Alexander had expanded the Greek world far beyond its original limits. No one could have imagined that his empire in its turn would be conquered by what was, in the fourth century, still a small city occupying the centre of the Latin plain in central Italy. From its beginnings in the eighth century Rome’s survival had depended on the successful defence of its exposed territory from neighbouring peoples of the plains, and from the mountain peoples who could raid downwards and then retreat to their impregnable strongholds. 1 As the city successfully consolidated its territory on the plain, war became integral to the system of Roman government. From 509, when the city became a republic, the prime role of its leading magistrates, the two consuls, was military command, and, although all magistrates were now elected, there was no path to political power without successful military service.
The secret of Rome’s resilience lay in a psychology of aggression married to policies that were dedicated to increasing its fighting manpower. The emerging state was always prepared to give citizenship or, failing that, a favoured status (known as Latin rights) to loyal communities. Their manpower became Rome’s own, and defeated cities were usually required to become allies so that their men too would be available for Rome’s future wars. The Greek cities had never proved able to share citizenship so easily, one reason why none had created a sustainable empire. The Roman armies were also imbued with a gritty determination honed in the tough wars of the fourth and third centuries against the Samnites, the most formidable of the mountain peoples. This meant that when outsiders such as the brilliant Carthaginian general Hannibal invaded Italy across the Alps in 218, Rome hung on and, despite humiliating defeats in the field, wore him down. Rome also learned, through the copying and improvement of captured Carthaginian ships, how to create a navy and use it effectively. By 200 B.C. Italy and the former Carthaginian empire itself, which had included Sicily, north Africa and Spain, had been conquered and made up a Roman empire in the western Mediterranean.
By this time the Romans were already intruding into the eastern Mediterranean. Despite its unique constitution and culture, Rome had never been isolated from the Greek world. Wealthy Greek cities dotted the coastline of southern Italy and Sicily, and there was early trade between Greeks and the city. Rome itself had adopted a foundation myth that linked it, through Aeneas (a refugee from Troy), with the east. Rome’s first history was written by a Roman, Fabius Pictor, in Greek— as if it were the Greeks, rather than the neighbouring Latins, who had to be impressed by the city’s growing status. As early as 433 B.C., when Athens was at the height of its power, Apollo, the Greek god of reason and deliverer from disease, had been adopted by the city of Rome when plague broke out there. His presence underlined the fact that, like the Greeks, the Romans were at ease with anthropomorphic gods. Indeed, Roman and Greek gods were to prove easily assimilated with each other: Jupiter absorbed Zeus, the father of the gods; Venus, Aphrodite, the goddess of love; and Ceres, Demeter, the goddess of corn. By the time of the poet Ovid in the late first century B.C., the mythologies of the two cultures had become inextricably mingled.2
So when in the third century B.C. Rome began to conquer the Greek cities of the peninsula and bring back vast quantities of statuary and other plunder, there was already some appreciation of what was being appropriated. It is hard to know to what extent this early plunder was used as a symbol of Roman victory and to what extent as art appreciated in its own right, but certainly by the middle of the second century the more cultured commanders were using some discrimination in choosing what they took home. After a victory over the Macedonians in 168, Aemilius Paullus brought back the royal library of Macedonia, while, on the final crushing of Macedonia in 148, the victor, Quintus Caecilius Metellus, selected a group of sculptures by Lysippus of Alexander and his companions. They were set up in Rome under a portico designed specially for them by a Greek architect. However, much of the Greek intellectual tradition remained alien to Rome. Romans proved impatient with philosophy and relatively indifferent to Greek science and mathematics. When the Skeptic Carneades appeared in Rome in 155 as one of a group of philosophers and argued on one day that justice was an indispensable part of government and the next day that it was not, traditional Romans (though not the younger generation) were shocked, and the group was sent back to Athens. The Romans considered the Greek tradition of competing in games naked undignified, and while Greek-style basilicas and temples were acceptable in Rome, gymnasia (literally “places of nakedness”) appear only later, and then as additions to that quintessential Roman invention, the monumental public bath.3
If there was one Greek skill that was adopted by the Romans with enthusiasm, it was rhetoric. All the magistrates in Rome were elected by the citizen body, and while military prowess was important, so was the ability to speak well before the mass of citizenry, which would flock into the city for the elections. By the first century a career could be built through public speaking alone, not only at election time but also as an advocate at the public trials that had become a feature of political life. Marcus Tullius Cicero was supreme in the art, the first man to achieve the post of quaestor, the lowest of the senior magistracies, without having served the normal ten years of military service. He had spent two years in Greece undertaking an intensive study of the art of rhetoric, and he made his name in 70 B.C. with a devastating opening speech as prosecutor in the trial of Gaius Verres, a former governor of Sicily notorious for having used his position to ransack the province. Verres, who had himself employed a leading advocate to defend him, went into exile. Only seven years later, in 63 B.C., Cicero was elected consul.4
By the time of Cicero, however, the Roman republic was proving to be unstable. A century before, the authority of the Senate, the ruling council of Rome on which senior magistrates served for life after their term of office, had been unquestioned. The Senate had successfully maintained the stability of the state at a time of rapid imperial expansion and had vigorously enforced the convention that no man, however successful he may have been in war, should be able to use his success to achieve lasting influence in political affairs. But over time its authority had waned as it proved itself unable to deal creatively with tensions over landownership in Italy or to maintain control of its commanders while they were overseas. While earlier consuls had served for a single year of office, fought those battles that needed to be fought and then retired to the Senate, now the demands of a growing empire meant that many were retained overseas year after year on campaign. One commander stayed nine years in Spain, another served eight continuous years in the east. It had long been accepted that a commander was free to make what settlements he could while abroad (while also helping himself and his men to plunder) and then have them ratified by the Senate when he returned. However, long periods of service overseas enabled an ambitious commander to accumulate considerable wealth, an army whose loyalty to him had been cemented by their own share of plunder, and the habit of acting like a dictator. So long as a commander was successfully bringing glory to the empire and remained absent from Rome itself, such a role could be tolerated. But the return to the capital of such a figure could pose an obvious threat to the Senate if he were to disregard the convention that a successful commander should retire quietly. The increasing volatility of the large citizen body of Rome and widespread unrest in the Italian countryside only served to increase the potential threat to the stability of the republic.
The events of the last years (63 to 30 B.C.) of the 500-year-old republic can be seen as a bitter struggle among a small group of men of great talent and extraordinary ambition for supreme power. But they can also be seen as the inevitable if tortuous progress towards a more effective form of government for an empire that by the middle of the first century B.C. reached across the whole Mediterranean. The members of the Senate were too deeply embedded in the old order, and with 300 senators the council proved too cumbersome to act swiftly at times of crisis. Rome’s field commanders, especially those fighting in the east, were increasingly treated by their subjects as if they were already monarchs.5
The collapse of the republic and the resultant shift towards a form of monarchical government that proved able to maintain authority over the empire can be traced through the careers of three men, Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar and Octavian, later revered as Augustus. Pompey was an exceptionally able general. When put in charge of a campaign against pirates in the Mediterranean, he cleared them from the sea in a mere three months when many had expected it would take three years. In 63 B.C. he was responsible for the final defeat of the Seleucid dynasty, and in the ensuing settlement of the east he created three new provinces of the eastern empire that he protected with a ring of client kingdoms. The settlement brought a substantial and steady income in tribute to Rome, but Pompey’s successes also created concern that on his return home with his army he would stage a coup. Yet when the opportunity arose Pompey declined to take it. He landed in Italy, disbanded his army and returned to republican politics. While the threat remained, particularly when he threw in his lot with the brilliant younger commander Julius Caesar, Pompey himself never challenged the constitution. When Caesar, who had fought his own successful and lucrative campaign to conquer the vast expanse of Gaul, actively confronted the state by refusing to surrender his command (a confrontation symbolized by his crossing of the Rubicon, a small river in northern Italy that marked the limit of his command, in 49 B.C., taking his army southwards into territory where he had no such authority), Pompey broke with him and threw his weight behind the senate and the republic.
In Caesar, however, the aging Pompey had met his match. Caesar pursued Pompey to Greece, where in 48 B.C. he defeated him and many of his senatorial supporters at the battle of Pharsalus. Pompey fled to Egypt, where he assumed that the king of the last surviving Hellenistic dynasty (Pergamum having been bequeathed to Rome by its last king in 133 B.C.) would shelter him. Instead he was murdered as he stepped ashore. After enjoying a celebrated liaison with the last of the Ptolemies, Cleopatra, Caesar eventually moved on to destroy Pompey’s supporters in Asia, north Africa and Spain.6
When Caesar finally returned to Rome, the old order seemed dead. The Senate pandered to him and allowed him to take for life the old title of dictator, which had traditionally been granted only in acute emergencies and then only for a short time. Caesar held it alongside both a consulship that was to prove permanent and the post of pontifex maximus, the head of the priesthood. Over time the trappings of his power increased. There were great triumphs to celebrate his victories, and he was allowed to sit in a gilded chair as a mark of his elevated authority. Caesar financed the completion of a large basilica and forum with the proceeds of his campaign in Gaul, and his supporters were packed into the Senate. At one festival his fellow consul Mark Antony went so far as to attempt to place a crown on his head. Although Caesar pushed it aside, ancient sensitivities were being aroused. We cannot know whether Caesar would have made the final break with the past and declared himself a king. He may have been too deeply entrenched in traditional Roman values, and it seems likely that he had come to realize that he had trapped himself and was planning to escape from Rome through initiating a new campaign in the east. However, prior to his planned departure from the city in March 44, a group of senators, exploiting the old rallying cry of libertas (resistance to dictatorship), assassinated him.
Nothing was solved by Caesar’s assassination. The Senate retained little popular support, which diminished further in Rome when it emerged that Caesar had left a sum of money to each citizen. The leading conspirators, Brutus and Cassius, fled the city after Mark Antony rallied the crowds against them. Mark Antony’s own position rapidly came under threat, however, with the arrival in Rome of Caesar’s heir, his eighteen-year-old grandnephew, Octavian. Using the aura of Caesar’s name to raise an army, within a year Octavian had defeated Mark Antony and forced the Senate to give him a consulship. Although he and Mark Antony patched up their differences, defeated Brutus and Cassius and divided the empire, they remained rivals. Mark Antony assumed control of the eastern empire and unwisely became involved with the ever-ambitious Cleopatra, allowing Octavian, always a master of propaganda, to brand him as the plaything of an unscrupulous and decadent woman. When Cleopatra accompanied Mark Antony to Greece in 31 B.C., Octavian pronounced this to be an invasion by a foreigner. He crossed to Greece with a large fleet, defeated the lovers at Actium and forced them to flee to Egypt. Both committed suicide, and the wealthy territory of Egypt, kingdom of the longest-lasting of the Hellenistic dynasties, was appropriated by Octavian as his personal province. The Hellenistic kingdoms of the Antigonids (northern Greece), Seleucids (much of western Asia), Ptolemies (Egypt) and Attalids (Pergamum in western Asia Minor) were all now under Roman control. Rome’s empire embraced the entire Mediterranean.
Perhaps the most prominent of the casualties of these debilitating conflicts, after Caesar himself, was Cicero. In his many surviving letters he reveals his agonies over the turmoil he found around him. Cicero was wedded to the old ideals of public service and the republic, whose virtues he idealized in his De Republica (54 B.C.), a dialogue set in the more harmonious days of the second century, but as chaos grew, he reluctantly accepted that only a strong man could restore order. At first Cicero backed Pompey, even joining him as a noncombatant at Pharsalus. After Pompey’s defeat, he made his peace with Caesar in the hope that the republic would be restored. Inevitably as Caesar’s rule grew more dictatorial, Cicero grew disillusioned. There is no evidence to link Cicero with Caesar’s assassination (although he rejoiced at the news), but when Octavian arrived in Rome, Cicero believed he could use him against Mark Antony. His last great speeches (the Philippics)7 were in support of Octavian against Mark Antony. It proved a fatal miscalculation: when Mark Antony added Cicero to the list of those to be eliminated as enemies of Caesar, Octavian acquiesced. Cicero was hunted down and killed in December 43 B.C. His head was hacked off and mounted— together, at Mark Antony’s request, with the hands which had written the Philippics—on the speaker’s rostrum in the Roman Forum.
Largely excluded from political life by the 40s, Cicero spent his last years writing. Steeping himself in Greek culture, he built, in effect, an enduring bridge over which Greek philosophy passed into the Latin world. The death of his daughter, Tullia, in 45 B.C. led him to explore the effects of grief in his Consolatio. He moved on to overtly philosophical issues, epistemology, moral philosophy, the ultimate aims of existence and the nature of the gods. Sceptical by nature, he was nevertheless broad-minded enough to read widely across the various schools of Greek philosophy and to examine issues from different perspectives. His work was marked by a cultivated humanism; he valued cultural diversity and distrusted dogmatism, and to this extent he can be seen as one of the founders of European liberal humanism and a forerunner of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. When the Roman empire fragmented some centuries later and Greek became forgotten in the west, Cicero’s works survived, even if, as a result of Christian opposition to his scepticism (and, of course, paganism), a full appreciation of his work was delayed until the Renaissance.
One of Cicero’s central philosophical interests was the nature of the gods. He was keenly aware of the difficulties of finding any reasoned justification for their existence, while remaining convinced of the importance of belief and ritual in everyday life. The issue had become one of practical politics. In conquering the east, Roman leaders were absorbed into the spiritual traditions of the Greeks and found themselves treated, as successful Hellenistic monarchs had been, as favoured by the gods, perhaps even as divine themselves. While campaigning in the east, Pompey had been addressed as “saviour,” a title used by the Ptolemies, and he had had a cult set up in his honour on the island of Delos and a month named after him in the city of Mytilene. Pompey declined to exploit these honours on his return to Italy, but Caesar proved more susceptible to this form of adulation. He too had been acclaimed in the east as if he were divine and acquiesced in similar acclamations in Rome. He was granted the right to have his own priest, his house was adorned by a pediment as if it were a temple and in state processions his image was placed among those of the gods. A month was named after him in the Roman calendar (it survives today as July). All this no doubt contributed to the unease that led to his assassination. Yet in the backlash following his death all the ancient Roman taboos on making a man divine were ignored, and he was proclaimed to have become a god. The resourceful Octavian subsequently claimed that he was the son (even if only by his adoption) of a god, a title he used with great effect.
When Octavian returned to Rome in 29 B.C. with sixty legions under his command and the wealth of Egypt at his disposal, a military dictatorship must have seemed inevitable, the end to which republican politics had been moving. Yet Octavian had the vision and acumen to realize that it was essential to work within the traditional parameters of republican politics, indeed that he needed to refrain from taking on any of the attributes of dictatorship. He defused the Romans’ fears by disbanding much of his vast army and using his own wealth to settle his veterans as farmers, thus making them reliable supporters of any new settlement. He then embarked on elaborate negotiations with the Senate, encouraging its members to transfer him powers, the consulship and the right to administer provinces, posts with republican precedents, in return for his acquiescence in their traditional status. It was a consummate piece of political manoeuvring in which the reality, a transfer of a wide range of powers into Octavian’s hands, was effectively masked by the deference he showed to the senators and to republican tradition in public. The entire process was smoothed by the near-universal desire among Romans of all classes for peace. In 27 B.C. the Senate’s underlying awe for Octavian was marked by the grant of a new title, Augustus, the “revered one,” which remains the name by which he is known.8
The next forty years (Augustus died in A.D. 14) saw the evolution of what was, in effect, a Hellenistic monarchy. Augustus continued to gather republican offices: he was made a tribune, the traditional representative of the people, and pontifex maximus, head of the priesthood; in 2 B.C. he was awarded a new but honorary accolade, pater patriae, “Father of the Fatherland.” While the pretence that the Senate made decisions was maintained, in practice petitions came to Augustus and he increasingly took responsibility for them. To his eastern subjects, this was, of course, entirely familiar; and the Greek cities honoured him with cult worship, often linking his name to the city of Rome. Augustus remained sensitive enough not to institute any comparable cult worship within Rome itself, and he assiduously carried out the traditional religious rituals on which the safety of the state had always been assumed to depend. The massive building programme he initiated in Rome included the restoration of no less than eighty-two temples. He presented himself as the living image of the ancient Roman virtue of pietas, in which respect for the gods mingled with that for the fatherland and one’s own family.9
One of the most famous representations of Augustus is on the Ara Pacis, the Altar of Peace, now reconstructed in Rome, where he is shown among his family and prominent officials, modestly veiled and approaching a sacrifice. The primary purpose of the altar was to celebrate the peace brought by Augustus both at home and abroad, but the altar’s iconography also clearly links his success with the past glories of Rome, in, for example, representing Aeneas among others in the reliefs. It was through public images such as this that Augustus made his most sustained assault on power. Almost every image of Augustus reinforced the values of his regime, both applauding its prosperity and stability and presenting it as the culmination of Rome’s long and glorious history. In the great new forum built around a temple to Mars Ultor—Mars as a god of revenge (revenge both against the assassins of Caesar and against the Parthians, by this time the most powerful threat in the east)—Augustus built statues of Rome’s founders (Aeneas and Romulus), and the statesmen and commanders who had made the Roman empire great paraded along the sides, while there was an imposing statue of Augustus himself in a four-horse chariot in the centre. This was the end to which the gods themselves had brought their favoured city.10
With Augustus Rome came of age as a city where the predominant culture, in architecture and literature in particular, was Greek, albeit used towards Roman ends and for the celebration of the glory of Augustus’ regime. The procession on the Ara Pacis consciously echoed the frieze of the Parthenon in Athens, and it was carved by Greek craftsmen. An entire fifth-century Greek pediment was re-erected in one restored temple to Apollo. (Augustus preferred the restrained serenity of fifthcentury Greek art to the more exuberant creations of the Hellenistic period.) Large spaces surrounded by porticos, theatres and basilicas all echoed Greek models (often mediated through examples from the wealthy Greek cities of southern Italy). In every aspect of culture Greek models were copied but transformed, so as to celebrate the new age. The poet Propertius makes his own debt to Greek literature explicit. He wrote:
I principally claim for my poetry a descent from the ancient lyric and choral poets, especially Sappho and Alcaeus, in spirit and in my verse form; but I write as well in the spirit of Callimachus and his Roman descendants, and in so doing have naturally transformed my original models; further I write with a special purpose, to make thoroughly Italian, in manner and matter, this double Greek inheritance.11
Propertius is echoed by his contemporaries. Horace’s poetry is steeped in Greek models—Greece, he acknowledges has taken “its captor Rome captive.” In his Aeneid Virgil draws on Homer’s epics—the wanderings of the first part of the Aeneid suggest the Odyssey, the battles of the second, the Iliad. In Book 6 of his epic Virgil sums up the accommodations that have been made between the two cultures.
Others [i.e., the Greeks] will cast more tenderly in bronze
Their breathing figures, I can well believe,
And bring more lifelike figures out of marble:
Argue more eloquently, use the pointer
To trace the paths of heaven accurately
And accurately foretell the rising stars.
Roman, remember by your strength to rule
Earth’s people—for your arts are to be these:
To pacify, to impose the rule of law,
To spare the conquered, battle down the proud.12
Virgil was right to stress the success of the Romans as rulers. Not the least of Augustus’ achievements was the creation of a stable system of government for the empire, even though it was often imposed by force. He oversaw a particularly brutal subjugation of Spain and his reign was marked by tough, and on occasions disastrous, campaigns along the northern (German) borders of the empire. However, he recognized the importance of sound governors who would not exploit their position for gain and the advantage for all of the rising tax revenues that a settled empire would bring. Generally the empire prospered during these years.
The pattern of provincial government remained as it had been in republican times. Often, especially in the east, a conquered territory was left in the hands of a client king, who was responsible for its internal government and the maintenance of Rome’s interests in the surrounding territory. Over time the tendency was for client kingdoms to become absorbed into the empire, especially if their rulers made any effective show of independence. They then became provinces, directly governed and taxed by Rome. Alternatively, a subdued territory became a province directly, under the authority of a governor, as did Britain and Gaul (divided into three provinces). Augustus had agreed with the Senate that he would be governor for life of the more vulnerable border provinces of the empire. He had the right to appoint deputies (legates) in these provinces, while the more secure provinces such as Achaia (southern Greece) would have governors selected by lot from senior senators. Augustus’ legates normally served a term of three years.
In areas where there was no immediate security threat, Roman rule was comparatively light. In Judaea at the time of Pontius Pilate, for instance, there were only 3,000 Roman troops in the whole province, and most of these were based on the coast or in strategically placed forts. The secret of such successful administration in the long term lay in the creation of quiescent local elites that had their own interest in keeping good order. In the Greek cities of the east such elites existed already, in the form of ruling classes and the city assemblies, although it took time for them to appreciate the advantages for their own status in acquiescing to Roman rule. In the west, where city life was relatively undeveloped, new elites had to be created from the Celtic peoples, many of whom had been shattered by the campaigns of Julius Caesar.13 It helped enormously that the Romans were tolerant of local deities and that these could be absorbed into the Roman pantheon, as the gods and goddesses of Greece had been some centuries earlier. So the local goddess of the hot springs of Bath, Sulis, was equated with Minerva, while the major Celtic deity Lug was linked with the Roman Mercury. Gradually over the next two centuries Romanization, in terms of a shared Greco-Roman culture, mutually supportive spiritual beliefs and the sense of belonging to a common political entity, took place.14
Some areas proved more difficult to govern than others. Among Pompey’s conquests in the east in 63 B.C. was Judaea, which had enjoyed a hundred years of independence under the Hasmonaeans, a family of priests and kings. The Romans proved deeply ambivalent towards Judaism. While they always respected antiquity in any spiritual belief (“[Jewish] rites, whatever their origins, are sanctioned by their antiquity,” as the historian Tacitus put it),15 the Romans felt threatened by the exclusivity of monotheism. Roman high-handedness rapidly upset Jewish sensitivities: Pompey could not refrain from displaying Roman dominance by entering the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem, and a later emperor, Caligula, caused outrage when he suggested that a statue of himself be placed inside the Temple. However, a way had to be found to rule Judaea. The Romans began by appointing a Hasmonaean, Hyrcanus, as high priest with responsibility to Rome for Judaean good order. Dissensions between Hyrcanus and his relatives rapidly led to the collapse of this arrangement, and the Romans then appointed a king, Herod, a member of a powerful family of Idumaea (southern Judaea) in 37 B.C. Herod wisely married into the Hasmonaean family and sustained himself in power for over thirty years. Although the Jews always distrusted him, he rebuilt the Jerusalem Temple in great splendour, and until the final years of his reign, when he became increasingly brutal, he remained on good terms with the Romans, who were impressed with the skillful way he maintained peace in a difficult territory. When he died in 4 B.C., his territories, which spread far beyond Judaea (into Galilee, for instance), were divided among his three sons. In Galilee Herod Antipas held on to power until A.D. 39 (that is, for the entire period of Jesus’ youth and ministry there). His brother Archelaus, who assumed control over Judaea, was less successful and survived only until A.D. 6, when he was deposed by the Romans after petitions of complaint from the Jews. Judaea then became a Roman province, though the governor was at first a prefect subject to Quirinius, the governor of the neighbouring province of Syria. The tax census conducted by Quirinius (subsequently used by Luke the Evangelist as a means of bringing Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem) 16led to outbreaks of serious unrest. Some respect for Jewish feeling was shown by the decision to base the prefect in the prosperous port of Caesarea while giving day-to-day responsibility for order to the high priest in Jerusalem. It always remained possible for the Romans to depose the high priest if he was unsatisfactory, and this system worked effectively for a number of years. Annas, high priest from A.D. 6, was succeeded by his son-in-law Caiaphas, who lasted from c. 18 to 37, the longest term of office recorded under the empire. Only at times of the major Jewish festivals did the prefect move with accompanying Roman soldiers into Jerusalem. Images of Judaea—and in some cases Galilee— groaning under the weight of Roman rule, presented by some historians, have little or no historical backing. Most Jews would never have seen a Roman soldier, although Judaeans, if not the Galileans who paid their tax to Herod Antipas, would have been fully aware that in addition to the dues they paid as Jews to the Temple, their taxes went to Rome.17
In A.D. 26, Augustus’ successor, Tiberius, appointed a new prefect of Judaea, Pontius Pilate. His was not a successful appointment. In an attempt to impress the emperor and demonstrate Roman power, he marched into Jerusalem with standards bearing the emperor’s image. The Jews reacted with outrage. Pilate did not learn from his experience. His attempt to make use of Temple funds for the building of an aqueduct led to riots that he suppressed violently. In another incident he confronted a group of Samaritans who had assembled for religious reasons, which he interpreted as seditious. The Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria wrote of “the briberies, the insults, the robberies, the outrages and wanton injuries, the executions without trial constantly repeated, the ceaseless and supremely grievous cruelty”18 that marked Pilate’s term in office. It seems unlikely that the decision to order the crucifixion of Jesus would have weighed heavily on him. Eventually, in A.D. 36, Tiberius, who, like all the more effective emperors, knew how counterproductive volatile and vindictive governors were, dismissed him.19
Augustus was concerned not only with his own position but also with securing imperial rule for his successors. Technically he was no more than “a first citizen”; in practice, however, his authority and influence were such that he was able to control the succession. The problem was in finding a successor. His daughter, Julia, was exploited in the cause with such insensitivity that after her third marriage, to the elderly Tiberius (himself Augustus’ stepson), she took refuge in a string of adulteries so scandalous that her father felt it necessary to exile her. Tiberius himself now became the heir designate, and he succeeded to Augustus’ powers on the latter’s death in A.D. 14. Once a senator reported that Augustus’ body had been seen rising from his funeral pyre towards heaven, the Senate confirmed that he had become a god. His divinity, according to the senatorial decree, rested on “the magnificence of his benefactions to the whole world.”
Tiberius was a highly capable ruler, and he preserved the stability of the regime, until old age and his promotion of favourites led to increasing disillusionment with his regime. On his death in 37 the youthful Caligula, Tiberius’ great-nephew, succeeded, receiving the grant of all the imperial powers from the Senate within a single day. Caligula was to prove profligate, unstable and cruel. There remained, however, no constitutional means through which he could be deposed, and eventually he was assassinated (A.D. 41). By this time the tradition of single ruler was deeply entrenched, and Caligula’s uncle, the scholarly Claudius, whose disabilities (probably the result of cerebral palsy) had previously led to him being passed over, was acclaimed by the imperial guard. Claudius proved an unexpectedly successful ruler, even gaining, through his competent generals, an entirely new province, that of Britain, for the empire. The concept of imperial rule was never again challenged during the history of the empire; and when the Ottoman Turks eventually sacked its final capital, Constantinople, in 1453, the last emperor, Constantine, the eleventh of that name, died in its defence.