An Empire Across Three Continents Class 11 History

An Empire Across Three Continents – Europe, Asia and Africa was known as Roman Empire. The boundaries of the empire were formed by two great rivers, the Rhine and the Danube from North Side.  To the South, The boundaries are covered by the huge expanse of desert called the Sahara.  In the east, river Euphrates and to the West Atlantic Ocean.  This vast stretch of territory was known as Roman Empire. That is why Roman Empire is called an Empire across Three Continents.  The Mediterranean Sea is called the heart of Rome’s empire.

What are the sources to understand roman history

  1. Roman historians have a rich collection of sources to study which we can broadly divide into three groups: (a) texts,(b) documents and (c) material remains.
  2. Textual sources include histories of the period written by contemporaries (these were usually called ‘Annals’, because the narrative was constructed on a year-by-year basis), letters, speeches, sermons, laws, and so on.
  3. Documentary sources include mainly inscriptions and papyri. Inscriptions were usually cu ton stone, so a large number survive, in both Greek and Latin
  4. Material remains include a very wide assortment of items that mainly archaeologists discover through excavation and field survey. They are buildings, monuments and other kinds of structures, pottery,coins, mosaics, even entire landscapes.

Papyrus and Papyrologists

  1. The ‘papyrus’ was a reed-like plant that grew along the banks of the Nile in Egypt and was processed to produce a writing material that was very widely used in everyday life.
  2.  Thousands of contracts, accounts, letters and official documents survive ‘on papyrus’ and have been published by scholars who are called ‘papyrologists.

Boundaries of Roman Empire

  1. To the North, the boundaries of the empire were formed by two great rivers, the Rhine and the Danube.
  2. To the South, by the huge expanse of desert called the Sahara.
  3. To the East river Euphrates and to the West Atlantic Ocean.
  4. This vast stretch of territory was the Roman Empire. That is why Roman Empire is called an Empire across Three Continents.
  5. The Mediterranean Sea is called the heart of Rome’s empire.

Division of Roman Empire

  1. The Roman Empire can broadly be divided into two phases, ‘early’ and‘late’, divided by the third century as a sort of historical watershed between them.
  2. In other words, the whole period from the beginning of Roman Empire to the main part of the third century can be called the ‘early empire’, and the period from the third century to the end called the ‘late empire’.

The political history of the Roman Empire

  1. The Roman Empire was a mosaic of territories and cultures that were chiefly bound together by a common system of government. All those who lived in the empire were subjects of a single ruler, the emperor, but they followed various cultures, religions, languages and races.
  2. Many languages were spoken in the empire, but for the purposes of administration Latin and Greek were the most widely used,indeed the only official languages.
  3. Augustus was the first emperor who established monarchy in 27 BCE.  He was also called the ‘Principate’. Although Augustus was the sole ruler and the only real source of authority,

    the fiction was kept alive that he was only the ‘leading citizen’ (Princepsin Latin), not the absolute ruler. This was done out of respect for the Senate.

  4. Senate was the body which had controlled Rome earlier, in the days when it was a Republic. The Senate had existed in Rome for centuries, and had been and remained a body representing the aristocracy, that is, the wealthiest families of Roman and later Italian descent mainly landowners.
  5. Next to the emperor and the Senate, the other key institution of imperial rule was the army. Romans had a paid professional army where soldiers had to put in a minimum of 25 years of service. The army was the largest single organised body in the empire with 600,000 soldiers in the fourth century. The soldiers would constantly agitate for better wages and service conditions. These agitations often took the form of mutinies.
  6. The emperor, the aristocracy and the army were the three main ‘players’in the political history of the empire. The success of individual emperors depended on their control of the army, and when the armies were divided, the result usually was civil war.  Except for one notorious year (69 CE), when four emperors mounted the throne in quick succession, the first two centuries were free from civil war.
  7. External warfare was also much less common in the first two centuries. The empire inherited by Tiberius from Augustus was already so vast that further expansion was felt to be unnecessary.The only major campaign of expansion in the early empire was Trajan’s fruitless occupation of territory across the Euphrates, in the years 113-17CE abandoned by his successors.
  8. The Roman Empire had two types of territories. They were ‘dependent’kingdoms and provincial territory. The Near East was full of dependent kingdoms but they disappeared and swallowed up by Rome. These kingdoms were exceedingly wealthy, for example Herod’s kingdom yielded 5.4 million denarii per year, equal to over 125,000 kg of gold per year.
  9. A city in the Roman Empire was an urban centre with its own magistrates, city council and a ‘territory’containing villages which were under its jurisdiction. Thus one city could not be in the territory of another city, but villages almost always were. Villages could be upgraded to the status of cities, and vice versa,usually as a mark of imperial favour. One crucial advantage of living in a city was essential commodities were better provided for during food shortages and even famines than the countryside.
  10. Public baths were a striking feature of Roman urban life and urban populations also enjoyed a much higher level of entertainment. For example, one calendar tells us that spectacula (shows)filled no less than 176 days of the year!

The Third-Century Crisis

  1.  From the 230s, the Roman Empire found itself fighting on several fronts simultaneously. In Iran an aggressive dynasty emerged in 225 they  were called as the ‘Sasanians’ and within just 15 years it  expanded  rapidly in the direction of the Euphrates. Shapur I, the Iranian ruler, claimed he had annihilated aRoman army of 60,000 and even captured the eastern capital of Antioch.
  2. Meanwhile, a whole series of Germanic tribes or rather tribal confederacies began to move against the Rhine and Danube frontiers, and the whole period from 233 to 280 saw repeated invasions. The Romans were forced to abandon much of the territory beyond the Danube.
  3. The rapid succession of emperors in the third century (25 emperors in 47 years!)is an obvious symptom of the strains faced by the empire in this period.

Gender Roles in Roman Empire

  1. One of the more modern features of Roman society was the widespread prevalence of the nuclear family. Adult sons did not live with their families, and it was exceptional for adult brothers to share a common household. On the other hand, slaves were included in the family.
  2. The typical form of marriage was one where the wife did not transfer to her husband’s authority but retained full rights in the property of her father’s family. While the woman’s dowry went to the husband for the duration of the marriage, the woman remained a primary heir of her father and became an independent property owner on her father’s death.
  3.  Marriages were generally arranged, and there is no doubt that women were often subject to domination by their husbands.Whereas males married in their late twenties or early thirties, women were married off in the late teens or early twenties, so there was an age gap between husband and wife and this would have encouraged a certain inequality.
  4. Divorce was relatively easy and needed no more than a notice of intent to dissolve the marriage by either husband or wife. On the other hand,Augustine, the great Catholic bi shop, tells us that his mother was regularly beaten by his father and that most other wives in the small town where he grew up had similar bruises to show!
  5. Finally, fathers had substantial legal control over their children –sometimes to a shocking degree, for example, a legal power of life and death in exposing unwanted children, by leaving them out in the cold to die.

Literacy in Roman Empire

  1. It is certain that rates of casual literacy varied greatly between different parts of the empire. For example, in Pompeii,which was buried in a volcanic eruption in 79 CE, there is strong evidence of widespread casual literacy.
  2. Walls on the main streets of Pompeii often carried advertisements, and graffiti were found all over the city.
  3. By contrast, in Egypt where hundreds of papyri survive, most formal documents such as contracts were usually written by professional scribes, and they often tell us that X or Y is unable to read and write.
  4. But even here literacy was certainly more widespread among certain categories such as soldiers, army officers and estate managers.
  5. Plurality of languages that were spoken in Roman Empire. They were Aramaic, Coptic,Punic, Berber and Celtic. But many of these linguistic cultures were purely oral, at least until a script was invented for them.  Among the above mentioned languages Armenian began to be written as late as the fifth century.

Economic Expansion in Roman Empire

  1. The empire had a substantial economic infrastructure of harbours, mines, quarries, brickyards, olive oil factories, etc. Wheat, wine and olive-oil were traded and consumed in huge quantities, and they came mainly from Spain, the Gallic provinces, North Africa, Egypt and, to a lesser extent, Italy, where conditions were best for these crops.
  2.  Liquids like wine and olive oil were transported in containers called ‘amphorae’.The fragments and shreds of a very large number of these survive and it has been possible for archaeologists to reconstruct the precise shapes of these containers.Spanish producers succeeded in capturing markets for olive oil from their Italian counterparts. This would only have happened if Spanish producers supplied better quality oil at lower prices.
  3. The empire included many regions that had a reputation for exceptional fertility. Italy, Sicily, Egypt and southern Spain were all among the most densely settled or wealthiest parts of the empire. The best kinds of wine, wheat and olive oil came mainly from numerous estates of these territories.
  4. On the other hand, large Roman territories were in a much less advanced state. The pastoral and semi-nomadic communities were often on the move, carrying their oven-shaped huts with them. As Roman estates expanded in North Africa, the pastures of those communities were drastically reduced and their movements more tightly regulated.
  5. Diversified applications of water power around the Mediterranean as well as advances in water-powered milling technology, the use of hydraulic mining techniques in the Spanish gold and silver mines and the gigantic industrial scale on which those mines were worked.The existence of well-organized commercial and banking networks and the widespread use of money are all indications of Roman economy.

Controlling of slaves and Workers

  1. Slavery was an institution deeply rooted in the ancient world, both in the Mediterranean and in the Near East, and Christianity when it emerged as the state religion seriously challenged this institution. Under Augustus there were still 3 million slaves in a total Italian population of 7.5 million.
  2. Slaves were an investment, and at least one Roman agricultural writer advised landowners against using them because their health could be damaged by malaria. On the other hand, if the Roman upper classes were often brutal towards their slaves, ordinary people did sometimes show much more compassion.
  3. As warfare became less widespread with the establishment of peace in the first century, the supply of slaves tended to decline and the users of slave labour thus had to turn either to slave breeding or to cheaper substitutes such as wage labour which was more easily dispensable.
  4. In fact, free labour was extensively used on public works at Rome because an extensive use of slave labour would have been too expensive. Slaves had to be fed and maintained throughout the year, which increased the cost of holding this kind of labour.

Management of labour by Columella

  1. The Roman agricultural writers paid a great deal of attention to the management of labour. Columella, a first-century writer who came from the south of Spain, recommended the following points:
  2. Landowners should keep a reserve stock of implements and tools, twice as many as they needed,so that production could be continuous, ‘for the loss in slave labour time exceeds the cost of such items’.
  3.  There was a general presumption among employers that without supervision no work would ever get done, so supervision was paramount,for both free workers and slaves.
  4. To make supervision easier, workers were sometimes grouped into gangs or smaller teams. Columell are commended squads of ten,claiming it was easier to tell who was putting in effort and who was not in work groups of this size. This shows a detailed consideration of the management of labour.
  5. Pliny the Elder, the author of a very famous‘Natural History’, condemned the use of slave gangs as the worst method of organizing production, mainly because slaves who worked in gangs were usually chained together by their feet.
  6. The Elder Pliny described conditions in the factories of Alexandria. A seal is put upon the workmen’s aprons,they have to wear a mask or a net with a close mesh on their heads,and before they are allowed to leave the premises, they have to take off all their clothes. Agricultural labour must have been fatiguing and disliked this system so Egyptian peasants deserted their villages ‘in order not to engage in agricultural work’. The same was probably true of most factories and workshops.
  7. A law of 398 referred to workers being branded so they could be recognized if and when they run away and try to hide. Many private employers cast their agreements with workers in the form of debt contracts.
  8. A lot of the poorer families went into debt bondage in order to survive. Parents sometimes sold their children into servitude for periods of 25 years. The late-fifth-century emperor Anastasius built the eastern frontier city of Dara in less than three weeks by attracting labour from all over the East by offering high wages.

Social Hierarchies(Divisions) in Rome

  1. The social structures of the empire as follows: senators, requites( horse men and knights), the respectable section of the people (middle class), lower class and finally the slaves. In the early third century when the Senate numbered roughly 1,000, approximately half of all senators still came from Italian families. By the late empire,the senators and the equities had merged into a unified and expanded aristocracy.
  2.  The ‘middle’ class now consisted of the considerable mass of persons connected with imperial service in the bureaucracy and army but also the more prosperous merchants and farmers of whom there were many in the eastern provinces.
  3. Below them were the vast mass of the lower classes known collectively ashumiliores(literally- ‘Lower’).They comprised a rural labor force of which many were permanently employed on the large estates; workers in industrial and mining establishments; migrant workers who supplied much of the labor for the grain and olive harvests and for the building industry; self-employed artisans etc.
  4. One writer of the early fifth century tells us that the aristocracy based in the City of Rome drew annual incomes of up to 4,000 pounds of gold from their estates, not counting the produce they consumed directly.
  5. The late Roman bureaucracy, both the higher and middle echelons, was a comparatively affluent group because it drew the bulk of its salary in gold and invested much of this in buying up assets like land. There was of course also a great deal of corruption, especially in the judicial system and in the administration of military supplies.

Cultural transformation of the Roman world from the fourth to

seventh centuries

  1. The traditional religious culture of the classical world, both Greek and Roman, had been polytheist. That is, it involved a multiplicity of cults that included both Roman/Italian gods like Jupiter, Juno, Minerva and Mars, as well as numerous Greek and eastern deities worshiped in thousands of temples, shrines and sanctuaries throughout the empire
  2. At the cultural level, the period saw momentous developments in religious life, with the emperor Constantine made Christianity as the official religion.
  3. Over expansion had led Diocletian to ‘cut back’ by abandoning territories with little strategic or economic value. Diocletian also fortified the frontiers, reorganized provincial boundaries, and separated civilian from military functions, granting greater autonomy to the military commanders who now became a more powerful group.
  4. The monetary system of the late empire broke with the silver-based currencies of the first three centuries because the Spanish silver mines were exhausted and government ran out of sufficient stocks of the metal to support a stable coinage in silver. Constantine founded the new monetary system on gold and there were vast amounts of this in circulation.
  5. Constantine’s chief innovations were in the monetary sphere, where he introduced a new denomination, the solidus, a coin of 4½ gm of pure gold that would in fact outlast the Roman Empire itself. Solidi were minted on a very large scale and their circulation ran into millions.
  6. The other area of innovation was division of Roman Empire into east and west and the creation of a second capital at Constantinople (at the site of modern Istanbul in Turkey, and previously called Byzantium), surrounded on three sides by the sea.
  7. In the West, the empire fragmented politically as Germanic groups from the North (Goths, Vandals, Lombards, etc.) took over all the major provinces and established kingdoms that are best described as ‘post-Roman kingdoms.
  8. By the early seventh century, the war between Eastern Rome and Iran had flared up again, and the Sassanian who had ruled Iran since the third century launched a wholesale invasion of all the major eastern provinces (including Egypt).
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