Finish Strong

The students are undoubtedly excited for the summer break, but they need to successfully navigate through this final week first. Please encourage them to study hard for their exams and finish strong. They have received a review sheet.


The Crisis of the Third Century

Historians of the Roman Empire refer to the period following the death of Alexander Severus in 235 AD to the accession of Diocletian to the imperial throne in 284 AD as the “Crisis of the Third Century.” There were five reasons for this crisis:

  1. Invasions from Germanic barbarians east of the Rhine and north of the Danube and from Sassanid Persians to the Roman Empire’s easternmost border.
  2. The so-called “barracks emperors”—commoners, often from the outskirts of the Roman Empire, who had ascended the ranks of the military and garnered (temporarily) support from the troops—died in battle or were killed by the disenchanted troops who had put them in office. There were twenty-six emperors in this fifty year period.
  3. As a result of civil war, the Roman Empire was divided into three competing empires—the Western Gallic, the Central Roman, and the Eastern Palmyrene.
  4. Given that there had been no expansion since the reign of Hadrian (117-138 AD), the Roman Empire had lost a significant source of its income: conquest. This was compounded by the economic problems of barracks emperors being forced to pay the military to stay in power, paying off barbarian invaders, the expenses of the bread and circuses, inflation as a result of devaluing the denarius, and a decrease in trade.
  5. Plague struck in 250 AD, killing, it was said, 5,000 a day in Rome.

First Jewish-Roman War

Since 63 BC, Judaea had been a client-state ruled by a local king chosen by the Romans. When Augustus took the provinces that bordered the non-Roman world into his own care, they were garrisoned with Roman legions and governed by a deputy appointed by the emperor. Judaea officially became an imperial province in 6 AD. As the name of the province suggests, it was heavily populated by Jews.

There were two primary sources of tension between the Jews and their Roman overlords. First, the Jews were monotheists who were increasingly troubled by the imposition of the Roman imperial cult. Second, they perceived the Roman system of taxation as unjust and oppressive. In 66 AD, Nero, in need of money, ordered Gessius Florus, procurator in Judaea, to take it from the temple in Jerusalem. Things became violent, the Jews revolted, and the Roman general Vespasian, with his son Titus, launched a military campaign to bring them back into subjection. Jerusalem was sacked and its temple destroyed in 70 AD.

The Julio-Claudian Dynasty

The Julio-Claudian dynasty (27 BC-68 AD) refers to the first five emperors—Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero—during the period of the Roman Principate. After the death of Augustus, whatever nobility and restraint that had characterized the Roman Republic was all but lost. Individual Julio-Claudians, men and women both, conspired and murdered their way to place themselves, their own immediate family members, or their lovers to positions of power. Once in power, these individuals gave themselves over to all sorts of depravity and licentiousness. The chief historian of this period, Suetonius (c. 71-c. 135), describes acts that are so wicked that they are at times even difficult to believe.

Augustus Caesar

Be advised: the students have their chapter test this coming Tuesday, April 26.

Gaius Octavius (63 BC-14 AD), better known to posterity as Augustus Caesar or simply Augustus, had learned from the mistakes of his adopted father Julius Caesar. He knew that to move too quickly, too abruptly, and too radically in the direction of autocracy would result in his own death—perhaps, like Caesar, in a pool of his own blood. Following the defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra at Actium in 31 BC, he directed his energies at slowly consolidating his own power and working within the contours of what remained of the Republican system. The Senate could not be brazenly marginalized. If he were to be in effect dictator perpetuo, dictator for life, he could never claim such a title for himself.


Senatus Populusque Romanus. The Senate and the Roman People. The Latin motto was meant to designate the symbiotic relationship between the Senate (or more broadly, the conservative aristocratic elite) and the Roman people—the dual sources of institutional power—working together toward the greater good of the Roman Republic. But in the final years of the Republic, this symbiotic relationship broke down into mutual antagonism. Following the failed efforts for land reform legislation of the brothers Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus (133-121 BC), the Republic became divided into two political factions—the optimates, who favored the senatorial aristocracy, and the populares, who favored the masses—that would ultimately lead its demise and transition into the Empire.

Carthago Delenda Est

The Punic Wars (264-146 BC) were a series of conflicts fought between Rome and Carthage. Punic is derived from the Latin for “Phoenician,” as the city of Carthage was originally a North African colony of the ancient Phoenician civilization. What began as a territorial dispute over the island of Sicily developed into a massive and devastating crisis over the very survival of the respective belligerents. By the end of the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), much of Southern Italy had been impoverished by the Carthaginian general Hannibal’s fifteen year invasion. Despite Rome’s ultimate victory in this second phase of the conflict and the subsequent forced demilitarization of Carthage, war broke out again. By this time, Romans were committed to Cato the Elder’s maxim that Carthago delenda est—Carthage must be destroyed. Carthage fell to a Roman siege in 146 BC, it was sacked and razed to the ground, and its people were sold into slavery.

The Constitution of the Roman Republic

A constitution is a set of principles by which a state is governed. Unlike the American constitution, Rome’s constitution during the period of the Republic was never written down. It evolved over time, largely as a result of what has been called the conflict of the orders—that is, the struggle for power between the Patricians (the Roman aristocracy) and the Plebeians (the Roman commoners). This two hundred year conflict produced a number of concessions granted to the Plebeians that gave them greater representation in the Republic. The mature Roman Republic was a complex governmental system of checks and balances, with various political branches (executive magistrates, the Senate, and legislative assemblies) responsible for the governance of different aspects of public affairs.

Rome: from Kingdom to Republic

According to traditional Roman historiography, Romulus founded the city of Rome in 753 BC. Romulus became Rome’s first king, and he would be followed by six others. In 510 BC, Rome was under the rule of its seventh and final king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. He ruled with violence and intimidation, but tensions came to a head when his son Sextus Tarquinius raped a Roman noblewoman named Lucretia. It was this event that began the overthrow of the Roman kingdom and the establishment of the Roman Republic.