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jesuisavectoi

What made an Emperor "successful"?

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What was it that made an Emperor to be deemed successful? They all had individual opinions, strengths, weaknesses and visions for Rome and the Empire yet they all had the same or similar enough power. Also, who, in your opinion was the 'best' Emperor? I'm just getting back into this period and would love to here all of your thoughts. I do realize that the emperors or princeps didn't have to adhere to the same guidelines as officials elected during the Republic, just thought it'd be an interesting talking point since it is mainly Claudius, Caligula and Nero that you hear of, perhaps because of how sordid they're rules were.

 

Becky.

Edited by jesuisavectoi

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I would probably say that an emperor was successful through both military conquest and opinion of the people. If they kept the Empire in line, for example Marcus Aurelius, or if you conquered new lands, eg Claudius, then you would be successful. However, if the people despise the emperor, he is obviously not very successful. So a popular emperor would be a key factor also.

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I would probably say that an emperor was successful through both military conquest and opinion of the people. If they kept the Empire in line, for example Marcus Aurelius, or if you conquered new lands, eg Claudius, then you would be successful. However, if the people despise the emperor, he is obviously not very successful. So a popular emperor would be a key factor also.

 

I would say the number one element that made or broke an emperors place in being great or killed was .... Gold!

With gold all other attributes could be seen for what they were great leadership or a disgrace to Rome.

Before the civil wars , at least in the main , the number one element for a great leader was personal bravery and organizational leadership ability.

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What made an emperor successful?

 

A vigorous campaign of propaganda (including long-lasting stone monuments covered in inscriptions), employing a talented and favourably-biased historian to chronicle your great reign, and dying of old age without ever being successfully usurped!

 

(Tongue firmly in cheek, of course :no2: )

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In the third century, I'd say that surviving for more than a decade in the job counted as a resounding (and rare) success. Again, though their powers were similar not all emperors had the same job. So we can't really compare, say, Antonius Pius (successful by any standard) with Aurelian. Pius had simply to keep the ship of state steady in calm waters. Aurelian took over when Rome was on its beam ends and almost wrecked.

 

Given the diabolical difficulty of the job, perhaps we should say an emperor was successful if he met most of the following criteria

 

He died of natural causes (assuming assassination was not a natural cause for an emperor)

He'd arranged a suitable successor (big black mark for Marcus Aurelius)

The imperial finances were sound

Rome's frontiers were advanced, or at least intact

 

or in the event of the emperor taking over after a debacle, success can mean that substantial progress had been made in meeting the latter two criteria. Some of the other criteria - e.g, executing only a minimal number of dissidents/senators tend to be subsumed into these criteria, in that successful emperors tended not to have the bad habits of their less worthy colleagues.

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What was it that made an Emperor to be deemed successful?

 

By the internal standards of the Romans, military conquest against foreign foes was the highest cultural value.

 

Another time honored tradition was to provide infrastructure to the city and entertainment to the masses.

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The Relationship with the army was one of the most important element to succeed as emperor. Since Augustus time the army was the power behind the throne - whoever manage to win the loyalty and be popular with the troops would have his position as emperor secure, others who fail to do that and neglect their public image among the legions (like Nero) in the end had to deal with revolts.

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I would say the number one element that made or broke an emperors place in being great or killed was .... Gold!

With gold all other attributes could be seen for what they were great leadership or a disgrace to Rome.

Before the civil wars , at least in the main , the number one element for a great leader was personal bravery and organizational leadership ability.

That is true, gold was a big factor also. Which also attributes to the decline in the quality and leadership of Roman Emperor's, as they did not have enough gold to use anymore.

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I would say the number one element that made or broke an emperors place in being great or killed was .... Gold!

With gold all other attributes could be seen for what they were great leadership or a disgrace to Rome.

Before the civil wars , at least in the main , the number one element for a great leader was personal bravery and organizational leadership ability.

That is true, gold was a big factor also. Which also attributes to the decline in the quality and leadership of Roman Emperor's, as they did not have enough gold to use anymore.

 

'Now Mucianus was frantically gathering huge sums into the public treasury from wherever he could find them ... He continually declared that plentiful funds were the sinews of sovereignty.'

 

A bit of contemporary support for your contention (Cassius Dio 65.2)

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I suspect Roman emperors were not viewed as successful so much regarding conquests and monuments, but rather how their reign impacted on the personal lives of his subjects. How much tax did you pay last year? How many days of games were organised? Is the emperor a showman or a strange recluse? Has the water supply to your home been improved? Has the supply of corn been uninterrupted? Are slaves cheap and plentiful? Is the world ordered and peaceful in your back yard? Is justice fair? Has optimism returned to you and people you meet?

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It seems when discussing the Emperors many modern sources class Nero as the worst Emperor. He didn't expand the empire, ransacked sacred temples etc; but is this merely based on our society's own guidelines of what is 'fas'? In our society his actions in his private life in many minds would outweigh any good done and at the same time possibly distract from any military blunders or political transgressions and extended periods of absence from the state, which seems odd when whilst the empire was rocky after his death it was still for the most part intact.

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In fact, part of the reason Nero is derided isn't due to rational evaluation of his reign - which is history thus an unpopular subject to learn about for the average person - but more to with popular imagination and christian thinking. Nero has after all been described as an 'anti-christ' from time to time and that's largely down to his brutal treatment of christians following the Great Fire of Rome in 64. Also it must be pointed out that Nero represented a level of decadence (by way of rumour at the time even though we have good sources about his reign these days) that christianity decries. So in a way, as much as Nero wanted the christians made a scapegoat of, so the christians make a scapegoat of Nero.

 

It's interesting that you list 'Didn't expand the empire' as a reason for his failure to be regarded as a success. In whose societies eyes is this description a good or bad thing? Imperial control can be viewed as success but that has more to do with individual psychology. We are after all social animals and thus inevitably some us like the idea of being dominant, and it shouldn't therefore suprise us that Romans thought well of themselvs, because they had pride in the expansion of their culture by whatever means. There is always a feel-good factor in being the top dog. Nature has made us that way with good reason.

 

You're quite right to point out that in modern terms a dodgy private life would quickly colour public opinion, but despite Nero's popularity with the masses, his private life did impact on opinion. A rebel dragged in front of him and asked to explain why he had committed treason made a vitriolic condemnation of Nero's character based on the actions he'd made in private. The soldier had little to gain from hiding his feelings because his fate was pretty well certain anyway. And let's not forget, when news of Agrippina's death reached the public, a number of families laid their babies at the gates to the palace for exposure in an astonishing act of protest against his behaviour.

 

The state remained intact after his death but it wasn't in pristine condition, for reasons you listed yourself amongst others. In any case, the main problem was political instability with no clear successor, and the Year of Four Emperors that followed was not a period of total war. Civil war certainly, but with clear objectives and a single focus of military activity. For the rest of the empire, they had only to sit back and wait to find out who was in charge.

Edited by caldrail

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I've only seen a couple documentaries and skimmed over a couple books so all my opinions are pretty much just first impressions, feel a bit embarrassed about how off the mark I seem to be! You all have some really interesting points.

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In fact, part of the reason Nero is derided isn't due to rational evaluation of his reign - which is history thus an unpopular subject to learn about for the average person - but more to with popular imagination and christian thinking. Nero has after all been described as an 'anti-christ' from time to time and that's largely down to his brutal treatment of christians following the Great Fire of Rome in 64. Also it must be pointed out that Nero represented a level of decadence (by way of rumour at the time even though we have good sources about his reign these days) that christianity decries. So in a way, as much as Nero wanted the christians made a scapegoat of, so the christians make a scapegoat of Nero.

 

This tradition is based on the pagan Roman tradition about Nero, in the end it's the Roman senatorial class was the one which wrote history and thus popular emperor which disregard the senate got their image tarnished.

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The state remained intact after his death but it wasn't in pristine condition, for reasons you listed yourself amongst others. In any case, the main problem was political instability with no clear successor, and the Year of Four Emperors that followed was not a period of total war. Civil war certainly, but with clear objectives and a single focus of military activity. For the rest of the empire, they had only to sit back and wait to find out who was in charge.

 

There's little to redeem Nero as an emperor. Had he been operating from a manual entitled 'How to wreck the Roman empire' he could not have done much worse, given that he started with a sound, solvent empire and a moderately popular government.

 

We will never know whether a better emperor could have prevented or mitigated the British and Jewish rebellions. But any responsible emperor would have realized that the financial strain of these wars meant that other extravagances should be put on hold. However, after the great fire in Rome Nero went on a tax-and-spend orgy far more damaging than any of his lascivious ones - and he launched a totally unsuccessful military campaign in Arabia as well.

 

At the same time he went out of his way to find and eliminate any opposition in the senate, and so killed a generation of Rome's most competent leaders and administrators. He gave immensely valuable gifts to favourites, and worse, promoted them to positions where they could in turn bestow ruinous favours on their subordinates. That there was no succession plan was deliberate, even though Seneca had pointed out to Nero 'no matter how you try, you can't kill your successor'.

 

After Nero's death, rather than sitting back to find out who was in charge, Spain, Gaul, Germany, Syria, Egypt and Africa all proposed or sponsored candidates for the succession, and three of these (Galba, Vitellius and Vespasian) went on to become emperor. Nor should we forget that Classicus and Civilis proposed secession of the 'Empire of the Gauls', and the resultant war along the Rhine frontier involved five legions before AD 70 and so certainly counted as a significant focus of military activity.

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