DISCUSSION BOARD – A (SLOW) DECLINE AND FALL HOLDING THE FORT – THE HIGH ROMAN EMPIREWith Trajan’s Dacian and Parthian Victories, the Roman Empire reached it greatest extent, although almost immediately after his death, his successor Hadiran relinquished most of his eastern acquisitions.After years of warfare and expansionism, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius then oversaw a half century of peace, manifested in their both building substantial fortifications on the empire’s northern border. The thought was to use walls rather than armed forces to keep out the unwanted barbarians. In the end of course the strategy was doomed to fail in terms of its intended purpose at least, but the strategy reflects, in some way, an increased sense of the empire as a more or less culturally unified whole, defined by a shared romanitas (Roman-ness). This concept served to distinguish the Empire’s inhabitants from those “on the other side of the wall.” The very process of exclusion, one might say, sought to reinforce the idea of unity among those “on this side of the wall.”The first discussion question is:How do the works of art and architecture from this era (second century CE) that you have studied reflect this evolving conception of the Roman empire, its inhabitants and its culture? THE LATE EMPIRE – CRISIS, RECOVERY, AND CHRISTIANITYThe Roman Empire, as we have clearly seen, was created, expanded, and controlled as essentially a military entity. Warfare and conquest were central to Roman culture, politics, and economy from the time of Romulus, fueling a constant, seemingly in exorable expansion of the Roman sphere of influence and control from the “seven hills” of Rome in the eighth century BCE to the entire Mediterranaean and most of northern Europe around a millennium later.Yet, both during the Republic and the early and even high empire, Roman rulers veiled the reality of military rule through assertions of ostensibly more benevolent pretexts, primarily 1) divine support for imperial control (as manifested in a basically Classical style of art) and 2) the tangible benefits that Roman control brought to the citizens of its far-flung empire.In the late empire, beginning with Septimius Severus and increasingly throughout the third century and into the fourth, the fundamentally military basis of Roman rule becomes more and more obvious, not only in Roman policies and behavior but also in architecture, relief sculpture. The second discussion question is:In what policies, what structures of government, and especially in what monuments do we see this? How does this broadly based development in the later empire manifest itself in new styles of architecture, relief sculpture, and portraiture? How does this “Late Antique” style contribute to the formulation, beginning under Constantine of early Christian, and ultimately Byzantine and Western Medieval art?
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