serfs of some landlord. The coloni thus came to form a large part of the population in the provinces.

   This new class of persons, which held such a peculiar position in the Roman empire, has a special interest to the general historical student; because from them were descended, in great part, the class of serfs which formed a large element of European society after the fall of Rome, during the middle ages.

   Transition to the Later Empire.—The successful efforts of the last five rulers showed that the Roman Empire could still be preserved if properly organized and governed. In the hands of weak and vicious men, like Commodus and Elagabalus, the people were practically left without a government, and were exposed to the attacks of foreign enemies and to all the dangers of anarchy. But when ruled by such men as Claudius II. and Aurelian they were still able to resist foreign invasions and to repress internal revolts. The events of the third century made it clear that if the empire was to continue and the provinces were to be held together there must be some change in the imperial government. The decline of the early empire thus paved the way for a new form of imperialism.


Pelham, Bk. VI., Ch. 2, “The Empire in the Third Century” (
Merivale, Empire, Vol. VII., Ch. 68, “Symptoms of Decline” (7).
Merivale, Gen. Hist., Ch. 69, “The Barbarian Confederations” (1).
Gibbon, Decline, Ch. 10, “Emperor Decius, etc.” (7).
Gibbon, abridged, Ch. 2, “Septimius Severus” (7).
Dyer, City, Sect. 5, “From Hadrian to Constantine” (9).
Curteis, Ch. 3, “The Barbarians on the Frontiers” (7).


   ROMAN SLAVERY.—Inge, pp. 159-171 (16); Guhl and Koner, pp. 511-533 (16); Eschenburg, pp. 288-290 (8); Harper’s Dict. Antiqq., “Servus” (8); Ramsay and Lanciani, pp. 124-133 (8); Becker, Gallus, pp. 199-225 (16); Blair, Inquiry (21).

1 The following table shows the names of these emperors and the dates of their accession:—

Septimius Severus
Caracalla & Geta
Alexander Severus

A.D. 193

Gordianus I. & II.
Pupienus & Balbinus
Gordianus III.

A.D. 237

Claudius II
Carinus & Numerian

A.D. 268

2 The figure in parenthesis refers to the number of the topic in the
Appendix, where a fuller title of the book will be found.


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