The book traces the impact of imperial politics on life in the city of Rome itself and in the rest of the empire, arguing that, despite long periods of apparent peace, this was a society controlled as much by fear of state violence as by consent. Martin Goodman examines the reliance of Roman emperors on a huge military establishment and the threat of force. He analyses the extent to which the empire functioned. Toggle Dropdown Advanced Search. Status Available. Series Routledge History of the Ancient World.
Tags History. Genres History. Collection Ricardo G. Rowley Collection. Publication London ; New York : Routledge, Subjects Rome Civilization. In their judgement of the qualities desirable in a political leader, Romans showed an essential unanimity. Skill in generalship, or at any rate success in war, was universally admired. And so he has fought with the fiercest peoples, in gigantic battles against the Germans and Helvetians, with the greatest success.
He has terrified, confined, and subdued the rest, and accustomed them to obey the empire of the Roman people… Previously, we possessed merely a path through Gaul, members of the senate; the other parts were held by peoples either unfriendly to this empire, or untrustworthy, or unknown, or certainly savage, uncivilized and warlike—peoples which everyone always desired to be smashed and subdued.
On the Consular Provinces Oratorical ability was crucial in the pursuit of political power. In his Dialogue on Oratory 36, Tacitus looked back to the rewards available for effective orators in the Late Republic: The more influence a man could wield by his powers of speech, the more readily did he attain to high office, the farther did he, when in office, outstrip his colleagues, the more did he gain favour with the great, authority with the senate, name and fame with the common people.
Wealth in itself did not bring prestige, and over-indulgence was described by some as positively bad, but the leisure otium provided by a sufficient income was reckoned part of the necessary equipment for intellectual endeavour and therefore political power. It was generally expected that possession of wealth would be advertised by conspicuous expenditure on fellow citizens.
Those who were politically threatened might accordingly be particularly lavish, as was M. Vipsanius Agrippa in 33 BC, according to Cassius Dio: Agrippa agreed to be made aedile and without taking anything from the public treasury repaired all the public buildings and all the streets, cleaned out the sewers, and sailed through them underground into the Tiber….
Furthermore, he distributed olive oil and salt to all, and furnished the baths free of charge throughout the year for the use of both men and women; and in connection with the many festivals of all kinds which he gave…he hired barbers, so that no one should be at any expense for their services. History of Rome Those individuals who were specially singled out to receive particular gifts might consider themselves to be designated thereby as friends amici of the donor, although outsiders, and doubtless in private the donor, viewed such an unequal friendship rather as that of a patron to his client, mirroring the close formal ties which bound an ex-slave to his former master.
Men praised virtus, which could mean anything from courage to probity. They encouraged energy strenuitas , but abhorred its excess ambitio. Even pure self-regard could be honoured with the title dignitas dignity , without self-consciousness. At times, Roman politicians in the Late Republic, with their great estates and hordes of retainers of slaves and freedmen, could behave much like medieval barons in the wilful self-interest of their policies. And yet the public speeches of politicians in the 50s BC reveal a continuing respect for the constitutional theory with which this survey began, namely, the right of the Roman people to control their own destiny.
It was to the interest of the state, not of the individual, or of classes or pressure groups, that politicians appealed in seeking support or election. In doing so they put forward policies on specific issues of foreign and domestic policy on which the people might be expected to have a view, not least, in the former case, because in the Republican period they would be likely to serve in the armies which would put such policies into operation.
In the tribal assembly, the rich could best afford to leave their farms regularly to vote, and their influence could predominate, especially in the decisions of the rural tribes, since there were thirty-one rural tribes to four urban ones. In the centuriate assembly, the better-off constituted the centuries which voted first, and if their votes were unanimous, the poor would not be called upon to vote. But when the vote of the richer centuries was split, particularly in elections for office, then the vote of even the poorest centuries could be vital for political success.
I was indignant that a benefit conferred on me by the Roman people was being insolently wrested from me by my enemies. It was nothing less than the establishment of the road to monarchy. A scion of a patrician family, whose father had reached the praetorship, he had experienced no difficulty in enjoying a successful if unspectacular career until 63 BC.
Then his election as pontifex maximus, the leading priest of the Roman state cults, propelled him to prominence, not least because of the unashamed use of bribery on his behalf by his powerful friend M. Licinius Crassus, who had been consul in 70 BC. This political accommodation, known to modern scholars as the First Triumvirate, was of brief duration in the early months of 59 BC, but it was sufficient to gain Caesar a great command in the province of Gaul, which he interpreted as a remit to conquer the whole area of France north of the Alps as far as the Channel. Exceptional generalship in the field between 58 and 51 BC, and a good deal of luck which compensated for some rash strategic decisions, won for Rome unprecedented conquests and for Caesar both immense popularity in the city and the support of a great body of soldiers.
These men were tied to him both by the affection of shared military experience and by an expectation that his political power would win them rewards, suitable pensions for the soldiers in the form of land grants, and political preferment for the officers. Such use of legionaries to seize power was hardly new in Roman life.
Sulla Felix had marched on Rome in 82 BC, defeated his enemies and killed many of them, and won thereby election to the post of dictator, in which guise he had reorganized the state. Both Pompeius and Crassus had threatened the city in 70 BC in order to achieve their consulships, although in their case no fighting had been necessary. But in the previous twenty years, in which violence of a different kind had been rampant in gang warfare on the streets of Rome, no army commander had used his troops to impose his political will in such a way. And Caesar went much further than Sulla.
Stopping only briefly in Rome to raid the treasury, he waged a rapid campaign against Pompeius and his supporters in Spain and Greece, where in Thessaly he won a decisive victory over Pompeius in 46 BC. Pompeius fled to Egypt, only to be murdered on his arrival by his erstwhile supporters there. In 46 BC he could return to Rome to claim, implausibly, a great triumph for the Roman people. Original, limited, ends soon gave ways to grander designs with the reality of unchallenged power.
Such contravention of the rules of inimicitia enmity was bound to irritate the beneficiaries little less than betrayal of amicitia friendship would do. Unlike Sulla, who resigned into private life once the legislation that he thought essential had been passed, Caesar accepted in 44 BC the title of dictator perpetuo dictator for life. A great programme had been enacted in 46 and 45 BC, from the settlement of his veteran soldiers on confiscated land in Italy to reform of the debt laws and the calendar.
According to later reports, not all of them reliable, much more was intended for 44 BC, but his adoption of quasi-monarchical powers and the rumour that he might accept a royal crown, as he had already welcomed the establishment of a priesthood for his worship, proved too much for some fellow senators, who saw the dashing of all hopes for their own rise to the top in Roman politics. In constitutional terms there was no particular problem in the continued running of the government.
Far from a plunge into chaos, the liberators might argue that their action could bring a return to normality. And, indeed, in the days after the Ides of March, they remained peacefully in Rome, until the threat of allegedly spontaneous violence by the urban mob drove them out, first from Rome and then from Italy. Not even that flight was necessarily seen as a prelude to civil war. The message of the depiction of the goddess Freedom is reinforced by the caption Leibertas. Enough for them to accept the steady prestigious rise through the cursus honorum guaranteed by the presence of so many friends to canvass for them.
As for Marcus Antonius, who was the surviving consul, Cicero, who hated him, accused him of aiming at dictatorship, but it is now impossible to know how justified the accusation was. That all this was so can be traced in some detail through the contemporary letters of Cicero, who at the age of 62, and nineteen years after his glorious consulship, stood pre-eminent in front of the senate, at least in his own estimation.
That figure was the young Octavius, the future emperor Augustus, who was to be the founder of the Roman Empire. For which reason the senate, with honorific decrees, made me a member of its order in the consulship of Gaius Pansa and Aulus Hirtius [43 BC], giving me at the same time consular rank in voting, and granted me the imperium. It ordered me as propraetor, together with the consuls, to see to it that the state suffered no harm. Moreover, in the same year, when both consuls had fallen in the war, the people elected me consul and a triumvir for the settlement of the commonwealth.
I waged many wars throughout the whole world by land and by sea, both civil and foreign. Res Gestae 1—3. Marcus Octavius had been born in September 63 BC of a not particularly distinguished line of Italian municipal aristocracy. His father, the first in the family to enter Roman politics and become a senator, reached only the praetorship. Signs of favour were already in evidence. On hearing of the murder of Caesar he returned at speed to Italy to take up his inheritance, spurred on not least by rumours that Marcus Antonius, as the man on the spot, might deprive him of a share of the money.
The prospects were good. With great wealth and the name of Caesar, Octavius could now expect to move high in Roman politics—to achieve an early consulship perhaps, and be courted by an aristocratic bride. But Cicero was wrong, for the signs of greater ambition were there from the start. The precise function of the two legions thus privately raised was not at first clear, but no-one objected openly.
Events moved rapidly in 44 BC. In May, the murderers of Caesar were forced to flee Rome by the hostility of the people, probably encouraged by Antonius. It was unsuccessful. They were aided by the two legions of Octavius, who had been granted praetorian status to legalize his command of forces for the state.
A bid for popularity was standard practice in political life, even if in this case the methods lacked good taste. Antonius was defeated at least sufficiently to be required to take refuge in Gaul with his old comrade Lepidus, but the two consuls were both killed— not, according to rumour, without the intervention of Octavius Suetonius, Augustus Octavius, still not quite 20, marched to Rome with his own legions and now those of the state as well, and demanded the consulship.
There was no resistance. It should be explained that while to his contemporaries he was simply Caesar, modern historians tend to call him Octavian to prevent confusion with Julius Caesar. Now at last it was clear that this was no ordinary young politician. Pompeius Magnus too had raised a private army at the start of his career in 83 BC, but it had been thirteen years before he threatened Rome with another army to secure his election as consul.
Octavian had telescoped the process into a few months. Octavian had achieved the consulship through his support of the liberators against Antonius. Within weeks he swapped sides and agreed to co-operate with Antonius and Lepidus. In November 43 BC, Antonius, Lepidus and Octavian came to an essentially private agreement which was to have immense public consequences. The scene was described years later by the historian Appian: Octavian and Antonius composed their differences on a small, depressed islet in the Lavinius River, near the city of Mutina.
Each had five legions of soldiers whom they stationed opposite each other, after which each proceeded with three hundred men to the bridges over the river. Lepidus by himself went before them, searched the island, and waved his military cloak as a signal to them to come. Then each left his three hundred men in charge of friends on the bridges and advanced to the middle of the island in plain sight, and there the three sat together in council, Octavian in the centre because he was consul.
They were in conference from morning till night for two days. Civil Wars 4. The normal system of election and law-making was returned to the abeyance in which it had been under Caesar. Many senators, including Cicero, and many more equites, were proscribed as enemies of the state and put to death.
The process was described by Appian: It was ordered that the heads of all the victims should be brought to the triumvirs for a fixed reward, which to a free person was payable in money and to a slave in both money and freedom. All persons were required to afford opportunity for searching their houses. Those who received fugitives, or concealed them, or refused to allow search to be made, were liable to the same penalties as the proscribed, and those who informed against such were allowed the same rewards.
Now, seeing that the malice of those who have conspired against us, and by whose hands Gaius Caesar perished, cannot be mollified by kindness, we prefer to anticipate our enemies rather than suffer at their hands. Their powers were illdefined, because they were overwhelming. Their right to act as absolute rulers was simply retrospectively reconfirmed in the spring of 37 BC, by a prolongation of the lex Titia of 43 BC. Brutus and Cassius controlled massive forces in the East, supported by cash ruthlessly extorted from the provincials. Antonius and Octavian carried out the campaign, while Lepidus stayed in Italy.
The victory, at Philippi in Macedonia in October 42 BC, was mainly won by Antonius, even though Octavian claimed the credit as avenger of his adoptive father. Immediately after Philippi began what in retrospect appears to have been a struggle for supremacy between the triumvirs. But at first it might not have looked quite like that to all the participants. For Antonius and Lepidus the role they had already achieved as great proconsuls might well suffice to satisfy ambition: after all, the command in the East and in Gaul handed over to Antonius after Philippi was over an area even greater than that which Pompeius had ruled in the 60s BC, and the powers of patronage enjoyed by the two men were quite sufficient to enable them to look forward to preeminence in the state on the relinquishing of their commands.
Thus Antonius strikingly failed to help his brother L. So long as each triumvir stuck to his own agreed area of responsibility—in technical Roman terms, his own provincia— there was no cause for conflict, and, indeed, none is recorded between Antonius and Lepidus. Antonius preferred to concentrate on a campaign against Parthia in the hope, in the event disappointed, of glory. In theory, the division of power was loose enough to allow interference by one triumvir in the sphere of influence of another without resentment, provided that no military activity was involved.
He had already discovered what could be achieved by the judicious use of money and energy, and he could not but notice how he had leapfrogged in power over great generals like Pollio and Plancus. Left in 42 BC with the unglamorous area of Sardinia and Spain to rule, where no prestigious campaigns could easily be trumped up, he undertook the necessary but unpopular task of confiscating land in Italy in order to settle veteran soldiers in sufficient comfort to ensure their loyalty.
With remarkable skill Octavian seems to have managed to dissociate himself from responsibility for the confiscations. In the contemporary poetry of Vergil for instance, Eclogue 1. Octavian was already presenting himself as more than human on the coins which emphasized the name of Caesar and the divinity of his father, formally acknowledged by the senate and people in January 42 BC. His ambition is hardly in doubt, but more precise delineation of the development of his plans for power is difficult, for no detailed political history of the next ten years survives in any contemporary source.
In 39 BC Octavian had even wooed his support and legitimated his command in Sicily, so that he could only justify his renewed hostility in 38 BC by characterizing Sextus as a pirate intent on cutting the corn supply to the city of Rome. He eventually defeated him in Sicily in 36 BC, and when Lepidus, who had helped half-heartedly in the defeat, claimed that Sicily rightfully should be under his control, Octavian won over his troops, so that Lepidus also retired suddenly to life under guard and obscurity.
With Lepidus out of the way, he concentrated on the defeat of Antonius. He formed a strong attachment to Cleopatra in Egypt, perhaps not unreasonably, given the description of her by Plutarch: Her beauty, as is recorded, was not in and of itself incomparable, not such as to strike those who saw her. But conversation with her attracted attention, and her appearance combined with the persuasiveness of her talk, and her demeanour which somehow was diffused to others, produced something stimulating.
Life of Antonius Despite such efforts, when Octavian in 32 BC began to portray Antonius as essentially un-Roman, a slave to his oriental mistress, and an incompetent drunkard, Antonius had little propaganda reply except to insist that he was one of the duly elected board of three triumvirs, who ruled the Roman state with the consent of the Roman people.
With such psychological backing, and many troops, Octavian set sail for the East and defeated Plate 2 Silver denarius minted for Marcus Antonius in 31 BC, just before the battle of Actium. The obverse shows the head of Antonius with his full Roman titles, advertising his role as priest augur , general imperator , senator his consulships and triumvir. The reverse depicts Victory in a laurel wreath. The portrayal of Roman magistrates on their own coins was an innovation by Julius Caesar.
Antonius and Cleopatra were hard put even to escape with a few ships. They took refuge in Alexandria, which was in turn besieged and captured in 30 BC. Both committed suicide. From that date Octavian was the undisputed ruler of the Roman world. All further constitutional changes did no more than dress up this fact. Success had been achieved in part through the mistakes of Antonius, who allowed Octavian to become sole master of the western Mediterranean by defeating Sextus Pompeius in 36 BC, while he himself sought for too long an elusive victory in Parthia.
Octavian took full advantage of every stroke of fortune, advancing his cause by skilful playing on the name and memory of Caesar in 44—43 BC; by using the gullibility of Cicero and the liberators; by capitalizing on the death of the consuls of 43 BC at Mutina and of Calenus in Gaul in 40 BC; by exploiting the loyalty of his soldiers and the excellence of his generals, particularly M. They often relented under the pressure of personal influence, or when the intended victims appealed for pity; Augustus alone demanded that no one was to be spared, and even added to the list of proscribed persons the name of his guardian Gaius Toranius, who had been an aedile at the same time as his father Octavius.
Augustus 27 In 25 BC Augustus published an autobiographical defence of his actions in seizing power, but it does not survive. Returning to Italy, in 30 BC Octavian disbanded about half of the huge legionary forces left in his hands, paying for their resettlement with wealth taken from Egypt.
During 28 and 27 BC he was so secure that he could ostentatiously resign all his offices and return the state to normality. As Octavian later described it: In my sixth and seventh consulships, after I had put an end to the civil wars, having attained supreme power by universal consent, I transferred the state from my own power to the control of the Roman senate and the people. For this service of mine I received the name of Augustus by decree of the senate, and the doorposts of my house were publicly decked with laurels, the civic crown was affixed over my doorway, and a golden shield was set up in the Julian senate house, which, as the inscription on this shield testifies, the Roman senate and people gave me in recognition of my valour, clemency, justice, and devotion.
After that time I excelled all in authority, but I possessed no more power than the others who were my colleagues in each magistracy. Res Gestae 34 In effect, regardless of the formal date when the triumvirate was thought to have ended— a debated issue, see above, note 4 —the job of the triumvirs, that of setting back the state to rights, was thereby announced as complete. A grateful senate and people voted Octavian a new name, Augustus. The new Augustus did not take on the title of dictator, as Julius Caesar had done, and indeed he was to refuse it when the plebs tried to press it upon him in 22 BC.
He chose instead to be known by the informal title of princeps, a term used in the Republic to indicate the foremost statesman. But as well as his new name, and other honours, the senate and people also voted Augustus command for ten years over the provinces of Spain, Gaul, Syria and Egypt. The real significance was that it gave him control of the vast majority of the legions still under arms.
Possession of so many legions gave Augustus an opportunity for political prestige by foreign victories as well as a means to suppress internal dissent. Since Augustus published his autobiography at this date, he may have felt that this victory crowned his career as a great Roman general. The only full-scale chronological narrative about this period to survive is that of Cassius Dio, who wrote in the early third century and used sources now hard to identify. Thus little can be stated for certain about the significance of an incident narrated by Cassius Dio under the year 22 BC.
He was put on trial and convicted for maiestas, but Augustus was apparently not involved, and the entire affair was managed by the senate under a senatus consultum ultimum whereby the senate increased the power of the magistrates of the state to act against public enemies by declaring a state of emergency. The view that Augustus lurched from one crisis to another, forced at frequent intervals to readjust his image to circumvent attacks upon his position by fellow senators, is a modern hypothesis intended to explain his periodic alterations to his formal constitutional position in the state.
Such a view is possible, but its significance should not be exagggerated. Vipsanius Agrippa. Agrippa came from an obscure Italian family not previously involved in Roman politics. In his late teens on the death of Caesar, he attached his fortunes to Octavian and by loyal service achieved the heights of the consulship in 37, 28 and 27 BC and shared censorial tasks with Augustus in 28 BC. For a man lacking in inherited support and ancestral glory, and reportedly low on charm and oratorical techniques, such advance by his mid-thirties was spectacular.
But Agrippa had earned such favour by his military expertise, for Augustus was a notorious incompetent in warfare, rumoured to have been ill in his tent at Philippi, and conveniently absent at most of the other victories he claimed as his own. In formal terms, he had held the consulate three times, and might have expected to be treated among the most senior statesmen of the senate; informally, troops might have hesitated whether to follow the charismatic Augustus and the name of Caesar or the competent Agrippa, who was more likely to deliver victory.
Agrippa was left in control, and Augustus was not compelled to define his relationship with his friend too precisely. When Agrippa died unexpectedly in 12 BC, Augustus described him as having been in effect his equal; in formal constitutional terms, this had indeed been precisely true from 13 BC, when both Augustus and Agrippa held imperium proconsular maius the formal right to intervene in provinces not assigned to them, when to the advantage of the Roman people.
But you rose to the summit by my favour, by your own virtues, and by the consensus of all men. Political rivalries thus became a domestic affair, and marital affections and dislikes came to have a major effect on the distribution of power. Roman political history became the domain, not of the parliamentary correspondent, but the court gossip.
That this was so is directly due to Augustus himself, who seems to have strongly believed, despite the lack of constitutional precedent or justification, that political power could in some way be bequeathed from one member of the family to another, simply by the stipulation of a private will and testament, the transmission of control of the house of Caesar.
At any rate Augustus put huge effort into the selection of a son and heir. Despite his obvious wish, two wives and a prodigious sex life, he himself produced only one child, his daughter, Julia. Tiberius] alone remained of the stepsons, and everything centred on him.
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Annals 1. Thereafter Augustus began a curious process which accurately reflected general Roman attitudes to adoption. After the deaths of Lucius in AD 2 and Gaius in AD 4 after a stubborn refusal, like Tiberius, to go on working for Augustus , Augustus rather reluctantly adopted his stepson Tiberius who in turn had to adopt his nephew Germanicus , as well as the youngest of his grandsons Agrippa Postumus. By insisting on a series of astute marriages and adoptions, Augustus thus reintegrated the family so ravaged by unlucky deaths.
Concentration of power within the family had its disadvantages. Augustus compelled his daughter Julia to marry Tiberius in 12 BC on the death of her husband Agrippa. Her daughter, the younger Julia sister of Gaius and Lucius , followed her into exile in AD 8; again, the charge was adultery, and in her case, at least, any further suspicion of treason is not very plausible. The fact that power rested in the family bred distrust.
The list of those whose death was attributed by rumour to the machinations and poison of Livia is a long one. At the same time, the benefits of keeping power in the family were considerable. Augustus experimented during his long rule with the devolution of power to his sons and stepsons, who could share with him the burden of government while not threatening his ultimate control. Above all, Augustus required good generals because he continued to need foreign victories for prestige. It was not safe to allow too many ambitious, competent generals to win glory in foreign campaigns, lest they seek power for their own benefit.
But members of the family might be trusted more to remain loyal to Augustus, from whose overwhelming prestige their own positions ultimately derived, and to devote their energies not to challenging but to impressing him. Augustus had enjoyed exceptional formal powers granted by the state to the day of his death, with overall control of all the provinces in which more than one legion was based.
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But the formal powers of his stepson Tiberius, whom he had adopted ten years previously, were hardly less. Tiberius too had the right to overrule other provincial commanders in the interests of the state. Tiberius was already in command, and had issued orders to the soldiers throughout the empire as their new commander-in-chief Tacitus, Annals 1. The scion of a proud family—the first Tiberius Claudius Nero to have been consul was believed to have held the post more than years previously—Tiberius was now aged 55 and at the end of an outstandingly successful senatorial career which could put all his contemporaries into the shade.
His first important public role in 20 BC at the age of 22 had been to receive back from the Parthians the legionary standards lost to them by Crassus in 53 BC. Some eight years later, after the death of Agrippa, he took his place in command of the legions engaged in the ambitious campaigns on the Danube, 12—9 BC.
After major successes there and on the Rhine in 9—7 BC he had retired into seclusion despite the expectation that he would campaign further. When he did so on his return to active politics in AD 4, it was with conspicuous success, though the operation largely involved the suppression of rebellions in areas previously conquered.
History of Rome 2. According to Tacitus Annals 1. In the senate, too, Tiberius was in more formal terms preeminent, as the senior ex-consul. He had first held the highest office in the land twentyseven years previously, in 13 BC.
The Roman World 44 BC-AD : Martin Goodman :
It was hard for some politicians to know what to say to greet an accession to power which was already accomplished. None the less, Tiberius gave him every opportunity for military glory, including a triumph in AD 17 for singularly ineffective operations against the Cherusci and Chatti in Germany, and the emperor paid him the honour of sharing in his second consulship in AD After his triumph, Germanicus was sent out to the eastern provinces as proconsul.
What happened there is recorded in a contemporary inscription on a bronze tablet in Spain, the Tabula Siarensis: There, while engaged in those provinces and the client kingdoms of that region in accordance with the instructions of Tiberius Caesar Augustus, including installing a king in Armenia, and not sparing his efforts, until by decree of the senate an ovation was bestowed on him, he met his death giving his all to the Roman state. AE , no. The emperor, born in 42 BC, was in any case now at an age where retirement might seem normal, and he had already kept away from Rome in Campania for nearly two years in AD 21—2.
But for Tiberius, retirement did not include the deposition of his powers as it had for Sulla a century earlier. That exile can in some ways be seen as the point at which overt autocracy became the accepted form of government in the Roman state. Much of the government simply ground to a halt. Embassies from the provinces and from foreign powers joined the senators on the shore of the bay of Naples and waited endlessly for word to come from the silent autocrat.
Spain and Syria were left without their governors of consular rank for several years. He allowed the Parthians to overrun Armenia; the Dacians and Sarmatians to ravage Moesia; and the Germans to invade Gaul—a negligence as dangerous to the empire as it was dishonourable. But having found seclusion at last, and no longer feeling himself under public scrutiny, he rapidly succumbed to all the vicious passions which he had for a long time tried, not very successfully, to disguise.
His whims could change the fate of whole nations. Thus the court gossip retailed in emperor biographies had far more importance than tittle-tattle about high society. Even though most emperors usually made decisions only in response to pressure from below,3 the vagaries of their characters dictated their often highly personal responses. Political history under autocrats is often just the history, or even the biography, of those autocrats themselves.
The main problem for the modern historian is to account for falsifications of the record under later emperors and to distinguish between the carefully cultivated public persona of each princeps see Chapter 12 , and the real individual in each case. Such an elevation was calculated to pique those senators who, for their own self-esteem, took senatorial traditions seriously. According to Suetonius Tiberius Assassination of Tiberius would be easy. Sejanus could rely on the support of his own soldiers in the praetorian cohorts.
Provincial commanders would have no incentive to urge their troops to march on Rome once the assassination had been carried out, since no alternative emperor could be presented as a rallying point. The conspiracy of Sejanus pointed out the awful truth that power really did lie in the hands of one man. For Tiberius there was no point in unnecessarily stirring up trouble. So long as he preserved his personal safety by the simultaneous appointment of two praetorian commanders, each of less ambition than Sejanus, there was no likelihood of a coup outside Capri.
He neither encouraged nor prevented those senators who now added association with Sejanus to the armoury of charges to be brought against their enemies in a further series of trials. The danger to Tiberius, if any, lay rather with the motley crew of relatives who provided the emperor with company in his island retreat. Time was to reveal how little Gaius at least was to be trusted. Thus it was rumoured that as Tiberius eventually lay dying in AD 37 and the news had already gone about that he was dead, it was his adopted grandson and heir Gaius who completed the process by smothering him with a pillow Suetonius, Gaius At the age of almost 25 and after seven years in the stifling atmosphere of the court at Capri, Gaius was catapulted unopposed to the head of the state.
Within a year, Gemellus was compelled to commit suicide. Gaius was popular enough with the soldiers, but largely as a result of their ignorance and optimism about his youthfulness. He had never commanded troops, and the reputation for military prowess which he inherited from his father Germanicus in fact stemmed from campaigns of 20 years before, in which Gaius himself had figured only as a toddler. He had been elected as pontifex in AD 31, and was quaestor in AD 33, but he had held no other public offices.
The hope that youth would presage a golden age for Rome proved transitory.
The Roman Empire (27 B.C.–393 A.D.)
Gaius spent liberally in Rome on buildings, gifts to the army and people, and on games and circuses, as his predecessor had singularly failed to do. But the popularity thus gained was checked by the evidence of his unwillingness to listen to others, including the mass voice of the people in the circus. After two years true madness, or something very similar, set in. Convinced he was divine, Gaius demanded worship from all his subjects, no matter what the consequences might be.
In imitation of the gods he was thought to have committed incest with his sister Drusilla, then killed her in the hope that she would bear him a divine child. The obverse shows the head of Gaius wearing a laurel wreath. The legitimation of the new emperor depended on his relationship to Augustus, his great-grandfather by adoption.
Gaius won a certain amount of prestige by a moderately successful expedition across the Rhine in AD 39, although a plan to invade Britain was aborted, the troops getting no further than the coast of northern France: He drew up his army in battle array facing the Channel and moved the arrow-casting machines and other artillery into position as though he intended to bring the campaign to a close.
It was achieved not by armies but by a small group of assassins who stabbed the emperor to death as he was leaving the games. Chaerea had no plans. Gaius was too young to have sons, adopted or natural. Senators awoke from the nightmare of the last four years to realize that they had no need after all for an emperor. In constitutional terms the consuls ruled the state on behalf of the people. If there was no overall magistrate to whom all must pay obedience, what reason was there to complain? The senators discussed elatedly in the senate house this unexpected restoration of their libertas freedom.
The other was the praetorian guard, whose only function was the protection of the emperor. Hence the full description of events after the death of Gaius given by the Jewish historian Josephus. Gratus, one of the praetorian guard, caught sight of him, but was unable to make out his features well enough to recognize him in the dim light…. He approached nearer, and when Claudius asked him to withdraw, he pounced upon him and caught him. The news, announced by Agrippa to the dumbfounded senators as a fait accompli, was necessarily accepted without demur, for the senate house was surrounded by armed troops.
The following year the governor of Dalmatia, a certain Scribonianus, was rumoured to be contemplating a march on Rome, but he was forestalled by the desertion of his troops and murdered by one of his soldiers. For the rest, silence and acquiescence sufficed, at least on the surface. But uneasiness remained: in a rule of fourteen years, Claudius executed at least members of the ruling class.
As one of his first acts, Cassius Chaerea was executed, to discourage imitators of such tyrannicide. He took a personal part in the invasion of Britain in AD 43, and during his reign received a record number of imperatorial acclamations all, apart from the campaign against Britain, for victories achieved by his legates. But once in power he proved energetic and idiosyncratic, inaugurating change in a fashion similar to Augustus.
During his rule many elements of the eventual bureaucratic structure of the imperial state were consolidated—most notably, public recognition of the role of nonsenators as public officials procurators in the provinces—but it is probable that such a quasi-civil service would in any case have evolved in this fashion in the principate, and there is little evidence that Claudius was responsible for any major structural changes in the state. His divorce and execution of his wife Messalina on the grounds of her flagrant adultery in AD 48 led in AD 49 to his marriage to his niece Agrippina.
Claudius himself apparently thought that this change strengthened his position, since he indulged in fewer executions, but in AD 54 his new wife contrived his murder in favour of her son by a former marriage, the young Nero, aged 16, whom the emperor had adopted as a brother to his own son, Britannicus. NERO There was no more talk now of the restoration of free political competition. Nero avoided reference to his predecessor and did not stress his status as divi filius son of a god , and by early AD 55 Britannicus was dead reportedly poisoned.
At any rate, all restraint had gone by AD 59, stripped away in emotional turmoil as Nero rejected excessive interference in his affairs by his mother and committed matricide. In the following nine years it was to such vile personal practices, even though in fact they only affected a small group of close family, that much wider political opposition arose. In AD 63, in a successful effort to achieve victory, Nero granted maius imperium power to override other provincial governors in the eastern provinces to his best general, Domitius Corbulo, who had been engaged since AD 58 on an ambitious campaign against Parthia to secure control of Armenia.
His passion for the Greek pursuits of contests in athletics and music, and for gladiatorial fights, which extended to his own public participation in such events, was thought to be beneath the dignity of the ruler of the Roman world. Lack of money led him to confiscate large tracts of Africa, executing the landowners.
In AD 65 a conspiracy formed around a certain Piso, of ancient lineage and vague relationship to the Caesars, but indolent in character. Another conspiracy in AD 66, by a certain Annius Vinicianus, was similarly unmasked and Corbulo, who as his father-in-law was too close to the main instigator, was ordered to kill himself. In early spring AD 68 an obscure Gallic senator, Julius Vindex, the praetorian governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, decided that enough was enough and raised the banner of revolt.
Many murders, robberies and outrages, it is true, have often been committed by others; but as for the deeds committed by Nero, how could one find words fittingly to describe him? When the news reached Rome and the praetorians under their commander Nymphidius Sabinus decided to desert, Nero panicked and stabbed himself to death with the help of his freedman Epaphroditus. Thus ingloriously ended the family of the Julio-Claudians. At any rate, after the fiasco on the death of Gaius, no-one was prepared to urge such a course openly. No descendants, even by adoption, of Julius Caesar or Augustus or of their immediate family, still survived.
In any case the Pisonian conspiracy of AD 65 had thrown open the possibility that a noble with little connection to the Caesars might seize as much power if his aristocratic lineage or other qualifications could win him sufficient support. Of a family long illustrious in Roman politics, he had enjoyed a respectable but unexceptional political career, and had ended up, since AD 60, in the undemanding job of governor of Hispania Tarraconensis.
What propelled him to the forefront of political life was his favourable response to a letter from Vindex urging action against Nero. Vindex had written to all the legionary commanders urging action against the tyrant. If they had all accepted the call to revolt, Nero would have fallen bloodlessly, but most were naturally too timid, knowing their likely fate if they alone proved disloyal to the emperor. Thus it was that only Galba in Spain threw in his lot with Vindex. Of equal significance in his decision may have been the part played in the suppression of Vindex by the governor of Upper Germany, Verginius Rufus.
At any rate, once revolt was under way, it immediately became clear that Galba would seek power for himself. Galba was acclaimed as Caesar by his troops, and supported in this by local Roman nobles.
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He marched with just one newly formed legion to Rome, encountering no opposition. An attempt by Clodius Macer, commander of a legion stationed in Africa, to seize power for himself, is known primarily from the coins he issued; it seems to have been suppressed by Galba. A new secret of imperial power was revealed, wrote Tacitus forty years later Histories 1. The praetorian guard, which had once unseated Gaius, was, on the death of Nero, simply taken over by Galba. OTHO Galba was installed in splendour and luxury in the city of Rome, but he did not enjoy for long the fruits of his fortune.
But within weeks he took the fatal step of adopting an heir, presumably in the hope of forestalling conspiracy, since he himself was already in his early 70s. Since Galba had ignored their desires, not even paying a promised bounty on his accession, the praetorians were not slow to agree. Piso died close by in the temple of Vesta. The senate and people accepted Otho, if without much enthusiasm. He was the first emperor thus to seize power after open bloodshed on the streets of Rome. Furthermore he was kindly in his speech and affected modesty in his deportment, and he kept throwing kisses on his fingers to everybody and making many promises.
Histories 1. If Galba could seize power so easily, why not they? If the undistinguished Otho could be emperor, they could be so too. New vistas opened, for him as for others. The troops followed him in the hope of reward. Otho came north to meet the German legions after they had crossed the Alps, but although the praetorians stayed loyal to him, at the battle of Cremona they proved no match for the superior number and greater experience of the battlehardened troops of Vitellius. Vitellius reached Rome in late June and took up a dissolute residence, showing surprising clemency to his surviving opponents, and emphasizing on his coins both the unity of the armies see Plate 4 and the fact that he had a suitable son to be his heir.
But his passion for elaborate banquets was shameful and insatiate. Dainties to tempt his palate were constantly brought from Rome and all Italy, while the roads from both the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian seas hummed with hurrying vehicles. The preparation of banquets for him ruined the leading citizens of the communities through which he passed; the communities themselves were devastated; and his soldiers lost their energy and their valour as they became accustomed to pleasure and learned to despise their leader.
Histories 2. The obverse, with the head of Vitellius, describes him as victorious in German wars. Unlike the great general Corbulo, whose death Nero had just procured, Vespasian could never challenge the emperor for popular affection. As a candidate for the principate, his only advantage in seeking power was that he had two sons, Titus and Domitian, and the elder, Titus, had already proved his worth. The conspiracy also included Tiberius Julius Alexander, prefect of Egypt, and the generals commanding the Balkan legions. The troops in Judaea followed suit two days later.
In later years Primus received minimal reward for his services. His actions were alleged by Vespasian to have been against instructions, and he might be accused of irresponsibility since he had allowed Dacian tribes to cross the Danube into Roman territory. Primus had been one of the earliest supporters of Galba, when a legionary legate in Spain, and he may have seen himself as fighting for Galba rather than Vespasian.
By thus disowning Primus, Vespasian could claim that he had won the empire without spilling Roman blood. Vespasian himself had meanwhile taken ship, not to Italy, but to Alexandria at the mouth of the Nile Delta, in order, apparently, to halt the grain supply to Rome if the city held out against his forces. For six months, first Primus briefly then Mucianus ruled Rome on his behalf.
The new emperor himself only entered his capital in the autumn of AD 70, over a year after he had been acclaimed by his troops and after all the bloodshed had ended. He was soon able to enjoy a triumph over foreign enemies, since Titus had completed the subjugation of Judaea with the capture of Jerusalem in August AD The Flavian dynasty was begun.
Vespasian before his bid for power lacked not just prestige but also many amici among his fellow senators, not a few of whom, in any case, had died during the civil war. The paraphernalia of a dynasty was soon built up. Vitellians such as the turncoat Caecina Alienus, who had joined the Flavian cause only at the last moment, remained the object of suspicion—hence his execution for alleged involvement with Eprius Marcellus, whose conspiracy is known only from his suicide, in AD Vespasian 8 The new emperor seems to have revelled in his reputation for meanness and for bluntness.
Despite such behaviour, Vespasian was sufficiently popular, and the dynastic principle sufficiently re-established, for Titus to inherit power without difficulty after the death of his father, aged 70, in AD 79, the first peaceful demise from old age to be granted to any emperor since Augustus, if the rumours about the death of Tiberius are to be believed.
Popular, not least for his evident military competence, Titus wooed support among his fellow aristocrats to the extent of dismissing his paramour, the Jewish queen Berenice, daughter of Agrippa I. According to Suetonius Titus 8 , he adopted an exceptionally benevolent view of the task of the princeps: Titus was naturally kind-hearted…. He also had a rule never to dismiss any petitioner without leaving him some hope that his request would be favourably considered.
Even when warned by his staff how impossible it would be to make good such promises, Titus maintained that no one ought to go away disappointed from an audience with the emperor. Once emperor, the series of campaigns he led personally—against the Chatti on the Rhine, and against the Dacian king Decebalus—went only some way to build up the image of a successful soldier, not least because he ran up against exceptionally tough opponents who prevented too much glory.
Successful campaigns in Britain were headed by the able Agricola. In AD 89 a conspiracy by L. Antonius Saturninus, legate of Upper Germany, was suppressed by the neighbouring governor of Lower Germany and its perpetrators were executed. Although immediate repercussions were confined to Germany, an increasingly suspicious emperor declared that no-one would believe him when he claimed that plots were being laid against him—until, that is, he was dead Suetonius, Domitian The result was a reign of terror, in which the senators were compelled to convict of treason those of their colleagues who spoke out for senatorial dignity.
The names of the victims were later recalled as martyrs, not least because of the ambivalent feelings about these events displayed by the main historians to record them, the senators Pliny and Tacitus.
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Tacitus, writing of the premature death of his father-in-law Agricola, produced an image of the senate under Domitian as living in a state of constant fear Agricola He summoned a Palace steward to his bedroom, invited him to join him on the couch, made him feel perfectly secure and happy, condescended to share a dinner with him—yet had him crucified on the following day! Domitian 11 Denigration of Domitian by the regime which replaced him tends to disguise his genuine achievements, which included impressive building projects in the city of Rome and the successful if temporary suppression of hostility by the Dacian king Decebalus on the Danube.
A new emperor, Marcus Cocceius Nerva, was proclaimed with suspicious adroitness and speed by the senate. Nerva was an old man, coming from one of the few surviving noble families which could trace their lineage back to the Republic. It seems clear that he was behind the plot to kill Domitian, to the relief of all his fellow senators, but once again the immediate perpetrator of the deed was put to death for murder, lest others note the ease with which autocrats could be disposed of, and be tempted to emulate his action. The impression of peaceful stability and rational choice produced by this fact is slightly illusory, as will be seen.
But it was true enough that there ceased to be an expectation of assassination or civil war at periodic intervals, and life, at least for emperors, fell into a less stressful pattern. I hereby adopt Marcus Ulpius Nerva Trajan.