The division of the Roman Empire in East and West

The last Division of the roman empire Arises from the death of Emperor Theodosius I. The Empire was divided to improve communications and military response against external threats.

The Tetrarquía imposed by Diocletian managed that the Crisis of the Third Century came to an end. His sons Arcadius and Honorius ruled the Roman Empire of East and West after the death of his father.

Map of the division of the roman empire

Background to the division of empire

As the Roman Republic expanded, it reached a point where the Rome-based central government could not effectively govern the distant provinces. Communications and transportation were especially problematic given the vast extent of the empire.

News of invasion, riots, natural disasters, or epidemic outbreaks were carried by boat or by post, which often took a long time to reach Rome. It is for this reason that the provincial governors had a de facto government in the name of the Roman Republic.

Before the establishment of the Empire, the territories of the Roman Republic had been divided in the AD 43 between the members of the Second Triumvirate, these were Marco Antonio, Octavio and Marco Emilio Lepidus. Marco Antonio received the provinces of East: Achaea, Macedonia and Epirus (now Greece, Albania and the coast of Croatia), Bithynia, Ponto and Asia (now Turkey), Syria, Cyprus and Cyrenaica. These lands had previously been conquered by Alexander the Great and so much of the aristocracy was of Greek origin. The whole region, especially the great cities, had largely assimilated into Greek culture, and this was the language spoken.

Octavian obtained the Roman provinces of the West: Italy (modern Italy), Gaul (modern France), Gaul Belgium (parts of modern Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg) and Hispania (modern Spain and Portugal). These lands also included Greek and Carthaginian colonies in coastal areas, although Celtic tribes such as Gauls and Celtiberians were culturally dominant.

Marco Antonio Lépido for his part, received the minor province of Africa (the modern Tunisia) but Octavio took it quickly while adhering to Sicily (modern Sicily) to its dominions.

After the defeat of Marco Antonio, Octavio controlled a united Roman empire. Although this offered many different cultures, they were gradually experiencing gradual romanization.

Although the culture predominantly of the Greek East and the culture predominantly of the West Latin, effectively worked as an integrated whole, the political and military developments would finish to align to the Empire following these cultural and linguistic lines.

The Crisis of the Third Century

The situation of the Roman Empire was very serious in the 235 year, when the emperor Alexander Severo was assassinated by his own troops. Many Roman legions had been defeated during a campaign against the invasion of Germanic towns across the borders, whereas the emperor concentrated mainly in the perils of the Persian Empire of Sasánida.

By personally directing his troops, Alexander Severus turned to diplomacy and paid tribute in an attempt to pacify quickly the Germanic chiefs. According to Herodiano, this cost him the respect of his troops, who might have felt that they had to punish the tribes that were invading the territory of Rome.

In the years following the emperor's death, the generals of the Roman army fought for control of the empire and neglected their duties to defend it from outside invasions.

The peasants were victims of frequent incursions along the Rhine and Danube rivers by foreign tribes such as the Goths, Vandals and Alamanas, and the Sasanian attacks in the east. On the other hand, climatic changes and rising sea levels ruined agriculture from what is now the Netherlands, forcing the tribes to emigrate; In addition to this in 251, a plague (possibly smallpox) broke out causing the death of a large number of people, possibly weakening the ability of the Empire to defend itself.

Aureliano reigned from 270 to 275 through the worst of the crisis by defeating the Vandals, the Visigoths, the Persians and then the rest of the Gallic empire. At the end of 274, the Roman Empire met in a single entity and the troops of the border were again in its place. It would take more than a century before Rome once again lost military dominance over its external enemies. However, dozens of previously prosperous cities especially in the Western Empire had been ruined, their dispersed populations and the disintegration of the economic system could not be rebuilt.

Finally, although Aurelianus had played a significant role in restoring the Empire's frontiers of external threat, the most fundamental problems remained. In particular, the right of succession had never been clearly defined in the Roman Empire, which led to continuous civil wars.

The Senate and other parties also introduced their favorite candidate for the position of Emperor. Another issue was the size of the Empire that made it difficult for a single autocratic ruler to effectively handle multiple threats at the same time. Later with the system of tetrarquía, Diocleciano would put an end to the Crisis of the Third Century.

Reasons for division

In theory at least, the Empire was divided to improve communications and military response to external threats. The Romans had a difficult problem, indeed an insoluble problem to deal with: for centuries, powerful generals had used the backing of their armies to compete for the throne; This meant that any emperor who wanted to die in his bed, had to maintain a tight reign in these armies. On the other hand, key strategic frontiers such as The Rhine, The Danube and the border with Parthia (present-day Iran) were far from each other and further away from Rome.

Controlling the western border of Rome was reasonably easy, because it was relatively close and also because of the disunity among the Germanic enemies. However, control of both frontiers during the war was difficult because if the emperor was near the border in the east, it was very likely that an ambitious general would rebel in the West and vice versa. This opportunism of war, plagued many ruling emperors and paved the way to power for several future emperors.

La Tetrarchy

Diocletian, through recognition of the fact that an emperor in Rome could not effectively administer all the provinces or the broad borders with his external threats, attempted to reduce the problem through the establishment of the tetrarch system.

Through this system, two emperors controlled four large regions of the empire supported by a strong army of professional soldiers.

In 285 he promoted Maximianus to the rank of Augustus and gave him control of the western regions of the Empire, and later in 293 Galerius and Constantius I were designated Caesars thus creating the first tetrarchy.

This system effectively divided the empire into four major regions and created separate capitals besides Rome, in order to avoid the civil discontent that had marked the Crisis of the III Century. In the West, the capitals for Maximian were the Mediolanum (present-day Milan) and Constantine the Trier; In the east the capitals were Sirmium and Nicomedia.

On May 1, 305, the two Augustos major resigned and their respective Caesars were promoted to Augustos, naming in turn two new Caesars and thus creating the Second Tetrarchy.

Unfortunately Diocletian established a solution to the problems of the empire that created a very dangerous dynamic, as he tried to impose a centralized control of the economy to reinforce the empire's defenses. Unfortunately, their plans that included price controls, forcing workers to inherit professions and aggressive taxes, also exaggerated the division between East and West.

Teodosio I

The two halves of the empire continued to prosper equally until the reign of the emperor Theodosius I, which runs from 379 AD to 395 AD. It is here that the internal and external forces endeavored to divide the two halves.

These included the Emperor's excessive impetus in the spread of Christianity, the sacrifice of pagan practices, the corruption of the ruling class, the incursions of the Germanic tribes and, of course, the over-extension of limits and resources.

The Gothic War Which arose between the years 376 to 382, ​​severely weakened the Western Empire and later in the battle of Adrianople in 378, the Eastern Emperor Flavio Julio Valente was defeated by Fritigerno of the Tervingian Goths, marking the beginning of the end Of the Roman Empire.

After the death of Gratian in 383, the interests of Theodosius I addressed the Roman Empire of the West, where the usurper Magno Clement Maximus had taken all these provinces except Italy. This self-proclaimed threat was hostile to the interests of Theodosius the Great, since the reigning emperor Valentinian II enemy of Maximus, was the ally of Theodosius I.

This, however, was unable to do much against Maximus because of his still inadequate military capability. For his part, Maximus expected to share the Empire with Theodosius I, but when he began an invasion of Italy in 387, Theodosius felt compelled to take action. Both sides raised large armies that included many barbarians.

The armies of both leaders fought in the Battle of the Salvation in the year 388, in which finally the usurper Maximum falls defeated. Later on August 28 of that same year, he was executed.

Theodosius The Great celebrated his victory in Rome on June 13, 389 and remained in Milan until 391, installing his loyalists in high positions including the new Magister Militum of the West General Flavio Arbogastes. Valentinian II, who was restored to the throne after Maximo's death, was a very young man and Arbogastes was the one who truly was in power behind the throne.

The problem arose again after Valentinian II fought publicly with Arbogastes and was later found hanging in his room. Arbogastes then, announced that this had been a suicide.

Unable to assume the role of emperor because of his non-Roman origin, he chose Eugene, a former professor of rhetoric who made some limited concessions to the Roman religion. As Maximo conceived, he sought the recognition of Theodosius I in vain. Later in January 393, Theodosius I bestowed upon his son Honorius the full rank of Augustus in the western part of the empire.

The last division

Theodosius I, was the last emperor of a united Roman empire. He died at the beginning of 395, probably of dropsy or heart failure. On his deathbed, he divided the Roman Empire between his two sons Arcadius and Honorius. The Roman general Flavio Stilicón was named by the emperor before his death as tutor of his son Honorio, since he was still very young. Stilicho was a great ally of Theodosius I, who saw him as a worthy man and who could ensure the security and stability of the empire.

The army of Theodosius I dissolved quickly after his death, with Gothic contingents bursting into Constantinople. His heir in the eastern part of the Empire left Arcadio, who was about eighteen years old, and in the western part of Honorius, only ten years old. None of them showed signs of aptitude to rule and their reigns were marked by a series of disasters.

Honorio was placed under the tutelage of Magister Militum Flavio Stilicón, while Rufino, became the power behind the throne of Arcadio in the eastern part of the Empire. Rufino and Stilicón were rivals and their disagreements were exploited by the Gothic leader Alarico I, who rebelled again after the death of Theodosius the Great. Not even half of the Empire was able to raise enough strength even to subdue the men of Alaric I, and both tried to use it against the other. At the same time, Alarico I tried to establish a long-term territorial and official basis, but was never able to do so.

Stilicón on the other hand tried to defend Italy and to have to the invaders Goths under control but to do it, despojó to the border of the Rhine of the troops and the Vandals, Alanos and Suevos invaded Gaul.

Stilicon then became a victim of judicial intrigue and was later killed in 408. While the eastern part of the Empire began a slow recovery and consolidation, the western part began to collapse completely. Later in the year 410 the men of Alarico I looted Rome.


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