October 7, 2012

Middle East Politics: How Rome Did It (Part 3)

Following emperors would emulate Trajan’s example gradually expanding the empire in the east even marching into the heart of Parthia sacking the city of Seleucia and capturing Ctesiphon. Yet, despite these victories, little actually changed in Roman/Parthian relations. Little actual territory was added, no more than two lonely cities along a lengthy but narrow strip of fertile river land connecting it to Roman provinces. It isn’t until Septimius Severus’ rule that another change occurs.

Septimius Severus was born and raised in Eastern provinces giving him a unique background with a mixture of Greco-Roman and local culture (Millar, 120). Like those before him, he launched a series of expansive wars against Parthia across the Euphrates frontier. In order to administer the increased territory, Severus divided the Syria province in twain, creating Syria Coele and Syria Phoenice. Millar notes that Roman newly conquered territory across the Euphrates, rather than serve as a “bulwark for Syria” as intended, served instead as a constant generator of conflict with the Medes and Parthians, “providing very little and consuming much”. During the reign of Severus the Near East Provinces became increasingly Romanized due to implementation of Roman res publia (civilian structures of government) and founding of additional Colonia.

The next major development in the East is Caracalla’s extension of Roman citizenship to all Eastern Provinces. This move shows how committed Rome was to the conquest of Eastern lands, fully intending to make them part of the empire. Millar sees the well-established role of emperors personally leading campaigns and focusing heavily on eastern provinces as emulation of Alexander the Great. This parallel between the Empire of the Caesars and the Macedonian conquests is further reinforced in the 220’s when Parthian empire is overthrown by Persian dynasty from Fars Iran. The new king Ardashir I announced his wish to regain entire territory of ancient Persian Empire. However there were only a small number of actual Persian crossings and no actual military presence across river until the reign of Shapur in AD 252-273. Rather than an upheaval in the frontier, initially this period was characterized peace and continued Roman rule in Near East.

As mentioned previously the reign of Shapur in Persia marks change of peaceful Roman established rule in region. Invasions by Persians across Euphrates sparked off revolts and uprisings across Roman the ruled Provinces especially in Palmyra, and while the territory gained by Persia would be re-conquered by Rome, the area would remain a battleground especially in Mesopotamia.

As the empire aged it gradually abandoned the vestiges of the old republic. By the 270’s the Rome had entered the late empire era characterized by the increasing power of local governors and the division of the emperor’s office into the Tetrarchy. This Tetrarchy consisted of two Augusti, co-emperors and two Caesars, vice emperors. Diocletian who first instigated this system ruled over the Eastern provinces. Diocletian’s period until 295 saw a relatively peaceful Persia, but AD 296 marks the beginning of major Persian campaigns against Rome. This same period also marks increase in Roman fortifications along border areas with forts and strong camps as well as a unified system named after the emperor of heavily fortified roads and lined with forts systems. For the first time the frontier between Persia and Rome began to resemble a defensive line akin to modern concepts of borders.

Image Credit: Iakov Kalinin / Shutterstock

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