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The Roman Empire (60 BCE-160 CE)

Study Questions

Rome's Halcyon Days: 96-161 CE

Review Test

Describe the measures Augustus took to reestablish political stability and explain how he changed the government and the army. Why was he successful?.

After the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE, Octavian had quite a task in front of him. Not only was he seen as a bloody ex-triumvir, but he now led an empire that had been at war for about 50 years, and had not the system of government to prevent future conflict. First, Octavian needed to restore the confidence of the people and aristocracy in him and Rome. Second, he had to do away with the Republican form of government, which could not suit an empire, and whose proconsuls had armies loyal to them alone. Lastly, he had to ensure a smooth succession. All the while, he had to avoid offending the aristocracy.

In order to restore roman confidence, Octavian remained at home in 28, the first time a Roman consul had done so in twenty years. Also, he took a census, the first in 70 years, and, by reducing the number of legions from 60-28 he reduced the risk of war for a people tired of it. Confidence was restored, so much so that interest rates went up. Still, Octavian's largest task lay ahead. He needed to change the government in a way that could guarantee army loyalty and create a system to professionally govern the empire. His idea was the Principate, a sui generus, gradual process whereby the Princeps, or first citizen, gained more power over time without offending the sensibilities of the republican minded senators. On January 27 Octavian went before the Senate and gave up all his extraordinary and possessions. Because of his auctoritas, the senators asked him to take control of Iberia, the Gauls, and Syria. Also the Senate continued to vote him consulships, along with naming him Augustus, a near deistic appellation showing their gratitude.

Later, finishing touches were put on the Principate in 23, when, after recovering from an illness, he gave up his annual consulship so as not to offend the senators. Also, the Senate granted him maius imperium, which surpassed anyone else's imperium, and did not lapse upon crossing the Pomerium. Further, he got tribunicia potestas, which allowed him to introduce or veto legislation. Theoretically a collection of powers granted by the people, it did not appear as autocracy.

Also, Augustus reformed the nature of the Empire by standardizing the composition and opportunities of the senators and equites by requiring good character, army service, and sufficient wealth. Further, he standardized the army into a standing force of 28 legions. Each regular soldier served 20 years at a decent wage, and on retirement got a guaranteed pension of funds or land. This made the army loyal to the Emperor, not to proconsuls as in Sulla's time. Further, like never before, he brought in equestrians to man the boards maintaining the Empire, including a grain board, a fire board, a water department and a Tiber board. Using the equites opened a lot of people up to progress and reduced antagonisms.

Augustus was successful because he completely changed the roman government. However, he could say he gave the Republic back to Rome, for he changed government without offending the republican aristocracy, and he got rid of the threat of rival proconsuls.

Claudius had been kept in the dark for decades, yet was a decent Princeps. Explain his rise to power and his accomplishments. What was his undoing?

After Caligula had insulted his empire and in particular an officer of the Praetorian Guard, he was murdered by the Guard, and while they searched the palace, they found Claudius hiding behind a curtain. At 50, he was weakened by physical disabilities, but by offering each member of the Guard 15,00 denarii, he got their support. The Senate, which was debating the return to republic, accepted Claudius with Herod Agrippa's intervention, in 41 CE. Militarily, his accomplishments included conquering Britain in 44 with the help of Plautinus, the annexation of Mauretania by Paulinus, and the annexation of Thrace. He also attracted other good generals, such as Corbulo and Vespasianus.

On the administrative side, he both made the civil service more powerful and efficient, and alienated the Senate due to his methods. He set up secretariats; Narcissus was in charge of correspondence, Pallas was in charge of finances, and Callistus dealt with legal matters. Further, he put equestrian prefects in senatorial provinces to monitor the financial situation there. This increased efficiency, but offended the senatorial class because 1) he revived the censor to eliminate bad senators, 2) deactivated magistracies duplicating imperial offices, 3) allowed some Gaulics to become quaestor, and 4) as he withdrew behind his secretariats, he changed the nature of the Principate, making it more autocratic. Also, his secretaries died quite rich, having started as freedmen. This further snubbed the Senate.

His undoing was his second wife Agrippina, who he married on Pallus' advice. The daughter of Germanicus, she was quite ambitious and wanted her son Nero to be adopted by Claudius, so that he could be emperor, allowing her to rule through him. Agrippina actually caused Claudius to ruin many a career, and finally murdered him in 54 CE.

By 150 CE, what was the status of Germanic society and what kind of threat did it present to Rome?

German tribes were clan-based, with blood-loyalty the basis for all bonds. Living intermittently in settled forest clearings called hamlets, they engaged in mixed subsistence cultivation of crops and animals. Cultivation was rudimentary given the hard clay soil and use of implements more suited to Mediterranean areas. There were no surpluses, so population remained small, around one million. Without much occupational specialization, they were an iron-age culture emphasizing war.

For the first century CE, they were not a real danger to Rome: 1) Poverty ensured poor armor and weapons, and 2) they had limited tactics, consisting of ambushes and a mass charge. 3) Divisions into numerous small tribes meant a lack of political cooperation. 4) There was no real, continual government beyond the clan. In peacetime, tribal assemblies made up of all free men and warriors decided issues of peace and war. They would elect temporary war chiefs, whose legitimacy ended after hostilities.

After Caesar had taken Gaul up to the Rhine, expansion space was curtailed for the nomadic tribes, causing demographic pressure on the borders. Some Germans began to come into contact with Roman civilization at border garrisons. They greatly admired the material aspects of Roman culture, such as arms, domestic wares, etc. Small numbers were accepted for service with Roman legions, and small scale German-Roman trade relations emerged involving cattle and slaves developed.

Gradual changes occurred in the next 250 years: A) Though kinship remained the primary bond, a new kind of political formation evolved: the Comitatus. Older, successful warrior chieftains took in younger aspirants, who then raided and shared the booty with each other. A kind of professional, more lethal warrior group came about, where bonds were now between man and lord, the latter signaling the beginning of a small aristocracy. B) At the same time, tribes began electing fewer, longer serving war-chiefs, as inter-tribe conflict increased, spurred by the desire to partake of Roman material culture. C) Eastern German tribes, Goths and Vandals, gradually migrated from North Poland to the Ukraine, pressuring the Danube frontier and settling north of the Black Sea, to the West of the Huns. D) Increasing numbers of Germans began to serve as Roman auxiliary forces just beyond the Roman borders, learning new tactics, acquiring better materials, coming to admire Roman society even more. Some even underwent a process of partial Romanization.

Describe the Principate, in terms of its origins, stages of creation, and inner nature. How did the Princeps evolve into an Emperor?

What were some of the major problems eliciting the formation of the Principate?

How would you characterize the Roman economy? What were the foundations of society and economy in Roman antiquity?

What were Mark Antony and Octavian's comparative strengths and weaknesses? How did each go about trying to secure victory in their struggle?

Who were the rising social classes of the period 30 BCE-100 CE and how did they get where they were going?

What was the Year of the Four Emperors? What caused it, and how did it play out?

What explains the recurrent disturbances among the Jews in Palestine, Egypt and the Aegean from the 40s-120s CE? What were the components of the problem, and what was its resolution by the time of Hadrian?

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