chapter  12
8 Pages

The Problem of the Succession

It is in a utopian passage of Flavian date that we find the idea of truly elective monarchy. The Elder Pliny dates to the reign of Claudius the arrival of some envoys from Ceylon whose account of their society he purports to give. The whole is clearly a form of indirect criticism ofRoman society. The king is said to be elected by the people on grounds of old age, clemency and childlessness. Ifhe produces children while in office, he is deposed, to prevent the monarchy from becoming hereditary. The fact that this is an unrealistic dream is revealed not only by accompanying statements that the Ceylonese are all early risers, long-lived and hard-working, but by the remark that the king, if he misbehaves, is condemned to death and apparently commits suicide or accepts social annihilation, for all shun him but there is no executioner. 6 This world where a king fights neither to retain his throne nor to pass it on to his children is clearly one without imperial armies and a heritage of civil war. In Rome it was recognized that the best means of providing stability was for the incumbent to designate his own successor, securing powers for him that would put him in a strong position to carry on the government and be recognized as Princeps when he died, and/or signifying his intentions through the instruments of private law, namely, adoption and the will. Despite many exceptions, this may be regarded as the norm in the early Principate: the alternative was for the praetorians, as with Claudius and Otho, the legions, as with Galba, Vitellius and Vespasian, or the minions of the palace, as with Nerva, to support a candidate for senatorial recognition.