Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Roman Imperial Families

Team 1: Christine Shiao, David Bergsman, Shurui Sun, Catherine Hennessey, Kristin DeVleming, Yuting Ma

The Imperial Families of Rome are, in reality, not a family in the truest sense of the word. Most of the emperors that ruled Rome were not related by blood, and the ones that were related were so only very distantly (with a few notable exceptions). Politics and key adoptions became far more important than blood relation. The Imperial Families as a whole are an amalgam of different families, grouped either by bloodline or the time that they reigned.

That being said, the first family to lead the Roman Empire was the Julio-Claudian family. This family encompasses all the emperors of Rome that could relate themselves directly to Julius Caesar.

Gaius Octavius Caesar, otherwise known as emperor Augustus, was the first of the Julio-Claudian emperors. His claim to power came from the fact that he was the great-nephew of Julius Caesar. When Julius Caesar died in 44 B.C., Augustus inherited all of Caesar's properties and wealth. Augustus himself was a brilliant politician, using his mastery of propoganda to propel himself to the forefront of Roman life. He ended the Roman Senate system with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus, the Second Triumverate, eventually defeating those two to make himself the emperor in 27 B.C.

As emperor, Augustus was incredibly effective. He commissioned many temples, roads, and various public buildings. In addition, Augustus ended much of the corruption that occurred during the Roman Senate. He appointed just and fair politicians to various spots in the republic. During his reign, Rome was also at peace - a period is known as the Pax Augustus.

Augustus died peacefully in 14 A.D. Following him were Emperors Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius, all of which I must omit because of time limitations. They were all emperors that did not measure up to Augustus, each ruling over a declining Roman Empire.

The very last of the Julio-Claudian family is Nero. Nero, in his short reign of 14 years, did many things that marked the final end of the already weakened Roman Empire (compared to the time of Augustus). For example, Nero executed his mother and brother. This also affected the people of Rome, for he fancied himself to be a great actor and singer and forced people to fill amphitheaters and listen to him under the threat of death. He was even rumored to have set Rome on fire to make way for his Golden Palace - the saying states that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. And last, but not least, Nero was one of the earliest prosecutors of the Christians. After Nero was declared a public enemy by the Roman senate, he committed suicide, ending the Julio-Claudian family and plummeting Rome into a period of darkness.

Vespasian was the 9th emperor who ruled from AD 69-79. He gained his reputation as a successful military commander who led the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43. Joining forces with the governor of Syria, Vespasian gained control over Egypt while the governor led Flavian forces against Vitellius (previous emperor in 69). Vitellius was then defeated, leading the Roman Senate to declare Vespasian as emperor.

The kind, older emperor belonged to a plebian family so he was able to better understand the needs and wants of the common people. Vespasian was unlike previous rulers in that chose to have himself depicted not as idealized, but rather more naturalistic. Therefore, art and literature were influenced to return back to realistic styles from the past.

Emperor Vespasian made a great decision in 71 AD to begin the Templum Pacis - a large, multifunction monumental complex that was erected in the center of Rome. Additionally, this was believed to have been on the site of the Republican Macellum which was most likely destroyed in the Neronian fire of 64. The Templum Pacis consisted of a large square with water canals connecting to fountains and a set of rectangular rooms along the southeastern end of the square. It housed a number of famous works from the Greeks and displayed a Marble Plan of the city of Rome. The building played a role in the urban administration of Rome and was also employed as a private bank. It served an important cultural function by having a place where people could engage with the ideals of Greek culture; they were able to experience a specific kind of leisure with emphasis on the culture. All of this allowed Vespasian to connect himself to Augustus, the “good” emperor by dedicating it to pax (peace) and situating the building such that it was facing the Forum Augustum.

All in all, Vespasian’s way of subtly contrasting himself with Nero was done by giving to the public. Rather than using the imperial land of Nero’s Golden House, Vespasian built the Amphitheatre Flavium on part of its site for his people of Rome. This way, he had symbolically turned over the land that Nero had taken away from people back to the Populus Romanus.

After Emperor Vespasian died, his son, Titus, took his place as emperor in 79 AD. Titus, born in 39 AD, was also a military general like his father, and together, they began the seige of Jerusalem in 66 AD, which Titus eventually finished in 70 AD.
Despite his relatively short reign as emperor, Titus was well received by the Senate. He was the first emperor to hold gladiatorial games in the Colosseum, which was finished in 80 AD, and when Mount Vesuvius erupted, covering Pompeii, Titus provided a significant amount of relief to the victims of this eruption, much of the funding coming from his own coffers.
Two years after becoming emperor, Titus died a premature death in 81 AD. The causes of this death are still in question. Some sources believe that Titus had a brain tumor. Other sources suggest that Domitian, his brother, poisoned him in order to take his place as ruler. Another account, perhaps the most farfetched, suggets that a bug began eating away at his brain, eventually reaching the size of a bird before killing him. Regardless, Titus died fairly quickly after becoming Emperor, leaving his brother, Domitian, the throne.

Trajan was named one of the Five Great Emperors. Each of these emperors was known as being moderate, less oppressive rulers who had earned the respect of the Roman people. Additionally, the emperor preceding each of Five Great Emperors had adopted them, such that the current emperor could choose their successor.
Emperor Nerva (who ruled after Domitian) adopted Trajan in AD 97, making Trajan, who was born in Spain, the first emperor not of Italian descent. The adoption was a wise political move for Nerva because he did not have the loyalty of the Roman Army. Trajan, on the other hand, had earned this respect as he had formerly been an army commander and senator, and was currently Governor of Upper Germany.
Trajan’s most well-know works of commissioned art include the Forum, Market and Column of Trajan, as well as Trajan’s Bridge, which extends across the Danube River. Additionally, Trajan also put forth an impressive building program, which built roads, aqueducts and bridges throughout the Roman Empire, not just in the city of Rome. This showed a dedication to the empire as a whole.
Trajan died in AD 117 from a stroke on the way back to Rome from the outer boundaries of the Roman Empire. On his deathbed, Trajan adopted Hadrian so that he could choose his successor. To some, this was expected as they were distantly relayed by blood; Trajan’s cousin was Hadrian’s father.

Hadrian became emperor in 117 AD, the adopted heir of Trajan and the next in the line of the Five Great Emperors. There is some speculation as to the legitimacy of his adoption by Trajan as it was Trajan’s wife, not Trajan himself, that announced the official adoption. Regardless of the circumstances, Hadrian accepted his new position and, despite spending about a year in Syria before returning to Rome (initially raising concerns in the Roman people), proved to be a fair and moderate emperor.

He was very well educated with a mild obsession for Greek culture. This is evident in his rebuilding of the Pantheon, fusing Greek and Roman architectural styles to create one of the most iconic buildings in the world. His intensive building program also focused on cultural pursuits, such as libraries and bath houses. Hadrian didn’t just build these in Rome, either, but spent most of his time as emperor traveling throughout the empire, initiating building projects in more underdeveloped parts of it.
One of his main focuses as emperor was controlling his Empire and centering it in Rome. He built walls in Britain and fortified the Danube and Rhine rivers. He even gave the land that Trajan had worked so hard to conquer back to the Dacians because he didn’t know if he could control it all. He didn’t focus on expanding the Empire but rather controlling and improving what he already had.

During his reign, Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius to be his successor but also wanted to ensure the empire would move in the direction he wanted it to. Thus, he forced Antoninus Pius to adopt Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius to be his successors. They continued the reign of the Five Great Emperors, focusing on controlling the Empire instead of expanding it. After this period, the Roman Empire, which had its greatest span under Trajan, began its slow decline.

After Hadrian, the Roman Empire moved into a relatively depressive period without notable progressions for nearly 150 years. During this period, the empire suffered from the Crisis of the Third Century (235 -284 AD), in which the Roman Empire nearly collapsed under pressures from invasions, civil war, plague and economic depression. It was not until Diocletian who ended the depression by establishing the largest and the most bureaucratic government in the Roman history. However, he also conducted the last, largest and the bloodiest persecution to Christians, which was finally reversed by Constantine.

Constantine was the son of the emperor and tetrarch, Constantius Chlorus, born on 274 AD. Constantine became the tetrarch after his father in 306 AD and took over the city Rome Bridge. Additionally, Constantine centralized his power by conquering the co-emperor Linicius during the year 324 AD.

Constantine was best known as the first Christian Roman emperor, though he didn’t prohibit paganism when he first came to power. Constantine’s most remarkable achievement was the Edict of Milan on 313 AD, which not only reversed the continuous persecution to Christians but also proclaimed religious tolerance throughout the empire. Constantine was ingenious with regards to this religious inclination, which enabled the empire transformed for ancient beliefs to Christianity gradually in avoid of any revolutionary manners.

Constantine was a historically important figure because he also constructed the new Roman capital over the thousand-year-old Greek colony of Byzantium, renaming it as “Constantinople”, which, in modern Turkish, is “Istanbul.” This new city remained the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire for another one

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