Historum - History Forums  

Go Back   Historum - History Forums > World History Forum > Ancient History
Register Forums Blogs Social Groups Mark Forums Read

Ancient History Ancient History Forum - Greece, Rome, Carthage, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and all other civilizations of antiquity, to include Prehistory and Archaeology discussions


Reply
 
LinkBack Thread Tools Display Modes
Old November 13th, 2017, 04:00 AM   #1

caldrail's Avatar
Historian
 
Joined: Feb 2012
Posts: 4,715
Blog Entries: 15
They Ruled With Violence And Oppression?


A recent television documentary broadcast had the presenter proclaim in the introduction, along with mood heightening music, that Rome was "an empire that ruled through violence and oppression". It's a powerful theme, one that conjures an image of an outraged emperor leaping to his feet, a purple cloak falling upon his throne, pointing and ordering his soldiers to mete out justice to the unfortunate souls that outraged him. The soldiers salute and march smartly to the exit in order to lead a troop of men directly to the door of the accused.

It is however an image fundamentally flawed with more in common with Hollywood dramatics than historical reality. What oppression was historian Bethany Hughes talking about? The Roman public, despite the strongly enforced class system, nonetheless had opportunities for social mobility. They had the right to appeal against legal rulings and would regularly seek and receive assistance from the elite of society. Slavery in Roman hands was open to the very real possibilities of manumission. Citizens of the empire would enjoy voting rights for hundreds of years, sponsorship of art and literature, the potential to become wealthy via business success, freedom to work whenever they wanted and travel where they wished.

The issue of violence is one impossible to avoid in Roman society, for they tolerated a far higher level of violence than we would consider permissable today. It was a social custom for lads of good families to roam the streets in gangs beating people up. For much of Rome's glory years, the Roman public delighted in the spectacle of sword fights or animal hunts. Public executions could be theatrical, men and women left to the mercies of angry wild animals, or in one case, used as live torches to light the streets at night. For that matter, muggers and murderers stalked the darkness, and we know that at least one future Caesar had indulged in thuggery and death of innocents.

This sort of gory background is appalling to modern sensiblities yet we should not see this as entirely unusual in the overall scheme of things two thousand years ago. The Romans themselves were shocked by the reported cruelty meted out to prisoners taken by Germanic tribesmen in ad9. Angered by the dynastic murders of the Julio-Claudian family. Frightened by the cruelty of the Sassanid Persians.

However, much of the internal violence was interpersonal or factional, and not connected directly with governance over the Roman public. It is somewhat illustrative that Ulpian, who had written a digest of law in the 2nd century, was murdered by praetorian guards under his command simply because they loathed him. The use of violence, or more accurately, force, was always an option in securing a decision or applying justice just as it remains today. Most political conspiracies achieved nothing, a group of dissatisifed senators whinging amongst themselves but never reaching the point of actualt threat to their target. It is noticeable however that when the duration of top level power became a lifetime issue, so the prospect of removing that person was only possible via military coup or political assassination. It is also notable that those Caesars who disdained legal prerogatives were more likely to be killed.

Let's not be under any illusions - ruling the Roman world was a dangerous position, with traditions against sole power and rivals looking on from the sidelines. Even as Caesar, an individual was not in sole control of the Roman world until the Dominate of the late empire. Nonetheless the point of this discussion is whether the Romans ruled through the application of violence. This is categorically untrue, however prevalent and convenient violence may have been.

Writers in the Roman world were keen to point out the benefits of Roman law which they held very dear and offered to those they dominated. Rights, privileges, and limitations were constantly being described. Governmental procedures were laid out and normally observed. It is true that Romans of any level in society took advantage of poor oversight and enforcement. If you gave a Roman an inch he would take a mile. If they had a fault, ambition and greed inspired the violence of elite society. With such wealth and power at stake, they succumbed to human vices just like anyone else.
caldrail is offline  
Remove Ads
Old November 13th, 2017, 04:08 AM   #2

Man of Sin's Avatar
Citizen
 
Joined: Aug 2017
From: New Jersey
Posts: 30

I was wondering that not too long ago. Why is Hollywood and certain “documentaries” portraying Rome as this cliched evil empire and people who fought against them as good people?

Last edited by Man of Sin; November 13th, 2017 at 04:12 AM.
Man of Sin is offline  
Old November 13th, 2017, 04:23 AM   #3

Iphigeneia's Avatar
Historian
 
Joined: Nov 2015
From: Somewhere
Posts: 1,244
Blog Entries: 1

Rome isn't any more evil than any other nation at the time
Iphigeneia is offline  
Old November 13th, 2017, 06:39 AM   #4

johnincornwall's Avatar
Historian
 
Joined: Nov 2010
From: Cornwall
Posts: 6,001

Social mobility? I can hear Sulla turning in his grave.
johnincornwall is offline  
Old November 13th, 2017, 07:14 AM   #5

Jake10's Avatar
Guardian Knight
 
Joined: Oct 2010
From: Canada
Posts: 11,522
Blog Entries: 4

Quote:
Originally Posted by Man of Sin View Post
I was wondering that not too long ago. Why is Hollywood and certain “documentaries” portraying Rome as this cliched evil empire and people who fought against them as good people?
Because the objective is to make money, and the story of combating the evil empire sells.
Jake10 is offline  
Old November 13th, 2017, 07:36 AM   #6
Historian
 
Joined: Oct 2014
From: appalacian Mtns
Posts: 3,655

Quote:
Originally Posted by Man of Sin View Post
I was wondering that not too long ago. Why is Hollywood and certain “documentaries” portraying Rome as this cliched evil empire and people who fought against them as good people?
Because Rome was an evil empire. Anybody that feeds people too Lions for public entertainment at the colosseum can't possibly be good. Not too mention nailing people up on crosses.

Last edited by M9Powell; November 13th, 2017 at 07:39 AM.
M9Powell is offline  
Old November 13th, 2017, 07:53 AM   #7

Iphigeneia's Avatar
Historian
 
Joined: Nov 2015
From: Somewhere
Posts: 1,244
Blog Entries: 1

Quote:
Anybody that feeds people too Lions for public entertainment at the colosseum can't possibly be good.
It is like bullfighting and don't bring that 'it is an animal so it is okay' bullshit.

Public executions were a thing in medieval europe aswell and it was a spectacle that peasants saw as a fun day out.
Iphigeneia is offline  
Old November 13th, 2017, 08:08 AM   #8
Historian
 
Joined: Oct 2014
From: appalacian Mtns
Posts: 3,655

Quote:
Originally Posted by Iphigeneia View Post
It is like bullfighting and don't bring that 'it is an animal so it is okay' bullshit.
And that makes it OK? Bull$hit. The truth is Rome was more Barbarous than the Barbarians.
M9Powell is offline  
Old November 13th, 2017, 08:29 AM   #9
Lecturer
 
Joined: Oct 2015
From: Virginia
Posts: 438

Like Nazis, and zombies, the Romans are fair game as Hollywood villains as there is no modern pressure group interested in making political hay by protesting their villification
Dentatus is offline  
Old November 13th, 2017, 10:43 AM   #10
Scholar
 
Joined: Aug 2015
From: Los Angeles
Posts: 832

Quote:
Originally Posted by johnincornwall View Post
Social mobility? I can hear Sulla turning in his grave.
You mean the guy who says if you were super brave in the field, EVERYONE has to stand when you enter any public games, and that you are automatically enrolled into the senate? That guy?
mariusj is offline  
Reply

  Historum > World History Forum > Ancient History

Tags
oppression, ruled, violence



Thread Tools
Display Modes


Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Why were Jews much more accepting of their oppression compared to African Americans RemGrade European History 17 July 22nd, 2016 02:39 AM
Wars Of Oppression. Do They Succeed? Mangas Coloradas General History 20 November 5th, 2012 10:38 AM
The use of Violence. Zeno Philosophy, Political Science, and Sociology 69 July 29th, 2011 10:37 PM
The Violence of Art Arctic Fox Ancient History 4 September 8th, 2008 10:38 AM

Copyright © 2006-2013 Historum. All rights reserved.