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A picture of a wall with a rectangular, beige colored stone carving scene is shown. In the middle, a man is sitting on a horse which is wearing a head dressing with flowers and straps, a decorated saddle, and a bow in its tail. The man is carved with ornate designs all over his torso and legs, has a crown on his head, a beard, flowing curly hair, and a sword on his left side with his left hand on it. His right arm extends over the head of the horse and he holds an object in his hand. Both the man and the horse are looking down at a man kneeling on the ground in front of the horse. He is wearing a flowing cape and a dress of armor. He has a beard and is holding his arms out in front of him. In between the man and the horse stands a man in armor with a beard, his head in the shadows of the carving. The top of a person is carved into the wall behind the horse. Around the rectangular carving is a bumpy stone wall.
Figure 10.1 Sasanians in Victory. This rock relief carving from Naqsh-e Rostam (in modern Iran) depicts the Sasanian victory over the Romans at the Battle of Edessa in 260 CE. On the right, King Shapur I looks down from his horse at the kneeling Valerian, the first Roman emperor ever taken captive in battle. (credit: modification of work “Naqsh i Rustam. Shapour” by Unknown/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.5)

The later Roman Empire was a time of profound cultural, political, and religious transformations. Various crises in the Roman government, as well as the rise of Christianity, propelled these changes. In the third century CE, the emperor Valerian’s capture by the Sasanians was an indication of how easily the Roman Empire’s prominence could fluctuate and fissure (Figure 10.1). Stretching from the island of Britannia (Britain) in the Roman West to Syria in the Roman East, the empire continually struggled in its relationships with foreign groups on its eastern and western frontiers. The threatening presence of the Sasanians and other marginal states in the Mediterranean, including various Germanic kingdoms in the west and Palmyra in the east, reflected a new state of affairs.

The empire shifted its focus eastward, a trend signaled most prominently by its reorientation around its new capital in Constantinople (today’s Istanbul). The Romans then saw their power and sphere of influence shift as well. With a growing Christian population and shrinking borders, the entity that now became the Byzantine Empire persisted in the eastern Mediterranean. Yet it had to grapple with the migration of different groups through its territory as well as the disintegration of the western empire into small independent states. In addition, smaller states such as Aksum in sub-Saharan Africa and the Kushan Empire in central Asia came onto the scene during this period, establishing their own thriving societies away from the Mediterranean while being interconnected as neighbors and trade partners. The interrelationships among this multitude of states reflect the complicated circumstances of the Late Antique world.

A timeline shows events from this chapter. 100 BCE: Aksum and Himyar kingdoms founded. 200 BCE: Kushan Empire founded; a picture of a stone statue in long robes is shown. 260 CE: Sasanian victory over Romans at Edessa; a picture of a wall stone carving of a man on a horse is shown. 267 CE: Zenobia becomes Empress of Palmyrene Kingdom; a picture of two round stone coins is shown with a woman’s profile on one and a carving of a person on the other. 284 CE: Diocletian founds the Roman Tetrarchy; a picture of a stone carving with four people is shown. 313 CE: Edict of Milan issued. 330 CE: Constantinople founded; a picture of a large multi-level building with tall spires is shown. 390 CE: Abu Karib converts to Judaism. 410 CE: Visigoths plunder Rome; a picture of men climbing and attempting to pull down a statue of a man with ropes is shown. 578 CE: Ghassanids capture al-Hirah.
Figure 10.2 Timeline: Empires of Faith. (credit “200 BCE”: modification of work “Buddha” by Purchase, Denise and Andrew Saul Gift, in honor of Maxwell K. Hearn, 2014/The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain; credit “260 CE”: modification of work “Naqsh i Rustam. Shapour” by Unknown/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.5; credit “267 CE”: modification of work “Zenobia” by Classical Numismatic Group Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain; credit “284 CE”: modification of work “Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs” by Jean-Pol Grandmont/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0; credit “330 CE”: modification of work “Lithography of the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, 1857” by Dmitry Makeev/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain; credit “410 CE”: modification of work “The Sack of Rome in 410 by the Barbarians” by Das Königreich der Vandalen/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
Figure 10.3 Locator Map: Empires of Faith. (credit: modification of work “World map blank shorelines” by Maciej Jaros/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
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