Rise of the Barbarians: An Introduction to the Disintegration of the Roman World Rome: After internal struggles, the Roman Republic fell under the dictatorship of Julius Caesar. After Julius Caesar’s assassination, his nephew Octavian (Caesar Augustus) ruled from 27 BCE to 14 CE. Augustus is the same guy who hired Virgil to write The Aeneid. Periods of Literature: A. Classical Period I. Homeric or Heroic Period II. Classical Greek Period III. Classical Roman Period A. Roman Republic Period B. Roman Imperial Period IV. Patristic Period B. Medieval Period Here, you can see Uncle Augie himself, in all his Imperial finery. Imperial Rome: Under the emperors, Rome reached unparalleled heights of influence. As evidenced by their military conquests of their neighbors. Sculpture of “The Dying Gaul,” a defeated Celtic warrior lying wounded upon his shield. The theme of the conquered Celt was popular in Roman poetry and artwork. Their expanded borders grew to encompass the known borders of the Mediterranean sea. . . . Their trade grew, and Rome became so wealthy that the government could provide free food and entertainment to every citizen. Tribute from conquered lands and slave labor provided all the common needs for centuries. The forum and the Trajan Marketplace in Rome. The Romans reared great monuments to their victorious generals and emperors. The Arch of Emperor Constantine in Rome Much of Roman architecture is so well-built it stands even today. Many of the Roman roads are still in use by modern automobiles--after 2,000 years of use. The Pantheon is a marvel even by modern engineering standards. Here is the Oculus of the Pantheon, the temple to all the Roman gods. They adopted Greek architecture, but often on a larger scale. Here is the front of the Pantheon, the temple to all the Roman gods. . . . Even down to such details as Doric columns on their buildings. Late Roman culture was a place of paradox: The vomitorium and the virtues of stoicism Praise for traditional farmers, but increasingly plantation work done by Celtic and Slavic slaves. Concern for iustitia (justice) but increasingly harsh and unfair laws The culture produced magnificent, delicate artwork in the Greek style . . . But for funeral rites, they held gladiatorial games in huge coliseums. The Flavian Amphitheater for gladiatorial matches was several stories tall, and could hold tens of thousands of fans who watched slaves fight to the death or who watched criminals tortured to death. By the second century, gladiatorial matches became more like elaborate entertainment than a religious ritual--complete with underground machinery and exotic animals. The Flavian Amphitheater contained elaborate underground passages for trapdoors and cages to release dangerous animals. Some such coliseums could be flooded for mock naval battles, or they held special platforms for watching Christians and criminals be covered in wax and lit like candles during the reign of Nero. The schizophrenia of Rome grew worse the larger the Empire became. As it conquered new people, it had to deal with new beliefs and new cultures--including mystery cults and monotheistic religions. Rome was fairly tolerant as long as members of minority religions would agree to make a sacrifice to the Divine Emperor as a god once each year. No problem, right? Only a few crazy religions would disagree with that…. like the Jews and the Christians. Christianity learned to embrace martyrdom under the Romans. . . . After years of persecution, Christianity was finally tolerated under Diocletian. Eventually, Christianity won a major victory when, after the battle of the Milvian Bridge, Emperor Constantine became the first ruler to convert to Christianity. Bust of Emperor Constantine: In Hoc Signo Vinceres! The rise of Christianity caused great anxiety in Rome. Christian virtues weren’t the same ones that made Rome mighty. The bloated Empire was disintegrating under the weight of its own success, and social ills were often blamed on the new Christians who preached pacifism rather than conquest and were notoriously judgmental of other religions. And pressure on the borders from the Volkerwanderüng hastened Rome’s decay. The newly Christianized Empire fell apart. Saint Jerome (the compiler and translator of what we now call the Vulgate Bible) wept inconsolably when he heard that Rome had fallen. Saint Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo in North Africa and author of the Confessions, died even as the Vandal barbarian tribes surrounded Hippo and threatened his flock of converts. Image of Saint Augustine It seemed like the end of newborn Christianity. The end of civilization. The end of humanity. Rome with its armies and art and libraries and its pax romana had vanished in flames, burnt and plundered by barbarians like the Goths, the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths, the Vandals, the Huns, and the Alans. Free citizens were unwilling to serve in the army, so Rome hired barbarian mercenaries. The barbarian mercenaries often turned on their masters in a spectacularly bloody fashion. These tribes gutted the Empire and sliced it up like a Thanksgiving Day turkey. In England, the Romanized Celts suffered the invasions of the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes. A thousand years of the “Dark Ages” fell like night on the Classical World. But out of this darkness would rise something new. On the shores of old Britain, the Angles now held sway over “Angle-Land.” In the vacuum of Latin would rise Anglisch . . . English.
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