The most biggest lie about roman emperors

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,296
1) Augustus wasn't a Dictator, in the sense of the constitutional Roman office.
Absolutely. He refused to consider the post and the emergency powers that went with it. The general public wanted him to accept the post and rioted to get the Senate to award it, but Augustus refused altogether.

2) Augustus was a dictator/autocrat/despot/tyrant, in the modern sense of being a single person from whom all political power descends from.
Not true. Remember that Augustus reformed the Senate with every intention to retaining a semblance of traditional government. He himself preferred a senior role in government rather than ruling it personally and senatorial control of much of the empire remained. He further encouraged senatorial debate and decision making.. Understandably he retained control of the Roman military, thereby preventing anyone else from using the legions to mount a coup, but note that he dispersed the new praetorian cohorts because he recognised they were a potential threat to order. This was not unusual in Roman thinking - the republican system had been geared to offset the use of military power to grab control of Rome.

There's no question that Augustus wanted to be in charge nor that he accumulated the elevated position to achieve it. There's no question that his personal influence was so strong that some later sources considered it all but tyrannical. yet despite Augustus natural inclination to boast about his achievements in life he nonetheless states he wanted Rome to have the best possible government. That's an odd statement from someone described as despotic. Part of the problem is that Roman politics was more complex than our simple ideas and that they had a different mindset than the host of squabbling leaders on the tv news last night. Many things the Romans took for granted are not easily understood today.

3) All but the most innocent contemporaries of Augustus must have realised that he was the things described in point 2.
Interesting that you bring this up because that's a fundamental part of the reason why I dislike this 'emperor' thing. it's often stated that Augustus sought a ruse for absolute control but why didn't anyone notice or object? Truth is, the ruse idea is a modern rationale that fits our thinking rather than the Roman. They would have been acutely aware of status and power. One should not forget that Augustus brought peace and prosperity to Rome. He was the glorious victor of war. He was the patron of games for the public and the man who brought some semblance of order to Roman politics (though this was never fully achieved - Romans will be Romans)

it is true that Augustus faced accusations from some senators that he was in fact a Dictator and would he please admit it? Augustus always denied it. He never accessed emergency powers and despite his influence, sought to make the Senate a more efficient governmental body. However, the use of powers to make vital decisions is another matter. Such as forcing the exile of 'useless mouths' during a period of grain shortage. He was however ignored when he sought to create emergency replacements for three legions annihilated in Germania from freed slaves - not done, old boy - but resorting to executions to persuade the least cooperative of owners must be seen in the light of the event. Resorting to suppression of senatorial debate for seven years also appears draconian until you realise how fractious the Senate had become, with political murders becoming all too common. He did restore the Senate once he was satisfied they were going to behave themselves. Perhaps the squabbling had been accentuated by the lack of opportunity under Augustus' domination, but it was recorded that senators rather liked the return to sanity after seven years.

The reality is that the Roman public liked the idea of individual rule. It meant they had a personality to follow rather than the results of debates in a secluded building. It was quite natural for them to want that. The elite remained antagonistic and antipathic to the idea due to traditional abhorrence of monarchy and the installation of what amounted to virtual enslavement (because the Romans, elite or low borne, would have to obey the dictates of a king - in Roman eyes that was reduction to the status of slaves and animals). Augustus maintained republican politics despite his overwhelming influence over it.

4) Augustus didn't generally behave in an egotistical, self-centred, self-aggrandising way; although there a few exceptions. That does not negate point 2.
We know he didn't. It was extremely dangerous for him to stray into that territory. His influence was acceptable to the elite because their own careers were now sheltered under his guidance and because he retained traditional forms, however manipulated. Remember that even the most egotistical of his successors in the Principate were still working alongside the Senate, despite opinions and behaviour. However, I suppose we have to allow Augustus his Res Gestae - his statement of achievement. After all, he was one of the most significant of Romans and later deified.
 
Jan 2015
3,538
Australia
2) Augustus was a dictator/autocrat/despot/tyrant, in the modern sense of being a single person from whom all political power descends from.
Not true. Remember that Augustus reformed the Senate with every intention to retaining a semblance of traditional government. He himself preferred a senior role in government rather than ruling it personally and senatorial control of much of the empire remained. He further encouraged senatorial debate and decision making.. Understandably he retained control of the Roman military, thereby preventing anyone else from using the legions to mount a coup, but note that he dispersed the new praetorian cohorts because he recognised they were a potential threat to order. This was not unusual in Roman thinking - the republican system had been geared to offset the use of military power to grab control of Rome.
Your first point nobody was disputing. I'm going to stop here at this second point, as it is a blatantly contradictory one. You say he "reformed the Senate with every intention of retaining" traditional government, or "a semblance of it", whatever that means, but then your next para is you admitting "Augustus wanted to be in charge" and that he accumulated the powers to ensure this happened. You then dismiss this by saying he "wanted Rome to have the best possible government". Again, this is you not understanding that his intentions and actions are two different things. I might intend to donate money to charity, but in actuality I beat a homeless man to death and never donate the money. My actions speak to my character, not some unknowable/unprovable intentions. His character is also irrelevant. This has been explained 50 times. A benevolent dictator is still a dictator. Augustus can't have authority that is unchallengable via legal means, and still be "retaining" traditional government; that position is untenable and contradictory to the idea of a Republic with checks and balances (checks and balances within the legal system, not "hey, maybe the army could stage a coup"). Are you just not reading our points here? We've literally covered this 100 times.
 
Likes: Olleus

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,296
You say he "reformed the Senate with every intention of retaining" traditional government, or "a semblance of it", whatever that means, but then your next para is you admitting "Augustus wanted to be in charge"
Perhaps the issue here is a lack of familiarity with the functions of republican government. Tradition was an important aspect of political life in Rome, something that underlined the careers of senators and helped prevent extremist government, yet as Michael Grant stated in print, the Romans had an impressive record of making changes when they thought it necessary. Whether a change was made law - and later included into "tradition" - was dependent on perceived need, on how radical the suggestion was, how many people were going to benefit from the change, how important and respected the man suggesting it was, and how good an impression he made with a speech to the Senate. Make no mistake, the dry comments, accusations, and exhortations we know from modern politics are a world apart from a Roman speech. For them, theatricality was expected. A man should not only argue rationally and competently, he should also display passion. he should make gestures to underline the impact of his words. Slapping his thighs, waving arms, and according to some accounts, pulling open their toga to show the wounds that they had received in the service of Rome, added to the weight of argument.

Republican politics were based on a hazy idea of equality and restraint, with powers handed out in limited packages. You could say that power was shared, power was by consent, and power was temporary. But despite this apparent equality, no-one in Roman times ever seriously thought that all senators were equal. Far from it. Each individual had his own record, career path, accomplishments, personal qualities, and presence in the Senate. Indeed, the post of Princeps Senatus had only fallen into disuse in the late republic. The title meant that the holder was senior to other senators. Yet as this hint of a pecking order fell by the wayside in preference to some ill-defined democratic principle, so did the rise of a desire to seek superiority in a political world where competition was everything. Wealth drove this desire and impacted upon an increasingly remote Senate. Further, the inclusion of higher levels of imperium meant that now Roman politicians had something more tangible to compete for.

Note that some sources state Augustus held Princeps Senatus. I haven't seen that specifically mentioned, since Augustus was known as Princeps, which without a qualifying title meant he was the First Man in Rome, the top dog socially, rather than merely top Senator. Of course Augustus wanted to be in charge. He had led an illegal army to revenge his adopted fathers death, weathered insults belittling him from the Senate, held Triumvir power for ten years (or longer if you believe Augustus) during a period when the Triumvirate were not only pursuing the reformation of Rome, but actively attempting to establish a right to control it. He was known as a control freak. When his wife Livia was asked how their marriage had lasted so long, she replied "Because I give him what he wants". No small wonder his daughter Julia rebelled. Stifled by public image, her fathers position as guardian of public morality, and his own controlling nature, she went on a party lifestyle binge that ended with her exile.

How does one control republican Rome? Not easily. The act of single person rule is perilously close to the monarchy that Rome abhorred at it's highest level. Sulla survived and retired, largely by the intimidation of proscription during his domination of Rome. Caesar made little pretence of his desires. He took the maximum power he could derive under republican government, becoming the only holder of Dictator Perpetua that Rome ever nominated, and a seat which was only one or two moves away from a coronation with involvement with a foreign queen - and secured his own death from those impelled to act against these breaches of tradition. But of course the mistake the conspirators made was that they imagined Rome would simply return to normality after Caesar's death - which it didn't.

Augustus chose not to pursue the same path. He could easily have taken the same titles and powers, having risen to the Second Triumvirate and as victor of the civil war that ended it. Instead of claiming some form of complete control, he chose to act as a senior politician, to manage Rome, and even to continue the work that the Second Triumvirate should have achieved by reforming Rome thus perhaps he claims protriumviral status. He accumulated extensive influence, was awarded "the supreme power" (by which he means he had top level authority rather than all of it), and lived a long career as Rome's guarantor. It could have so easily been a much shorter career.
 
Jan 2015
3,538
Australia
You continue to not understand. Yes, the offices Augustus held had existed in the past... but the concentration of them in one person, for life, had never occurred before; it would have made the idea of checks and balances untenable. By your logic nothing much changed during the American Civil War, because "their government had always evolved" and the war was just "them evolving away from UK control". In fact a tonne changed as a result of the restructures from that war, and America got a new form of government, regardless of the fact that some of it had holdovers from the British regime. Similarly, you can't call what Augustus introduced comparable to what came before. It clearly was not, and it's for that reason people mark the de facto beginning of the Empire and the end of the Republic with Augustus rule. The government no longer was dominated by the Senate, as it had typically been in the Republic except during Civil Wars, it was now dominated by one man. That's antithetical to a separation of powers as envisioned by the Republic.
 
Mar 2018
735
UK
Olleus has tried to argue that Augustus was an autocrat. I have always maintained that anyway.
2) Augustus was a dictator/autocrat/despot/tyrant, in the modern sense of being a single person from whom all political power descends from.
Not true.
I refuse to maintain a discussion with someone who completely disagrees with themselves from post to post. I'm not even sure I can maintain respect for such a person.
 
Likes: Salaminia

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,296
You continue to not understand. Yes, the offices Augustus held had existed in the past... but the concentration of them in one person, for life, had never occurred before; it would have made the idea of checks and balances untenable. By your logic nothing much changed during the American Civil War, because "their government had always evolved" and the war was just "them evolving away from UK control". In fact a tonne changed as a result of the restructures from that war, and America got a new form of government, regardless of the fact that some of it had holdovers from the British regime. Similarly, you can't call what Augustus introduced comparable to what came before. It clearly was not, and it's for that reason people mark the de facto beginning of the Empire and the end of the Republic with Augustus rule. The government no longer was dominated by the Senate, as it had typically been in the Republic except during Civil Wars, it was now dominated by one man. That's antithetical to a separation of powers as envisioned by the Republic.
Augustus was using republican forms - the basis on which his autocratic management of Rome was accepted. You however make a quantum leap and try to meld it all together, because I suppose that would justify your vision of autocracy. This is not the case. At no point was the collected powers and titles of Augustus ever one thing. His influence was compound and remained so. And much of what you consider permanent is not quite what you imagine. The tribunician powers he held (it was illegal for him to hold the office of Tribune) were not permanent in any absolute sense, but given that he had the right to have those powers renewed, thus it conformed with the traditional view that power was not permanent. That was how the Romans got around that obstacle, like it or not. Similarly Imperator was subject to renewal even though overall control of the empire's military was used as the yardstick to measure who was running Rome. He held thirteen consulships during his reign. That was never permanent in any sense.

You are going to have to realise that the Romans did not conduct their politics in the same manner as we do today. Theirs was a unique system, a hybrid one as Polybius described in 150BC. The difference is that Augustus had experienced a career that gave him not only official powers and titles, but rather more ethereal advantages as well, which I have pointed at previously. Categorisation is fairly instinctive for human beings, young males especially, but can lead to misunderstanding in systems that did not rely on fixed categories but on accumulation of both personal and political status. Augustus pushed the system further than most but that was his great advantage. Also he had the advantage that he came to the fore at a period of change in Rome society, thus enabling some of those changes himself. But it wasn't about ruling Rome as some kind of monarch as is popularly described. Augustus ran the Roman government. He was probably right to do so given the chaotic behaviour and inflated size of the Senate when he was granted the elevated position in Rome. Further, the lawlessness that pervaded the early principate was a serious issue for Augustus and those that followed him. Augustus seeking to find out how many men were hiding from recruiters in slave barracks. The kidnapping and enslavement of travellers. Armed gangs wandering the countryside. For all his efforts Augustus could not completely bring Rome to a stable condition and anecdotes of serious issues are available in the sources.

Julius Caesar was the man who created an absolutionist regime. His dictatorship was perpetual, empowered for life with no demand for any renewal ritual or vote. That was new. Caesar did not require the aggregation of various titles and offices because he held emergency power permanently - he had all the power he needed, though it is notable that although the Senate were unable to act under his regime, he nonetheless sought their advice thus returning the Senate to a much older tradition of advisory body.

The ACW has nothing whatsoever to do with this, or this particular forum. I won't waste any time on that argument.

I refuse to maintain a discussion with someone who completely disagrees with themselves from post to post. I'm not even sure I can maintain respect for such a person.
You lumped the word 'autocrat' together with 'dictator/despot/tyrant'. There is nothing about autocratic rule that necessitates tyranny. It can be, but although I would happily label Augustus an autocrat, I do not label him a tyrant. If he had of been, his reign would have been considerably shorter. Please avoid ambiguity if respect is a problem for you.
 
Mar 2018
735
UK
You lumped the word 'autocrat' together with 'dictator/despot/tyrant'. There is nothing about autocratic rule that necessitates tyranny. It can be, but although I would happily label Augustus an autocrat, I do not label him a tyrant. If he had of been, his reign would have been considerably shorter. Please avoid ambiguity if respect is a problem for you.
BECAUSE THE WORDS ARE SYNONYMOUS
 
Mar 2018
735
UK
Once again you use different definitions to everyone else... Care to tell us what you think each of dictator/autocrat/despot/tyrant means, and which ones you would apply to Augustus? Or do we have to keep guessing how you use words
 

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