11 julio, 2024

The division of the Roman Empire into East and West

The last division of the roman empire in East and West it became effective when Emperor Theodosius I, before dying in 395 AD. C., divided the territory between his sons Arcadio and Honorio. To Arcadius he ceded the Eastern Roman Empire (with its capital in Constantinople) and to Honorius the Western Roman Empire (with its capital in Milan, but in practice it remained Rome).

Before, during the first three centuries of our era, the decline of the Empire had already begun, and for this reason it experienced some divisions to improve communications and the military response against external threats.

Background to the division of the Empire

Before the establishment of the Empire, the territories of the Republic had been divided in 43 AD. C. among the members of the Second Triumvirate: Marco Antonio, Octavio and Marco Emilio Lépido.

Marco Antonio received the provinces of the East: Achaia, Macedonia and Epirus (currently Greece, Albania and the coast of Croatia), Bithynia, Pontus and Asia (currently Turkey), Syria, Cyprus and Cyrenaica.

These lands had been conquered by Alexander the Great, and therefore much of the aristocracy was of Greek origin. The entire region, especially the large cities, had assimilated into the Hellenic culture, with Greek being the language spoken.

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

Marco Antonio Lépido, for his part, received the minor province of Africa (modern Tunis) but Octavio quickly took it, at the same time that he added Sicily (modern Sicily) to his domains.

After defeating Mark Antony, Octavian controlled a united Roman Empire, romanizing the region despite the many existing cultures.

The predominant culture of the East was Greek and latin in West. Both functioned as an integrated whole, and political and military developments would eventually align the Empire along these cultural and linguistic lines.

The crisis of the third century

It was a period of approximately 50 years, between 235, with the death of Emperor Alexander Severus, and 284, with the accession of Diocletian.

In the years that followed the death of the emperor, the generals of the Roman army fought for control of the Empire and neglected to defend it against outside invasions. There were numerous invasions by barbarian peoples and attacks by the Sassanids in the east.

Furthermore, climate changes and rising sea levels ruined agriculture in what is now the Netherlands, forcing tribes to emigrate.

Added to this, in 251, a plague (possibly smallpox) broke out, killing large numbers of people, possibly weakening the Empire’s ability to defend itself.

In addition, the law of succession, which had never been clearly defined in the Roman Empire, led to continuous civil wars. For this reason, powers without legal foundation arose.

Another inescapable issue was the size of the Empire, which made it difficult for a single autocratic ruler to effectively handle multiple threats at the same time. Later, Diocletian would put an end to the crisis of the third century.

Reasons for the division

In theory, at least, the Empire was divided to improve communications and the 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 keep a tight grip on these armies.

On the other hand, key strategic borders, such as the Rhine, the Danube, and the border with Parthia (present-day Iran), were far from each other, and farther still from Rome.

Controlling Rome’s western frontier was reasonably easy, both because it was relatively close and because the Germanic enemies were disunited.

However, control of both borders was difficult, since if the emperor was close to the border in the east, an ambitious general in the West was very likely to revolt, and vice versa.

the tetrarchy

Diocletian tried to reduce the problem by establishing the tetrarchic system.

Under this system, two senior emperors (the Augusts) would control four large regions of the Empire, supported by two designated successors (the Caesars) and a strong army of professional soldiers.

In 285, he promoted Maximian 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 appointed Caesars, thus creating the First Tetrarchy.

This system effectively divided the empire into four main regions and created separate capitals, in addition to Rome, to avoid the civil unrest that had marked the crisis of the third century.

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

Unfortunately, Diocletian established a solution to the Empire’s problems that created a very dangerous dynamic, as he attempted to impose centralized control of the economy to bolster the Empire’s defenses.

Unfortunately, his plans, which included price controls, forcing workers into hereditary professions, and aggressive taxation, also exaggerated the divide between East and West.

Theodosius I

The two halves of the Empire continued to prosper equally until the reign of Emperor Theodosius I, from AD 379 to 395. Forces from within and without strove to divide the two halves.

These included the excessive push of the emperor in the spread of Christianity, the sacrifice of pagan practices, the corruption of the ruling class, the raids of the Germanic tribes and, of course, the immense extension of limits and resources.

The Gothic War, which raged from 376 to 382, ​​severely weakened the Western Empire, and later, at the Battle of Adrianople in 378, the Eastern Emperor Flavius ​​Julius Valens was defeated by Fritigernos of the Thervingian Goths, marking the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire.

After Gratian’s death in 383, Theodosius I’s interests turned to the Western Roman Empire, where the usurper Magnus Clement Maximus had taken all those provinces except Italy.

This self-proclaimed threat was hostile to the interests of Theodosius the Great, since the reigning emperor, Valentinian II, an enemy of Maximus, was an ally of Theodosius I.

He, however, was unable to do much against Maximus due to his insufficient military capacity.

The armies of both leaders fought at the Battle of Salvation in 388, in which Maximus was ultimately defeated and subsequently executed.

Theodosius the Great celebrated his victory in Rome on June 13, 389, and remained in Milan until 391, installing his loyalists in high office.

the last division

Theodosius I was the last emperor of the united Roman Empire. He died in early 395. On his deathbed, he divided the Roman Empire between his two sons, Arcadius and Honorius.

The Roman general Flavio Stilicho was appointed by the emperor as tutor of his son Honorius, since he was still very young. Stilicho was a great ally of Theodosius I, who saw him as a worthy man who could ensure the security and stability of the Empire.

Theodosius I’s army quickly disbanded after his death, with the Gothic contingents storming all the way to Constantinople.

In the eastern part of the Empire he left Arcadius, who was about eighteen years old, and in the western part Honorius, only ten years old. None of them showed any fitness to rule, and their reigns were marked by a series of disasters.

Honorius was placed under the tutelage of Magister Militum Flavio Stilicho, while Rufinus became the power behind Arcadio’s throne in the eastern part of the Empire. Rufinus and Stilicho were rivals and their disagreements were exploited by the Gothic leader Alaric I, who went into revolt again after Theodosius the Great’s death.

The Empire was unable to raise enough forces to subdue Alaric I’s men. In parallel, Alaric I tried to establish a long-term official and territorial base, but was never able to do so.

Stilicho tried to defend Italy and keep the invading Goths in check, but to do so he stripped the Rhine frontier of troops, and Vandals, Alans and Suevi invaded Gaul.

Stilicho became a victim of court intrigue and was assassinated later, in 408. While the eastern part of the Empire began a slow recovery and consolidation, the western part completely collapsed.

Later, in 410, Alaric I’s men sacked Rome. This meant the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Middle Ages.


Ancient History Encyclopedia (nd). Retrieved from ancient.eu.
What were the causes of the split of the Roman Empire into Western and Eastern? Retrieved from quora.com.
Western Roman Empire. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org.
Maximian. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org.
Crisis of the Third Century. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org.

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