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At first Rome was ruled by chiefs, then by kings. As it grew larger it absorbed members of other tribes who fought using Greek tactics but claimed to be Etruscan. After a series of struggles with outsiders the kingship was ended.

The Romans established a republic in 509 B.C. The quasi-representative form of government during the Republic era was comprised of a bicameral legislature with: 1) a “ comitia , an assembly of representatives made up of elected male citizens, many of them military men; and 2) "the Senate and the People of Rome,” made up of representatives elected to one-year terms. Most of the Senate members were patricians, members of upper classes. The seat of the government was in the "capitol." The Republican form of government endured for 460 years (509 to 49 B.C) until Julius Caesar absolved it.

The Romans had an unwritten constitution. On the local level Roman administration was "flexible, tolerant and open." Most towns elected a “ duumvir” (mayor) and “ aedilis” (commissioner of markets). Public servants wore blue, which some scholars say set the precedent for the blue uniforms used by policeman.

The senate was led by a consul (the equivalent of a president). The consulship was the highest Roman office in the Republic. The main difference between the Roman senate and its modern American counterpart was that the Roman senate was led by two consuls, not just one, and each was elected for one term and had to wait ten years before running again.

The Senate ordered public works and called in magistrates to administer their construction. Legislation was first passed by the comitia and then approved by the Senate and then issued in the name of the senate and the people of Rome. When Roman soldiers marched to the battle field they carried guidons with the initials SPQR that stood for “senatus populusque Romanus” (the senate and the people of Rome).

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Sovereign Roman State

To understand properly the history of Rome, we must study not only the way in which she conquered her territory, but also the way in which she organized and governed it. The study of her wars and battles is less important than the study of her policy. Rome was always learning lessons in the art of government. As she grew in power, she also grew in political wisdom. With every extension of her territory, she was obliged to extend her authority as a sovereign power. If we would comprehend the political system which grew up in Italy, we must keep clearly in mind the distinction between the people who made up the sovereign body of the state, and the people who made up the subject communities of Italy. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Roman republic flag

"Just as in early times we saw two distinct bodies, the patrician body, which ruled the state, and the plebeian body, which was subject to the state; so now we shall see, on the one hand, a ruling body of citizens, who lived in and outside the city upon the Roman domain (ager Romanus), and on the other hand, a subject body of people, living in towns and cities throughout the rest of Italy. In other words, we shall see a part of the territory and people incorporated into the state, and another part unincorporated—the one a sovereign community, and the other comprising a number of subject communities.

The Roman domain proper, or the ager Romanus, was that part of the territory in which the people became incorporated into the state, and were admitted to the rights of citizenship. It was the sovereign domain of the Roman people. This domain land, or incorporated territory, had been gradually growing while the conquest of Italy was going on. It now included, speaking generally, the most of Latium, northern Campania, southern Etruria, the Sabine country, Picenum, and a part of Umbria. There were a few towns within this area, like Tibur and Praeneste, which were not incorporated, and hence not a part of the domain land, but retained the position of subject allies. \~\

The Thirty-three Tribes: Within the Roman domain were the local tribes, which had now increased in number to thirty-three. They included four urban tribes, that is, the wards of the city, and twenty-nine rural tribes, which were like townships in the country. All the persons who lived in these tribal districts and were enrolled, formed a part of the sovereign body of the Roman people, that is, they had a share in the government, in making the laws, and in electing the magistrates. \~\

Roman Colonies and Subject Communities

The colonies of citizens sent out by Rome were allowed to retain all their rights of citizenship, being permitted even to come to Rome at any time to vote and help make the laws. These colonies of Roman citizens thus formed a part of the sovereign state; and their territory, wherever it might be situated, was regarded as a part of the ager Romanus. Such were the colonies along the seacoast, the most important of which were situated on the shores of Latium and of adjoining lands. \~\

The Roman Municipia: Rome incorporated into her territory some of the conquered towns under the name of municipia, which possessed all the burdens and some of the rights of citizenship. At first, such towns (like Caere) received the private but not the public rights (civitas sine suffragio),—see page 64,—and the towns might govern themselves or be governed by a prefect sent from Rome. In time, however, the municipia obtained not only local self-government but also full Roman citizenship; and this arrangement was the basis of the Roman municipal system of later times. \~\

The Subject Territory: Over against this sovereign body of citizens living upon the ager Romanus, were the subject communities scattered throughout the length and breadth of the peninsula. The inhabitants of this territory had no share in the Roman government. Neither could they declare war, make peace, form alliances, or coin money, without the consent of Rome. Although they might have many privileges given to them, and might govern themselves in their own cities, they formed no part of the sovereign body of the Roman people. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

The Latin Colonies: One part of the subject communities of Italy comprised the Latin colonies. These were the military garrisons which Rome sent out to hold in subjection a conquered city or territory. They were generally made up of veteran soldiers, or sometimes of poor Roman citizens, who were placed upon the conquered land and who ruled the conquered people. But such garrisons did not retain the full rights of citizens. They lost the political rights, and generally the conubium (p. 64), but retained the commercium. These colonies, scattered as they were throughout Italy, carried with them the Latin language and the Roman spirit, and thus aided in extending the influence of Rome. \~\

The Italian Allies: The largest part of the subject communities were the Italian cities which were conquered and left free to govern themselves, but which were bound to Rome by a special treaty. They were obliged to recognize the sovereign power of Rome. They were not subject to the land tax which fell upon Roman citizens, but were obliged to furnish troops for the Roman army in times of war. These cities of Italy, thus held in subjection to Rome by a special treaty, were known as federated cities (civitates foederatae), or simply as allies (socii); they formed the most important part of the Italian population not incorporated into the Roman state. \~\

This method of governing Italy was, in some respects, based upon the policy which had formerly been adopted for the government of Latium. The important distinction between Romans, Latins, and Italians continued until the “social war”. \~\

Map of Italy when Rome was emerging as a state

Strengths of the Roman System

Edward Gibbon wrote in “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”: “The Greeks, after their country had been reduced into a province, imputed the triumphs of Rome, not to the merit, but to the fortune, of the republic. The inconstant goddess, who so blindly distributes and resumes her favours, had now consented (such was the language of envious flattery) to resign her wings, to descend from her globe, and to fix her firm and immutable throne on the banks of the Tiber. A wiser Greek, who has composed, with a philosophic spirit, the memorable history of his own times, deprived his countrymen of this vain and delusive comfort by opening to their view the deep foundations of the greatness of Rome. [Source: Edward Gibbon: General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West from “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” Chapter 38, published 1776]

“The fidelity of the citizens to each other, and to the state, was confirmed by the habits of education and the prejudices of religion. Honour, as well as virtue, was the principle of the republic; the ambitious citizens laboured to deserve the solemn glories of a triumph; and the ardour of the Roman youth was kindled into active emulation, as often as they beheld the domestic images of their ancestors. The temperate struggles of the patricians and plebeians had finally established the firm and equal balance of the constitution; which united the freedom of popular assemblies with the authority and wisdom of a senate-and the executive powers of a regal magistrate. When the consul displayed the standard of the republic, each citizen bound himself, by the obligation of an oath, to draw his sword in the cause of his country, till he had discharged the sacred duty by a military service of ten years.

“This wise institution continually poured into the field the rising generations of freemen and soldiers; and their numbers were reinforced by the warlike and populous states of Italy, who, after a brave resistance, had yielded to the valour, and embraced the alliance, of the Romans. The sage historian, who excited the virtue of the younger Scipio and beheld the ruin of Carthage,has accurately described their military system; their levies, arms, exercises, subordination, marches, encampments; and the invincible legion, superior in active strength to the Macedonian phalanx of Philip and Alexander. From these institutions of peace and war, Polybius has deduced the spirit and success of a people incapable of fear and impatient of repose. The ambitious design of conquest, which might have been defeated by the seasonable conspiracy of mankind, was attempted and achieved; and the perpetual violation of justice was maintained by the political virtues of prudence and courage. The arms of the republic, sometimes vanquished in battle, always victorious in war, advanced with rapid steps to the Euphrates, the Danube, the Rhine, and the Ocean; and the images of gold, or silver, or brass, that might serve to represent the nations and their kings, were successively broken by the iron monarchy of Rome.”

Roman Influence on the Fledgling American Government

The American founding fathers emulated the Rome. The seat of the government was in the "capitol" — a term of Roman derivation — and the government itself had two legislatures (a House of representatives and a Senate) just like the one in Republican Rome. The word “Senate” also comes from Rome. Cicero was the first one who came with idea of checks and balances — an ideal central to the American form of government.

Roman Republican government

After the Boston massacre a patriot stood on Bunker Hill in a toga and gave a speech in the "manner of Cicero" and during the winter at Valley Forge, George Washington tried to cheer up his troop with a "play about the Roman's senate's fatal last stand" against Caesar. Statues of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and other influential American leaders were made with their subjects dressed in togas and sandals. [Source: “The Founders and the Classics” by Carl Richard (1994)]

The English historian Ronald Syme has argued that if the George III had used Roman colonization as his model and shown more tolerance and incorporated the likes of Washington, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson into the local government then the American Revolution could have been avoided.

On the Precepts of Statecraft, Plurach wrote: “The greatest blessings that cities can enjoy are peace, prosperity, populousness, and concord. As far as peace is concerned the people have no need of political activity, for all war, both Greek and foreign, has been banished and has disappeared from among us. Of liberty the people enjoy as much as our rulers allot them, and perhaps more would not be better. A bounteous productiveness of soil; a mild, temperate climate; wives bearing "children like to their sires," and security for the offspring-these are the things that the wise man will ask for his fellow citizens in his prayers to the gods.”

Roman Versus American Government: Checks and Balances

American System -- based on balance of powers/functions
Supreme Court
Note: The only legitimate interest is that of the people [Source: by Paul Halsall]

Roman System -- based on balance of interests
2 Consuls + other magistrates
Assembly of Tribes
Directed government and army
Acted as judges
Could issue edicts
Acted as chief priest
Controlled state budget
Could pass laws
Approved/rejected laws
Decided on War
Tribune could veto actions of magistrate
Acted as final court

Basis of power:
possess imperium, the right to rule
need for leadership
Basis of power:
members were richest men in Rome.
Basis of power:
provided most of the soldiers

Limits on power:
one year term
each could veto
Limits on power:
could not control army
needed majority as soldiers.
Limits on power:
Could not suggest laws
often paid as clients by the elite

Concepts of Fides and Virtus

On the Roman concept of fides, which is sort of like Roman filial piety, John Paul Adams of CSUN wrote: “"FIDES" is often (and wrongly) translated 'faith', but it has nothing to do with the word as used by Christians writing in Latin about the Christian virute (St. Paul Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13). For the Romans, FIDES was an essential element in the character of a man of public affairs, and a necessary constituent element of all social and political transactions (perhaps = 'good faith'). FIDES meant 'reliablilty', a sense of trust between two parties if a relationship between them was to exist. FIDES was always reciprocal and mutual, and implied both privileges and responsibilities on both sides. In both public and private life the violation of FIDES was considered a serious matter, with both legal and religious consequences. FIDES, in fact, was one of the first of the 'virtues' to be considered an actual divinity at Rome. The Romans had a saying, "Punica fides" (the reliability of a Carthaginian) which for them represented the highest degree of treachery: the word of a Carthaginian (like Hannibal) was not to be trusted, nor could a Carthaginian be relied on to maintain his political elationships. [Source: John Paul Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), May 24, 2009]

“Some relationships governed by fides, with one member mutually related to other member: 1)Amicus (friend) — Amicus (friend); 2) Pater (father) — Familia (household); 3) Pater (father)— Filius (son); 4) Dominus (master) — Servus (slave); 5) Patronus (patron) — Libertus (freedman); 6) Patronus (patron) — Cliens (client); 7) Respublica (the Roman State) — Socius (an ally of Rome).

Roman Republican government versus US government

“VIRTUS, for the Roman, does not carry the same overtones as the Christian 'virtue'. But like the Greek andreia, VIRTUS has a primary meaning of 'acting like a man' (vir) [cf. the Renaissance virtù ), and for the Romans this meant first and foremost 'acting like a brave man in military matters'. virtus was to be found in the context of 'outstanding deeds' (egregia facinora), and brave deeds were the accomplishments which brought GLORIA ('a reputation'). This GLORIA was attached to two ideas: FAMA ('what people think of you') and dignitas ('one's standing in the community'). The struggle for VIRTUS at Rome was above all a struggle for public office (honos), since it was through high office, to which one was elected by the People, that a man could best show hi smanliness which led to military achievement--which would lead in turn to a reputation and votes. It was the duty of every aristocrat (and would-be aristocrat) to maintain the dignitas which his family had already achieved and to extend it to the greatest possible degree (through higher political office and military victories). This system resulted in a strong built-in impetus in Roman society to engage in military expansion and conquest at all times.

Categories of 'Virtues' of a Statesman according to Augustus; 1) knowing what is appropriate 2) wisdom; 3) prudence; 4) fortitudo; 5) virtus; 6) ability to convince; 7) andreia; 8) bravery; 9) clementia; 10) incorruptibility; 11) justice; 12) justitia; 13) patriotism; 14) piety; 16 ) self-restraint; 17 ) benignitas; 18) pietas

Changing Views of the Roman Model

Andrew Wallace-Hadrill of the University of Reading wrote for the BBC: “A gap of 2,000 years may seem to have put the Romans at a safe distance from our own lives and experience, but modern Europe with its Union is unthinkable without the Roman Empire. It is part of the story of how we came to be what we are. |The Romans are important as a conscious model, for good or ill, to successive generations. Why do they have such a powerful hold on our imaginations? What attracts us to them, or repulses us? What do they have in common with us, and what makes them different? [Source: Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“A century ago, for imperialist Britain (and for other European states with imperial ambitions), the Roman Empire represented a success story. Rome's story of conquest, at least in Europe and around the Mediterranean, was imitated, but never matched, by leaders from Charlemagne to Napoleon. The dream that one could not only conquer, but in so doing create a Pax Romana, a vast area of peace, prosperity and unity of ideas, was a genuine inspiration. |::|

“But the efforts of 20th-century dictators such as Mussolini, peculiarly obsessed with the dream of reviving an empire centred on Rome, left Europe disillusioned with the Roman model. The dream of peace, prosperity and unity survives, but Roman style conquest now seems not the solution but the problem. Centralised control, the suppression of local identities, the imposition of a unified system of beliefs and values - let alone the enslavement of conquered populations, the attribution of sub-human status to a large part of the workforce, and the deprivation of women of political power - all now spell for us not a dream but a nightmare. |::|

Ancient Roman Citizens

Roman military diploma
granting citizenship
Government officials were elected by Roman, citizens Citizens could vote; had rights and responsibilities under a "well administered system of criminal and civil law. Men of both the upper and lower classes could be citizens. Women and slaves were not allowed to be citizens

Citizenship was generally passed down from father to son. The easiest way for non-citizens to become citizens was join the military. After being discharged for 20 years of service soldiers became citizens. The completion of military service provided citizenship not only to the soldier but to his entire family. Even barbarians were recruited with these promises.

Any male regarded as worthy, regardless of ethnic background, could become a Roman citizen. “E Pluibus Unum” , the words featured on all American coins, meant that on any position in the empire was open to suitable candidates regardless of ethnic group or background. Within a fairly short time, the conquered people were made citizens of Rome and given all the rights and privileges that status entailed. Septimius Severus, a North African general became emperor of Rome and served for 18 years. Trajan, one of Rome's greatest emperors was from Spain.

Heyday of the Roman Senate

Starting in the third century B.C., the Senate was the most powerful political body in Rome and it stayed that way for 150 years until Caesar seized control in 48B.C. and established himself as a dictatorial emperor, a trend that continued until Rome fell.

The Senate consisted of hundreds of members who served for life. It was sort of like the House of Lords in the British Parliament and senators were required by law to have a large fortune. "Not unexpectedly," wrote historian Lionel Casson, "they traditionally came from a circumscribed number of famous old families. For centuries this narrow circle of wealthy aristocrats was the establishment, Elections simply determined which among them would fill the higher offices and whose sons would get the lower."

During the third and fourth centuries B.C. politics was a gentlemanly affair. There were also people's assemblies that passed legislation and administered jurisdictions. Later these popular assemblies "fell into disuse" and power was centered in the Senate. [Source: Lionel Casson , Smithsonian]

Senate in the 2nd Century B.C.

Roman senators

Polybius wrote in “History” Book 6: “To the senate belongs, in the first place, the sole care and management of the public money. For all returns that are brought into the treasury, as well as all the payments that are issued from it, are directed by their orders. Nor is it allowed to the quaestors to apply any part of the revenue to particular occasions as they arise, without a decree of the senate; those sums alone excepted. which are expended in the service of the consuls. And even those more general, as well as greatest disbursements, which are employed at the return every five years, in building and repairing the public edifices, are assigned to the censors for that purpose, by the express permission of the senate. To the senate also is referred the cognizance of all the crimes, committed in any part of Italy, that demand a public examination and inquiry: such as treasons, conspiracies, poisonings, and assassinations. [Source: Polybius (c.200-after 118 B.C.), Rome at the End of the Punic Wars, “History” Book 6. From: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 166-193]

“Add to this, that when any controversies arise, either between private men, or any of the cities of Italy, it is the part of the senate to adjust all disputes; to censure those that are deserving of blame: and to yield assistance to those who stand in need of protection and defense. When any embassies are sent out of Italy; either to reconcile contending states; to offer exhortations and advice; or even, as it sometimes happens, to impose commands; to propose conditions of a treaty; or to make a denunciation of war; the care and conduct of all these transactions is entrusted wholly to the senate. When any ambassadors also arrive in Rome, it is the senate likewise that determines how they shall be received and treated, and what answer shall be given to their demands.”

Power of the People Over the Senate in the 2nd Century B.C.

Polybius wrote in “History” Book 6: “In the same manner the senate also, though invested with so great authority, is bound to yield a certain attention to the people, and to act in concert with them in all affairs that are of great importance. With regard especially to those offences that are committed against the state, and which demand a capital punishment, no inquiry can be perfected, nor any judgment carried into execution, unless the people confirm what the senate has before decreed. Nor are the things which more immediately regard the senate itself less subject than the same control. For if a law should at any time be proposed to lessen the received authority of the senators, to detract from their honors and pre-eminence, or even deprive them of a part of their possessions, it belongs wholly to the people to establish or reject it. And even still more, the interposition of a single tribune is sufficient, not only to suspend the deliberations of the senate, but to prevent them also from holding any meeting or assembly. Now the peculiar office of the tribunes is to declare those sentiments that are most pleasing to the people: and principally to promote their interests and designs. And thus the senate, on account of all these reasons, is forced to cultivate the favor and gratify the inclinations of the people. [Source: Polybius (c.200-after 118 B.C.), Rome at the End of the Punic Wars, “History” Book 6. From: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 166-193]


“The people again, on their part, are held in dependence on the senate, both to the particular members, and to the general body. In every part of Italy there are works of various kinds, which are let to farm by the censors, such are the building or repairing of the public edifices, which are almost innumerable; the care of rivers, harbors, mines and lands; every thing, in a word, that falls beneath the dominion of the Romans. In all these things the people are the undertakers: inasmuch as there are scarcely any to be found that are not in some way involved, either in the contracts, or in the management of the works. For some take the farms of the censors at a certain price; others become partners with the first. Some, again, engage themselves as sureties for the farmers; and others, in support also of these sureties, pledge their own fortunes to the state. Now, the supreme direction of all these affairs is placed wholly in the senate.

“The senate has the power to allot a longer time, to lighten the conditions of the agreement, in case that any accident has intervened, or even to release the contractors from their bargain, if the terms should be found impracticable. There are also many other circumstances in which those that are engaged in any of the public works may be either greatly injured or greatly benefited by the senate; since to this body, as we have already observed, all things that belong to these transactions are constantly referred. But there is still another advantage of much greater moment. For from this order, likewise, judges are selected, in almost every accusation of considerable weight, whether it be of a public or private nature. The people, therefore, being by these means held under due subjection and restraint, and doubtful of obtaining that protection, which they foresee that they may at some time want, are always cautious of exciting any opposition to the measures of the senate. Nor are they, on the other hand, less ready to pay obedience to the orders of the consuls; through the dread of that supreme authority, to which the citizens in general, as well as each particular man, are obnoxious in the field.”

Decline of the Roman Senate

In 133 B.C., and the years that followed," Casson wrote, "the situation changed radically. First reformers broke away from the Establishment. Then ambitious figures from outside it...made their way into politics by getting the rank and fill behind them. Reformers and new men not only entered contests for higher office, but succeeded in bypassing the Senate by resuscitating the long-dormant people's assemblies. [Source: Lionel Casson , Smithsonian magazine]

The original republican government with democratic features added in 4th and 5th centuries B.C. slowly disappeared as a strong central government was needed to maintain order in the face of class conflict, slave revolts (135, 75), murders, assassinations, social reforms, and civil war (Caesar vs. Pompey, Caesar’s assassins vs. triumvirates, Octavian vs. Antony).

Caesar Crosses the Rubicon and Becomes Emperor of Rome

Julius Caesar

After Julius Caesar finished subduing Gaul in 51 B.C., he defied the Republican tradition of victorious Roman generals not being allowed to return to Rome with their armies out of fear they would try to overthrow the government, which is exactly what Caesar did.

While Caesar was away in Gaul, one rival Crassus was killed and another rival Pompey became leader. Pompey wielded great power and declared Caesar a public enemy and ordered him to disband his army. Caesar refused. When he moved his army from Gaul into Rome’s formal territory, it was interpreted as a declaration of war against Rome. Caesar reached the border of greater Rome at the Rubicon River. He then he plunged his horse in the water, shouting , “The die is caste.”

By crossing the Rubicon Caesar declared war on the political establishment of his day. For many historians it marked the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire. To this day “crossing the Rubicon” describes a decision from which there is no return. By crossing the Rubicon Caesar gambled that he could not only beat his military rival Pompey but also could also outmaneuver conservative politicians like Cicero and Cato. Some historians say Caesar’s move marked the end of period in which foreign adventures created larger armies and more powerful generals and it was only a matter of time until they threatened the political status quo.

Caesar marched into Rome with his army in and seized control of the government and the treasury and declared himself dictator while Pompey, in command of the Roman navy, fled to Greece. Five years of civil war followed.

Caesar defeated Pompey in a series of land battles that took place throughout the Roman empire over a four years period. After Caesar led a successful campaign in Iberia (Spain), he defeated Pompey in Greece. Pompey fled to Egypt. The Ptolemies refused to provide quarter for a loser and had him executed and cut off his head. This made Caesar the unchallenged leader. Caesar said, “It is more important for the state that I should survive...I have long had my fill of power and glory; but should anything happen to me, Rome will enjoy no peace.”

Book: “Rubicon — The Last Years of the Roman Republic” by Tom Holland (Doubleday, 2004)

Augustus, Emperor

Augistus cameo
Mary Beard wrote in a BBC History online article, “During his 40-year rule, Octavian established the political structure that was to be the basis of Roman imperial government for the next four centuries. Some elements of the old republican system, such as magistracies, survived in name at least. But they were in the gift of the emperor ( princeps in Latin). [Source: Mary Beard, BBC History, BBC, Last Updated March 29, 2011]

He also directly controlled most of the provinces of the Roman world through his subordinates, and he nationalised the army to make it loyal to the state and emperor alone. No longer was it to be possible for generals, like Pompey or Caesar, to enter the political fray with their troops behind them.

There was a good deal of clever spin here. The princeps rebranded himself, getting rid of the name 'Octavian', and the past associations of civil war, and called himself 'Augustus' instead - an invented name which meant something like 'blessed by the gods'. No less important, like many autocrats since, he invested heavily in reshaping the city of Rome with massive building projects advertising his rule, while poets sang the praises of him and the new Rome. He spared no effort promoting his family as a future imperial dynasty.

Augustus was both canny and lucky. When he died in 14 AD, aged well over 70, he was succeeded by his stepson, Tiberius. By then the idea of the 'free republic' was just the romantic pipe-dream of a few nostalgics.

Roman Emperor Worship and Deification

Emperor worship was common in Rome. Starting with Augustus (27 B.C.-14 AD) emperors that considered themselves gods took over the empire. The Roman emperors seemed to believe in their divinity and they demanded that their subjects worship them. Marcellus was honored with a festival. Flaminius was made a priest for three hundred years. Ephesus had a shrine for Serilius Isauricus. Antony and Cleopatra referred to themselves as Dionysus and Osiris and named their children Sun and Moon. Caligula and Nero demanded to be worshiped like gods in their lifetime. And Vespian said on his deathbed "Oh dear, I'm afraid I'm becoming a God."

20120227-Caesars-deification 23.jpg
Caesar's deification
Describing the deification of Emperor Septimius Severus in A.D. 211, the Greek historian Herodian wrote: "It is a Roman custom to give divine status to those emperors who die with heirs to succeed them. This ceremony is called deification. Public mourning, with a mixture of festive and religious ritual, is proclaimed throughout the city, and the body of the dead is buried in the normal way with a costly funeral.

"Then they make an exact wax replica of the man, which they put on a huge ivory bed strewn with gold-threaded coverings, raised high up in the entrance to the palace. This image, in the deathly palace, rests there like a sick man...the whole Senate sitting on the left, dressed in black, while on the right are all women who can claim special honors...This continues for seven days, during each of which doctors came and approach the bed, take a look at the supposed invalid and announce a daily deterioration in his condition.”

“When at last the news is given that he is dead, the end of the bier is raised on the shoulders of the noblest members of Equestrian Order and chosen young Senators, carried along the Sacred Way, and placed in the Forum Romanum...a chorus of children from the noblest and most respected families stands facing a body of women selected on merit. Each group sings hymns and songs.”

“After this the bier is raised and carried outside the city walls to a square structure filled with firewood and "covered with golden garments, ivory decorations and rich pictures." On top of the structure are five more structures that are progressively smaller. “The whole thing was often five or six stories tall.”

"When the bier has been taken to the second story and put inside, aromatic herbs and incense of every kind produced on earth, together with flowers, grasses and juices collected for their smell, and brought and poured in heaps...When the pile of aromatic material is very high and the whole space filled...The whole equestrian Order rides round...Chariots also circle in the same formation, the charioteers dressed in purple and carrying images with the masks of famous Roman generals and emperors."

"The heir to the throne takes a brand and sets it to every building . All the spectators crowd in and add to the flame. Everything is very easily and readily consumed...From the highest and smallest eagle is released and carried up into the sky with the flames. The Romans believe the bird bears the soul of the emperor from earth to heaven. Thereafter the dead emperor is worshipped with the rest of the gods."

Claudius’s Discourse in the Senate

20120227-774px-Proclaiming Claudius emperor.png
Proclaiming Claudius emperor by Alma- Tadema
Claudius (ruled 41 to 54 A.D.), the third successor of Augustus had a reputation as a pedantic and long-winded individual. He was not without abilities as a ruler, however, and did much to equalize the condition of the Italians and the Provincials. The following speech of his in the Senate (preserved on an inscription) illustrates at once the nature of an imperial harangue before the Conscript Fathers (the members of the Senate), the interruptions that seem to have been allowed even in the speech of an Emperor, the broad personalities in which Claudius indulged, and his liberal policy withal, especially to the Gauls. A version of the speech is also reported by Tacitus. [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. 186-188]

“Inscription: Claudius: "It is surely an innovation of the divine Augustus, my great-uncle, and of Tiberius Caesar, my uncle, to desire that particularly the flower of the colonies and of the municipal towns, that is to say, all those that contain men of breeding and wealth, should be admitted to this assembly." [Interruption, seemingly by a senator]: "How now? Is not an Italian senator to be preferred to a provincial senator!?"

Claudius said in A.D. 48: "I will soon explain this point to you, when I submit that part of my acts which I performed as censor, but I do not conceive it needful to repel even the provincials who can do honor to the Senate House. Here is this splendid and powerful colony of Vienna [Davis: modern Vienne in the South of France]; is it so long since it sent to us senators? From that colony comes Lucius Vestinus, one of the glories of the equestrian order, my personal friend, whom I keep close to myself for the management of my private affairs. Let his sons be suffered — I pray you — to become priests of the lowest rank, while waiting until, with the lapse of years, they can follow the advancement of their dignity. As for that robber, Valerius Asiaticus from Vienna, I will pass over his hateful name. For I detest that hero of the gymnasium, who brought the consulship into his family before even his colony had obtained the full rights of Roman citizenship. I could say as much of his brother, stamped as unworthy by this unlucky relationship, and incapable henceforth of being a useful member of your body." [Source: “Claudius (b. 10 B.C., r. 41 A.D. - d.54 A.D.).: A Discourse in the Senate, c. 48 A.D. 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. 186-188,

[Interrupting shout]: "Here now, Tiberius Caesar Germanicus! It's time to let the Conscript Fathers understand what your talk is driving at — already you've reached the very limits of Narbonnese Gaul!"

“Claudius: "All these young men of rank, on whom I cast my glance, you surely do not regret to see among the number of the senators; any more than Persicus, that most high-born gentleman and my friend, is ashamed when he meets upon the images of his ancestors the name Allobrogius. And if such is your thought, what would you desire more? Do I have to point it out to you? Even the territory which is located beyond the province of Gallia Narbonnensis, has it not already sent you senators? For surely we have no regrets in going clear up to Lugdunum [Davis: Modern Lyons in France] for the members of our order. Assuredly, Conscript Fathers, it is not without some hesitation that I cross the limits of the provinces which are well known and familiar to you, but the moment is come when I must plead openly the cause of Further Gaul. It will be objected that Gaul sustained a war against the divine Julius for ten years. But let there be opposed to this the memory of a hundred years of steadfast fidelity, and a loyalty put to the proof in many trying circumstances. My father, Drusus, was able to force Germany to submit, because behind him reigned a profound peace assured by the tranquillity of the Gauls. And note well, that at the moment he was summoned to that war, he was busy instituting the census in Gaul, a new institution among them, and contrary to their customs. And how difficult and perilous to us is this business of the census, although all we require is that our public resources should be known, we have learned by all too much experience."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; 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, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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