THE EMPERORS OF ROME
JULIUS CAESAR (100-44 B.C.)
The most famous of all Romans and the embodiment of Roman military and administrative genius, Caesar’s most consicuous achivements were the conquest of Gaul and the permanent dislocation of Rome’s republican constitution. His early career was marked by a strict adherence to the cursus honorum at a time when a contemporary dynasty, Pompey, was breaking all the constitutional rules. A senator before 70 B.C., he took a popularis line in the 60s, advertising his anti-Sullan credentials as Marius’ nephews and Cinna’s son-in-law. He was associated in the scheme of Crassus (from whom he received powerful backing) to supplant Pompey in popular esteem, but he also courted popularity by supporting Pompey’s interest against the optimates. In 63 he was prominent in Labienus’ prosecution of Gaius Rabirius and in opposing Cicero’s execution of Catiline’s supporters. The same year saw him elected to the prestigious office of pontifex maximus, defeating the optimates Catulus and Servilius Vatia, and to the preatorship of 62, which he followed with a successful military command in Spain. Returning in 60, Caesar was confreonted by Cato’s hostility, and had to waive his claim to a triumph so that he could stand for the consulship of 59. As consul he promoted the interest of Pompey and Crassus, whom he brought together into an informal coalition against the optimates (the “First Triumvirate”) receiving for himself a coveted five-year proconsular command in Gaul and Illyricum (through a law of Vatinius). His radical legislation (notably the agrarian laws) won him widespread popular support, but was carried largely by intimidation in the face of fierce senatorial opposition led by Cato and Bibulus. The illegalities of his consulship and the powerful enemies he had made rendered him especially vulnerable to prosecution if he should ever relinquish his imperium: this decisively influenced his subsequent career. It was thus essential in 56, when Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbarus threatened to supersede Caesar in Gaul, that the Triumvirate be renewed to keep him out of the consulship and to extend Caesar’s command for a further five years. Because of the proximity of Caesar’s army to Italy, he could use his soldiers to influence politics at Rome, and with the enormous booty from the Gallic campaigns he could buy adherents in the Senate. But his influence declined sharply in the late 50s, when Pompey sided with the optimates against his now too powerful rival. Caesar had completed the pacification of Gaul by 56, but was occupied until 51 with token military demonstrations in Britain and Germany and with a series of revolts culminating in that of Vercingetorix. He had acquired not only a formidable military reputation to match Pompey’s, but also a loyally devoted army of experienced veterans who were ready to march against the government in defence of their commander’s threatened dignitas. When the senate early in 49 refused Caesar permission to stand for the consulship of 48 in absentia and declared him a public enemy, he crossed the Rubicon (from his province into Italy) and quickly overran the peninsula. He secured Spain before taking on the main republican forces under Pompey in the Balkans and defeating them at Pharsalus (48 B.C.). Caesar consolidated his mastery of the world by a series of follow-up campaigns: in Egypt, Pontus, Africa, and Spain (48-45) At Rome his position became increasingly monarchical as he held successive consulships (except 47 B.C.), received progressively longer grants of dictatorial powers (from 49 onwards), and assumed the trappings of royalty and godhead. Among the people and the all-important legions his popularity remained strong, almost idolatrous, especially after the magnificent series of triumphs which he held in 46. But, although he attempted to conciliate the senatorial opposition with his famous clementia, his evident intention of permanently superseding the republican regime led to Cassius’ and Brutus’ conspiracy to assassinate him in 44 B.C. During his dictatorship he had achieved a partial restructuring of the government, introduced many essential administrative reforms, and extended Roman citizenship to Cisalpine Gaul. The Julian calendar, which survived unaltered until the sixteenth century, was introduced on January 45, thus ending centuries of chaos caused by a lunar calendarout of phase with the solar year, the year 46 B.C. was lengthened to 445 days to correct this divergence. Before his death Caesar was planning an invasion of Parthia. Caesar’s decisive influence on the course of Roman history is matched by a formidable intellectual achievement. He was an orator of great distinction, described by Cicero as the most elegant of Roman speakers, a poet, grammarian, a wit, a copious pamphleteer and letter writer, and an authority on astronomy. He is especially famed for his Commentaries, of which 7 books on the Gallic War and 3 on the Civil War survive. The choich of form was a matter of exquisite calculation: the genre was that of notes, the raw material of the historian, a bald record of events to be written up by the literary stylist. Cicero declares, in a passage of warm admiration, that there was actually no room for improvement. The cool, sober, chaste, third-person narrative, containing speeches largely in indirect speech and, in the Gallic Wars, the occasional ethnographic excursus, is designed to create the illusion of impartial objectivity. In fact, both works are masterpieces of subtle propaganda, intended, in their studied moderation, to counter the numerous charges of aggression (against both Gaul and Pompey) which he incurred. Hirtius completed and added to Caesar’s own commentaries, the African and Spanish wars were written up by other members, now anonymous, of Caesar’s staff.
AUGUSTUS (OCTAVIAN) (63 B.C. – 14 A.D.)
The colossal achievements of Rome’s first emperor defies ordinary biographical treatment. Gaius Octavius, born to a senatorial but humble father, became Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus as the legal (and political) heir of Julius Caesar, in 27 B.C. Octavian, securely established as master of the world, became Caesar Augustus. He was then thirty-six years old. Despite the copious information we have on the events of his extraordinary rise to power and remarkable reign, it is almost impossible to isolate the talents and qualities of character which enabled this man, from his late adolescence to his dotage, to gain possession of and rule so diverse a dominion. Augustus the man – his proud retention of his juvenile grammatical errors, his ventures into Greek drama, his antiquarian interest in fossils, his dicing, joking, tastes and appetites – is preserved for us by Suetonius and others, but the emperor remains hidden. Some have therefore tried to present Agrippa, Tiberius, Drusus, Statilius Taurus and Munatius Plancus with the credit for Augustus’ rise to power, and Maecenas and Livia with his retention of it. He was certainly fortunate in his helpers, as he was in the weaknesses of Anthony and the feeble few who thereafter disturbed the Augustan order from within: he was fortunate above all in the war-weariness of the Roman world, the decline in numbers of the senatorial class who could remember the Republic before Caesar, and his own long and (for most part) healthy life. More explanation is required, and though historians may make all too easy deductions of ruthlessness, intelligence, cynicism, ambition, and shrewdness, a more satisfactory analysis is impossible. It is easier to find his weaknesses: he was only a moderately able commander, he was an over-optimistic strategist, he turned his family from a potential mainstay into a hotbed of disorder. Most importantly he imposed insuperable difficulties on his three successors by creating a system which focused sharply upon the princeps within a framework which pretended to allow government by the senate. This structure – no dyarchy, but dependent on the personalities of Augustus and his contemporaries – was responsible for the turmoil that we associate with the Julio-Claudian period. Not that Augustus attempted to impose a monolithic system on the Roman State; in fact, the brilliance of his repeated constitutional and administrative experiments, by which he adapted creatively all the most promising parts of the Republican polity to fit his needs, impresses more than do many of his more vaunted successes. The adoption of the tribunician power as the “indication of the highest rank” is only the most famous of these expedients; some, like the attempt to revive the censorship in 22 B.C., failed, but others, more numerous, for example the urban prefecture, which lasted until the end of the Empire, proved most useful. Like any Roman politician, Augustus also depended on his personal influence; indeed, this alone entitled him to the rank of princeps, which carried no power. The success of his armies and the possession of wealth on the vastest scale guaranteed this informal authority. It was by a similar combination of influence and actual power that Augustus was able to further so dramatically the process of welding the area of direct Roman rule – the imperium Romanum – much of which he supervised personally, with the motley collection of allied cities, client kingdoms, and dependent tribes which filled in the gaps between and surrounded the edges of the Roman provinces. One of his principal tools in this task was the exaltation of the city of Rome, and by the end of his reign the city had become a worthy centre for the Roman Empire in its new form, full of noble building, properly administered, and glorified like its ruler in the words of the greatest poets of the time. It is easy to forget that Rome had previously been the capital of the world only in practice: Augustus now made the fact more obvious, as Caesar had intended to do before him. Much of the image of Rome’s glory begins only now, and it is for his success in this field, and for the contributions of the greatest of Roman poets, in particular Virgil and Horace, that his reign is best remembered. Augustus himself wrote the “Record of his Enterprises” (Res Gestae), which he directed to be published posthumously. This survives in copies on stone, notably on the so called Monumentum Ancyranum , with a locally made Greek translation; the style is clear, sober, and formal, in the traditional manner of official record. The chronological and factual framework of these developments: Octavian’s main supporters and opponents became obvious early in the years after Caesar’s murder, when the compromise which had created the Second Triumvirate (43 B.C.) broke down. The years of war which followed saw him married to Anthony’s relative Scribonia, who bore him his only offspring, Julia, and later to Livia, who remained a support to him all his life. The defeat of Pompey and the neutralization of Lepidus gave him the West, and he began his life’s work by concentrating on the unification and restoration of Italy. In 31 the campaign of Actium gave him the final mastery. Anthony killed himself. The next years were spent in consolidating and perfecting his position, reaching a climax in 27 B.C. with his change of name and the gaining of provincial power. There were further important modifications of the formal position in 23 and in 19; his absence from Rome in Spain and the East had raised problems in Rome and his near death of an illness in 23 and the death of his heir Marcellus had caused a serious breach within the closest circles of his advisers. Tiberius and Drusus, Livia’s children, now became his principal agents, though in 2 B.C. a grand demonstration of the maturity of the system, centred on the new heirs, Gaius and Lucius, and the opening of a new forum in Rome, a monument to the dynasty, revealedhow affairs had changed; Agrippa, Maecenas, and Drusus were all dead, Tiberius in self-imposed exile on Rhodes. These years were also marked by dramatic conquests, particularly in the Balkans and on the Danube. With the disgrace of Julia, the deaths of Gaius and Lucius, the return of Tiberius and his adoption, the revolt of Pannonia, and the disaster of Varus in Germany, the last phase of the principate had come; but, although it represented partial failure of a number of projects, the difficulties that faced Tiberius on his accession in 14 A.D. were personal and the inevitable product of the system, not the result of the senility of the old emperor. For, although delegating much business, Augustus had remained in control to the end.
TIBERIUS (42 B.C. – 37 AD)
Tiberius Claudius Nero married Livia Drusilla, who bore him with two sons. The elder, of the same name as his father, succeeded him as head of the highly aristocratic Claudian family on his death in 33 or 32 B.C. His aristocratic mother’s second marriage to Octavian involved him closely in the affairs of the ruling family, and he was married to Vipsania Agrippina, the daughter of his step-father’s great marshal M. Agrippa. After his second marriage, to Augustus’ own daughter Julia, he was moved to tears by the mere sight of his first wife, whom he had been compelled to divorce in 12 B.C. In the East in 20 B.C., in Pannonia 12-9 B.C., and in Germany 9-7 B.C. and 4-6 A.D. he was the untiring agent of Roman imperialism, although the incomplete accounts of these wars that we possess naturally assign to the commander-in-chief some of the glory won by his elder subordinates. He did, however, prove himself a most competent general. After Agrippa’s death he was the eldest close male relative of Augustus, and therefore of great importance until the increasing maturity of Agrippa’s children Gaius and Lucius Caesar made his position intolerable. Finding the tensions and the problems excessive, Tiberius withdrew to Rhodes in 6 B.C., even though that very year his position had been ostensibly improved by the grant of the tribunician power. Augustus seems not to have been fond of Tiberius – Livia was presumably his strongest backer- and when the deaths of Gaius and Lucius made it essential to recall Tiberius from his literary and philosophical retreat, Augustus does not seem to have been whole-hearted about it. Tiberius was adopted in 4 A.D. and his tribunician power renewed, and in 13 A.D. he was given proconsular imperium like that of Augustus himself. He had been forced by the crisis of the Pannonian revolt and the disaster of Varus to spend these years restoring the conquest he had himself earlier made for Rome. In 14 A.D., on the death of Augustus, Tiberius had the appallingly hard task of being first successor to the institution Augustus had created. He did not do very well. An awkward and embarassing debate in the senate foreshadowed the failure to communicate or make clear their mutual roles, which spoiled relations between emperor and senate throughout the reign. The main product of this failure was a series of accusations and trials for treason (maiestas). Tiberius had not been able to build up the personal position which the length of his reign had given Augustus; he had to depend on informers since he had few friends; naturally cold and aloof, he had spent so long away from Rome that its politics were uncongenial and unfamiliar; the loyalty and habits of the Augustan principate died with their creator, and Tiberius inherited only precedents and powers. Moreover, as heir to the great traditions of the Claudii, he was, we may imagine, less keen than Augustus to reduce the chances of senators’ achieving prominence in the State by their own efforts. It is not surprising that he let many of these questions slip, giving power to his praetorian prefect, and in the end escaping altogether to Capri in 29 A.D. never to return. The grim story of old friends betrayed and relatives condemned, amply narrated by Tacitus, is the outcome of these difficulties: the suspicions of the ageing emperor, fostered by the power-seeking prefect Sejanus, resulted in the destruction of nearly all the family of Germanicus, and in only its least worthy representative was spared to be Tiberius’ successor. Because of his lukewarm attitude to the Augustan system – though he was careful to alter no important Augustan precedent – his reign was administratively quiet. Provincial governors were allowed enormous tenures – but might be kept at Rome for security. Domestic thrift reached such a pitch that there was a shortage of coined money in the provinces. No expensive wars, no expensive buildings; but by the successful crushing of Sejanus even from Capri, Tiberius demonstrated that both he and the system were vigorous. The passive and unpopular regime survived until Tiberius’ death in 37 A.D. Tiberius was reserved, cold, introverted and proud, well-built, healthy, cultured, and scholarly in a pedantic way. In his character thrift, firmness, and Stoic morality were said to have given way to meannes, cruelty, and debauchery. It seems that at any rate he became hard and bitter and sour, with unpleasant consequences, especially for those at Rome.
GAIUS CALIGULA (A.D. 12-41)
Gaius Julius Caesar Caligula was the son of Germanicus and Agrippina (the Elder), whose greatest legacy was their enormous popularity. When still an infant he had helped foster this adulation by being paraded as a mascot before the Rhine armies in 14 A.D., at the time of their mutiny. It was there that he acquired the nickname of “Bootlet”. The violent death of his father at Antioch, the supervision first of Livia and then of Antonia, and several years on Capri with Tiberius, all no doubt influenced his character. He only just escaped the machinations of Sejanus, and cultivated his successor Macro. By this time he was the obvious successor to Tiberius, though he was unable to begin the education appropriate to such a position in public affairs before being left in charge by the death of Tiberius. Gaius’ actions, which have no doubt been embroided by tradition and the imaginative historians of Antiquity, did none the less range from the bizarre and ostentatious to the verge of the demented; scholars are divided on the vital question of “mad, bad, or ill?” but the results were similar in any case. An emphasis on autocracy, eastern fashion, and disregard for the constitutional behaviour of his two predecessors lapsed into tyranny and arbitrary proscription. Military expeditions to remove internal threats – particularly from Lentulus Gaetulicus and his noble following – and perhaps to ensure peace in the north while confirming the loyalty of the Rhine armies, provided an excuse for horseplay and whimsy on the largest scale. Public expenditure rapidly became mere extravagance. His administrative actions were ill-judged at their best – his relations with the Jews were particularly unprofitable. It is not enough to explain, for example, his divine aspirations by comparing his practice to the conventions of eastern ruler-worship: to have indulged this taste as freely as he did in Rome was a lack of judgement so extreme as to constitute madness. Contempt, fear and hatred followed the rejoicing of the beginning of his reign, and dissatisfied praetorians and anti-monarchial senators combined to assassinate him. By that time his victims were numerous and the State bankrupt.
CLAUDIUS (10 B.C. – 54 A.D.)
Son of the elder Drusus by Antonia, Tiberius Claudius Drusus was the younger brother of Germanicus and a patrician Claudian. He was born at Lyons in Gaul, shortly before the death of his father. Serious ill-health, which rendered him incapable of maintaining the dignity required of the imperial family on public occasions, deprived him of any career, and he devoted himself to scholarship, with some success: he wrote histories of Etruria and Carthage, as well as a continuation of Livy. He was, however, occasionally entrusted with some task – under Gaius he was made consul – and Suetonius preserves letters from Augustus to Livia in which he expresses surprise at the young Claudius’ astuteness. Moreover, in the household of Antonia he was not far removed from the councils of state, and his inexperience in government revealed itself during his reign only in his obsession with points of detail, and in an astonishing devotion to the exercise of the jurisdiction he had so long been denied. The coincidence of his retiring way of life, the general belief in his stupidity, and the vicissitudes of the dynasty in general spared him from suspicion and either exile or death under Tiberius and Gaius, and he was the only adult male survivor of the Julii or Claudii when the murder of Gaius brought him to the attention of the praetorian guard. This military support provided him with a firm base from whichto crush the group of senators who were, in an inefficient, contentious, and grandiloquent way, attempting to manage without a princeps. A more serious revolt came from Dalmatia, under Scribonianus, when military support was again vital to Claudius, and he took the opportunity of weeding out some dissident elements. Although he came to have a bad record fro the execution of senators, this was not so much because he tried to rule without senatorial help, or failed to recognize the status of many senators, but rather because they found his manner and style of rule offensive. In fact, the reign of Claudius is another chapter in the story of the incompatibility of the two institutions, a story whose first chapter had been written under Tiberius. Unaccostumed to senatorial deputies, and without a large group of senatorial friends, Claudius was forced to rely on freedmen and equestrians, particularly the former, and on such friends as he did have, notably Lucius Vitellius, who acquired great power and responsibility. The greatest upheaval of the reign was Claudius’ discovery of the treasons and adulteries of his wife Messalina; the repercussions included Claudius’ new marriage to his niece Agrippina, and his decision to adopt her son Domitius (later Nero) rather than leave the succession clear for his son by Messalina, Britannicus. Claudius was impetuous, absent-minded, and cruel, and not the ideal controller of the system of government he had created; the hatred of him found among senators, and best expressed in Seneca’s Pumpkinification, was therefore, partly justified. However, the system was in many ways the precursor of the one which was to work so well under the Flavians and their successors, and Claudius’ surviving edicts demonstrate amply that he was a thoughtful and careful, if pedantic and idiosyncratic, legislator and administrator. The mixture of the apologetic and the bullying, learned allusions and irrelevant digressions found in these documents evokes vivdly the character described by Suetonius: but it is clear that the Empire benefited despite the disgust of the senatorial class at the petty and donnish buffoon who ruled them so strictly. Not the least important step taken by Claudius was the annexation of Britain in 43 A.D.; his reign was also distinguished by military success in other areas (including Germany and Mauretania). He realized that he derived much cachet from being the brother of Germanicus and son of Drusus, and sought to exploit this while keeping the army usefully employed. In 45 A.D. Agrippina, who had shared the machinery of government for some time, felt the time had come to make an end, and Claudius was poisoned with a dish of mushrooms.
NERO (37 A.D. – 68 A.D.)
Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, the son of Agrippina the younger nad Domitius Ahenobarbus, was brought up by his mother alone from the age of three, and played the part normal for children closely connected with the imperial family. When his mother became Claudius’ last wife, he took on the more onerous role of Claudius’ son, and was preferred to his adoptive brother Britannicus on grounds of age and because of his mother’s influence. When Agrippina had the old emperor poisoned, Nero – as he had been called since his adoption – quickly became emperor, and soon after disposed of Britannicus and his principal ally, the freedman Narcissus. He was still young and in need of guidance, which was amply provided by his mother, his old tutor Seneca, and the praetorian prefect Burrus. However, Nero preferred to devote himself to singing, acting, and chariot racing, and although he participated in the affairs of state, he showed the lack of judgement which derived from his having had no training in office by making foolish, if generous, suggestions such as the abolition of all the lesser taxes. At the beginning of his reign he had been told to avoid the worst trespasses against senatorial autonomy which had marked Claudius’ reign, especially trials in camera, and at first these principles were adhered to; indeed, even after Nero had murdered his mother and asserted his independance of his advisers, the tone they had given the reign remained and made it quite different from the preceding one. The functions of government proceeded quite smoothly under Nero, and the successes of Corbulo and the emperor’s philellenism ensured that in the East at least he was popular. Provincial government was not always successful, however, and the revolt of Boudicca in Britain in 61 A.D. was caused in part by the abuses of provincial rule. Among the armies of the Empire too, unemployment and growing distaste for the antics of so abandoned and un-Roman an emperor grew steadily throughout the reign. For Nero indulged his curious tastes in many ways, and even the great conspiracy of senators and officers of the guard in 65 A.D., with Piso as figurehead, which was destroyed by Nero’s minion and praetorian prefect Tibgellinus, partner of his excesses, failed to make him realize how dangerous his behaviour was. In the end, the revolt of Vindex in Gaul and Galba in Spain, supported by the praetorians under Nymphidius Sabinus, drove him to despair and suicide just before the news of the victory of Verginius Rufus for his cause at Besancon. By that time he had added to the list of his victims two wives (Octavia and Poppea), his former tutor Seneca (told to commit suicide), and figures of prominence in the senate, such as Thrasea Paetus, who had the courage to register their disapproval of his ways. Nero’s reign was also marked by the disastrous fire of Rome in 64 A.D., which he exploited for the building of his vast whimsy of a palace, the Domus Aurea; the way in which Christians were made scapegoats for this disaster is not the least notorious or disgusting episode of this depressing reign.
VESPASIAN (9 A.D. – 79 A.D.)
In the Sabine town of Reate the Flavii were of some importance; like others of their class they seem to have devoted themselves to careers in such fields as the army or the collection of taxes; they were solid, shrewd and respectable. The two brothers Titus Flavius Sabinus and Titus Flavius Vespasianus rose through the patronage of Narcissus and won honours in the British invasion of 43 A.D., when Vespasian was responsible for the campaign which reduced most of southern Britain and the Isle of Wight. Sabinus shared his brother’s reputation for decency and fairness, and his death in 69 was to be a loss to the family. Vespasian found Agrippina’s hostility to those who owed their position to Narcissus, a disadvantage, and compounded his disgrace by falling asleep while Nero recited. Nonetheless, in 66 he was given the command of three legions in the Jewish War, which provided him his springboard to power. The events of 69 A.D. showed that neither high birth nor prominence in the senate was required of an emperor: it was far more important that he should know the army. Vespasian had his qualification as well as the glory of his successful campaigns and the promise of a secure succession implicit in the existance of two adult sons, Titus and Domitian. Loyal supporters, especially Mucianus, and the strategic importance of his command further assisted his success. The troubles which had caused the Civil War had been directed at Nero, and not at the principate as a system. Constitutional creativity was not required of Vespasian, only the careful exercise of sound administrative principles, a task for which he was well suited. The hatred of Nero and the ravages of war had carried off many of the older nobility and this meant that a new order could be created to serve the new dynasty. Former friends and relatives, and subordinates or men of talent, were increasingly encorauged by the subtle system of promotion and status which was now formed out of the old cursus honorum; so a supply of administrators, as well as a new ruling class, was provided. Titus and Mucianuswere particularly prominent, but men whose service as prosecutors had already commended them to Nero and commanders to whom armies could be entrusted for campaigns which would distract them from disobedience, also benefited. There was much continuity – so much that those who had made a name by their stand against Nero found Vespasian little better constitutionally; Helvidius Priscus was the most illustrious victim of the new regime, though there were also less highly motivated and equally unsuccessful attempts at opposition. Vespasian, a sound, fair, just administrator, with his concern for boundaries and revenues and his perhaps conscious imitation of the rule of Claudius, seems a good emperor, especially when the sense of humour recorded by Suetonius is considered: imperial jokes make pleasanter reading than imperial perversions. But his rule was hard, and he was undoubtely and uncompromising and firm individual, which is why he succeeded so well in overcoming the difficulties he found on his accession.
TITUS (41 A.D. – 81 A.D.)
Elder son of Vespasian, perhaps because of Claudius’ approval of his father’s military prowess in Britain, Titus had the honour of being educated with Britannicus, and became a firm friend of the boy. He distinguished himself as a military tribune in Britain and Germany, and was appointed commander of one of the legions under his father in Judaea, where he showed conspicuous gallantry, and took over the direction of the war when his father was proclaimed emperor in 69. He shared the imperial power throughout Vespasian’s reign, despite hints that he had been considered as a candidate for sole emperor in 69, and held seven consulships, and – an innovation – the command of the praetorian guard. In maintaining security, he showed an arrogance that could be described as ruthlessness. In his private life he was not entirely above suspicion – his affair with Berenice. Who was considerably older than he, was much criticized – and he possessed an extraordinary and rather sinister talent for forging handwriting. But none of these things, nor the disaster of fire at Rome and the eruption of Vesuvius, diminished the favourable reputation he enjoyed during his reign and thereafter. However, several of the anecdotes recorded of him reveal some preoccupation with morality: the most enigmatic, perhaps, being his observation on his death-bed that he only regretted one thing that he had done in life. Whatever it was, his generosity and good sense in the face of irritation and conspiracy, especially from his brother Domitian, and some useful measures, above all against informers, quite outweight it.
DOMITIAN (Emperor 81 A.D. – 96 A.D.)
While Titus Flavius Domitianus was a boy, his father Vespasian was poor and unimportant; his brother Titus, on the other hand, had been educated at court. Deprived of any position of responsibility, Domitian came to desire power though, as his father perceived, he was unsuited for it. Shocked by Domitian’s reckless actions in Rome in 69, Vespasian gave him only the ornaments of power during his reign. The history of Domitian’s own reign, however, makes it clear that during this time he learned the principles of sound administration which characterized the Flavian reigns. But a suspicious and irascible temperament – it is eloquent of his character that he was deeply interested in the personality and principate of Tiberius – combined with his enthusiasm for power to compound a tyrannical and unhappy reign. It became quickly apparent that there would be no dissembling – Domitian was “Master and God”, and the carefully preserved fictions which cloaked the absolutism of the principate were quite disregarded. Senators and theorists were equally offended; attempted uprising followed, and a dreary and terrible spiral of suspicion and repression, until in 96 Domitian was killed by members of his own household, including his wife Domitia Longina. The high moral tone of the reigns which succeeded was set by the survivors of Domitian’s final reign of terror, loud in their admiration of Helvidius Priscus the Younger, or Arulenus Rusticus. Influential members of the gropu who opposed the extremes of autonomy in the principate, they execrated the informers and prosecutors, and Domitian himself, who is therefore condemned by tradition as an emperor comparablewith Gaius and Nero. Yet in his choice of statesman and his government, in the energy with which he devoted himself to the urgent military problems of the Danube, and his financial arrangements, which allowed him an extensive building policy, he was not a disastrous emperor after all. Indeed he was a man of real culture, and the author of some measures, such as controls on the castration of slaves, which were manifestly humane. While he remains an unattractive man – grim, morbid, egocentric, cruel – he doesn’t deserve comparison as a ruler with the wild and quirky Gaius or the criminally foolish Nero.
TRAJAN (Emperor 97 A.D. – 117 A.D.)
The Ulpii were an Umbrian family settled in Baetica (Spain). Marcus Ulpius Traianus’ homonymous father was their first senatorial member, and he was able to use the distinction and rank attained by his father as a foundation for his own career. His reputation was first boosted by his prompt service to Domitian in 89 against Antonius Saturninus, when Trajan was commanding a legion in Spain. The prosperity and advantages which followed, including the consulship in 91, are hidden in obscurity, because those whom we owe most of our information did not consider it admirable to win the favour of such an emperor as Domitian. Nerva made him governor of Germania Superior and after the crisis of 96 and the threat from the praetorian guard, adopted him as heir. Although Trajan was clearly active and able, distinguished by his father’s achievements and Domitian’s favour, but not deeply implicated in the less respectable associations of the previous reign, this move is not easily explained, and it is quite possible, as some ancient accounts suggest, that suggestion on the part of Trajan or his friends and the tacit threat of force combined with the difficulties of the time to persuade Nerva to take this step. Trajan’s reluctance to return to Rome after Nerva’s death, his speedy preparations fro aggressive foreign war, and his effective dealing with the praetorians all suggest that the situation in 97 was, for whatever reasons, more insecure than our sources suggests. The aggression took the form of punitive wars against Decebalus and the Dacians, whom Domitian had never decisively settled. The first war was quickly over, but Decebalus broke faith and a second war ended with his suicide and the conversion of Dacia into a Roman province; mineral wealth and frontier security were the pretexts. In 114 he achieved similar successes in Mesopotamia and reduced that and Assyria to provinces, but the area proved too difficult to rule in this way, and by the time he died widespread revolts in Assyria, which were only put down with difficulty, and the threat of trouble in Judaea and Syria led him to revert to the client king system for Parthia. Trajan managed to acquire the sobriquet optimus princeps, and stove to represent the ideal emperor as imagined by many of those senators who had disagreed with and suffered under earlier rulers. Respect for the senate and increased use of senatorial talent to manage schemes like that of the alimenta or to deal with problems like those which Pliny the Younger was required to solve in Bithynia improved relations with that body, and the men whom he promoted, Sosius Senecio, Licinius Sura, or Cornelius Palma, were given no greater honours than such stalwarts of the senate as Vestricius Spurinna, Frontinus, and Verginius Rufus. At the same time he devoted much energy to administrative changes, and vast sums of money to building projects such as his Forum, Column and Baths in Rome. His wife Plotina shared in his good reputation, and the fact that he was himself adopted, and adopted an heir – Hadrian – endeared him to those who believed in succession by merit rather than birth. His opponent could find only drink and homosexuality to upbraid him with, but he was excessive in neither. His reputation has perhaps been gilded, but he remains an example of a competent and conscientious ruler.
HADRIAN (Emperor 117 A.D. – 138 A.D.)
Publius Aelius Hadrianus was born in 76 A.D., probably at Rome, though his family’s home-town was Italica in Spain. He ws the son of Publius Aelius Hadrianus Afer and Domitia Paulina, but when his father died in 85 he became the ward of the future Emperor Trajan. He saw military service in the Dacian Wars, governed Pannonia Inferior in 107, held a consulship in 108, and governed Syria in 114. He was designated for the consulship of 118. Throughout his earlier career he had been favoured by the Empress Plotina, but when Trajan died in Cilicia on 8 August 117 it was not clear that Hadrian would succeed him. The news of Trajan’s death was concealed until it could be announced simultaneously with the fact that Hadrian had been adopted as his successor. The year 118 saw a Parthian triumph for Hadrian, the suppression of trouble from the Sarmatians and Roxolani in Moesia, the exaxution, on the authority of the senate, of four ex-consuls for conspiring against Hadrian, and a series of generous financial measures intended to establish the popularity of the new regime. Hadrian’s reign was a very important period in the history of the Empire. Perhaps his greatest contribution was in the area of frontier policy. He abandoned Trajan’s conquests in the East and turned instead to a policy of consolidation. He travelled the Empire more extensively than any provious emperor, visiting Gaul and the Rhine, Britain, Spain, Asia, Greece, returning to Rome via Sicily, then going to Africa, Athens, Caria, Cilicia, Cappadocia and Syria and Egypt. He returned to Rome in 131 and spent the reminder of his reign in Italy. He put into operation a thoroughgoing overhaul of the military establishment, and consolidated the development of linear frontiers which had begun in the Flavian period. The results can most clearly be seen in the Rhine and Danube provinces, in Africa, and in Britain. His reign saw one major war, in Judaea, where the Jews revolted under the leadership of Simon Bar-Cochba; the suppression of this revolt effectively ended the existance of Judaea as the Jewish homeland. A number of administrative changes were also introduced. More extensive use was made of equestrians in the bureaucracy , and they were able henceforth to gain advancement through holding purely civil posts. He formalized the composition of the emperor’s advisory council, introducing the presence of legal experts. He introduced a board of judges to deal with cases in Italy, thus weakening the authority of the senate. Hadrian was personally activein almost all areas of legislation and jurisdiction, and his reign saw a number of very important developments in Roman Law, including the codification of the Praetor’s Edict. Hadrian was a great lover of Greek culture was particularly attached to Athens, which gained many new buildings and much imperial munificence. In Italy he was responsible for the building of the Pantheon, the Temple of Venus and Rome, his own Mausoleum, and a magnificent villa at Tivoli. His tastes and attitudes did not endeared him to the senatorial class. His reign was marked, particularly at the beginning and end, by the deaths of a number of leading senators, some of whom were clearly executed or forced to commit suicide. His first adopted heir, Aelius Caesar, died in January 138, and Hadrian turned to Antoninus Pius, a senator of Gallic origin, who succeeded when Hadrian died at Baiae on 10 July 138. He was buried in his Mausoleum in Rome.
MARCUS AURELIUS (Emperor 161 A.D. – 180 A.D.)
Born in 121, the son of Marcus Annius Verus and Domitia Lucilla, he was brought up by his grandfather after the death of his father. He won early favour from Hadrian and when Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius as his successor in 138 he, in turn, was made to adopt Marcus along with Lucius Verus. After Hadrian’s death Marcus was betrothed to Antoninus’ daughter, Faustina II, whom he married in 145. He received an excellent education from many distinguished tutors, his principal teachers in literature being Fronto and Herodes Atticus. His correspondence with Fronto, preserved in the Letters, provides a valuable insight into the intellectual development of Marcus and the atmosphere of the imperial court in the middle of the second century. From the age of 18, when he was consul for the first time, he began to attend meetings of the emperor’s council and to learn the responsibilities of beign emperor. In 146 he was given a grant of tribunician power and proconsular imperium which clearly marked him out as Antoninus’ preferred successor. When Antoninus died on 7 March 161, Marcus was holding his third consulship. On Marcus’ insistence, the senate granted to Lucius Verus tribunician power, proconsular imperium, and the title of Augustus, thereby raising him to the same level as Marcus. Thus the principle of collegiate power was introduced. Marcus was, in the eyes of posterity at least, almost the perfect emperor, a judgement heavily influenced by knowledge of his personal qualities. He is criticized for having persecuted the Christians and for having allowed his degenerate son, Commodus, to succeed him; but it must be remembered, with regard to the first, that he was rarely only following a policy laid down by Trajan and reaffirmed by Hadrian, and, with regard to the second, that the transmission of imperial power had always been effectively dynastic – he could not have ignored his only surviving son. Despite Marcus’ personal qualities, his reign was very difficult. It saw a long succession of military crisis, marking the beginning of a long period during which the Empire was threatened by invasion on all its major frontiers. In 162 the Parthians seized Armenia and precipitated a crisis, which was dealt with by Lucius Verus and several of Marcus’ best generals. The successful conclusion achieved by 166 was tempered by the fact that soldiers who returned from the East brought a plague back with them which cost millions of lives, and probably had a serious effect on the population of the Empire. About 166-7 German tribes crossed the Danube and pushed as far as northern Italy. Two new legions had to be raised to meet this threat and Marcus was not in a position to come to terms with the invaders until 168. In 169 Marcus was forced to auction imperial property in order to raise money to fight the northern barbarians, and the last ten years of his reign were almost fully occupied on the frontiers. From 170-174 he fought the Marcomanni and Quadi, in 175 the Sarmatian Iazyges. In 176 he visited Egypt and returned to Rome for a triumph. But trouble erupted again in Pannonia in 177. Marcus made his son Commodus co-emperor in this year and they spend the last three years of the reign fighting the Marcomanni. Marcus died at Vienna on 17 March 180. His most conspicuous monuments in Rome are the Column of Marcus Aurelius, depicting scenes from the northern wars, and his equestrian statue which was later incorporated into the design of the Capitol by Michelangelo. As a personality, Marcus is far better known than any other leading statesman of classical antiquity. Apart from the informationin the Letters of Front, Marcus’ inner self is revealed in the 12 books of Meditations which were written in the last decade of his reign during the northern wars. He had been introduced to Stoicism by one of his tutors, Apollonius of Chalcedon, and turned to it seriously in the mid 140s. The Meditations, which are really a series of personal and psychological diaries written in circumstances of great personal hardship, reveal his peroccupation with his own responsibilities as emperor, with the relationship between man and God, and the nature of world order. They add little that is new to traditional Stoic doctrines but reveal the intense religious and moral feeling of a sensitive, intelligent, and highly-educated emperor.
CARACALLA (Emperor 211 A.D. – 217 A.D.)
The elder son of Septimius Severus and Julia Domna, Caracalla was born in Gaul in 188. In 195, two years after becoming emperor, Severus proclaimed himself son of Marcus Aurelius and renamed Caracalla after Marcus. Caracalla was created Caesar in 196, emperor designate in 197, and was co-opted into the priestly colleges and named Augustus in 198. In 202 the all-powerful praetorian prefect Plautianus arranged for him to marry his daughter Plautilla, but Caracalla so loathed his bride and her father that he refused to have anything to do with her, and after Plautianus’ fall in 205 he had her exhiled. According to Dio, Caracalla engineered the plot by which Plautianus met his death, claiming that he had intended to murder the emperors. From 205-208 Caracalla and his younger brother Geta gained a reputation for loose living, and their intense brotherly rivalry grew into mutual hatred. Both accompanied their father on the British campaigns of 208-211. By this time Caracalla’s mental instability was causing concern, and on one occasion it looked as if he were about to stab his father in the back in full view of the army. After Severus’ death in 211 Caracalla and Geta abandoned the British campaign and returned to Rome, where their rivalry was so intense that even the palace was physically divided. Caracalla arranged to have Geta stabbed to death late in 211. His strenght as emperor lay in his ability to win the soldiers’ allegiance by sharing their burdens. His nickname Caracalla came from the designaton of the hooded cloak he so frequently wore. His mental instability, brutal treatment of senators and any who opposed him, and harsh fiscal policies made him bitterly hated. He spent the years 213-217 organizing a Parthian campaign in the East, and was murdered by his praetorian prefect Macrinus early in 217. Perhaps the most significant event of his reign was the edict granting citizenship to all free inhabitants of the Empire in 212.
CONSTANTINE I (Emperor 306 A.D. – 337 A.D.)
Flavius Valerius Constantinus, first Christian emperor, was the son ofthe tetrarch Constantinus I and of Helena, born 285 A.D. at Naissus in Serbia. He spent his youth at the eastern court of Diocletian, head of the Tetrarchy, as a hostage for his father’s good behaviour, and served as an army officer. In 306 he escaped from the court of Galerius, Diocletian’s successor, and joined his father in the West shortly before his death at York. There Constantine was immediately proclaimed emperor by the troops, and with Galerius’ consent became the ruler of Britain and Gaul with the title of Caesar. The usurpation of Maxentius in Rome on 28 October 306 gave Constantine further opportunities. First they became allies, and Constantine married Fausta, daughter of the retired emperor Maximian, who was supporting his son Maxentius. Then Maximian quarreled with his son and took refuge with Constantine. In 309-310 he rebelled against Constantine, who disposed of him. To replace this discredited connection, a descent from Claudius Gothicus was discovered for Constantine, who had by now acquired Spain and the title of Augustus. In May 311 Galerius died, and the four remaining de facto rulers formed rival alliances, Constantine with Licinius and maxentius with Maximin Daia. Thus fortified, Constantine turned on Maxentius in 312, marching down through Italy to a final victory at the Milvian Bridge. He was now Emperor of the West, adding Italy and Africa to his dominions. Next year, Licinius eiliminated Maximin Daia and became Emperor of the East, with Constantine’s sister Constantia as his wife. After a war fought to settle ownership of the Balkans, the two emperors ruled in uneasy partnership until 324, when Constantine finally defeated Licinus, becoming the sole emperor of a reunified Empire. Already in 312 Constantine had taken the first steps towards Christianity, as a result of a dream vision exhorting him to entrust his army and fortunes in the campaign against Maxentius to the Christian God. The victory at the Milvian Bridge, decisive in the fortunes of Christianity, convinced him of the necessities of putting the Empire under the protection of his own new patron deity. First he ended the Great Persecution of Christians, begun under Diocletian, by means of the Edict of Milan, agreed with Licinius in February 313. Major patronage for the Church ensued, and Constantine expended much effort throughout his reign in attempts to unify it, the main problems begin the Donatist schism in Africa and, after 324, the Arian heresy in the East. A succession of Church councils was summoned, including the famous Council of Nicaea in 325, at which an illusory unanimity over Arianism was acheived. Constantine encouraged Christianity in the still pagan governing clases and army, and promoted it by example and the granting of favours. He was baptized on his deathbed, as was the custom. Because of his conversion, the great new capital, Constantinople, was founded as a Christian city, resplendent with new churches. Strategic considerations dictated the permanent establishment of the main capital nearer the threatened frontiers of the Empire, and Byzantium was better than Diocletian’s Nicomedia. A “new Rome”, though technically lesser in status, Constantinople had a senate and a cron dole for the populace. It was inagurated with magnificent ceremonies in May 330. A domestic tragedy during a visit to Rome itself in 326, when he executed his eldest son Crispus, then his wife Fausta, hastened Constantine’s cutting of links with the old capital. A great reformer, who throughout his long reign spent many summers campaining on the Rhine and Danube frontiers, and was preparing for a Persian war at his death, Constantine created a central reserve force of crack troops, able quickly to reinforce beleaguered frontier armies, fulfilling a vital need for the survival of the Empire. He also completed the separation of military and civil powers begun by Diocletian, appointing two supreme commanders – the Master of the Infantry and the Master of Cavarly – answerable directly to the emperor. The civil administration was also reorganized, and the office of praetorian prefect began to be divided up. A reformed coinage comprised new gold and silver currencies, and went far towards the re-establishment of a monetary economy; but the bronze coinage was debased. Compulsory heredity of calling was extended from agriculture to soldiers, bakers, civil servants, and others, in a kind of caste system devised to cope with the shortage of manpower caused by the epidemics and wars of the third century. Constantine had three surviving sons _ Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans – and two nephews of and age for governing, the sons of his eldest half-brother, causing a major succession problem. He tried valiantly to lay down a system in which each would play his part in ruling the Empire, but after his death (May 337) it was destroyed by mutual suspicion between sons and nephews, leading to a massacre in which the sons triumphed. Hot-tempered and generous, a man of action impatient with theological niceties or outraged by some flagrant example of oppression, superstitious like all his contemporaries but endowed with a grandiose sense of being God’s vice-gerent on earth, the founder of the Christian Empire is for us a vivid personality readly perceptible through the medium of his surviving letters and laws and accounts of his actions. A strong and effective ruler and reformer, he shares with Diocletian the main credit for the very existence of the later Roman Empire, and the long years of stable government in his reign made possible a genuine renaissance of civilian life and fine arts.
ROMULUS AUGUSTULUS (Emperor 475 A.D. – 476 A.D.)
Romulus, the “little Augustus”, was set up as a figurehead emperor by his father, Orestes. A few months later, after Orestes’ murder by Odoacer, Romulus was deposed, but spared because of his youth and allowed to live on in exile near Naples, supported by a generous pension.