The most biggest lie about roman emperors

Aug 2015
2,180
uk
#12
My take on this (and probably one that Julius - and maybe others would agree with) is that they were not king or dictator or emperor; they were Caesar. That title took on a role and meaning all of it's own. And by default the first Caesar was... Caesar.
 
May 2018
335
Michigan
#13
The biggest lie about Roman Emperors up to Diocletian is that they were called "emperors" or the Latin equivalent of "Emperors": they were called "princeps" or "first citizen", and until Diocletian, they still retained at least the pretense of being a Republic.

Also, while modern historians do not consider Julius Caesar to be the first "emperor", the Romans did: they considered Julius Caesar to be the first "princeps", which in fact he was.
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,079
#14
To my mind the biggest lie is that they were Emperors. There was no such role in the Roman constitution nor was their right to be in charge part of Roman law. Indeed, their place as head of Roman society was largely precedent and based on a very fragile premis. That was why the Caesars of Rome were so disposed toward bribery, both in terms of donatives to the Legions and civic beneficence to the plebs, and rather exposed to a shorter career if they did not oblige. Just today I watched an episodic history of the First Milleniumfrom Augustus to the Year of Four Emperors. It quite carelessly referred to a 'Throne' - there was no such thing. As much as the Roman Caesar was taking on a parallel role as their societies leader, there was no throne to be taken or given. It was a matter of conspiracy, competition, or opportunity that allowed these men to succeed the previous holder. As I once described it, it had less to do with familiar post-Roman monarchical practice than the actions of a wolf pack. Quite apt I think. After all, the only reason a Caesar was in power was because he was managing the risks and threats against himself.

Cassius Dio complains that Roman Caesars were 'kings by any other name'. One can understand his gripes. He was active during the reign of Commodus and saw for himself the excesses that power and wealth could bring with the example of one Caesar routinely described as one of Rome's worst. he backdates the experience, and describes the reign of Augustus in the same light, effectively blaming him for the reign of self interest that held power in Rome. A little unfair really. For all his ambition, there is evidence from the sources that Augustus wasn't so bad, but of course, one did not become master of the Roman world by being a nice guy. Wolf packs don't work like that.

The word 'Emperor' is ours, not theirs. It has connotations of monarchical practice and credibility that do not apply to the Roman world. It is however a word that derives from the latin Imperator, a title they did use wherever possible, in that it meant 'Victorious General', an honorific that some Caesars felt obliged to prove at some point. The connection that once spontaneous title and the later routine award of it to the power and wealth of Rome's head of state meant that the modern title conveys those ideas - such that over history a ruler with big ideas about themselves liked to call themselves Emperor rather than King. Czar. Kaiser. All alternative titles to Emperor, and noticeably derived from Caesar. It is our modern concept of the Caesars that leads to the lie, however well intended. A simple concept, easily understood and taught, whereas the subtleties of Roman politics are much less clear unless one grasps the rather less sophisticated concept behind their powermongering.
 
Likes: Cargoman10

Mangekyou

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
7,849
UK
#15
I agree with Caldrail and Frogs. Up until Diocletian, the Roman emperors did try to disguise their rule as for the benefit of the Republic, even though they had nominal control with the legions under their command.
 
Nov 2018
5
South Carolina, USA
#16
First off, this site is Amazing! This is not a joke, I was trying to have history discussions with friends on Facebook before I found this site. You can guess how that went.

I teach Middle School History in SC (don't worry, I was not an Education major, I was a History major who backed in to a teaching job and happened to love it) and my class was discussing American Imperialism ( maybe a future or past topic; I have yet to fully explore this site yet). My state's standards still refuse to refer to it as such, and instead say American Expansionism or foreign interest or some other silly euphemism.
This led to a discussion of whether or not an emperor is needed to have an empire, and I am afraid that was either how it was taught to me or, more likely, how I mistakenly interpreted it. As you guys have aptly pointed out, Rome was conquering and subjugating foreign countries (not to mention the Italian peninsula) long before Julius Caesar was born.
It then occurred to me that being a (nominal) Republic is talking about your internal politics and never excluded being an empire in your foreign policy. I felt a small epiphany I must admit.

How many other times have Democracies and Republics subjugated other countries? Do we count Victorian Britain (constitutional monarchy)? Would love your thoughts and criticism (honestly I am a firm believer in expanding my understanding through (preferably) dialogue or (if necessary) debate)


That Augustus was the first Emperor.

...

First and foremost - if you were educated prior to recently, you would not learn that there was a precise date of the “end of the republic and beginning of the empire.” You’d learn that the concept of Empire developed long before Caesar. The Roman Empire was 1 third democracy, 1 third oligarchy, and 1 third Monarchy. That during the Punic wars popular generals befab to unbalance the system until the time of the Gracchis, Marius, and Sulla. Then later the first Triumvirate and the domination of Caesar. Or something along those lines.

In terms of the defacto line and rule, it would be Julius Caesar. Being assassinated isn’t an argument otherwise there are great deal of others who couldn’t be considered Emperors either - many rules under one year. And the “Caesar was Dictator, not Emperor.” is an utterly pointless argument as many Emperors are dictators, Monarchs, or elected officials, or even spiritual leaders. If arguing semantics is the goal, then you’d be forced to argue that there were no Roman Emperors. But the basic concept of an Emperor is someone who leads or rules an Empire - and Caesar was both.

But even before Caesar there were several that could be considered Emperors given their level of authority over the Roman Empire - even if their position wasn’t lifelong.

And if it is an argument about titles and passing down titles - Augustus wouldn’t be considered the first on this either, it would be Tiberius. But the titles the Emperor changed over time as well.

The legacy of Augustus was rather the beginning of the Pax Romana, not the Empire or the Emperors.
To my mind the biggest lie is that they were Emperors. There was no such role in the Roman constitution nor was their right to be in charge part of Roman law. Indeed, their place as head of Roman society was largely precedent and based on a very fragile premis. That was why the Caesars of Rome were so disposed toward bribery, both in terms of donatives to the Legions and civic beneficence to the plebs, and rather exposed to a shorter career if they did not oblige. Just today I watched an episodic history of the First Milleniumfrom Augustus to the Year of Four Emperors. It quite carelessly referred to a 'Throne' - there was no such thing. As much as the Roman Caesar was taking on a parallel role as their societies leader, there was no throne to be taken or given. It was a matter of conspiracy, competition, or opportunity that allowed these men to succeed the previous holder. As I once described it, it had less to do with familiar post-Roman monarchical practice than the actions of a wolf pack. Quite apt I think. After all, the only reason a Caesar was in power was because he was managing the risks and threats against himself.

Cassius Dio complains that Roman Caesars were 'kings by any other name'. One can understand his gripes. He was active during the reign of Commodus and saw for himself the excesses that power and wealth could bring with the example of one Caesar routinely described as one of Rome's worst. he backdates the experience, and describes the reign of Augustus in the same light, effectively blaming him for the reign of self interest that held power in Rome. A little unfair really. For all his ambition, there is evidence from the sources that Augustus wasn't so bad, but of course, one did not become master of the Roman world by being a nice guy. Wolf packs don't work like that.

The word 'Emperor' is ours, not theirs. It has connotations of monarchical practice and credibility that do not apply to the Roman world. It is however a word that derives from the latin Imperator, a title they did use wherever possible, in that it meant 'Victorious General', an honorific that some Caesars felt obliged to prove at some point. The connection that once spontaneous title and the later routine award of it to the power and wealth of Rome's head of state meant that the modern title conveys those ideas - such that over history a ruler with big ideas about themselves liked to call themselves Emperor rather than King. Czar. Kaiser. All alternative titles to Emperor, and noticeably derived from Caesar. It is our modern concept of the Caesars that leads to the lie, however well intended. A simple concept, easily understood and taught, whereas the subtleties of Roman politics are much less clear unless one grasps the rather less sophisticated concept behind their powermongering.
 
Likes: frogsofwar
May 2018
335
Michigan
#17
First off, this site is Amazing! This is not a joke, I was trying to have history discussions with friends on Facebook before I found this site. You can guess how that went.

I teach Middle School History in SC (don't worry, I was not an Education major, I was a History major who backed in to a teaching job and happened to love it) and my class was discussing American Imperialism ( maybe a future or past topic; I have yet to fully explore this site yet). My state's standards still refuse to refer to it as such, and instead say American Expansionism or foreign interest or some other silly euphemism.
This led to a discussion of whether or not an emperor is needed to have an empire, and I am afraid that was either how it was taught to me or, more likely, how I mistakenly interpreted it. As you guys have aptly pointed out, Rome was conquering and subjugating foreign countries (not to mention the Italian peninsula) long before Julius Caesar was born.

It then occurred to me that being a (nominal) Republic is talking about your internal politics and never excluded being an empire in your foreign policy. I felt a small epiphany I must admit.

How many other times have Democracies and Republics subjugated other countries? Do we count Victorian Britain (constitutional monarchy)? Would love your thoughts and criticism (honestly I am a firm believer in expanding my understanding through (preferably) dialogue or (if necessary) debate)
I hope when you cover the topic of American Imperialism you approach it from as neutral a position as possible: When we talk about the American or British "Empire" people tend to automatically think of the Galactic Empire from Star Wars. As Niall Ferguson says in Empire: The Rise and Fall of the British World Order, we tend to view "Empire" as the "E Word" in the west.

Like many Americans, I used to have a knee-jerk reaction against any civilization called an "Empire" (self-proclaimed or otherwise) and was generally anti-British until about WWI.
 
Likes: Cargoman10
Nov 2018
5
South Carolina, USA
#18
I hope when you cover the topic of American Imperialism you approach it from as neutral a position as possible: When we talk about the American or British "Empire" people tend to automatically think of the Galactic Empire from Star Wars. As Niall Ferguson says in Empire: The Rise and Fall of the British World Order, we tend to view "Empire" as the "E Word" in the west.

Like many Americans, I used to have a knee-jerk reaction against any civilization called an "Empire" (self-proclaimed or otherwise) and was generally anti-British until about WWI.
I guess the first order is to define empire. I go with the simplistic: A country which rules (or has supreme authority) over a group of states or countries. We could include variety of backgrounds, cultures, languages, religions, etc in the empire, but I think the simple definition works well enough.

If this is the case, then the very early United States could be argued to have been a fledgling empire when it was conquering and controlling Native American tribes and (especially) nations. When I say nations I primarily am thinking of the Cherokee and the Iroquois Confederacy.

Throw in the Mexican American War and the Mexican Cession of California, Arizona, Nevada, etc, and the case for American Imperialism grows.

The Annexation of Hawaii in 1898, after American citizens overthrew the Kingdom of Hawaii several years before and created the nominal Republic of Hawaii for three years is another possible case of American Imperialism .

The final piece of evidence I present is the Spanish American War in which the United States won in four months. The US then "bought" the Philippines from Spain (after the natives helped us fight against the Spanish), took Puerto Rico, Guam and some other small Pacific Islands.

This all brings us (my class) back to the conclusion we reached together that (following Rome's example) a nation can be a (internally)Republic and an (externally) empire.