council meeting

Despite the relative stability of the Roman Empire the succession from one emperor to another was often a complicated and messy affair. Most of the time the emperorship was passed on from one family member to another (such as among the Julio-Claudians and Severans). Several emperors who had no son chose their political heirs by adopting them. Other times power was seized through battles or other forms of violence. Once it was even sold to the highest bidder. Adopted emperors generally served Rome better than emperors who were blood relatives.

Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “We tend to think of Britain at the time of the Romans as a remote outpost on the edges of the Roman empire - a troublesome but unimportant backwater province, rather like the Hindu Kush in the British Raj. A posting here would surely mean uncomfortable conditions and dangerous assignments, in a downward-spiralling career. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Right from its first involvement in Roman politics, Britain was a dynamic, militarised territory which attracted some of Rome's best and most ambitious men, who were on their way to the pinnacle of achievement. [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“To understand this, you must understand the way that Roman politics worked. Rome's political system was based upon competition within the ruling elite. Senators competed fiercely for public office, the most coveted of which was the post of Consul. Two were elected each year to head the government of the state. Even in the imperial period this was maintained, though in fact true power lay with the emperor and his extended household. |::|

“Roman soldier During the Republic, the post of Consul was a quasi-military one: the Consuls were the commanders-in-chief of the Roman army, so military experience was of paramount importance to a Roman's political career. Military glory provided the greatest boost to any Roman's prestige and once again this carried over into the Empire. Military triumphs boosted your career, military service made you eligible for a wide range of profitable postings and for non-citizens, 25 years in the army was a guaranteed way of gaining citizenship for you and your family. |::|

“It is unsurprising then that Britain, a large island that was never fully conquered, should be seen as a land of opportunity to Romans with ambition. In fact during the imperial period, Britain was the only province in the entire empire that had a permanent garrison of more than two legions. Throughout most of its history, Britain contained three legions: IX Hispana followed by VI Victrix in York, II Augusta in Caerleon and II Adiutrix followed by XX Valeria Victrix in Chester. |::|

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Political Offices in the Roman Empire

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “During the Republic politics must have been profitable only for those who played the game to the end. No salaries were attached to the offices, and the indirect gains from one of the lower magistracies would hardly pay the expenses necessary to secure the next office in order. Spending great sums of money on the public games had been an obvious way to win popularity so long as the people voted at elections; it continued to be a heavy obligation even when under the Empire this right to vote was taken from the people. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]

“The gain came through positions in the provinces. The quaestorship might be spent in a province; the praetorship and consulship were sure to be followed by a year abroad. To honest men the places gave the opportunity to learn of profitable investments. A good governor was often selected by a community to look after its interests in the capital, and this meant an honorarium paid in the form of valuable presents from time to time. Cicero’s justice and moderation as quaestor in Sicily earned him a rich reward when he came to prosecute Verres for plundering that province, and when he was in charge of the grain supply during his aedileship. |+|

“To corrupt officials the provinces were gold mines. Every sort of robbery and extortion was practiced, and the governor was expected to enrich not merely himself but also the cohors that had accompanied him. Catullus complains bitterly of the selfishness of Memmius, who prevented his staff from plundering a poor province. The story of Verres may be read in any history of Rome; it differs from that of many governors only in the fate that overtook the offender. Though in the Imperial period there were great reforms in the administration of the provinces, the salaries then paid the governors did not always save the provincials from extortion.” |+|

Roman Politics and Political Campaigns

politcal graffiti from Pompeii

Before Caesar, Roman politics, in many ways, wasn't all that different from American politics today. By the second century, so many ordinary people had the right to vote that a lively political system arose, with parties, campaigns, negative advertising, billboards, and rich contributors. As is true today it helped to be wealthy. Roman politicians often sponsored sporting events before an election, making it very clear that it was their show, and sometimes pulled out all the stops by hiring big name gladiators. [Source: Lionel Casson , Smithsonian +++]

"In Cicero's day," classicist Lionel Casson wrote, "consular hopefuls behaved as politicians always have and forever will: they made themselves as visible as possible, were charming to all potential voters and promised everything to everybody." +++

The word "candidate" comes from ancient Rome. Originally candidates meant a person in white clothes. Later it was used to describe people running for public office, who often dressed in white togas to express their pure and incorrupt character. When a Roman candidate was asked if he was going to run he typically replied "maybe he would...and then again maybe he wouldn't." Or, "if it is in the best interests of the city, I will seek office." +++

With no television or radio, candidates in their search for votes made speeches wherever they could draw a crowd and cruised the forum, accompanied by a nomenclator (name caller) who whispered the name of the people that politicians was going to meet to add a personal touch to the encounter. +++

There were no political posters. Papyrus and parchment were too expensive. Slogans, however, were painted and scrawled onto walls. Messages found on the walls of buildings ran from the direct and simple (“Casellius for aedilis ” ) to the more colorful (“Genialis appeals to you to elect Bruttius Balbus duumvir , He will preserve the treasury”). Barbers, goldsmiths, fruit sellers, and even chess players trumpeted their endorsements with graffiti-like messages. There were dirty tricks and negative advertisements too. One candidates, it was scrawled, was endorsed by "all the sleepyheads," "all the drunken stay-out-lates and "sneaky thieves." +++

Cicero Brothers on Roman Political Campaigns and Candidates

"Now lets look at the polls," Cicero wrote in July 27, 54 B.C., shortly before an election, "Bribery's thriving...the interest rate has doubled...Caesar is backing Memmius with all his might...in a deal I don't dare put into writing. Pompey is fuming and growling and backing and backing Sacaurus, but who knows whether as a front of for real. None is ahead; their handouts are keeping them all even." [Source: Lionel Casson , Smithsonian]

Cicero's brother put together some tips to campaigners. "Have followers at your heels daily," he advised, "of every kind, class and age; because from their numbers people can figure out how much power and support you are going to have at the polls...make it clear you know people's names...You particularly need to use flattery. No matter how viscous and vile it is on the other days of a man's life, when he runs for office it is indispensable..."And] if you make a promise, the mater is not fixed, it's for a future date...but, of you say no, you are sure to alienate people right away and a lot of them." [Ibid]

Quintus Cicero wrote in a letter to His Brother Marcus Cicero (Cicero), 64 B.C. “Almost every day as you go down to the Forum you must say to yourself, "I am a novus homo [i.e. without noble ancestry]. "I am a candidate for the consulship." "This is Rome." For the "newness" of your name you will best compensate by the brilliance of your oratory. This has ever carried with it great political distinction. A man who is held worthy of defending ex-consuls, cannot be deemed unworthy of the constitution itself. Therefore approach each individual case with the persuasion that on it depends as a whole your entire reputation. For you have, as few novi homines have had — all the tax-syndicate promoters, nearly the whole equestrian ordo, and many municipal towns, especially devoted to you, many people who have been defended by you, many trade guilds, and besides these a large number of the rising generation, who have become attached to you in their enthusiasm for public speaking, and who visit you daily in swarms, and with such constant regularity! [Source: William Stearns Davis, ed. Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-1913), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 129-135]

Cicero, arguably Rome's greatest politician
“See that you retain these advantages by reminding these persons, by appealing to them, and by using every means to make them understand that this, and this only, is the time for those who are in your debt now, to show their gratitude, and for those who wish for your services in the future, to place you under an obligation. It also seems possible that a novus homo may be much aided by the fact that he has the good wishes of men of high rank, and especially of ex-consuls. It is a point in your favor that you should be thought worthy of this position and rank by the very men to whose position you are wishing to attain.

“All these men must be canvassed with care, agents must be sent to them, and they must be convinced that we have always been at one with the Optimates, that we have never been dangerous demagogues in the very least. Also take pains to get on your side the young men of high rank, and keep the friendship of those whom you already have. They will contribute much to your political position. Whosoever gives any sign of inclination to you, or regularly visits your house, you must put down in the category of friends. But yet the most advantageous thing is to be beloved and pleasant in the eyes of those who are friends on the more regular grounds of relationship by blood or marriage, the membership in the same club, or some close tie or other. You must take great pains that these men should love you and desire your highest honor.

“In a word, you must secure friends of every class, magistrates, consuls and their tribunes to win you the vote of the centuries: men of wide popular influence. Those who either have gained or hope to gain the vote of a tribe or a century, or any other advantage, through your influence, take all pains to collect and to secure. So you see that you will have the votes of all the centuries secured for you by the number and variety of your friends. The first and obvious thing is that you embrace the Roman senators and equites, and the active and popular men of all the other orders. There are many city men of good business habits, there are many freedmen engaged in the Forum who are popular and energetic: these men try with all your might, both personally and by common friends, to make eager in your behalf. Seek them out, send agents to them, show them that they are putting you under the greatest possible obligation. After that, review the entire city, all guilds, districts, neighborhoods. If you can attach to yourself the leading men in these, you will by their means easily keep a hold upon the multitude. When you have done that, take care to have in your mind a chart of all Italy laid out according to the tribes in each town, and learn it by heart, so that you may not allow any chartered town, colony, prefecture — in a word, any spot in Italy to exist, in which you have not a firm foothold.

“Trace out also individuals in every region, inform yourself about them, seek them out, secure that in their own districts they shall canvas for you, and be, as it were, candidates in your interest.

“After having thus worked for the "rural vote", the centuries of the equites too seem capable of being won over if you are careful. And you should be strenuous in seeing as many people as possible every day of every possible class and order, for from the mere numbers of these you can make a guess of the amount of support you will get on the balloting. Your visitors are of three kinds: one consists of morning callers who come to your house, a second of those who escort you to the Forum, the third of those who attend you on your canvass. In the case of the mere morning callers, who are less select, and according to present-day fashion, are decidedly numerous, you must contrive to think that you value even this slight attention very highly. It often happens that people when they visit a number of candidates, and observe the one that pays special heed to their attentions, leave off visiting the others, and little by little become real supporters of this man.

“Secondly, to those who escort you to the Forum: since this is a much greater attention than a mere morning call, indicate clearly that they are still more gratifying to you; and with them, as far as it shall lie in your power, go down to the Forum at fixed times, for the daily escort by its numbers produces a great impression and confers great personal distinction.

“The third class is that of people who continually attend you upon your canvass. See that those who do so spontaneously understand that you regard yourself as forever obliged by their extreme kindness; from these on the other hand. who owe you the attention for services rendered frankly demand that so far as their age and business allow they should be constantly in attendance, and that those who are unable to accompany you in person, should find relatives to substitute in performing this duty. I am very anxious and think it most important that you should always be surrounded with numbers. Besides, it confers a great reputation, and great distinction to be accompanied by those whom you have defended and saved in the law courts. Put this demand fairly before them — that since by your means, and without any fee — some have retained property, others their honor, or their civil rights, or their entire fortunes — and since there will never be any other time when they can show their gratitude, they now should reward you by this service.”

Pompeii Inscriptions and Graffiti About Politics and Elections

Pompeii campaign notice

William Stearns Davis wrote: “There are almost no literary remains from Antiquity possessing greater human interest than these inscriptions scratched on the walls of Pompeii (destroyed 79 A.D.). Their character is extremely varied, and they illustrate in a keen and vital way the life of a busy, luxurious, and, withal, tolerably typical, city of some 25,000 inhabitants in the days of the Flavian Caesars. Most of these inscriptions carry their own message with little need of a commentary. Perhaps those of the greatest importance are the ones relating to local politics. It is very evident that the so-called "monarchy" of the Emperors had not involved the destruction of political life, at least in the provincial towns. [Source:William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 260-265]

“The dyers request the election of Postumius Proculus as Aedile.”

“Vesonius Primus urges the election of Gnaeus Helvius as Aedile, a man worthy of pubic office.”

“Vesonius Primus requests the election of Gaius Gavius Rufus as duumvir, a man who will serve the public interest — do elect him, I beg of you.”

“Primus and his household are working for the election of Gnaeus Helvius Sabinus as Aedile.”

“Make Lucius Caeserninus quinquennial duumvir of Nuceria, I beg you: he is a good man.”

“His neighbors request the election of Tiberius Claudius Verus as duumvir.”

“The worshipers of Isis as a body ask for the election of Gnaeus Helvias Sabinus as Aedile.”

“The inhabitants of the Campanian suburb ask for the election of Marcus Epidius Sabinus as aedile.”

“At the request of the neighbors Suedius Clemens, most upright judge, is working for the election of Marcus Epidius Sabinus, a worthy young man, as duumvir with judicial authority. He begs you to elect him.”

“The sneak thieves request the election of Vatia as Aedile.

Crassus, the Penultimate Corrupt Politician

One of the most powerful politicians in the era of corruption, Marcus Licinius Crassus (115-53 B.C.), not surprisingly was also one of the richest Roman. Born into a wealthy family, he acquired his riches, according to Plutarch, through "fire and rapine." Crassus became so powerful that he financed the army that put down the slave revolt led by Spartacus. To celebrate Spartacus's crucifixion, Crassus hosted a banquet for the entire voting public of Rome (10,000 people) that lasted for several days. Each participant was also given an allowance of three months of grain. His ostentatious displays gave us the word crass.

Crassus made a fortune in real estate by controlled Rome's only fire department acquiring the land from property owners victimized by fire.. When a fire broke out, a horse drawn water tank was dispatched to the site, but before fire was put out, Crassus or one of his representatives haggled over the price of his services, often while the house was burning down before their eyes. To save the building Crassus often required the owner to fork over title to the property and then pay rent.

Crassus was most likely the largest property owner in Rome. He also purchased property with money obtained through underhanded methods. While serving as a lieutenant in the civil war of 88-82 he able to buy land formally held by the enemy at bargain prices, sometimes by murdering its owners. Crassius also opened a profitable training center for slaves. He purchased unskilled bondsmen, trained them and then sold them as slaves for a handsome profit.

Crassus was not unlike successful modern businessmen who contribute large sums of money to a political parties in return for favors or high level government positions. He gave loans to nearly every Senator and hosted lavish parties for the influential and powerful. Through shrewd use of his money to gain political influence he reached the position of triumvir, one of the three people responsible for controlling the apparatus of state.

After attaining riches and political power the only left for Crassus to do was lead a Roman army in a great military victory. He purchased an army and sent to Syria by Caesar to battle the Parthians. In 53 B.C. Crassus lost the Battle of Carrhae, one of the Roman Empire's worst defeats. He was captured by the Parthians, who according to legend, poured molten gold down his throat when they realized he was the richest man in Rome. The reasoning of the act was that his lifelong thirst for gold should quenched in death.

Corruption in Ancient Rome

20120227-Aelius_Caesar Louvre_Ma1167.jpg
Aelius Caesar
another prominent politician
Between 70 and 50 B.C., Roman politics hit rock bottom. Candidates, in some cases, dispensed with promoting sporting events and simply bought votes. The situation eventually got so out of hand that Cicero and others passed campaign reform laws that outlawed these bribes and prohibited politicians from sponsoring gladiator contests two years before an election. A candidate found guilty lost his right forever to run for office. " [Source: Lionel Casson , Smithsonian]

The Twelve Tables, an early legal code in the Roman republic, imposed the death penalty on judges who accepted bribes. Enforcement became lenient after the rise of the Roman Emperorship.

Richard Saller, a history professor at Stanford, told the New York Times, Rome “had a real problem trying to define what qualified as a bribe and what was a friendship gift. There was a pretty broad rage of quid pro quos. One Roman soldier wrote his father: "I hope to get transferred to a cohort [a cavalry unit); but here nothing gets done without money. Letters of recommendation are useless."

Emperor Tiberius tried to clamp down on local governors extorting tax payments from subjects but still left local officials plenty of room to obtain gratuities, Tiberus said he wanted his “sheep shorn, not flayed," meaning it was acceptable for local rulers to take some money but not excessive amounts.

Cicero: Letter to His Brother Quintus, 54 B.C.: “There is a fearful recrudescence of bribery. Never was there anything like it. On the 15th of July the rate of interest rose from four to eight per cent, owing to the compact made by Memmius with the consul Domitius. I am not exaggerating. They offer as much as 10,000,000 sesterces for the vote of the first century. The matter is a burning scandal. The candidates for the tribuneship have made a mutual compact; having deposited 500,000 sesterces apiece with Cato, they agree to conduct their canvass according to his directions, with the understanding that any one offending against it will be condemned to forfeit by him.” [Source: William Stearns Davis, ed. Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-1913), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 129-135]

Oratory, Cicero and Politics in Ancient Rome

Oratory (public speaking) was a highly-valued skill in ancient Greece and Rome, especially for those with political ambitions. Oliver Thatcher wrote: “ ”The ordinary education of a boy was supposed to include music, gymnastics, and geometry. Under music was included Greek and Latin literature, under geometry what little was known in science. The subjects for education above what might be called the grammar school were oratory and the philosophers. A Roman's fields for action were politics and war. He learned to command in the field, and usually won the right to command through politics. The open highway through politics was oratory, and hence oratory was considered practically the only subject worthy to be the end of a youth's education.” [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

Young Cicero
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus was a native of Spain. The date of his birth was about 35 A.D., of his death about 95 A.D. He began to plead causes in Spain, but after accompanying Galba to Rome where the latter was proclaimed emperor, took up pleading and the teaching of rhetoric there. To understand the position of oratory and of an instructor in it at Athens or Rome the reader must consider how little there was to learn then as compared with today. So Quintilian won honors and wealth in his profession. He was highly rewarded by Vespasian and was later the instructor of the grand-nephews of Domitian. His last years were spent in preparing his work on the education of an orator, the "Institutes."

Arguably the most famous and skilled orator of all time was Cicero (106-43 B.C.), a Roman statesman, orator and writer known for his rhetorical style and eloquence. The scholar Micheal Lind wrote in the Washington Post, “No great mind in Western history “not Socrates, Plato or Aristotle — has influenced so many other great minds, Ciceronian eloquence was incorporated into Christianity by St. Augustine and St. Jerome...Machiavelli sought to revive the the republican political tradition of Cicero...The United States — more than even France — is a Ciceronian state."

Evelyn S. Shuckburgh wrote: “To his contemporaries Cicero was primarily the great forensic and political orator of his time, and the fifty-eight speeches which have come down to us bear testimony to the skill, wit, eloquence, and passion which gave him his preeminence. But these speeches of necessity deal with the minute details of the occasions which called them forth, and so require for their appreciation a full knowledge of the history, political and personal, of the time. The letters, on the other hand, are less elaborate both in style and in the handling of current events, while they serve to reveal his personality, and to throw light upon Roman life in the last days of the Republic in an extremely vivid fashion. [Source: “Letters of Marcus Tullius Cicero, with his treatises on friendship and old age; translated by E. S. Shuckburgh, New York, P. F. Collier, 1909, The Harvard classics v.9.]

Pliny the Younger on the Decline of Oratory

As time wore on and the Roman Empire became more dictatorial and bureaucratic the skill and appreciation of it fell into decline. William Stearns Davis wrote: “As political freedom gradually ceased under the Empire, oratory was more and more confined to the courts. But, in the argument of cases, an interest was maintained that was often entirely disproportionate to the importance of the suit. Forensic oratory was practically the only public way a young man of good family could distinguish himself unless he joined the army. In the opinion of true lovers of the art, however, by 100 CE. the advocate's profession was in a very bad state, and in great danger of falling into contempt. Its evils and abuses are here explained by Pliny.”

Assassination of Cicero
Pliny the Younger (A.D. 61/62-113) wrote in “Letters, II.14": “Yes, you, Maximus [Pliny's correspondent], are quite right: my time is fully taken up by cases in the Centumviral Court, but they give me more worry than pleasure, for most of them are of a minor and unimportant nature. Most of the advocates are young men without standing, and make their first beginnings on the hardest subjects. Yet, by Heaven, before my time — to use an old man's phrase — not even the highest-born youths had any standing here, unless they were introduced by a man of consular rank. [Source: Pliny the Younger (A.D. 61/62-113): Letters, II.14: The Decline of Oratory, Source: William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp.239-244]

“Now all modesty and respect are thrown to the winds, and one man is as good as another. So far from being introduced they burst in. The audiences follow them as if they were actors, bought and paid to do so; the agent of the orator is there to meet them in the middle of the courthouse (basilica), where the doles of money are handed over as openly as doles of food at a banquet; and they are ready to pass from one court to another for a bribe. They are made fun of for their readiness to cry "bravo"; yet this disgraceful practice gets worse every day. Yesterday two of my own nomenclators — young men I admit, about the age of those who have just assumed the toga — were enticed off to join the claque for three denarii apiece. Such is the outlay you must make to get a reputation for eloquence!

“At that price you can fill the benches, however many there are; you can obtain a great throng and get thunders of applause as soon as the conductor gives the signal. For a signal is absolutely necessary for people who do not understand, and do not even listen to the speeches; and many of these fellows do not listen at all, though they applaud as heartily as any. If you chance to be crossing the courthouse, and wish to know how any one is speaking, there is no need to stop to listen. It is quite safe to guess on the principle that he who is speaking worst gets the most applause. The sing-song style of this clique only wants the clapping of hands, or rather cymbals and drums, to make them like the priests of Cybele, for as for howlings — that is the only word to express the unseemly applause — they have enough and to spare.”

Patronage and Promotion in Vindolanda

Cato Minor
another prominent politician
The Roman-era Vindolanda tablets — found at a fort near Hadrian’s Wall in northern Britain — are the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain. Based on texts found on these tablets, Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “Flavius Cerialis was the praefectus in command of Cohors IX Batavorum, which occupied Vindolanda from around A.D. 97 onwards. His name indicates that his family was granted the citizenship by the Flavian dynasty of Vespasian, and the cognomen Cerialis may have been in honour of Q. Petilius Cerialis, who brought the Batavians over to Britain. He was a Batavian nobleman of equestrian status, which meant that his family had amassed a fortune of over 400,000 sesterces (100,000 denarii), the property qualification for entry into the equestrian order.” [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, November 16, 2012 |::|]

“He was therefore, an important man in the area, and it was only natural for those who knew him to request letters of recommendation for their friends. One of these survives, from a certain Claudius Karus. (Tab. Vindol. II.250): ‘Brigionus has requested me, my lord, to recommend him to you. I therefore ask, my lord, if you would be willing to support him. I ask that you think fit to commend him to Annius Equester, the centurion in charge of the region at Luguvalium, by doing which you will place me in debt to you, both in his name and my own’.

“Brigionus is a Romanised Celtic name, and it does not take a great leap of imagination to see this as a classic example of patronage, by which the subjects of the frontier region were absorbed into the Roman system. Karus, a fellow officer, recommends to Cerialis a British client, and requests that he pass him on in turn to the regional administration officer for the legions, Annius Equester, whether as a potential recruit or for some other purpose is not clear (though given that it is being done through military channels, I would suspect the former). |::|

“Cerialis clearly had good contacts of his own, with which he was trying to wangle a promotion. Here are a couple of letters that paint an interesting little picture: ‘[Cerialis ] to his Crispinus... Since Grattius Crispinus is returning to [you], I have gladly seized this opportunity, my lord, of greeting you, whom I dearly wish to be in good health and master of all your hopes. For you have always deserved this of me, right up to your present high office... greet Marcellus, that most distinguished man, my governor. He offers opportunity for the talents of your friends, now that he is here, for which I know you thank him. Now, in whatever way you wish, fulfil what I expect of you and... so furnish me with very many friends, so that thanks to you I may be able to enjoy an agreeable period of military service. I write this to you from Vindolanda, where my winter quarters are’. (Tab. Vindol. II.225)

‘Niger & Brocchus to their Cerialis, greeting. We pray, brother, that what you are about to do is most successful. It will be so indeed, since our prayers are with you and you yourself are most worthy. You will assuredly meet our governor quite soon.’ (Tab. Vindol. II.248) |::|

“We do not know who Crispinus is, but he was clearly a high-ranking official in the province, with the ear of the provincial governor, L. Neratius Marcellus (Leg. Brit. A.D. 100-103). Cerialis obviously hoped by his patronage to gain a promotion from the governor, and his friends and fellow officers, Niger & Brocchus, clearly wished him well. The somewhat tart: 'I write this to you from winter quarters in Vindolanda.' might give some indication of how Cerialis viewed life up on the cold north-west frontier, as does another letter to a fellow officer, an aptly named September, offering to send him some goods: 'by which we may endure the storms, even if they are troublesome.' “ |::|

“We do not know whether Cerialis was successful in pursuing his promotion, but we do know about his friend. C. Aelius Brocchus went on to command the prestigious Ala Contariorum in Pannonia. At times, official channels could be abused, or at least stretched, in order to accommodate those in the position to take advantage of them. A legionary centurion called Clodius Super asks Cerialis to send him some clothing Cerialis had picked up from a friend in Gaul, saying: 'I am the supply officer, so I have acquired transport'. (Tab. Vindol. II.255).

Barbarians: a Propaganda Device?

20120227-Suicide of Cato.jpg
Suicide of Cato
Propaganda is regarded as a relatively modern invention, but over 2,000 years ago Romans were already raising 'spin' to a high art. Dr Neil Faulkner wrote for the BBC: “All empire-builders have to justify what they do - to themselves, to their own people, and to those they dominate. The Romans developed a sophisticated world-view which they projected successfully through literature, inscriptions, architecture, art, and elaborate public ceremonial. [Source: Dr Neil Faulkner, BBC, February 17, 2011. Dr Faulkner is an honorary lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. |::|]

“Some elements of this world-view evolved during the existence of the empire, most notably with the adoption of Christianity in the early fourth century AD. Other themes remained constant. Perhaps the most important of the latter was the idea that Rome represented peace, good government, and the rule of law. The societies with which Rome was in conflict were caricatured as barbaric, lawless and dangerous. |::|

“Julius Caesar, in his famous account of the Gallic Wars of the 50s B.C., provided readers at home with a blood-curdling description of the Germanic tribes he encountered in battle: 'The various tribes regard it as their greatest glory to lay waste as much as possible of the land around them and to keep it uninhabited. They hold it a proof of a people's valour to drive their neighbours from their homes, so that no-one dare settle near them. No discredit attaches to plundering raids outside tribal frontiers. The Germans say that they serve to keep young men in training and prevent them from getting lazy.' |::|

Roman Mission: Civilizing the Uncivilized

Dr Neil Faulkner wrote for the BBC: “Barbaricum was not only a place of perpetual strife. There was also grinding poverty and cultural backwardness. Describing the Caledonian tribes of ancient Scotland in the early third century AD, Dio Cassius wrote: 'They inhabit wild, waterless mountains and lonely, swampy plains, without walls, cities, or cultivated land. They live by pasturing flocks, hunting, and off certain fruits. They live in tents, unclothed and unshod, sharing their women and bringing up all their children together.' [Source: Dr Neil Faulkner, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Clearly, the implication seems to be, such people could not but benefit from Roman rule. But even those already civilised - those, indeed, whom many Romans recognised as more civilised than themselves - stood to gain. |There is a famous passage in Virgil's Aeneid, written in the reign of the first emperor, Augustus (30 B.C. - 14 AD), where the achievements of the Greeks are acknowledged, but their need of Roman government asserted. |::|

Hadrian dressed as a Greek

“'Others [that is, Greeks] shall hammer forth more delicately a breathing likeness out of bronze, coax living faces from the marble, plead causes with more skill, plot with their gauge the movements in the sky and tell the rising of the constellations. |'But you, Roman, must remember that you have to guide the nations by your authority, for this is to be your skill, to graft tradition onto peace, to spare those who submit, but to crush those who resist.'” |::|

Hadrian: Propaganda. Commonwealth and Consolidation

Dr Neil Faulkner wrote for the BBC: “At first, the principal audience for Roman imperial propaganda had been only a minority of the empire's population - mainly soldiers, the inhabitants of Rome and Italy, and Roman citizens living in colonies and provincial towns. |At this time, the empire was still expanding, and the role of the emperor as generalissimo was emphasised. But from the time of the emperor Hadrian (117 - 138 AD), aggressive wars all but ceased, and the empire was consolidated on existing frontiers. “As well as stressing the role of the emperor as civil ruler, Roman propagandists henceforward developed a more rounded and inclusive view of what it meant to be part of the empire. [Source: Dr Neil Faulkner, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“Greek culture was embraced more wholeheartedly than before, and the resultant blending of themes and motifs produced a distinctive Graeco-Roman or 'classical' culture during the second and third centuries AD. Hadrian and his successors actively promoted the idea that the empire, while embracing a diversity of peoples and religions, was united by an overarching set of values and tastes - and therefore by loyalty to the imperial state which safeguarded these. This conception of empire as a commonwealth of the civilised - in contradistinction to both barbarians beyond and subversives within - was monumentalised in stone on the frontiers and in the cities. |::|

“Hadrian's Wall was not a defensive structure. The Roman army at the time did not fight behind fixed defences. 'He set out for Britain', Hadrian's biographer tells us, 'and there he put right many abuses and was the first to build a wall 80 miles long to separate the barbarians and the Romans.' Equally, if it was intended as a line of customs and police posts - a controlled border - it was an extraordinarily elaborate and expensive one. So what was is for? |::|

“There seems little doubt that the wall, like other great Roman frontier monuments was as much a propaganda statement as a functional facility. It was a symbolic statement of Roman grandeur and technique at the empire's furthest limit, and a marking out of the point in the landscape where civilisation stopped and the barbarian wilderness began. |::|

“Hadrian's travels took him across the empire. Everywhere - in Rome, France, Spain, Africa, Greece, Turkey, Egypt - he raised great monuments. Instead of battles, he gave the empire bath-houses. Instead of trophies, temples and theatres. Most of the ruins we see today visiting the great classical cities of the Mediterranean are of public buildings erected in the second century golden age of imperial civilisation inaugurated by Hadrian. Each one made a set of statements. In its functionality, it helped define the Roman lifestyle and what it meant to be 'civilised'. In its towering size and richness, it spoke of the wealth and success of empire. |Through images on fresco, mosaic and sculpted panel, it promoted a cultural identity and shared values. And in the very fact of its existence, it redounded to the credit of the regime whose guiding hand had made it possible.” |::|

Setting a Example, Bloody, Pagan Roman Style

Healing of a bleeding from Marcellinus Peter Catacomb

Dr Neil Faulkner wrote for the BBC: “But beneath the veneer of gentility, there was a chilling note of warning. Myths depicted men ripped apart for defying the gods or challenging those who - like the emperors - enjoyed divine protection. Legends from Rome's past told of enemies vanquished, lands laid waste and thousands sold to slavery. And in the amphitheatre, dramas of life-and-death were acted out which symbolised the gulf between friend and enemy, citizen and barbarian, freeborn and slave, loyalist and dissident. Gladiators fought to the death dressed to mimic historic enemies like Samnites, Gauls and Britons. Christians were eaten alive by half-starved beasts. Rebels and outlaws were burnt at the stake. The arena offered a pageant of 'the war on terror' Roman-style. [Source: Dr Neil Faulkner, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“Much imperial propaganda consisted of traditional themes endlessly repeated. But one big change was of truly world-shaking importance: the adoption of Christianity by the Roman state. Paganism had been the living heart of Roman propaganda for a thousand years. Every significant act demanded sacrifice to appease a god. No new enterprise could be entertained without divine favour. |::|

“The legions marched into battle carrying the eagle of Jupiter, patron god of Rome, on their standards. Governors, generals and emperors led the holy rites at temples. Rulers were imagined ascending into heaven to take their places among the gods after death. Yet, the religion of the empire remained tolerant, inclusive and diverse. The existence of one god, however powerful, did not preclude that of many others. But because of this, because paganism was polytheistic, it was unable to offer the empire a unifying religious ideology.” |::|

Message But Not Media Changes When Rome Embraces Christianity

Dr Neil Faulkner wrote for the BBC: “When Constantine the Great ordered his men to fight as Christians in 312 AD, he began an ideological revolution.By the end of the century, paganism was effectively outlawed, and Christianity was the dominant religion of the state, the army, the elite and the towns. Donations of land and wealth flowed to the church. [Source: Dr Neil Faulkner, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“When we examine the archaeology of Late Roman cities, we find many of the old monuments ruined and their walls cannibalised to build new cathedrals and churches. We find the mosaicist employed making Christian tombstones, the silversmith engraving Christian motifs, the fresco-painter decorating Christian chapels. Roman emperors were represented as the agents of God on Earth, charged with crushing paganism and heresy. |::|

“The bishops reciprocated the favour shown the Church by preaching loyalty to the secular power. An alliance was forged between church and state, and henceforward Roman emperors were represented as the agents of God on Earth, charged with crushing paganism and heresy, with defending Christendom against its enemies. We see them depicted - on coins, jewellery, silverware, frescos and mosaics - alongside the symbols of the Christian church - the Cross or the Chi-Rho monogram (the first two letters of Christ's name in Greek). |Here was a new motif in the propaganda of power, one destined to have a long and bloody history: the ruler as crusader.

Taxes and Tax Collectors in Ancient Rome

20120227-Nero agrippina.jpg
Nero-Agrippina coins
Roman males aged 14 to 60 paid a poll tax. There were also property taxes, tariffs, special pig taxes and taxes for everything that was registered. There were crop registries, animal registries, craftsmen and tradesman registries. Even prostitutes had to register (a surviving one'day permit for a prostitute named Aphrodite allowed her "to go to bed with whoever you wish on this date")

Children were registered and "house-by-house registration," a sort of financial census, was established to keep tabs on everybody and make sure they paid their taxes. Births were registered and landlords were required to provide detailed information on the occupants of their dwelling that included parentage, age, profession, tax status and information on the property they owned.

A typical house registration read: "Heracleia, wife of Pasigenes, daughter of Cronion and ex-slave Didymus...age 40. Thais, daughter...age 5. Sabinus, son of Heracleia and Sabinus [Heracleia's first husband]...subject to poll tax, wool carder, age 18.

The rich and well-connected paid proportionally less taxes than the poor and middle class. Most of the tax collecting was done by local authorities who were told if they came up short they would make up the difference out of their own pockets.

The Romans were fierce tax collectors. People who failed to register could be fined 25 percent of their personal property. And authorities weren't shy about resorting to violence. A former tax collector in Fayoum, Egypt wrote in A.D. 193: "I and my brother delivered...nine of the ten artabs [measures of grain] specially levied on us...Now, on account of the one remaining artab, the grain-tax collectors...and their clerk...as well as their assistant broke into my house while I was out in the field...and tore off my mother's cloak and threw her to the ground. As a result she was bedridden."

Pecunia non Olet (Roman Urine Tax)

In the first century A.D., Emperor Vespasian enacted what came to be known as the urine tax. At the time, urine was considered a useful commodity. It was commonly was used for laundry because the ammonia in the urine served as a clothes. Urine was also used in medicines. Urine was collected from public bathhouses and taxed. [Source: Andrew Handley, Listverse, February 8, 2013 ]

toilet in Ephesus

According to Listverse: “Pecunia non olet means “money does not smell”. This phrase was coined as a result of the urine tax levied by the Roman emperors Nero and Vespasian in the 1st century upon the collection of urine. The lower classes of Roman society urinated into pots which were emptied into cesspools. The liquid was then collected from public latrines, where it served as the valuable raw material for a number of chemical processes: it was used in tanning, and also by launderers as a source of ammonia to clean and whiten woollen togas. [Source: Listverse, October 16, 2009 ]

“There are even isolated reports of it being used as a teeth whitener (supposedly originating in what is now Spain). When Vespasian’s son, Titus, complained about the disgusting nature of the tax, his father showed him a gold coin and uttered the famous quote. This phrase is still used today to show that the value of money is not tainted by its origins. Vespasian’s name still attaches to public urinals in France (vespasiennes), Italy (vespasiani), and Romania (vespasiene).”

Taxes and Economic Policy of the Roman Republic

The Collection of Taxes: The Roman revenue was mainly derived from the new provinces. But instead of raising these taxes directly through her own officers, Rome let out the business of collecting the revenue to a set of money dealers, called publicani. These persons agreed to pay into the treasury a certain sum for the right of collecting taxes in a certain province. Whatever they collected above this sum, they appropriated to themselves. This rude mode of collecting taxes, called “farming” the revenues, was unworthy of a great state like Rome, and was the chief cause of the oppression of the provincials. The governors, it is true, had the power of protecting the people from being plundered. But as they themselves received no pay for their services, except what they could get out of the provinces, they were too busy in making their own fortunes to watch closely the methods of the tax-gatherers. Like every other conquering nation, the Romans were tempted to benefit themselves at the expense of their subjects. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

Bruce Bartlett wrote in the Cato Institute Journal: “Beginning with the third century B.C. Roman economic policy started to contrast more and more sharply with that in the Hellenistic world, especially Egypt. In Greece and Egypt economic policy had gradually become highly regimented, depriving individuals of the freedom to pursue personal profit in production or trade, crushing them under a heavy burden of oppressive taxation, and forcing workers into vast collectives where they were little better than bees in a great hive. The later Hellenistic period was also one of almost constant warfare, which, together with rampant piracy, closed the seas to trade. The result, predictably, was stagnation. [Source: Bruce Bartlett, “How Excessive Government Killed Ancient Rome,” Cato Institute Journal 14: 2, Fall 1994, Cato.org /=]

Augustus coins
“Stagnation bred weakness in the states ofthe Mediterranean, which partially explains the ease with which Rome was able to steadily expand its reach beginning in the 3rd century B.C. By the first century B.C., Rome was the undisputed master of the Mediterranean. However, peace did not follow Rome’s victory, for civil wars sapped its strength. /=\

“The expansion of the dole is an important reason for the rise of Roman taxes. In the earliest days of the Republic Rome’s taxes were quite modest, consisting mainly ofa wealth tax on all forms of property, including land, houses, slaves, animals, money and personal effects. The basic rate was just .01 percent, although occasionally rising to .03 percent. It was assessed principally to pay the army during war. In fact, afterwards the tax was often rebated.

“It was levied directly on individuals, who were counted at periodic censuses. As Rome expanded after the unification of Italy in 272 B.C., so did Roman taxes. In the provinces, however, the main form of tax was a 4 Eligibility consisted mainly of Roman citizenship, actual residence in Rome, and was restricted to males over the age of fourteen. Senators and other government employees generally were prohibited from receiving grain. A tithe levied on communities, rather than directly on individuals. 5 This was partly because censuses were seldom conducted, thus making direct taxation impossible, and also because it was easierto administer, Local communities would decide for themselves howto divide up the tax burden among their citizens. /=\

“Tax farmers were often utilized to collect provincial taxes. They would pay in advance for the right to collect taxes in particularareas. Every few years these rights were put out to bid, thus capturing for the Roman treasury any increase in taxable capacity. In effect, tax farmers were loaning money to the state in advance of tax collections. They also had the responsibility of converting provincial taxes, which were often collected in-kind, into hard cash. 6 Thus the collections by tax farmers had to provide sufficient revenues to repay their advance to the state plus enough to cover the opportunity cost of the funds (i.e., interest), the transactions cost of converting collections into cash, and a profit as well. In fact, tax farming was quite profitable and was a major investment vehicle for wealthy citizens of Rome. /=\

“Augustus ended tax farming, however, due to complaints from the provinces. Interestingly, their protests not only had to do with excessive assessments by the tax farmers, as one would expect, but were also due to the fact that the provinces were becoming deeply indebted. A.H.M. Jones describes the problems with tax farmers: ‘Oppression and extortion began very early in the provinces and reached fantastic proportions in the later republic. Most governors were primarily interested in acquiring military glory and in making money during their year in office, and the companies which farmed the taxes expected to make ample profits. There was usually collusion between the governor and the tax contractors and the senate was too far away to exercise any effective control over either. The other great abuse of the provinces was extensive moneylending at exorbitant rates of interest to the provincial communities, which could not raise enough ready cash to satisfy both the exorbitant demands of the tax contractors and the blackmail levied by the governors.’ /=\

“As a result of such abuses, tax farming was replaced by direct taxation early in the Empire. The provinces now paid a wealth tax of about 1 percent and a flat poll or head tax on each adult. This obviously required regular censuses in order to count the taxable population and assess taxable property. It also led to a major shift in the basis of taxation. Under the tax farmers, taxation was largely based on current income. Consequently, the yield varied according to economic and climactic conditions. Since tax farmers had only a limited time to collect the revenue to which they were entitled, they obviously had to concentrate on collecting such revenue where it was most easily available. Because assets such as land were difficult to convert into cash, this meant that income necessarily was the basic baseof taxation. And since tax farmers were essentially bidding against a community’s income potential, this meant that a large portion of any increase in income accmed to the tax farmers. /=\

“By contrast, the Augustinian system was far less progressive. The shift to flat assessments based on wealth and population both regularized the yield of the tax system and greatly reduced its “progressivity.” This is because any growth in taxable capacity led to higher taxes under the tax farming system, while under the Augustinian system communities were only liable for a fixed payment. Thus any increase in income accrued entirely to the people and did not have to be shared with Rome. Individuals knew in advance the exact amount of their tax bill and that any income over and above that amount was entirely theirs. This was obviously a great incentive to produce, since the marginal tax rate above the tax assessment was zero. In economic terms, one can say that there was virtually no excess burden. Of course, to the extent that higher incomes increased wealth, some of this gain would be captured through reassessments. But in the short run, the tax system was very pro-growth.” /=\

Burden of Taxation on the Provinces and Barbarians

Kneeling barbarian

James Harvey Robinson wrote: “It was inevitable that thoughtful observers should be struck with the contrast between the habits and government of the Romans and the customs of the various barbarian peoples. Tacitus, the first to describe the manners and institutions of the Germans with care, is frequently tempted to compare them with those of the Empire, often to the obvious disadvantage of the latter. Salvian, a Christian priest, writing about 440, undertook in his book Of God's Government to show that the misfortunes of the time were only the divinely inflicted punishments which the people of the Empire had brought upon themselves by their wickedness and corruption. He contends that the Romans, who had once been virtuous and heroic, had lapsed into a degradation which rendered them, in spite of their civilization and advantages, far inferior to the untutored but sturdy barbarian.

Salvian wrote in “The Government of God” (c. A.D. 440): “In what respects can our customs be preferred to those of the Goths and Vandals, or even compared with them? And first, to speak of affection and mutual charity (which, our Lord teaches, is the chief virtue, saying, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another "), almost all barbarians, at least those who are of one race and kin, love each other, while the Romans persecute each other. For what citizen does not envy his fellow citizen ? What citizen shows to his neighbor full charity? [Source: Salvian (A.D. c.400- after 470), “The Burden of Taxation” (c. A.D. 44), James Harvey Robinson, ed., “Readings in European History: Vol. I:” (Boston:: Ginn and co., 1904), 28-30]

[The Romans oppress each other with exactions] nay, not each other : it would be quite tolerable, if each suffered what he inflicted. It is worse than that ; for the many are oppressed by the few, who regard public exactions as their own peculiar right, who carry on private traffic under tile guise of collecting the taxes. And this is done not only by nobles, but by men of lowest rank; not by judges only, but by judges' subordinates. For where is the city - even the town or village - which has not as many tyrants as it has curials ? . . . What place is there, therefore, as I have said, where the substance of widows and orphans, nay even of the saints, is not devoured by the chief citizens? . . .

“None but the great is secure from the devastations of these plundering brigands, except those who are themselves robbers. [Nay, the state has fallen upon such evil days that a man cannot be safe unless he is wicked] Even those in a position to protest against the iniquity which they see about them dare not speak lest they make matters worse than before. So the poor are despoiled, the widows sigh, the orphans are oppressed, until many of them, born of families not obscure, and liberally educated, flee to our enemies that they may no longer suffer the oppression of public persecution. They doubtless seek Roman humanity among the barbarians, because they cannot bear barbarian inhumanity among the Romans. And although they differ from the people to Whom they flee in manner and in language; although they are unlike as regards the fetid odor of the barbarians' bodies and garments, yet they would rather endure a foreign civilization among the barbarians than cruel injustice among the Romans.

“So they migrate to the Goths, or to the Bagaudes, or to some other tribe of the barbarians who are ruling everywhere, and do not regret their exile. For they would rather live free under an appearance of slavery than live as captives tinder an appearance of liberty. The name of Roman citi'en, once so highly esteemed and so dearly bought, is now a thing that men repudiate and flee from. . . .

“It is urged that if we Romans are wicked and corrupt, that the barbarians commit the same sins, and are not so miserable as we. There is, however, this difference, that the barbarians commit the same crimes as we, yet we more grievously. . . . All the barbarians, as we have already said, are pagans or heretics. The Saxon race is cruel, the Franks are faithless, the Gepidae are inhuman, the Huns are unchaste, - in short, there is vice in the life of all the barbarian peoples. But are their offenses as serious as ours? Is the unchastity of the Hun so criminal as ours? Is the faithlessness of the Frank so blameworthy as ours? Is the intemperance of the Alemanni so base as the intemperance of the Christians? Does the greed of the Alani so merit condemnation as the greed of the Christians? If Hun or the Gepid cheat, what is there to wonder at, since he does not know that cheating is a crime? If a Frank perjures himself, does he do anything strange, he who regards perjury as a way of speaking, not as a crime?”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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