When Did the Roman Republic Become an Empire?

Abstract

This essay aims to explore one of the most attractive and oft-examined events in the history of Western Europe, namely the transition between the late Roman Republic and the early Empire, but from a wider perspective than that by which it is most frequently investigated. Rather than attempting to look at this period through the prism of military and political history exclusively, this essay will attempt to do so with reference to wider cultural indicators in addition to that previously mentioned. This piece concludes that this question is rather more complicated than conventional wisdom, and much earlier study, dictates, and that further and wider research is necessary in order for historians truly to appreciate the complexity of the issue at hand.

Introduction

How do we define political change?

Political change can be both evolutionary and revolutionary. The former is accepted to be a slower and less dramatic transition of prevailing systems of government, or the makeup of institutions and bodies; the latter is held to be a dramatic and potentially tumultuous upheaval, one which creates a definite and perceptible and rapid change in the political life of a nation or community. There is also the implication that the latter concerns a defined time period.

Most political revolutions – distinct here from socio-economic changes, such as the Industrial Revolution – have a distinct and well-known time period with which they are associated: The Bolshevik Revolution occupies a certain part of 1917 and later Russian history; the French Revolution will forever be associated with the period between the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and Napoleon’s appointment as First Consul a decade later. This study investigates whether a similarly rigid interpretation can apply to the veritable Roman Revolution which created an empire.

How can we define the term Empire?

Empires can, in one sense, be defined in terms of military and macro-political matters: An empire is where one state or nation holds hegemony over territory which used to be foreign; this can be brought about through military conquest. In this way nations that may not have emperors as their titular heads of state can be empires; or at the very least, they can be ‘imperial’. Athens was one such empire. Republican Rome can be spoken of in the same terms (indeed, the Greek historian Polybius does so).

Therefore, another definition is needed. This definition is more micro-political; it holds that for Rome in particular to be classified as an empire, it must be headed – de facto or de jure – by a single person, one who latter-day historians term an emperor. But even then this definition is unsatisfactory. There are other factors – cultural, literary and so on. To include these vital indicators when examining this period is the aspiration of this essay.

This project will pose two central and over-arching questions in order successfully to assess the titular enquiry. First, at what point according to the above did the Roman way of doing things become imperial? And secondly, when was there the requisite cultural shift from the Republican to the Imperial era?

***

Essay

While it is attractive to trace the transition to Empire to the politics of the Principate, there are other factors, such as literature at the beginning of Empire and later Roman historical writing, which can be examined in pursuit of an answer to this question.

In a superficial analysis, continuity as well as change can be observed in the continuation of political offices such as tribune (which became a basis of the authority of Augustus in tribunicia potestas)[1] and the imperial function ascribed to the position of censor; but that methodology overlooks many other factors. This study aspires to go further.

I: The literary evidence

Juvenal

An additional perspective can be gained from considering the culture of the early Principate. This encompassed such things as Juvenal’s Imperial nostalgia for the days of the Republic and the old status of Rome; in his writing he harked back to the time when Rome was a city state controlling territory, rather than the cosmopolitan centre of a large Mediterranean Empire. This nostalgia, clearly permeating his Satires, demonstrates that something has indeed changed in Rome by the late 1st century AD, the time when he was active as a poet. Like the Old Oligarch of Athens,[2] Juevenal was a social snob as well as a reactionary; those whom he saw as upstarts – freedmen, educated women[3] – were bitterly criticised in his writings.

An introduction to Virgil

Virgil

Added to this is the evidence of Virgil, who in his Aeneid replaces the parochial ‘Romulus and Remus’ tale of the foundation of the city of Rome with an origin story worthy of a great empire. For him, the agent of Roman foundation would no longer be two obscure boys suckled by a she-wolf; the new Rome required a tale of Homeric heroism. The argument is that this was intentional and reflected a deliberate fostering of an ‘imperial’ identity for Rome and her Empire. The writings of Virgil are useful in determining the nature of Roman society during his lifetime. As a friend of Augustus, it is not unreasonable to suggest a degree of political involvement might have influenced his works; there has also been the suggestion, advanced by scholars such as William Charles Korfmacher, that Virgil was an Augustan ‘spokesman’ of sorts.[4] In the Aeneid, as mentioned previously, the sentiment is that of appropriate national origin. In Poetry and Politics in the Age of Augustus, the authors write that: ‘After 20 years of turmoil, Augustus sought to restore the idealised past and to emphasise the continuity of the Roman race. The poem which above all fulfils Augustus’ wish is The Aeneid’.[5]

The Aeneid

In the epic Virgil takes inspiration from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and produces a tale of Rome’s foundation that can accurately echo its position in the world and the new-found imperial nature to its politics. Jack Griffin wrote in his introduction to Virgil that Aeneas was more than a ‘suitable hero’ for the tale:

He was in addition, the only one of the heroes who linked the mythology of Greece with the one great myth produced and valued by the Romans: the myth of Rome herself.[6]

In the evident links to Greek culture, the story of Aeneas simultaneously implies two contrasting views of Roman society in the time of Virgil. The first is that, as a conscious imitation of the Greek epic, the poem is positioned in a way which makes Homeric legend antecedent to the foundation of Rome; and in this Rome is presented as all the greater, an imperial city with a truly historic pedigree – thus demonstrating the fundamental cultural shift which occurred upon the assumption of power of Augustus. This assessment of Empire is attractive for scholars because it gives the appearance of a cultural demarcation between the older age and the new; in other words, it allows them to write that at this time the Republic had ended and the Empire had well and truly began. Culturally, expressions of dominance such as this could be seen to indicate a more profound shift in the Roman psyche, especially among the governing and literary classes.

The second interpretation, however, holds that this mimicry of a more ancient tradition does the opposite of that which was posited above. It states, in effect, that the notion of the Aeneid heralding the beginning of a proud imperial culture ignores the obvious inspiration drawn from other societies. A groundbreaking new empire, the suggestion holds, would be unlikely to seek to copy its cultural traditions. Virgil’s invocation of Homer, therefore, represents not a show of strength and cultural independence but an admission of cultural weakness; the empire – at this date, anyway – is simply not strong enough in its own identity to require – or even create – an entirely unique imperial culture.

Other scholars take issue with this analysis. Since Homer was the bedrock of literature for Greek as well as Roman culture, they suggest, the latter interpretation does not stand up. Just as Roman art was built upon Greek foundations – and many a statute, temple and relief survives to testify to that – it is not surprising, or inherently ‘weak’, for Roman literature to derive the same influence from a culture which came before.

So says the Roman rhetorician Quintilian of Virgil’s own work:

As among Greek authors Homer provided us with the most auspicious opening, so will Virgil among our own. For of all epic poets, Greek or Roman, he, without doubt, most nearly approaches to Homer.[7]

Virgil’s political significance

In Rome: the Augustan Age, Kitty Chisholm and John Ferguson write that the work: ‘Represent[s] the preordained and glorious unfolding of Rome’s history’.[8] In the poem, Virgil makes reference to one ‘Caesar’ who will rule Rome, ‘whose Empire / Shall reach the ocean’s limits, whose fame shall end in the stars’.[9] While this might be seen as merely praise for a patron and a friend (and there is still some debate as to whether the ‘Caesar’ as depicted in the poem is Augustus or his adopted uncle, Gaius Julius Caesar), there are undertones of a deeper and greater political knowledge which suffuse the verse.

Virgil’s use of the possessive when describing the empire in question adds to the sense of Augustus’ individual control, and his prominent suggestion of personal power and political recognition furthers the idea that Augustus was more than just a charismatic or successful general; many Romans had held that title or position in the course of Rome’s history. In this analysis Augustus was, and is portrayed to be, unique.

In this respect it represents a break from some traditional Roman habits, such as the giving up of power after achieving political or military success. Eminent Romans in the classic Republican model, such as Scipio Africanus, who retired from political life after his triumphant military campaigns, did not agitate for national leadership – and they did not have possession, or control, of the nation ascribed to them.

Even Sulla, who fought a bloody civil war with Marius in the late Republican era, retired to his farm after achieving supreme power. For some, especially traditionalists such as Juvenal, this was simply the Roman way.

In his panegyric to Augustus, Virgil demonstrates a different style of literary portrayal of a leading Roman; it is one that, if replicated, would represent a shift in wider political attitudes.

Suetonius

In Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesars, the writer sets out his historical position from the outset. In his writing, he identifies the ‘Caesars’, eleven of whom are now considered to be emperors, as the preeminent men of their times. In this act of classification the writer signals that, for him, there had been a direct change to the paradigm of Republican Rome; rather than their being mere upstanding citizens, these particular individuals are worth chronicling as they were de facto national leaders. The men in question held actual political power, and that justified Suetonius’ writerly attention. His gossipy writings about these men matter great deal because they were figures of tremendous practical power in their own times. These individuals dominated the state, exercising supreme authority. The assumption is that their lives are worth exploring because the nature of the man at the top is reflected in the nature of government. However, the inclusion of Julius Caesar[10] in this catalogue of those whom Suetonius considered to have held imperial power is interesting. It suggests that the gulf between Augustus and his predecessor was not so great as to define their power in different ways – perhaps signalling that the nominal ‘end’ of the Republic (circa 20 BC) did not herald as much change as is sometimes stated.

Polybius

Similarly, Polybius, writing his Histories, chose Rome for his subject because of its political importance, even to a Greek such as him. Tellingly, in his description of Roman military campaigns as far back as the Punic wars, his words, rendered into English, refer to Rome as an ‘Empire’,[11] This demonstrates a political as well as a literary state of cognitive dissonance. Rome was a Republic with an Empire – a state of affairs that seems to be a historical oddity at first glance; but another example is France after the abdication of Napoleon III; and Genoa, Venice and Ancient Athens are also counted in this company.

II: A political approach to the debate

The problem of pith

When assessing the nature of a period of political transition – especially an event such as this, one which could be considered a fulcrum of history around which the western hemisphere pivots – there are multiple political interpretations of when the Republic ended and the Empire began. One could be pithy like Stewart Perowne and assert, as he did in The Death of the Roman Republic, that the Empire began in the aftermath of Octavian’s victory at Actium. He wrote of the death of Cleopatra VII:

She was thirty-nine years of age, had been queen for twenty-two, and Antony’s partner for fourteen. Antony was fifty-three. They were buried together, and with them was buried the Roman Republic.[12]

While this explanation is appealing in its simplicity and sense of historical drama, it does not satisfy the desire for a more nuanced approach. Dramatic declarations of this kind do not explain the whole story, and leave out some of the more interesting details of the earliest times of what we arbitrarily call the Empire. For example, even before the ascent of Augustus, the advent of two triumvirates, it could be suggested, marked the end of the old Republican way of doing things (it is difficult to consider Antony a champion of the Republic). And even earlier than that, the aforementioned war between Sulla and Marius for control of the Roman world represent an entirely different means of government to that which is laid down in the pages of Livy.

Instances of continuity

Augustus von Prima Porta (20-17 v. Chr.), aus der Villa Livia in Prima Porta, 1863

It can be stated that the idea of a Principate, however, and the political state of affairs therein, was far from novel at the time of Octavian’s coming to power as Augustus. Politically, it can be said, there was not a great deal of definite change – certainly at first. Augustus maintained the Senate (a body which was recognised as the centre of political power in the Republic by Polybius)[13] as well as the offices of state. The change that did occur was often carried out in other ways. H. H. Scullard suggests that popular support helped to establish and cement Augustus’ power. He writes: ‘[A]t the elections [for consul] for 19 they insisted on keeping a place vacant for Augustus’.[14] This took place after he refused the unlimited exercise of high office which was offered to him by the Senate in 23 AD, and seems to demonstrate some political continuity. This, it is argued, is not very different to some practises of the old Republic; such dramatic popular support can be categorised in the same vein as the public adoration for particularly popular consuls and tribunes. In addition to this, there is the question of terminology; generals, after all, had directed their soldiers to declare loyalty to them before, and had the right to appoint legates – Pompey, supposedly an avowed Republican, certainly did – and the word imperator, later unambiguously associated with the office of head of state (in the derivative English word ‘Emperor’), was a fairly common one: it was in use for a good deal of generals in the late Republican era.

A case study in Caligula

As the historian Anthony A. Barrett writes in Caligula: The Corruption of Power, after the assassination of his titular subject:

[T]he senators could enjoy a brief moment of euphoria. Once again, for the first time in living memory they felt about to be called upon to play the great role that had been theirs during the Republic, answerable in a vague sense to the Roman people, but at the whim and mercy of no single individual.[15]

This analysis is notable in three major ways, not least in Barrett’s telling use of ‘brief’. The first concerns the fact that such a hope did – even if briefly – flower within the minds and hearts of those whose antecedents had made up the government of Republican Rome. Suetonius has it that ‘most senators were … bent on restoring the Republic’.[16] The composite picture, then, is that the senators were both inclined towards the Republican way of doing things and willing to undertake political actions to once again bring it about. The fact that they then did not succeed in these goals – the second observation – allows us to look at the beginning of an institutional backing for an imperial system; the Praetorian Guard, having discovered Claudius cowering behind a palace curtain,[17] declared him emperor. In doing so they demonstrated that by 41 AD there was a sense of imperial succession, and that there was a military mechanism involved – the soldiers simply overruled the senators. Both of these were ‘historical’ factors: the former was a political one and the latter was military in origin.

Togatus with head of emperor Claudius. The head does not belong to the statue. Marble. Inv. No. 2221. Rome, Vatican Museums, Chiaramonti Museum, New wing.

The third inference which can be extricated from this instance is a cultural one: while the aforementioned ideas of Republicanism did exist – succeeding Virgil’s own imperial shift, for example – they were not strong enough, persistent enough and popular enough to gain traction beyond the reaches of the pre-imperial elite. The people of Rome demanded justice for Caligula, and it was they who gave Claudius pitying glances as he was carried from the city to the nearby Praetorian camp.[18] Ranged against both popular and military will, the senators and their now historical ideals had no chance of survival.

The “Year of the Four Emperors” and the end of continuity

By the “Year of the Four Emperors” in 68-9 AD, it is apparent that Rome had undergone a major shift in its politics. The generals who competed for power in that year were categorically different to the martial men who sought to defeat each other in the era of the late Republic. Unlike Caesar and Pompey, or Brutus, or Mark Antony and Octavian, there is no question that those in competition were fighting for a particular and properly defined post or office. It was no longer a battle of ideas solidified in steel – as, arguably, Caesar and Brutus’ war can be seen.

When Vitellius, Galba, Otho and Vespasian fought for the Empire, they were fighting for the throne directly; the winner would not continue with the Julio-Claudian pretence of Republic. Robert Graves, in his I, Claudius trilogy, maintains the conceit that Claudius was a reluctant emperor, compelled by the forces of political circumstance to occupy the gilded throne, rather than to restore the Republic he professes to admire. Fantastical as this is, it is impossible to imagine the same being said of later Emperors, Nero or Vespasian’s successors, such as the autocratic but efficient Domitian.[19] In this, we can see the fundamental shift in nature of Rome, even from the politically unstable end days of the Republic to an imperial system.

In Kenneth Wellesley’s Year of the Four Emperors, the author makes an allusion to there being a change in the make-up of the Senate. He suggests that this key institution, one of the fundamental tenements of Rome during the Republican era had, by this time, changed. ‘Tradition … compelled the Emperor to work in harness with the Senate’, certainly, but this very Senate had altered its composition. At this point, he writes, it was composed ‘less and less of the great families of the Republic and more and more of men advanced by his predecessors and himself according to the rough justice of apparent acceptability or real performance.’[20] The deployment of patronage is another imperial trait, as well as the permanence of imperial appointments. This marks a definite change to the previous state of affairs, where powerful families, such as the Cornelii and the Fabii, for example, held seats in the Senate and tended to hold offices like the consulship. That this old order, extant for many centuries, could be overthrown and changed speaks volumes about both the power of the emperor and the implicit change that must have occurred in order for him to have such power.

There is also an interesting side note on the matter of administration. When one considers bureaucracy – and the imperial bureaucracy in particular – the implication is that such an edifice must be staffed by administrators. Here, I think, this is in evidence. The Emperor – and his predecessors, it must not be forgotten – identified those with a genuine talent for administration, and elevated them to the Senate.

Finally, it is still interesting to see the sop to tradition which Wellesley invokes. The Emperor is still compelled to work with the Senate as a matter of course; it is simply the Roman thing to do. In an era of true autocracy there would be no need to condescend to listen to the Senate. Perhaps this is not the point – if we are looking for an instance when the emperor assumed almost total power, at least – where this particular type of imperial set up became the norm.

Gwyn Morgan’s book, 69 AD: The Year of Four Emperors, is also interesting in this regard. The author makes an interesting distinction between the Principate and the time at hand – though he does so in the process of making another point, one about the military nature of imperial support: ‘As for the legionaries’ supposed lack of devotion to Rome, the troops expressed their allegiance in much the same way in the Republic and Principate’.[21] This suggestion – that the era of the Principate had ended by 69 AD – is an interesting one which merits analysis in more detail.

The complexity when assessing earlier emperors

On a fundamental level, it could very easily be argued by some that the Principate ended at the expiry of the last Julio-Claudian emperor; and of course the suicide of Nero was the prime force behind the turmoil and tragedy of Year of the Four Emperors. But that seems rather superficial, and Nero’s behaviour – and indeed that of Caligula and even Tiberius – had been widely condemned by his contemporaries, and has been criticised by historians, as tyrannical and domineering. This surely cannot represent the visage of a limited imperium – perhaps the Principate as a stage of political transition, rather than one which was entirely distinct from Republican connotations and the more direct rule of the later Dominate – one in which the pretence of senatorial and consular government was of immense importance to its ‘First Citizens’. Nevertheless, the office of consul continued to be an important part of the still extant cursus honorum, which had survived from the earliest years of the Republic.

Matters linguistic

The last emperor to use the term Princeps was Diocletian, who ended the nominal Principate in 284 AD. This linguistic difficulty – which also feeds into a discussion about the de facto power of emperors – is largely unreflective of the issues of the time, and requires further clarification.

VespasianIn addition to that, Morgan also agrees with the aforementioned assessment of the military situation. Certainly, the declarations of loyalty remain the same – often using the same word: imperator – but there is a change there, and at a more fundamental level. For it does not matter to whom the soldiers pledge their loyalty if that loyalty is not then put to the test. And for the men under the command of Vitellius, Galba, Otho and Vespasian, it was.

What happened next links in to an earlier point. The internecine and martial tendencies of Rome’s generals were nothing new, and neither was the way in which her soldiers declared loyalty; the difference here lies in the implicit point Morgan makes about the changing times begetting different political climates. In the old Republic – especially its later period – generals would fight for position but not imperium. Then came the Principate, where an imperial structure existed, but it was shrouded in euphemism and frequent bows to tradition – similar to the Senatorial deference described by Wellesley – which concealed to some extent the imperial fashion in which events proceeded. Later on, generals actively fought for the throne. In this, they utilised the continuity of soldiers’ loyalty, but used the soldiers themselves in a very different fashion.

The personal as political

It is also interesting to consider the personal actions of emperors, and how they would have been received if perpetrated in the days of the Republic. In addition to the growth in imperial prerogative – such as Augustus’ adoption of the post of censor to guard public morals – Suetonius, for example, propagates such depraved images of Tiberius[22] and Caligula that they are almost impossible to believe. But if these are true, they would demonstrate a hugely expanded power residing with those who led the Empire. Tales of depravity do not a tyrant make, of course, but it is an interesting cultural touchstone by which we can distinguish the wielders of tremendous power. As in Acton’s famous remark, ‘[p]ower tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.’[23]

III: A conclusion

There seem to have been a series of changes which took place between the days we categorise as the Republic and those we see as constituting the Roman Empire.  It is therefore possible to answer the questions posed at the beginning of this study.

  1. At what point according to the above did the Roman way of doing things become imperial?

The first instance of change is that of politics, and while there are arguments which hold that there were strong elements of continuity in the early years of the Augustan Empire, it is certainly true that all pretence of Republicanism had fallen away by the Year of the Four Emperors in 68-9 AD, in which it was very clear what the competing generals were fighting for; they battled for no less than the imperial throne. The tyranny of Nero and ‘Caligula’s … infamy’,[24] it is suggested, would not have occurred in the situation of old Rome, with a Senate strong enough to combat their inherited power and an artistic class sufficiently free to act collectively as chroniclers rather than hagiographers.

We can therefore attempt to answer the second question.

  1. When was there the requisite cultural shift from the Republican to the Imperial era?

There are also interesting cultural aspects to the question. As Michael Crawford writes in The Roman Republic:

[T]he late Republic was more than a period of political innovation, with all its social and economic consequences; it was also a period of tremendous cultural advance.[25]

The changes in the cultural life of Rome demonstrate the difference between the new Empire and the old Republic; and they can be seen through the evident nostalgia of writers such as Juvenal, as well as the national redefining which poets such as Virgil orchestrated to give Rome an extra element of imperial lustre. There remained a sense of continuity in the cultural life of Rome, however, and this was demonstrated in the continuing veneration of Homer. One cannot therefore conclude that literary and cultural tradition was entirely altered by the political situation as it arose in the late Republic and early Empire; there was a divergence, but aspects of the cultural and political assumptions of the Republican period were nurtured among the elites, exemplified by Juvenal, the senators who gathered after the death of Caligula and Robert Graves’ conception of Claudius.

The style of literature that was being produced did contain a greater number of pretentions to, and affectations of, imperial pomp and circumstance. Virgil’s poetry yearned for a new imperial realm, but also harked back a strongly to the glories of the Greek civilisation (Aeneas was, after all, a Trojan warrior from the Iliad of Homer).[26] Juvenal was nostalgic for what he perceived to be the old way of doing things, but such is the lot of reactionaries; they forever chase the idea of a past era which probably never existed at all.

In totality

On political matters we can be a little more concrete in our judgements. Augustus was an emperor but – apart from a few exceptions, such as his assumption of the role of censor, for example – he did not rule like one. Soon his successors learnt to do so, and began fighting for the privilege. By 69 AD, more than fifty years after the death of Augustus, it had become apparent that the old order was gone, and, furthermore, that it was not coming back.

***

Evaluation

One of the major difficulties in undertaking a work such as this is the over-dependence on certain primary sources. The fact that much contemporary Roman writing has not survived leaves later historians – those I have cited, and indeed myself – reliant on an obviously and inalterably partial picture. The works of Tacitus are, according to one legend, only supposed to have survived antiquity because of the actions of an Emperor who bore the same familial name; incorrectly thinking the great historian his ancestor, the Emperor Tacitus had copies of his writings placed in libraries across the empire, potentially saving the historian’s writings for posterity in the process.[27] Another fundamental issue which hampered the literary side of things is my own lack of facility with the Latin language. Not being proficient in that ancient tongue, I was entirely dependent on English-language translations of the major works: This could potentially have led to discrepancies appearing in accounts of contemporaries; and it does to some extent hamper my ability to engage with writers such as Virgil through the medium of deep and rigorous textual criticism. In such circumstances, interrogating the sources as both a historian and a literary critic becomes more difficult.

Research review

In as many cases as possible I attempted to look at matters – be they political or cultural – in the words of the Romans themselves. This has many problems, including both the possibility of distortion and that mentioned earlier – the language barrier and the partial nature of surviving sources from the period. For my historical basics I relied heavily on Suetonius, whose Lives of the Twelve Caesars, while certainly readable and interesting, is notoriously gossipy and muckraking. Tacitus’ works cover a similar period of history, but neither of the two I read were distinctly relevant to the matter at hand. Livy’s period did not extend to the beginning of the Empire, and nor does his work exist in entirety; this makes the life of the historian significantly more difficult. The same, more or less, could be said of Polybius. Cicero was a contemporary, but his political and legal speeches have their own issues. They were often written up after delivery, and his soaring rhetoric may have on occasion been inserted into the text at a later date; and Cicero himself did not live to see the establishment of the Empire.

On the cultural front one can be over-reliant on Virgil and Juvenal, especially if one lacks the facility to examine or to draw inference from the visual arts. Of the three books of Virgil’s that I read, I found the Aeneid to be the most useful. As a national origin story it is almost without parallel, and origin stories are often tremendously useful in elucidating what societies thought about themselves and their own place in the world. Juvenal was similarly useful, though both of the aforementioned have similar biases. They were both literate, which already separated them from the man on the street; both had writerly aspirations, which again differentiated them from the mainstream; and both relied to an extent on an idealised notion of the past.

The writings of Edward Gibbon were not strictly relevant in my search for an imperial transition, but they are stupendously well written; and despite his flaws as an analytical historian, Gibbon makes a fine character study of the nature of an imperial system. I would not have acquired such a strong notion of Roman imperial identity had I not read his magisterial History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. His Whig history may be outdated, but his narrative remains a first class one.

In terms of more modern works, I read, or rather re-read, Stewart Perowne’s The Death of the Roman Republic. While it does cover the period in question, and provides some pleasant epigrams on the matter, I do wonder about its scholarly credentials. His explanation of the end of the Republic is certainly appealing in its simplicity (and its sense of historical drama); but it does not satisfy the desire for a more nuanced, truly historical approach. Such is the case with non-academic historians. (Perowne seems to have been more of a hobbyist than a scholar.) H. H. Scullard’s text is held to constitute the standard interpretation of the period, and while it is possibly a little outdated, I cannot think of a reason for it being any less than useful. Similarly, the output of Mary Beard and Michael Crawford, both of them respected classicists, seems to me to have been wholly useful in my research. These, as well as the works of Kitty Chisholm and John Ferguson, Anthony A. Barrett and Kenneth Wellesley – in addition to others – bring a sense of modern scholarly detachment to proceedings which has been appreciated.

The synthesis of literature and politics as it was presented in this work seems to be a fairly novel one; few texts appeared to analyse the big picture of imperial change with reference to the writings of Rome’s preeminent poets, for example. This area of study would benefit a great deal from further and deeper research; and I hope that I have shown that if that were the case, the results of such enquires would be interesting, historically and culturally significant, and truly constructive with regard to our understanding of the past.

[1] ‘Augustus received sacrosanctity and lifelong tribunicia potestas by lex.’ – Rowe, Greg: Princes and Political Cultures, p. 48

[2] Ober, Josiah: Political Dissent in Democratic Athens: Intellectual Critics of Popular Rule, p. 16

[3] Juvenal: The Satires of Decimus Junius Juvenalis, “Satire VI”, p. 75

[4] Korfmacher, William Charles: “Vergil, Spokesman for the Augustan Reforms”, The Classical Journal, Vol. 51, No. 7 (Apr., 1956), pp. 329-334

[5] West, David and Woodman, Tony J.: Poetry and Politics in the Age of Augustus, p. 190

[6] Jack Griffin: Introduction, Virgil’s Aeneid.

[7] As quoted in Vedder, Polly: World Literature Criticism, p. 808

[8] Chisholm, Kitty and Ferguson, John: Rome: The Augustan Age, pp. 220-1

[9] Virgil: Aeneid, 1.286-7

[10] Suetonius, Gaius: “Julius Caesar” from The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

[11] Polybius: The Rise of the Roman Empire (Penguin Classics) – an abridged version of his Histories

[12] Perowne, Stuart: The Death of the Roman Republic, p. 272

[13] Beard, Mary and Crawford, Michael: Rome in the Late Republic, Introduction

[14] Scullard, H. H.: From the Grachii to Nero, p. 215

[15] Barrett, Anthony A.: Caligula: The Corruption of Power, p. 172

[16] Suetonius, Gaius: The Twelve Caesars, “Caligula”, 60

[17] Ibid. “Claudius”, 10

[18] Ibid.

[19] Jones, Brian W.: The Emperor Domitian, p. i

[20] Wellesley, Kenneth: Year of the Four Emperors, p. 12

[21] Morgan, Gwyn: 69 AD: The Year of Four Emperors, p. 89

[22] Suetonius, Gaius: The Twelve Caesars, “Tiberius” 43-5

[23] Acton, John Dalberg-Acton, Baron: Selected Writings of Lord Acton, Volume III, p. 519

[24] Barrett, Anthony A.: Caligula: The Corruption of Power, p.  xv

[25] Crawford, Michael: The Roman Republic, p. 193

[26] Lombardo, Stanley and Virgil: The Essential Aeneid, p. 198

[27] McMahon, Robin: “Tacitus (275–276 A.D)”, De Imperatoribus Romanis

Advertisements