The most biggest lie about roman emperors

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,166
Absolute power has only one meaning. Uncontested obedience to personal whim. In context of the Romans, this does not fit adequately in comparison to the Sassanid Persians who really did practice dictatorial politics and treated their own public very harshly, or the Egyptians in their heyday when a ruling pharaoh was a demi-god by definition. The difference is Roman law. That was a fundamental theme in Roma society, something they were very proud of, and for the extent of the Principate at least something t was expected that even the highest magistrates should observe. Granted, ruling Caesars usually had enough authority accumulated for them to pretty well, establish laws but realise that this was not done without care because foisting unpopular law was only going to get you killed.

Dictators delegate but they are not by nature impeded by any considerations like legal precedent or adverse opinion. Even Julius Caesar, the most absolute of Roman rulers, was mindful to be respectful to the Senate and consulted them on his rulings - and they still killed him. Nero was for instance a different beast, casting aside normal Roman standards and getting his hands dirty in what amounted to a very nasty outbreak of blackmail. And then we should consider how Didius Julianus behaved. Unable to enact any worthwhile power because he came to power via a business deal with the Praetorians and failing to uphold promises, he was obliged unsuccessfully to beg the Senate for assistance. Or Antoninus Pius,.who chose to allow the Senate to conduct business and interfered as little as possible,. They liked him.

Roman principatal rulers were not rulers in name (though one must admit they sometimes acted as if they were) but by precedent and accumulation of power packages, plus the social status of the top level Roman which in Roman society usually counted for a great deal. Nonetheless, the Senate were not always compliant - in fact one of the advantages that Augustus had was that he had gotten the Senate into a situation where they 'spinelessly bowed down to him' - but even then, we read about the various conspiracies among the elite toward Augustus.

Popular imagination does tend to describe the principatal rulers as monarchs. mostly inflated by Hollywood and their depictions of Roman monarchy. But Roman society was a unique flavour, something Polybius had noted way back in 150BC, a hybrid system that from Augustus onward had installed a series of executive magistrates above the normal existent senatorial and governmental organisation. The Romans often tell us about how the Republic had died, but the methodology and traditions did not evaporate with Augustus, rather it was a period of radical change in how the Romans governed themselves, the result of considerable wealth accumulated from territorial acquisition - but it is also true that the later Dominatal period saw the Romans becoming weaker in government, without the senatorial delegation and the booty that underpinned their thirst for glory.

What is not readily observed, particularly by those who prefer to see a monarchical system, is that principatal rulers had a relationship with government rather than simply bossing it it about. The nature of that relationship was never exactly uniform, sometimes turbulent, and further it should be observed that thje Roman Empire was not a unified single nation state as we might expect in the modern world. It was an alliance of territories sheltering under Roman guidance (and tribute), with various levels of status and independence. The Romans of the Republican period knew their empire was too big for central government, such was the difficulty of communication over long distances and the inspiration for their remarkable road system, but the problem with Principate was that rule via a single individual fostered a migration toward central government that left the later Roman empire vulnerable. The success of the early imperial period is because of the lack of dictatorial politics, a republic now led by a Caesar, an alliance fed by booty and tribute, a rapacious commercial sphere, and not least, a military system that could, if not always present, intervene with ruthless effect.
 
Mar 2018
597
UK
Absolute power has only one meaning. Uncontested obedience to personal whim.
It doesn't have only meaning, and that wouldn't be it anyway. That definition is so high that nobody in history has ever achieved it. Yet, we frequently use the term in history discussions to refer to a rather specific thing. Elizabeth I was an absolute Monarch. That doesn't mean she could mind control everyone in England. An absolute ruler means that all governmental/state authority descends from the ruler personally. So monarchs in highly feudal societies don't fullfill that criteria, because the various dukes hold real governmental authority of their own right. A state with lots of civil servants appointed by the Crown is absolute, because those civil servants can be dismissed easily. A republic is not absolute, partly because the authority of the President is *temporarily* given to him by the electorate, and does not originate from their own person; but mostly because some of the authority of the state resides in parliament/congress/the courts rather than in the President.

Whether the Romans emperor fall into the absolute ruler category depends on a detail you seem to be starting to understand: the difference between being an autocrat "de Jure", being an autocrat "de Facto". The former is about legal authority/powers you have and what is constitutional, the other is about what powers everything believes you have and what you can get away with.

Legally, Roman emperors were Consul and Tribune, which gave them considerable power, but not absolute. They were also Censors, and so could remove people from what you claim was their principle counter-weight, the Senate. Nevertheless, I would agree that Augustus wasn't a dictator by de Jure standards, that is something that evolved with time progressively. For example: the Lex Vespasian and the reforms of Diocletian.

In de Facto terms, the vast majority of Roman emperors were absolute rulers the vast majority of the time. Augustus definitely was for the last 30 years of his reign. When emperors did not have absolute power (ie, when there was governmental/state authority that did not descend from them), it was because of generals who derived their own local power from the support of their troops. It was de facto problematic for some emperors to remove some generals from their position. The senate absolutely does not fall into this category and, as has been shown to you countless times, the Senate did not go against the wishes of Augustus or any Emperor (apart from those, like Nero at the end of his reign, who had already de facto lost power).

Note: At no point does being harsh to your own population, or demanding that people bow/kowtow to you, or using your slaves as furniture matter in the slightest. Being an absolutist/autocratic/dictatorial ruler has nothing to do with being mean or an arsehole. Even your own deeply flawed definition of "Absolute power has only one meaning. Uncontested obedience to personal whim" agrees with this - it doesn't require your personal whim to be subjugating people. You have to differentiate this behavioural aspect from the de Jure/de Facto powers that actually define absolute rule.

Now if you want to complain that Hollywood portrays them as demanding personal subservient, humiliating those around them, sitting on a giant gold throne and all the like, fine. I'd mostly agree with you there. But that is a completely, utterly, absolutely (pun intended) different point than the one you've been arguing for 10 pages.

An additional point:
accumulation of power packages
If it is an accumulation of different packages, then how could the Praetorians auction it off as a single thing? That shows beyond any potential doubt that, the Praetorians and the various bidders (and probably everyone else) recognised that the emperor ship was a single package. It is baffling that you do not see this.
 
Jan 2015
3,440
Australia
Olly's first sentence was basically the gist of what my reply was going to be, followed by some questions like "name some people in history who actually achieved this level of power". The examples he gives are totally bogus, nor (tellingly) are they the answers he initially provided of Hitler and Stalin (are these two now no longer dictators by your definition? You seemed convinced they were a few pages ago; what changed except the need to ditch them to suit your latest line of argumentation?). No ruler ever, not the Persians or Egyptians, had absolute power under your definition. You obviously need to read more about the history of these places. Many dictators claim divine origin in theory, but in practice none of the rulers you name held absolute power in the manner you describe. I can think of some Roman Emperors who held more absolute power than your typical Egyptian or Persian ruler to be honest. Here's a very basic level of info about the Sasanian Empire:
Sasanian Empire - Wikipedia
Not how similar the description of their ruler is to your own (incorrect) view of Rome's Emperors powers; they sought advice, etc, others held power, etc. As for Egypt, I assume you're going off the Bible or something, where the Ancient rulers had wizards, etc, to ensure utter absolutism. Needless to say it wasn't like that.
 
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caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,166
Perhaps you should not make quite so many assumptions. I do see you backed your reply with at least something approximating evidence - that pleases me no end - but unfortunately Wikipedia is only illustrative and cannot be considered binding as historical evidence due to its nature. There are literary commentaries that discuss the nature of Sassanid Persia and the feudal composition of their society was geared to authoritarian control.

Juliusn Caesar gained the office of Dictator Perpetua. That's full emergency power permanently. In Roman terms, that is - as I described it - the most absolute of rule, though I would have to point out that the Romans technically at least had nominated another office with powers to moderate such office.

But no ruler ever had absolute power? History is littered with them. Idi Amin of Uganda. Shaka of the Zulu. And so on. All of them are marked by the level of bloodshed they inspire. If all you want to do is argue definitions then fine, but really, you can't win your argument that way.
 
Jan 2015
3,440
Australia
Perhaps you should not make quite so many assumptions. I do see you backed your reply with at least something approximating evidence - that pleases me no end - but unfortunately Wikipedia is only illustrative and cannot be considered binding as historical evidence due to its nature. There are literary commentaries that discuss the nature of Sassanid Persia and the feudal composition of their society was geared to authoritarian control.

Juliusn Caesar gained the office of Dictator Perpetua. That's full emergency power permanently. In Roman terms, that is - as I described it - the most absolute of rule, though I would have to point out that the Romans technically at least had nominated another office with powers to moderate such office.

But no ruler ever had absolute power? History is littered with them. Idi Amin of Uganda. Shaka of the Zulu. And so on. All of them are marked by the level of bloodshed they inspire. If all you want to do is argue definitions then fine, but really, you can't win your argument that way.
Is this what your posts are going to consist of from now on? Every time we shoot down the names of supposed dictators you will just pick two more random examples. Idi Amin and Shaka of the Zulu? Seriously. Before I debunk them, and I will happily do so, I'm just curious whether you still consider Hitler and Stalin dictators. Are they no longer dictators in your mind? I also find the mention of Caesar bizarre. He would not meet the burden you put on dictators, so why is he being invoked? Is that also really your response to Sassanid Persia? A one liner of "no, they weren't"? Go follow the links on Wikipedia to primary and secondary sources if you like, Sassanid Persia was in some ways less dictatorial than Rome's Empire.
 
Mar 2018
597
UK
Perhaps you should not make quite so many assumptions. I do see you backed your reply with at least something approximating evidence - that pleases me no end - but unfortunately Wikipedia is only illustrative and cannot be considered binding as historical evidence due to its nature. There are literary commentaries that discuss the nature of Sassanid Persia and the feudal composition of their society was geared to authoritarian control.

Juliusn Caesar gained the office of Dictator Perpetua. That's full emergency power permanently. In Roman terms, that is - as I described it - the most absolute of rule, though I would have to point out that the Romans technically at least had nominated another office with powers to moderate such office.

But no ruler ever had absolute power? History is littered with them. Idi Amin of Uganda. Shaka of the Zulu. And so on. All of them are marked by the level of bloodshed they inspire. If all you want to do is argue definitions then fine, but really, you can't win your argument that way.
What assumptions is anyone making? I've given you an in depth definition and discussion that absolute power means to every historian apart from you. You completely ignored it. As you did with the difference between de factor and de jure.

At this point, just admit that you are emotional attached to the idea of Roman Emperors not being absolute rulers, and will twist definitions to make that the case. If not, then actually defend your definition of an absolute ruler, which was "being able to enforce your personal whim". Until you actually do this, I will just repeat this sentence in reply to your posts.
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,166
No, your defintions are your own - you have after all failed to to provide any evidence of definition beyond your own opinions. It doesn't matter. Your assertion that Augustus was all-powerful (and you have, repeatedly, there's no denial) is not consistent with the structures and legal ramifications of late republic - the era upon which the Principate was based. He was a powerful man - no dispute has ever been offered to that, but his influence far exceeded his offices and titles and did so because of aspects neither you nor Olleus choose to accept. Social status was a vital aspect of Roman influence, as well as wealth, or whatever privileges a political career had accrued. Nor was Augustus dictatorial, as you repeatedly claim, for that behaviour would have assured his early death.

The problem, as I related a number of times, was the Roman's traditional antipathy with monarchy. To them, Rex was a dirty word, the same word we translate as 'King' and one which to them had a much more tyrannical emphasis than our own preconceptions of modern compliant royalty or the sanitised medievalesque fantasy equivalent. Romans were well aware that a man could be tyrannical and that's why their political system did not eradicate it but instead packaged it in a manageable form as temporary or shared responsibilities. A man could ascend to the Gods in Roman culture, it was merely a matter of power and the obvious quality of fate, but the hold over a senate whose members believed they had a right to self determination as was normal in society was not easily swayed by single rule and the prospect of virtual enslavement to a tyrant. After all, one source describes how spineless the Senate were in giving Augustus the influence he held. It was by no means certain that he would achieve it or that it would be acceptable. However, the authority, career, and 'specialness' of Augustus won through, though not always without contention. He was after all challenged more than once during his reign and on a number of occaisions backed down.

His predecessor, Julius Caesar, had every intention despite some theatrical displays to become King. He was already Dictator Perpetua, and even established a throne in the Curia. Note that Augustus did not sit upon it, and neither did any other Principatal ruler of Rome, all of whom in their own particular fashion performed as a senior magistrate in accordance with Roman expectation. Neither was their power based on military command, however important that was in reality, because that power was invested by the state, not their own initiative. SO their social status as the top level Roman is the villain of the piece. Everything else allowed them privileges, either usueful or necessary.

Whilst my views are not necessarily conformal top the majority of writers and commentators (most of whom are perfectly happy to feed the same old misinterpretations to please audiences and sell books), but it is based on both the Roman sources and the writers whose names are often quoted on these forums. There is nothing strange about it. We are not talking about the modern day, the Victorian Era, or some fantasy empire. The Romans have left us a wealth of detail about their society and I implore you to start reading it. Whther your conclusions differ will not matter a great deal. What matters is the basis of your objections, and as I said before, just relying on your own opinion is not a solid argument, and neither is the tactic of debasing others without it.
 
Mar 2018
597
UK
Another meaningless rant. Nobody here has claimed that Augustus wasn't king or didn't have a huge amount of personal influence. It's just yet another strawman. So as, promised:

At this point, just admit that you are emotional attached to the idea of Roman Emperors not being absolute rulers, and will twist definitions to make that the case. If not, then actually defend your definition of an absolute ruler, which was "being able to enforce your personal whim". Until you actually do this, I will just repeat this sentence in reply to your posts.

As a bonus, I believe you've also ignored this the previous 6 times I've posted it:

If it is an accumulation of different packages, then how could the Praetorians auction it off as a single thing? That shows beyond any potential doubt that, the Praetorians and the various bidders (and probably everyone else) recognised that the emperor ship was a single package.
 
Jan 2015
3,440
Australia
He's not reading our posts, just rehashing his point over and over. There's no point. He's openly stated he won't read our posts properly because he "doesn't have time", but he has time to keep spamming the same rehashed replies apparently. Seems like this would go faster for him if he actually responded to the points others made so they could be progressed. The reality is if, as he says, he is rejecting established academic consensus, then he needs a mountain of evidence and engagement to justify this radical position to us. Instead, he just rehashing his assertions for the most part and refuses to engage. His ideas therefore can't get off the ground. If you're going to claim the earth is flat, the burden is on you buddy.

NB- I'll add that he's wrong about his latest claim also, which appears to be that Caesar was set on being King. There's actually much evidence that wasn't the case. He was basically forced into a Civil War, a subject covered in depth in a number of threads on this board, and kept pardoning his enemies and letting them retain power. Not indicative of someone who was determined to rule as a King with no opposition. The gossipy stuff that came out later to suggest this, or otherwise, is more related justifying or explaining his death, rather than consistent with what his policies actually were. Caesar was probably pretty happy to get away from Rome and go fight a war in Parthia and maybe Dacia for 5-10 years, then go home and deal with politics. That his enemies didn't let him just go to Parthia is pretty astoundingly short sighted.

Augustus is the one who was clearly bent on sole power, not Caesar. Yes, Caesar was made Dictator for life, but he'd stepped down from his dictatorial roles repeatedly, and was physically leaving Rome for 5-10 years, with a number of pardoned enemies left behind to help run the place. So while he recognised and accepted the practical need to be appointed dictator, to ensure stability in the short term, it seems alot more like the situation of Sulla being given sole power with the intention of stepping down when he felt like it (minus the purging of enemies and bloodletting). Sulla too was dictator for as long as he felt like it (which isn't distinguishable from life powers, you give it up when you step down basically), and nobody suggests Sulla was trying to set up a monarchy. Caesar was dealing with a Rome shattered and recovering from a Civil War that needed temporary stability. Augustus was clearly bent on ultimate power, which he would transition to a successor and they to another one, etc. Augustus purged all opposition, Caesar wanted (perhaps misguidedly) for everyone to try and come together and fix things.
 
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caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,166
Your posts say nothing. What Roman history have you read in the last week? Any?

Caesar was very much bent on control. On campaign in Spain, he was visiting a town with friends. He saw a statue of Alexander the Great and wept. His friends asked why he was upset. "Because at my age, this man had conquered the world. I have done nothing". Further, he commented on capturing a village "I would rather be first here than second in Rome. The title Dictator Perpetua meant what it said. HE was holder of full emergency powers permanently. No ifs, no buts, he was the power in Rome.

This is exactly why I stress that you should read Roman history rather more than you do. The detail, subtlety, and importance of what happened has not reached you. Sulla stood down and released his powers as tradition demanded, once he had in his own view restored Rome to order and squeezed enough profit out of it. Caesar did not stand down nor had any intention of doing so. In fact, one can see he was hoping to persuade the elite of Rome that he should be King. There was no transferance of dictatorial power.

Caesar had not been a bloodthirsty tyrant: but he had been a tyrant, and had underestinated the importance which contemporary Romans attached to constitutional form. His signs of megalomania, his ambition, his perpetual dictatorship, and his general carelessness for outward appearances all seemed intolerable to the outraged aristocrats who assassinate him. Augustus, though we may consider him inferior to Caesar in many respects, took immense pains to avoid Caesar's error: and it was his superiority in this vital respect which enabled him to succeed where Caesar had failed.
A Shorter History of Rome (M. Cary & J. Wilson)

Augustus, despite one source describing his lust for power, did not dictate.

Augustus, of course, always held a virtual monopoloy of the real power - chiefly by retaining control of the legions. He governed by persuasion, but it was the sort of persuasion that no wise man would resist.
A Shorter History of Rome (M. Cary & J. Wilson)

We have observed the importance of patronage in Roman society.With the Principate was created one supreme patron in the person of the Emperor. Of course, he was by no means the only patron: Patronage still pervaded Roman society to every sphere and at every level. But no patron could match the Emperor.
The Legacy of the Republic (David C Braund) - from The Roman World (Ed. John Wacher)

While depressing the powers, Augustus intended to restore the public and official dignity of the supreme magistracy of the Roman Republic.
The Roman Revolution (Ronald Syme)

He twice thought of restoring the republic; first immediately after the overthrow of Antony, remembering that his rival had often made the charge that it was his fault that it was not restored; and again in the weariness of a lingering illness, when he went so far as to summon the magistrates and the senate to his house, and submit an account of the general condition of the empire.
Augustus (Suetonius)

In his Acts and on his coins he (Augustus) stressed that he was the Liberator who had saved the lives of citizens, that he had held no post 'contrary to ancestral tradition', that he had 'transferred the state from his own control to the free will of the Senate and the Romanie', and to those traditional components of the Roman state, the S.P.Q.R., there are many honorific references on his coins. It may seem suprising that in spite of their vigilant Republicanism many members of the Italian governing class were satisfied by what seems to us a fiction. Yet the Romans, although their intense anxiety to preserve everything good in the past made them instinctively averse to open changes, had a fairly impressive record for modifying their institutions when this was necessary.
The World Of Rome (Michael Grant)
 
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