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Constructing Autocracy:
Aristocrats and Emperors in Julio-Claudian Rome
Matthew B. Roller

eBook | ISBN: 9781400824090 | Where to buy this ebook

Hardcover | 2001 | This edition is out of print | ISBN: 9780691050218


Rome's transition from a republican system of government to an imperial regime comprised more than a century of civil upheaval and rapid institutional change. Yet the establishment of a ruling dynasty, centered around a single leader, came as a cultural and political shock to Rome’s aristocracy, who had shared power in the previous political order. How did the imperial regime manage to establish itself and how did the Roman elites from the time of Julius Caesar to Nero make sense of it? In this compelling book, Matthew Roller reveals a "dialogical" process at work, in which writers and philosophers vigorously negotiated and contested the nature and scope of the emperor’s authority, despite the consensus that he was the ultimate authority figure in Roman society.

Roller seeks evidence for this "thinking out" of the new order in a wide range of republican and imperial authors, with an emphasis on Lucan and Seneca the Younger. He shows how elites assessed the impact of the imperial system on traditional aristocratic ethics and examines how several longstanding authority relationships in Roman society--those of master to slave, father to son, and gift-creditor to gift-debtor--became competing models for how the emperor did or should relate to his aristocratic subjects. By revealing this ideological activity to be not merely reactive but also constitutive of the new order, Roller contributes to ongoing debates about the character of the Roman imperial system and about the "politics" of literature.


"Clearly written and augmented with a bibliography and two indexes, this book will appeal to informed general readers and scholars alike."--Choice

"The book as a whole is excellent, and can be recommended both for the contribution of the overall argument and for the insight of the individual readings. . . . It should be read by everyone interested in the Principate, the literature of that period, ancient philosophy, ethics, social history, and political theory. I look forward to reading it again."--Ellen O'Gorman, Bryn Mawr Classical Review


"Matthew Roller analyzes with considerable skill and acuity the Roman elite's attempts to come to grips with the new empire. Throughout he shows himself to be a careful and original reader, who draws his insights from many fields, including contemporary sociology, anthropology, and political science. His discussions of Lucan and Seneca will be required reading for anyone interested in those authors."--Robert A. Kaster, Princeton University

"This book contributes significantly to the fields of classics and ancient history, but readers outside these disciplines will also find a great deal to enjoy and to learn from. Constructing Autocracy will speak effectively to those who study other (especially pre-modern) periods of history."--Brad Inwood, University of Toronto

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  • File created: 8/8/2015

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