Clouding the issue further, while military enlargements militarized the state and increased fiscal burdens, Diocletian and Constantine's reforms also responded to the need of repelling barbarian incursions. And the reforms were successful, producing a stronger, more flexible army that acquitted itself well for the century. More and more, soldiers came from the barely Romanized regions—Pannonia, Illyricum, etc. Some historians have seen recruitment of Balkan peasants as ensuring the existence of an army that did not comprehend the ideal it was defending. Still, not only were these people quite willing to join and defend Roman society, but opening up the ranks of the army to their promotion allowed people of low social origins but proven combat skills to rise. Some became officers and even emperor. Thus emerged a means of real social advancement in late Roman society, precisely at the point when old elites no longer demonstrated martial potential. Additional recruitment of Barbarians, however, or use of German auxiliaries, increased likelihood that the Roman army would not necessarily fight steadily in Rome's interest. All the same, ever- broadening processes of ethnic inclusion—conscious or otherwise—had come to characterize Rome from the beginning of the second century CE. What was really necessary in military as well as administrative terms was a continuing line of strong, attentive emperors. This focused need was a major weakness.

Of final significance was Constantine's embrace of Christianity. How did it impinge upon imperial survivability? Earlier historians, such as Gibbon, viewed the change as directly contributing to sapping imperial vigor in martial as well as realpolitik terms. In our century, some have claimed that now-legitimate church service diverted bright, imaginative people from imperial employment, just as it began to change the focus and long-term aspirations of segments of Roman society. This is not so certain, as Christianization was an extremely slow process, especially beyond the urban domain. Further, Christian emperors could be just as ruthless as their pagan predecessors. Of course, spread of the religion in German-Roman society did also engender proliferation of debilitating doctrinal disagreements, and probably distracted emperors and administrators from more mundane, pressing tasks. This, however, is indicative of what we mentioned above; the impact of imperial Christianization was probably most heavily felt by the Church itself. Furthermore, the Christianizing of the Roman Empire meant that Rome and its civilization would become memorialized as the touchstone and progenitor of all that to which thoroughly Christian Medieval Europe should aspire, preserving Roman tradition and ideal perhaps more strongly than they otherwise might have been.

In short, by the 350s, it was not at all obvious that Rome was headed for terminal difficulties. The tensions between old and new—imposing governments vs. societal traditions, Pagans vs. Christians, government's fiscal demands vs. economic capacity, and Germanization vs. Latin Roman culture—all this may have suggested to many a vibrant mix ensuring a continuing of success.

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