The most biggest lie about roman emperors

Feb 2011
965
Scotland
Perhaps reading the sources might change your mind. Or the informed opinion of academics who already have.

As the years progressed, the Romans' rights were incrementally eroded while the emperors' power surged.By Emperor Diocletian's reign (AD 284-305) the Principate was essentially abolished and replaced with the Dominate,
Gaius Marius (Marc Hyden)

In 19BC a certain Egnatius Rufus put himself forward as a candidate for the consulship, with popular support but without the correct qualifications. He was put on trial and convicted for maiestas, but apparently Augustus was not involved, ..
The Roman World 4BC-AD180 (Martin Goodman)

In my sixth and seventh consulships,......
Res Gestae (Augustus)
As Diocletian has explained, the Dominate/Principate difference is less to do with the power of the autocrat and more to do with state control.

The Egnatius Rufus episode is related by Mary Beard in SPQR also. In her opinion, this was simply a matter of the Senate jumping to preempt the views of Augustus and to maintain hsi favour. The Res Gestae has little to say on this subject, though I shall refer to it in an instance below. It mostly echoes Augustus known desire to be seen as acting as an Autocrat in Republican clothing. Under the Republic, it is unlikely Rufus' actions would have resulted in his death.

I would echo Caesar's statement in that not only do your quotes seem to emanate from less well known sources, but more importantly very rarely do they actually appear to support the points you are trying to make.


The Princeps had no military authority whatsoever. It was a title that indicated social status. Augustus retained military oversight via the application of imperium maius which was senior to other holders of military authority to lead armies which Augustus was not unique during his lifetime. Indeed, the campaigns pursued during his reign would have required his personal attention had not others been so entitled. Imperium was granted by the Senate. It is true that Augustus was unique in that his power was senior to everyone else and his successors, and he even managed to get it made valid within the Pomerium. Nonetheless he was still obliged to have that power re-affirmed every five or ten years (I previously wrote it was every two or so - this was in error) in the form of the praenomen Imperator.
No military authorty whatever? Given your statement, pray inform us of who actually commanded the armies of the Augustan Principate please?

I would point out Augustus' own statements in the Res Gestae, translated on Livius.org, as follows-

"[3] Wars, both civil and foreign, I undertook throughout the world, and when victorious I spared all citizens who sued for pardon. The foreign nations which could with safety be pardoned I preferred to save rather than to destroy. The number of Roman citizens who bound themselves to me by military oath was about 500,000. Of these I settled in colonies or sent back into their own towns, after their term of service, something more than 300,000, and to all I assigned lands, or gave money as a reward for military service. I captured six hundred ships, over and above those which were smaller than triremes.

[4] Twice I triumphed with an ovation, thrice I celebrated curule triumphs, and was saluted as imperator twenty-one times. Although the Senate decreed me additional triumphs I set them aside. When I had performed the vows which I had undertaken in each war I deposited upon the Capitol the laurels which adorned my fasces. For successful operations on land and sea, conducted either by myself or by my lieutenants under my auspices, the senate on fifty-five occasions decreed that thanks should be rendered to the immortal gods. The days on which such thanks were rendered by decree of the senate numbered 890. In my triumphs there were led before my chariot nine kings or children of kings. At the time of writing these wordsnote I had been thirteen times consul, and was in the thirty-seventh year of my tribunician power."

The underlines/bold are mine. These illustrate even Augustus himself (a poor general personally) taking credit for all army successes and that troops swore allegiance to him personally. When taken in conjunction with his introduction of pensions for legionaries upon retirement, it shows how Augustus solved the problem of troops attaching to other individual commanders which had ruined the Republic. (Per Brunt). As - in effect- supreme warlord, he ruled the Roman world. The chain of command was from Augustus to provincial governors holding office in ALL provinces with significant troop numbers, then from the governor to legionary legates. The senate had no option but to grant him such powers as he desired and he turned down such honours as they rushed to vote him where he felt it excessive.

Tiberius empowered the Senate to govern in his absence, which was probably no small relief to the Senate who no doubt disliked him as much as the public. However, the ability to unseat a ruler - and Tiberius was not a monarch, but like Augustus, a top level magistrate - is not the same as the need or willingness to do so. Rome was never entirely stable in mood. The governing bodies, princeps or senate, were always mindful of the Roman mob, which rioted at the drop of a hat. This was after the basis for panem et circuses. One should not ignore one of the most important aspects of Roman society - law. The Romans were intensely proud of their legal system and valued it above all others. And for that matter, Augustus was not able to push through unpopular laws without struggle. In fact, his rulings on upper class marriages were overturned and such the contention, that Augustus did not attempt to push his luck.
Augustus dealt with many matters with his provate council. Tiberius tried to bolster senatorial responsibilities, if only to enable himself to undertake a form of retirement. However, if so, this failed. Tacitus explains that Tiberius stated that the senate consisted of "Men fit to be slaves.". Suetonius, 27, states that "He so loathed flattery that he would not allow any senator to approach his litter, either to pay his respects or on business, and when an ex-consul in apologizing to him attempted to embrace his knees, he drew back in such haste that he fell over backward. " None of this shows a senate able to defy Tiberius; in your own words, uyou suggest that "Tiberius empowered the senate". How could he empower it if it already possessed power equal to or greater than his own? This implies greater power, which- for the same reasons as Augustus, ie troop loyalty- was indeed the case.

The relationship between Princeps and Senate was complex and fluctuating. But it might be worthwhile to recount an anecdote.

During Augustus' reforms of the Senate (to rid the body of excess and undesirable members and return the Senate to governmental efficiency), a number were selected and those re-affirmed senators were given the right to nominate another worthy candidate to fill the places. One man suggested a candidate who was an enemy of Augustus and at that time under banishment from Rome. Augustus asked whether another candidate might be more suitable for the honour. The senator replied "I am allowed to have an opinion", and Augustus complied with the choice.
A Princeps being polite and listening to a senator or even acting upon it is not evidence of a change in the balance of powers. If you wish to demonstrate this, you will have to show us instances where the senate defied a Princeps set upon doing something with serious intent (not handing him an honour) and forced him to back off or unseated him without him already being rendered powerless by external military action (eg Nero). So far, we have a blank. Nor does fear of assassination constitute such an example.


wasn't dictatorial. He was a teenage weirdo who couldn't care less about government. His mother had worried whether he was growing up properly having shown no interest in girls either. She bought him a hundred comely slave women hoping he would get the idea. Elagabalus used the slave women to pull toy chariots around the palace. I'm not sure Nero was dictatorial either despite his ego. Far too panicky and more inclined to mischief than control. Caligula? Okay. Sort of.
If the senate remained a body of men redolent with the authority that had seen off Hannibal and Pyrrhus and guided Rome to an Empire, fortified by the access of official power which outmatched a Princeps, can you please explain why in Heaven's name they would have put up with the antics of this enfant terrible of questionable sanity? Or indeed, those of Caligula? Why didn't they just remove him, if they had the powers you claim? Please demonstrate, or reconsider your claims.

But a little less Basil Brush please. You want to be taken seriously in this debate?
Does this mean you are OK with Sooty then? It seems that this may be the only matter we agree on in this particular matter. Whether you wish to take me seriously or not, is a matter for you alone. I won't lose sleep over it.
 
Last edited:
Jan 2015
3,440
Australia
I wasn't trying to point out every error Cal made, because it's pointless given his statement that he "doesn't have time" to reply to (or read) our posts for the most part, but to clarify something Benzev just discussed. Cal claimed that Augustus Imperium Maius was subject to renewal by the Senate. While it was not granted for life, like some of his other powers, it is comical of us to imagine the renewal 10 years after the second settlement as anything other than a formality. By this point Augustus had total control of most of the state apparatus, and had thoroughly purged and rebuilt the Senate so it was comprised of his supporters. More importantly he made sure to announce large donations (bribes) to the soldiers right before the renewal. Even in a universe where the Senate wasn’t a puppet of Augustus, failure to renew his powers prior to their expiry would have without question led to further purges (using the very powers Augustus was asking to be renewed, among others). If need be Augustus could use his other powers to simply restructure the Senate until they supported him, or take his legislation directly to the people using his tribunican powers. This is a fantasy though, because everyone was well aware who held power, and that opposing him in any meaningful way would have led to certain death. We see examples of Augustus punishing enemies totally outside the legal system when it suited him as well (i.e. the situation of Julia and her lovers). This was a man whose hands were stained with the blood of his enemies dating back to his teen years, and who pursued his enemies with an almost fanatical bent. Enemies who took shelter with Antony were punished eventually, no matter how many years it took for him to get to them, and even if they were harmless by that point. No sane person crosses a guy like that, when he controls the state.

The Senate was so powerful that a mere underling of Tiberius ran roughshod over them for years with purges. All it took for Tiberius to deal with his delegated underling was to write a letter declaring him guilty of treason and ordering he be executed. The contrast is stark.
 
Feb 2011
965
Scotland
I wasn't trying to point out every error Cal made, because it's pointless given his statement that he "doesn't have time" to reply to (or read) our posts for the most part, but to clarify something Benzev just discussed. Cal claimed that Augustus Imperium Maius was subject to renewal by the Senate. While it was not granted for life, like some of his other powers, it is comical of us to imagine the renewal 10 years after the second settlement as anything other than a formality. By this point Augustus had total control of most of the state apparatus, and had thoroughly purged and rebuilt the Senate so it was comprised of his supporters. More importantly he made sure to announce large donations (bribes) to the soldiers right before the renewal. Even in a universe where the Senate wasn’t a puppet of Augustus, failure to renew his powers prior to their expiry would have without question led to further purges (using the very powers Augustus was asking to be renewed, among others). If need be Augustus could use his other powers to simply restructure the Senate until they supported him, or take his legislation directly to the people using his tribunican powers. This is a fantasy though, because everyone was well aware who held power, and that opposing him in any meaningful way would have led to certain death. We see examples of Augustus punishing enemies totally outside the legal system when it suited him as well (i.e. the situation of Julia and her lovers). This was a man whose hands were stained with the blood of his enemies dating back to his teen years, and who pursued his enemies with an almost fanatical bent. Enemies who took shelter with Antony were punished eventually, no matter how many years it took for him to get to them, and even if they were harmless by that point. No sane person crosses a guy like that, when he controls the state.

The Senate was so powerful that a mere underling of Tiberius ran roughshod over them for years with purges. All it took for Tiberius to deal with his delegated underling was to write a letter declaring him guilty of treason and ordering he be executed. The contrast is stark.
I agree your points.
Indeed, members of the senate assisted him with his purges of their own ranks.
However, as Cal had in fact taken the trouble to reply to my post in detail, least i could do is return the compliment.
 
Last edited:
As Diocletian has explained, the Dominate/Principate difference is less to do with the power of the autocrat and more to do with state control.
To be clear, I also agree with you that another key difference was the fact that the emperors dressed up their power in more clearly authoritarian ways. They ceased to pretend that they were primus inter pares. But I was pointing out that this change happened gradually. The evolution from early Roman emperor to late Roman emperor was a natural progression rather than a radical change instituted by Diocletian. And that speaks to the fundamentally authoritarian reality underpinning early Roman emperors.
 
Likes: benzev
No military authorty whatever? Given your statement, pray inform us of who actually commanded the armies of the Augustan Principate please?
The problem here is that Cal is focusing on the specific meaning of the title Princeps, but this was one of several powers and titles held by Roman emperors, and it has little bearing on the issue of de-facto power.
 
Feb 2011
965
Scotland
The problem here is that Cal is focusing on the specific meaning of the title Princeps, but this was one of several powers and titles held by Roman emperors, and it has little bearing on the issue of de-facto power.
I agree, I thought that may be the case. It is necessary to distinguish the underlying reality from the form used to cloak it. Otherwise it is falling into the trap Augustus himself set - (and which probably fooled few of his contemporaries.). There was a package of powers and titles and the term Princeps meant little in and of itself.
 
Augustus dealt with many matters with his provate council. Tiberius tried to bolster senatorial responsibilities, if only to enable himself to undertake a form of retirement. However, if so, this failed. Tacitus explains that Tiberius stated that the senate consisted of "Men fit to be slaves.". Suetonius, 27, states that "He so loathed flattery that he would not allow any senator to approach his litter, either to pay his respects or on business, and when an ex-consul in apologizing to him attempted to embrace his knees, he drew back in such haste that he fell over backward. " None of this shows a senate able to defy Tiberius; in your own words, uyou suggest that "Tiberius empowered the senate". How could he empower it if it already possessed power equal to or greater than his own? This implies greater power, which- for the same reasons as Augustus, ie troop loyalty- was indeed the case.
The senators spent Tiberius' reign attempting to anticipate what would please him and Sejanus, and make decisions based on that. So much for the independent power of the Senate. The fact that in 14 Tiberius entered Rome as Augustus' heir with the Praetorian Guard at his back would have made all too clear the reality of his power.
 
Last edited:
Feb 2011
965
Scotland
The senators spent Tiberius' reign attempting to anticipate what would please him and Sejanus and make decisions based on that. So much for the independent power of the Senate. The fact that in 14 Tiberius entered Rome as Augustus' heir with the Praetorian Guard at his back would have made all too clear the reality of his power.
Tiberius meant well and as a conservative wanted the senate to function with a degree of independence. He failed to realise that it wouldn't have suited him if they really HAD proved independent; and the psychology of the situation of his absolute power rendered most of them incapable of doing so anyway.
 
A Princeps being polite and listening to a senator or even acting upon it is not evidence of a change in the balance of powers. If you wish to demonstrate this, you will have to show us instances where the senate defied a Princeps set upon doing something with serious intent (not handing him an honour) and forced him to back off or unseated him without him already being rendered powerless by external military action (eg Nero). So far, we have a blank. Nor does fear of assassination constitute such an example.
The one example I can think of where the Senate succeeded in ousting an emperor was in 238, when the Senate managed to overthrow Maximinus Thrax. But even in this case the Senate did not act alone. The Proconsul of Africa, Gordian, began his bid for the emperorship, supported by the African aristocracy. The Senate agreed to support Gordian, but when Gordian was defeated by the Governor of Numidia, the Senate was left to continue the rebellion on their own. They appointed two of their number emperors, Pupienus and Balbinus, and Pupienus went to northern Italy to confront Maximinus. However, by the time he arrived, Maximinus had been assassinated by his own soldiers. This was an exceptional event. The failure of the Senate to counter the Praetorian-supported accession of Claudius gives a better impression of the power of the Senate.
 
Likes: benzev
Feb 2011
965
Scotland
The one example I can think of where the Senate succeeded in ousting an emperor was in 238, when the Senate managed to overthrow Maximinus Thrax. But even in this case the Senate did not act alone. The Proconsul of Africa, Gordian, began his bid for the emperorship, supported by the African aristocracy. The Senate agreed to support Gordian, but when Gordian was defeated by the Governor of Numidia, the Senate was left to continue the rebellion on their own. They appointed two of their number emperors, Pupienus and Balbinus, and Pupienus went to northern Italy to confront Maximinus. However, by the time he arrived, Maximinus had been assassinated by his own soldiers. This was an exceptional event. The failure of the Senate to counter the Praetorian-supported accession of Claudius gives a better impression of the power of the Senate.
I agree. I cannot think of a single instance where the senate, acting alone and utilising a legal activity, overthrew an emperor who was not already seriously imperilled by external events. In the end, the emperors ceased to be members of the senatorial order and moved away from Rome altogether anyway.