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Julius Caesar an Emperor?

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Partly this is because many people have strong ideas about what constitutes certain roles and what certain historical personalities were. I'm not immune to that, nor can I claim to know more than anyone else. However, our concept of emperor is a modern one, and although many roman rulers conform to that concept, there is a background of romanticism toward history (our love of myth and legend is a very old human trait) that sometimes gives a rosey eyed view of what these people were. I look for similarities to modern behaviour - for a good reason. people are no different now. They have the same impulses and emotions, and their responses are broadly similar. Sure the roman culture was different to ours, but it was far from alien, especially since we adopt many principles and ideas that they did.

 

So what we're arguing is definitions. Some people prefer very precise ordered and scientific appraisals, others might want a more generalised idea. Its a fundamental trait of human beings, especially the male gender because of its psychology, to become very anal about an area of knowledge, and often overly proud of what you've learned or assume you understand. Now some might be raising their eyebrows or clutching their ribs at this point (even snarling?) but face it, there's no absolute authority on roman history and we all see things in a different light depending on our own lifetime experience. With any character from history, we might see that person as a noble saviour or complete scum, according to the things we've learned, who we learned them from, and any preconception in our mind.

 

Much of this is convention. Its conventional to say Augustus was a brilliant politican, or that Caligula was mad,etc etc. Simply restating this things does not imply understanding, its merely a safe common viewpoint that won't attract controversy.

 

As for myself, I don't worry too much about being controversial, nor do I assume that letters after a name means the owner is automatically right. In fact, without questioning convention we cannot fully understand because all we do then is learn parrot fashion. What we need to do though, is understand that our own conception has to fit the evidence, and we also need to understand that some evidence is overlooked because it doesn't fit the preconceptions of influential opnion.

 

Did the roman empire end in AD 476? No, not really, no more than the republic ended with Octavians rise to power, but it marks a watershed, a change, and we use this date as a significant marker, and we should understand that it isn't anything else. Does the same apply to titles in roman politics? Again, people are awarded or assume titles for all sorts of reasons and that doesn't mean they had the same status or responsibilities as the last man who did. Was Didius Julianus ever an emperor? Some people list him, some don't. The senate certainly never accepted him, neither did the roman public. yet offically he did assume the title of Caesar. What do you think? You see? Its largely opinion. So let the debate continue!

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An excellent, thought-provoking post, Calders - but if I could just comment on one or two things:

 

Partly this is because many people have strong ideas about what constitutes certain roles and what certain historical personalities were. I'm not immune to that, nor can I claim to know more than anyone else. However, our concept of emperor is a modern one, and although many roman rulers conform to that concept, there is a background of romanticism toward history (our love of myth and legend is a very old human trait) that sometimes gives a rosey eyed view of what these people were. I look for similarities to modern behaviour - for a good reason. people are no different now. They have the same impulses and emotions, and their responses are broadly similar. Sure the roman culture was different to ours, but it was far from alien, especially since we adopt many principles and ideas that they did.

 

Whilst I would agree that each person's interpretation of history is bound to be in some way a reflection of their own times (we've been over this point so many times on the Forum, and I think we are all in general agreement), there are two things in the above paragraph that I would question. Firstly, I do believe it is possible to study any historical person without such preconceived notions. As an aside, I have bought a book recently about Genghis Khan. I know absolutely nothing about him beyond his name, so I intend to read the book 'cold' as it were, purely to learn about the man. I suppose my final opinion will be the culmination of many things: the author's viewpoint and persuasive argument for or against; the evidence cited by the author which I may then go off to check independently should I so desire; and perhaps the most important thing, for me at least, will be how Genghis Khan acts within his own times. I can't make this point strongly enough. It's how I've studied history for the last 35 years - I can't change now :) Now - I confess to knowing nothing about the said man's times or world, so maybe the book would require me to go off and research into the background a bit more. Whatever the conclusion, it will be a journey of discovery for me.

 

The second bone of contention for me - and I have mentioned this over the months on other threads - is that I do not accept that people are the same in any given period. If we accept your thesis that we each interpret history according to the preconceptions and prejudices of our own time, then clearly this proves that each age has such preconceptions and prejudices. Yes, basic human impulses may be the same - we want to survive; we want to perpetuate the species etc. - but how we set about achieving our goals changes with each age. What was important to a Roman baker will not necessarily be as important to a 21st century IT technician.

 

So what we're arguing is definitions. Some people prefer very precise ordered and scientific appraisals, others might want a more generalised idea. Its a fundamental trait of human beings, especially the male gender because of its psychology, to become very anal about an area of knowledge, and often overly proud of what you've learned or assume you understand.

 

Oh, I can assure you - women can be just as anal :)

 

Now some might be raising their eyebrows or clutching their ribs at this point (even snarling?) but face it, there's no absolute authority on roman history and we all see things in a different light depending on our own lifetime experience. With any character from history, we might see that person as a noble saviour or complete scum, according to the things we've learned, who we learned them from, and any preconception in our mind.

 

Much of this is convention. Its conventional to say Augustus was a brilliant politican, or that Caligula was mad,etc etc. Simply restating this things does not imply understanding, its merely a safe common viewpoint that won't attract controversy.

 

It is not always simply convention. Each person would re-examine those 'conventional' portraits for themselves and may come up with different conclusions or concur with the convention. Understanding is implicit in such a re-examination.

 

As for myself, I don't worry too much about being controversial, nor do I assume that letters after a name means the owner is automatically right. In fact, without questioning convention we cannot fully understand because all we do then is learn parrot fashion.

 

Hail to that! If we never questioned, the world would never move on.

 

Its largely opinion. So let the debate continue!

 

Yes - it's what we're all here for. And let's face it, if we were all of one mind, this would be a very boring Forum.

 

ETA: BTW: Welcome to Gaius Julius Caesar - hope you plunge in with the rest of us.

Edited by The Augusta

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It's interesting to note how quickly this misconception about Caesar arose.

 

From Eusebius:

In Hyrcanus' reign, in the (?) 184th Olympiad [44 B.C.], Julius Caesar became emperor of the Romans, for 4 years and 7 months. And after him, Augustus (Sebastos in Greek) was emperor for 56 years and 6 months. In his reign, Herodes was the first foreigner to be made king of the Jews by the Romans; his family came from Ascalon, and he had no right to the throne.

 

From the Chronicon Paschale:

Gaius Julius Caesar was appointed to be the first emperor of the Romans.

 

[457'A] Up to this point, the Roman government was administered by Brutus, Collatinus, and the other consuls who followed them, for 393 years up until the year of these consuls, which was the 5th year of Cleopatra and the first year of Gaius Julius Caesar.

 

The dictator Julius Caesar was not born in the normal way, but after his mother died in the ninth month [of pregnancy] she was cut open and the baby was pulled out. Therefore the baby was called Caesar, which in Latin means "cut out". When he had grown up and shown great bravery, he was created triumvir along with Pompeius and Crassus, who were ex-consuls, in the first year of this 180th Olympiad, and the government of Rome was controlled by these three men.

 

B After the death of Crassus, who was killed by the Persians in a battle fought in the region of Persia, the dictator Caesar remained with his army to fight in the west. Then he was removed from the office of consul, or triumvir, by the decree of the whole Roman senate, with the agreement of his father-in-law Pompeius the Great. Angered by this, Julius Caesar established a tyranny over the Romans. He waged war against the Romans, and attacked Pompeius the Great and the Roman senate. After marching on Rome and capturing it, he killed the senators.

 

This Julius Caesar, as dictator or emperor, ruled over everyone in an arrogant and tyrannical fashion for 4 years and 7 months, from 12th May of the first indiction.

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The dictator Julius Caesar was not born in the normal way, but after his mother died in the ninth month [of pregnancy] she was cut open and the baby was pulled out. Therefore the baby was called Caesar, which in Latin means "cut out".

 

 

HA HA this bit is a classic! :P

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Then he was removed from the office of consul, or triumvir, by the decree of the whole Roman senate, with the agreement of his father-in-lawPompeius the Great.

 

Am I missing something?

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Then he was removed from the office of consul, or triumvir, by the decree of the whole Roman senate, with the agreement of his father-in-lawPompeius the Great.

 

Am I missing something?

 

No, it's just another mistake by the Byzantine author.

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Then he was removed from the office of consul, or triumvir, by the decree of the whole Roman senate, with the agreement of his father-in-lawPompeius the Great.

Am I missing something?

 

Yes, you are missing something. Not only was Caesar the father-in-law of Pompey and not vice-versa, there was no office of triumvir (the triumvirate was a purely informal arrangement) from which the senate could remove Caesar (even if they wanted to), nor was Caesar actually removed from the office of consul by the decree of the whole senate or any portion thereof. Pompey's only son-in-law was F. Cornelius Sulla, who was killed by Caesar's troops in 47.

 

Wrong on so many levels...

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Then he was removed from the office of consul, or triumvir, by the decree of the whole Roman senate, with the agreement of his father-in-lawPompeius the Great.

Am I missing something?

 

Yes, you are missing something. Not only was Caesar the father-in-law of Pompey and not vice-versa, there was no office of triumvir (the triumvirate was a purely informal arrangement) from which the senate could remove Caesar (even if they wanted to), nor was Caesar actually removed from the office of consul by the decree of the whole senate or any portion thereof. Pompey's only son-in-law was F. Cornelius Sulla, who was killed by Caesar's troops in 47.

 

Wrong on so many levels...

 

I think that your usual factual response could have been written in a more positive way as Ingsoc did. You might have meant couldn't remove Caesar.

 

Not a problem.

Edited by Gaius Octavius

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Then he was removed from the office of consul, or triumvir, by the decree of the whole Roman senate, with the agreement of his father-in-lawPompeius the Great.

Am I missing something?

Yes, you are missing something. Not only was Caesar the father-in-law of Pompey and not vice-versa, there was no office of triumvir (the triumvirate was a purely informal arrangement) from which the senate could remove Caesar (even if they wanted to), nor was Caesar actually removed from the office of consul by the decree of the whole senate or any portion thereof.

You might have meant couldn't remove Caesar.

 

There was no office of triumvir from which the senate couldn't remove Caesar? The double negative makes no sense.

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Was Julius Caesar the first Emperor? Yes, in real terms he had assumed that status by another name. In strict terms however he had been given a different title even though his power and status were essentially the same.

 

In general, from what I understand to be true, I agree with you.

 

In practicality, Gaius Julius Caesar was indeed the first de facto emperor of Rome, but in the eyes of the Roman law, he was still a dictator (albeit dictator perpetuo - dictator in perpetuity). He held the military power as dictator (and in the eyes of Roman law, when there was a dictator, he was the principal consul which wielded all imperium on behalf of the Senate), he held all political power (mainly through intimidation and killing off his opponents, albeit not through Roman law), and he held all religious power (he was the Pontifex Maximus). Ergo, Caesar was in practice - but not in law - the first Roman emperor. Unfortunately for him, the Senate didn't agree with this, and consequently the Senate gave Caesar the boot.

 

Octavian (later Augustus) was the first Roman emperor (actually called a princeps, from which the English word prince descends) in the eyes of Roman law. He had all military power, all political power, and all religious power. He was given the power of imperium throughout all Roman lands by the Senate. But I think what seems to be overlooked is that Augustus weilded this power under the intentional guise presented to the Roman people that the Republic was still in existence. Augustus was smart enough to let the Senate wield power, but he made them ever mindful that at the end of the day it was really the princeps that wielded the real power. So long as the aristocrats and powerful plebs could advance through office, there was less pressure to do away with the princeps. Additionally, Augustus had his power of imperium extended by the Senate every 10 years - a move which made the Senate and people think that Republican principles were still in place... he didn't have the power of imperium in perpetuity.

 

The difference between Augustus and Julius Caesar is that Augustus succeeded in playing his hand carefully exactly where Caesar failed. Caesar basically rubbed people the wrong way, and despite his outwardly altruistic expressions of foregiveness, people didn't believe him. For too long the Roman Senate felt that Caesar was illegally waging war in Gaul and was trying to get at ultimate power, and when he crossed into Italty and triggered the civil war, his fate was sealed - Caesar was doomed to die.

 

Augustus, on the other hand, played the game of patience with the Senate, made them feel that he respected the old ways of the Republic, and he made gestures to make influential people believe he didn't have the same lust for power that Julius Caesar did. At one time, when he was offered ultimate power by the Senate, he refused it once - realizing that he was the only person who could help Rome through the turbulent times after the Civil War, Augustus knew they'd insist he accept ultimate power, and he did. And when he had it, he didn't make the Senate think that he wanted to become the new rex Romana (Roman king).

 

Caesar didn't address the problem of succession; and familial succession - in addition to ultimate control of all power over the state - is the other factor that defines a monarchy/empire. Caesar left no clear heir to his power, and even if he had, the Senate would have rejected it, because only a king could appoint an heir without the consent of the Senate (apparently even the Roman kings - before the Republic - required approval of the people). Augustus tactfully took care of the issue of succession by ensuring his desired heirs to power were appointed to lesser positions in power that wouldn't worry the Senate, but would allow the heir(s) to be groomed for leadership in the future. Augustus used the system to control the system. Caesar used the sword to control the system.

 

In short, Caesar was the greater imperator, but Augustus was the greater politician. Caesar was doomed to fail by his own arrogance - Augustus was doomed to succeed because he didn't let his arrogance show. Augustus succeeded in walking the tightrope from the time he became the undisputed military champion of the Republic until he died in 14 AD. Augustus was a smart dude - boring, but smart. Caesar was the star that shone twice as bright, but burned half as long.

Edited by Legio XIII

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Being a student in high school, I know how stupid peeople can be, and currently, I have a RIDICULOUSLY dumb teacher, who routinely lacks the knowledge that I seek. I don't know how people like that get hired. It is not the students' fault that teachers aren't well versed in their subject matter, and usually teach facts directly from history books without any of their own knowledge. History books, as you all probably know, give brief descriptionsof events that should be explained in detail. In fact, ours describes only the second Punic War, and only mentions two generals, Scipio and Hannibal, and only mentions one battle (cannae). It lacks reasons for the wars, and doesn't even tell us hannibal's last name. During the Rome unit, I found myself explaining things that my teacher didn't know, and also noticed that the only thing they told us about rome's army was that they had legions, that were "well drilled." Not only that, but I caught my teacher distributing a packet with false information, saying that constantine mdae christianity the official religion, when in fact it was theodosius, like every history teacher should know. Many thanks to those of you that teach history well, and help students learn FACTS. If only every teacher did that.

 

Antiochus III

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Being a student in high school, I know how stupid peeople can be, and currently, I have a RIDICULOUSLY dumb teacher, who routinely lacks the knowledge that I seek. I don't know how people like that get hired. It is not the students' fault that teachers aren't well versed in their subject matter, and usually teach facts directly from history books without any of their own knowledge. History books, as you all probably know, give brief descriptionsof events that should be explained in detail. In fact, ours describes only the second Punic War, and only mentions two generals, Scipio and Hannibal, and only mentions one battle (cannae). It lacks reasons for the wars, and doesn't even tell us hannibal's last name. During the Rome unit, I found myself explaining things that my teacher didn't know, and also noticed that the only thing they told us about rome's army was that they had legions, that were "well drilled." Not only that, but I caught my teacher distributing a packet with false information, saying that constantine mdae christianity the official religion, when in fact it was theodosius, like every history teacher should know.

Christians like to make a big deal of Constantine because he was the first christian emperor.. well... at least on his deathbed anyway. Constantine also made big gestures, like stopping the persecutions, the vision of a cross in the sky, etc etc. Theodosius may have done it officially but by then christianity was looming much larger in the roman conciousness and therefore it was a foregone coclusion and didn't attract the same attention. Plus, I suspect Theodosius was a more sobre character than Constantine. The US, being more staunchly christian than some countries, readily accepts christian propaganda old and new.

 

Mind you, I have sympathy about your teachers ignorance. I once suffered the wrath of my history teacher, a old fashioned public school type, when I put him straight about the Treaty of Versailles. Teachers often dislike pupils who are more knowledgeable. Come to think of it, I remember another history teacher humiliating me in front of the class a few years before that because I didn't draw the Sun with rays coming out of it. Part of growing up I guess. Anyhow, enjoy your victory over the teacher and make the most of it! :)

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I actually got caned at school for correcting a teacher on this one. He reckoned that G.J.C was the first Emperor, but I insisted that he was Dictator Perpetuus, but that was different from being the first Emperor. What it boiled down to was that I'd read more about the man than my teacher had, he resented my refusal to defer to him, lost his rag and caned me.

I still don't regard that teacher as ignorant - a b******d, yes, but not ignorant. He was a great teacher when it came to topics that he was interested in, (first and second World Wars, Vietnam) but could be found lacking in knowledge when it came to subjects that he didn't like.

He was like many people who do not have an avid interest in Rome and her history who quite happily make the assumption that J.G.C was the first Emperor because he is not only the most famous Roman, but also the man who did all the ground work (whether intentionally or not) for setting up the Principate.

I corrected that teacher, but have not felt compelled to correct many people since unless they ask. I remind myself that I am the Romanophile, and though the distinction of Who was Who is important to me, most people could care less.

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