The Julio-Claudians Emperors: Civil Government and Military Concerns

  • Relations between emperor and subjects encompassed dealings with the senators and equites
  • Augustus portrayed himself first among equals rather than as dictator like Julius Caesar, thus emphasizing civil rather than military power
  • Augustus’ immediate successors came from his extended family so a single dynasty ran the Roman empire from 14-68
  • Emperor’s relationship to the army and Rome’s military tradition

o   Emperor was commander in chief of all armed forces

o   State’s military traditions meant more than armed men loyal to Rome

  • Military and imperial growth were two of Republican Rome’s key elements
  • Armenia separated Rome from their most organized enemy, the Parthians


  • Treason trials increased during his rule because he was viewed as secretive, suspicious, introspective and cautious
  • His general distrust and military background led him to rely of the Praetorian Guard (built them huge barracks) which ensured that all future emperors would have a personal bodyguard and they influenced the choice of emperors
  • Tiberius looked at the individual not the weakness of the system
  • Never developed a close relationship with Rome’s populace (seldom attended public spectacles)
  • He moved to Capri and never returned to Rome (not even to attend his mother’s funeral)

o   Absence meant that he had no direct contact and that his relationships with both the elite and the populace remained low

  • Spent time on military and administrative matters

o   Strikes against  Germans along the Rhine- suggest Rome’s customary use of external war to encourage internal harmony

o   His son, Drusus the Younger, was dispatched to discipline rebellious legions in Pannonia

  • Tiberius died at age 77 in the year 37 and was welcomed in Rome
  • Lack of mobility diminished opportunities for provincials to feel a personal link with the Princeps

Gaius (Caligula)

  • Tiberius’s grandnephew is known by his nickname Caligula, given to him for the miniature military boots (caliga) that he wore as a toddler when he lived in military camps with his parents
  • Directly descended from Augustus through his mother and from Livia (A’s mother) through his father
  • Epileptic, father died, saw the exile and execution of his mothers and brothers voted by the senate under the pressure from Tiberius
  • Gained no familiarity with his peers from the senate or equestrians
  • Praetorians favoured Caligula rather than Gemellus, Tiberius’s grandson
  • He restored senatorial prestige by granting them authority to make decisions and he published an imperial budget, attended races in Rome and showed himself accessible to the people
  • Fell ill, recovered, but his erratic behaviour escalated- killed some important people, argued with the senate and was ruling more autocratically
  • Political insults such as planning a consulship for his favourite racehorse, to moral and religious insults such as having his sister Drusilla deified
  • He appeared in public dressed as various gods and he performed as charioteer, gladiator, and singer but he attended to the army and foreign affairs
  • He had Ptolemy deposed and executed, dethroned king of Armenia which caused problems through the rule of Nero
  • Appointed Herod the Great to rule part of Judaea and installed his statue in the Temple in Jerusalem and other synagogues which contributed to the unrest that resulted in the First Jewish Revolt in 66
  • His megalomania, unpredictability, and religious arrogance alienated many
  • His deficient military leadership was the root cause of his assassination by members of the Praetorian Guard whom he had humiliated


  • Caligula’s uncle, Livia’s grandson and Tiberius’ nephew
  • Endured illnesses, deaf in one ear and was lame
  • Military and political preference had gone to his older and more charismatic brother but Claudius had a scholar’s mind and training
  • His Principate was due to the Praetorians
  • He hid in the imperial palace after Caligula’s assassination but was accidentally discovered there by a Guardsmen who hailed his as Princeps
  • He reduced his reliance on the Praetorian Guard and loosened its grip by appointing two Praetorian Prefects rather than one
  • He angered the senators by paying each Praetorian 150 gold pieces
  • Consulted the senate frequently, involved himself actively in military and administrative affairs, revived office of censor
  • Senators viewed him as interfering and meddling with their prerogatives and dignity
  • He relied on imperial freedmen rather than equites or senators which antagonized Rome’s elite who felt that their power and prestige were being handed to social inferiors
  • Married a lady thirty years his junior, divorced her, married his niece and she received the honorific title Augusta and she secured the succession of her own son, Nero, who married Claudius’s thirteen-year old daughter Octavia and superseded the slightly younger Britannicus (his other son by his first wife)
  • Expanded the empire (invasion of Britain, annexed Mauretania and Thrace as provinces)
  • Many celebrations of military achievements created memorable festivities for the city
  • Was alert to Rome’ grain supply and devised special inducements for merchants to import grain during the winter
  • Public buildings and renovations (Aqua Claudia) and new port for Rome


  • Had a coin made that had on one side a picture of him and his mother looking at each other- this was the first time that anyone had appeared on a Roman coin with the current emperor
  • Wasn’t even 17 when he succeeded Claudius
  • He listened to his tutors Seneca and Burrus and his mother, Agrippina tried to exercise power through her son but her behaviour was more scandalous than harmful
  • Nero’s interests were in the arts and showmanship rather than in government and military
  • Staged the Juvenalia festival- official shaving of his beard for the first time
  • In an elaborate ruse he had his mother Agrippina killed in a staged shipwreck
  • His unlimited spending and protracted military actions caused him to devalue coinage and revive laws of treason
  • Senate eventually disowned him as he became a terror and declared him a public enemy
  • Nero committed suicide and the Julio-Claudian dynasty ended with him
  • Public liked him for the majority of the time but they were outraged when he divorced and murdered Octavia and were hostile to his subsequent marriage with Poppaea
  • Rumoured to have caused the great fire of 64 (it damaged eleven of Rome’s fourteen regions) because he appropriated much of the devastated land for his Golden House; tried to blame it on the Christians but his plan backfired because the horrible tortures he inflicted on the accused provoked widespread sympathy
  • Greece was the sole part of the empire he visited during his 14 year rule
  • Unable to solve provincial and foreign problems

Civil War

  • Gaius Julius Vindex began a revolt- this insurrection precipitated Nero’s downfall and civil war
  • Nero was replaced by Galba (71 years old!) who came from a distinguished patrician family)
  • Nero’s neglect had opened the way for any commander with willing troops to bid for the Principate
  • Vitellius and Vespasian were originally declared emperor by forces outside of Rome but Otho was declared emperor by the Praetorian Guardsmen in Rome itself while Galba stressed he had been acclaimed by the senate and the people but he fell to Otho
  • Galba was harsh, refused to pay a donative fee to the Praeotrians and he suspended public games
  • He did not placate the troops on the Rhine who felt insufficiently rewarded for their suppression of Vindex’s revolt
  • Troops declared Vitellius as emperor
  • Galba and his adopted successor Piso were slaughtered in the Roman Forum and Otho was named emperor
  • Otho committed suicide in a battle against Vitellius
  • Vitellius was now the first Princeps since Tiberius to gain power without the immediate support of the Praetorian Guard
  • Troops in Judaea declared Vespasian emperor  and defeated Vitellius’ forces and he was killed
  • Senate and people declared Vespasian emperor although he entered Rome only the following year
  • Roman troops had repeatedly marched on Rome
  • Civil war destroyed everything, was expensive, and diverted attention and manpower from more strategic points, revealed the disunity of the empire

Economic and Social Change: Army

  • Land based forces were supplemented by marines stationed at Misenum on the Bay of Naples, Ravenna, Forum Julii and other ports
  • 13 of Rome’s 25 legions were stationed in the provinces along the Rhine and Danube
  • Armed forces changed the economic, social, religious, cultural, and political lives of the areas they occupied
  • Creation of  a standing, state-funded army with its requirements of steady pay and supplies encouraged the monetarization of the Roman state, the production of surplus goods and trade
  • Local coins
  • Agrarian economy continued to characterize the Roman world
  • General rise in the economy

Beneficial Ideology

  • Peace was maintained by the threat of force and by a beneficial ideology
  • Imperial beneficence was regularly expressed in the provision of cheap food and lavish entertainments for the populace
  • Emperors were generous with aide to communities struck by disaster
  • Ability and culture were the prerequisites to success for senatorial and equestrian offices

Cities and Provinces

  • Local magistrates and councillors were responsible for the collection of taxes, census registration ,supply of men for the army when volunteers were lacking, provision of hospitality and transport animals, shelter, equipment and supplies for any military units passing through
  • Individual cities were left to oversee their own public buildings and cults, the maintenance of their water supply and baths, local law and order, embassies to Roman officials
  • Was essential for cities to govern themselves by some version of the tripartite system traditional to Rome: magistrates, advisory council, and citizen body
  • Descendents of former slaves often gained municipal offices and other priesthoods
  • Growing number of cities was made possible by peace and by Roman engineering (forum, aqueducts, fountains, streets, sidewalks, temples, baths, theatres, amphitheatres)
  • Cities were mostly found along coasts, rivers, and major inland routes
  • Building and maintenance of roads and harbours
  • Land transport cost five times more than water transport
  • Long-distance trade for luxury goods was increasing

Diversity: Women, Local Languages, and Culture

  • Increasing public visibility for women in Rome and in Italian and provincial cities
  • Women how started to hold prestigious religious positions and they were featured on statues, relief sculptures and inscriptions
  • Many languages were spoken in various provinces
  • Latin dominated in the army and official correspondence
  • Parallel texts in Greek and Latin, especially for records of important decisions
  • Bilingual texts aimed at two different audiences
  • Indigenous languages and dialects persisted alongside official languages

o   Communities’ autonomy in local affairs

o   Static rural dwellers

o   Low level of bureaucracy

o   Uneven spread of military

o   Absence of extensive mass communications

Religious Practices and Principles

  • Egyptian zoomorphic gods were worshipped with their traditional rites even after Egypt was annexed as a Roman province
  • In Gaul, various powerful female deities were venerated alongside other gods
  • Monuments were often erected to recognize the fulfillment of prayers
  • Wide range of religious dedications
  • Assertion of equivalence between a foreign deity and a Roman one (Mars Belena)
  • You could believe as you pleased as long as you did not actively reject religious rituals that had been made part of the state religious
  • The debate about Jesus Christ was seen as a dispute of local concern (Christianity was seen as a sect of Judaism without antiquity backings)
  • Local cults were linked to the imperial house
  • Christian monotheism was at odds with the polytheism prevalent throughout the empire
  • Nero created some of Christianity’s first martyrs such as St. Peter and unintentionally strengthening the new religion
  • Around 120, key features of Christianity had taken shape: organized priesthood, scriptures or sacred writings, insistence on revelations, initiation by baptism and subsequent stages and belief in salvation and the afterlife)
  • Christianity spread in cities before the countryside, as indicated by the term “pagan” used for non-Christians (pagnus denotes someone from the countryside)

Imperial Cult

  • Could be practiced on the personal level
  • Cult was principally public
  • Evolved from Hellenistic Greek and Republic Roman precedents
  • Intrinsically tied to military and political power
  • Julius Caesar had a temple for himself authorized by the senate
  • Presence of a meteor shortly after the spontaneous building of a shrine to Julius Caesar reinforced the belief that he had ascended to heaven
  • Rome’s incipient imperial cult as an expression of the ambiguous relationship between the Princeps and his subjects
author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment