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Study Guide

The history of the Roman Empire can be divided into two periods, the principate and the dominate.

The Principate (30 BC - 284 AD)
The principate refers to the title princeps, used by Rome's first emperor Augustus. The title means "first citizen" and is indicative of the relationship between the emperor and the senate. Augustus was careful to maintain the perception that he was merely the first amoung equals - not an absolute ruler. We should not at all be surprised by his restraint - aspirations to rule Rome as a king had resulted in the murder of his great uncle, Julius Caesar. Over time, the nature of Rome's emperors became increasingly despotic, and during the Crisis of the Third Century the senate became increasingly irrelevant to the administration of the empire. When Diocletian consolidated power and stabilized the empire, the senate undoubtedly hoped they would be part of the new power stucture. Diocletian, however, had other plans and moved the imperial administration to Nicomedia in modern Turkey.
The Dominate (284 AD - 476 AD)
The dominate derives from the latin word 'dominus' meaning 'lord'. When Diocletian consolidated power in 284 AD, he had a radically different notion of the role of the emperor. Diocletian claimed to be a descendant of the god, Jove, and required others to address him and 'Lord and Master.' He enacted reforms which tied farmers to their land and made professions hereditary. These reforms would outlive the Roman Empire, and come to characterize the next period of European history which followed the collpase of the Roman Empire in the west, the Middle Ages.

Next: Timeline of the late Roman Empire

All material copyright Evan Wright, 2011.