1. Education

Politics and Society in Imperial Rome, by Aloys Winterling


Politics and Society in Imperial Rome, by Aloys Winterling, 2009, is a collection of his insightful essays written over the course of a decade on the general topic of the conflict between Principate and Republic. This short, 170-page book is basically German (Kathrin Lüddecke translated the essays into English for this Wiley-Blackwell edition) and emphasizes German scholars, especially Theodor Mommsen and Christian Meier. The final chapter, in lieu of a conclusion or summary chapter, is on Meier's 1966 Res publica amissa. It describes the death of the Roman Republic as a "crisis without alternative", a political situation that was simultaneously destroyed by the Principate and enabled to survive for another millennium.

Politics and Society is divided into an introduction, a section on the paradoxical structures of the Principate, examples, and a two chapter section on academic approaches (Mommsen and Meier). Intriguing paradoxes, which run throughout, include the facts that the patrimonial rule by an emperor required the senate to legitimate his position -- even posthumously via deification or its negative, damnatio memoriae; that the number of clients increased while the political importance of the system of patronage dwindled; that the Republic had served as both a political and social order while the Principate did not. I don't understand this last, important point, which is covered in several of the chapters; however, many of you will understand it. My favorite chapter was the one on Caligula.

Winterling does not consider Caligula mad. Instead, he suggests that Caligula ridiculed the nobility by presenting them with the logical extensions of their fawning acceptance of his role as emperor.

"First, he admonished the senate and people for criticizing his predecessor Tiberius. 'Next,' writes Dio, 'he went into the case of every individual who had lost his life [sc. under Tiberius] and attempted ... to explain that the senators themselves had been guilty of causing the deaths of most of them....[He] ... added as well" 'If Tiberius really did do wrong, you should... not have showered him with honors during his lifetime.'"

Raising a horse to the office of consul and having himself deified were ways to show the aristocracy how low their status was, not signs that he was a megalomaniac.

Should you read Politics and Society? That depends. Does the idea that Roman emperors tried to maintain the republican ideals interest you? Can you handle structural and sociological analyses replete with German terms for complex concepts? If so, then definitely try it -- at least the introduction, next couple of chapters, plus the one on Caligula, and the final one on Meier. If you understand the public/private aula/court chapters, please post about them.

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