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CCOT sample
Analyze the cultural and political changes and continuities in the Roman Empire’s last centuries
of the classical era, 100 CE to 600 CE.
Between 100 CE and 600 CE, the Roman empire underwent a change in government as the empire
collapsed due to corruption within; however, the “Eastern Roman Empire” (the Byzantines) continued to
promote Roman culture in Europe long after the sack of Rome.
Clearly, the most important change that the Roman Empire experienced in the late classical era was its
collapse. In the year 100 CE, the Mediterranean basin, and most of Europe, was in the midst of the Pax
Romana, a time of relative peace and prosperity for the Roman Empire. In 180 CE, the Roman Empire
reached the peak of its territorial holdings. As the size of the Roman Empire and its institutions grew,
taxes levied on the peasants grew more burdensome and crushed the lower classes. Free peasants
often fled these financial hardships by selling their land and becoming enserfed tenants of the land.
Because of the empire expanding its territory too widely thus creating financial burden, the army exerted
more control to ensure its survival and became nearly “king-maker” over weakening imperial leadership.
The Rome’s decline was visible as ineffective leadership and outside invasions end the empire’s golden
age. Rome’s central administration increasingly suffered from confusion of leadership. Diocletian’s
division of the empire created regional interests to the detriment of imperial vision. This lack of strong
leadership quickened Rome’s collapse as problems were not addressed and mounting factors limited its
ability to prosper. Because of resulting decline in tax revenue, the economic prosperity of the realm was
limited and increasingly led to the acceptance of Germanic settlers. Germanic soldiers were
increasingly used to guard the frontiers of the empire after 300 CE. Germanic peoples helped spread
plagues leading to population decreases, and some Germanic groups seized on the opportunity to
attack Rome. Finally, in 476, Rome was sacked for the final time. Ultimately, external pressures,
such as population growth among nomads from Central Asia and Northern Europe, lead to
migrations in the Roman frontiers that coincided with Roman crises and the gradual end of the
western Roman Empire.
To the east of Rome, the empire survived and continued, in the form of the Byzantines, uninterrupted for
nearly a thousand years after Rome’s fall. At the beginning of the period, Rome was a land ruled by an
emperor with a strong legal tradition and commercial economy, and the Byzantines shared many of the
characteristics with its Roman predecessor. In the 6th century, Emperor Justinian led a number of
conquests in an attempt to capture the former lands of the united Roman Empire. The legacy of Rome’s
military might and republican shine were powerful forces that led many to attempt to recapture its glory.
Justinian’s quest was a testament to the continuity that existed between Byzantine’s and the former
Roman Empire. Additionally, Justinian codified and simplified many former Roman legal codes in order
to aid in the administration of the government. Not only did the Eastern Roman Empire continue the
legal traditions of Rome, but economically, the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) remained a
commercial center as it dominated much of the silk and spice trade in the Mediterranean Sea much like
its predecessor brokered the exchange of goods between Asia and Europe or between regions around
the Mediterranean. Because civilization was more deeply entrenched in the eastern Mediterranean and
the East faced less pressure from invasion, Constantinople was never sacked and the Eastern Roman
Empire was never conquered. Byzantium represents one of the clearest continuations of classical
traditions in the later postclassical era as a Roman emperor sat on a throne in the eastern capitol of
Constantinople until the 15th century. The triumph of the Eastern Roman Empire in preserving
Roman culture was so successful that it extended its values to areas of medieval Russia, who
adopted the political ideas of the Roman world.
Although the Roman Empire seemed to face many dramatic changes in the fall of Rome, the stability of
the Eastern Roman Empire carried the mantle of Roman traditions throughout the period.