The power of the Praetorian Guard, the elite bodyguards of the emperor, led to political corruption and grew to such an extent that this massive troop of soldiers decided on whether an emperor should be disposed of and who should become the new emperor! The story of Sejanus, who was the commander of the Praetorian Guard during the reign of Tiberius, illustrates the extent of their power. At one point the Praetorian Guard sold at auction the throne of the world to the highest bidder.
The Problem of Political Succession:
Despite the relative stability of the Roman Empire the succession from one emperor to another was often a complicated and messy affair. Most of the time the emperorship was passed on from one family member to another (such as among the Julio-Claudians and Severans). Several emperors who had no son chose their political heirs by adopting them. Other times power was seized through battles or other forms of violence. Once it was even sold to the highest bidder. Adopted emperors generally served Rome better than emperors who were blood relatives.
Between 70 and 50 B.C., Roman politics hit rock bottom. Candidates
, in some cases, dispensed with promoting sporting events and simply bought votes. The situation eventually got so out of hand that Cicero and others passed campaign reform laws that outlawed these bribes and prohibited politicians from sponsoring gladiator contests two years before an election. A candidate found guilty lost his right forever to run for office. "
Reason why the Roman Empire fell - Decline in Morals
A decline in morals, especially in the rich upper classes and the emperors, had a devastating impact on the Romans. Immoral and promiscuous sexual behavior, including adultery and orgies. Emperors such as Tiberius kept groups of young boys for his pleasure, incest by Nero who also had a male slave castrated so he could take him as his wife, Elagabalus who forces a Vestal Virgin into marriage, Commodus with his harems of concubines who enraged Romans by sitting in the theatre dressed in a woman's garments. The decline in morals also effected the lower classes and slaves. Religious festivals such as Saturnalia and Bacchanalia where sacrifices, ribald songs, lewd acts and sexual promiscuity were practiced. Bestiality and other lewd and sexually explicit acts were exhibited in the Coliseum arena to amuse the mob. Brothels and forced prostitution flourished. Widespread gambling on the chariot races and gladiatorial combats. Massive consumption of alcohol. The sadistic cruelty towards both man and beasts in the arena.
Reason why the Roman Empire fell - Decline in Ethics and Values
Life became cheap - bloodshed led to more bloodshed and extreme cruelty. The values, the ideals, customs, traditions and institutions, of the Romans declined. The basic principles, standards and judgments about what was valuable or important in life also declined. The total disregard for human and animal life resulted in a lack of ethics - a perverted view of what was right and wrong, good and bad, desirable and undesirable. Any conformity to acceptable rules or standards of human behavior were being lost.
At the height of its popularity the cost of the gladiatorial games at the Coliseum came to one third of the total income of the Roman Empire. The emperors who followed Honorius at first commissioned repairs to the Coliseum but as its political importance declined, together with the wealth of the Roman Empire, so did the enthusiasm for spending money on repairs. Constant warfare required heavy military spending. The Roman government was constantly threatened by bankruptcy as the emperors spent money on wars.
How did the problem of political corruption in the Roman Empire affect the other problems the empire was facing? Taxation.
Roman males aged 14 to 60 paid a poll tax. There were also property taxes, tariffs, special pig taxes and taxes for everything that was registered. There were crop registries
, animal registries, craftsmen and tradesman registries. Even prostitutes had to register (a surviving one-day permit for a prostitute named Aphrodite allowed her "to go to bed with whoever you wish on this date")
Children were registered and "house-by-house registration," a sort of financial census, was established to keep tabs on everybody and make sure they paid their taxes. Births were registered and landlords were required to provide detailed information on the occupants of their dwelling that included parentage, age, profession, tax status and information on the property they owned.
A typical house registration read: "Heracleia, wife of Pasigenes, daughter of Cronion and ex-slave Didymus...age 40. Thais, daughter....age 5. Sabinus, son of Heracleia and Sabinus [Heracleia's first husband]...subject to poll tax
, wool carder, age 18.
The rich and well-connected paid proportionally less taxes than the poor and middle class. Most of the tax collecting was done by local authorities who were told if they came up short they would make up the difference out of their own pockets.
The Romans were fierce tax collectors. People who failed to register could be fined 25 percent of their personal property. And authorities weren't shy about resorting to violence. A former tax collector in Fayoum, Egypt wrote in A.D. 193: "I and my brother delivered...nine of the ten artabs [measures of grain] specially levied on us...Now, on account of the one remaining artab, the grain-tax collectors...and their clerk...as well as their assistant broke into my house while I was out in the field...and tore off my mother's cloak and threw her to the ground. As a result she was bedridden."
Prosecution and Defense
The Good (Consuls) - The Evil Emperors
Cicero was an ardent supporter of the republican system of Rome. He believed in "Senatus populusque Romanus," the senate and the Roman people as the core of Roman Republic (Cowell), he believed in the Republic. As long as he had lived, he had prospered from the republic system. His life began in the non-statesman class of equestrians. He received an excellent education from some of the greatest thinkers of the day. His training in oration made him one of the outstanding speakers of the day. He then used his fame to gain political offices, starting with quaestor in 75 BC. After serving his term as quaestor, he was able to sit in the Senate. Unsatisfied he continued to aspire to the highest of political offices. He became aedille, praetor and then topped his career as consul in 63 BC. The republic was a good system according to this "new man"(a statesman not from a statesman family).
Cicero had a philosophy that was similar to that of the Stoics.
that true law was reason
that good is always good
that bad is always bad
in traditional Roman values
Cicero maintained high moral standards that could only be upheld with a great deal of determination and self-restraint. He wanted these principles to remain being applied to the Roman Republic. He wrote "On Duties", telling of the corruption of moral values in Rome, hoping to make others aware of the departure of the true Roman values. He felt that the corruption was due to corrupt leadership that took away the rights of citizens. He advocated duty to Rome not oneself, participation of the people in government, and responsible officers.
Marcus Licinius Crassus (115-53 B.C.)
One of the most powerful politicians in the era of corruption, Marcus Licinius Crassus (115-53 B.C.), not surprisingly was also one of the richest Romans. Born into a wealthy family, he acquired his riches, according to Plutarch, through "fire and rapine." Crassus became so powerful that he financed the army that put down the slave revolt led by Spartacus. To celebrate Spartacus's crucifixion, Crassus hosted a banquet for the entire voting public of Rome (10,000 people) that lasted for several days. Each participant was also given an allowance of three months of grain. His ostentatious displays gave us the word crass.
Crassus made a fortune in real estate by controlling Rome's only fire department, acquiring the land from property owners victimized by fire.. When a fire broke out, a horse drawn water tank was dispatched to the site, but before the fire was put out, Crassus or one of his representatives haggled over the price of his services, often while the house was burning down before their eyes. To save the building Crassus often required the owner to fork over title to the property and then pay rent.
Crassus was most likely the largest property owner in Rome. He also purchased property with money obtained through underhanded methods. While serving as a lieutenant in the civil war of 88-82 B.C.E. he able to buy land formally held by the enemy at bargain prices, sometimes by murdering its owners. Crassus also opened a profitable training center for slaves. He purchased unskilled bondsmen, trained them and then sold them as slaves for a handsome profit.
Crassus was not unlike successful modern businessmen who contribute large sums of money to a political party in return for favors or high level government positions. He gave loans to nearly every Senator and hosted lavish parties for the influential and powerful. Through shrewd use of his money to gain political influence he reached the position of triumvir, one of the three people responsible for controlling the apparatus of state.
After attaining riches and political power the only thing left for Crassus to do was lead a Roman army in a great military victory. He purchased an army and was sent to Syria by Caesar to battle the Parthians. In 53 B.C. Crassus lost the Battle of Carrhae, one of the Roman Empire's worst defeats. He was captured by the Parthians, who according to legend, poured molten gold down his throat when they realized he was the richest man in Rome. The reasoning of the act was that his lifelong thirst for gold would be quenched in death.
Decline in Morals and Political Corruption v. Legacy of Roman Government and the strength of the Roman Family
Legacy of Rome in Spite of Morality that we may disagree with:
Everywhere, the empire promoted the same classical style for buildings and urban planning: symmetrical, harmonious, regular, and based on Greek architecture. Engineering was the Romans’ ultimate art. They discovered how to make cement, which made unprecedented feats of building possible. Everywhere the empire reached, Romans invested in infrastructure, building roads, sewers, and aqueducts. Amphitheatres, temples, city walls, public baths, and monumental gates were erected at public expense, alongside the temples that civic-minded patrons usually endowed. The buildings serviced new cities, built in Rome’s image, where there were none before, or enlarged and embellished cities that already existed.
The Empire contributed many things to the world, such as the (more-or-less) modern calendar
, the institutions of Christianity and aspects of modern neo-classicistic architecture. The extensive system of roads, which were constructed by the Roman Army, still last to this day. Because of this network of roads, the amount of time necessary to travel between destinations in Europe did not decrease until the 19th century after the invention of steam power.
The Roman Empire also contributed its form of government, which influences various constitutions including those of most European countries, and that of the United States, whose framers remarked
, in creating the Presidency, that they wanted to inaugurate an "Augustan Age." The modern world also inherited legal thinking from the Roman law, codified in Late Antiquity. Governing a vast territory, the Romans developed the science of public administration to an extent never before conceived nor necessary, creating an extensive civil service and formalized methods of tax collection. The western world today derives its intellectual history from the Greeks, but it derives its methods of living, ruling and governing from those of the Romans.
A Political System that Worked for all Citizens:
Before Caesar, Roman politics
, in many ways, wasn't all that different from American politics today. By the second century, so many ordinary people had the right to vote that a lively political system arose, with parties, campaigns, negative advertising, billboards
, and rich contributors. As is true today it helped to be wealthy. Roman politicians often sponsored sporting events before an election, making it very clear that it was their show, and sometimes pulled out all the stops by hiring big name gladiators. [Source: Lionel Casson , Smithsonian]
"In Cicero's day," classicist Lionel Casson wrote, "consular hopefuls behaved as politicians always have and forever will: they made themselves as visible as possible, were charming to all potential voters and promised everything to everybody." [Ibid]
The word "candidate" comes from ancient Rome. Originally candidates meant a person in white clothes. Later it was used to describe people running for public office, who often dressed in white togas to express their pure and incorrupt character. When a Roman candidate was asked if he was going to run he typically replied "maybe he would...and then again maybe he wouldn't." Or, "if it is in the best interests of the city, I will seek office.” [Ibid]
With no television or radio, candidates in their search for votes made speeches wherever they could draw a crowd and cruised the forum, accompanied by a nomenclator (name caller) who whispered the name of the people that politicians was going to meet to add a personal touch to the encounter. [Ibid]
There were no political posters. Papyrus and parchment were too expensive. Slogans, however, were painted and scrawled onto walls. Messages found on the walls of buildings ran from the direct and simple (“Casellius for aedilis”) to the more colorful (“Genialis appeals to you to elect Bruttius Balbus duumvir , He will preserve the treasury”). Barbers, goldsmiths, fruit sellers, and even chess players trumpeted their endorsements with graffiti-like messages. There were dirty tricks and negative advertisements too. One candidate, it was scrawled, was endorsed by "all the sleepyheads," "all the drunken stay-out-lates and "sneaky thieves." [Ibid]
Government of the Roman Republic: The Voice of the People
The Roman Republic was unique in that it gave the people a voice in the government. In 509 BC, after experiencing the corrupt king Tarquin, the people of Rome decided to establish the consul system, which became, along with all the other offices and areas of the government, the republic.
These offices included:
Some of these were established later than others. In the system that the early Romans set up, people were allowed some say in who held the political offices. Any adult male citizen could vote under the system. The set- up of the Republic allowed checks to prevent the abuse of power. These checks were created by having short terms and a least two officers in each government position.