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As the Roman Empire aged there was a huge shift in its foreign policy. This was in large part due to limited resources. At times the empire was stretched too thin, and unable to handle certain situations. They were essentially unable to handle two battles at once. This became even more of a problem after Theodisius died in 395, because this led to a split between the east and the west of the empire.  The east was left nearly bankrupt in 468 after a huge fleet was destroyed. This made the east usually unwilling and unable to intervene in any western affairs. (Humphries 242)


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The Roman lack of ability to be engaged in multiple conflicts at once caused them to assess which battles were worth fighting. The Romans started to assess which non-Romans were worthy of their attention. For example, the Huns were unpredictable, violent barbarians. The empire took them out because they were a threat. However, they would not waste resources on anyone who wasn’t a threat in some way. (Humphries 243)


During late Antiquity there was an increasing number of foreigners in the Roman army. This demonstrates their ability to overcome prejudices when necessary. It was also evident that despite being enemies, the Romans had high regard for the Persians. The Romans helped the Persian Shah Khusro II reclaim the throne. The Romans and Persians took cooperative measures to control the passes through the Cacasus Mountains. Finally, the Romans saw the Persians as superior in power and resources compared to the other enemies of the empire. That being said, the Romans never lost sight of their own superiority, both culturally and militarily. (Humphries 246)


For a long time the Roman Empire had been known for asserting their dominance through war and violence.

  • Emperors were viewed as successful military leaders
    • Augustus boasted of receiving embassies from afar
    • Heraclious defeated Persia and then received gifts from Indian kings
    • Inscriptions using the word cognomina which is used to commemorate the king’s vanishing of his enemies
    • Emperors were depicted in military wear on sculptures and coins

This Roman dominance through war continued through Late Antiquity, and there was no immediate end to their acts of aggression and violence. However, wars did start to become less frequent, even though there were still large wars occurring, such as Justinian’s western reconquest and Heraclius’ Persian wars. (Humphries 246)


The goal of foreign relations remained the same whether they were violent or diplomatic. The goal was always to assert imperial supremacy, but the pressure on resources led to more of a focus on strategic diplomatic relations in order to avoid war (Humphries 246). They still wanted to display their dominance and supremacy, but it couldn’t always be done with war anymore, so diplomacy was necessary. They started to take advantage of enemy weakness and division through diplomacy. One new strategy was to use kidnapping and murder to secure strategic advantages. These approaches were helpful because they required fewer resources. Diplomacy was usually seen as advantageous for all parties involved. From the Roman perspective, diplomatic success showed imperial supremacy just as much as success in war. The Romans viewed any treaty as a depiction of Roman superiority.  (Humphries 259)


The new prevalence of diplomacy led to an increase in the importance of information as a method to gain a leg up in negotiations. There was an increase in traffic across borders which led to an increase in information sharing.

Examples of information sharing:

  • In 533 Thevdis got information from merchants to inform his response to an embassy asking for his help
  • In 573 Justin II learned of Persian military maneuvers against Nisibis through an agency of bishops
  • In 532 there was a false report that Justinian had rejected requests from the Persians. This led to an aggressive response from Khusro I against the empire

This increase in information sharing led to travelers being scrutinized by border guards. There was also a law enacted in 408 to limit markets on the eastern front in an attempt to prevent Persians from learning of Roman secrets. Additionally, both Romans and Persians started using state-funded spies as a way to obtain information.  (Humphries 251)