History: Actual, Fictional and Legendary discussion

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Archives > Early Emperors: Augustus(BC 27) - Domitian (AD 96)

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message 1: by Ed, Chief Curmudgeon (last edited Mar 04, 2010 07:19PM) (new)

Ed (ejhahn) | 622 comments Mod
Augustus' influence remained until the fall of the Empire. All subsequent emperors took the name Augustus. His advice to stop expanding the empire was followed by many of his successors.

On balance was the change from a republic to an autocracy helpful to maintaining the empire or a hindrance?

What is the significance of Augustus' decision to maintain 28 Legions permanently and fix the terms of service?

What is the significance of the "Varian Disaster"?

What was the long term result of housing the Praetorian Guard all in one place, the Castra Praetoria?

Why was Caligula Slain?

How did an enfeebled Caligula manage to remain popular during his reign?

Was Seneca, Nero's tutor, really as much of a stoic as he claimed?

Was Nero really crazy or just drunk with power?

How did the time of the four emperor's expose the fundamental weakness of the Roman Imperial system?

What was Vespasian's primary contribution to the continuation of the Empire?

Why does Domitian have a reputation as one of Rome's worst emperors?

Why were many of the early Emperors so corrupt?

Why did the Imperial system fall into disrepute so early?


message 2: by Alex (last edited Mar 15, 2010 12:08PM) (new)

Alex | 7 comments Personally, I think that having an Emperor was the best idea as it enabled the empire to make quick decisions, as well as expand so rapidly.

However, the power one got from being the Emperor was wanted by all, which was the reason in the early disrepute.


message 3: by J. (new)

J. Guevara (jguevara) | 8 comments "Absolute power corrupts absolutely", then and now. All monarchies throughout history have eventually collapsed. It's usurpation. Goes with the territory. The difference between Power and authority. Authority is trust granted by the people. Power without authority will always collapse, eventually. I find no historical exception. Rome being one of the better examples.
Alex, it may have been expedient for Rome's rapid expansion, but expediency by nature creates a weak foundation. Rome may not have been built in a day, but not because they didn't try.

j guevara


message 4: by Ed, Chief Curmudgeon (new)

Ed (ejhahn) | 622 comments Mod
I found it interesting that Augustus' warning to stop expanding Rome's territory might have been said because of his realization that expansion would in the end weaken the empire and by extension, emperors.


message 5: by Ed, Chief Curmudgeon (last edited Mar 15, 2010 06:53PM) (new)

Ed (ejhahn) | 622 comments Mod
j wrote: "Absolute power corrupts absolutely", then and now. All monarchies throughout history have eventually collapsed. It's usurpation. Goes with the territory. The difference between Power and authority. Authority is trust granted by the people. Power without authority will always collapse, eventually. I find no historical exception. Rome being one of the better examples.
Alex, it may have been expedient for Rome's rapid expansion, but expediency by nature creates a weak foundation. Rome may not have been built in a day, but not because they didn't try."


A very true statement. As I said above, expansion was not necessarily good.

One theory holds that Rome's expansion was necessary because Rome itself needed the additional resources and slaves from conquered territories to maintain its existence. That same theory postulates that Rome's downfall was actually foredoomed when it stopped expanding.

Your comment also reminds me of the fact that the Imperial system failed whenever an emperor, who should have known better, tried to "keep it in the family" so to speak by designating family members as successors.


message 6: by James (last edited Mar 16, 2010 02:28AM) (new)

James | 88 comments Another issue: for any large system, centralized control and direction becomes too unwieldy to be nimble and responsive, whether it's a country/empire (e.g., the command economy of the USSR), a military organization, or a corporation. It's a trap for those in power if the dynamic is one in which they fear some of their subordinates and feel they have to control activities and information closely to avoid usurpation. It leads to attempted micromanagement; to the person at the top choosing subordinates based on perceived loyalty rather than on ability (Dan Quayle?); and, often, to a generalized fear of failure that squelches initiative and makes people reluctant to report bad news lest they fall victim to the 'kill the messenger' response.

To be functional, power and initiative need to be distributed, pushed as far down the chain of command as possible. The ideal in business is a 'flat' organization, with communication between top management and the worker-level people, and among those workers, as clear and open as possible. In a military organization or a government, it means that the person or small group at the top works at keeping the rest of the people as informed on the big picture as possible and rather than giving them detailed orders and making them seek permission to exercise initiative, he/she/they give the folks doing the work (or the fighting) guidance on the commander's intent - the desired outcome, the 'what', also sometimes called 'mission orders' - and the autonomy to figure out the 'how' themselves and carry it out, also to seize and act on unanticipated opportunities. This also requires a group culture in which know that they can exercise their initiative without fear of being punished for failure as long as what they were trying to do was sensible and in the spirit of the commander's intent. When there is a failure, the good leader takes the hit for it and protects the subordinates, treating it as a learning experience. The bad leader finds a scapegoat or group of scapegoats and punishes them harshly, even if they were following orders to a tee.

But as noted, when the emperor, party chairman, general, etc. doesn't trust his/her subordinates and feels compelled to deny them much autonomy and initiative, the enterprise becomes stagnant and creaky, and tends to respond to situations too slowly, so that by the time they're responding to event A, events B and C are already happening.

In the USMC, they often talk about 'the strategic corporal', because the actions of the NCO leading the squad on patrol or in combat may have huge consequences; so they work hard at empowering those corporals, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, etc. and teaching them to think in those terms. A 20-year-old corporal today can end up making decisions leading to outcomes that go down in history, good or bad. That individual is closer to the situation than the person at the top, so he/she can both understand it better and respond to it more quickly.

This is an area of special fascination to me - I did my bachelor's in management, and I was lucky enough while I was in the Corps to spend a year going through the Command and Control Systems Course, which was mostly about organizational structure and culture.


message 7: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 310 comments Mod
Ed wrote: "I found it interesting that Augustus' warning to stop expanding Rome's territory might have been said because of his realization that expansion would in the end weaken the empire and by extension, ..."

Augustus was a fairly smart dude, so that wouldn't surprise me.


message 8: by Ed, Chief Curmudgeon (new)

Ed (ejhahn) | 622 comments Mod
James wrote: "Another issue: for any large system, centralized control and direction becomes too unwieldy to be nimble and responsive, whether it's a country/empire (e.g., the command economy of the USSR), a mil..."

I couldn't agree with you more. Two things pop into my mind. One is John Keegan's description of why the WW I generals did so poorly. That is because they gave detailed orders and then had no way of adjusting as events unfolded. In earlier wars the Generals were on the battlefield, which was generally limited to line of sight.

It's now clear that training non-coms to innovate and make decisions has increased the effectiveness of our military.

It also seems clear from reading about the Roman Empire that one of the reasons it lasted as long as it did was because of the autonomy in the provinces. Since people bought into the Roman culture and values, they were able to operate effectively, no matter what the emperor was doing or not doing.

As the old Cantonese Chinese saying goes: "I am here in Guangzhou and the Emperor is far away."


message 9: by Silvana (new)

Silvana (silvaubrey) What is the significance of Augustus' decision to maintain 28 Legions permanently and fix the terms of service?
first of all, his own security. secondly, he wanted to secure his empire by having a standing army, which was usually more equipped, trained, loyal, standardized and prepared for any uses. If I'm not mistaken, there was also a standing army during the Republic era.

What was Vespasian's primary contribution to the continuation of the Empire?
Er...his efforts to rebuild Rome after the tumultuous reign of the four emperors before him? Not to mention the public works, inc. the Colosseum. But I think Rome was simply needing somebody like him to take charge, so he was at the right time and at the right place. Maybe he should thanked Nero as well for lifting his exile and sent him to Judea. Things would work differently, maybe, if he hadn't feel asleep during one of Nero's recitals ;p

Was Nero really crazy or just drunk with power?
Totally crazy. A megalomaniac who cared nothing but his "art". He was lucky he lived that long actually. The authority hesitated to kill him because he was the sole direct heir of Augustus.


message 10: by Ed, Chief Curmudgeon (last edited Apr 16, 2010 11:16AM) (new)

Ed (ejhahn) | 622 comments Mod
Silvana wrote: "What is the significance of Augustus' decision to maintain 28 Legions permanently and fix the terms of service?
first of all, his own security. secondly, he wanted to secure his empire by having a ..."


Vespasian's reign brings up, once again the question, "Do men make the times or do times make the man?" (Yes, women, too.)


message 11: by Cobalt_Cin (last edited Oct 26, 2010 04:09AM) (new)

Cobalt_Cin | 23 comments I think this is an excellent topic in a way. I think whether you have an emperor or a republic the same things applies. I think Augustus was a truly interesting, complex and hard man to get from no where really, to where he was. I believe if the bit in the series Rome is to believed Mark Antony apparently said that Octavian was the equivlent to a boulder rolling downhill, he (Octavian) just kept coming, kept rolling, relentlessly and he couldn't stand up to the force that was Octavian. SOunds like a pretty out there stuff so its not likely true, yet if you see Augustus's life, what he achieved you need a pretty relentless, remarkable individual. I too believe some men or women do need to be in the right place, at the right time as well and he was one. Rome needed an Augustus, just as it needed a Ceasar.

But I often say history etc runs on in circles or a cycles. A good friend of mine calls this the American era, just as arguably we've already witnessed the British era or Colonial era, Roman era, Greek era etc and on back through time.

If you look at history, we see again and again one group rises, one group falls. All through there is a similair series of errors and with the same sort of system from fairly rural/rustic group building through small villages, small towns, then cities, then expanding to conqure more territory and resources, and gaining power, wealth and prestige. Rome also witnessed its nutcase rulers, Nero for example, Caligua .. Europe saw its nutcase rulers as well. I too was surprised Nero survived as long as he did and do believe both men were genuinely around the bend.

If you look at the fall of Rome, we are seeing something similair happen today with the collapse of the economic and political systems. I often wonder what would have happened to history if Carthage had defeated Rome? In many ways Rome should not have beaten Carthage, yet they did and it was the making of ROme and the real push towards the Roman Empire.

Civilizations like the Mayans and those who inhabited Ankor Watt made the same errors we are at the moment, population got to big, they couldn't grow enough food or capture enough slaves in war to do the hard work, grow the food and build houses, keep the infrustructure to support so many more people going, then internal strife erupted, the legal and leadership areas fall apart and the whole society collapsed. Rome saw a few of these things as well, WW1 and WW2 finished of the great Colonial Age, it only remains to be seen how we deal the same challenges everyone else has faced before. But to me Rome tried both republic and emperors and both systems had their time in the sun, much like we witness today really.


message 12: by Ed, Chief Curmudgeon (new)

Ed (ejhahn) | 622 comments Mod
Cobalt_Cin wrote: "I think this is an excellent topic in a way. I think whether you have an emperor or a republic the same things applies. I think Augustus was a truly interesting, complex and hard man to get from n..."

In Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny,Robert Wright has a chapter, "Hurrah for the Barbarians". His point is that the barbarians by forcing settled societies to fall or change create the opportunity for a new, more complex and more cooperative society.

Makes sense to me.


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History: Actual, Fictional and Legendary

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Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (other topics)

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