Friday, September 3, 2010

Augustus: Managing an Empire Part 2

During roughly the same timeframe as the previous article, adjustments of some magnitude were happening in the family of Augustus. There were consequences for its members and also for Rome. Julia, the daughter of Augustus had married Agrippa in 21 BC and had two sons: Gaius, born in 20 BC and Lucius in 17 BC. Augustus and Livia didn't have any male children, so upon the arrival of Lucius, Augustus adopted them both--"an heir and a spare." After this they were known as Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar. The situation was reminiscent of Julia acting as nothing more than an incubator for the offspring of two fathers.

This was an obvious move to secure the chances of an Augustan dynasty. This move also seemed at the time to leave Livia's sons, Tiberius and Drusus, of the running permanently. It was largely thought at the time that Livia would do just about anything to advance her sons' standing. However, there is no historical evidence to suggest she ever did anything impudent in this regard. The sheer fact that Livia remained in high favor and regard by Augustus throughout his life would seem to support this--rumours of stepmother-like doings not withstanding.

Whatever Livia, Tiberius, and Drusus thought privately, the lives they led left no room for complaint. Tiberius, aged 25 and Drusus, aged 21, had already shown talent and ambition and were well rewarded fo it. Augustus arranged for both his stepsons to be able to hold office before the minium ag and he trusted them with multiple challenging duties. Tiberius was known as somewhat dour and withdrawn, but Drusus was overwhelmingly popular and outgoing.

Undated letters of Augustus speak of affection for them both. Both Tiberius and Drusus had an aptitude for military life and leadership--qualities that Augustus expanded upon and exploited.

Events in Gaul soon caused or supplied the pretext to begin the imperial grand strategy. Germanic tribes had won a battle over Marcus Lollius in 17 BC in Gaul. Although the battle wasn't essential, and was even redressed, a legionary standard had been lost. But, out of all proportion, Augustus acted as if this attack was an extreme emergency. He left for Gaul immediately and brought Tiberius with him.

However, upon arrival, there wasn't anything for him to do. Marcus Lollius, a corrupt, status-seeking man who was also a favorite of Augustus, was already preparing a military strike. In addition, when the tribes learned Augustus himself was coming to Gaul, they vanished into their own territory. Still, Augustus would stay in Gaul for three years. Why?

There are not enough historical records left to us to answer definitively. One rumor circulating at the time in Rome was that he left the capitol to cultivate an affair with Marcenas' wife Terrentia. This is possible but would be strange, because it is most probable that Livia traveled with her husband on this campaign as she did on his other jaunts around the empire.

There was news of a plot against Augustus while he was in Gaul. The plot implicated a grandson of Pompey the Great, and a young man named Gnaeus (possibly Lucius) Cornelius Cinna. Cassius Dio wrote that Augustus spent many sleepless nights trying to decide if he should execute the young men or not. Apparently Livia convinced him that he should show clemency to quiet his critics and dissuade future machinations against him.

It is most probable that Augustus spent this time planning future military campaigns. Aggression began in 16 or 17 BC when the governor of Illyricum launched an assault against two Alpine tribes. After this, in 15 BC, Tiberius and Drusus commanded a two-pronged maneuver into what would become the modern Switzerland, Lichtenstein, western Austria, and southern Bavaria. Drusus and Lucius must have achieved an overwhelming victory, for their goals were met in one summer campaign. The following year, Roman forces annexed the maritime Alps. Thus the province of Raetia was born.

One of the ways that the peace was kept here, was that Tberius and Drusus deported thousands of men of fighting age from the area. Although the humanity of this move can obviously be argued--there was a definite
"method to their madness." When Roman armies achieved victory over 'barbarian" tribes it was most often with an overwhelming amount of force. However, there were always enough men left to hide and then proceed to launch future guerilla attacks. So when the geographer Strabo visited the area a generation later, he reported a "state of tranquility," --it was likely the "tranquility" of being barren.

During the time he was in Gaul, Augustus also reorganized the army by demobilizing a great number of men whose period of service was up and settled them in Gaul and Spain. As these men were rewarded fo their years of service, there would probably have a recruitment campaign to make up for the retired men. The length of a legionary's duty was extended to sixteen years and to twelve years for a member of the Praetorian Guard. It was alos during Augustus' time spent in Gaul that the mint in Lugdunum (modern Lyon) appears to have begun operating as a major mint issuing both gold and silver coins to pay legions in campaigns in Gaul and Germany.

"Not only had stage one of the military strategy been swiftly and brilliantly completed, but in the process stage two had been launched. This was because Raetia's northern border was the river Danube, and a little additional fighting led to the acquisition of the neighboring territory of Noricum to the east (roughly the rest of Austria). Noricum abutted Pannonia, whose tribesmen had been defeated in Octavian's Illyrian wars; although the Pannonians had been neither conquered nor occupied, for the time being they were quiet." Anthony Everitt, Augustus, p,266.

Moesia, on Pannonia's eastern border had already been conquered--although another generation (perhaps a little more) passed before it was deemed beneficial to make it a formal province. Pannonia was still very much an issue. In fact, control of Pannonia was still tenuous at best in 14 AD-the year Augustus died. The three Pannonian legions were headquartered to the south-west of the province; fairly close to the border of Italy. There were auxiliary detachments in the forts of Aquincum (Budapest) and Arrabona on the Danube, however, the first legionary camp was set-up at Carnuntum, just about the time Augustus left this mortal coil--14-15 AD.

It was not until the wars of Domitian (r. 81-96 AD), that the Pannonian Danube frontier was strengthened. To do this, client kingdoms were once again relied upon just as they had been on the Rhine. The Suebi had taken control of the area north of the upper Danube, when the Marcomannic king, Maroboduus, sought exile in Rome in 19 AD. The Romans installed a king over the Suebi who lasted until 50 AD, and his successors still showed allegiance to Rome in 69-70 AD. The legions were also stationed well south of the Danube in Moesia; but here the first legionary camp on the Danube, installed in 15 AD, was followed by three others in the middle of the century.

However, the things that Drusus and Tiberius had achieved were real and permanent. Augustus was very happy with his adopted sons and commissioned a huge celebratory monument, the Tropaeum Alpium (Treaty of the Alps) to distinguish this accomplishment. This monument was a great stone edifice, fifty feet tall, and supported a wide circular tower that was surrouned by columns and had a large stepped roof. A statue of Augustus would probably have been placed at the apex--looking out over his conquered territory like a god surveying his mortal charges from on high. The remains of this monument can be viewed at La Turbie, near Monaco, still remarkable after the passage of more than 20 centuries. More here . The image is of the remains of the Tropaeum Alpium. The research resources I used for this article were Anthony Everitt's, Augustus, 2006 and Fergus Millar's The Roman Empire and its neighbours, 1967. Peace and be well to anyone stopping by!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Augustus: Managing an Empire Part 1

In his official autobiography, Res Gestae, Augustus pridefully stated: "I englarged the territory of all provinces of the Roman People on whose borders were people who were not yet subject to our imperium. This line of thinking does not quite gibe with what he said after returning to Rome from his negotiations with King Frahata of Parthia in the east in 20 BC., which was that he had no intentions of adding to Rome's provinces. Augustus declared "the existing number was exactly sufficient," also writing his judgment of this to the Senate.

We can see that the statement made in his autobiography is much closer to the truth. For Augustus was truly an aggressive imperialist and expanded Rome's imperium more than any other ruler in a comaparable timeframe in all of Rome's previous history.

And the Roman people gave their blessing to this imperial expansion--even expected it. It is true that Republican law had made it illegal for the Senate to declare war without a provocation. Also Rome had secured much of its eastern empire without totally meaning to do so, such was the case in 133 BC, when the king of Pergamum died and willed his entire kingdom to Rome. The conviction that Rome had an imperial destiny was fixed in the minds of the Roman people, much like "Manifest Destiny" in the United States and British imperialism 2,000 years later. Indeed, empire was one of the methods that the Augustan regime legitimized its existence in the Roman mind.

The reign of Augustus was actually the last great age of Roman expansion. Slightly before he died, Augustus left his successor (and stepson) Tiberius the advice not to expand the frontiers of the empire. After Augustus there were only two major military campaigns that led to permanent acquisitions. These were Britain in 43 AD under Claudius and Dacia in 105-106 AD under Trajan. Trajan's other conquests in Armenia, Mesopotamia and south to the Persian Gulf in the campaigns of 113-117 AD were falling apart before his death, and were formally renounced after his death. However, a new province--Mesopotamia (again) was finally brought into the orbit of Rome after the Parthian wars of Marcus Aurelius' co-emperor, Lucius Verus, in 162-166 AD and of Septimius Severus in 194-198.

"But even the relativlely peaceful period up to the 220s was filled with constant change and development in the disposition and function of the army, and the nature of the frontiers. At the beginning of the period indeed it could hardly be said that recognizable frontiers existed. In the West there were still three legions in the interior of Spain, finally conquered only in 26-19 BC. Legionary camps were grouped along the Rhine, but no permanent forts had yet been established beyond it. The land between the headwaters of the Rhine and Danube was not yet occupied, while the first legionary camp on the Danube itself-Carnuntum in Pannonia-was established only in about AD 15; on the lower Danube towards the Black Sea, Roman control was still episodic in the early years of Tiberius." Fergus Millar, The Roman Empire and its neighours, p.104.

As far as the idea of Roman frontiers is concerned, this brings to to mind how very blurry and indefinite those frontiers must have seemed at the time. There was no accurate navigational equipment at the time, and most explorers (who were usually merchants and traders) didn't quest very far from the Meditteranean.

The Romans thought that all of the world's landmass was contained in a semi-circular disk made up of only Asia and Europe. They thought the island of Britannia to be at the northwestern edge of this disk and that the whole landmass of the world was completely encompassed by a vast sea--Oceanus. As the Roman Empire already took such a great portion of the land, they believed was all that was there, it must have been greatly enticing for Roman rulers to believe that they would one day be the masters of it all.

The first world maps that we know of came from fifth-century Athens. The Romans, with their imperial obligations valued the importance of cartography. Julius Caesar had commissioned a world-map that most likely was a part of a triumphal monument he had constructed on the Capitoline Hill. Augustus wanted a more refined and detailed map, so he commissioned his indispensible deputy, Agrippa, to make the orbis terrarum or "globe of the earth." This depicted hundreds of cities linked together by Rome's marvelous network or roads. It was fashioned from reports by Roman governors, generals and travelers. The result that emerged from this was a largely recognizable picture. However, the distances between places and the shapes of them became less accurate the further they were from Rome.

The most important job of the orbis terrarum was to assist military commanders, imperial governors and administrators. It was also an impressive synbol of Roman power. The map was displayed--either by painting or engraving--on the wall of the Porticus Vipsania, a collonade erected by Agrippa's sister as a permanent public display. Papyrus or parchment copies of the orbis terrarum were also made for travelers.

It would appear that a well-defined "program" was also mapped out in the years after Actium by Augustus and Agrippa. The two spent many years abroad putting down revolts, inspecting (and reforming if necessary) local administrations, and superseding these tasks, consolidating and expanding the empire. Augustus was in Gaul and Spain from 27 - 24 BC, in Greece and Asia between 22 and 19 BC, and again in Gaul from 16 to 13 BC. Agrippa went east from 23 to 21 BC and Gaul and Spain in 20 to 19 BC. During this time the eastern provinces and client kingdoms were reorganized, and the frontier of Egypt was expanded southwards; contact with the Ethiopians resulting from this. Gaul and Spain were pacified, and negotiations with the Parthians were successfully concluded.

The orbis terrarum revealed three problems that had yet to be vanquished. 1) With the Alps being controlled by a group of untamed tribes, it was impossible to reach the eastern provinces by land around the top of the Italian peninsula. 2) Macedonia's frontier was hard to defend and ill-defined. 3) The Germanic tribes were putting up constant challenges along the river Rhine which formed the Gallic frontier from the North Sea to the Alps from the western side.

The best solution to these problems would be to gain control of the Alps and then proceed north and create a defensible frontier lined with legions along the river Danube. By doing this Italy and Macedonia would be protected from direct assault from buffer provinces in the north.

There was a problematic area if the Rhine and Danube rivers were to indicate the empire's permanent boundary. A salient was created by the heads of the two rivers at the apex, where modern Basel, Switzerland is. Germanic tribes hostile to Rome could use the salient to run interior lines, allowing them a huge military advantage. Thus the final procedure of the plan would be to invade Germany and create a new frontier at the river Elbe. This would take care of the salient and form a border that would be a roughly straight line between the North Sea and the Black Sea. There was an added advantage to this plan because the annexed territory would protect Gaul from eastern invaders. The well-thought out completeness and the interdependent elements of this three part plan would suggest that it was the brainchild of the steadfast, loyal Agrippa--the man solely responsible for winning all of Augustus' wars for him.

The link here will explain the image--I tried to find what some scholars think the actual orbis terrarum may have looked like and will continue searching. I think I have enough time to do one more article here on my new "schedule"--hopefully it will be here in a two or three days. Peace and be well to anyone stopping by! The research materials I used for this article are Anthony Everitt's Augustus published in 2006 and Fergus Millar's The Roman Empire and its neighbours published in 1967.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Augustus: Life at Court

Now that we are going back to Augustus I would like to post some information from Anthony Everitt's Augustus (p.256), that give a little more insight into his character and what life at his household and court was like: "The princeps took a friendly interest in professional entertainers of all kinds and got to know some of them personally. However, there were limits of propriety on which he insisted; he banned gladitorial contests sine missione, that is where a defeated fighter could not be reprieved and so had to be killed by his opponent. Augustus wanted to see bravery, but disliked pointless bloodshed. He also severely punished actors and other stage performers for licentious behavior. Women were not allowed to watch athletic contests (competitors did not wear clothes), and Augustus banned them from sitting alongside men at other entertainments; they were banished to the back rows."

In these articles about our powerful subject-Augustus-it has been stated before that he tried to project a public image of virtue, diligence, enterprise, thrift, modesty, and clemency. However, there are very few (if any) public personaes that strong rulers have promulgated that transmit the whole truth, and Augustus is in this group. Outside of Rome and the public eye, Augustus and his family lived a luxurious-even extravagant lifestyle.

There is a rocky island called Pandateria in ancient times (modern Ventotene) around 30 miles west of Naples, where Augustus built a grand palace, the site of which is currently being excavated. There is a huge building with many rooms here that previously housed servants, slaves, and guards. From here, the ground curves and narrows into a small valley, where fountains would have gurgled sumptuously among a colonnaded portico with plenty of seats that would have created a delightful sylvan area for family and guests to engage in conversation. The main house stood on a rocky promontory, where it overlooked steep cliffs. This massive, horseshoe shaped building would have had a beautiful central garden area. A breathtaking vista of sea and sky would have been offered by a viewing platform at the very tip of the promontory.

Among the magnificent splendour, Augustus could play host to his guests-all of them wealthy and powerful-but some of far more agreeable temperment than others-even disreputable folk-thus the need for privacy away from the prying eyes and chatting mouths of Rome's citizenry. Men like his strong, loyal, and capable general and friend, Agrippa, or the sybaritic but civilized Maecenas wouldn't have had any of what we would think of as "image" problems these days with Rome's populace. The same could not be said of a man such as Publius Vedius Pollio, the son of a wealthy freeman. Vedius had tanks where he kept giant eels. He also had the very evil and unpleasant habit of putting slaves in these tanks who had made him angry-the eels had been trained to become maneaters.

Augustus was the dinner guest of Vedius one evening when a slave broke a valuable crystal goblet at dinner. The enraged Vedius ordered the hapless young man thrown to the eels. Falling to his knees before Augustus, the boy begged for his life. Augustus then tried to reason with Vedius to have mercy on the slave. Vedius ignored Augustus, which in turn made the sole ruler of the Roman Empire angry. Augustus told Vedius: "Bring all your other drinking vessels like this one, or any others of value that you possess for me to use." Once this was done, Augustus ordered every last one to be smashed. This put Vedius in his place as he certainly couldn't order Augustus thrown to the eels! The slave-boy was pardoned from what would have been a gruesome fate.

Augustus publicly endorsed strict private morals, and history shows yet another fascinating aspect of this multi-faceted man. Going from the records from his time, Augustus apparently had a diverse and strong sexual drive. Ovid wrote that his house "though refulgent with portraits

of antique heroes, also contains, somewhere,
a little picture depicting the various sexual positions

A friend and slave dealer, Toranius, is said to have aided the emperor in his sexual conquests and would have women stripped of their clothes so Augustus could inspect them and choose among them. As an elderly man Augustus is said "still to have harbored a passion for deflowering girls, who were collected for him from every quarter, even by his wife!"

The cena or main meal of the day started about 3 in the afternoon for most Romans. This was so much more than our lunch or average dinner hour of modern times. The cena wasn't only for family and guests were often invited. Many various clubs and societies held regular feasts. The patrician class invited one another to an annual cena. Augustus and Livia would have their cena after a regimen of excercise and a bath.

The triclinium was a dining room with three communal couches covered by mattresses, arranged along three sides of a room with a table in the middle. This is the area where dinner parties were held, and for larger functions the same layout was repeated. Reclining to eat a meal was a highly-valued luxury, and up to three diners per couch lay alongside one another, with their heads nearest the table and their left elbows propped on cushions. Women would sit on chairs but by the time of Augutus it was becoming popular for them to recline with the men. Children would sit on stools in front of their fathers' places if they were allowed to be present.

Augustus held extravagant dinner parties and great care was taken with the guests social standing and providing a good variety of personalities at these meals. However, the Emperor himself was often not interested in eating and would arrive late and leave early-and of course no displeasure was expressed about his habit!

The meal would begin with the gustatio tasting, during which appetizers were served. These could be anything from pickled fruit, vegetables, cabbage in vinegar, heavily spiced concoctions such as nettles, sorrel, cider, and snails, clams, and small fish. A favorite delicacy was stuffed and roast dormice. A wine-and-honey mixture accompanied the gustatio. The main course would be a variety of meat dishes-anything from wild boar, turbot, chicken, sow's udders, and pork (50 different ways of preparing pork were known). The Romans added a sauce called garum or liquamen to almost everything. This was made from slowly decomposed mackerel intestines (yummy;-). The closest modern sauce to garum (alhtough still quite different) would be Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Dessert would be honey-soaked cakes, fruit and nuts.

Of course, wine was served with the meal, but heavy drinking would commence only when the meal was over. The Romans took this part of the evening quite seriously too. A roll of the dice would determine the rex bibendi ("king of what is to be drunk"). The rex bibendi was put in charge of mixing the wine and coming up with the number of toasts which everyone had to drink.

Augustus was a superb host and many times brightened his guests' evening with performances by story-tellers, circus acts, musicians, and actors. He also had the ability to make his guests feel individually valued and was able to engage with the shyest of them.

One publicly proclaimed virtue that Augustus did follow through with in his private and public life was hard work. Most Romans went to bed early but their ruler would still be found attending to matters of state. He would retreat to his study and dictate letters to secretaries, read dispatches and give advice or orders to be followed. Finally, by 11 p.m. he would retire but as a light sleeper woke up 3 or 4 times during the night; sleeping a maximum of 7 hours. Many times he found it hard to go to sleep again and would send for readers or story-tellers until he was able to drift off.

To anyone who reads or follows this blog- I apologize for such a lengthy interim between posts here! I am putting myself on a kind of schedule for the things I enjoy and like to blog about. For this blog and My Favorite Monsters, hopefully there won't be any more long periods between articles--two to three weeks at a very maximum--and hopefully much less. I am also going to work on my fiction writing on this schedule so I also hope to start posting at Beyond the Baryon Wall when I have a complete story written. The research credit for this article goes to Anthony Everitt's Augustus, in the "Life At Court" chapter (pp 245-260). The image at top is of the Arch of Constantine. Peace and be well to anyone stopping by!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Imperial Finance & Coinage Part Four

On pages 240-242 in Fergus Millar's The Roman Empire and its neighbors we are going far beyond in time from Augustus-"The Empire and the Third Century Crisis" is the name of the chapter. I thought it would be good to end this short series with some more information that might be helpful later too:

"The direct effects of the invasions were naturally very different in different areas. In Gaul, and to some degree in Spain and in Raetia on the upper Danube, there is widespread evidence of the contraction and fortification of cities. How profound a change this brought in the patterns of social life can as yet be only guessed. It is certainly the case that the life of the cultured Gallo-Roman aristocracy of the late Empire was spent on their estates rather than in towns. But in Britain too, which suffered no invasions in our period, the fourth century seems to have seen stagnation, perhaps decline, in the towns, but a development of luxurious villas.

Repeated invasions also came to the Danubian area and central Europe, reaching down to Macedonia, Greece and Asia Minor. Sasanian invasions, and briefly the power of Palmyra, reached to central Asia Minor and the coast of Syria. These must have caused great destruction and loss of life; we also know of prisoners carried off to Mesopotamia by the Persians. We can date the beginning of fortified villas in the Danubian lands to this period, and have scattered evidence of destruction; but only at Athens is such evidence detailed and systemic. Once again we have little clear evidence of the direct effects of the invasions. They may not have been lasting; Antioch was taken by the Persians in 256 and 260, and burned-and in the fourth century, as we know from a wealth of evidence, was one of the greatest and most flourishing cities in the Greek world.

In Egypt and Africa there were border struggles, prolonged in Africa, but no actual invasions. The civil war of 238 in Africa and the suppression of a pretender in Alexandria about 272 may have had, at least temporarily, more serious effects.

Though the direct effects of the invasions and civil wars can only rarely be assessed satisfactorily in the present state of our evidence, we can take it that they accelerated, though may not have caused, some other changes in the workings of the State and its relations with the population. The first and most clearly traceable of these was the debasement of the coinage and inflation of prices. The two chief coins were the silver denarius and the gold aureus, w0rth twenty-five denarii. Debasement affected mainly the denarius, which was reduced to 75% silver undrer Marcus Aurelius (161-180) and 50% under Severus (193-211); after Caracalla (211-17) had issued a denarius of one and a half times the previous size, presumed to have been worth two earlier denarii, the silver content sank rapidly, reaching 5% in the middle of the third century. Aurelian (270-5) issued two series of silver-plated copper coins, whose value are still much disputed. Meanwhile, the bronze sestertius (four to a denarius) continued both to be issued and to be used as a common means of expressing prices and other sums until the 270s, and then disappeaed in the face of the inflation of prices. The inflation itself can be shown by the fact that the price of corn (expressed now in the debased denarii) was some 200 times higher in 301 than it had been in the first century.

It cannot, however, be pretended that we understand yet the details of the coinage system, especially in the period 270-300, or even essential elements of the background such as how the Imperial or city mints obtained their bullion. There are also indications that there was confusion and complexity at the same time; a Carian inscription of 209-11 lays down penalties for the illegal changing of money; a papyrus of 260 orders money-changers in Egypt to stop refusing Imperial coins; another of about 300, is a letter from an official in Egypt to a subordinate ordering him to spend all the official 'Italian money' at once, as the Emperors are about to halve its value.

We cannot yet state the causes of the progressive debasement and inflation. But it in its turn must have been a factor in converting the demands of the State on its subjects from cash to goods and services in kind. The basic pay in cash of the troops in fact, though raised successively, was not raised enough to keep pace with inflation, and in the late fourth century disappeared in favour of other forms of payment."

The next articles for awhile will be going back to Augustus and his era- this series went on a bit longer than I thought it would. I think if I do another short series before finishing up with Augustus it will be shorter. Peace and be well to anyone stopping by!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Imperial Finance & Coinage Part Three

On page 73 Millar goes on to say: "In other words the type of Imperial activity we know about is essentially that in response to the needs or conflicts of individuals of individuals communities. It cannot be denied, indeed, that such activity took up a large part of the Emperor's working life; this type of work will be discussed in the last part of this chapter...Tiberius, as a demonstration of his Republican attitude, allowed the Senate to debate about revenues, public works, the recruitment and dismissal of soldiers, military commands and letters to client kings. The implication must be that these things were normally decided by the Emperor, presumably with his friends. What evidence have we about decision-making on such matters?

The best evidence of a debate about finance is the occasion in 58 when the people complained of the exactions of the publicani; Nero, it is stated, thought of abolishing the indirect taxes altogether, but was dissuaded by his advisers, who said that the Empire would collapse if they were abolished-and the people would go on to ask for the abolition of tribute also. The Emperor's friends apart, however, there was the freedman's 'in charge of accounts' a rationibus supseded at the end of the first century by an eques (his subordinates however remained freedman.). Some of these subordinates had purely domestic functions; a rationalis mentioned by Galen had the job of supplying from the Imperial stores the herbs which Galen mixed daily for the antidote taken by Marcus Aurelius (161-180). As for the functions of the rationibus himself, Augustus left in 14 a general statement of the finances of the Empire, adding the names of slaves and freedmen from whom more details could be obtained. He, Tiberius (until he left Rome in 26) and Gaius also published public accounts, but later Emperors did not. The accounts themselves presumably continued to be kept; but our only evidence is the passage of Statius mentioned earlier in which he described in poetic terms the functions of the dead a rationibus, 'Now we entrusted to him alone the control of the Imperial wealth (a list of revenues follows)... quickly he calculates what the Roman arms beneath every sky demand, how much the tribes (the people of Rome) and the temples, how much the lofty aqueducts, the fortresses by the courts or the far-flung roads require...'

To be continued....

Friday, April 2, 2010

Imperial Finance & Coinage Part Two

Going back to Fergus Millar's The Roman Empire and its neighbors about the empire's treasury, minting and coinage: "The letters S.C. may indicate that the separate issues were decided on by the Senate and produced by the monetales; but there is no evidence for the activity of the monetales apart from the appearance of the title on inscriptions.

Nor is there any evidence from the first century for officials of the Imperial mint at Rome. Under Trajan (98-117), however, a Procurator of the Mint appears; and from 115 we have some dedications by the workers there-officinatores (?), signatores (die-cutters?), suppostores (setters?), malleatores (srikers?)-all of them Imperial freedmen, aided by Imperial slaves. Under Aurelian (270-5) the mint workers in Rome were numerous enough to stage a serious revolt whose suppression acquired thousands of soldiers. In the Greek provinces, apart from the local city mints striking bronze and copper coinage, there were provincial and some city mints striking silver coins on standards different than those of Rome coinage. These mints are more or less regarded as 'Imperial'; though nothing whatsoever is known about them except the coins themselves.

The question of who decided the frequency of issues, the standard of the coins (the silver coins especially show a steady debasement from Nero on, ending in complete collapse in the second half of the third century), or the type and legends to be put on them is totally obscure. The last point is particularly tantalizing, since the Imperial coinage carried propaganda for the Emperors in a vast variety of forms-representations of Imperial constructions (like the harbour at Ostia), largesses of victories-or slogans like AETERNITAS or PROVIDENTIA. Much of the history of the Empire can be seen reflected in the coins. Yet we are ignorant not only of who decided what should be portrayed, but to whom the new coins were issued and under what circumstances (in donations to the army and congiaria to the Roman people?). The point is important, for coins remained in circulation for a very long time after their issue: 64 percent of the coins buried in hoards during the Flavian period (66-96) had been minted before 27 B.C. Hoards show similarly that coins in circulation in the Antonine period (138-80) averaged about fifty years from the date of issue. Our only clue to the sources of decisions is two lines of a consolatory poem by Statius on the death in the 90s of a former Imperial freedman a rationibus (in charge of accounts); among his duties was to decide how much metal 'should be struck in the fire of the Italian (Roman) Mint.'

That apart, we have two references in the historian Cassius Dio to Imperial coinage; in one he says (as the coin hoards abundantly confirm) that Trajan called in old coins and issued new ones; in the other he says that his own contemporary Caracalla (211-17) gave debased coins to his subjects, but good ones to the barbarians across the frontier-whom by this time Rome was buying off. In neither case does he say anything of the processes of decision. More details about the Imperial coinage and its collapse in the third century will come in the final chapterl for the moment the coinage must serve as an example of how little we know of many aspects of the Imperial system.

When we come to the actual activities of the Emperor, his advisers and assistants, the same warning must apply. In a famous passage Cassius Dio explains that, while in the history of the Republic-the truth could be arrived at because affairs were subjected to public debate, different accounts of historians could be compared and public records checked, in Imperial history it was not so: 'After this time most things began to be done secretly and by hidden meansl and if anything is made public it is disbelieved, since it cannot be checked. For it is suspected that everything is said and done by the wish of the Emperors and those who have influence with them. As a result many rumours spread about things which never happened, many things which happened are unknown, and nearly all public versions of the events are different from reality.'

To be continued......

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Imperial Finance & Coinage Part One

I should have been doing this all along by now-but better late than never! I would like to do articles (hopefully I can keep them between 1-3 posts long) about different areas of every aspect of Roman life. This article or set of articles is about the already mentioned treasury or Aerarium, coinage and minting in Imperial Rome. I got lucky when I found Fergus Millar's 1967 book The Roman Empire and its neighbors, for one dollar on sale at the library. The following information comes from pages 69-73 and 241-2 in this book:

"The very faint traces of evidence available can best be considered along with two branches of the 'central administration' (the term an exaggeration), the treasury (Aerarium) in Rome, and the mints in Rome, and the provinces. The study of the Aerarium suffers from the disadvantage already mentioned, the total lack of evidence about the transport of funds to and from it. The Aerarium itself, however, is fairly well known. It was the temple of Saturn on the side of the Capitol hill, which had served since the early Republic as the depository for the treasure, including coin, and documents of the State. Among the documents were financial ones, State contracts and the accounts deposited by provincial governors on leaving their province; provincial governors also 'reported' their apparitores, comites and others to the Aerarium, thus putting them on the list for pay, and (it seems) continued to do so even in the third century. But the officials of the Aerarium-quaestors in the Republic and then, after various changes, Prefects of ex-praetorian rank, chosen by the Emperor-never used these documents to make up general accounts or a budget for the State. Their functions were limited to keeping the cash and documents to making payments on the authority of the Senate or the Emperor, and the same judicial activities, which they were acquired to do in the Empire, over the recovery of debts. They did not administer or plan the finance of the Empire. The Aerarium is a prime example of the survival in the Empire-to the mid-fourth century, in fact-of the primitive and now inadequate insititutions of the city-state. To meet the deficiencies five separate commissions of senators were set up in the course of the first century, with the task of calling in revenue or limiting expenditure; none of them is recorded as having done anything. The management of State finance was left-in so far as it was managed at all-to the Emperor and his assistants.

In spite of the immense volume of evidence provided by the many thousands of coins surviving from the Empire, very little is known about the mints themselves and even less of the processes of decision which governed their output. Here too there was a surviving Republican element, the tresviri monetales (moneyers)-three of the posts in the most junior senatorial, or rather pre-senatorial rank, the Vigintivirate. These posts are attested until the mid-third century. Among the bronze and copper coins produced in Rome and circulating mainly in Italy and the West (bronze and copper coins produced locally in the Western provinces disappear by the middle of the first century) the majority are marked S.C. senatus consulte- 'by decision of the Senate'). The types on the coins, however, are very similar to those of Imperial coins-which include all silver-produced in Lyon until Caligula (37-41) and thereafter at Rome."

To be continued.....