Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 September 2022
It is clear from the sources that under some emperors, the Roman imperial court could be a social space characterized by violence. This chapter offers a general framework for understanding the key dimensions of court violence – its aetiology, its impact on the court’s image, and the institutions and ideologies restraining it. Drawing on insights into human violence offered by evolutionary psychology, the chapter argues that the latent human capacity for violence was triggered by a court environment with high levels of physical danger, status consciousness, and competition for resources. But in almost all societies, culture and institutions serve to restrain interpersonal violence, to a greater or lesser degree. The second part of the chapter therefore examines the limits placed on court violence by the emperor’s guard forces (the praetorians, the Germani corporis custodes, and the equites singulares), by Roman legal culture, and by Graeco-Roman political theory and ideology.