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Timeline of the Period of the Dominate

Imperial Rome Part II

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Legendary Rome | Early Republic | Late Republic | Principate | Dominate

Rome started in a period when little local kings ruled their tribes and fought one another, frequently. Rome's farmer-soldiers fared well, comparatively, and their territory expanded. By the time Rome had acquired the area north to the Alps in Italy, south to the area where the Greeks had colonized, and beyond, it is fair to think of Rome as having an empire. NB: This is not the same as the Imperial period. The government of Rome, at the time it started growing its empire, was Republican, run by elected officials. The Imperial period is the time when the government of Rome was in the hands of monarchical emperors. The period of Roman kings had left so enduring and foul a memory, that there was resistance to calling a monarch rex 'king' or even seeing him as such. The early emperors knew this.

When the Imperial period began, the emperor held office with a co-consul and consulted members of the advisory council known as the Senate. While there were exceptional emperors, like the mad Caligula, who acted without concern for maintaining the Republican forms, the illusion continued until the third century (some say, late second). At this point, the emperor became lord and master with his decisions effectively the law. Instead of advisors from the Senate, he had a bureaucracy of civil servants. With luck, he also had the support of the soldiers.

The Dominate vs The Principate

Cameo of the Crowning of Constantine
Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Understanding the labels may help make this period easier to understand. The French refer to the Dominate as le Bas Empire (the Low Empire), which they contrast with le Haut Empire (the High Empire). Le Haut Empire is what we call the Principate in English. The English term Principate conveys the idea that the emperor was first among, but still a member of the citizen body. By the Dominate, the emperor no longer made any pretense at equality. He was lord and master, as the name indicates, since the word dominus (e.g., Dominus vobiscum) is Latin for lord. Government at the time of the Dominate or le Bas Empire has been described as "bureaucratic despotism."

5th Century

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