Empire of coercion : Rome, its ruler and his soldiers
This thesis explores the basis of the political power wielded by Roman emperors. Its hypothesis is that their power was of an essentially coercive nature, and was a manifestation of the Roman ethos of competition for personal dominance. This competition took place within the context of a society in which war and military organisation were of prime significance. As a result, political power was habitually obtained and held through the direct and indirect involvement of soldiers. It was inevitable that the relationship between emperors and their soldiers should be the major determinant of their authority. Issues considered to be relevant to this view are examined from a wide perspective and within the broad time scale of the classical world before the advent of the Christian Empire. Ancient writing on the nature of political power is explored, and every effort is made to give due weight to the direct expressions of our primary sources in their discussions of personal authority. Evidence is also cited from sociological and other modem theories of political power in order to illuminate the coercive basis of the Roman state. The development of power within Rome is traced, together with the explanations, justifications and mechanisms inherent to its operation. Soldiers are shown to have been the key agents of Roman political coercion. Bases of authority other than coercion are considered for their relevance, but are found either to have been derivative of, or secondary to, force and the threat of force. The qualities required of a successful emperor are explored. These are demonstrated to have been primarily military, while in the most significant aspects of political and personal behaviour the Roman ruler sought to establish and strengthen the bond between himself and his soldiers. When this link finally weakened, political authority passed directly to the soldiers.