WK 6 notes


In what sense was the imperial political system created by Augustus  a dictatorship disguised as a republic?

31 BC, Octavian victorious at Actium. 

27 BC Senate names him “Augustus” as well as Imperator (emperor, which at the time meant “commander”).   “Gives” power back to the senate and he people, declares self PRINCIP (first citizen), establishes PRINCIPATE.  Cover of Republic (senate, elections, etc), except Augustus controlled all key power.  HE acted as Tribune without being tribune, acted as emperor without actually commanding the armies.  Split territories with senate; senate “got” Rome, Augustus got the frontier provinces (which was where the army and the GRAIN was). 

Augustus USED the senate as rubber stamp, used spies to root out enemies and silence them.  Emasculated the various assemblies, gave their power to senate.  Again, technically the senate ruled, but he ran everything behind the scenes. 

As first citizen, used patronage to cement power.  Set up government civil service posts (prefectures) for supporters, used his as own wealth as well as public funds to build public buildings, roads, bridges, aqueducts, etc.  Best posts in civil service and in army went to equestrians, jobs for freedmen = social support.  (also see this in his promotion of temples, etc.)

Outward stress on law-governed society but at same the Princeps in practice was above the law.  Also steady movement towards Emperor-worship (like Julius, Augustus was deified, but after death).


How did Augustus and his Julio-Claudian successors secure political and social stability?

Key was Pax Romana—peace and prosperity.  Economy strong, thanks to empire.  Also, Augustus provided free grain for poor, public works programs meant jobs provided, free public entertainment (Bread and Circuses).  Princeps/imperator  was the PATRON of all of Rome.

ALSO, paid the army (that was new!) AND gave them land in the new provinces, esp. on the frontier  (which = a buffer zone!).  (eventually army paid by taxes, which hurt the poor…).  Reduced size of army to reduce tax burden, and that all reduced power of commanders (reduced threat to his own power).

Emphasis in Roman law under Augustus on “virtue”—promoted marriage and large families (banishment of own daughter Julia for adultery).  Link to promotion of traditional religion, temples..  Heavy emphasis on LAW as basis for governance, even though in reality the Princeps stood above the law… 

Legitimacy based upon honor and virtue and patronage of the princeps, also helped by deification!

PT is that by end of Augustus’ life, the Republic in reality was dead, but the state and society were stable enough that only a minority really cared….

ALSO—Augustus began practice of using client states on borders to provide border defense, reducing need for more legions on the frontier.   Julio-Claudians did the same…

After death in 14 AD, Augustus succeeded by 2nd wife Livia’s son Tiberius (who he did not like) (Livia a schemer!).  14-68 AD, all emperors from Augustus’s “family”--the Julio-Claudian dynasty (Tiberius [14-37]; Caligula [37-41]; Claudius [41-54]; Nero [54-68].  Real nest of snakes—poisonings, etc. 

Despite scandals, madness, mismanagement, all continued using system created by Augustus and preserved the pax romana.,

Only after Nero's death did civil war break out again.  69 AD4 claimants for power.  The winner in that civil war, Vespian, was first in new dynasty—the Flavians [69-96 AD].  Then the Nervo-Trajians [96-138], then the Antoinines. 

BIG  POINT—all continued to use the system laid out by Augustus!


What factors contributed to peace and prosperity in the period 69-235 CE?

a. solid administration at the top:  Flavians and the “5 good emperors” (Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius, Marcus Aurilius) all good administrators (all from non-patrician families, and several not born in Rome, so not beholden to the old elites!).  All of the 5 good emperors also adopted able men to be successors instead of trusting bloodlines!  All engaged in public philanthropy—good patrons.  All emphasized importance of virtues (and used own families as exemplars).

b. After apex of expansion under Trajan, emperors concentrated on solidifying border defenses (Hadrian’s wall, etc.).

c. moderate economic growth and expansion for a time raised standards of living for ordinary people.  Increased costal (ship) trade in luxury goods as well as grain (etc), with Rome as apex of trade, but other cities of great wealth, too.  Despite Roman traditional self-image as “rural,” the elite was increasingly urbanized.  Since wealthy men had to spread largess for patronage to get elected, this was a kind of grease for the economy, too…

d. spread of empire = spread of Roman culture.  Just as people in the post-Alexander empires wanted to become Hellenes, so there was strong motivation to become Romanized.  Despite fact that Roman Latin never became common language across the empire (used only by elites), Roman citizenship brought all sorts of benefits.  And as in Hellenic world, folks from the provinces, non-Italians “became” Roman, adopted Roman names, adopted Roman customs, games (gladiators, etc).  The ARMY was a major form of social mobility major force in Romanization, since service was for 25 years, and that amount of time meant a lot of absorption of Roman ways…   And is in Hellenic world, this changed what it meant to be Roman, too—influence of Egyptian culture…  And expansion of empire and citizenship meant that by 200s, those born in Rome = minority of citizens, minority of Army!

e. citizenship meant protection under Roman LAW, which was a great factor for stability.  Law provided methods for governing huge empire.


What basic inequalities characterized Roman life in this era, and factors led to crisis in the mid-and late 200s CE?

Huge disparities in wealth.  Rich vs ordinary freemen vs poor. 

Huge disparity in legal rights—Senators and equestrians had privileges over ordinary citizens.  Citizens had privileges over non-citizens.  Citizens who belonged to special curias (honestories) had rights that other citizens (humiliores) did no have.  Freemen VS slaves.

Examples re. women—elite women could legally remain independent of husband’s family, had de-facto control of their own property.  Slaves did not even have the legal right to marry (although laws did soften over time). 

CRISIS caused in part by

A.    weak leadership after death of Marcus Aurilius in 180.  His son, Commodus, used terror vs senate, set stage for coup by General Septimus Serevus.

B.     Severan dynasty founded by military coup, that set tone for shift in power FROM the senate TO the ARMY (also from Italy to the provinces).  Severans driven to keep clients in army by pushing the boundaries of the empire further, “unnecessary wars.”

C.     Persians under Sassanid dynasty started to put pressure on Rome in east, cut off trade routes from Mespotamia (etc), while GERMANS put pressure on Rome in North = squeezed from two fronts.

D.    To pay for wars, emperors devalued currency.  That led to great inflation, worsened poverty at same time that Rome was swept by plagues.

E.     Murder of Severus Alexander in 235 led to 50 years of coups and civil wars (20 emperors in 50 years).  Some recovery starting in late 260s, but no real re-stabilization until rule of Diocletian (284-305) and Constantine (306-337)—They would bring stability by almost completely re-organizing the Empire…  but that it topic for next week.



Besides Christianity, what "imported" religions had an impact on Roman life in this era, and in what sense did Paul of Tarsus create Christianity as a faith distinct from Judaism?

PT is synchronism—borrowing of ideas, symbols, rituals, etc.

 Mystery cults:  Dionysus, Demeter, Isis, Mithras, Manichaeism—all imported, all emphasized promise of rebirth and salvation, and most linked this in some way to ethical behavior.

Re.  PAUL:  Jesus out of Jewish background.  Out of context of several competing forms of Jewish practice—e.g., the Essenes (John the Baptist was one), who believed in separating selves from material world and making new covenant with god.  They, and many others, talked of coming of deliverer (Messiah), day of god’s Judgment, reward for good  and punishment for wicked.  PHARISEES—focus on LAW in Torah, oral as well as written traditions, and on charity as mitzvoth.  Zealots—opposition to Romans, look to a Messiah to deliver Jews from Rome.

Jesus—Kingdom of god is IN YOU, it is here.  God’s love for poor, outcasts, the weak—god cares about RIGHTOUSNESS, not wealth.  Key ideas = love, forgiveness, devotion to god.  Do un to others…

Challenged authority of temple priests (Sadducees), seen as danger to Roman overlords who feared GROWING Jewish hostility to Roman rule.  Roman governor Pilate and temple priests both decided to silence him.  Method of execution was Roman (Jews stoned people to death)—he had violated Roman law…

All Jesus’ disciples were JEWS, and the Jesus movement (Nazarenes) was initially a movement of Jews who still called themselves Jews (LOTS of evidence of this).  For first 20-25 years, apostles preached in Palestine .  [NOTE, text has real Catholic slant!]

PAUL of Taurus, a Sadducce in Anatolia who was converted (road to Damascus) in 36 AD, took Jesus movement to the Gentiles. 

PAUL made the death of Jesus the key moment of Christian faith—no longer about his life.. instead whole point was his resurrection.  PAUL said that resurrection = NEW covenant.  Following old Jewish law and rules would not bring salvation—ONLY belief in Jesus as Christ/Savior/son of God would bring salvation.  Paul turned Jesus movement into Christianity, a religion that offered god’s salvation to anyone, and aimed it at the Gentiles.

NOTE—same period of slow rise of Christian church (despite Roman persecution) also saw the creation of new Jewish doctrine—Rabbinical Judaism.  After Romans CRUSHED the Jewish revolt of 70 AD they destroyed the temple.  (Also crushed second revolt in 135).  Without temples, the center of Jewish life shifted again, to rabbis  (religious teachers among the Pharisees), who the Romans had appointed as administrators and judges.  Rabbis debated, discussed, interpreted both written torah and oral law --- Mishnah (200), books of interpretation of torah and law that became guiding principles for new Jewish religious traditions.