chapter  7
38 Pages

THE EMPIRE TRANSFORMED

With the exception of Macrinus, the Emperors of Rome up to the time of Severus Alexander were senatorial aristocrats, not necessarily from Rome

itself but from the higher-ranking provincial families who had gained recognition via their careers in a succession of administrative and military posts. The aberrant Elagabalus was everything an Emperor should not be, at least in public, but he was still an aristocrat. When Maximinus Thrax was made Emperor by his troops it was regarded as a turning point by ancient historians. The man was a soldier, which in itself was scandalous enough from the aristocratic point of view; worse still, he made it clear that he did not even pay lip service to the authority of the Senate. Emperors who came to power via the army, or after rebellions, still had their power conferred on them by the Senate; there was a time-honoured ritual to be observed, despite the fact that the Senate had no executive powers to speak of and the Emperor could force his way to the top with the armies at his back without all the ceremonial senatorial fuss. Maximinus was too busy keeping the frontiers together and did not even go to Rome. Subsequent Emperors faced the same problems; first of all, some of them had never even seen the city that they served; secondly, they did not have the senatorial upbringing and connections that would have helped them to form a sympathetic power bloc within the Senate during their absence; thirdly, constant wars kept them away from the city for most or the whole of their reigns, so there was no time for the diplomacy and local selfadvertising campaigns in Rome that would have smoothed the relations between Emperor and Senate. On occasion, senatorial Emperors surfaced, with divergent degrees of success, as illustrated in the careers of Pupienus and Balbinus, the Gordians, Decius, Valerian and Gallienus, and Tacitus. The Senate perhaps deserved more respect from the military men who ruled Rome in the mid-third century, and likewise the soldier-Emperors deserved credit for fulfilling their tasks in defending the Empire, often at the expense of their lives. The various usurpers who flashed into prominence were for the most part concerned with the proper defence of their own territories which the legitimate Emperor could not defend, rather than with toppling the Empire. This is not to say that there would have been no attempts to usurp the throne if the Roman world had been at peace for generations and no external wars had threatened nor internal strife had arisen; but there may have been a less rapid turnover of successful and unsuccessful bids for Empire.2