Empire

The death of Severus. February 4, 211.

In 208 Septimius Severus travelled to Britain with the intention of conquering Caledonia. He probably arrived in Britain with an army over 40,000, considering some of the camps constructed during his campaign could house this number. He strengthened Hadrian’s Wall and reconquered the Southern Uplands up to the Antonine Wall, which was also enhanced. Severus then thrust north with his army across the wall into Caledonian territory. Retracing the steps of Agricola of over a century before, Severus rebuilt and garrisoned many abandoned Roman forts along the east coast, such as Carpow. He was supported and supplied by a strong naval force. Cassius Dio‘s account of the invasion reads: Severus, accordingly, desiring to subjugate the whole of it, invaded Caledonia. But as he advanced ...

Julia. January 17, 38 BC.

  According to Suetonius, Scribonia was married three times; her first two husbands were consuls. In 40 BC Scribonia was forced to divorce her second husband and marry Octavian who in turn had divorced his wife Clodia Pulchra. Octavian’s motive in marrying Scribonia was to cement a political alliance with Sextus Pompey, husband to Scribonia’s niece (or sister). The marriage was brief and unhappy; he divorced her on the very same day as the birth of their daughter, Julia the Elder, his only natural child. He allegedly wrote that he was “unable to put up with her shrewish disposition.” Soon after divorcing Scribonia, Octavian took Julia from her. Octavian, in accordance with Roman custom, claimed complete parental control over her. She was sent to live with her s...

Sacrifice to the gods. January 3, 250 AD.

Decius became Roman emperor in 249 as a result of military victories. He made efforts to revive Rome’s “Golden Age“, adding the name of one of his most admired predecessors, Trajan, to his own, revived the ancient office of censor and restored the Colosseum. Restoration of traditional Roman piety was another of his aims, and after performing the annual sacrifice to Jupiter on January 3, 250, he issued an edict, the text of which is lost, ordering sacrifices to the gods to be made throughout the Empire. Jews were specifically exempted from this requirement. There is no evidence that this edict was intended to target Christians or that persecution of Christians was even thought of as one of the effects this decree would have; rather, it was seen as a way of unifying a vast ...

King Cyrus and the Temple of Jerusalem. October 29, 538 BC.

Cyrus the Great figures in the Hebrew Bible as the patron and deliverer of the Jews. He is mentioned 23 times by name and alluded to several times more. According to the Bible, Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, was the monarch under whom the Babylonian captivity ended. In the first year of his reign he was prompted by God to decree that the Temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt and that such Jews as cared to might return to their land for this purpose. Moreover, he showed his interest in the project by sending back with them the sacred vessels which had been taken from the First Temple and a considerable sum of money with which to buy building materials. In 538 BC, there was a revolt in Southern Babylonia, while the army of Cyrus entered the country from the north. In June the Babylonian ar...

The Battle of Actium. September 2, 31 BC.

The Battle of Actium was the decisive confrontation of the Final War of the Roman Republic, a naval engagement between Octavian and the combined forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra on 2 September 31 BC, on the Ionian Sea near the promontory of Actium, in the Roman province of Epirus Vetus in Greece. Octavian’s fleet was commanded by Agrippa, while Antony‘s fleet was supported by the power of Queen Cleopatra of Ptolemaic Egypt. Octavian’s victory enabled him to consolidate his power over Rome and its dominions. He adopted the title of Princeps (“first citizen”) and some years later was awarded the title of Augustus (“revered”) by the Roman Senate. This became the name by which he was known in later times. As Augustus, he retained the trappings of a ...

Attila the Hun. June 4, 452 AD.

  Attila, frequently called Attila the Hun, was the ruler of the Huns from 434 until his death in March 453. He was also the leader of a tribal empire consisting of Huns, Ostrogoths, and Alans among others, in Central and Eastern Europe. During his reign, he was one of the most feared enemies of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires. He crossed the Danube twice and plundered the Balkans, but was unable to take Constantinople. His unsuccessful campaign in Persia was followed in 441 by an invasion of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, the success of which emboldened Attila to invade the West. He also attempted to conquer Roman Gaul (modern France), crossing the Rhine in 451 and marching as far as Aurelianum (Orléans) before being defeated at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. He s...

February 23, 303. The Diocletianic Persecution.

Christians had always been subject to local discrimination in the empire, but early emperors were reluctant to issue general laws against the sect. It was not until the 250s, under the reigns of Decius and Valerian, that such laws were passed. Under this legislation, Christians were compelled to sacrifice to Roman gods or face imprisonment and execution. After Gallienus‘s accession in 260, these laws went into abeyance. Diocletian‘s assumption of power in 284 did not mark an immediate reversal of imperial inattention to Christianity, but it did herald a gradual shift in official attitudes toward religious minorities. In the first fifteen years of his rule, Diocletian purged the army of Christians, condemned Manicheans to death, and surrounded himself with public opponents of Ch...

The Battle of Gaugamela. October 1, 331 BC.

The Battle of Gaugamela was the decisive battle of Alexander the Great‘s invasion of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. In 331 BC Alexander’s army of the Hellenic League met the Persian army of Darius III near Gaugamela, close to the modern city of Dohuk (Iraqi Kurdistan). Though heavily outnumbered, Alexander emerged victorious due to his army’s superior tactics and his deft employment of light infantry. It was a decisive victory for the Hellenic League and led to the fall of the Achaemenid Empire. After the failure of the second negotiation attempt, Darius started to prepare for another battle. Even so, he made a third and final effort to negotiate after Alexander’s departure from Egypt. Darius’ third offer was much more generous. He praised Alexander for the tr...

The Battle of Naulochus. September 3, 36 BC.

On 38 BC, the Second Triunvirate was living a relatively peaceful period: in Rome, Octavian had just married Livia Drusilla, while Marc Antony lived in Athens his last happy days with Octavia, that calmed him and tried to ease relations between him and her beloved brother. However, the marriage of Octavian meant his divorce from Scribonia, Sextus Pompey´s aunt, and this fact accelerated the breach between them. Sextus, son of Pompey, had occupied Sicily for some years as well as Sardinia and the Peloponnese having been appointed as governor by the Treaty of Misenum in 39 BC. Sicily was the main grain supplier of Rome, and it was the last stronghold of the republican resistance. Sextus was a source of conflict for the Triunvirate, as he often stopped the supply of grain, causing hunger in t...

Octavian´s victory over the Dalmatian tribes. August 13, 29 BC.

Born Gaius Octavius Thurinus into an old and wealthy equestrian branch of the plebeian gens Octavia, his maternal great-uncle Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, and Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir. Then known simply as Octavianus, he along with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate to defeat the assassins of Caesar. Following their victory at the Battle of Philippi, the Triumvirate divided the Roman Republic among themselves and ruled as military dictators. The Triumvirate was eventually torn apart by the competing ambitions of its members. Lepidus was driven into exile and stripped of his position, and Antony committed suicide following his defeat at the Battle of Actium by Octavian in 31 BC. After the demise of the Second...

The Battle of Dyrrhachium. July 10, 48 BC.

The Battle of Dyrrachium (or Dyrrhachium) on 10 July 48 BC was a battle during Caesar’s Civil War that took place near the city of Dyrrachium (in what is now Albania). It was fought between Julius Caesar and an army led by Gnaeus Pompey who had the backing of the majority of the Roman Senate. The battle was a victory for Pompey, albeit not a decisive one. The battle preceded the Battle of Pharsalus which was the decisive battle of the Civil War. Caesar did not immediately give chase to Pompey and instead consolidated power in Rome and Italy. He had other problems as well; Pompey had left him with no ships to cross the Adriatic, and Spain had begun to mobilize against Caesar. After gathering the remainder of his forces from Transalpine Gaul he marched into Spain and subdued enough of ...

The foundation of the Tang Dynasty. June 18, 618.

Emperor Gaozu of Tang (8 April 566 – 25 June 635), born Li Yuan, courtesy name Shude, was the founder of the Tang Dynasty of China, and the first emperor of this dynasty from 618 to 626. Under the Sui dynasty, Li Yuan was the governor in the area of modern-day Shanxi, and was based in Taiyuan. In 615, Li Yuan was assigned to garrison Longxi. He gained much experience by dealing with the Göktürks of the north and was able to pacify them. Li Yuan was also able to gather support from these successes and, with the disintegration of the Sui dynasty in July 617, Li Yuan – urged on by his second son Li Shimin (the eventual Emperor Taizong) – rose in rebellion. Using the title of “Great Chancellor“, Li Yuan installed a puppet child emperor, Yang You, but eventually removed him altogeth...

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