The most biggest lie about roman emperors

Jan 2015
3,443
Australia
#81
I agree that the issue is a nuanced one. But I think the value of the point originally being made is that some have been inclined to view the Antonine dynasty as a regime that had a preconceived notion that it was better to adopt worthy heirs than to choose a son if available (not that this is what you think; I'm not attempting to strawman you). The reality is that Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius did not have sons. Nerva adopted Trajan to avoid getting overthrown by the Praetorians and the general Nigrinus (based in Syria). Trajan, Hadrian and Antoninus adopted men from within the family rather than biological sons, whom they did not have. This isn't the same thing as what was seen in the Tetrarchic period, when in 293, 305, 308 and 311 biological sons failed to succeed their fathers.
Yeh, even this is too far a claim to make. Antoninus Pius was not gay like Hadrian clearly was, and already had a natural daughter. His wife was 38 at the time of his ascension, and it was by no means clear that he would a) fail to have a natural son, or b) be unable to produce one in a new marriage. He was clearly still of an age to have children. Yet Hadrian went out of his way to insist on adoption of Aurelius and Verus by Pius, as a condition to becoming emperor, because in his mind at least the best transition plan was to ensure a suitable successor; and he obviously was impressed by the prowess and intellect of the 2 boys. So while Antoninus clearly liked the idea of ensuring his line survived, by marrying his daughter to his own adopted son, it is fairly clear that other considerations were in play than simply aiming for a direct male successor. He could easily have remarried and borne such a child in his 23 year reign. His choice not to suggests a similar line of thinking to Hadrian. This is reconfirmed by the behavior of Aurelius, who waited until after Pius died before he dared name his children (who were literal infants) as his successors. I think a good precedent was established from the time of Augustus that, while it was nice to have your family bloodline passed on and intermixed with the imperial family, a good emperor put a stable succession before that. The undue emphasis on finding a natural male son to succeed is precisely what marred the reign of emperors who sought it out (be it Tiberius, Septimius, or whoever). You can say some of that is post-hoc analysis, yet some of it clearly isn't as I noted above in the Pius situation. Similarly, the very appointment of an adopted son by Augustus (Tiberius), in favour of his blood grandson (Postumus), and you make a similar admission about Britannicus. Aurelius decision was clearly an irresponsible one that ignored much of the precedent set by previous successful emperors. He could have done what Pius himself did; marry his eldest child, his daughter, to a suitable heir (and preserved his bloodline in that way, as Pius did, before it was evident he would or would not have infant sons and Aurelius did).
 
#82
As for the question of the power of emperors, I have some points:

1. Yes, there was no title called 'emperor', but a series of titles and powers. Regardless, there was a clear understanding that there was a guy at the head of government who had the titles Augustus, princeps, imperator, dominus (eventually), had tribunician power, had maius imperium, and who had vast expanses of private property. These powers were transferred to whomever succeeded him as an effective bulk. I.e. every emperor was Augustus, every ruler had tribunician power, every emperor was imperator. If we're talking about the reality of power, then it doesn't really matter when rulers received their powers and when they had to renew them. That's a matter of propaganda rather than real power. For example, every 13th December the ruler entered a new year of having tribunician power, and this became a way of celebrating how many years a ruler reigned. This has little to do with whether one could actually deny the ruler tribunician power. As the literary sources make clear, people understood that there was a ruler, and they often used Augustus, imperator, princeps and eventually dominus interchangeably simply to denote this ruler. For example, I've seen such usage in imperial panegyrics.

2. The senate was officially needed to rubber-stamp imperial power to make the changed arrangement of power more palatable, but from Augustus onward the power of the senate was in decline. As Caesarmagnus has pointed out, the power to remove emperors was not with the senate as a body but, in practice, was with people who lived in the palace (empresses or freedmen via assassination), praetorian prefects and imperial guards, and generals and their armies. Vespasian's Lex de Imperio Vespasiani makes clear that he has all the powers of all his predecessors and whatever other powers he chooses to give himself in addition. From Septimius Severus onward senators were gradually excluded from military commands, with Gallienus supposedly issuing an edict against senators holding military commands, and the last senatorial commander holding office in 270. By the 260s rulers could seize and hold power without asking for the senate's acceptance, and non-senatorial career soldiers like Postumus, Aurelian and Diocletian came to dominate the upper echelons of power and ultimately hold the emperorship.

3. I agree that the power of the Roman ruler was less secure than, say, the Chinese emperorship. There were no rules of succession (although there were norms), and legitimacy was invoked through a variety of means, including military credentials, ancestry, senatorial support and divine support. But as Caesarmagnus has pointed out, the number of emperors between 27 BC and AD 395 (or 476) is not a good way to assess the security of Roman emperors, since the stability of the emperorship in the first and second centuries was very different from that in the third century and in the fifth century west. The third century and the fifth century west considerably skew the averages. I do think it's significant that Rome could descend into such serious succession crises in those periods, but my point stands.
 
#83
Yeh, even this is too far a claim to make. Antoninus Pius was not gay like Hadrian clearly was, and already had a natural daughter. His wife was 38 at the time of his ascension, and it was by no means clear that he would a) fail to have a natural son, or b) be unable to produce one in a new marriage. He was clearly still of an age to have children. Yet Hadrian went out of his way to insist on adoption of Aurelius and Verus by Pius, as a condition to becoming emperor, because in his mind at least the best transition plan was to ensure a suitable successor; and he obviously was impressed by the prowess and intellect of the 2 boys. So while Antoninus clearly liked the idea of ensuring his line survived, by marrying his daughter to his own adopted son, it is fairly clear that other considerations were in play than simply aiming for a direct male successor. He could easily have remarried and borne such a child in his 23 year reign. His choice not to suggests a similar line of thinking to Hadrian. This is reconfirmed by the behavior of Aurelius, who waited until after Pius died before he dared name his children (who were literal infants) as his successors. I think a good precedent was established from the time of Augustus that, while it was nice to have your family bloodline passed on and intermixed with the imperial family, a good emperor put a stable succession before that. The undue emphasis on finding a natural male son to succeed is precisely what marred the reign of emperors who sought it out (be it Tiberius, Septimius, or whoever). You can say some of that is post-hoc analysis, yet some of it clearly isn't as I noted above in the Pius situation. Similarly, the very appointment of an adopted son by Augustus (Tiberius), in favour of his blood grandson (Postumus), and you make a similar admission about Britannicus. Aurelius decision was clearly an irresponsible one that ignored much of the precedent set by previous successful emperors. He could have done what Pius himself did; marry his eldest child, his daughter, to a suitable heir (and preserved his bloodline in that way, as Pius did, before it was evident he would or would not have infant sons and Aurelius did).
I get what you're saying, and perhaps you're right that Hadrian and Antoninus were not willing to appoint children as heirs, something that would soon become normal. I do have to question whether Hadrian would have made Pius do such a thing if in 138 he did indeed have a biological son. As for the wife, except for the daughter who survived her children kept dying. Perhaps it was thought that her productivity as a wife was nearing its conclusion? Once he did have two adopted sons, it may have also been seen as unnecessary to go out looking for a new and more fertile wife. A biological son would have complicated things at that point and he did now have his heirs. So, again, perhaps you're right about Hadrian and Antoninus being focused on having adult heirs, but without knowing more about the context and the reasoning behind the adoptions I'm not convinced that they would have snubbed a son if he was already available.

As for the Julio-Claudians, they appear to have sought to appoint dual heirs, and chance has it that these heirs tended to be a biological heir and an adopted heir (although compare the earlier example of Lucius and Gaius Caesar; both Augustus' biological grandsons). Postumus was admittedly snubbed in the end, but he had been banished. Nero was being advanced ahead of Britannicus since he was older, and thus received the toga virilis first, but this doesn't mean that Claudius ultimately intended to snub Britannicus. The age of the biological son probably was a factor in having two heirs, thus Tiberius choosing Caligula in addition to the child Gemellus. I'm not sure what point I'm making here. Succession during the Julio-Claudian period is interesting.
 
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#84
As for the question of the power of emperors, I have some points:

1. Yes, there was no title called 'emperor', but a series of titles and powers. Regardless, there was a clear understanding that there was a guy at the head of government who had the titles Augustus, princeps, imperator, dominus (eventually), had tribunician power, had maius imperium, and who had vast expanses of private property. These powers were transferred to whomever succeeded him as an effective bulk. I.e. every emperor was Augustus, every ruler had tribunician power, every emperor was imperator. If we're talking about the reality of power, then it doesn't really matter when rulers received their powers and when they had to renew them. That's a matter of propaganda rather than real power. For example, every 13th December the ruler entered a new year of having tribunician power, and this became a way of celebrating how many years a ruler reigned. This has little to do with whether one could actually deny the ruler tribunician power. As the literary sources make clear, people understood that there was a ruler, and they often used Augustus, imperator, princeps and eventually dominus interchangeably simply to denote this ruler. For example, I've seen such usage in imperial panegyrics.

2. The senate was officially needed to rubber-stamp imperial power to make the changed arrangement of power more palatable, but from Augustus onward the power of the senate was in decline. As Caesarmagnus has pointed out, the power to remove emperors was not with the senate as a body but, in practice, was with people who lived in the palace (empresses or freedmen via assassination), praetorian prefects and imperial guards, and generals and their armies. Vespasian's Lex de Imperio Vespasiani makes clear that he has all the powers of all his predecessors and whatever other powers he chooses to give himself in addition. From Septimius Severus onward senators were gradually excluded from military commands, with Gallienus supposedly issuing an edict against senators holding military commands, and the last senatorial commander holding office in 270. By the 260s rulers could seize and hold power without asking for the senate's acceptance, and non-senatorial career soldiers like Postumus, Aurelian and Diocletian came to dominate the upper echelons of power and ultimately hold the emperorship.

3. I agree that the power of the Roman ruler was less secure than, say, the Chinese emperorship. There were no rules of succession (although there were norms), and legitimacy was invoked through a variety of means, including military credentials, ancestry, senatorial support and divine support. But as Caesarmagnus has pointed out, the number of emperors between 27 BC and AD 395 (or 476) is not a good way to assess the security of Roman emperors, since the stability of the emperorship in the first and second centuries was very different from that in the third century and in the fifth century west. The third century and the fifth century west considerably skew the averages. I do think it's significant that Rome could descend into such serious succession crises in those periods, but my point stands.
A couple of addenda. 'Emperors' entered each year of tribunician power on 10 December, not 13 December. And Caesar is another term that can be used interchangeably with Augustus, princeps, imperator and dominus to refer to the ruler of Rome. Thus Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars and Julian's The Caesars.
 
Mar 2018
600
UK
#85
It's pretty clear that there was a position of "Emperor" in the empire that, regardless of what name was actually used for it, was universally recognised by the people living in it. What, exactly, where Gaba, Otto, Vittelius and Vespasian fighting for otherwise? The Praetorians auctioned off the office; they can only do that if enough people believe the office exists!
 
#86
True. No contender was fighting for, say, the tribunician power alone, or the rights to the Res privata Caeasaris. These honours and powers were fought for as a package.

Moreover, since the third century has been brought up a few times, it is only notable that while individual emperors during that period struggled to convince the empire at large of their personal legitimacy as emperor, there was never a point during the third century when the empire stopped having an emperor (there is the supposed interregnum of 275, but this is probably a fiction and in any case was indeed an interregnum, not a long-term situation). Likewise, during the fifth century, despite the power of generalissimos, there never ceased to be an emperor. Even when Odoacer overthrew Romulus Augustulus and was in turn overthrown by Theodoric the Ostrogoth, these rulers recognized the emperor in Constantinople as their overlord. The concept of a ruler who was Augustus, Caesar, dominus, had imperium maius, etc was itself a stable concept, thus its development into the Byzantine emperorship and the Holy Roman emperorship. It survived succession crises, child emperors and imperial fragmentation (e.g. 260-274).

The fact that it didn't come into being as a simple monarchy meant that it was not simple how an emperor demonstrated their legitimacy. They could invoke ancestry, military credentials, military support, senatorial support, the prosperity and security of the times, divine support, the support of the previous emperor, etc. Constantine, for instance, claimed the legitimate paternity of Constantius I (despite possibly being a bastard) and fictional ancestry back to Claudius Gothicus, his successes against the Sarmatians (pre-accession) and Franks (post-accession), the acclamation of the army, the support of Sol Invictus and he claimed that Constantius, Maximian and Galerius had all given him their recognition as emperor, withdrawing names from this equation whenever the political situation required it. This flexible situation meant that the empire could descend into succession crises during times of stress. But the understanding that there was someone named Augustus at the top was a stable one. Thus, when, during the crises of the third century, local leaders took it upon themselves to defend their provinces from foreign enemies, some of these leaders had coins minted with the imperial titles, because that was by then the language of authority (e.g. Uranius Antoninus in Syria, Amandus in Gaul).
 
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caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,166
#87
I'll ask again. What legal avenues did the Senate have to oppose an Emperor with the powers I outlined them having?
Opposition to the Caesars did not worry overly about legality. Since no office actually existed ('Emperor' is a modern word the Romans did not use and the Caesars of Rome did not have a single authority, but instead, held control via packages of titles, powers, and honours the Senate assigned them) there could not be by definition a legal means to oust someone controlling them. Worse still, power in Rome was relying fundamentally on social status and the client/patron relationship which the Caesars made full use of. By making themselves the top dog socially, they had a certain level of authority based on respect and deference rather than a legally defined right, but this was a powerful force in Roman society. Fathers were expected to be the masters of their family - traditionally they could order the death sentence of their children and spouses though this was viewed with some concern in later eras - and the same deference was applied to the Caesar who as effectively, if not always nominally - acting as the role of 'Father to the State'.

Patricide was deeply offensive to the Romans even though young frustrated lads probably considered it often enough. The same motives applied in higher political circles, thus assassination was never viewed as a completely unacceptable crime.

Also the idea that the Senate would remove someone is subject to them debating and voting in that way. The Senate was not a unified body that acted to command. it was composed of Rome's elite who were wealthy enough to qualify, and the majority wanted nothing more than to be important and to enjoy senatorial perks than actually run the city. Even the men sent to oversee provinces did not rule over them directly. Local government remained in power and the governor was there as Rome's representative, the final word in both Roman and native law (Rome did not wipe away local laws when they brought a new provice into the fold - they simply added their own to the mix). Few would have the courage to stand up and declare opposition overtly. It was a very dangerous thing to do because the Caesar knew his position was insecure and thus needed protecting. However, the idea that a veto from a Caesar was meaningfully powerful in the face of a senatorial decree against him is ridiculous. If senators felt safe enough to make such a move, no veto from the offending Caesar could possibly matter. After all, once Nero was left exposed, the vengeful senators declared him 'Enemy of the State' thus he could be legally killed by anyone.

It's pretty clear that there was a position of "Emperor" in the empire that, regardless of what name was actually used for it, was universally recognised by the people living in it. What, exactly, where Gaba, Otto, Vittelius and Vespasian fighting for otherwise? The Praetorians auctioned off the office; they can only do that if enough people believe the office exists!
it wasn't about the office - one that didn't actually exist although many would have seen the Caesars as monarchs despite their public rejection of the idea. It was the power and wealth of dominating the Roman world that mattered.
 
Mar 2018
600
UK
#88
it wasn't about the office - one that didn't actually exist although many would have seen the Caesars as monarchs despite their public rejection of the idea. It was the power and wealth of dominating the Roman world that mattered.
Just because something doesn't exist De Jure doesn't mean that it doesn't exist De Facto. There is no official document anywhere that delines the power of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom - but nobody would deny its existence, its role, and its authority.

If it was *just* about dominating the Roman world, why did they need approval of the Praetorians or the Army? Because they recognised that there was a singular concentration of power in the Roman world, and to dominate it, you had to get to the position which required their approval. That abstract position of power is the Emperorship, whatever you want to call it.
 
#89
Just because something doesn't exist De Jure doesn't mean that it doesn't exist De Facto. There is no official document anywhere that delines the power of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom - but nobody would deny its existence, its role, and its authority.

If it was *just* about dominating the Roman world, why did they need approval of the Praetorians or the Army? Because they recognised that there was a singular concentration of power in the Roman world, and to dominate it, you had to get to the position which required their approval. That abstract position of power is the Emperorship, whatever you want to call it.
Yeap. 'Emperor' is a modern term, but the package of closely-linked (and in some ancient literature, interchangeable) titles and honours was real. Also, not just Roman literature (Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio, Julian, Ammianus) but Roman law acknowledged this package. Thus we have things like the Lex de Imperio Vespasiani and the legal privilege of princeps legibus solutus whereby 'emperors' could overlook legal stipulations.
 
#90
As for this debate about the Senatus Consultum Ultimum vs an emperor's Tribunician Veto, it would have been pointless for the Senate to pass such a decree against a ruling emperor without the military support, and this brings us to the fact that it was the praetorian guard, the provincial armies and their various commanders and prefects who mattered to a major degree for the maintenance of imperial power. Admittedly, during the early empire many of these commanders were senators (but not the praetorian prefects), but power to a large degree lay with armed force, thus why equestrian career soldiers came to dominate the emperorship in the third century, after the senators found themselves increasingly excluded from such commands. As long as the military remain loyal to the emperor, the SCU achieves nothing and the emperor would not even need to employ their Tribunician Veto. The Senate's SCU and the emperor's Veto would mean little to the praetorian being paid handsomely or the legionary being taken on profitable raids across the Danube or the prefect of the legion who has ascended the ranks through the emperor's patronage or the praetorian prefects and comites who command by grace of imperial preference and who could lose their lives should there be a change at the top. The generals and his praetorian prefect turned against Nero, and so he fled Rome, and only after that did the Senate declare him a public enemy. So the Senate was taking cues from commanders and prefects, not the other way around. And one of the few times the Senate actually got to choose rather than rubber-stamp who the emperor was, Pupienus and Balbinus in 238, the praetorians disapproved and killed them after three months.

The other bastion of power was the palace itself, because it was there that people had direct access to the Augustus. Thus, Domitian was not assassinated until he began executing his own relatives and freedmen.
 
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