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Imperial Rome AD 193 to 284

The Critical Century

Clifford Ando

Hardback i (Printed to Order)
eBook (ePub) i

The Roman empire during the period framed by the accession of Septimus Severus in 193 and the rise of Diocletian in 284 has conventionally been regarded as one of 'crisis'. Between 235 and 284, at least eighteen men held the throne of the empire, for an average of less than three years, a reckoning which does not take into account all the relatives and lieutenants with whom those men shared power. Compared to the century between the accession of Nerva and the death of Commodus, this appears to be a period of near unintelligibility.

The middle of the century also witnessed catastrophic, if temporary, ruptures in the territorial integrity of the empire. At slightly different times, large portions of the eastern and western halves of the empire passed under the control of powers and principalities who assumed the mantle of Roman government and exercised meaningful and legitimate juridical, political and military power over millions. The success and longevity of those political formations reflected local responses to the collapse of Roman governmental power in the face of extraordinary pressure on its borders. Even those regions that remained Roman were subjected to depredation and pillage by invading armies. The Roman peace, which had become in the last instance the justification for empire, had been shattered.

In this pioneering history Clifford Ando describes and integrates the contrasting histories of different parts of the empire and assesses the impacts of administrative, political and religious change.

Key features:

  • Follows Rome's confrontation and conflict with a new world power, Sassanian Persia, in which two Roman emperors lost their lives
  • Devotes special attention to legal history
  • Examines the changing nature of religious pluralism and the Christian persecutions


About the Author

Clifford Ando is Professor of Classics, History and Law at the University of Chicago and Research Fellow in the Department of Classics and World Languages at the University of South Africa. He is the author of Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire (2000); The Matter of the Gods (2008); Law, Language and Empire in the Roman tradition (2011) and editor of Roman Religion (Edinburgh 2003).


Ando brings to life this era of real crisis which was brought on largely by the inadequately articulated mechanisms for succession to the imperial position. Yet the Empire survived precisely because of the efforts and ambitions of the central government. This nuanced and vividly argued book is accessible to students, and thought-provoking for scholars.

- Michael Peachin, Professor of Classics, New York University

Ando has provided a great service: an intelligent, balanced and readable general account of the third- century, admirably designed for its intended audience.

- Reviewed by Graeme Clarke, Australian National University , Bryn Mawr Classical Review
...highly recommended for English-speaking students, but the volume has enough substance to be of interest to more advanced scholars as provides an excellent gateway to one of the most confusing and intriguing periods in Roman imperial history.
- Sehepunkte

Ando should be commended for taking such a muddled topic as the third-century crisis and providing such an approachable narrative of events. The paperback edition should make the book more accessible to students, and it could prove valuable as an undergraduate text. This book will be an important addition to reference shelves and university libraries.

- Nikolaus Overtoom, Louisiana State University, H-War

The third century is a period which suffers from a dismal lack of good literary source material. A general history such as that which Clifford Ando has provided is, in this regard, all the more essential for students wanting to study the third century. Ando does a skilful job of setting out a readable narrative from the patchy and inconsistent source material [and] his reconstruction of the string of emperors that followed Alexander Severus in quick succession makes complex and confusing topics accessible and engaging to the general reader.

- Christopher J. Dart, University of Melbourne, Ancient West and East

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