Chapter 5: Crisis of the empire and rise of early Christianity


5.1 Rome moves to Constantinople

According to modern historians, the crisis of the Third Century was a turning point for the empire. After that Aurelian in 274 reunited the empire, and from 284 Diocletian and his successors reorganized it with more emphasis on the military—but there was a strategic fault. Diocletian tried to address the problem of needing to pay administrative and military attention to different strategic priorities in border areas of the empire by reestablishing an adoptive succession with a senior (Augustus) and junior (Caesar) emperor in each half of the empire. The empire was effectively broken into two, and possibly four, areas. This system of tetrarchy (rule of four people) broke down within one generation, and civil war was thereafter the main method of establishing new imperial regimes. This reorganization and the fact that Diocletian launched the most systematic persecution against Christians shows that for this emperor Christianity was part of the problem, undermining the martial spirit of the army and thus the ability to resist Barbarians, a new people considered by Christians not enemies but brethren to convert.

The empire was again reunited by Constantine the Great, and toward the end of the fourth century the need for division was no longer disputed. From then on, the empire existed in constant tension between the need for two emperors and their mutual mistrust[1]. The legal fiction of the early empire—in which the emperor was officially still the first among equals—was disposed of. The emperors, starting with Aurelian, openly styled themselves as dominus et deus, lord and god, titles appropriate for a slave to use toward his master[2] and a reason Christians rejected this new order and were persecuted for it. In this environment, the Christian protests found grounds in the defense of the older Roman order. In a way the worship of the Christian God and the opposition to the new deification of the emperor sounded more traditional than the Aurelian reforms.

An elaborate court ceremony was developed, and obsequious flattery became the order of the day. Under Diocletian, the flow of direct requests to the emperor was rapidly reduced and soon ceased altogether. No other form of direct access replaced them, and the emperor only received information filtered through his courtiers[3].

Then two important developments occurred that were to totally change the future of the Mediterranean. Constantine, the main emperor, took residence and established his capital in Byzantium, Constantinople (“the city of Constantine”), and moreover he saw Christianity as part of the solution to the imperial troubles, not as a problem.

The choice of Byzantium in many ways was similar to the Ming moving the capital from Nanjing to Beijing. Nanjing made sense for the administration of the country, being located in the center; but Beijing was better on a strategic level, as it was closer to the steppes and thus could learn of and intervene faster to stave off possible invasions. Byzantium’s troops could move through the Balkans to respond to Barbarian attacks coming from the steppes—possibly even before they reached the German frontier—and could also act faster in case of threats from the Persians. Rome, in an ideal position at the center of the Mediterranean and conveniently defended by the Alps and the sea, was in a good defensive position, but a difficult offensive location. In this way, it was also similar to the Qin capital Chang’an, shielded by mountains in the northwest and southeast against enemy invasions, close to trade from the western steppes, and perched on the rich plains of the east[4]. Similarly Byzantium was at the mouth of the two seas, the Mediterranean and Black; able to control trade from the east; and also in an ideal defensive position, protected by water on one side and strong fortifications on the other.

After Constantine, it was clear also that Christianity could provide a useful means to reestablish awe for the emperor and almost paradoxically maintain the earlier imperial tradition of the fiction of equality among nobility. It was no longer necessary for the emperor to be considered a god, something that ran against centuries of Roman tradition, yet his power could perhaps be even better reinforced with the blessing of the Christian God. The emperor was not a god (one among many in the old Roman pantheon) but was chosen by God (who was one and undisputed, in line with Christians’ beliefs). Moreover, the emperor, defender of the Christian faith, especially in the early centuries, wielded great power and influence over the church. Similar systems were then adopted in Russia (Moscow styled itself as the third Rome, after Rome and Constantinople) and in England, where the head of state, the czar or the king, was (and still is in England) the head of the church. Following this approach, Christianity became the religion of any ambitious civil official.

Under Constantine, the cities lost their revenue from local taxes, and under Constantius II (who reigned 337–361), their endowments of property[5]. This worsened the existing trouble maintaining strong city councils, and the services provided by cities were reduced or abandoned. Constantius increased also the practice of granting to his immediate entourage the estates of persons condemned for treason and other capital charges, rather than incorporating them into the state; this reduced future though not immediate income, and those close to the emperor gained a strong incentive to stimulate his suspicion of plots, something that in the short term might have helped the ruling emperor, but in the longer term had a more divisive influence on the administration of the empire.

The division of the empire into two parts, east and west, was the practical answer to the difficulties of ruling an empire across the Mediterranean. In the fourth century, the Romans realized the empire was too vast, poorly connected, and short on the effective administrative tools needed to be truly unified. It had to be managed by two emperors who would help each other against enemies challenging their power over the coastline of the central sea. This pattern lasted basically until the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Moreover, not too long after the division, in the fifth century, the Western Empire crumbled and fell, while it persisted for a thousand more years in the east. There are few or no exhaustive explanations for why it lasted in the east and fell in the west. The fact that Constantinople was easier to defend than Rome, at a time when the capital was paramount to the power of a state, is certainly important, but it seems insufficient. Perhaps it also has to do with local history. In the west, there was little or no tradition of statehood. Romans imposed their rule over semi-barbaric people. For them, Rome was their first experience of state. With the waning of Roman power, there was also the crumbling of statehood there.

The history was quite different in the east, where Rome conquered territories that had experienced statehood for centuries or millennia. Rome took over Hellenistic empires, which had been based on Persian empires, and grounded in Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, or Sumerian empires. Those traditions and their continuity possibly helped to hold together Roman rule.

On the other hand, in the west, the arrival of Germanic tribes re-imposed ways of living and ruling that were not too different from the tradition of the Celtic people under the Roman yoke. The Roman rule had been therefore a parenthesis—quite long, lasting half a millennium, but not as long as the 3,000 to 4,000 years of empire in the east. In other words, the lasting Celtic tradition, not so removed from the new Germanic mores, helped to incorporate the former Roman rule into a new-old tradition of warriors and their bands that resembled almost the Gaul tribes that had been beaten by Caesar. The chaos, the dark times of the Middle Ages in Europe, which didn’t occur in the east, may have also taken place because of this history.

All of this is very different from the experience of empire in China. China had a better system of administration that went back to the times of the Han Empire, already forged by about a thousand years of incessant improvements. Moreover, the Chinese emperor ruled a flat land, not subject to the seasonal vagaries of a sea that would systematically prevent communications in case of bad weather. Land communication, although in some cases slower, could be safer and more constant. Geographic barriers (an ocean in the east, deserts in the north and west, and high mountains and jungle in the west and south) furthermore provided incentives to concentrate on the central plains, which was a world onto itself.

5.2 The fall of the Western Empire and the first sack of Rome

At the end of the fourth century, the Huns, a Turkic-Mongolic population, pushed west and south, pushing in turn the Goths, who had so far provided a buffer between the Roman Empire and the other Barbarians. It is still unclear what caused the Huns to migrate. In the 18th century, Joseph de Guignes was the first to link the Huns with the Xiongnu, who had for centuries inhabited the steppes north of the Han Empire.[6] However, besides the name, little proof has so far been found of the link. The Huns established a steppe empire on the Caspian Sea and appeared around 370 on the north side of the Black Sea with revolutionary fighting tactics. They would shoot from a double-curved bone bow while riding a horse. The bow was smaller than a normal bow, but because of the double curve it had far greater power than the normal single-curve weapon. This, combined with the speed of the horse in full gallop against enemy lines, gave the Huns enormous push and mobility before the armies of the Roman Empire and their Barbarian tribes.[7]

In 376 the east faced an enormous Barbarian influx across the Danube, mostly Goths who sought protection from the Huns. They were mistreated by local Roman officials and took up arms, joined by more Goths and some Alans and Huns. In 378 Valens attacked the invaders with the Eastern Field Army, perhaps some 20,000 men (possibly only 10% of the soldiers nominally available in the Danube provinces), and in the Battle of Adrianople on August 9, 378, he lost much of that army and his own life. All of the Balkan provinces were thus exposed to raids without effective response from the remaining garrisons who were “more easily slaughtered than sheep”.[8] Cities were able to hold their own walls against Barbarians who had no siege equipment, and they generally remained intact. General Theodosius was able to recover parts of the Balkans by recruiting bands of Barbarians, but the regular army could no longer be reestablished. This led to an agreement with the Goths that they could not be expelled or exterminated, nor reduced to non-free status.

They were either recruited into the imperial forces or settled in the devastated provinces along the south bank of the Danube, where the regular garrisons were never fully reestablished. It was the first time that Barbarians were given a home within the empire in which they retained their political and military cohesion[9]. No formal treaty is recorded, nor details of whatever agreement was actually made. It was the fundamental break of imperial rule, an admission that imperial authority had to be traded with Barbarians in return for peace. This deep weakness of Rome must not have escaped Gothic leaders. In 391 Alaric, a Gothic king, rebelled against Roman control. The Goths attacked the emperor himself, but within a year Alaric was accepted as a leader of Theodosius’s Gothic troops and the rebellion was over. Theodosius’ financial position must have been precarious, since he had to pay for expensive campaigns from a reduced tax base. The business of subduing Barbarian warmongers also demanded substantial gifts of precious metal[10].

Meanwhile, Theodosius had to face a renewed civil war in the west, where Magnus Maximus marched to Gaul and was responsible for the first official execution of Christian heretics in the name of Christian orthodoxy. Theodosius defeated Magnus, but died shortly after, in 395, leaving two sons in charge of the empire. Yet neither son proved effective, while Theodosius’ main general, Stilicho, tried to reunite the empire without any success.

The Roman Army then was a ghost of its former self. It was now manned mainly by Barbarians who had little or no adequate training, discipline, pay, or supplies. Local defense was at times effective, but was often associated with withdrawal from central control and taxes; in many areas, Barbarians under Roman authority attacked culturally Roman self-organized farmers.[11] The super-rich senatorial aristocrats in Rome itself became increasingly influential during the fifth century; they supported armed strength in theory, but did not wish to pay for it or to offer their own workers as army recruits.

In the meantime Alaric was disappointed in his hopes for promotion to magister militum (Rome’s top general) and led armed Gothic tribesmen to establish an independent power, burning the Balkan countryside up to the walls of Constantinople. This proved the ineffectiveness of granting political power to the Barbarians within the empire: they were to be destroyed or expelled from the empire, or acculturated under effective Roman domination.

Early in the spring of 401, Alaric, probably desperate and fearing the retaliation of Stilicho, who was mustering troops against him, invaded Italy. Stilicho met Alaric in two battles without decisive results. The Goths, weakened, were allowed to retreat back to Illyricum where the western court again gave Alaric an official post. The following decade saw a series of rebellions and attempted invasions, which both distracted Stilicho and strengthened Alaric. In 407 he crossed the Adriatic Sea by boat, and marched on Rome demanding a ransom that Rome paid. The super-rich aristocrats made little contribution; pagan temples were stripped of ornaments to make up the total. With promises of freedom, Alaric also recruited many of the slaves in Rome, then moved to Tuscany where he recruited more slaves and tried to move out of the peninsula in return for grain supplies from Rome. Negotiations failed and Alaric placed Rome under siege taking it by starvation and sacking it in 410.

Rome had not been sacked for eight centuries, since the invasion of the Gauls. It was the end of a world, of a myth. Both Christians and pagans wrote embittered tracts, blaming paganism or Christianity respectively for the loss of Rome’s supernatural protection. Some Christian responses anticipated an imminent of Judgment Day. In his book City of God, Augustine ultimately rejected the pagan and Christian idea that religion should have worldly benefits; he developed the doctrine that the City of God in heaven, undamaged by mundane disasters, was the true objective of Christians.

Yet the sense of the end of the world was reinforced on the news of Alaric’s death on his attempt to leave Italy. It was as if the old gods of Rome had descended to earth to complete a task the legions were unable fulfill. According to Gothic tradition, a river near Cosenza was diverted and he was buried under it with his portion of the Rome plunder, possibly a dozen carts of gold and silver, the best of the best of eight centuries of conquest and victories. His burial site was never discovered, and his treasure never recovered.

5.3 The rise of the new ideological center, the papacy, and the first paramount theology; Augustine, a Roman from Carthage

Early Christianity took a few centuries to take shape, and this occurred while the new religion spread fast in the empire. First was the persecution of Christians, as occurred in Rome under Nero, about a generation after the death of Christ. That it is to say that in a few decades, Christianity had already marched into the heart of the empire and was posing a fundamental threat to it.

Similarly, shortly before, Spartacus’ insurrection had also spread very quickly and was put down with arms. The empire, ruled with an iron fist, was prone to accepting ideas that could give hope and venues for emancipation to the lesser people. In the case of Spartacus, who opposed Roman force with parallel force, the crackdown was effective and slaves never again rebelled on a large scale; for Christians, people who “resisted” violence with peaceful acceptance and meek resignation, the first crackdown reinforced their faith and helped the upsurge of the new religion.

In a way, in an empire ruled by ruthless violence, where peace as we saw was making a sea of enemies and cruel crucifixion was a standard punishment to cow adversaries into submission, pacifist Christianity thrived. It did so possibly because Christians did not confront violence with violence and were willing to meekly accept repression and persecution without challenging the rule of Rome. In fact, the Roman rule, the unity in the empire of its language and customs, provided the first important conduit for the development of the new religion. And the people charged with the anti-Christian crackdown often came to be moved and converted just by the behavior of their victims.

Rodney Stark[12] argues that Christianity triumphed over paganism mainly because it improved the lives of its adherents in many ways and took them away from the existence of constant terror and competition for survival typical of the Roman society. Another factor, more recently pointed out, was the way in which Christianity combined its promise of a general resurrection of the dead with the traditional Greek belief that true immortality depended on the survival of the body. It was a new concept, grounded in preexisting Greek philosophy, that gave hope to the faithful beyond their earthly experience, which for both rich and poor might not be satisfying. Lastly, Christianity introduced a complex teleology providing explanations for how this was going to actually happen at the end of the world[13]. To Mosheim[14], the rapid progression of Christianity was explained by two factors: translations of the New Testament and the Apologies composed in defense of Christianity.

Edward Gibbon, in his classic The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, discusses the topic in considerable detail in his famous Chapter Fifteen, summarizing the historical causes of the early success of Christianity as follows: “(1) The inflexible, and, if we may use the expression, the intolerant zeal of the Christians, derived, it is true, from the Jewish religion, but purified from the narrow and unsocial spirit which, instead of inviting, had deterred the Gentiles from embracing the law of Moses. (2) The doctrine of a future life, improved by every additional circumstance which could give weight and efficacy to that important truth. (3) The miraculous powers ascribed to the primitive church. (4) The pure and austere morals of the Christians. (5) The union and discipline of the Christian “res publica”, which gradually formed an independent and increasing state in the heart of the Roman Empire.”[15]

To achieve all this, Christians themselves had to change and evolve. They started off as a purely Jewish group. In the first nucleus of the Apostles’ and faithful, Jesus had only Jews and sermons and preaching were probably in Aramaic, not Greek or Latin, the two languages of the empire. It was only Paul of Tarsus, an early Jewish convert who had not met Jesus, who started preaching outside the Jewish community in Greek, the lingua franca of the eastern part of the empire. So early Jewish beliefs soon seeped into Greek culture, that incidentally had also become very influential in the Jewish world. Greek philosophy, which had become pervasive in the Roman Empire, especially that of Plato, provided the first cultural framework to spread, introduce, and explain the new beliefs to the non-Jews who became the first target for conversion.

In the first centuries of Christianity, Christians had to battle to establish an early orthodoxy. At the beginning, many gospels circulated, some true and some false, some deeply influenced by Neoplatonic beliefs, like those of the Gnostics. It took centuries to agree on the four orthodox extant ones. Similarly there were controversies over Jesus and God. Again, it took centuries to come to the Christian orthodox view of seeing God as one and three (the father, the son, and the holy spirit) and of seeing Jesus as both truly man and truly God.

These concepts were totally new in the ancient world and difficult to accept and understand. The challenges, which came even later to idea of trinity and the nature of Jesus, prove that these issues were far from settled. They point to a new concept of divinity and humanity, which are not to be considered divided with one above the other, but are both coexisting now, in the past, and in the future. This concept defies some traditional ideas of religion conveniently dividing the realm of man from that of God. Of course, this also brings the problem of how to understand evil. If God, who is totally good and merciful, is with us now and forever, how can we explain the constant presence of evil in the world? Explanations had to become ever more complex, also driven by the multiple necessities to reconcile the ancient Hebrew tradition—the Old Testament—with the new world shaped by Greco-Roman concepts and ideas.

The first council of Nicaea in 325 played an enormous role in establishing a unity of belief in Christianity and branding the first heresies, as we saw. And Constantine’s endorsement of Christianity also helped the unity of the early church, which at the beginning was not very united.

In early times, the bishops, called also pope, of Antioch in Syria and of Alexandria in Egypt had huge standing, possibly greater than the pope in Rome. The two former cities were places of great learning and substantial freedom, being far away from the clutches of the emperor in Rome who de facto deprived the bishop of Rome of acting freely.

With the council of Nicaea, the foundation of Constantinople just five years later in 330, and the new role of the emperor, the center of Christianity seemed to move to the new imperial seat in the east. Constantinople, the new imperial capital and closer to the most ancient centers of Christianity and the holy city of Jerusalem, seemed bound to play a crucial role in the church, displacing Rome, when two events may have changed the trajectory. The first was the rise of Augustine and his philosophy, and the second was the first sack of Rome in 410.

Augustine (November 13, 354–August, 28 430) “established anew the ancient Faith.”[16] In his early years, he was heavily influenced by Manichaeism (a Christian branch influenced by Zoroastrian creeds that sharply divided the world between good and evil) and later delved into Plotinus’ Neoplatonism (a philosophy underscoring the role of ideas and initiations into mysteries). He converted to Christianity in 387, and introduced and expanded on the role of the grace of God, a concept extremely important to all future Christianity, both Catholic and not, and in Western thinking. He believed grace was indispensable to human freedom. He also helped to formulate the doctrine of original sin and made seminal contributions to the development of just war theory. These theories have become widely accepted in the West, even by Christians who later broke with Rome like the Anglicans and the Lutherans (Martin Luther was an Augustinian friar), but found little acceptance in eastern Christianity, where he is often not even regarded as a saint.

Possibly the greatest divide came over his theory of de libero arbitrio (“on free will”): why God gave humans freedom of choice, to choose between good and evil. This is something, he saw, that places every single human being with his conscience before God. The totality of this lonesome confrontation was little accepted in the Eastern Church, stressing the role of the community and of prayer. This was further stressed in later Protestant schisms. Roman law was already based on the principle of personal responsibility for the individual choices—one could move up the social ladder or end up in fetters because of it. Augustine’s theory of free will gave a new philosophical basis to the individual freedom, making it descend directly from God, who wished for each and every one a freedom to choose and even to make mistakes. This freedom was sacred and should not be restricted. This concept became ingrained in Western culture and had deep repercussions in a culture whose value placed on personal freedom was less sacred.

Moreover, by stressing the theoretical idea of a “city of God” at the time, Augustine laid the first theoretical foundations of the Church of Rome as an independent body from the empire in which it had grown. This took place when the Western Roman Empire started to disintegrate and he saw the Catholic Church as a city of God that could resist and survive the disintegration of the city of man, the Roman Empire. It proved to be the foundation for the growing independence of Rome as seat of the pope before the collapse of the empire. Actually the city of God came to be replace and become the earthly legacy of the collapsed Roman Empire.

5.4 Rome in the hands of the pope

The sack of 410 proved to the common people of Rome and to the whole empire the deep weakness of the Western Empire, and it was possibly a turning point for the city. The old capital of the empire could no longer count on the traditional emperor to defend it and almost naturally turned to the new divine authority, the pope. It was in fact in those years that for the first time the bishop Rome clearly acquired some form of primacy over bishops of other large cities, and the actual concrete power of the pope came to replace that of the imperial authority.

Pope Innocent I, who held office from 402 to 417, shaped this role. In a 416 AD letter to Decentius, bishop of Eugubium, Innocent writes, “who does not know or observe that it [the church order] was delivered by Peter, the chief of the Apostles, to the Roman church, and is kept until now, and ought to be retained by all, and that nothing ought to be imposed or introduced which has no authority, or seems to derive its precedents elsewhere[17]?” It is also during this time that bishops began to recognize Innocent’s primacy as pope over other bishops in the West. This is made evident, among other instances, in a letter from the Council at Mileve to Innocent in 416 AD, which alludes the authority of “his holiness” drawn from the authority of scripture.

Of course in the beginning, the primacy of Rome in the Christian world didn’t exactly mean the civil power of the pope in the city. But with the slow crumbling of the empire, the pope, owner of large estates in the city, came to replace other authorities. In the fourth century, the first important donation was by Constantine, who gave the pope the Lateran Palace. Other donations followed, primarily in Italy but also in the provinces of the empire. At first, the church held all of these lands as a private landowner, not as a sovereign entity.

When in the fifth century the empire fell and the peninsula went under the control of King Odoacer (a semi-Barbaric general who appointed himself as king Italy, his reign is considered the actual end of the Western Roman Empire) and later the Ostrogoths, the church organization in Italy, with the pope at its head, submitted to their sovereign authority while asserting their spiritual primacy over the whole global church. But as the invading Barbarians did not establish a functioning government de facto, the church took care of common society and started running most of it. In reality the division of state power versus spiritual power of Augustine proved an elastic mechanism: it could advance when the state was weak, looking after the people, and withdraw when the state was strong. All of this occurred without losing authority of the church.

Meanwhile, the fall of the Western Empire coincided with the rise of Rome as the center and commanding throne of Christianity, which then was spread basically over the territory of the former empire. Then Rome, while losing its temporal power, kept its spiritual power in the hands of the successor of Christ on Earth. This man, the pope, also gradually came to gain actual power in Rome, the center of the former empire. And the church, with different degrees of dependence on the pope, started to play an enormous political role in the empire and beyond.

The theological justification for the role of the pope comes from the Gospels and Peter, whom with a pun Jesus designated as the “rock” upon which the church was to be built (the name Peter means “rock”)[18]. This was interpreted as a clear sign that Jesus wanted a man to “represent” him on earth and head the church.

Historically the issue of the unity of the church came very early. Irenaeus—the bishop of Lyons in 178, who was taught by Polycarp, who in turn was instructed by the Apostle John—defended the unity of Christianity against the heresies that began to flourish around the Christian body.

Irenaeus asserted the Doctrine of Apostolic Succession to counter claims especially of the Gnostics, who were attacking the authority of the mainstream church. Yet he stated that one could find true teaching in several leading episcopal sees, not just in Rome. This was in line with the fact that many strong bishops, with important theological schools, were scattered around the empire. The doctrine he asserted, therefore, had two parts: lineage from the Apostles and the right teaching.

The primacy of Rome came also from one of those schools. In 115, Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, encouraged the Smyrnaeans to “avoid divisions, as the beginning of evil. Follow, all of you, the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the father; and follow the presbytery as the Apostles[19].” (The theologians and bishops Tertullian (born in Carthage in 155), Cyprian (also from Carthage and bishop there in 248), and John Chrysostom (born at Antioch around 347) expressed similar views.) His homilies called Peter “the leader of the choir, the mouth of all the Apostles, the head of that tribe, the ruler of the whole world, the foundation of the Church, the ardent lover of Christ.” And of course, Augustine.

This widespread quest for unity of the church might have also reflected a fear of the decomposition of the empire. As we saw, the Christians quickly became a powerful ideological force to uphold an empire under attack by many heathen tribes.

A crucial moment came in 440 with Pope Leo I, the man who practically presided over the end of the Western Empire. He took on responsibility for the actual security of the holy places in Rome. The Council of Chalcedon in 450 would refer to Leo as “him who had been charged with the custody of the vine by the savior.” The council was very important for several political and theological reasons. It established the importance of the See of Constantinople as about equal to that Rome, and thus it promoted the new see but also underscored the role of the old one. The new see was protected by the emperor, while Rome was soon to be left entirely to the pope.

Secondly, it repudiated the notion of a single nature in Christ. It declared that he has two natures in one person and insisted on the completeness of his two natures: godhead and manhood. This is something that seems to imply the proximity of humanity and divinity in the church, a concept that will have great consequences in the future of the Western world.

5.5 The pope is without an emperor, and the emperor has no pope: the deepening east-west divide

The biggest crisis of the fifth century was the invasion of Huns led by Attila. With their new fighting tactics, they proved almost unbeatable[20]. They would charge on horseback, shooting arrows with double-arched bone bows, which proved weak only in the rain, when the humidity broke the elasticity of their bows and the rain slowed down the charge of their horses. Plus they had great mobility, riding horses until exhaustion and then changing their rides. Against the weakened legions, their power proved unstoppable.

In the east, the emperor had to pay huge ransoms to stave off the attacks. In the west, without an imperial authority, it was Leo I who met Attila in Mantua in 452 and managed to stop the invasion where no other temporal authority had managed. According to the later legend, Leo whispered something in the ear of the Hun king, and he withdrew terrified. Whatever it was that pushed Attila to change his mind and withdraw, it proved to be a major public success for the power of the papacy at a time when Roman armies were powerless against the Barbarian invasions.

This of course reinforced the power of the pope and gave the Eastern Empire time and reasons to reorganize. But after Attila’s invasion, things were different on the two sides of the empire, with distinctive and competing agendas. The Eastern emperor Zeno (who died in 491) claimed all the imperial power for himself and no longer recognized the existence of a Western Empire; he started to reorganize the army by recruiting Hun mercenaries and adopting their fighting tactics.

After the Council of Chalcedon, he also tried to concentrate ideological power by elevating the role of the bishop of Constantinople to be as important as that of Rome. Military and ideological power were the two elements to be united to start reconquering the west. But at this point the pope had gained political influence by proving to the population he could stop invasions like that of Attila, so he didn’t need the political protection of the Eastern emperor, who would diminish his role relation to the closer bishop of Constantinople.

That is, after proving able to stand his ground over a century of imperial absence, the bishop of Rome could only lose in the reunification of the empire, which would either bring the capital back to Rome, and thus pushing back the newly acquired papal assets, or be ruled from Constantinople, and thus lowering the status of the Roman pope altogether.

The force of the pope was certainly far from enough to prevent a unification process. Zeno’s reign, like that of his predecessors, was plagued by revolts of allies and pretenders to the throne. The most notable was the invasion of the Ostrogoths in Italy under Theodoric. Theodoric entered Italy at the behest of Constantinople to do away with Odoacer, who had become independent. Theodoric defeated his enemy and established a kingdom in Italy with the capital in Ravenna, on the east coast, close to Illyria and defended by marshes that were very difficult to wade through.

Rome was no longer capital of the empire nor even of Italy. The capital was a city difficult to conquer but also from which it was hard to access the rest of Italy and from which it was not easy to reach the other side of the Adriatic Sea. The choice meant that Italy was a land of conquest, difficult to defend. Rome was there to be plundered. Hard to protect, with a shrinking population and only the pope left behind, Rome still had its name and the legacy of the greatest empire in the Western world. The bishop of the city could thus claim an unparalleled role: he was the man who represented the continuity of the empire. In fact bishops put on the garb of patricians and aristocrats of the late empire. He held on to traditions while everybody else abandoned them and the place where they started, the eternal city.

In other words, with the emperor in Constantinople and the king of Italy in Ravenna, the pope was for the world of the time the real source of continuity with old tradition. This resilience before extreme odds, in a world that had fallen apart—where there were no institutions to look after the common people and invading tribes did not want to rule the land but to plunder it for spoils of wars that grew more meager by the year—helped to bolster the figure of the pope beyond the spiritual realm. The pope and his growing network of monasteries kept the past culture alive, and through a system of estates and alms, provided some security for people under the constant threat of pillage. In a way, the fact that the pope and friars resisted and grew without any political force behind them added to their prestige and influence.

On the other end of the empire, in Constantinople, the emperor was reorganizing. He reorganized the army with the new tactics of the Huns, and most importantly a new emperor reorganized the finances of the empire. In 491, Anastasius I, an aged civil officer of Roman origin, became emperor. He was an energetic reformer and an able administrator. He perfected Constantine I’s coinage system by definitively setting the weight of the copper follis, the coin used in most everyday transactions[21]. He also reformed the tax system and permanently abolished an old levy. The state treasury contained the enormous sum of 150,000 kg of gold when Anastasius died in 518. Internal rebellions were sedated and Barbaric invasions lost steam. Moreover, he had put the powerful new religion at the service of the empire. Under these conditions, Constantinople had the means to effectively re-conquer the former Western Empire.

5.6 Justinian, the failed re-conquest of the west, the political vacuum of the late sixth century, and the plague

The Barbaric invasions in the Western Empire, the fall of Rome, and the control of Italy by the Ostrogoths had broken the political unity of the Mediterranean, and thus had interrupted the flow of trade and goods east to west. The breakup of the Mediterranean called to a close a period of well over half a millennium, since by defeating the Phoenicians and the Hellenic kingdoms the Romans established this sea as an enormous new exchange route between three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa. Never again, at least so far, would the Mediterranean have the political unity conducive to spreading wealth across these three land-masses, although at times powers managed to establish a supremacy in the sea that led to accumulation of capital and in turn enhanced political clout in a virtuous circle. But for centuries the idea of regaining a total control of this strategic sea has appeared untenable.

Justinian and his successor, Maurice, came shortly after the fall of Rome and could well have hoped to reunite the empire. Justinian (c. 482–November 14, 565) had many advantages on his side. The reorganization of the land administration, rationalization of taxes, the encouragement of trade with the Indies, and the development of new industries like that of silk gave him a strong economic basis[22]. The restructuring of the military after the Huns’ invasion also had put the army in better shape. All of this put him in the position to reclaim the entirety of the Roman Empire. Constantinople spoke Greek but Latin was still widespread and part of education—besides the consciousness of Eastern Empire was of being the Roman Empire, and therefore reconquering Rome and Italy was part of retrieving its identity.

Different from the Roman emperors of the past, Justinian was not the conquering general. He was a ruler in a broad sense, and his re-conquests were in large part carried out by his general, Belisarius.

Justinian inherited ongoing hostilities with the Sassanids, who were ruling over Persian Empire of the time. The wars were inconclusive. In 530 Romans defeated a Persian army at Dara, but the next year Roman forces were beaten near Callinicum. Justinian was not keen on pursuing a definite victory over the Persians; he rather wanted a secure eastern frontier to pursue his ambitions in the west, and to do this he concluded a treaty and paid about 5 tons of gold for it[23]. Then, he could turn against the German tribes who had established semi-Roman kingdoms in the former Western Empire.

He first attacked the Vandals, who ruled North Africa, in modern Tunisia and Libya. From there he took Sardinia, Corsica, the Balearic Islands, and a stronghold near modern Gibraltar. After over a century, he re-conquered all of the Mediterranean. This came at the cost of about 50 tons of gold but he had the foundation for with his main goal: taking Italy from the Ostrogoths. Belisarius landed in Sicily in 535, and in December of the year after took Rome. The Ostrogoths reorganized and set siege to the capital for a whole year until 538. Yet with reinforcements, Byzantium was able to conquer Milan and then the Ostrogoth capital in Ravenna in 540. Yet Justinian plans were cut short as the Sassanid, possibly pushed by pleas from Ostrogoths in Italy, invaded Roman territory just as Belisarius was taking Ravenna. Belisarius reached the east a year later but was called back for unclear reasons, possibly rumors of disloyalty[24]. Peace was reached with the Ostrogoths only after the Romans agreed to further ransoms in 545. The Ostrogoths, under the new king Totila, had gained control of large parts of the peninsula, until Byzantium managed to beat them after a protracted war in 552. Two years later, a Frankish invasion was repelled, and Italy was secured for the empire, but the cost had been enormous. War and plague had left-once rich Italy poor and depopulated—plus the new western campaign came with a bill of 150 tons of gold. The empire, once rich, had been sucked almost dry. The territory was vast, once again. Romans again set foot in eastern Spain and roughly secured the Balkans, under pressure from Slavic and Turkic people coming from the north. But the cost was possibly unbearable: the heavy taxes were deeply resented and most of the conquests proved ephemeral with external pressure too great to resist. The greater part of Italy would be lost to the invading Lombards in 568, three years after Justinian’s death. The newly founded province of Hispania was completely recovered by the Visigoths in 624.

Justinian certainly stretched his resources, but the people of the empire were unwilling to sacrifice for conquests that bore little practical significance and no spoils of war.

Meanwhile the 540–541 plague also had an enormous impact. Procopius[25] recorded that at its peak the plague was killing 10,000 people in Constantinople daily. There was no room to bury the dead, so bodies were left stacked in the open. The countryside was laid waste, and he writes, “When pestilence swept through the whole known world and notably the Roman Empire, wiping out most of the farming community and of necessity leaving a trail of desolation in its wake, Justinian showed no mercy towards the ruined freeholders. Even then, he did not refrain from demanding the annual tax, not only the amount at which he assessed each individual, but also the amount for which his deceased neighbors were liable”[26].

As a result of the plague in the countryside, farmers could not take care of crops and the price of grain rose in Constantinople, while trade also tumbled down. The main commerce route went through the Persians, who were exacting a tall toll for their services. Justinian tried to sponsor the Abyssinians to trade with the Indies, circumventing Persia, but this did not work well. Meanwhile there were the large expenses of war and for the construction of large churches, pillars of his new state ideology. The long-term consequences were gigantic, and may have also contributed to the success of the Arabs a few generations later in the Byzantine-Arab Wars[27]. In fact the plague left the empire poor, with large parts empty and weak. The initial plague ultimately killed perhaps 40% of the city’s inhabitants and caused the deaths of up to a quarter of the human population of the eastern Mediterranean. One high estimate is that the Plague of Justinian killed as many as 25 million people across the world.

The plague itself may have shaken the social fabric of the empire. Since ancient times in the West, plagues were considered a punishment by the gods, and in this case, it struck as Justinian was building new churches. Moreover, as the emperor preached virtue, he practiced license. He had married a former prostitute, Theodora, a sort of Jiang Qing of her time, who came to play a large political role in the capital. Many common people, oppressed by heavy taxes and fear of war and disease, wondered whether the plague was a sign that Justinian’s Catholic Church itself was being punished. Muhammad (c. 570–June 8, 632) was born only five years after Justinian’s reign, when consequences of the plague, his wars, and taxes were still strongly felt. But perhaps Muhammad’s rise was also due to two more elements of Justinian policies: his religious and legal reforms.

5.7 The laws and religious reforms of Justinian; the legal legacy to modernity

Besides his external conquests Justinian tried to reinforce the empire from within, strengthening religious and legal unity.[28]

Religion somehow came first and he intervened heavily in it, regulating everything. His first challenge was the resurgence of Christian heresies, especially Monophysitism, which had many adherents in the eastern provinces of Syria and Egypt. The doctrine maintains that Jesus Christ had one divine nature or a synthesis of a divine and human nature. This was condemned as a heresy in Chalcedon in 451, when it was claimed that Christ was both truly God and truly man. The tolerant policies towards Monophysitism of emperors Zeno and Anastasius I had been a source of tension in the relationship with the bishops of Rome. Justin reversed this trend and confirmed the Chalcedonian doctrine, openly condemning the Monophysites. Justinian, who continued this policy, tried to impose religious unity by forcing the acceptance of doctrinal compromises. It was not a simple theological issue.

The problem of the one nature underscored the divinity of Christ ruling over men, and thus it seemed to stress the semi-divinity of the imperial power. It was more in agreement with the ancient sensitivity of the eastern Mediterranean that for millennia had seen the emperor shrouded in divinity. A “two-natured” Christ conversely accentuated the humanity of the church, the divinity of common men, the role of the church as bridge between divinity and humanity, and thus the role of the papacy. This was more in agreement with the nature of power in the western Mediterranean, where for centuries democracies and republican structures held sway.

In other words, one system underlined the emperor, the other the people. Yet, a two-natured Christ could reconcile the two sides of the sea as long as the emperor ruled over Rome, the see of the most powerful bishop of Christianity. It is interesting that while flirting with Monophysites for a long time (Empress Theodora was very sympathetic), Justinian condemned it as heresy. Only at the end of his life, when holding on to Italy looked more difficult, did Justinian started to revert to this thesis. He died before being able to issue any legislation which would have elevated its teachings to the status of religious dogma.

Christian religion and law for the first time in history went hand in hand with him, with immense consequences for the future of religions in Mediterranean: both Christianity and later Islam were to follow the practice. At the very beginning of his reign, he promulgated by law the church’s belief in the Trinity and the Incarnation and threatened all heretics with the appropriate penalties. Accordingly, the bishops in attendance at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 recognized that nothing could be done in the church contrary to the emperor’s will and command. The emperor, who had found a new source of legitimacy in the church, secured many privileges for the church and clergy for protecting and extending monasticism. He granted the monks the right to inherit property from private citizens and the right to receive annual gifts from the imperial treasury or from the taxes of certain provinces, and he prohibited lay confiscation of monastic estates. In fact, Justinian was one of the first Roman emperors to be depicted wielding the cross on the obverse of a coin.

The problem of unity of Christianity was the religious problem of the time. Although the emperor sided with the findings of Chalcedon, in the east the opposition to the council grew. Justinian tried to find a compromise supporting the Eastern Church in the complicated “Theopaschite controversy,” when a group of monks on the Black Sea supported the idea of Christ from Chalcedon but also stressed the role of grace from Augustine. This was supposed to be a bridge between east and west, but it managed to help only partially. There were in fact many issues causing the rift between east and west, not least the very inkling of the emperor.

The empire supported Rome as the main see of Christianity, yet because of physical proximity, the eastern bishops were closer to the ear of the emperor and vice versa, thus creating the facto a ring of power that estranged Rome. The emperor, more than ever with Justinian, became the defender of the faith and yet was far from the center of religious orthodoxy—the pope would communicate only with letters.

Yet, as his campaigns proved, Justinian and his successors were still committed to reconquering Rome and thus returning the pope to safety under imperial protection. At the same time, Rome, while still aspiring to gain the shielding of the emperor against the invading Barbarians, was learning to survive on its own and reach out to Christians of the west who were living entirely under the invaders and thus had entirely different problems than in the east. Papal letters were the main means of communication with the east, but they carried less weight as local problems in the east were not clearly perceived in the west.

Heresy, dependence on the emperor, and independence from Rome were not the main problems in the east. Justinian conducted strong campaigns against non-Christians. He eradicated the remains of Hellenistic schools practicing esoteric rituals, and he led a tough campaign against Samaritans, a section of the Jewish religion. They fought hard and tried to give Palestine to the Persians over Rome. He also repressed the Jews, forbidding the use of their language for their rituals. Last but not least, he fought Manichaeism, a Persian religion close to Zoroastrian, which was widespread and which with its cult of duality of good and evil inspired the duality of Christ the man and god of the Monophysites. The resilience of these strong faiths was different from the west, where the complex Christian faith had simply to confront simple pagan faiths without sophisticated theologies.

Moreover the sophistication and resentment of imperial persecution by Hellenists, Jews, Samaritans, and Manichaeists created an atmosphere that would favor the spread of Islam a few years later, a then-new and more tolerant belief against orthodox Christianity further supported by strict imperial rules—the new laws.

Lastly, it is not really clear when exactly Islam became a different religion and was no longer simply one of the many Christian heresies. Writing just a century after Muhammad, John of Damascus (675–December 4, 749) listed Islam as one of the about 100 heresies plaguing Christianity[29]. Certainly, John, who was a native Arab and had firsthand knowledge of Islam, singled Islam out and spoke of Islam more than other heresies. But it seems very interesting than Islam was not considered like Judaism or Manichaeism a totally different religion. Muslims were not heathens; they were fellow Christians, although very wrong in their beliefs. This perception of Islam must have lasted for many centuries, as in the 14th century Dante put Muhammad in the ring of the heretics, not among the heathens.

5.8 The Corpus Iuris Iustiniani and the birth of modern law

Imperial bureaucracy had grown since the times of Diocletian. This meant that the administration was more efficient as was concrete management of the empire, but it also meant an increasing burden on the coffers of the state. “It was possible for the first time not only to imagine but to achieve a consistency of legal authority and practice that had so far eluded every Western state. (China’s history has parallels to Rome’s and in 587 AD we first hear of the so called civil-service examination system that produced centuries of text mastering bureaucrats for a long series of imperial dynasties).” [30]

This was the precondition for the ambitious attempt at codifying pre-existing Roman laws, which had grown confusing and disorderly for centuries[31]. The work as planned had three parts: the Code (Codex) is a compilation, by selection and extraction, of imperial enactments to date; the Digest or Pandects (the Latin title contains both Digesta and Pandectae) is an encyclopedia composed of mostly brief extracts from the writings of Roman jurists; and the Institutes (Institutiones) is a student textbook, mainly introducing the Code, although it has important conceptual elements that are less developed in the Code or the Digest. All three parts, even the textbook, were given force of law. They were intended to be, together, the sole source of law; reference to any other source, including the original texts from which the Code and the Digest had been taken, was forbidden. Nonetheless, old laws were not enough to cope with the present situation, and Justinian found himself having to enact further laws. Today these are counted as a fourth part of the corpus, the Novellae Constitutiones (Novels, literally New Laws).

The work was directed by Tribonian, an official in Justinian’s court. His team was authorized to edit what they included. How much they made amendments is not recorded and, overall, it cannot be known because most of the originals have not survived. The text was composed and distributed almost entirely in Latin, which was still the official language of the government of the empire at the time.

The huge effort bore little fruit at the time. The empire after Justinian started seriously shrinking, and the efforts to the reconquer the west were forsaken, so the code was an enormous attempt with an ever smaller body to apply it to. In the west, it was seminal for the birth of the canon law that governed the church. It was said that ecclesia vivit lege romana—the church lives by Roman law[32]. Later it was the main source of inspiration for Western legal tradition. The Justinian Code doctrines provided a sophisticated model for contracts, rules of procedure, family law, wills, and a strong constitutional monarchy system. Roman law was received differently in different countries. In some it went into force wholesale by legislative act, i.e., it became positive law, whereas in others it was diffused into society by increasingly influential legal experts and scholars. But in any case, it was the cornerstone of the whole conception of how a state was and organization should be managed.

After a time, even local law came to be interpreted and evaluated primarily on the basis of Roman law (it being a common European legal tradition of sorts). Eventually, the works of civilian glossators and commentators led to the development of a common body of law and writing about law, a common legal language, and a common method of teaching and scholarship, all termed the jus commune, or law common to Europe, which consolidated canon law, Roman law, and to some extent, feudal law.

What is also striking is a comparison of the situation in the Mediterranean compared to that of China in the same period. The Han Dynasty that had ruled China fell at the beginning of the third century AD, roughly the time of crisis in the Roman Empire. Rome held on although the Crisis of the Third Century, as we saw, had deeply undermined the empire. Meanwhile, China went into an all out-war that lasted for centuries, changed the course of history of China, and decimated possibly two-thirds of its population[33].

However, in the sixth century the Sui and later the Tang dynasties managed to bring the empire back together, under a roughly similar pattern to the Han. Thus a tradition was established: the empire will be broken and united again, which has been a cultural cornerstone for China—the past can be challenged but will return. In contrast, over the same period Justinian failed to reunify the empire in the west, and shortly after his passing the eastern empire—because of religious persecution, wars and plague—came under heavy attack from an unprecedented new threat, Islam, something that is with us still. Then the historical perception is that the past once broken will never return, and something completely new is to be expected—past institutions are dead.

At the same time, the past can live on as cultural tradition, as in the laws. Roman laws shaped Western thinking without the institution of the empire that wanted to use them to buttress itself. In a way, the soul of the West, its laws, was saved, while its body, the imperial institution, had died. Conversely, the Tang Dynasty, while officially keeping many trappings of the Han, evolved dramatically from its predecessor. Religion played a huge role in the Tang system, which saw the spread of Buddhism, a faith that was to mold China in an unprecedented way and reshape even the dominant imperial ideology, Confucianism. Therefore in many respects, the Tang kept the body of the old institution, the empire, while its soul changed dramatically because of the insertion of a new faith.

5.9 The beginning of the Papal Estates

After the fall of Rome and more importantly after Justinian failed to firmly re-conquer Italy, the Roman pope was alone in the west. De facto, to physically survive the pope had to come to terms with the invading populations that fragmented Europe, breaking it in a way that has lasted until now. The physical danger also brought opportunity. The invading populations had simple faiths and customs that were no match for the sophisticated ways and theology of the former Roman Empire. The Barbarians thus soon adopted the ways of the conquered people and their religion. So, although the lands of Western Roman Empire were ruled by Barbarians, the souls of these Barbarians came soon to be ruled by Rome—and its pope.

Since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the late fifth century, the pope gained more power in Italy and the west, and his religious clout grew with the Monophysites controversy in the east, as the theologically weaker western bishops sided resolutely with Rome. However, it was the inconclusive results of the sixth century Byzantine wars that sowed the real seeds of what was to become the pontiff state. This was also greatly helped by the rise of the Benedictine order and its wide network of abbots stretching all over Western Europe.

Just as things were settling in Italy after the arrival of the Byzantines, in the seventh century a new German people invaded Italy, the Lombards, possibly named so for their custom of wearing long beards. They entered the peninsula from the north and conquered much of the countryside. By the seventh century, Byzantine authority was largely limited to a diagonal band running roughly from Ravenna, where the emperor’s representative, the exarch, was located, to Rome and south to Naples, plus some coastal enclaves.

In this volatile balance of power between the Byzantines and Lombards, the pope, the largest landowner and most prestigious figure in Italy, began almost by default to take on much of the ruling authority that Byzantines or the Lombards were unable to project in the area around the city of Rome. Officially the pope remained a Byzantine subject, but in practice the Duchy of Rome, an area roughly equivalent to modern-day Latium, became an independent state ruled by the pope. Moreover, as a way to gain power in the peninsula, the Lombards were keener to deal with the pope than with the Byzantines, something that would have strengthened the emperor. The popes possibly also saw this as a way to increase their power vis-à-vis the emperor, tempted to push popes around politically and religiously, as Justinian had been doing. On the other hand, as we shall see, the emperor came to be threatened by the Muslims, a new force that went to deeply undermine eastern power. The emperor had even less energy and resources to deal with instability in Italy.

The church’s independence, combined with popular support for the papacy in Italy, enabled various popes to defy the will of the Byzantine emperor. As Byzantine power weakened, though, the papacy took on an ever larger role in defending Rome from the Lombards, usually through diplomacy. In practice, the papal efforts served to focus Lombard attention on the exarch and Ravenna. A climactic moment in the founding of the Papal States was the agreement over boundaries embodied in the Lombard king Liutprand’s Donation of Sutri (728) to Pope Gregory II[34]. The pact formed the first extension of papal territory beyond the confines of the Duchy of Rome and was the historical foundation of the Papal States.

At the same time the power of the popes extended over the Barbarian states through a nimble new organization, the Benedictine abbeys, which were to become a chain of islands of culture and civilization but also care for the common people in a world dominated by Barbarians. The abbeys also were a source of influence and the power of the pope throughout Europe, as they quickly acquired estates, reorganized agriculture, and a sense solace of order and peace in a time of constant war and violence.

Benedict of Nursia (c. 480–543 or 547)[35] founded twelve communities for monks at Subiaco, Italy (about 64 km east of Rome) before moving to Monte Cassino in the mountains of southern Italy. His main achievement was his organization for his monks, which was heavily influenced by the experience of Egyptian monasticism. It also has a unique spirit of balance, moderation, and reasonableness (ἐπιείκεια), most needed at a time when invasions were to be dealt almost every day while trying to preserve a normal life. This inspired most religious communities founded throughout the Middle Ages to adopt his system. As a result, his set of rules became one of the most influential religious in western Christendom. For this reason, Benedict is often called the founder of western monasticism.

With a political and spiritual center and a cobweb of abbeys and monks spread over a territory politically dominated by other people, in the sixth and seventh centuries western Christianity had established the main structures that were to be able to make it survive and shape the fate of Europe and Italy for the next few centuries. It was a skeleton, extremely weak at first sight. But as the invaders were strong in war but weak in peace and economics, the roles came soon to be reversed. The Barbarian conquerors were conquered by the new “weak” church structure, who dominated the culture and economy. This structure then was able to dominate agriculture and trade conducted mostly through donations to churches and abbeys.

[1] For this part see Heather, Peter. The Fall of the Roman Empire. A New History. Pan Books, 2006.

[2] Magnes, Macarius. Apocriticus. IV: 23: “Therefore you make a great mistake in thinking that God is angry if any other is called a god, and obtains the same title as Himself. For even rulers do not object to the title from their subjects, nor masters from slaves.”

[3] MacMullen, Ramsay. Corruption and the decline of Rome. Yale University Press, 1988.

[4] I owe the analysis of the geographic position of the Chinese capitals to discussions with Lu Xiang.

[5] Heather, Peter. The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History. Pan Books, 2006. 119.

[6] Grousset, René. The Empire of the Steppes: a History of Central Asia. Trans. Naomi Walford. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1970.

[7] On this see also Luttwak, Edward. The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire. 2011.

[8] MacMullen, op. cit. p. 185.

[9] Jones, A. H. M. The Later Roman Empire, 284–602: A Social, Economic, and Administrative Survey. 1964.

[10] Burns, Thomas S. Barbarians Within the Gates of Rome: A Study of Roman Military Policy and the Barbarians, ca. 375–425 A.D. Indiana University Press, 1995. 162.

[11] Macgeorge, Penny. Late Roman Warlords. Oxford University Press. 2002.

[12] Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Christianity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996.

[13] Endsjø, Dag Øistein. Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Christianity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

[14] Mosheim, Johann Lorenz von. The Ecclesiastical History of the Second and Third Centuries: Illustrated from the Writings of Tertullian. London: F. & J. Rivington, 1845. 106.

[15] Gibbon, Edward. History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter Fifteen. In 6 volumes at the Internet Archive.

[16] Jerome wrote to Augustine in 418: “You are known throughout the world; Catholics honour and esteem you as the one who has established anew the ancient Faith” (conditor antiquae rursum fidei). Cf. Epistola. 195. TeSelle, Eugene. Augustine the Theologian. March 2002 edition. London, 1970. 343.

[17] Documents Illustrating Papal Authority: A.D. 96-454. Ed. E. Giles. London: S.P.C.K., 1952. p. 194 and following.

[18] Matthew. 16:18

[19] Documents Illustrating Papal Authority: A.D. 96-454. Ed. E. Giles. London: S.P.C.K., 1952. p. 4 and following

[20] See Luttwak. The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire.

[21] Grierson, Philip. Byzantine Coinage (PDF). Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1999. 17. Postan, Michael Moïssey, Edward Miller, and Cynthia Postan. The Cambridge Economic History of Europe Volume 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987. 140

[22] This is based on Vasiliev, A. A. History of the Byzantine Empire, 324–1453. Madison, 1952

[23] Norwich, J. Byzantium: The Early Centuries. 1989. 195.

[24] Procopius mentions this event both in his Wars and in Secret History, but gives two entirely different explanations for it. The evidence is briefly discussed in Moorhead. Justinian. 1994. 97–98.

[25] Procopius. Persian War. II.22–23.

[26] Procopius. Anekdota. 23.20f.

[27] Rosen, William. Justinian’s Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe. Viking Adult, 2007. 321–322.

[28] This section is based on O’Donnel (see below) and Bury, J. B. History of the Later Roman Empire Vol. 2. New York , 1958.

[29] I owe this part to conversations with Ermis Segatti, whom I thank.

[30] O’Donnell, J.J. The Ruin of the Roman Empire. 2009. 207-209.

[31] I owe this section to years of discussion with professors Huang Feng, Xu Guodong, Fei Anling, and Ding Mei.

[32] For a detailed account of the relevant manuscripts and their transmission, see Radding, Charles M. and Antonio Ciaralli. The Corpus Juris Civilis in the MIddle Ages: Manuscripts and Transmission from the Sixth Century to the Juristic Revival. Brill, Leiden, 2007.

[33] From Zou Jiwan (Chinese: 鄒紀萬) Zhongguo Tongshi: Weijin Nanbeichao Shi 中國通史·魏晉南北朝史. 1992.

[34] Schnürer, Gustav. “States of the Church.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.

[35] Grossi, Tancredi. San Benedetto e la sua opera verso la Chiesa e la Società. Torino: Società Subalpina Editrice, 1943.