Considered by some to be the consequence of 700 years of early Roman history, the empire was made possible by the consolidation of power in the hands of Gaius Julius Caesar and the later military success of his nephew Octavian (Gaius Octavius) at the battle of Actium, Greece in 31 BC The formal beginning of the empire was the conferral of the title Augustus upon Octavian on January 16, 27 BC (see Augustus). This marked the beginning of the principate (Latin princeps = first among equals). Augustus acquired power through the preexisting republican institutions as Julius Caesar had done, yet more cautiously over time. he reigned from 27 BC to AD 14. His reign and those continuing to Nero led to favorable conditions for the amazing growth of the early Church and the spread of the Gospel. Successors of the Julio-Claudian line were: Tiberius 1437, Caligula Little Boots (Gaius Caesar Germanicus) 3741, Claudius* I (Tiberius Claudius) 4154 and Nero (Nero Claudius Caesar) 5468.
In 68, the Year of the Four Emperors, there were four men aspiring to be emperor: Galba, Vitellius, Otho and Vespasian*. Vespasian (T. Flavius Vespasianus) emerged victorius and his son Titus led forces that sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in AD 70. Vespasian, who ruled 6979, founded the Flavian dynasty that included: Titus* (Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus) 7981 and Domitian* 8196.
In 96, Nerva (M. Cocceius Nerva) was elected as princeps by the Senate and began the series of adoptive emperors that saw the greatest territorial expansion of the Roman Empire and also the beginnings of decline. This group included Nerva 9698, Trajan* 98117, Hadrian 117138, Antonius Pius 138161 (see Persecution of Christians 3), Marcus* Aurelius 161180 and Commodus 180192.
A second year of four emperors followed: Didus Julianus, P. Niger, Clodius Albinus and Lucius Septimus Severus*. Severus (reigned 193211) defeated his rivals and founded a dynasty that included: Caracalla 211217, Elagabal 218222 and M. A. Alexander* Severus 225235. In 212 the Constitutio Antoniniana provided for the universal extension of Roman citizenship to all free people in the provinces.
The weakness of the emperors led to the rise of the political power of the army. The soldier emperors were valued provincial generals, most of whom were murdered. This group includes Maximinus Thrax 235238, Gordian III 238244, Philip* the Arabian (Philippus Arabs) 244249, Decius* 249251, Trebonius Gallus 251253, Valerian* 253260, Gallienus 260268, Claudius II 268270, Aurelian* 270275, Probus 276282 and Carus 283284. Under Decius the first general persecution of Christians occurred. The title Lord and God was first used by an emperor in 274 under Aurelian.
Diocletian* (reigned 284305) was able to thoroughly reform the empire by decentralization. Maximian* became co-emperor in 286. Both augusti retired in 305. Their successors (caesares) were Galerius* and Constantius Chlorus. The first 20-year tetrarchy (rule of four) succeeded; after the new augusti appointed their new caesares, Severus and Maximinus Daia, the second tetrarchy collapsed into the intrigue of dynastic politics with Constantine I and Maxentius, the sons of Constantius Chlorus and Maximian. In 308, Licinius was named Western Emperor. Diocletian rejected the eastern title. Constantine defeated Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge in 312 and Licinius defeated Maximinus Daia in 313 at Adrianople.
Constantine* I (reigned as sole emperor 324337) founded a dynasty that included: Constantius II 337361 and Julian* Apostate 361363. In this period Christianity became a licit religion. The Council of Nicea (see Councils and Synods) was held AD 325 and the major struggle with Arianism* also took place. Then followed Valentinian I 364375, Valens 375378, Gratian* 375383, Theodosius I 379395 and Valentinian II 384394. Valens was defeated by Goths at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. In this time the Germanic barbarian migrations began in earnest due to the pressure of the Huns.
The sons of Theodosius I took the eastern empire (capital: Constantinople) and the western empire (capital: Ravenna) in different directions. The eastern empire ended in 474 and was followed by Byzantine rule (see Zeno[n]). The western empire fell when the barbarian Odoacer (Odovacer) deposed Romulus Augustulus in 476. Odoacer was overthrown by Theoderic* and the Goths* in 493.
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission
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