Roman History

History of Rome #

Roman Emperors #

Julius Caesar #

Some historians claim Julius could, by today’s standards, be tried as a war criminal. His brutal total massacre of the Germanic tribes in 55 BC in the Netherlands constitutes genocide as he ordered his soldiers to kill all men, women and children.

After over running most of Northern Europe including Gaul, Caesar was lauded as one of Rome’s greatest conquering Generals. However, to return to Rome and claim his accolades he was expected to give up the command of his army. Any General crossing the Rubicon while in command of his army was in effect declaring war on the Republic of Rome.

In defiance, on the 10th of January, 49 BC, by leading his army across the Rubicon Caesar passed “the point of no return”.

With Crassus having been defeated by the Persians in 56, BC, the Senate authorised Pompey to defend the Republic. Pompey’s forces were no match for the well-trained soldiers led by Caesar, so he fled to Egypt with Caesar close behind. After Pompey’s defeat’, Caesar had a dalliance with Cleopatra producing a son a potential heir.

When a victorious Caesar returned to Rome it was celebrated by a major Triumph.

Cicero was one of many who raised ominous warnings about the rise and rise of Caesar. Cicero was a prominent and prolific conservative lawyer, politician and orator. He cautioned about the threat of the destruction of the Republic to no avail. By 44 BC, Romans celebrated Caesar’s birthday with honours. Caesar became more and more authoritarian, tyrannical and imperious. He longed to be crowned as a King for life.

It was this phenomenon that motivated a group of senators to assassinate him in the Rotunda in order to restore the Republic and end the despotic rise of a dictator. Cicero justified the murder and congratulated the Senators. It was only the persuasive ploys of his faithful lieutenant, Mark Antony who rescued Caesar’s reputation forcing Cassius, Brutus and other putative “conspirators” to flee Rome for their patriotic lives.

Mark Antony’s funeral speech is one of the greatest feats in turning the moods of a crowd of people illustrating how fickle and easily manipulated the masses can be.

Caesar was one of the first to have his image stamped on coins to celebrate his power – stamped with; “dictator for life”. It was followed by the Ides of March coin, depicting the 23 daggers used to kill Caesar together with a cap of liberty.

In-breeding was always the privilege of royalty - and look what happened to them.

The Roman Empire lasted some 500+ years giving us some salutary lessons on enduring cohesion and good governance. It gave us the model of integrating diverse people through tolerance and co-opting talent from across the empire.

Even people at the periphery of the empire felt they were at the heart of the empire. Most young men from conquered territories were conscripted into the army to serve 25 years after which they became Roman citizens with lifelong pensions.

The Emperor Caracella in 212 made all free men citizens, simply so he could broaden the tax base.

The Roman Empire eventually became composed of an enormously diverse base of people from different racial and ethnic groups. They developed a system of naturalisation that allowed citizens to maintain dual allegiance to their original tribe or ancestral place – Spain or Britain.

The Roman Empire succeeded because it was ethnically heterogeneous – not homogeneous. Greece had a different approach. Queen Isabella of Spain used the Inquisition to homogenise the Iberian peninsula and it began its slow descent.

Some of the most interesting people I meet are miscegenous.

“People totally like Brutus
As much as they like Caesar
And when did it become okay
For one person
To become the boss of everybody?
Because that’s not what Rome is about


Augustus Caesar #

reigned 27BC – 14 CE

Good leadership, is rule by the brave, wise and benevolent, not those reliant on arms fearfully obedient to capricious, retributive or providential gods. Gods can be bought off with sacrifices, as giants can be with bribes.

Socrates questions whether life needs noble lies. To him virtue equals knowledge, which leads to deeper truth and understanding. Virtue leads to justice.

Augustus was born Gaius Octavius, the grandnephew of Julius Caesar. He took the extended name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus in 44 BC after Caesar’s assassination. Though in English texts, he was often referred to simply as Octavian.

Then in 31 BC, he defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra to gain control over the empire. Finally in 27 BC, when he was named emperor, he was given the honorary title Augustus.

August, means majestic and inspires reverence or admiration. The word can also take the form of an adverb (augustly) and a noun (augustness).

August also relates to augury, the act of divination (telling the future), particularly by the behavior of birds and animals and the examination of their entrails and other parts.

His legacy is conflicted, fairly well regarded by some, but realistically, the first and greatest pragmatic, enlightened despot who dismantled the Republic and consolidated dynastic unaccountable authoritarianism.

Though a sickly man with many near death experiences, his life-long strong arm, henchman, Marcus Agrippa, propped up his leadership, giving Augustus, the appearance of an overpowering dictator. Also, renown for the dark arts of ancient propaganda and Machiavellian power machinations to seize absolute power. Like Trump he was a deal maker; most ended up, through duplicity, to his advantage. He betrayed both Lepidus and Antony by not honouring his side of the bargain.

Antony was denounced as ”an enemy of the people”, Cicero was executed, Ovid banished, while Horace was offered sanction if he wrote propaganda for Augustus’ cause.

Virgil composed the Aeneid (19 BC). This Latin epic casts a patriotic spell over its audience in its evocation of the foundation of Rome from the ashes of Troy to the glory of the Augustan Age. Unlike his poetic successor, however, Virgil is alert to literary censorship under the reign of Augustus (63 BC-AD 14), Rome’s first emperor, and carefully navigates its perilous terrain.

Cicero, 55 BC, the great advisor to Augustus Caesar advised:

“…the arrogance of officialdom need to be tempered and controlled,….

To raise money, over 2000 wealthy families were accused of treason, declared enemies of the state, assassinated, their lands, wealth and other assets confiscated for the state – a policy known as proscription.

More positive civic reform, statecraft legacies include: ending nepotism by appointing civil servants on merit, eliminating corruption, establishing a professional army loyal to the empire, rather than their commanders, criminalised adultery – for others – not his cohort.

When his messy family tree, as a result of divorces and forced marriages, died out, he simply named his successor.

Tiberius (14 – 37 CE) #

His family had sided with Antony, so his career progression was carefully plotted by his mother, Livia, who groomed him for succession, when Augustus’s two heirs died young.

Tiberius wielded immense power, developing a morbid lust for capriciously seeing people suffer through sadistic torture. When his mother attempted to interfere in his running of the state, he had her assassinated, as he did to many others suspected of treason. Anyone opposing him was simply called a “Public Enemy”.

He acquired a reputation of later followed by Stalin of elimination all opponents including Agrippa.

Caligula (little boot) #

(37–41 CE)

A Blueblood with lines back to Augustus, became Emperor at 24, but killed at 28. Ruled through fear – “Let them hate me; as long as they fear me”.

He was cunning, cruel and perverse, infamous for making his victims suffer. He especially loved to humiliate the Senators, by inviting their wives to banquets, where he would choose the ones he liked, force himself on them.

When he ran short of money, he too simply accused wealthy families of treason, have them exiled or killed and seize their estates.

After Caligula was assassinated, the Praetorian Guard ringleader of the conspiracy, Tribune Cassius Chaerea was arrested and condemned to death.

His request to die by his own sword was granted. Cassius can be viewed both as a traitor and hero. He betrayed his oath to protect the Emperor but put an end to a reign of tyranny!

Claudius (41–54 CE) #

Known for feasting and turning the court into brothels.

Nero (54–68 CE) #

Educated in Rome where he studied a philosophy with Seneca that blended Stoicism with neo-Pythagoreanism.

Seneca, born in Cordoba, began his career in law and politics in about A.D. 31, serving as consul in 57. He fell afoul of the first of 3 emperors, Caligula. Caligula’s sister, Livilla, suffered exile under Claudius on a charge of adultery with Seneca who was sent to Corsica for his punishment. Helped by Claudius’ last wife Agrippina the Younger, he overcame Corsican exile to serve as advisor of the last of the Julio-Claudians, from 54-62 A.D.

He suffered exile for a supposed liaison with Livilla, mockery for his pursuit of wealth, and the scorn heaped on hypocrites for condemning tyranny, yet being a tyrannodidaskalos - tyrant teacher

He became a learned stoic tutor to the unpredictable Emperor Nero. At the whim of the paranoid tyrant, Nero, who suspected Seneca of plotting to kill him, like Socrates, Seneca, committed suicide.

Domitian (81–96 CE) #

Juvenal’s family was well-to-do and that he became an officer in the army as a first step to a career in the administrative service of the emperor Domitian but failed to obtain promotion and grew embittered. He wrote a satire declaring that court favourites had undue influence in the promotion of officers, and for this he was banished to Aswān, in Egypt—and his property was confiscated. In 96, after Domitian’s assassination, Juvenal returned to Rome; but, without money or a career, he was reduced to living as a “client” on the grudging charity of the rich

Trajan (98–117 CE) #

Considered one of the best – Optimum Princip – Maximus. Born in North Africa, Trajan was appointed a Patrician’s Consul. He later promised, if appointed Emperor, not to kill any senators.

He expanded the empire and instituted many reforms.

Domitian killed in his palace by conspirators.

Hadrian (117–138 CE) #

Hadrian (l. 78-138 CE) was emperor of Rome (r. 117-138 CE) and is recognized as the third of the Five Good Emperors (Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius) who ruled justly. His reign marked the height of the Roman Empire, usually given as c. 117 CE, and provided a firm foundation for his successor.

Born Publius Aelius Hadrianus, in Italica (modern Spain), Hadrian is best known for his literary pursuits, his substantial building projects throughout the Roman Empire, and, especially, Hadrian’s Wall in northern Britain. He is also remembered for his love affair with the Bithynian youth Antinous (l. c. 110-130 CE) whom he deified after the young man’s death, resulting in the popular cult of Antinous which, early on, rivaled Christianity. World History Encyclopedia

Antoninus Pius #

138 to 161.

One of the Five Good Emperors from the Nerva–Antonine dynasty. Born into a senatorial family, Antoninus held various offices during the reign of Emperor Hadrian.

Marcus Aurelius #

(161–180 CE)