Roman Empire

Constantius III, co-emperor. 8 February 421.

Constantius was a very competent Roman general who made his first appearance in history during the early Fifth Century. Like many of the Roman Empire‘s most illustrious military men, he had been born in Illyria. It is most likely that he had attained the rank of Master of Soldiers and Cavalry in the service of the Roman emperor Honorius by the year A. D. 411. He swiftly ended the rebellion and usurpation of Constantine III by trapping him in the city of Arelate. Constantine III held out for three months, then surrendered the city after the besiegers promised to spare his life. Honorius refused to honor the promise of clemency and had the ex-emperor and his son executed thirty miles outside the city of Ravenna where Honorius maintained his residence. Constantius was appointed patriciu...

The death of Septimius Severus. February 4, 211.

By 210, Septimius Severus‘ campaigning had made significant gains in Britain, despite Caledonian guerrilla tactics and heavy Roman casualties. The Caledonians sued for peace, which Severus granted on condition they gave up control of the Central Lowlands. The Caledonians, short on supplies and feeling their position was becoming desperate, revolted later that year along with the Maeatae. Severus prepared for another protracted campaign within Caledonia. He was now intent on exterminating the Caledonians, telling his soldiers: “Let no-one escape sheer destruction, no-one our hands, not even the babe in the womb of the mother, if it be male; let it nevertheless not escape sheer destruction”. Severus’ campaign was cut short when he fell fatally ill. He withdrew to Eboracum a...

The Nativity of Christ. December 25.

Around the Third Century, the date of birth of Jesus was the subject of both great interest and great uncertainty. The Nativity of Jesus Christ, narrated by both Mathew and Luke in the New Testament are prominent in gospels and early Christian writers suggested various dates for the anniversary. Around AD 200, Clement of Alexandria wrote: “There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of (the Egyptian month) Pachon (May 20)… Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi (April 20 or 21).” Various factors contributed to the selection of December 25 as a date of celebration: it was the date of the winter solstice on the Roman calendar;...

Caracalla and Geta. December 19, 211 AD.

Caracalla’s father, Septimius Severus, died on 4 February 211 at Eboracum while on campaign in Caledonia, north of the Roman Britannia. Caracalla and his brother, Geta, jointly inherited the throne upon their father’s death. Caracalla and Geta ended the campaign in Caledonia after concluding a peace with the Caledonians that returned the border of Roman Britain to the line demarcated by Hadrian’s Wall. During the journey back to Rome with their father’s ashes, Caracalla and his brother continuously argued with one another, their relations growing increasingly hostile. Caracalla and Geta considered dividing the empire in half along the Bosphorus to make their co-rule less hostile. Caracalla was to rule in the west and Geta was to rule in the east. They were persuaded...

The Battle of Nineveh. December 12, 627.

The Battle of Nineveh was the climactic battle of the Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602–628. The Byzantine victory later resulted in civil war in Persia, and for a period of time, restored the Roman Empire to its ancient boundaries in the Middle East. This resurgence of power and prestige was not to last, as after a few years, an Arab Caliphate emerged from Arabia and once again brought the empire to the brink of destruction. The victory at Nineveh was not total: the Byzantines were unable to capture the Persian camp. However, this victory was significant enough to shatter the resistance of the Persians. With no Persian army left to oppose him, Heraclius’ victorious army plundered Dastagird, Khosrau’s palace, and gained tremendous riches. Khosrau had already fled to the mountains o...

This Week In History – Commodus Imperator. 27 November 177 AD.

On November 27, 177, Emperor Marcus Aurelius granted his son Commodus the rank of “Imperator” and makes him Supreme Commander of the Roman legions. This marked the start of Commodus´ rule, first as co-emperor with his father, and solely after his father´s death in 180. His accession was the first time a son had succeeded his biological father since Titus succeeded Vespasian in 79. He was also the first emperor to have both a father and grandfather (who had adopted his father) as the two preceding emperors. During his solo reign, the Empire enjoyed a period of peace and reduced military conflict compared to his father´s reign but intrigues and conspiracies abounded, leading Commodus to an increasingly dictatorial style of leadership that culminated in a God-like personality cult...

Emperor Diocletian and the Tetrarchy. November 20, 284 AD.

After his rise through the ranks of military until he became the Roman Cavalry Commander to Emperor Carus, when Carus and his son Numerian died on campaign in Persia, Diocletian became emperor on November 20, 284. Of course, Carus surviving son, Carinus also claimed the title, but was defeated in the battle of Margus.  Diocletian´s rule put an end to the Crisis of the Third Century. Diocletian named his fellow officer Maximian co-emperor,  Augustus, in 286. Afterwards, in 293, he named caesars Galerius and Constantius, or heirs of the augustus title. This new regime was called the Tetrarchy, or “government of four”, and it meant the geographical division of the empire into four parts. Diocletian lead military campaigns against Sarmatians, Carpi, Alemanii, and the usurpers in Egypt, securin...

The Battle of the Milvian Brigde. October 28, 312 AD.

The Battle of the Milvian Bridge took place between the Roman Emperors Constantine I and Maxentius on October 28, 312. It takes its name from the Milvian Bridge, an important route over the Tiber river. Constantine won the battle and started on the path that led him to end the Tetrarchy and become the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. Maxentius drowned in the Tiber during the battle; his body was later taken from the river and decapitated, and his head was paraded through the streets of Rome on the day following the battle. According to chroniclers, the battle marked the beginning of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. Eusebius of Caesarea recounts that Constantine and his soldiers had a vision sent by the Christian God.

Trajan, Nerva´s successor. October 28,97 AD.

In September 96, Emperor Domitian was succeeded by Marcus Cocceius Nerva. After a brief and turbulent year in power, culminating in a revolt by members of the Praetorian Guard, Nerva was compelled to adopt the more popular Trajan as his heir and successor. Since Nerva was really unpopular with the army and had recently been forced to execute Domitian´s killers by his Praetorian Prefect, he felt the need to gain support of the military in order to avoid being deposed. He accomplished this on October 28 of 97 by naming Trajan as his adoptive son and successor, pleading only Trajan´s outstanding military merits. There are hints that Trajan´s adoption was imposed on Nerva, as Pliny wrote, and if this is what happened, then Trajan would be an usurper, and the notion of natural continuity betwee...

The Battle of Zama. October 19, 202 BC.

The Battle of Zama meant the end of the 17 years long Second Punic War. An army led by Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, supported by Masinissa, the Numidian leader, defeated a force greater in numbers and that counted with eighty war elephants, led by commander Hannibal. In Hannibal´s army there were a great number of conscripts, and it had been recently hampered by the vaunted Numidian cavalry,that had switched sides and now supported the Romans, having a superior cavalry by then. Instead of massing together to oppose the elephants, Scipio´s troops blew their horns loudly so that the elephants would charge through their open ranks, pelting them with missiles as they passed through, confusing and defeating them. Scipio deployed his army in three lines: the first line was composed of the...

Heraclius, emperor. October 4, 610.

In 608, Heraclius the Elder, Heraclius´ father, renounced his loyalty to the Emperor Phocas. The rebels even issued coins showing both Heraclii dressed as consuls, though neither of them had claimed the imperial title. Phocas responded with executions, among them of the ex-Empress Constantina and her three daughters. Heraclius’ younger cousin Nicetas launched a successful overland invasion of Egypt, where he defeated Phocas´ army. While this invasion was taking place, the younger Heraclius sailed eastward through Sicily and Cyprus, planning to enter Constantinople. Some prominent Byzantine aristocrats came to meet Heraclius, and he arranged to be crowned and acclaimed as Emperor before even entering Constantinople. As he approached the city, and planned the attack, the Excubitors, th...

Domitian, Emperor. September 13, 81 AD.

After a short reign, Titus, the elder son of Vespasian, died unexpectedly as a result of a disease on the 13th September 81. Next day, his younger brother Domitian was proclaimed emperor by the Praetorian Guard, his reign being the longest since that of Tiberius and the last of the Flavian Dynasty. He is described by classical sources as a cruel and paranoid tyrant, comparing his vileness to that of Nero or Caligula. Nevertheless, this sources have proven to be not very objective, as they come from writers openly hostile to the emperor, and modern research has shown that he was a ruthless but efficient monarch that developed cultural and economic programs that set the foundation of a very prosperous 2nd century.

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