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Rome in transition
BBC - History - Third Century Crisis of the Roman EmpireThe tragedy of the third century is that the chosen leader had to usurp imperial powers to assume the necessary authority instead of acting on behalf of a legitimate emperor who had lost all his credibility.
The result was constant disunity, forcing the Romans to spend valuable time and resources fighting each other, instead of working together to devote all their energies to solving the social, religious, financial and military issues that beset the empire in this time of crisis.
The fact that the empire came so close to disintegration, and yet recovered, is a tribute to the various emperors who put an end to the chaos. But in doing so, they created a different world.
The Roman empire entered the third century in a form that would have been recognisable to Augustus and his successors, but it emerged into the fourth century with all its administrative and military institutions changed, bureaucratic, rigid, and constantly geared for war, with its capital no longer at Rome but in Constantinople.
BBC - History - The Official Truth: Propaganda in the Roman EmpireThe Romans developed a sophisticated world-view which they projected successfully through literature, inscriptions, architecture, art, and elaborate public ceremonial.
Some elements of this world-view evolved during the existence of the empire, most notably with the adoption of Christianity in the early fourth century AD.
As well as stressing the role of the emperor as civil ruler, Roman propagandists henceforward developed a more rounded and inclusive view of what it meant to be part of the empire.
Gladiators fought to the death dressed to mimic historic enemies like Samnites, Gauls and Britons. Christians were eaten alive by half-starved beasts. Rebels and outlaws were burnt at the stake. The arena offered a pageant of 'the war on terror' Roman-style.
Much imperial propaganda consisted of traditional themes endlessly repeated. But one big change was of truly world-shaking importance: the adoption of Christianity by the Roman state.
Paganism had been the living heart of Roman propaganda for a thousand years. Every significant act demanded sacrifice to appease a god. No new enterprise could be entertained without divine favour.
When Constantine the Great ordered his men to fight as Christians in 312 AD, he began an ideological revolution.
By the end of the century, paganism was effectively outlawed, and Christianity was the dominant religion of the state, the army, the elite and the towns.
The bishops reciprocated the favour shown the Church by preaching loyalty to the secular power.
An alliance was forged between church and state, and henceforward Roman emperors were represented as the agents of God on Earth, charged with crushing paganism and heresy, with defending Christendom against its enemies.