The most biggest lie about roman emperors

Sep 2017
109
Pennsylvania
#51
Well that's literally what your previous post says...
No, my previous post #47 in the thread reads as follows:

@caldrail and I have both thoroughly refuted the idea that the First Citizens of Rome (Princeps Civitas) who sometimes adopted the Honor of Imperator (whether they earned it or not) controlled the army, the money and the legal system. Many Roman Emperors who faced coups were assassinated by the Praetorian Guard, supposedly their own loyal bodyguards. The rest of the arguments, particularly the idea of Augustus' opponents committing a coup against him confirming that he held power is a lot of window dressing in my opinion.



No, @Caesarmagnus, @caldrail is not confused. Julia The Elder
This is in reference to an argument you yourself made earlier:

The point was Didius was trying to become Emperor, in a time of crisis, much like the Gang of 5 after Mao's death, or any number of would be dictators who failed to transition to power. He wasn't an actualized Emperor. So to cite him as an example of how limited the powers of Emperor were misses the point.

I'm going to focus on Augustus for my next question so there is less wiggle room, and because we've been down this road many times. You say Augustus was obliged to renew his powers annually. You are wrong. His later powers were for life, and this was the typical situation. There would often be a token "one off" rubber stamp for the Senate, where on the ascension they were asked to re-endorse said powers for the new Emperor (but you're never going to refuse to ratify in the face of an entrenched successor who has the military, etc, on side, so it's a meaningless qualification). If you can provide a citation that shows Augustus was obliged to renew his powers every year I'll be delighted to see it, but that was simply not the case. Augustus held a sway of legal powers that was simply impossible to oppose within the system, even if we blind ourselves to his many extra-legal powers.
You chose to focus your argument on Augustus. I continued to maintain my focus on Roman Emperors as a demographic of the population of "historical rulers"

You now seem to be saying that future Emperors had less power, but in fact the reverse is true. As Republican Government became a distant memory, and as the entrenchment of what we call Imperial power became the norm, the Emperors were even less restrained. What are the sources that support your alternative position? Please, don't cite some failed claimant Emperor like Didius, as it's not representative of what actual stable Emperors powers were. I can't think of a single modern writer in the last 2 centuries who would support your take.


Well that's just untrue. What modern source can you cite which supports that view? I will listen to any citation whatever. You won't find one.
The simplest way to satisfy your request for sources is, in my opinion, this infographic:

Roman Emperors (Legitimate)

The chart is pretty self-explanatory, but here's a breakdown, there are 68 "Legitimate" Roman Emperors listed between 26 BCE and 395 CE.
Of these 68, 22 were assassinated outright, or ~32%. 2 additional Emperors were Executed outright as criminals. 1 died in captivity. 4 committed suicide. 8 more "may have been" assassinated. Even excluding these eight potential assassinations we are left with a 58% of Emperors being killed. If we include those eight potential assassinations we can conclude that only 30% of Roman Emperors died of natural causes, versus 42% if these potential assassinations are excluded.

Additionally we see that only 36% of Roman Emperors ruled for a decade or more. Fully 51% of Roman Emperors reigned for less than 5 years. If we were to go deeper into the interpretation the next step would be to look at how many Roman Emperors successfully controlled the transfer of power to a successor, and the answer to that would be almost none.

These are not my interpretations, they are accepted historical facts. Comparing this to other Imperial/Monarchic civilizations throughout history and it doesn't reflect well on Rome.

Furthermore, during this same period, 26 BCE to 395 the 68 "Legitimate Emperors" of the Western Roman Empire faced a total of 63 "Usurpers" which were eventually defeated. Of the 68 "Legitimate Emperors" 28 began their own Reigns as "Usurpers" only to later become legitimized, these are not considered as part of the 63 "Usurpers" that I mention in comparison to the 68 "Legitimate" Emperors.

Again, these are historical facts.

Legitimate Emperors
Roman Usurpers
Usurpers of the Gallic Empire
Usurpers of the Palmyrene Empire

Nothing about these statistics supports the idea that Roman Emperors represent some sort of autocratic ideal, at any point in the history of the Principate or the Dominate as you continue to argue @Caesarmagnus. I would be interested in seeing some contemporary sources which do claim that Emperors held the sorts of powers that you're ascribing to them, because I can't recall any serious scholarship that would lead anyone to believe the life of an Emperor looked as it's portrayed in movies like Caligula or Gladiator.

EDIT FOLLOWS:

As a follow up, the infographic below tracks the causes of death for the Kings of France. I have linked to the reddit thread because the individual who generated this data in turn linked to his resources.

How the Kings of France Died
 
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Jan 2015
3,360
Australia
#52
The ability to assassinate a leader is not a limitation on their legal powers. Anyone can be assassinated, even the most tyrannical despot. It's also misguided to look at the later period of the Empire, specifically excluded by me, when the place was unstable and falling apart. My comments were always about the Empire in it's prime, not when it was imploding (obviously). We're talking the first few centuries here (though the same applied for a while after the Crisis of the 3rd century got sorted out somewhat).
 
Jan 2015
3,360
Australia
#53
Just for the benefit of others reading this, the 250 odd years that kick started the Roman Empire was a period where the powers of the Emperor were extremely dictatorial, with Emperors disguising this to various degrees. The Senate was basically a glorified rubber stamp. Legally the Emperor had all the powers that mattered, and the extra-legal powers were even greater. The main things you needed to be Emperor were (in this order): The army, the army, the army, the P.Guard, the people. That's basically it. How did you get the army (and other things)? Well, fortunately the army wasn't geared to act on their own much (unlike the P.Guard). They generally followed a stable Emperor who paid them well and was seen as competent and legitimate. As such an Emperor who had an orderly transition to power was nearly unassailable and wielded dictatorial powers with little trouble. Generally only two things would derail you;
1) Demonstrated incompetence over multiple years, and/or
2) A poorly thought through and desperate assassination (usually brought on because of factor #1 above).

Running through the list of Emperors goes something like this:
- Augustus (40 year "official" reign, was an autocrat even longer).
- Tiberius (22 year reign despite great unpopularity in many quarters; when Sejanus pushed his luck Tiberius only had to have a letter sent to the Senate to procure his instant execution).
- Caligula (didn't get a good run in to establish his legitimacy, and then demonstrated himself to be completely insane, motivating people into a desperate conspiracy against him; still lasted over 3 years!)
- Claudius (lasted 13 years; randomly assassinated by his Wife to help her son's ascension)
- Nero (13 years despite being demonstrably incompetent, and destroying his legitimacy with his foolish behavior over many years).
[Chaotic period where new claimants grasp for power, one of them gets it in the war that follows; a war where the armies matter, and the Senate is irrelevant until after events happen]
- Vespasian (9 year reign. Dies of natural causes)
- Titus (2 year reign, no problems; dies of a fever)
- Domitian (15 year reign. Assassinated by court officials in a desperate and doomed attempt to take power extralegally)
[Senate makes a doomed attempt to appoint one of their own, with no army backing, as Emperor. Doesn't take. The army basically forces Trajan in as Emperor, after which Nerva becomes immediately irrelevant and then dies]
- Trajan (19 year reign)
- Hadrian (20 year reign)
- Pius (22 year reign)
- Aurelius (19 year reign)
- Commodus (Totally incompetent idiot, yet because of how strong the Imperial office was and the clean succession he got he lasts 12 years. Finally assassinated)
[Another Chaotic period where people scramble to take over... noticing a pattern yet when Emperors are assassinated?]
- Septimius (emerges from the chaos as Emperor; 19 year reign. Stupidly appoints his son/s as successor, who still manage to last 6 years despite their general unsuitability).

That basically ushers in the beginning of the Crisis of the 3rd Century. So even on the weird take you want to focus on about assassinations, which is not the way to measure how autocratic the Emperors were, the point doesn't stand up. Once an Emperor had firmly grasped the mantle they were nearly impossible to remove, minus gross incompetence (Caligula, Nero, etc) or random chance (Claudius, Titus, etc), and assassination invariably backfired on the people doing the assassinating. It was a desperate ploy that led to a new autocrat, not the end of autocracy. The Senate was nowhere in these political games. They declared Nero public enemy after he was already doomed, agreed to appoint various pretenders at sword point (who were then overthrown by the armies choice anyway), and always endorsed the winner of the power struggle (who invariably had the army on side). When they were involved in trying to change matters, like Nerva, it only served to show how irrelevant they were even as a united front.
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,141
#55
The point was Didius was trying to become Emperor, in a time of crisis, much like the Gang of 5 after Mao's death, or any number of would be dictators who failed to transition to power. He wasn't an actualized Emperor. So to cite him as an example of how limited the powers of Emperor were misses the point.
No, the point is that you're attached to the idea of monarchial emperors and don't see it the way the Romans describe it.

There was no political office called 'Emperor' in ancient Rome. What happened was that these Caesars followed precedent and claimed they were the 'first citizen', or top dog socially. In order to function as someone of such technically elevated status the Senate awarded them honours, titles, and powers accordingly. Since Didius Julianus was not in that position honourably - as if coup or assassination were - he was not awarded anything meaningful, and the SEnate chose to ignore him whereas with the vast majority of claimants the Senate were mostly willing to comply with the situation. Speaking against the powerful was of course a risky endeavour in Roman times. Didius was as much Caesar as anyone else. Just despised for how he claimed power in Rome.

I'm confused. The sources, including the one I just linked above, are quite clear that he controlled the army, etc. That's consistent with the interpretation of every modern historical interpretation I've ever read too. What sources do you base your interpretation on?
That's understandable. No, really, it is. Most writers make very generalised statements and the tendency to illustrate matters in modern terms is a consistent problem with historical writing at all levels.

Okay. Army control. No actual army organisation existed. Legions were independent mini-armies, not regiments in an armed force. There was always going to be, and always was, a risk that these legions would choose different loyalties than desirable. That was why wiser claimants for imperial power bribed them heavily and avoided curbing their excesses. But fundamentally a legion was led by its commander, whose political stance was not guaranteed that of the ruling individual.

The Republic understood this. Their system in the earlier days was to field an army composed of two legions led by the Consuls. Each would lead both legions on alternate days, the idea being that no-one was going to dominate and use the army for their own ends. In order to lead an army, the Consul needed permission. He would ordinarily receive something called Imperium Consulare, a sort of license to lead armed forces. Whether he led an army to war depended on the situation and the Senate's vagaries, but generally as Consul it would be his right and responsibility.

Later, the scale of warfare expanded. The need for more generals meant that Imperium had to be granted on a wider fashion too, thus Imperium Proconsulare (Former Consuls with a right to lead) and Imperium Praetore (Leaders acting above their normal status by permission) became alternatives. Young Octavian formed an army with ex-Julius Caesar forces in order to pursue his own objectives. Cicero deemed he was useful, the Senate didn't like his initiative. Eventually Cicero won them around but they gave young Octavian Imperium Propraetore, or roughly speaking, the lowest possible status of command. It was a deliberate slight when something like at least eleven Imperium Consulare were in effect.

The thing is, Imperium meant only one thing - the right to command - and remained exactly the same regardless of the status it was packaged as. When Augustus is in power, he receives Imperium Maius, or "The Most Dignified Right To Command", or a license of the highest level. He is not actually in charge of the 'army' as it were, but has the right to direct their efforts, a license he renewed something like twenty times during his reign, and one that outranks in terms of status - not authority - all the others.
 
Feb 2011
939
Scotland
#56
No, my previous post #47 in the thread reads as follows:

The chart is pretty self-explanatory, but here's a breakdown, there are 68 "Legitimate" Roman Emperors listed between 26 BCE and 395 CE.
Of these 68, 22 were assassinated outright, or ~32%. 2 additional Emperors were Executed outright as criminals. 1 died in captivity. 4 committed suicide. 8 more "may have been" assassinated. Even excluding these eight potential assassinations we are left with a 58% of Emperors being killed. If we include those eight potential assassinations we can conclude that only 30% of Roman Emperors died of natural causes, versus 42% if these potential assassinations are excluded.

Additionally we see that only 36% of Roman Emperors ruled for a decade or more. Fully 51% of Roman Emperors reigned for less than 5 years. If we were to go deeper into the interpretation the next step would be to look at how many Roman Emperors successfully controlled the transfer of power to a successor, and the answer to that would be almost none.

These are not my interpretations, they are accepted historical facts. Comparing this to other Imperial/Monarchic civilizations throughout history and it doesn't reflect well on Rome.
Some fascinating statistics. However, this raises a problem with the point being made that the Roman Princeps was a somewhat toothless fellow with control over neither the army, the finances nor the judiciary, being awarded a little package of partial powers renewed very frequently. Did all that control, by default, reside in the Senate instead?

If this were the case then why bother to kill so many of the Principes so soon? Just refuse to renew that little package in a few months, and presto, they're gone. After all, not very many Consuls got assassinated (please don't labour to point out the few exceptions) - why bother when their tenure is potentially so short?
Yet of that 51% stated who ruled less than 5 years- how many were removed by legal Senatorial action to dismiss their protégé? I'd say approximately 0%, give or take a decimal point. Nope, they were mostly killed or occasionally managed to die naturally.

It's quite true that not all emperors managed an effective transfer of power, but that just underlines the fact that even the most powerful autocrats in history had no power beyond the grave. But it certainly isn't almost none! Augustus/Tiberius, Tiberius/Caligula, Claudius/Nero, Vespasian/Titus, Titus/Domitian, Nerva/Trajan, Trajan/Hadrian, Hadrian/Antoninus Pius, Antoninus Pius/Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, Marcus Aurelius/Commodus, Septimius Severus/Caracalla and Geta is quite a long way from almost none.

Another relevant point here is that if the position of Princeps carried so little real power, and that conferred by the Senate- then why bother to arrange a transfer of power at all? What power? What is being transferred here? How can it be transferred at all if the Senate have full power to withhold it and award the package to someone else?
 
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Jan 2015
3,360
Australia
#57
No, the point is that you're attached to the idea of monarchial emperors and don't see it the way the Romans describe it.

There was no political office called 'Emperor' in ancient Rome. What happened was that these Caesars followed precedent and claimed they were the 'first citizen', or top dog socially. In order to function as someone of such technically elevated status the Senate awarded them honours, titles, and powers accordingly. Since Didius Julianus was not in that position honourably - as if coup or assassination were - he was not awarded anything meaningful, and the SEnate chose to ignore him whereas with the vast majority of claimants the Senate were mostly willing to comply with the situation. Speaking against the powerful was of course a risky endeavour in Roman times. Didius was as much Caesar as anyone else. Just despised for how he claimed power in Rome.


That's understandable. No, really, it is. Most writers make very generalised statements and the tendency to illustrate matters in modern terms is a consistent problem with historical writing at all levels.

Okay. Army control. No actual army organisation existed. Legions were independent mini-armies, not regiments in an armed force. There was always going to be, and always was, a risk that these legions would choose different loyalties than desirable. That was why wiser claimants for imperial power bribed them heavily and avoided curbing their excesses. But fundamentally a legion was led by its commander, whose political stance was not guaranteed that of the ruling individual.

The Republic understood this. Their system in the earlier days was to field an army composed of two legions led by the Consuls. Each would lead both legions on alternate days, the idea being that no-one was going to dominate and use the army for their own ends. In order to lead an army, the Consul needed permission. He would ordinarily receive something called Imperium Consulare, a sort of license to lead armed forces. Whether he led an army to war depended on the situation and the Senate's vagaries, but generally as Consul it would be his right and responsibility.

Later, the scale of warfare expanded. The need for more generals meant that Imperium had to be granted on a wider fashion too, thus Imperium Proconsulare (Former Consuls with a right to lead) and Imperium Praetore (Leaders acting above their normal status by permission) became alternatives. Young Octavian formed an army with ex-Julius Caesar forces in order to pursue his own objectives. Cicero deemed he was useful, the Senate didn't like his initiative. Eventually Cicero won them around but they gave young Octavian Imperium Propraetore, or roughly speaking, the lowest possible status of command. It was a deliberate slight when something like at least eleven Imperium Consulare were in effect.

The thing is, Imperium meant only one thing - the right to command - and remained exactly the same regardless of the status it was packaged as. When Augustus is in power, he receives Imperium Maius, or "The Most Dignified Right To Command", or a license of the highest level. He is not actually in charge of the 'army' as it were, but has the right to direct their efforts, a license he renewed something like twenty times during his reign, and one that outranks in terms of status - not authority - all the others.
Sorry, didn't you just tell us Augustus had to get the tribunican veto renewed each year, and didn't I just show you a Roman source confirming that wasn't the case? So you agree you were wrong on this right? I ask because your replies seem to be ignoring a lot of the points that prove you wrong.

PS- Imperium Maius means almost the opposite to what you think it means. If you had Imperium Maius in an area you are most definitely in charge of the army (and everything else) in that area. Imperium Maius was basically the highest legal authority Rome granted, and it overrode everything (the usual governors, commanders, laws, etc). When Rome wanted to make sure a commander could overrule the usual governors, they gave them Imperium Maius (like Pompey against the Pirates). You're wrong on this point too. To call Didius as much an Emperor as anyone else is also pretty preposterous. He had no real support from Rome at large (in particular the army), and no legitimacy as a result, which is why he was quickly deposed by a serious claimant. The guy lasted 2 months claiming the throne, which he got via an auction. He had no support among either the people or the armies and governors (3 of them more or less immediately rebelled against him). His removal was inevitable.
 
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Sep 2017
109
Pennsylvania
#58
Some fascinating statistics. However, this raises a problem with the point being made that the Roman Princeps was a somewhat toothless fellow with control over neither the army, the finances nor the judiciary, being awarded a little package of partial powers renewed very frequently. Did all that control, by default, reside in the Senate instead?
Thank you @benzev. To answer your question; yes, by default the control in question resided with the Senate for the duration of the Principate. Successful Emperors were the ones that maintained the strictest appearance and function of Republican status quo, asserting influence through soft power. Unsuccessful Emperors were the ones who tried to behave like autocrats or monarchs.
After 284 there's a transition to the Dominate, where acting like an autocrat or monarch becomes more acceptable and the Senate holds less power both functionally and legally while the Emperor gains more. To my knowledge that shift of legal authority from Senate to Emperor is one of the key distinctions between the Principate and Dominate.

If this were the case then why bother to kill so many of the Principes so soon? Just refuse to renew that little package in a few months, and presto, they're gone. After all, not very many Consuls got assassinated (please don't labour to point out the few exceptions) - why bother when their tenure is potentially so short?
Yet of that 51% stated who ruled less than 5 years- how many were removed by legal Senatorial action to dismiss their protégé? I'd say approximately 0%, give or take a decimal point. Nope, they were mostly killed or occasionally managed to die naturally.
The specifics are going to vary from case to case, but I think the justifications for assassination split into two broad motives:

1. Social and/or Political Enemies made prior to acclimation as Emperor.

2. Clear tyrant.

In the second case, you tend to end up with young, relatively unqualified individuals (Nero, Elagabulus) whose appointment/acclimation is clearly nepotistic. During the Principate the longstanding Roman hatred of Tyrants is still lurking, so - like Julius Caesar - these individuals have to be done away with.

In the first case I think it's important to remember that during the Principate, Emperors tended to be from the same pool of candidates that had been influencing the destiny of the Republic since the First Triumvirate. They were all wealthy men with large client networks who participated in politics independently prior to becoming Emperors. Any successful public figure at any point in history is going to acquire a few enemies, the number of which tends to rise in direct proportion to their success.

Add to this that the earliest Emperors were, again, already weighed down with mountains of grudges against their various families and you have a hundred different reasons why a given assassination might be carried out.

Blood of the Caesars, by Stephen Dando Collins breaks down the possible assassination of Germanicus (Nero's father) in almost exhausting detail and serves as a good look at how, and why Romans often solved their political and social differences through assassination.

It's quite true that not all emperors managed an effective transfer of power, but that just underlines the fact that even the most powerful autocrats in history had no power beyond the grave. But it certainly isn't almost none! Augustus/Tiberius, Tiberius/Caligula, Claudius/Nero, Vespasian/Titus, Titus/Domitian, Nerva/Trajan, Trajan/Hadrian, Hadrian/Antoninus Pius, Antoninus Pius/Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, Marcus Aurelius/Commodus, Septimius Severus/Caracalla and Geta is quite a long way from almost none.

Another relevant point here is that if the position of Princeps carried so little real power, and that conferred by the Senate- then why bother to arrange a transfer of power at all? What power? What is being transferred here? How can it be transferred at all if the Senate have full power to withhold it and award the package to someone else?
Again, I personally think this boils down to the Roman patronage system, coupled with human nature. These guys, particularly the ones you mention have been successful, they've acquired a great deal of prestige for themselves and their families. They want that to continue in some form, so they appoint someone to carry on the mission.

I will note however that you mention 12 successful transfers of power, which is only 17%. That's only considering the Legitimized Emperors. If we include the 63 illegitimate claimants that plummets to less than 1%.

...When Rome wanted to make sure a commander could overrule the usual governors, they gave them Imperium Maius (like Pompey against the Pirates).
@Caesarmagnus, bringing Pompey Magnus into the discussion strengthens your arguments how? Highlighting the fact that all the powers granted to various Emperors prior to the Dominate both existed in the Republican Constitution and had been conferred to citizens during the Republic serves to underscore the fact that Emperors were not nearly as monarchical or autocratic as you claim they were.

You're wrong on this point too. To call Didius as much an Emperor as anyone else is also pretty preposterous. He had no real support from Rome at large (in particular the army), and no legitimacy as a result, which is why he was quickly deposed by a serious claimant. The guy lasted 2 months claiming the throne, which he got via an auction. He had no support among either the people or the armies and governors (3 of them more or less immediately rebelled against him). His removal was inevitable.
Whether you agree or not, the historical consensus is that Didius Julianus was one of the 68, Legitimate, Roman Emperors between 26 BCE and 395 CE.

Legitimate Roman Emperors
 
Jan 2015
3,360
Australia
#59
@Caesarmagnus, bringing Pompey Magnus into the discussion strengthens your arguments how? Highlighting the fact that all the powers granted to various Emperors prior to the Dominate both existed in the Republican Constitution and had been conferred to citizens during the Republic serves to underscore the fact that Emperors were not nearly as monarchical or autocratic as you claim they were.
Pompey's powers were time limited. They weren't for life. He didn't also have the simultaneous powers of a tribune and censor either, or control all the important provinces and armies, etc. What is the legal recourse for the Senate in opposing the powers of such a person?

As for Didius; nobody is disputing he was Emperor, the issue is that he was not "the same as any other emperor", no more than a local high school baller is the same as Lebron James. Your comment to that effect was just wrong. He was a claimant to the throne who never was able to firmly grasp the mantle, and despite being considered an Emperor for a few months he is not a sensible example of the typical powers wielded by an Emperor for pretty obvious reasons (which have been explained).
 
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Sep 2017
109
Pennsylvania
#60
...As for Didius; nobody is disputing he was Emperor, the issue is that he was not "the same as any other emperor", no more than a local high school baller is the same as Lebron James. Your comment to that effect was just wrong. He was a claimant to the throne who never was able to firmly grasp the mantle, and despite being considered an Emperor for a few months he is not a sensible example of the typical powers wielded by an Emperor for pretty obvious reasons (which have been explained).
Ok @Caesarmagnus, you claim that "Emperors are autocratic" or that "Emperors are monarchical" then claim that Didius wasn't the same as other Emperors. This only acknowledges the point that myself and others have been making. Emperors had varying degrees of power, it was more common for them to be insecure in their authority than it was for them to be secure.

Quite aside from this fact you explicitly did claim that Didius Julianus was not a legitimate Emperor:

...To call Didius as much an Emperor as anyone else is also pretty preposterous. He had no real support from Rome at large (in particular the army), and no legitimacy as a result, which is why he was quickly deposed by a serious claimant. The guy lasted 2 months claiming the throne, which he got via an auction. He had no support among either the people or the armies and governors (3 of them more or less immediately rebelled against him). His removal was inevitable.
How is the statement "no legitimacy?" not meant to be contentious or serve as a disputation?