THIRD MILLENNIUM LIBRARY
THE PRINCIPATE AND THE ADMINISTRATION
THE ARMY AND THE STATE
THE problems confronting the Roman world in AD 68 and 69 were as grave as any since the struggle which culminated at Actium. In the days of the 'Second Triumvirate' the character of the government had been determined by the arbitrament of war: in the Year of the Four Emperors it had been submitted to the same hazard again. And on both occasions the personality of the victor was the most potent factor in setting the course which Rome should take when peace had been restored. At Actium the issue was between East and West, and victory gave power to the man who insisted that the imperial culture and the traditions of the imperial regime should be predominantly Latin. By AD 68 the achievement of Augustus had set a mark upon the world, and at worst its destruction could not make it as if it had never been. Though Vespasian might allow himself to be regarded as the conqueror who should come out of the East, he and all his rivals were Italians. Nevertheless, if the work of Augustus could not be destroyed, it might well be denied its full fruition. The form of government which he had framed needed time for the revelation of its merits; and by the death of Severus Alexander, when the Principate began to move rapidly and irrevocably in the direction of a Dominate, the Augustan system had endured so long as to be entitled to a place among the historical types of government which it could not have claimed if its end had come in AD 69. On the accession of Vespasian that system was threatened; and the threat came from the same quarter as that which finally proved fatal. In the third century the increasing importance of the army enabled it to bestow the Empire on men whose only distinction was popularity with the troops or success in military command. Against martial prowess culture ceased to count; experience in civil administration was not considered; and the Empire fell under the control of war-lords who made inevitable. the process by which Principate gave way to Autocracy. This was the danger already plainly present in the sequel to Nero's death.
Five of the army-groups, in jealous rivalry, had taken up arms to champion the claims of various candidates for the succession; and a momentous secret had been revealed. Then there was raised the crucial question—would the army contrive to take charge of the Empire, or not? Vespasian gave the answer. Instead of becoming its master, the army remained the servant of the State; the princeps was not its puppet but its commander, as before; and so were restored conditions in which the Augustan Principate, rescued from the danger of extinction, might survive in any form the princeps chose to give it.
When Vespasian left Alexandria in AD 70 the problem which awaited him in Italy was difficult. Like Octavian, he owed his position to his men; but, whereas Octavian had been at most the symbol of a cause, Vespasian was the cause himself. The armies of Syria and the Danube had intervened with no other object than to secure that he, and not the nominee of legions on the Rhine, should succeed to the Imperial position. And when their object was achieved, it still remained to see whether that brief indulgence of their vanity would be enough. They might, indeed, be content once they had placed their chosen hero on the throne. But they might, on the other hand, go farther, and demand that his tenure should be on terms of their own dictation.
According to one famous theory the legions in AD 68 and 69 had risen to protest against the degenerate travesty of good government for which Nero had been responsible and to have done with the increasing favor shown to the Praetorians at the expense of the provincial armies. If this view could be accepted, its implications about the future aims of the soldiers would be grave. Their action must have meant that they intended, if not to exercise a permanent supervision of the princeps, at least to place him under the threat of renewed intervention whenever his policy should give the same offence as Nero’s. In such a version there is, indeed, a large element of truth; but it would be misleading if emphasis on the legionaries’ jealousy of the Guards and their resentment at the unworthy performances of Nero were allowed to suggest that it was the rank and file who played the leading part in starting the campaigns of AD 68 and 69. A more potent factor was the fear with which Nero's brutalities, and especially his intolerance of military success, had inspired the higher command. There is no reason to deny the widespread resentment which Nero had aroused, but men’s disgust at his behavior need not have led to mutiny if mutiny had not found a leader. Yet, even though the armies were set in motion more by the incitement of their commanders than by their own resolve to take a hand in government, their entry into the political arena was ominous enough. Galba, the choice of the only legion in Nearer Spain, had been murdered when the Praetorians in Rome had been roused by the bribery of Otho and his own proud refusal to buy their favors; Otho in turn had been driven to suicide by the victorious advance of the armies from the Rhine; and their candidate, Vitellius, had finally been butchered when Rome had fallen to the vanguard of the force whose mission it was to proclaim Vespasian. By the action of Galba the right to bestow the Principate had been made a prize for which every army-group might compete, and the competition had been severe. The armies had entered politics; and, when the issue which provoked this dangerous development had been decided, it remained to see whether they would tamely withdraw from a field in which their presence was a threat.
In the period of reconstruction much depended on the personality of the Princeps, and the attitude of Vespasian to his first great problem—the problem of restoring the army to its proper place—was the attitude to be expected of a man who had grown up under the system established by Augustus. Nowhere had Augustus’ respect for the accumulated experience of the Roman Republic been more wisely shown than in his insistence that the higher posts in the civil and the military services should, so far as possible, be held in turn. With rare exceptions the greater commands were accessible to none who was held unfit for the consulship, and to none, in consequence, who had not made that intimate acquaintance with the civil traditions of the Senate which was involved by progress through the hierarchy of urban magistracies. Thus the generals whom the legions might champion for the succession were all men who, however willing they might be to profit by the devotion of the troops, were familiar enough with an ideal of government which did not look to the rank and file for the inspiration of policy. Such was the class to which Vespasian belonged. At the outset he had been sparing in his promises; and though something like a mutiny in Rome had forced Mucianus to delay demobilization in the Urban Garrison, Vespasian was not long deterred. The Guards were the hardest corps to handle; but despite the delicacy of the task their strength was soon reduced, and by AD 76 at latest, in place of the sixteen Praetorian Cohorts which Vitellius had recruited, Rome had only nine.
The provincial armies, to which Vespasian himself showed no anxiety to be generous, called not for reduction but for a measure of reform; and the new Princeps made it one of his first objects to secure that their discipline should be maintained in those times of political crisis when it was most essential. Lack of evidence reduces us to speculation about the social character of the classes to which he looked for his recruits, and his motives are difficult to disentangle because there were two distinct elements in the problem with which he had to deal. Not only must the army as a whole have its interest in politics destroyed, but the forces on the Rhine in particular called for treatment which would show that disloyalty was not venial and would ensure that the lessons of the Gallo-German rising should not be lost. It was local reasons which caused four of the legions to disappear; but local reasons were probably less cogent than considerations of a more general kind in accelerating the application of principles, not wholly unrecognized in earlier days, which came in course of time to exercise powerful effects on the history of the Empire.
It was no matter for regret that henceforward the auxiliary units were more often stationed in places remote from those in which they had their origin; and if local recruits were accepted, until this practice became regular in the second century it had the valuable effect of reducing the racial solidarity of the corps to which it was applied. More questionable, however, was the increased tendency to compose the legions of provincials. For a time the system was useful: it meant that the troops were largely drawn from classes whose interest in the details of political life in Rome was as slight as their knowledge. But ultimately its results were bad. In the third century, when the army finally—took control of government, a defenseless Italy found itself at the mercy of forces which in origin were provincial, and whose Romanism was not even the highest which the provinces could produce. Italy in the end paid dear for her forgetfulness of the burden of empire, and Vespasian has his share of responsibility for encouraging a dangerous indifference to her military obligations, which one day would give truth to the gibe “provinciarum sanguine provincias vinci”. Nevertheless, it is not to be supposed that he intended to enervate the Italian population. For many years after his time there is evidence enough to show that warlike virtues were not frowned upon in Italy, and there is no good reason to doubt the truth of Dio’s word that it was left for Septimius at the end of the second century, when he made transfer to the Guards a reward for good service in the legions, to strike a heavy blow at Italian morale.
The risk that legions would form groups and that the groups would take up arms against one another had been familiar enough to Rome since the consequences of Marius’ changes in enlistment had first become manifest. Later, when the army was made standing, Augustus had removed one frequent cause of mutiny by his momentous establishment of the Aerarium Militare, whereby the State proclaimed its responsibility for pensions and the troops were freed from the temptation to see in their immediate commander the only hope of provision for their old age. But the danger that the army, instead of being one and with a single loyalty, would split into groups, that each group would regard itself, not as part of the army of the Empire, but first and foremost as the garrison of the region in which it stood, and that at length the groups would fall to fighting with one another, was more insidious and less easy to dispel. Of the one certain safeguard little use was made. Though legions were freely moved to meet the demands of war, for reasons which may be sought in the slowness and difficulty of transport, a regular and frequent change of quarters was no part of the military system in times of peace. That valuable expedient was as strange to those who followed Vespasian as to his predecessors; and Vespasian himself, after the measures which had been taken to inflame the Syrian army against Vitellius, was scarcely in a position to introduce its. Nevertheless, if the legions, especially after Hadrian’s time, tended to become permanent garrisons, their higher officers were still regularly changed; and, since the men rarely moved unless they were incited from above, this custom, by discouraging undue devotion by the troops to their commanders, was powerful as a safeguard against coups de main.
Though the army might have been better for a still more drastic treatment, Vespasian’s measures beyond doubt were a success. Most valuable of all was his own firm method of dealing with the men; for without this the rest might have been impossible. But hardly less useful were the efforts to weaken the ties between auxiliary garrisons and civil population; and finally, though as an enduring policy it did violence to the sound principle of the Republic that a people which claims imperial position must take its full share in fighting such battles as imperial interest may demand, the increasing tendency to confine Italians to the Guards and to depend on the provinces for legionary recruits was above criticism as a temporary expedient to reduce the risk that the fighting which had followed Nero’s death would be repeated. When the politically-minded population of Italy had rare opportunity for military service outside the cohorts of Praetorians, so far as the rank and file were concerned the legionary forces, even if they were still recruited less from the country than the towns, would be composed of men reasonably likely to refrain from unwelcome interest in those questions of government which were the proper business of the civil authorities in Rome.
So much was done to eliminate the common soldier from politics; but the common soldier was not the only problem. Though in eighteen months of turmoil the legionaries and the Guards in Rome had developed sinister enthusiasms, it was only in the Upper German army that they had taken the initiative. Galba, Otho, Vitellius with the Lower German army, and finally Vespasian himself, had all owed their elevation to movements which they or their friends had instigated. Hard as it might be, once it had been begun, to stop military interference in affairs of State, recent experience went to show that a beginning was not likely to be effected unless senior officers gave a lead. In the higher command, as was often to be shown again, there was a danger at least as great as any from the rank and file. But, for Vespasian, measures to prevent ambitious generals from starting a new rising were less necessary than steps to secure their acquiescence in the ending of the old; for there were at least a few who might have seized an opportunity to challenge his position, as Hadrian’s was challenged by Trajan’s discontented marshals. Vespasian, however, was lucky in his contemporaries. Some, like the governors of the Danubian provinces, lacked ability; others, like Antonius Primus, were too small to command support commensurate with their military gifts; and others again, like Suetonius Paullinus, had sacrificed their chances to a losing cause. Thus there remained none but the momentous figure of Mucianus himself. To the loyalty of that complex character Vespasian owed the Principate. In the crisis of AD 68 and 69 Rome was well served by the two men who made the great refusal. Mucianus, like Verginius Rufus, had claims which could rival Vespasian’s, and in AD 70 the rapid return to conditions of peace was due not a little to the fact that the one obvious alternative to Vespasian was his staunch supporter. With his help, and mainly through his efforts, the morale of the army was restored, the legions went back to their stations on the frontier, the ambitions of individuals were restrained, and discipline, which Hadrian made the object of a cult, became again the praecipuum decus et stabilimentum Romani imperii. The lasting value of these measures it was for the future to reveal: when Domitian was murdered, neither the dangerous restiveness of the Praetorians nor such facts as may have justified the mysterious rumors from Syria needed force to make them innocuous. But whatever difficulties time might bring, the immediate results were good : for the present, at least, Rome had escaped the menace of military domination, and the new Princeps was free to do as he would—even, if so he were inclined, to renew the Principate of Augustus.
THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE PRINCIPATE
The Augustan principate was a system so subtle that its essence even now is hard to recapture. That its foundations were laid in the law of the constitution is a fact beyond dispute. Augustus himself was an Italian, and a champion of those Italian traditions which in his day enshrined the Hellenic conviction that law should be supreme more faithfully than did the Hellenistic world itself. Whatever may have happened in the century which lay between them, Augustus would have taken as a compliment the words in which the younger Pliny praised the age of Trajan as one when men could say not ‘Princeps super leges’ but ‘Leges super principem’. The large general powers which Augustus received in 27 and 23 BC had even been supplemented by various minor grants, and it cannot be denied that for most of the acts which government involved he had express legal authorization. Nevertheless, by legal categories alone the rule of Augustus cannot be explained. The princeps had, indeed, been grafted onto, if not into, the body of the Republican State; but when, as happened at the start, he began to exert control, his control expressed itself in something more than the mere exercise of this legal right and that.
Throughout the first three centuries of the Empire the fundamental powers of the princeps were unchanged, their constitutional formulation was essentially unaltered. Yet even during the JulioClaudian age these powers had been made to justify governments of the most varied types. The unpretentious guidance of the first citizen, Augustus; the sombre rule of Tiberius, trying to emulate his stepfather and earning the name of tyrant in his own despite; the open autocracy of Gaius, whose unstable mind was fired by its own conceit and a shallow acquaintance with the forms of Hellenistic kingship; Claudius’ attempted return to the ways of Augustus, an attempt which the work of Tiberius and Gaius had frustrated before it was made; and finally the crude despotism of Nero’s reckless end—all these were alike in their legal basis, and in little else. Public law by itself cannot explain the Principate as it worked from day to day; for behind it lay subtler factors exercising a powerful influence on the government. Not only could every princeps form his own conception of his rôle, but that conception could be modified or exaggerated by the interpretations of those who for reasons of their own welcomed an opportunity to stress this aspect or that of what they regarded as a monarchy; and even the imperial cult in its provincial form could react on the outlook of the princeps and his neighbors in Italy. Thus there were times when a princeps seemed to approach the kingship which is hedged with divinity, though the legal foundations of the Principate remained unchanged; and even in the first century AD, while these foundations still hold firm, there could be temporary anticipations in outward form of what was to be permanent reality when the Empire became an absolutism confessed and undisguised.
The varying conceptions of the Principate which successive rulers sought to spread, and the changing attitude towards the princeps adopted by the population at large, are both reflected by the material evidence—whether in official documents like the Arch of Trajan at Beneventum, or in objects of purely private origin. The interpretation of these is rarely easy; and many of the conclusions they yield concern matters commonly treated as religion, in connection with which they will be discussed. But here it must be emphasized that, though the constitution itself was always in essence purely legal, its working is now revealed to have been deeply affected by the influence of that popular sentiment to which monuments of all kinds give a long neglected clue. The method which yielded to Mommsen almost all its valuable results is indispensable, indeed, but still inadequate; and if a later age can in some part make good the lack, its ability is due to an advantage which the previous generation was denied. Since Mommsen’s day the experience of mankind has grown, and its knowledge of the place which the theory of a constitution may take when a nation has given itself up to the guidance of an accepted hero can yield a new understanding of Augustus’ meaning when he wrote auctoritate omnibus praestiti. Augustus captured the imagination of Italy, and his reward was a position in which with increasing confidence he could count on securing the adoption of his views, not by the issue of commands in a form which might remind men of the constitutional powers in the background, but merely by indicating the course which seemed to him most suitable. In speaking to provincials he could be forthright enough: “I order all persons from the province of Cyrene who have been honored with citizenship to bear their public burdens”. But when he was dealing with senatorial officials—and it is in the relations between princeps and the Senate that the view of the Principate held by its various occupants is most clearly revealed—the tone is different and the language clearly inspired by the forms which the Senate itself employed in offering advice to a holder of imperium: “in my opinion governors of Crete and Cyrene will in future act rightly and as the circumstances demand if they put on the jury-panel in the province of Cyrene as many Greeks of the highest property assessment as Romans . . .”
A suggestion from Augustus was enough; for it may safely be assumed that he would not have embodied a suggestion in a mandatum addressed to a provincial government if there had been any likelihood that nothing less than a direct command would gain obedience. And if a hint sufficed, the reason is to be found in his auctoritas—that influence which made men respond to his wishes because they were his, without asking questions, either of themselves or him, about his legal right to enforce his will by commands which their own enthusiasm made unnecessary.
So in the Roman mind the princeps ceased to be regarded in the first place as the holder of constitutional powers, issuing orders which the law required to be obeyed, and became instead the foremost figure in the State, the guardian of a system which had saved Rome from threatening destruction and the embodiment of such accumulated prestige that his actions passed unscrutinized because men lacked the desire to challenge them.
The prestige with which Augustus endowed his own position had consequences which reached far. It was this which enabled his successors, as it had enabled him, to make what they would of the Principate itself. Gaius could put his own unprecedented interpretation on his office because, being princeps, he had inherited the auctoritas of his place; and when his end had shown that auctoritas was still something less than omnipotence, Claudius for the same reason could attempt to make Augustus his model and in doing so produce yet another version of the imperial role. Finally, the immunity from legal checks which the emperors enjoyed in fact, though not in theory, provoked a gradual extension of their activities. That increase passed almost without question. The Roman world, as Galba is made to say, had become unius familiae quasi hereditas, and the successors of Augustus enjoyed opportunities which could be claimed by none but the heads of what Tacitus describes as fundata longo imperio domus.
With Nero the house became extinct. Its prestige was dissipated; and, if it could be recaptured at all, so much of it as clung to the imperial position must be fostered with all care in order that the new rulers might acquire that pre-eminence among the great families in Rome which was essential to the stability of the Principate itself. It was the auctoritas of Augustus which had exalted the office of the princeps: now the office itself must exalt Vespasian and his kin; and if at the outset something was done to make good the lack by his miracles of healing, a subtler method was needed to win the allegiance of those whose opinion was most valuable in Rome. For one who was regarded as a parvenu to array himself in the trappings of royalty and to act the god would have been disastrous, even if it had not been a course for which by character and training Vespasian was singularly unfitted. Its inevitable results must have been to alienate the Senate, to attract the resentful ridicule of Italy, and—worst of all—to throw the princeps back for support on that army which it was his foremost care to exclude from the business of government. He chose a better way: the power of the Flavian house was to rest on the foundations which Augustus himself had laid. Circumstances, indeed, had changed since AD 14; the later Julio-Claudians had left their marks; and after Gaius, Claudius and Nero civilitas in a princeps could no longer be carried to the lengths which it had reached under Augustus. Nevertheless Vespasian made Augustus his model. Even before he reached Rome, in his letters to the Senate, and when he came to face the task of gaining that unrivalled eminence in the State which had been the prerogative of his predecessors, his method in its attainment was not to command obedience but to win respect. Above all in his dealings with the Senate, though that body had greatly changed in the days of the Claudian emperors, and though Vespasian himself was to change it still more, he showed throughout the consistent consideration which alone could enlist its good will.
To talk of Flavian absolutism is to mislead; for, despite their differences, in the most essential quality of all the principate of Vespasian and the principate of Augustus were indistinguishable. The essence of the Augustan principate was that a man equipped with powers which in theory were great and in fact were overwhelming exercised them, not in the arbitrary manner of an autocrat, but in a way which took account of public opinion. For that reason the system of government which he devised was the nearest approach made by the ancient world to a constitutional monarchy. In it the princeps was the first servant of the State, holding a position near enough to that of the Stoic king for lapses to invite comparisons and for philosophy to take on some slight political significance. Indeed when Marcus brought sentimental Stoicism to the throne, though the outlook of the princeps was affected, the form of the Principate was not. The system was a monarchy in which the monarch, not of compulsion but of choice, exposed himself to the force of educated opinion and so guided his actions that it should not be outraged. Of that opinion the foremost organ was the Senate, and the relations between Senate and princeps are consequently the measure of the extent to which this emperor or that was departing from the Augustan version of the Principate in the direction of Autocracy. Of friction under Vespasian there was little or none (for Helvidius Priscus brought his fate upon himself), and in his rule may be seen a restoration of the Principate in a form as near to the Augustan as the circumstances of his age allowed. Nor was that all. The work of Vespasian had effects of long duration. For though the Imperial powers continued slowly to increase, as they had increased in the days of the Julio-Claudians, the Principate retained the essential character with which Vespasian had left it until it was changed in the chaos of the third century. The Flavian conception of government is no more to be inferred from the rule of Domitian than is the Antonine from that of Commodus. Domitian and Commodus were not typical: they were aberrations from the type which Vespasian chose to make the norm. That choice was inspired by Augustus, and thus it was that Vespasian, by extending its life for a century and a half, made the Augustan Principate not an episode in history, but an epoch.
THE PRINCEPS AND THE CONSTITUTION
Vespasian owed the principate to his troops—a fact which his forthright honesty so far confessed that, instead of following the example of Vitellius and dating his rule from the day of his acceptance by the Senate, he frankly admitted that it had begun when he was first acclaimed at Alexandria. It was, indeed, no new experience for the Senate to be confronted with a princeps of the soldiers’ choosing; but the Senate alone could give legality to what without it would remain a usurpation, and Vespasian, faced with the task of establishing a new Imperial house, was in no position to despise the help which he could get from that influential quarter. Accordingly he acted with deference; and the Fathers, with less misgiving than when the same grants were made to Otho and Vitellius, voted him the customary prerogatives as soon as Vitellius was dead, when he and Titus were also designated for the ordinary consulships of the following year and Domitian was offered a praetorship, together with consulare imperium. Thenceforward he held his position by legal right, and about his accession there would be no more to say were it not for the fortunate survival of a fragment from a series of bronze tables on which his powers were set out at length.
The famous document set up by Cola di Rienzi in the Basilica of St John Lateran, and now to be seen in the Capitoline Museum, moots questions of the first importance about the nature of the Flavian Principate. Nothing now remains but the end of a text which when complete must have been long, and in what survives there are no more than seven final clauses, with part of an eighth, followed by what describes itself as a ‘sanctio’ giving indemnity to all who in obeying this measure might infringe some other statute or legal enactment. Short as it is, however, this scrap has much to reveal. Despite lapses in grammar and orthography, the impressive lettering can prove that its contents were of more than ephemeral interest: it is not a draft but a statute. Yet its form is ambiguous; for though it is twice described by its own wording as a ‘lex’, all except the final sanctio is phrased in the way appropriate, not to a law, but to a decree of the Senate. Nevertheless, its nature is not in doubt. From the middle of the principate of Augustus popular assemblies at Rome had fallen into rapid decline. Their approval of such proposals as were submitted to them became more and more of a formality, and in this law we have a measure of the length to which the decline had gone by the beginning of the Flavian age. Despite the solemnity of an occasion on which a new princeps was to be made, the formulation of the proposals in the preliminary senatorial decree was allowed to stand unaltered when they were submitted to the People for passage into law.
Though it is clear that the measure was what Rome of those days was content to accept as a lex rogata, in the absence of its most important sections the significance of the enactment as a whole is open to dispute. From the minutes of the Arval Brotherhood, whose activities during the first five months of 69 are known in detail, it appears that at this time the creation of a new Princeps involved repeated reference to the People: on separate occasions they conferred the tribunicia potestas and elected him first to his priesthoods and then to the office of Pontifex Maximus. And, besides these, from some source or other he had to receive the all-important imperium. That this could be legally conferred by either Army or Senate, as Mommsen had supposed, is a view which can no longer be defended since it was demonstrated that of these two the Senate alone was concerned; and it is only slightly less probable that Mommsen was mistaken, too, in maintaining that the imperium was granted by a process in which the People had no part. According to the theory of the Republic it was in the People alone that imperium had its origin; and, if ever this doctrine was respected when the creation of a princeps was in question, it may well have been observed at the accession of Vespasian. For he was the first of a new line, in need of support from every quarter; and that his friends did not despise such help as could be won by deference to the traditions of the constitution is suggested by the emphasis which numismatic records lay on Libertas.
Nevertheless, the various attempts made to prove that the extant clauses come from a measure which in its earlier part conferred on Vespasian one or other of his main constitutional powers cannot be regarded as successful. Any such theory conflicts with Roman practice by which, when an individual was invested with authority by the State, the ways in which he should exercise it were not specified but left to his discretion; and this difficulty is not to be removed by the suggestion that after the death of Vitellius the Senate, by a bold innovation, formulated a detailed definition of the manner in which the princeps might use his rights in order to prevent a repetition of Nero’s final tyranny. The Senate was then in no condition to impose checks on a man who had fought his way to power; and the measure itself, so far from reducing his authority, in fact leaves it almost limitless. At most it may be said that, if either the imperium or the tribunicia potestas was bestowed in the missing sections, the claims of the former might be supported by the nature of the grants set out in the extant part; for two of them at least—the right to conclude treaties (and probably to declare war) and to change the course of the pomerium—cannot be brought into constitutional relation with the tribunician power.
There is, however, much to commend another view, which would see in this law a consolidated grant of miscellaneous rights additional to those which formed the main basis of the Imperial positions. Supplementary powers of this sort had from time to time been given to Augustus; for instance, the clause with which the extant fragment begins—if it is rightly assumed when complete to have authorized Vespasian to declare peace and war as well as to make treaties with whomsoever he would—to some extent repeats a grant which there is good reason to believe that Augustus had formally received. Thus, when the inscription mentions Augustus, Tiberius and Claudius as predecessors who had enjoyed this particular right, it may be agreed that the right had been given them by law. Elsewhere, however, the nature of the precedent is more doubtful. Vespasian is permitted to extend and advance the limits of the pomerium when he shall think it in the interests of the State, as was permitted to Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; but it is by no means certain that Claudius had received any express authority to change the pomerium when he did so in AD 49. The surviving evidence would rather suggest that Claudius justified himself by a half-forgotten tradition of the Republic and that, such was his auctoritas, no objection was raised. But, if this is doubtful, it is harder still to believe that Augustus had been explicitly and formally given the constitutional right and power to do all such things as he may deem to serve the interests of the State and the dignity of all things divine and human, public and private; and yet for this too he is adduced as a precedent, together with Tiberius and Claudius. And to these considerations may be added the fact that two of the rights here granted are supported by no precedent at all.
Throughout its history the Principate was in course of development. Gradually its holders increased their powers, not so much by securing formal authorization for acts from which their predecessors had been debarred as by using the opportunities afforded by their prestige quietly to assume new functions, which thereafter were regarded as part of the imperial prerogative. This process had gone far even before the death of Nero, when supremacy suddenly passed to a new and undistinguished family. Until the Flavians had acquired the pre-eminent influence of their predecessors it was, if not necessary, at least desirable that every act of the princeps should be plainly justified by law. Accordingly the past was searched, and precedents were collected in a single act which conferred on Vespasian the right to do both those things to which earlier emperors had been empowered by special enactment and those other things which their auctoritas had allowed them to do without fear of challenge. And finally, to provide for those emergencies in which the princeps might be required to take action of a kind not contemplated even in this exhaustive code, an attempt was perhaps even made to formulate the use to which auctoritas itself had been put. For such may well have been the intention of the remarkable clause which formally empowers Vespasian to take any action of whatever kind which he may deem to be in the general interest.
If such an interpretation is justified, it may well be no mere accident that the only law now partly extant about the prerogatives of the princeps is a law for the benefit of Vespasian. The extinction of the line which traced its descent from Julius Caesar and Augustus produced problems of a kind which had not arisen since the first establishment of the Principate, and it would not be a matter for surprise if one result of the transition to a new regime had been the codification of customs created by the old. In its turn this legal formulation of what in the past had been no more than common practice cannot have been without consequences of its own. To concentrate in Vespasian’s person explicit authority to perform every act for which Augustus, Tiberius or Claudius supplied a precedent by itself was to give him powers greater than any single princeps had exercised before; but the attempt to find a legal substitute for the auctoritas which the upstart lacked went farther and did all that law could do towards turning the Principate into an autocracy. Nevertheless, the Principate survived for more than a hundred and fifty years, and for that reason the effects of the changes made on Vespasian's accession are easy to exaggerate. Henceforward it was not the constitution which stood between Rome and absolutism: as will be seen, however, there were other barriers not wholly ineffective.
THE IMPERIAL HOUSE AND THE TRANSMISSION OF THE PRINCIPATE
After the settlement, as before, the character of the government was determined, not by the powers with which the princeps had been invested, but by the use to which these powers were put. From the outset it was clear that Vespasian turned for guidance to the past, and more particularly to those of his predecessors whose outlook was least monarchical. Claudius had made Augustus his model, and Vespasian so far respected Claudius as to insist on his divinity and rebuild the temple in his honor on the Caelian. But he could not have been content to emulate one whose reputation was so controversial as that of Claudius, and there is evidence enough to show that it was Augustus himself whom Vespasian sought to take as his example. Not only does his coinage hark back at times to Augustan themes, but in the far more significant matter of the imperial title there is a return to Augustan usage. By a decision which was not challenged while the Principate survived, he reverted to the praenomen imperatoris; and when he chose to follow this immediately with the name ‘Caesar’, Imperator Caesar Vespasianus Augustus bore a style which had its justification and its value in the fact that ‘Imperator Caesar divi filius Augustus’ was its model. Yet even so Vespasian was at a disadvantage: he was not himself ‘divi filius’, and there was still a need for measures which would increase, not his constitutional powers, but the distinction of the princeps in the eyes of the Roman world. To this end, like Vitellius before him, he seems to have employed the consulship. After the settlement of 23 BC Augustus had only twice been consul again, on each occasion for a special reason; and his successors had abstained from any frequent tenure of the office, once they had held it more often than the three times which were the most that any but a princeps could expect. Tiberius had been consul five times before his death, though only twice since his accession; Gaius took the office four times, and Claudius and Nero five times each. But during the ten years of Vespasian’s Principate the emperor and his two sons held twenty-one consulships between them; and Domitian, though he seems to have found less value in the office towards the end of his life, so far followed his father’s practice as to be consul in ten out of the fifteen years of his own supremacy.
This exploitation of the consulship is not difficult to interpret. That the powers it brought with it were of no account is clear from the fact that the princeps did not retain office throughout the year: Domitian, indeed, often abdicated on the Ides of January and his longest tenure ended on the first of May. Nor again can it be regarded as an attempt to exclude senators from the highest magistracy; for there is strong evidence to suggest that suffect consulships now began almost regularly to be reduced from four months’ duration to two, so that, even if the Imperial house had monopolized the office until the end of April, it would still have been possible for eight members of the aristocracy in general to obtain consular rank from a place in one of the four colleges which would follow between May and December. Suetonius says of Domitian ‘[consulatus] omnes ... paene titulo tenus gessit’; and it was the title which the Flavians sought. The number of their consulships, and the number of the years to which, as consules ordinarii, they gave their names , marked them off from the rest of the nobility and so helped to gain them the unquestioned eminence which it was their urgent business to attain. But when at length the position of the house was secure and Domitian’s grim consciousness of his unique responsibilities still sought titles adequate to his more autocratic conception of the Principate, a mere magistracy ceased to satisfy. After the revolt of Saturninus in 89 Domitian’s consulships became less frequent, and the reason is easy to conjecture: to be consul for a few weeks and to give his name to a year were matters almost of indifference to one whose conception of his station allowed him to be addressed as dominus et deus. But when Domitian fell and the hatred of his memory provoked violent reaction towards a government of the Augustan type, in a Rome which the Flavians had made familiar with the idea that the Principate could pass from one house to another there was no need for his successors to glorify themselves by collecting titles. Trajan became consul only four times as princeps, Hadrian twice, Pius three times, Marcus not at all (having entered his third and final consulship nine weeks before Pius died), and Commodus only five times in the twelve years and more by which he survived his father.
If Vespasian used repeated consulships to raise his family above the rest of the aristocracy at Rome, by themselves they did not exhaust the expedients which might be invoked to serve his end. The catastrophe which had followed Nero’s death was warning enough that the Flavian house must be put beyond reach of challenge, not only while Vespasian was alive, but after he had gone; and the new princeps found himself faced with the problem which Augustus had spent over thirty years in solving. His successor must be marked so clearly that a position still in theory elective would pass with the same certainty as under an hereditary monarchy. The choice of candidate was easy, for Titus was worthy of his father; and if his matrimonial enterprise had so far failed to produce a son, his younger brother Domitian, despite his conceit, could well be made the second string. It is not without point that Mucianus in urging Vespasian to seek the Principate is made by Tacitus to stress the value of these youths. Accordingly, while Domitian was given honors with a generosity reserved for members of the Imperial house, Titus received distinctions which marked the heir apparent. Both took the name of Caesar, both at first were ‘Principes Juventutis’, and both became sacerdotes collegiorum omnium. But already in AD 70 after the capture of Jerusalem Titus had been hailed as imperator, and, though he was denied the independent triumph which the Senate is said to have proposed, he was allowed to share the honor with Vespasian in June, 71. In the following month he began his tenure of the tribunicia potestas, and from that time not only did he keep pace with his father in the numbering of its years, as in the reckoning of imperatorial salutations, but he was the inseparable colleague of the princeps in all the offices, whether of consul or of censor, which Vespasian thought fit to take. Nevertheless, the principate of Titus had not begun. He was not called ‘Augustus’, nor was he officially given the praenomen imperatoris; and even his appointment to the sole command of the Praetorians, complimentary as it was to his filial devotion, emphasized his concern not with the whole army but with a single corps and put him in a position which, however powerful, had never been given to a man of senatorial rank before AD 70. But though he was not the equal of the first, Titus was now beyond dispute the second citizen of Rome: without exaggeration he could be called particeps atque etiam tutor imperii.
The work of Vespasian had its reward. In AD 79 Titus stepped into his place unchallenged, and at once the Imperial house gained new solidity. Its head, and his brother, were now Divi filii. Thus the Flavians moved nearer to the position which Augustus and his successors had enjoyed, and the move is made important by the use to which it was turned by Domitian; for of Vespasian and Titus it cannot be said that they exploited their opportunities of worship. There was no doubt, indeed, of Vespasian’s determination to retain the Principate in his own family, even if he was not above strengthening his position by marriage ties with the nobility: not only were his sons kept prominently in the public eye, but, by a practice for which precedents were plentiful and which became normal in the second century, the distinction of the Imperial house was stressed still further by the honors bestowed on its ladies. Vespasian’s only daughter, though she was almost certainly dead before he became princeps, was called ‘Augusta’ and was later deified, as were Julia, the daughter of Titus, and Domitian’s infant song; and the name ‘Augusta’, which may have indicated some political authority when it was borne by Livia and the younger Agrippina, was given by Domitian to his wife, as it had been by Nero to Poppaea, as a title appropriate to the consort of the princeps. Before long this usage was extended. Marciana, Trajan’s sisters, and her daughter Matidia the Elders were both called ‘Augusta’ when alive, and were both, like Trajan’s father, deified when dead; and their honors were not peculiar.
But for Domitian titles were not enough. With him the dignity of the Flavians was an obsession, and the knowledge that his father, his brother and his sister had been added to the number of the gods can scarcely have failed to affect the new conception which he formed of his own position. The Porticus Divorum, which he erected on the Campus Martius in their honor, and the Templum Gentis Flaviae, built on the site of the house in which he had been born, were expressions of an outlook which found the existing accommodation on the Palatine inadequate. Though the palace was not a temple, there was a great and significant difference between the unpretentious house with which Augustus had long been content and the imposing home of one who called his bed by the name proper to the couches of the gods and who could allow himself to be described as dominus et deus. Such was Domitian’s interpretation of the high prestige which the efforts of Vespasian had secured—efforts which were wasted when Domitian died at the age of forty-four, leaving none to follow him but two grand-nephews, whom he had, indeed, adopted but who were still no more than boys.
With the accession of Nerva, the idea that the Principate should become the possession of a natural family fell into intelligible disrepute, and Rome, whether from conviction or because chance brought the childless to power, had recourse to a principle which it had been one of the great achievements of the Republic to establish. The populares of the last two centuries BC had fought with success to secure that office should be filled by the best candidates to be found, and this doctrine had in general been accepted by Augustus. But in one most vital connection he had compromised with his ideal : the overwhelming difficulty of ensuring an unquestioned succession to himself had forced him to make use of the prestige which he had communicated to his relatives and to look for an heir only among those who were in some sense members of his family. Such was the system which, well as it had worked in AD 14, was condemned when it gave the Empire first to Gaius and then to Nero; but, though Galba had hinted at a better way in his adoption of Piso Licinianus, the task of establishing a line drove Vespasian back on the same expedients as it had compelled Augustus to adopt, and the Principate was reserved for a single family even more strictly than before. When Domitian had followed Nero and a second house became extinct, change came at last. Imperaturus omnibus eligi debet ex omnibus are words which mark the triumph of the populares; for they mean that the system which, to its great advantage, had made the administration a carrière ouverte aux talents had now been extended to the Principate itself.
The result was a sequence of rulers without parallel in Roman history. Trajan, Hadrian, Pius and Marcus maintained for more than eighty years a level of efficiency, devotion and common-sense, which, except in a few periods both rare and brief, had not been known since the death of Augustus. Of them the first three had all passed forty when they were designated heirs, even though Trajan had shown interest in Hadrian since his marriage to Sabina in AD 100; and Marcus, though he was chosen young, was trained for his high destiny from the age of sixteen. It is true that even now relationship with the princeps may still have been a commendation; for, though Nerva and Trajan were unconnected, as probably were Hadrian and Pius, Hadrian himself was son of a first-cousin of Trajan and his nephew by marriage, as Marcus was of Pius. Yet, even so, with Trajan at least family considerations counted for so little that he did nothing to secure the claims of Hadrian until his last short illness had begun—if then.
What told was merit, which the princeps recognized by adopting the man who showed it. The political consequences of this act must be distinguished from its effects in law. At a time when birth had fallen into disfavor as a claim to the Imperial place it was natural that a step which revealed the emperor’s views on the succession should not be allowed to establish remoter claims in those who might now become his grandsons. The significance of adoption was confined to the adopted son alone, and no promise was made to his children. To put this beyond doubt, the name ‘Caesar’ was turned to the use which is normal in later history. At first a cognomen of the Julii, since the extinction of the Julian line it had commonly been borne by the princeps and his agnatic descendants, without regard to their prospects of political power; but when Hadrian adopted first L. Ceionius Commodus and then the future Emperor Pius, though each of these in turn was called ‘Caesar’, Commodus, who alone had a surviving son, was not allowed to pass on the name, and the youth remained without it until he was made Caesar and Augustus simultaneously in AD 161. Thus it happened that only the princeps and his intended successor were Caesars; and, since the princeps himself was distinguished as Augustus—the appellation which he shared with none—Caesar, now no longer a name but a title, came in practice to be the mark of the heir-presumptive. It may, indeed, even be said that the heir was not completely designated until his adoption had been followed by the grant of this title; for though Marcus and Verus had both been adopted by Pius in AD 138, when Pius became emperor in the following year, Marcus was made Caesar and Verus was not; and only then was Marcus indicated as the next Augustus. The title, however, like the adoption, did no more than reveal the hopes of the princeps. If the Caesar was to have constitutional powers, they must still be constitutionally conferred, and this step was not necessarily an immediate sequel to the creation of a Caesar. Marcus was Caesar for seven years before he received imperium and tribunicia potestas. In his case, however, his youth was a reason for delay, and he provides no exception to the practice by which a Caesar was invested as soon as might reasonably be with the authority which Augustus had used to mark his destined successor.
Despite the skill with which earlier practice was thus adapted to the needs of an age when the Principate had ceased to be the possession of a single family, the enlargement of the field in which candidates might be sought inevitably increased the number of those who might seek to press their own claims, possibly by force. The only security against disputes over the succession was the personal prestige of the princeps who had made the choice and the reputation of the man on whom it fell; but this security was greatly strengthened when Marcus for the first time made the Principate continuous. A socius was what Marcus chose to have, and a partner in the fullest possible sense. As soon as Pius was dead he caused Verus to be appointed colleague of himself as Augustus, constitutionally not his adjutant but his equal. It is true that, by the marriage of Verus to Annia Lucilla, Marcus acquired the superior position of a father-in-law, and that it was left for Pupienus and Balbinus in AD 238 to duplicate the office of Pontifex Maximus, which Marcus retained for himself; but in their secular powers both were alike and the Roman world had two Augusti at once.
The motives of Marcus in taking a colleague are not recorded. The correspondence of Fronto contains ample proof that, even without the complications of war, business which ordinary routine brought before the princeps by now was enough to occupy the time of twos. Nevertheless, though this consideration may have been cogent, the functions of the two Augusti were not formally specified or distinguished, and nothing was done to make it necessary that for the future two should always be in office. So, when Verus died in AD 169, Marcus was left as sole ruler; and though in AD 166, by bestowing the title ‘Caesar’ on his two sons, he had given a sign that the new system was more than temporary, he remained without a colleague until AD 177, when Commodus became Augustus—in his seventeenth year. Three years later Marcus died, and so far as it provided for continuity of control his plan proved good. Commodus was left supreme, freed from the necessity of seeking further powers because his powers were already complete. The perils of a vacant Principate were avoided and succession was no longer hazardous, because there was no succession; for now the future government was determined, not when an Augustus died, but when he secured the appointment of his colleague. As a safeguard against dangers like those of AD 68-9 the new system proved sound: that it left Rome in the hands of Commodus was due to the indifference of Marcus towards the methods which had chosen Trajan, Hadrian and Pius. Commodus had been promoted because he was his father’s son, and Rome was to have another lesson, though not the last, in the risks to be run when holders of unrestricted power are chosen by the accident of birth.
PRINCEPS AND SENATE: THE CENSORSHIP
The various expedients by which succession to the Principate was protected from the hazards of war did nothing to increase the freedom of choice exercised by the Senate; but, though the constitutional power of that body to confer his powers on the princeps came to be expressed in formal votes for the benefit of a candidate to whom there was no alternative, the Senate played a leading part in determining the nature of the government. During the first three centuries of the Empire the lot of the Senate was cast in hard places: at best it enjoyed a precarious freedom, at worst it was the victim of something near to persecution. Yet all the time its thankless fortitude was exercising a decisive influence on the character of the Imperial regime. It was among the senators that the public opinion of Rome and Italy found reflection, if not open expression; and, even though the House might fawn on a Domitian with its resolutions, its members did not fail to resent a lack of civilitas in the princeps. Impotence did not reconcile it to treatment which outraged its dignity, and dignity demanded that the princeps should show it the deference due to a body whose history entitled it to regard the Principate itself as something new and whose individual members, filling as they did most of the chief administrative posts, could claim an experience of affairs which entitled them to a judgment of their own. Moreover, powerless as the Senate might be to impose its will on the princeps by formal process, its hostility remained a formidable danger. Gaius, Nero and Domitian had all given it offence; and, though the Senate was not directly responsible for their ends, it was a sobering reflection that all three had met their deaths by violence. To fall foul of the Senate was dangerous not because the Senate habitually used the knife against its enemies, but because its ill-will was reserved for those who had forfeited their popularity with that large class of educated citizens who were the strength of Italy and the Empire. Thus an emperor’s relations with the Senate supplied a measure of the degree to which his conception of the Imperial duties harmonized with those ideals of government which distinguished Principate from Autocracy. Between the accession of Vespasian and the death of Marcus it was only during the last decade of Domitian’s rule that the Senate and princeps were dangerously estranged. Vespasian himself, indeed, had been drastic in his treatment of Helvidius Priscus, and Hadrian in the last years of his life had lost the friendship which he had enjoyed for the greater part of his career; but it was not till Commodus returned to the ways of Domitian and advanced towards the destination which he reached when he became invictus Romanus Hercules that the Senate, now said even to have been called Senatus Commodianus, found itself confronted again with the threat of despotism.
If collaboration with the Senate served to keep the princeps in touch with opinion which was quick to resent signs of autocratic ambition, the emperor exercised an even more powerful influence on the Senate. Like other institutions in the Roman world, the Senate was threatened with atrophy by the mere presence of the princeps, whose superior information about the needs of government combined with his oppressive prestige to encourage the Fathers in a lazy reliance on his judgment and that of his advisers. The ‘homines ad servitutem parati’, whom Tiberius had tried to stir into some show of independence and Claudius had rated for their acquiescence in a procedure so perfunctory as to be unworthy of the tradition of the House, were always ready to make fresh surrenders of their rights and then to regret the loss. Their submissiveness to Nero and their silence in the ‘curia trepida et elinguis’ of Domitian’s time may indeed have been part of prudence; nor was it strange that, despite the urgings of Helvidius Priscus, the House should have shrunk from a serious decision about public expenditure in AD 70 until Vespasian had been consulted. But it was a sign of alarming weakness that, when judicial corruption defied the laws and its own decrees, the Senate, so far from taking the action which was its undoubted right, confessed its own incompetence by putting the whole problem in the hands of Trajan; and even its best friends might pardonably have despaired when the secret ballot for elections, which Trajan had apparently introduced in order to protect the freedom and increase the dignity of the proceedings, was seized by some of the Fathers as an opportunity to dishonor the House by writing ribaldries and obscenities on their votes. There was, indeed, no lack of evidence to prove that the Senate had learnt little and forgotten much since the end of the Republic. Nerva himself, whose sympathy was beyond dispute, found himself forced, like Mucianus before him, to restrain the Fathers from neglecting their proper duties to open a vindictive campaign against the agents of the late oppression; and these reminders are only two among many which survive to show how readily the Senate would have relapsed into the futile bickering of the late Republic if once the firm hand of the princeps had been withdrawn.
Nevertheless, under Imperial control the Senate was cast for an important part, and its responsibilities were enough to stir an active interest in its composition. In the choice of its members the influence of the emperor was increased by the growing use to which the censorship was put. Like Claudius before him, Vespasian assumed this office, and, though he and his colleague Titus seem only to have exercised its functions for the traditional period of eighteen months, they associated it so closely with the Imperial position that it was no great innovation when Domitian in AD 85 had himself made sole censor for life, or when Trajan took the final step and acted as if the rights of a censor, even though not expressly conferred, were latent in the powers of the princeps. The result was important. The Senate needed new blood to maintain its vitality, whether from Italy or from the provinces, and the addition of a member like Agricola’s father was an indisputable gain. But in the first century of the Empire there had been no permanent means by which a man of middle age could enter the Senate with a status appropriate to his years: such a one, if he was to become a member at all, could normally expect no relief from the necessity of competing for a quaestorship with young men of twenty-four born of senatorial stock and having them as his equals for the rest of his career. But the censorship opened a better way: with its help a man could be exempted from the earlier stages of the senatorial career and enrolled in the House with the immediate seniority which became his age and qualified him for a post of the sort for which he was suited by experience.
The policy which this device was meant to serve would be a matter of dispute, even if it could be assumed that the intentions of all emperors who admitted men to the Senate by adlectio were the same. One plausible suggestion—that Vespasian called in large numbers of recruits from the romanized provinces to make good the failings of what had been an essentially Italian body—is not confirmed by the extant evidence. If it were true, the members whom he created would have been predominantly, if not wholly, of provincial origin, whereas more than half of those recorded are Italians. Nor again is it likely that even Trajan and Hadrian, who were more generous than their predecessors in opening the Curia to Greeks, sought provincial senators in order to send out as governors natives of the regions to be controlled. Such men were, indeed, freely employed in the provinces, but cases where a man is found engaged in the region of his home are too rare to justify the suggestion that what the government sought was a degree of local knowledge which only a native could possess. What may more reasonably be suspected is that men of provincial origin were welcomed in the Senate because they formed a supply of potential officials who could bring to the problems of administration in the Empire at large a general appreciation of the aims and aspirations of the provincial communities and some sense of the silent opinion which prevailed about Rome. Even if this be not the explanation, there can be no doubt about the fact that, though it was an exaggeration to suggest that Trajan was surrounded by ‘unholy Jews’, early in the second century provincial members of the Senate had become numerous; for Trajan thought it necessary to encourage an Italian patriotism in men of this class by ordering them to invest a third of their property in Italian land—a rule which Marcus modified only so far as to make the fraction a quarter.
But it was not for this reason alone that the powers of the censors were invoked. The use of adlection has a wider explanation: it was an inevitable result of the importance attained by the equites in public service. The more freely they were employed, the more probable it became that the equestrian career would reveal occasional men whose proved ability might profitably be employed in posts for which senators alone were eligible; and this need for easy transfer of equites to the Senate was met by that process of adlection which the censorship allowed the princeps to perform. The cost might be high; for censorial powers gave the emperor a still stronger hold over the Senate, even if they encouraged the plebeian Fathers to hope for the honor of the patriciate, which Claudius had made it the prerogative of censors to bestow. But, at whatever price, another victory had been won by the principle for which the populares of the Republic had fought, and the highest office was open to the merits even of those whose service in equestrian posts had been long.
SENATE AND MAGISTRATES
The duties of the Senate whose composition was thus carefully controlled scarcely call for any long examination. As the Principate grew older, the independence of the Senate declined; and, though it remained an important part in the machine of government, its most valuable functions were to focus that educated opinion which was the strongest protection against autocracy and to maintain a supply of persons duly qualified to hold some of the highest posts in the administration. The Empire now owed more to senators than to the Senate. A friendly princeps could coax the Senate into a hesitant self-confidence; but gratitude for the good-will of a Trajan was hardly less potent than the fear inspired by a Domitian in moving it to that ready acceptance of Imperial guidance which sapped its vitality as a deliberative council.
The old forms, indeed, were retained. With Hadrian’s codification of the Edict, senatus consulta, which since Augustan times had been producing ius honorarium, came to be a source of Civil Law itself, even if the true source of its inspiration is revealed both by the reluctance of the Senate to act without the emperor’s advice and by the custom, which appears in Hadrian’s time, of quoting as the law, not the decree of the Senate, but the oratio in which the princeps had submitted the proposal to the House. In matters of the private law this was, indeed, a natural outcome of the increasing control exercised by the legal advisers of the court over the growth of the Ius Civile a control in itself desirable; but the professional jurists who sat on the emperor’s consilium were only a section of these experts in all the varied aspects of government whose services the emperor controlled and whose superior knowledge made any action difficult without reference to the man who was their master and their mouthpiece. And even in matters where no technical issue was involved a diffident Senate was content to leave decisions to the princeps: Pliny’s attack on Publicius Certus produced a memorable debate, but no trial followed because Nerva ignored the whole affair.
Again, though the Senate was nominally responsible for the election of magistrates, the freedom of its choice was somewhat circumscribed. The frequent canvassing which Pliny undertook is evidence enough that in filling junior posts the House still enjoyed a wide discretion; but the consulships, perhaps since the time of Nero, were regularly bestowed, even under the most enlightened regimes, by what was virtually Imperial patronage. Indeed the magistracies themselves were ceasing to be posts of governmental importance and becoming, with some exceptions, mere honors whose only other significance was the qualifications they conferred for service in the Empire. In a letter to Pompeius Falco, Pliny makes it plain that he himself was slightly peculiar in refusing, as tribune, to treat the office as ‘inanis umbra, sine honore nomen’, and despite the extravagances of gratitude expressed by those who became consuls it is not surprising that, when few could hope to hold it longer than two months, the consulship itself was regarded as an irksome distinction. Fronto, in AD 143, “stuck”, as he says, “in Rome and bound by golden bonds”, was not afraid to tell Marcus that he looked forward to his release as eagerly as a Jew to the end of a fast. The consuls, indeed, had a tedious task; for their first business was with the Senate, and the shortness of their office unsuited them for routine of a kind which took time to learn.
Praetors, however, were in better case. It is true that their ancient functions were being curtailed. Hadrian’s concern for the ius honorarium deprived the praetor urbanus of the proud right to shape the ‘viva vox iuris civilis’, and it is probable that the praetor inter cives et peregrinos likewise lost his power of making law. So too the praetors in charge of the iudicia publica were slowly yielding ground to Imperial officials in the administration of criminal justice. Yet the machinery of the iudicia publica which Sulla had constructed was still in active work; and even though cases in increasing numbers were heard elsewhere, in this connection praetors still had their old duties to perform. Moreover, it was to the praetorship that more than one princeps turned when a new task of responsibility needed competent discharge. In AD 70 members of this college are found again in control of the aerarium, as had been the custom from 23 BC to AD 44, though their restoration was brief and praefecti of the type instituted by Nero in AD 56 seem soon to have been reinstated. But at the end of the first century, after Titus had suppressed one of the two praetorships which Claudius had created to deal with cases arising out of fideicommissa, Nerva restored the number of praetors to eighteen by appointing one, who does not indeed seem to have long survived, to take charge of suits between private individuals and the fiscus; and possibly it was when this office became superfluous through the growing activities of the advocates fisci at Rome that Marcus used it to meet the need for a special magistrate to relieve the consuls of the difficult questions about tutela by converting its holder into the praetor tutelaris.
Despite the decay of the magistracies and the strength of Imperial influence on its proceedings, both legislative and electoral, the Senate still retained duties of the first importance, and these it was generally the aim of the princeps to stress. Though they were almost certainly empowered to declare peace and war, the emperors even showed deference to the ancient concern of the Senate with the foreign relations of Rome. Meaningless as the form might be, it doubtless flattered the Fathers’ conceit and strengthened their good-will when Trajan consulted them about Dacian affairs, when Hadrian did the same about Parthia, and Marcus about military arrangements in the East and on the Danube. But the significance of the Senate’s part in government is to be discerned rather in its discharge of the functions with which it had been entrusted when the Principate was first established. One of its cares was the finance of that part of the Empire for which it was immediately responsible, though since the time of Augustus the financial system had undergone a change. Within what was at first a single organization, the finances under Imperial control had grown by the time of Claudius into a separate department, and this—the fiscus—had been made independent of the senatorial aerarium, which in the end it was to absorb. But the time for that did not come until the third century, and throughout the Antonine age the two treasuries existed side by side, as they are revealed by the younger Pliny. The princeps could, indeed, call on resources of the Aerarium Saturni at will, but if he cared for the friendship of the Senate, when its aid was needed he asked it formally to vote supplies, as Marcus did in AD 178; and even Commodus is said so far to have followed his father’s example in this respect as to use trickery instead of force to secure a grant from this quarter. Again, though his maius imperium enabled the emperor to override or ignore the proconsuls in the public provinces, the Senate retained its immediate responsibility for the control of their administration; and even when, under Trajan, the Imperial government began its well-meant efforts to reduce the inefficiency which the Senate was unable to repress, the emperors were still content to represent their interference as exceptional and to act towards the Senate and its officials with the same regard as had been shown by Augustus and Vespasian.
In general, however, it is clear that even under friendly emperors the proceedings of the House were tending towards that banality which in days of oppression was a matter for complaints; and against the loss of its former power the Senate had nothing to set except its increasing activity as a court of justice. The cases of Baebius Massa, Caecilius Classicus, Marius Priscus, Julius Bassus and Varenus Rufus, in all of which the younger Pliny was engaged, are enough to show that not a little business of this sort was provided by the governors of the public provinces; and it was on the occasion of great trials like theirs that the House was more clearly conscious of its own importances than at any other time save when there was a vacancy in the Principate. The judicial functions of the consular-senatorial court were not, however, confined to the hearing of such causes célèbres. The tribunal was competent to take civil as well as criminal cases from regions under its own controls; it exercised a wide discretion in interpreting, and even modifying, the law; and the finality of its decisions, which may have been in doubt during the first century of the Principate, was expressly guaranteed by a constitutio of Hadrian. One claim made for it, though without complete success before the time of Severus, deserves special notice—the claim that it alone should have the right to condemn a senator to death. According to Dio, the demand was refused by Domitian, but Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian are said to have promised that they would refrain from passing such sentences themselves; and Marcus, who is not recorded to have committed himself on this matter, seems to have had difficulty in restraining the Fathers from a bloody revenge on those of their colleagues who had been involved with Avidius Cassius. Mommsen observed with truth that the claim of senators facing capital charges to be tried by their peers was only respected in this period at times when they could be sure of impartial justice in a trial before the emperor himself. As a High Court the Senate was not, indeed, alone; for the court of the emperor was by its side. But the equal partnership of princeps and Senate was nowhere more fully established than in the judicial sphere, and the consular-senatorial court was doing work of value by giving some relief to the princeps in that legal business which, for all its importance, could easily make excessive claims on the time of the emperor.
The decline of the Senate and the steady increase of the emperor’s prestige brought with it a change in the means by which princeps and Senate were kept in contact. In the days when memories of the Republic were fresh Augustus had been cautious in his dealings with the House, and business in fact inspired on the Palatine had only been submitted after consideration by a cabinet which was formally constituted, regularly changed, and chosen, not by Imperial nomination, but by lot.
Such a body might command the respect due to representative members of the Senate itself, and its support was doubtless of value: indeed, in the last year of Augustus’ life it was empowered in a slightly altered form to act in the Senate’s name. But by Tiberius its character was changed, and thenceforward the princeps relied for advice about political affairs on any of his friends whose opinion he valued. Counselors of this kind were certainly drawn from the class of amici augusti, which in the early days of the Empire included that large body of leading citizens who had acquired the right of entry to the daily levee; but in course of time the amicitia principis acquired a narrower sense to describe the relation between the emperor and those for whose personal service or advice he had a special use. Tiberius took with him to Capreae a carefully chosen entourage, and Claudius was accompanied to Britain by at least one comes who held rank of legatus without special duties—an appointment of a kind which soon became more commons. Under the Flavians the amici grew in political importances; in Trajan’s time, if not before, their leisure was secured by exemption from certain public duties; and the historian of Pius speaks as if by the middle of the second century amicus had come to mean an imperial counsellor. Such advisers were of two kinds—those whom the princeps consulted on issues of general policy, and the more technical experts on law who sat in the consilium which, after a history which began with the Principate, was formally constituted by Hadrian; but, though some individuals doubtless served in both capacities, the two bodies were always as distinct as the ends they had to serve, and it is in the former that we may see a link of value between emperor and Senate. Neither of these boards was composed of senators alone: indeed, it was counted for righteousness in Hadrian and Marcus that, when a senator was on trial, equestrian members of the judicial council were excluded. But senators were naturally numerous among those whom the princeps consulted from day to day, and in them, if their advice had been freely taken, he had spokesmen to commend their proposals to the Senate and to remind the House that they had not been framed without reference to that public opinion which senators were peculiarly qualified to express.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CIVIL SERVICE
The declining vitality of the Senate was in part both cause and result of the growing responsibilities of the officials under direct Imperial control. It had been among the first tasks of the Principate to supply that adequate civil service which the Republic had lamentably lacked Julius Caesar, trying to develop the existing machine, failed before the refusal of the Senate to acquiesce in the first essential—the increase of its own numbers; and Augustus, with his unfailing deference to public opinion, had proved his loyalty to what passed as the Republic by restoring the Senate to its old dimensions. The problem thus remained, and the Augustan solution was to concentrate the public service of senators on selected kinds of office which there were senators enough to fill, and then to seek recruits among the equites for those of the remaining posts which were of too public a character to be held by freedmen of the imperial households. In the fifty years which followed, the influence of the freedmen increased, but with the fall of Nero signs of a change appeared. Vespasian, the sturdy burgher of Reate, knew the value of the Italian bourgeoisie from which he came, and the bourgeoisie itself was eager to accept service under a princeps of its own class.
Little need be said of equestrian encroachment on senatorial posts; for this was no more than a consequence of the Senate’s surrender of its functions to the princeps. The process had begun in Julio-Claudian times, and the contemporaries of Claudius or Nero would not have been surprised when Titus, whose Commissioners for the Devastated Area in Campania had been ex-consuls, chose equites to organize rebuilding in Rome after the fire of AD 80, or when Trajan—if he was the first—started the custom by which men of this class took the place of senators as census officers in the provinces. But the ousting of freedmen by equites is of more significance. The exceptional conditions of the time make it impossible to argue that a new policy is to be seen in Otho’s choice of an equestrian secretary or in Vitellius’ behaviour at Cologne, when he appointed Knights to a variety of posts customarily held by freedmen; but a change became plain when Domitian, by whom freedmen were still indeed employed, gave the great office of ab epistulis to an eques. Trajan, it is true, again had freedmen among his secretaries, though he treated his freedmen in a way which became their station; but in his time an even greater prize was re-captured by the Knights when an eques was chosen to fill the office of Minister of Finance, long held by the famous father of Claudius Etruscus—who himself had risen to the ordo equester from slavery. Thus, though there was a libertus a rationibus again even under Marcus, the way was prepared for that change in the recruitment of the emperor’s civil service which is particularly associated with the name of Hadrian. His biographer, indeed, is in error when he claims that Hadrian was the first to have Knights as ab epistulis and a libellis, but there is evidence in plenty to prove that he moved far towards substituting equites in all the posts of prominence which had been held in the past by freedmen. The historian Suetonius, ab epistulis at the beginning of the reign, and T. Haterius Nepos, probably the a libellis, are typical of the class from which, not only great imperial secretaries, but an increasing majority of those employed by the princeps in administration were now regularly drawn.
The number of these was large; for they were needed not merely for the immediate business of the Palatium or in central offices at Rome but in various capacities throughout the Empire. In Rome itself their greatest influence was still to come; for the Praetorian Prefects, who were in the end to be something like deputies of the princeps (when they were not his masters), had not yet brought the civil service at large under their supervision, nor had they acquired those great judicial responsibilities which increased their power and compelled them to enlarge their staffs. Marcius Turbo, indeed, like Bassaeus Rufus after him, had business to do in court, but it was not till the time of Septimius that the appointment of Papinian to the Prefecture marks the beginning of its greatness as a court of civil appeal and brings the office to its full development. In other departments, however, expansion came earlier. The praefectus vigilum had a subpraefectus by the time of Trajan, and before the end of the second century an equestrian subpraefectus annonae seems to have superseded the freedman who served as adiutor in earlier days. But it was outside Italy, in the corn-bearing provinces of the Empire, that the Ministry of Food most notably increased its activities. The government’s care for the food-supply of the capital, commemorated in Rome itself by the rebuilding of the Horrea Galbae and by the Horrea Nervae, is freely attested by the records of new officials in this service abroad. Even more widespread were the agents of the new department charged with the collection of the Succession Duty. When this tax was first imposed under Augustus, despite the obvious difficulties of such a method, publicani seem to have been employed to fix the sums due and to receive them; and, though there was a certain amount of detailed supervision by the government, this system was maintained in essentials throughout the first century. But the extension of the Roman citizenship continually increased the numbers of estates to be taxed, and in Trajan’s time equestrian procurators are found apparently presiding over a central bureau in Rome, and soon afterwards subordinates in charge of various regions in Italy and the provinces. Since Hadrian is recorded to have concerned himself with the regulations about this tax, it is not improbable that some part of the responsibility for these developments belongs to him; and it is certain that with them came the introduction of direct collection by the State.
Rome was now generally abandoning the use of publicani, and it is clear that the old system had fallen too deep into disfavor for it to be adopted in any new developments. Even the customsdues—the largest source of revenue controlled by the tax-farmers in Imperial times—were being slowly reorganized in a way which would make difficult abuses of the kind which had moved Nero to the drastic proposal of AD 58. In the first century there was a tendency to give contracts for collection no longer to large companies but to individual conductores of a type early used on Imperial estates; and these were at first supervised, and later superseded, by procurators of the permanent civil service. In Hadrian’s time there was a procurator of the quadragesima Galliarum, as of the quattuor publica Africae, and though the latter were still let out to contract in the time of Pius, conductores are not found after the Antonines. In practice this change, which was in progress throughout the Empire, seems often to have been made by means which are attested in Illyricum, where individuals found first as publicani appear later to have become paid members of the administration and to have been transformed into procurators.
The high ideal of efficiency shown by the government before Commodus was not the only cause of the growth in the public services: business itself was increasing. Bequests to the princeps, which had been continuous since the time of Augustus, not only moved Trajan—if it was he who took this step—to appoint a procurator hereditatum independent of the procurator patrimonii, who had probably been in charge of these matters hitherto, but also produced a steady accumulation of property for which the emperor was responsible. All this demanded a larger staff, as did the constant additions, made by purchase or penal expropriation or by the operation of the leges caducariae, to the already vast assets of the fiscus. The importance of these accessions was recognized by the creation of advocati fisci, officers who in fiscal matters seem to have done work not unlike that of the procuratores hereditatum for the patrimonium in the days before they too began to serve the fiscus. The institution of these advocati is ascribed to Hadrian, and though it is possible that at first there was only a single functionary of this kind, having his office in Rome, before long there are signs of advocati fisci, as of procuratores hereditatums, in the provinces as well. The list of departments thus developed might be prolonged, but here it will be enough, by way of final illustration, to mention the Imperial Post. The cursus publicus, introduced to the Roman world by Augustus to provide rapid communication with officials in the provinces, was at first a charge on the communities through whose territories it ran, and as early as Claudius the burden was resented. Claudius had sought remedies in vain, and the first unmistakable relief recorded was given when Nerva, if such be the meaning of the evidence, transferred the cost of the service in Italy to the State. Perhaps as a result of this a small office was opened in Rome, and this soon had at its head an equestrian praefectus, whose duties were doubtless a result of Hadrian’s decision to put the whole organization under Imperial control. Thereafter, while complaints from the provinces still demanded notices, subordinates of this office spread outside Italy, and their numbers became large when Septimius carried Hadrian’s policy to its logical conclusion by making the government, temporarily at least, responsible for the cost of an organization which it already managed and which it alone could uses.
Though freedmen were still employed for humble tasks, it was to the ordo equester that the Empire turned more and more to provide the higher officials in this growing bureaucracy. New posts were freely filled by equites; Knights ousted freedmen from the old; and the importance of the part they played was marked by various signs to show that they were no longer casual servants of the princeps, but members of an organized civil service. Already in the first century procurators were roughly graded by salary, but it was not before the time of Hadrian or the Antonines that they were divided into the four sharply defined classes of trecenarii, ducenarii, centenarii, and sexagenarii, the members of which each received 300,000, 200,000, 100,000 and 60,000 sesterces a year respectively. Even by the death of Commodus this differentiation had not reached its limits; for the rationalis, formerly known as procurator a rationibus, seems still to have been the only trecenarius. But evidence from the beginning of the third century makes it plain that the developments under the Severi were only an elaboration of a scheme inherited from their predecessors. The dignity of equestrian officials was also marked by formal titles, inspired perhaps by the phrase vir clarissimus which had been appropriated by senators as their special appellation early in the second century. Every eques could be addressed as ‘vir egregious’, but, perhaps already in the second century, some of the more distinguished came to be known as ‘viri perfectissimi’, and the most important of all as’viri eminentissimi’— a title which after slightly wider use was soon confined to the Praetorian Prefects.
The class which thus obtained so prominent a place in the system of administration was one which could provide talent of the most varied kinds. Lack of traditions gave it strength; for, unlike the Senate, the ordo equester had no corporate conceit to be outraged when soldiers, provincials and even freedmen were added to its ranks. So, besides substantial citizens from Rome and Italy, it could absorb a centurion of humble ambition or one like Bassaeus Rufus who was to become Praetorian Prefect, an Egyptian Jew like Tiberius Julius Alexander, a Smyrniote slave like the father of Claudius Etruscus, or the Greek paedagogue Nicomedes, who was first tutor to the young Verus and then advanced by stages to the second place in the Ministry of Finance. From this source the administration could draw recruits whose distinction had been earned by ability and whose status gave them qualities of value which the freedmen of earlier days had often lacked.
When large parts of the Imperial business were transacted by the emperor’s household, the posts which these functionaries held belonged rather to the private establishment of the princeps than to the public service of the State. Gratitude for work well done was a less certain claim to advancement than the capricious favor of an individual; and the freedmen, whose fortunes rested on the good-will of their master, could count on flattery to protect them against the healthy opinion which was outraged by the audacity of their pursuit of money, their one ambition. When Knights took their place, mere servants gave way to men with a rank and honor to maintain, and at the same time what had in some degree retained its original character as the household of the first citizen became more obviously part of a public administration. In appearance at least, and perhaps in fact, this substitution of equites for freedmen was a success for the Republican ideals of government against the menace of autocracy. Nevertheless, the removal of freedmen from high responsibility did not mean that Rome confessed to error. Freedmen were employed by nobles of the Republic because there were many purposes best served by the peculiar gifts of Greeks, and for the same reason freedmen had been used by Julio-Claudian emperors. Pallas was doubtless a peculator; but Claudius had no ground for complaint about the state of the Exchequer. To the Greek capacity for organization and finance Rome had cause to be grateful, and the government did not deny itself the use of Greek ability when freedmen were discarded. Tacitus, writing of AD 56, asserts that even then the majority of the equites and many senators were not without servile blood; and, though epigraphic evidence suggests that this is an exaggeration, it is clear that both by direct recruitment from the East and by the absorption of men descended from freedmen in Italy the equestrian order in the second century was well supplied with members whose descent enabled them to put the shrewd competence of Greeks at the disposal of the administration.
In the salutary development of the civil service one feature may be discerned less laudable than the rest. It had been a practice of the Republic that men who sought to serve the State should be qualified to hold either military command or civil office as occasion might demand, and this custom Augustus had observed in his incipient organization of the equestrian career no less than in the use he made of senators. Whatever the defects of a system which did nothing to encourage the specialist, its merits were beyond dispute. With Claudius, however, came a change, when the tenure of the military tribunate was in some cases allowed to become a formality. In itself the concession was trivial, but it deserves notice as a step towards a dangerous practice which Hadrian seems to have made common. The historian Suetonius may well belong to a group of several equestrian officials at this time who appear to have served in no military capacity at all, and they are the forerunners of the purely civil functionaries who later found themselves at the mercy of the war-lords of Rome. The separation of the civilian from the military career was dangerous, not because it deprived men engaged in administration of some slight acquaintance with the army, but because, if specialized service were allowed, a bureaucracy of civilians was likely to be confronted before long with a more formidable body of men whose occupation was wholly military. And so it befell. In the conflict which began before the end of the second century the civilians were helpless before the army; power passed to men whose distinction in war was their only fame; and to its lasting harm the Empire found itself in the hands of soldiers whose humble origins and warlike occupations left them strangers to the arts of civil government. The needs of the frontiers in the third century gave the army that influence which is normal in time of war, and it was the conditions of the time which both enabled and constrained Gallienus and Diocletian to make a final division between civil and military services. But when at length they acted in the way which, if it saved the Empire, destroyed the Principate, their work completed a change to which Hadrian’s enthusiasm for efficiency had made a small but gratuitous contribution.
Great as was the value of the equites, it did not move the Principate to despise the service which could be rendered by the Senate. The House contained ability and experience, increased by judicious reinforcement from the equites themselves, which still was enough to fill the urban magistracies and the great provincial commands and to leave men available for new posts required by the demands of government. Equites were adequate for any administrative routine, but when work of special responsibility had to be done abroad, like that of Pliny in Bithynia, it was in the first place to senators that the princeps turned. Senators again played a large part in the control of the Social Services in Italy; for the alimentary system, which was sedulously tended throughout the second century, despite its foundation by Trajan with money from the Imperial treasury, had senatorial officials to supervise its complicated operations; and even when this department was centralized, perhaps by Marcus, a consular was still retained at its head.
The intervention of Marcus has been plausibly connected with another act of his which involved the employment of senators in new appointments, and one which raises questions about the relation of the princeps to the Senate and its responsibilities in Italy. By a measure of a kind which would benefit a government with the interests of the country population at heart, Hadrian had chosen four ex-consuls to administer justice in those parts of Italy beyond easy reach of Romeo. Their duties in detail are obscure; but it is clear that their business was to free litigants of the necessity to travel far for justice, if not at the same time to relieve pressure on the courts in Rome. Such evidence as has survived suggests that it was the consuls (and later the praetor tutelaris) the praetor in charge of fideicommissa and the praefectus urbi who lost some of their business to these officials; but there is no reason to believe that, even if it was criticized, their institution had been inspired by hostility towards the older magistrates or to argue that their presence reduced Italy to a level with the provinces. Their purpose was to make justice both cheaper and more expeditious—a purpose in accord with the spirit of the government and one well attested by the judicial arrangements of the Antonines. They were suspended by Pius, though he had himself been one, but were established again by Marcus, with the difference that they were now, not consulars, but ex-praetors, and it was by him that they may possibly have been given some responsibility for the alimentary system.
The Principate of the second century did, indeed, concern itself with Italy more closely than the Principate of the first. The contemporaries of Augustus might have been surprised if, when war was remote, a praetorian legate had been appointed to the regio Transpadana; and the four iuridici themselves were doubtless chosen by the princeps. Nevertheless, their revival by Marcus, whose friendship to the Senate was pronounced, is enough to prove that their institution by Hadrian was no deliberate insult to tradition, and their senatorial status is rather to be taken as evidence of respect for the past. But their creation is one among many signs of that restless passion for efficiency which was responsible for the invocation of the equites and for the steady expansion of the civil service which in the end gave the princeps control of a powerful bureaucracy with great possibilities for good or ill. The servants of the State, both high and low, were picked with honorable care; promotion was a reward for work well done; and the standard of competence was high. If the sphere of government was to extend, its agents could scarcely have been better chosen. But still the one question worth the asking remained to answer. What would the State, with all its bureaucrats, contribute to the well-being of the Empire and its inhabitants? Would they be the better for its activities, or the worse? The third and fourth centuries supplied the answer.