The Empire Under Constantine And
Constantine became sole Emperor of the West, 312, and by the defeat of
Licinius, July 23, 324, sole ruler of the entire Roman Empire. On his
death, May 22, 337, his three sons divided between them the imperial
dignity: Constantine II (337-340), taking Gaul, Spain, and Britain;
Constans (337-350), Italy, Africa, and Illyria, and in 340 receiving the
share of Constantine II; Constantius (337-361), taking the East, including
Egypt. Of these three the ablest was Constantius who, after the renewed
Persian war (337-350), became, on the death of Constans, sole Emperor.
Although the imperial authority was divided and the ecclesiastical policy
of each Emperor followed the religious condition and theological
complexion of his respective portion of the Empire, the social conditions
were everywhere much the same. There were under Constantine and also under
his sons the continuation of that centralization which had already been
carried far by Diocletian, the same court ceremonial and all that went
with it, and the development of the bureaucratic system of administration.
The economic conditions steadily declined as the imperial system became
constantly more burdensome (v. supra, § 55), and the changes in the
distribution of wealth and the administration of landed property affected
disastrously large sections of the populace. A characteristic feature of
Roman society, which affected the position of the Church not a little, was
the tendency to regard callings and trades as hereditary, and by the
fourth century this was enforced by law. The aim of this legislation was
to provide workmen to care for the great public undertakings for the
support of the populace of the cities and for the maintenance of the
public business. This policy affected both the humble artisan and the
citizen of curial rank. The former, although given various privileges, was
crushed down by being obliged to continue in what was often an
unprofitable occupation; the latter was made responsible for the taxes and
various public burdens which custom, gradually becoming law, laid upon
him. Constant attempt was made by great numbers to escape these burdens
and disabilities by recourse to other occupations, and especially to the
Christian ministry with its immunities (see § 59, c). Constant
legislation endeavored to prevent this and restore men to their hereditary
places. The following extracts from the Theodosian Code are enactments of
Constantine, and are intended to illustrate the condition, under that
Emperor, of the law as to hereditary occupations and guilds, and the
position of the curiales, so as to explain the law as to admission to the
(a) Codex Theodosianus, XIII, 5, 1; A. D. 314.
The Theodosian Code was a collection of law made at the command of
Theodosius II, A. D. 438. See § 80. It was intended to comprise
all the laws of general application made since the accession of
Constantine and arranged under appropriate titles.
If a shipman shall have been originally a lighterman, none the less he
shall remain permanently among those among whom it shall appear that his
parents had been.
(b) Codex Theodosianus, XIII, 5, 3; A. D. 319.
If any shipman shall have obtained surreptitiously or in any other way
immunity, it is our will that he be not at all admitted to plead any
exemption. But also if any one possess a patrimony liable to the duties of
a shipman, although he may be of higher dignity, the privileges of honor
shall be of no avail to him in this matter, but let him be held to this
duty either by the whole or in proportion. For it is not just that when a
patrimony liable to this public duty has been excused all should not bear
the common burden in proportion to ability.
(c) Codex Theodosianus, XIV, 4, 1; A. D. 334.
Because the guild of swineherds has fallen off to but few, we command that
they plead in the presence of the Roman people, for the defence should be
made to them for whom the burden was established. Therefore let them know
that the personal property of the swineherds is liable to public burdens
and let them choose one of two courses: either let them retain the
property which is liable to the functions of swineherd, and let themselves
be held to the duty of swineherd, or let them name some suitable person
whom they will, who shall satisfy the same requirement. For we suffer no
one to be exempt from the obligation of this thing, but whether they have
advanced in honors, or by some fraud have escaped, we command that they be
brought back and the same thing performed, the Roman people being present
and witnessing, and we are to be consulted, that we may take note of those
who make use of these shifts; as for further avoidance of public duties,
it is by no means to be granted any, but he who shall have been able to
escape shall run danger of his safety, the privilege having been taken
away from him.
(d) Codex Theodosianus, XII, 1, 11; A. D. 325.
The following laws illustrate the attempts of the curiales to
escape their burdens.
Because some have forsaken the curiae and have fled to the camps of the
soldiery, we prescribe that all who shall be found not yet indebted to the
chief centurion, are to be dismissed from the soldiery and returned to the
same curiae; those only are to remain among the soldiery who are retained
on account of the necessities of the place or the troop.
(e) Codex Theodosianus, XII, 1, 12; A. D. 325.
If any one belongs in a larger or smaller town and desiring to avoid the
same, betakes himself to another for the sake of dwelling there, and shall
have attempted to make petitions concerning this or shall have relied upon
any sort of fraud that he may escape the birth from his own city, let him
bear the burden of the decurionate of both cities, of one because it was
his choice, of the other because of his birth.
(f) Codex Theodosianus, XVI, 2, 3, cf. XVI, 2, 6; A. D. 326.
Since a constitution that has been issued prescribes that thereafter no
decurion nor child of a decurion or person with suitable wealth and able
to support the public burdens shall have recourse to the name and duties
of the clergy, but only those shall be called to the place of the deceased
who are of small fortune and are not held liable to civil burdens, we have
learned that some have been molested, who before the promulgation of the
said law had joined themselves to the company of the priests. Therefore we
decree that these shall be free from all annoyance, but those who after
the promulgation of the law, to avoid their public duties took recourse to
the number of the clergy, shall be separated from that body and restored
to their curial rank and made liable for their civil duties.
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