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From Aug 2006 - Nov 2013 WeDig provided a live forum for diggers & fans of Vindolanda. It has now been mothballed and will be maintained as a live archive.

Here you will find preserved 7 years of conversation, photos, & knowledge about a site many people love. Vindolanda gets under the skin. (Figuratively and literally as a volunteer excavator!) It's a place you remember, filled with people you remember!

Thanks for 7 great years!

OVERVIEW—PRINCIPATE

In 44 BCE Gaius Julius Caesar(c.100 BCE-44 BCE) was assassinated by a group of senators intent on ‘restoring the Republic’ to senatorial control. Unfortunately for them, the Republic(509 BCE-c. 31 BCE) was already effectively dead, and the following thirteen years saw the rise to absolute power of Octavian(63 BCE-14 CE), Caesar’s nephew and adoptive son.

Though by 31 BCE Imperator’General, commander’; the title was awarded in the field to an army’s commander following a notable victory; triumphs could only be held by those who had been so acclaimed. Octavian Caesar (as he called himself following his adoption under the terms of Caesar’s will) had disposed of all possible rivals, he found himself in a curious position. Octavian controlled the army, which meant that he was the de facto ruler of the Roman state. However, though his absolute possession of the practical instrument of power ensured that for his lifetime the State would be secure, Octavian was intent on establishing an enduring order which would provide stability, security and prosperity by avoiding the conditions which had led to nearly a century of civil disorder in the period 133 BCE-31 BCE.

Clearly the institutions of a small city state--the Senateliterally, ‘elders’ (senatus), originally a body of advisors to the kings of Rome. The Senate became the preeminent governing authority for most of the Republic, and its members, coopted for life, enjoyed high prestige. and the various assemblies—were ill-suited to the governance of a world empire. However, Roman society was also profoundly conservative and averse to any overtly radical change. The challenge for Octavian, then, was to create an enduring monarchy while retaining a convincing semblance of Republican government. His solution came to be known as the ‘Principate’, named for the princeps senatus, the ‘first man’ (in prestige) of the Senate: a ‘first among equals’, in theory, and nothing more. Thus no formal monarchy was instituted.

Octavian decided, instead, to recreate himself as de facto monarch using the entirely legal and legitimate powers assigned to various existing Republican offices of state. In this manner he could consolidate his control of the State while grounding his authority entirely within a traditional Republican framework, thereby placating the Senate (and the People) into accepting a monarchy that was entirely legitimate in the basis of its authority.

Most importantly, Octavian had to ensure that no other official of state would ever again possess enough military or legal power to challenge his sole rule. A compliant Senate, most of Octavian’s adversaries dead or fled, voted Octavian proconsulara former holder of the consulship, traditionally assigned to govern a province for one year authority (‘imperium’, whence ‘Empire’) for ten years over those provinces containing the majority of the armed forces, thus giving Octavian control over the Army and rendering his proconsular authority superior to all others (‘imperium maius’). The Senate voted him tribunician powersLat. tribunicia potestas, the set of legal powers and privileges enjoyed by tribunes of the People for five years (regularly renewed), which enabled him to veto any legislation at will, as well as to act as ‘champion of the People’, and which also rendered him personally ‘sacrosanct’. As Princeps Senatus’Leader or ‘First Man’ of the Senate, entitled to speak first in that assembly and a very prestigious accolade, a title of no formal legal value but one of immense prestige, Octavian could also propose—or cause to be proposed—legislation he desired. He was also given the rights to declare war and make treaties.

Fundamentally, proconsular and tribunician authority gave Octavian full power over the military and legal operations of state, and his title as Princeps (and later, ‘Augustus’) enhanced his own auctoritasThe general position (NOT ‘authority’ per se) enjoyed by a Roman possessing a given office; it provided the juridical basis for authorization of act taken ‘as an official’, but was not itself ‘authority’. and dignitasEssentially, the sum of a male Roman citizen’s influence, honor and prestige. Moral character, reputation, and ethical value all comprised dignitas, and as such it was held sacred. Males, particularly of the nobility, were prepared to commit suicide or to kill another if they felt that their dignitas had been slighted. beyond those of all other Romans. In order to provide scope for other senators to participate in the state’s governance—though, of course, always subordinate to himself—Octavian generally avoided taking the consulship, which thus allowed the senatorial class to follow the traditional cursus honorum (the offices held, in specific order, by a Roman public official) and to participate actively in the life of the state, gaining prestige and honor for themselves while focussing their energies to the benefit of Rome. Of course, in order to rise in rank, the ambitious aristocrat had to play by Octavian’s rules, and thus the best and most talented men were bound by their own self-interest to support the new order of things.

Under the Settlement of 27 BCE Octavian was awarded the unique title of ‘Augustus’, meaning ‘auspicious, revered’, further cementing his status as beneficient—in effect, the paterfamilias of the entire Roman world. Thus, by holding the powers of two properly Republican offices, as well as a new title, Augustus Caesar, as he was henceforth known, managed to avoid the office of ‘dictator’, a title which various previous rulers had made unpalatable, while claiming more power—and maintaining greater stability—than any of them had ever achieved. Augustus was careful further to disguise the essential nature of his rule by remaining uniquely approachable, walking about the city, speaking easily to all classes, acting as champion of ‘the People’, dressed simply and enjoying no mark of particular authority. His wise rule, bringing peace, low taxes, and prosperity, further solidified his popularity. The longevity of his rule (27 BCE-14 CE) resulted in an entire generation growing up who knew nothing else than his personal presence, a factor which further accustomed the populace to the new order. Later additions to his legal and moral authority included the office of Pontifex Maximus (12 BCE), and Pater Patriae (2 BCE). The Augustan Age heralded an era of unprecedented prosperity and security for the Empire’s subjects—one which lasted some two centuries.

The Principate, then, was a monarchy based upon the powers of Republican officers, sanctified by the Senate and People of Rome as ‘august’, and outwardly in form simply held by one particular person within the framework of a restored Republic. Its authority rested upon:

A set of formal legally defined powers: the proconsular imperium maius (as ‘Imperator’, whence ‘emperor’), the tribunician power, and the office of pontifex maximus, whose titles are seen in abbreviated form henceforth on coinage and monuments;

Personal auctoritas: Augustus, Pater Patriae, restorer of the republic, ‘son of the god’ (divi filius; ‘god’ referring to the deified Julius Caesar), etc.;

The legitimacy of Octavian/Augustus as holder of all such official powers; the People had taken personal oath to Octavian in 32 BCE, prior to his war with Antony, thus recognizing him as a licit authority; the Senate, in accepting the Settlement of 27 BCE, legitimized the new order of things as well.

Because the Principate was not—could not be—‘hereditary’ (since the offices from which the Princeps derived his formal powers were not), Augustus set the precedent of having the Senate bestow the proconsular and tribunician power upon his successor prior to his own death; the ‘personal’ accolades of ‘Princeps Senatus’ and ‘Pater Patriae’, as well as the lifetime office of Pontifex, awarded to Augustus in his own person, could not be transferred until Augustus himself had died, and were duly bestowed upon his successor Tiberius after the former’s death.

This fundamental structure remained in place for the next 250 years, though evolving over time toward a more openly autocratic government. However, the Principate remained, in theory at least, the rule of a ‘first among equals’ whose power derived from the possession of both offices and of personal auctoritas. Not until the terrible pressures of the Anarchy of the Third Century did this remarkable system of rule give way to the Dominate.

Page created by Eric Jacobson