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Gaius Octavius

Caesar & Augustus

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We have a number of threads in which Caesar and Augustus are maligned....

Revisionism, plain and simple. Of course this can be healthy and considered normal as new evidence arises. Current events (at the time of writing) can influence a thesis, an obvious one would be "Naughty dictator/fascist one man rule" thesis of the nineteen thirties and forties, or the "white mans burden/for the good of civilization" thesis of the eighteen hundreds to support imperialism. Unfortunately certain quarters of this forum seek empiricism when as we know empiricism is an impossible thing in ancient history.

 

Never was a truer word said, PC! I have always maintained that our own outlook influences our interpretation or even reception of history. And I do mean our own personal outlook - not just generational influences; the people rather than the politics. That's an over-simplification, but it should give you the general idea of why this particular woman loves her history.

 

I shall be bold - yet again - and state that I have admiration for ancient autocrats. They do not all have to be like Saddam or Hitler. So unlike others on the Forum I shall maintain my admiration of Augustus, warts and all.

 

But why do you say empiricism is impossible, Publius? Is it so impossible to think ourselves into the Roman mindset? I honestly and truthfully do not think it is so impossible after all. I live in a democracy (well, after a fashion) and would not countenance an Augustus today - for all his merits. But 2,000 years ago, in a different setting, well.... Too few people truly sparkle today. Must we cast away the jewels of history?

 

I suppose my own personal interpretation and reception comes from the fact that I admire personalities, rather than systems.

Edited by The Augusta

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But why do you say empiricism is impossible, Publius?

Because we only get glimpses and we don't see the total. Tacitus, Caesar, Cicero, et al, along with archeology, provide only a peek of the whole that make up any society. As we know these tend to be subjective as there were no 'professional' historians back then, and no schools to study such. Hence absolute definition is not possible, only interpretations. Make sense?

Edited by P.Clodius

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We have a number of threads in which Caesar and Augustus are maligned....

Revisionism, plain and simple. Of course this can be healthy and considered normal as new evidence arises. Current events (at the time of writing) can influence a thesis, an obvious one would be "Naughty dictator/fascist one man rule" thesis of the nineteen thirties and forties, or the "white mans burden/for the good of civilization" thesis of the eighteen hundreds to support imperialism. Unfortunately certain quarters of this forum seek empiricism when as we know empiricism is an impossible thing in ancient history.

 

Never was a truer word said, PC! I have always maintained that our own outlook influences our interpretation or even reception of history. And I do mean our own personal outlook - not just generational influences; the people rather than the politics. That's an over-simplification, but it should give you the general idea of why this particular woman loves her history.

 

I shall be bold - yet again - and state that I have admiration for ancient autocrats. They do not all have to be like Saddam or Hitler. So unlike others on the Forum I shall maintain my admiration of Augustus, warts and all.

 

But why do you say empiricism is impossible, Publius? Is it so impossible to think ourselves into the Roman mindset? I honestly and truthfully do not think it is so impossible after all. I live in a democracy (well, after a fashion) and would not countenance an Augustus today - for all his merits. But 2,000 years ago, in a different setting, well.... Too few people truly sparkle today. Must we cast away the jewels of history?

 

I suppose my own personal interpretation and reception comes from the fact that I admire personalities, rather than systems.

Revisionist? Well... I don't really see my views as such, and as far as Augustus's personality goes a lot of it seems to be an act, a public face. As a leader he also seems to have some shortcomings, including a curious lack of decisiveness under duress. Don't get me wrong - I do admire the bloke for getting the top slot but I'm not fooled by his publicity. Augustus was a crafty beggar and I think this made up for his relative lack of charisma. Where I think Augustus scores heavily is that he seems a shrewd judge of character. He saw Cleopatra coming a mile off! Now you might argue that sending Quintilius Varus to Germania wasn't very shrewd, and this again is an inconsistent judgement, because by reputation varus was known as a greedy man. Did Augustus see him as something different? But then, Augustus knew he wasn't too hot as a military man and sent him somewhere quiet where he could gain experience and reputation gathering taxes, and the machinations of Arminius weren't known to Augustus at that time. Its a conventional view that Augustus was a brilliant politician but I have to say, so far I haven't been convinced of that. Thats not revisionism, I'm not trying to rewrite history, I just see his reputation as something handed down by his supporters. All dictators develop personality cults to stay in power, and in that respect, Augustus succeeded admirably.

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In this forum at least, and perhaps more generally in a universal sense, Augustus is usually evaluated in terms of his impact on the dying Republic. As this is the Republic folder that is a very condign thing to do .... but this is exactly why I rarely venture into these discussions on the Republic folder.

 

I prefer to see Augustus and his successors on their own terms, in light of their own triumphs and failures in the imperial era, and not in reference to some idealized Republic ... or even, for that matter, in reference to modern sensibilities. In that light I do see, based on the best available evidence left by history, a generally successful system for the times. But my comments can be found in various threads on the imperial folder, so I won't repeat them here.

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Granting all the above:

 

"We have a number of threads in which Caesar and Augustus are maligned. Therefor, I have questions: Who, or what, at the point of the Rubicon, or prior to it, had the capacity to retain the then vaunted Republic? If they existed, why didn't they save the Republic? Wasn't it plain for them to see from the actions of Caesar and Pompey that the Republic was in danger?"

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Granting all the above:

 

"We have a number of threads in which Caesar and Augustus are maligned. Therefor, I have questions: Who, or what, at the point of the Rubicon, or prior to it, had the capacity to retain the then vaunted Republic? If they existed, why didn't they save the Republic? Wasn't it plain for them to see from the actions of Caesar and Pompey that the Republic was in danger?"

 

By the time Caesar crossed the Rubicon, the Senate had long ago passed into a fraternity of prestige. Members of the senate wore the SPQR badge more as propaganda than a point of honor. They succeeded in doing only what benefited them. If it helped the Republic, great; but passing laws to preserve or enlighten or strengthen the Republic was only done if those sponsoring the bills benefited from it; in other words, “if it benefits me, awesome; if it helps the republic, that’s okay, too.”

 

There are many instances in which the senate stifled laws designed to help the republic and its citizens simply because the passage of a law might curry favor for a person or persons not well liked in the senate.

 

There was so much political infighting by the time Caesar crossed the Rubicon that his threat was only taken seriously in a peripheral sense. Only when he crossed into Italy did the Senate begin to take his threat seriously, but it was too late. So the senate—not all, by the way—relied on Pompey, but, because Caesar’s threat was taken seriously too late, Pompey had to flee in order to build a stronger army.

 

I know this doesn’t answer your question, but I think asking who could have saved the Republic is a question answered by history itself. Who rose against Caesar during the civil war? Who defied him after Pompey’s death? The culture had denigrated after Sulla’s dictatorship, and the many controversies and crises in the interim, that the Senate’s collective weakness of resolve to address the conflict empowered Caesar to do what he did. In other words, he was the right man at the right time. A failure to address the steady decline of the republic in lieu of individual prestige led to Caesar becoming who he became.

 

I think it was simply the right time in the history and chronology of the Roman Republic for a dictator such as Caesar to come along. Even Cicero said something to the effect that, had Pompey defeated Caesar, the republic would still have suffered. With Pompey’s victory, according to Cicero, Rome would have seen a different dictator and a different kind of dictatorship. But it would have been a dictatorship nonetheless. Because the times, and the increasingly selfish individual senators, enabled one.

 

That’s my take on it anyway.

Edited by DDickey

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Members of the senate wore the SPQR badge more as propaganda than a point of honor. They succeeded in doing only what benefited them. If it helped the Republic, great; but passing laws to preserve or enlighten or strengthen the Republic was only done if those sponsoring the bills benefited from it; in other words,

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I don't deny that the Republican process had been under attack by a slowly debilitating environment since the time of the Gracchi and that there was a particular weakness to the actions of imperators in the post Sullan Republic. I'm just surprised that people are so quick to blame the "selfish" senators who wished to maintain some semblance of balanced power (understand that there were members of the senate for, against and neutral to the actions of men such as Caesar and Pompey) despite their own inadequacies as individuals, but do not blame the obviously selfish individuals who clearly wanted sole authority without the troublesome constraints of balanced deliberation.

 

Who caused this "...slowly debilitating environment...."?

Could it possibly be that "...the obviously selfish individuals...." had the nations best interests in mind?

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Well, I completely understand what you’re saying. Perhaps I framed my opinion wrong. What I meant to say was that the tides were changing and the senators seemed more interested in self preservation that the preservation of the republic. In all the cases cited, the one constant throughout all of these events was that the senate acted too late to affect real change, or, more specifically, to counter the changing tide. These conflicts began with the opposition publicly opposing their rivals first to save face or to curry favor or popularity. Only when they realized the full depth of the threat facing them, did they act, but often their actions were put into effect too late to make any real changes.

 

As for your question:

 

But how can you be certain that some of this legislation would've been helpful? Simply because an agenda may have been popular (or simply advocated by zealous politicians who could rouse the lowest rabble) does not necessarily mean that it is beneficial for the entire state.

 

My statement meant to illustrate the case that the senate, it seems, in times of crisis often suffered from inertia. They only seemed to act when their popularity or political careers were in jeopardy. Putting a new law into effect is better than simply avoiding the issue altogether for political purposes. If a weak or failed law was put into effect to try to address a social or political crisis, its weaknesses could be addressed or reformed, or the law could be abandoned altogether. Simply sticking ones head in the sand in order to avoid change isn't the answer, and avoiding to address change for fear of addressing it poorly was, and is, no excuse.

 

And I am in no way defending the actions of Sulla or Caesar, but the question originally posed in this thread asked who could have had the influence to stop Caesar; and if someone meeting that criteria existed, why didn't he act on it? I was simply approaching the question from the point of view that the senate was more often than not more concerned with personal status than the status of the republic.

 

I would like to state here, though, that I in no way, shape, or form pretend to be as well versed in the history as most here. I’m still learning every day. These are simply my observations based on what I’ve learned. And I have no problem admitting I’m wrong or on the wrong track if it’s pointed out to me. Knowledge, after all, is an evolutionary process. An absolute today may not be so secure tomorrow. I understand this and admit my evolution in learning about Rome. And I’m really glad I found this forum and I encourage anyone to call me out if I’m speculating wildly or blowing smoke out of my ass, so to speak.

Edited by DDickey

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My intention is not to call you out by any stretch DD (welcome to the forum, btw). Just open discussion.

 

I suggest only that the Senate did not act alone in uniformity either for or against these issues (especially in the later stages of the Republic). There were members of the senate on all sides of any particular issue. Alone, the senate was not much more than a deliberative body and a pool for the election of magistrates. The senate is too often labeled as the countering body to Caesar and completely opposed to the needs of the populace when that simply isn't the entire story.

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My intention is not to call you out by any stretch DD (welcome to the forum, btw). Just open discussion.

 

I suggest only that the Senate did not act alone in uniformity either for or against these issues (especially in the later stages of the Republic). There were members of the senate on all sides of any particular issue. Alone, the senate was not much more than a deliberative body and a pool for the election of magistrates. The senate is too often labeled as the countering body to Caesar and completely opposed to the needs of the populace when that simply isn't the entire story.

 

I completely understand where you're coming from.

 

Also, I didn't think you were calling me out, but I wanted to throw that out there. I'm all for a good debate; sometimes I even get a little too zealous. I certainly appreciate your input and perspective. :no2:

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And I am in no way defending the actions of Sulla or Caesar, but the question originally posed in this thread asked who could have had the influence to stop Caesar; and if someone meeting that criteria existed, why didn't he act on it?

 

The only person with sufficient influence and motivation to stop Caesar was Cato, and he did everything in his power to do so, including winning Pompey to the defense of the republic. Had Pompey acted with just a little more gusto at Dyrrachium, we wouldn't even be having this conversation.

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My intention is not to call you out by any stretch DD (welcome to the forum, btw). Just open discussion.

 

I suggest only that the Senate did not act alone in uniformity either for or against these issues (especially in the later stages of the Republic). There were members of the senate on all sides of any particular issue. Alone, the senate was not much more than a deliberative body and a pool for the election of magistrates. The senate is too often labeled as the countering body to Caesar and completely opposed to the needs of the populace when that simply isn't the entire story.

 

P.P., you are NEVER out of order.

 

I must ask you, did the Senate not ultimately control the state?

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[quote name='DDickey' post='75203'

 

The only person with sufficient influence and motivation to stop Caesar was Cato, and he did everything in his power to do so, including winning Pompey to the defense of the republic. Had Pompey acted with just a little more gusto at Dyrrachium, we wouldn't even be having this conversation.

 

Do you mean the Pompey who was one of the Triumvirs? And to address your last sentence: 'if the rabbit didn't stop to....' The better Captain came out on top after all was said and done.

 

Why didn't Cato come up with an army to defeat the inglorious Caesar at the very first? Why did he commit suicide rather than go into some cowardly swamp to continue the fray?

Edited by Gaius Octavius

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