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This chapter explores the emperor as a temporal figure who inhabits time as a person and a symbol that gives time its shape. Different forms of temporal thinking are included here, such as describing the age of an emperor as golden and its concomitant images, using the emperor as a way to mark time, and the Roman concern with oblivion and being remembered in the future. This chapter also wrestles with the emperor as a focus of cult and devotion for the present safety and prosperity of the empire, how biography and history encounter the emperor as a figure for historical study, and how emperors can be resurrected to haunt current rulers and question their legitimacy.
This chapter focusses on the importance of conspicuous generosity to the emperors and their heirs. Euergetism describes a performed relationship between rulers and ruled, where exchanges of goods, money, and clout are transacted. The expectation of such generosity is important for the stability and legitimacy of an emperor’s reign, which makes the question of succession a secondary focus of this chapter: how did the Roman emperor secure the future legitimacy of his position?
This chapter has two purposes. First, it outlines the problems of and methods for finding the popular voice in our evidence from Roman antiquity. Utilising James C. Scott’s paradigm of hidden transcripts, this chapter argues that wider perceptions of the Roman emperor can be excavated from a wide-range of different material. Second, the chapter explores the history and historiography of the Roman emperor and how the power of the Roman emperor has been described and understood in antiquity and beyond.
This chapter outlines the emperor as a figure of wonder and monstrosity. The power of the Roman emperor and empire sought the curation of weird and wonderful things from across the empire and beyond. Such wonders and monstrosities were brought to Rome for public display, which coloured how the emperor himself was perceived in literature that ranges from biography and historiography to paradoxography. The emperor as a figure of enormous power and as a monster comes into full focus.
This chapter focusses on discourse: how emperors were discussed and understood and how they were seen to interact with society. In particular, the chapter argues that part of the expectations placed on emperors was their ability to take a joke. Analysis focusses on emperors making and taking jokes, which outlines themes of accessibility and affability with wider society. An inability to be seen as jocular or amused translated as negative impressions of character that were fundamental to the historical and biographical receptions of emperors.
The opening epigraph is from Calpurnius Siculus’ first eclogue, here recounting the prophecy of Faunus inscribed on a beech tree. It is found by Corydon and Oryntus in their effort to escape the sun in late summer.3 The inscription describes the coming of a new golden age, precipitated by a young emperor who will restore peace and order, to the joy of the people, and bring back a time of plenty and life without care, just as the poets had described.4 In many ways, it captures the essence of several themes that will be explored in this book, which is a study of the perception and reception of the Roman emperor from the perspective of his subjects. These are timelessness, comparability, and liminality, which can be explained as follows. The temporal dimension involves the continual existence of the emperorship, in the sense of the idea of the permanence of the emperor, which gave him a timeless quality.
The goal of this book was to construct an alternative approach to the Roman emperor. The conceit was to take a subjective view, which strives to reconstruct how the emperor seemed from the perspective of the inhabitants of the Roman empire. This approach, though, moves away from overt biographical approaches to emperors, which dominate ancient and modern historiography alike. The point here is less to find out what people thought about, say, Tiberius or Pertinax as individual emperors and more about how their examples contributed to the discourse about the emperor more widely: What were the expectations placed on the emperor? What were the duties that he was expected to fulfil? How did people talk about him?
This chapter focusses on the theme of justice in the expectation of intercession by the Roman emperor in judicial and non-judicial contexts. The chapter takes a wide range of evidence to chart the locations for imperial intercession, which includes images of justice on provincial coinage, asylum seeking by slaves at statues and images of the emperor, and quasi-fictional vignettes of encounters between the emperor and subjects in the context of embassies. Expectations of justice and fears of arbitrary judgement appear together in discourse.
How was the Roman emperor viewed by his subjects? How strongly did their perception of his role shape his behaviour? Adopting a fresh approach, Panayiotis Christoforou focuses on the emperor from the perspective of his subjects across the Roman Empire. Stress lies on the imagination: the emperor was who he seemed, or was imagined, to be. Through various vignettes employing a wide range of sources, he analyses the emperor through the concerns and expectations of his subjects, which range from intercessory justice to fears of the monstrosities associated with absolute power. The book posits that mythical and fictional stories about the Roman emperor form the substance of what people thought about him, which underlines their importance for the historical and political discourse that formed around him as a figure. The emperor emerges as an ambiguous figure. Loved and hated, feared and revered, he was an object of contradiction and curiosity.