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Constructing Autocracy

Constructing Autocracy: Aristocrats and Emperors in Julio-Claudian Rome

MATTHEW B. ROLLER
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x0rrk
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  • Book Info
    Constructing Autocracy
    Book Description:

    Rome's transition from a republican system of government to an imperial regime comprised more than a century of civil upheaval and rapid institutional change. Yet the establishment of a ruling dynasty, centered around a single leader, came as a cultural and political shock to Rome's aristocracy, who had shared power in the previous political order. How did the imperial regime manage to establish itself and how did the Roman elites from the time of Julius Caesar to Nero make sense of it? In this compelling book, Matthew Roller reveals a "dialogical" process at work, in which writers and philosophers vigorously negotiated and contested the nature and scope of the emperor's authority, despite the consensus that he was the ultimate authority figure in Roman society.

    Roller seeks evidence for this "thinking out" of the new order in a wide range of republican and imperial authors, with an emphasis on Lucan and Seneca the Younger. He shows how elites assessed the impact of the imperial system on traditional aristocratic ethics and examines how several longstanding authority relationships in Roman society--those of master to slave, father to son, and gift-creditor to gift-debtor--became competing models for how the emperor did or should relate to his aristocratic subjects. By revealing this ideological activity to be not merely reactive but also constitutive of the new order, Roller contributes to ongoing debates about the character of the Roman imperial system and about the "politics" of literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2409-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-14)

    THE YOUNGER SENECA, in his treatise “On Anger,” provides the following account of the goings-on at a Persian royal dinner party:

    King Cambyses was excessively fond of wine. One of his dearest friends, Praexaspes, advised him to drink more sparingly, declaring that drunkenness was disgraceful in a king, whom everyone’s eyes and ears followed. To this the king responded, “That you may know how much I am in control of myself, I will prove that both my eyes and my hands are serviceable after drinking wine.” He then drank even more freely than before, from even bigger cups, and now...

  6. PART ONE: ETHICS AND IMPERIAL IDEOLOGY

    • Chapter One THE ETHICS OF CIVIL WAR: COMPETING COMMUNITIES IN LUCAN
      (pp. 17-63)

      THE IDEA that a society’s moral values are linked in nonarbitrary ways with its sociopolitical arrangements, and that changes in sociopolitical arrangements are correlated to changes in values, is a familiar one to social scientists and political theorists. Yet this linkage, regarding the ancient world, has received only desultory scholarly attention. There exists a handful of relatively brief discussions of limited scope—journal articles or single chapters (or parts thereof) in book-length studies of other questions—along with a few larger-scale investigations. With a single exception, no sustained work has been done in the past three decades.¹ Yet, studies of...

    • Chapter Two ETHICS FOR THE PRINCIPATE: SENECA, STOICISM, AND TRADITIONAL ROMAN MORALITY
      (pp. 64-126)

      LIKE LUCAN’SBellum Civile, Seneca’s prose treatises are filled with competing moral judgments based in competing ethical systems. Indeed, one might argue that these competing judgments are theraison d’êtrefor the texts that contain them. For the works entitledDe Providentia, De Vita Beata, De Beneficiis, De Clementia(“On Providence,” “On the Happy Life,” “On Benefits,” “On Clemency”), and so on are constructed as dialogues in which alternative sets of moral views regarding the nature of providence, happiness, benefits, etc., are made to engage one another dynamically. This characterization of Seneca’s prose writing holds too for theEpistulae ad...

  7. PART TWO: FIGURING THE EMPEROR

    • Chapter Three THE EMPEROR’S AUTHORITY: DINING, EXCHANGE, AND SOCIAL HIERARCHY
      (pp. 129-212)

      IN THE PREVIOUS two chapters I examined certain ethical conundrums associated with the emergence of the principate, as represented in two specific Julio-Claudian authors. Now I shift my focus to the figuration of the emperor himself, the keystone of this new social, political, and moral order. After five centuries of the oligarchic regime that later came to be called the “republic,” the emergence of an autocrat posed difficulties of comprehension not only for Roman aristocrats, but for everyone else in Roman society, including the emperor himself: how to understand the unprecedented concentration of power in the hands of one person,...

    • Chapter Four MODELING THE EMPEROR: THE MASTER-SLAVE RELATIONSHIP AND ITS ALTERNATIVES
      (pp. 213-288)

      THIS CHAPTER is largely a study of metaphor, but from the point of view of its sociopolitical engagement. There are two social relationships in Roman society, those of master to slave and father to child (usually son), that are used pervasively in the Julio-Claudian period as metaphors for the relationship of the emperor to his subjects, particularly his aristocratic ones. The metaphorical nature of these usages is assured by the fact that these subjects are generally neither the emperor’s chattel slaves nor his children, biological or adopted. These metaphors, however, carry important social implications: for, as I will argue, to...

  8. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 289-300)
  9. Index
    (pp. 301-319)