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Third Century

empire, severus, caracalla, death, succeeded, fortune and roman

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THIRD CENTURY. The central interest of this period lies in the fact that the Roman Empire at the climax of its power and extent, iust when prestunably it ought to be consolidat ing itself for a still greater future, began slowly but surely to crumble under the attacks of the barbarians. Toward the end of the century the Goths in Dacia gave the first hints of that power to defeat Roman armies which portended so clearly the fall of the empire. In the last decade the Saracens, a predatory Arab tribe, who are usually supposed to come into history much later than this, beg.an to make themselves felt. Inspired by Mohammed and unified by religious fanaticism in the 7th cen tury they were to prove more fatal to the empire than even the Goths. The success of the barbarians was favored by the disorder consequent on elections of emperors by the Prwtorian guards. Septimius Severus (em peror 193-211) halted the barbarians for a while but Rome's decline and fall was inevi table. Severus reigned with vigor as became °the soldiers' emperor,)' defeating his coin petitors Niger and Albinus, but cruelly putting to death large numbers of the adherents of his rivals, thus further demoralizing the time. His reign came in the midst of a financial crisis for the empire during which the government re sorted to debasement of the coinage to bolster up its credit Severus was the first of Rome's rulers to lay the foundation of a great private fortune. As emperor he was an extremely hard worker, always at work by dawn, and de voted long hours every day to the duties of his position. On his return to Rome in 202 he was greeted with a popular reception but refused a triumph and in spite of his fortune always lived very modestly. Like Marcus Aurelius he attempted to found a dynasty and when he died at York (Britain), he bequeathed the em pire to his two sons, Caracalla and Geta. Caracalla, having killed his brother, gave a frightful example of imperial misrule. Un doubtedly insane,— nothing else could account for his utter cruelty,— Gibbon terms him common enemy of mankind?' During their father's lifetime the two sons had used the family fortune in racing and gaming, caring only to associate with gladiators and chariot drivers from the circus. To distract them

Septimius planned the conquest of Caledonia and it was this that brought him to Britain, where he erected the wall known by his name between the Forth and the Clyde. After Caracalla had expended the family fortune he went to the greatest length of cruelty and in justice to secure more. One good result of his desire for money was the granting of Roman citizenship to all the provinces so as to secure the right to levy direct taxes and imposts on inheritances (215). In imitation of his father Caracalla visited the various provinces of the empire, but instead of benefiting from his stay, each in turn became the scene of his rapine and cruelties. Having heard that the citizens of Alexandria disapproved his mode of life he ordered a general massacre of the in habitants. He was finally put to death by his soldiers in the East and was followed by a series of emperors in rapid succession, most of whom met violent deaths. Macrinus, who succeeded Caracalla, was put to death within a year by the soldiers. A feminine intrigue then Seated Heliogabalus, an Oriental priest, on the throne. He was worse, if possible, than Cara calla and his name has become a byword for utter viciousness. After four years he was succeeded by Alexander Severus, who meant well and accomplished much, but the rule of Rome was now become a difficult task. He tried the expedient of paying an annual tribute to the Goths to keep them from molesting the empire. This token of weakness had, as might have been expected, exactly the opposite effect. Severus was murdered by a mutiny in the army (235) and was succeeded by Maximinus who bravely led his army against the Dacians and defeated them, but was assassinated by his own people near Aquilia the next year. Bal binus and Gordian reigned very briefly, though Gordian defeated the Persians under Sapor before meeting death from Philip the Arabian who succeeded him in 244.

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