Head #1 - Roman Senate (Rev. 17)
Revelation Time Period #1:
The time during which Head #1 was the dominant ruling power in the realm corresponds to the 1st time period of Revelation, which also corresponds to the 1st Church, the 1st Seal and the 1st Trumpet.
31 AD to 217 AD
RiseHistory and the Bible reveal a multifaceted, multiphase Roman realm, composed of assorted and intricately woven aspects of governance and power. Such complexity has made it an intriguing and important study for scholars and politicians, and even gamers, but especially Bible students. The prophecies in the Bible make the Roman realm a recurring theme, employing various symbols to reveal its characteristics, phases, political powers, religious components and governmental structure.
Rome began, according to legend, in 753 BC by Romulus who became its first king. It developed into a city-state with a monarchical form of government over its expanding territories. The king setup the Senate as an advisory council and he personally selected the most noble and wealthy men to be senators.
The seventh king of Rome, Tarquinius, was so despised that a revolution deposed him and established the Roman Republic in 509 BC. The Romans were determined to never again crown a king or gather too much power into one person's hands. They developed their government into a complex system to separate and balance powers. Various political branches were put in place to put ultimate power in the hands of the people. The Senate would deliberate on proposals made by magistrates, and then make recommendations to committees and councils, which were made up of Roman citizens. These committees would determine legislation and would also elect the magistrates. The Tribunes would approve or veto laws. This form of government generally continued for almost five hundred years.
The Roman Senate, generally composed of between 100 and 900 men, transitioned from being an advisory council to governing with authority. Gradually increasing in power, it became able to control the executive magistrates. Its members were held to high ethical standards and enjoyed great prestige. It was considered the authority in preserving Roman tradition and was involved in governing a wide variety of areas, including finances, foreign relations and the state religion. It became the head of the state, generally exercising "strong control over holders of office, tending to use them as its tools."1
The Republic was very successful, however, its extensive military and diplomatic projects began to place new pressures on the system. As the empire grew in size, the Republic grew more unstable. As a result, a string of dictators were allowed, set up to serve as an extension of the Senate and secure the system. It was determined that in order to overcome the inefficiency of the Republic and reduce the factional in-fighting, it needed "a sufficient dose of Autocracy" and "one mind, one voice to rise above all others".2
The dictators did, in many ways, "fix" Rome. The first emperors, beginning in 27 BC with Octavian, were careful to follow the rules of the Republic and use the institutions and established forms. The new empire was founded "on the dignity of the senate", and the emperors cloaked their power behind it, "whose supreme decrees they dictated and obeyed".3 In modern terms they would be "considered as quasi-head of state" and "a sort of hybrid between the Speaker of the House and the Prime Minister".4 Though they received many titles, such as Augustus, Princeps, Pontifex maximus, Imperator, Censor and Consul, "it must be noted that officially, none of these titles or the Civic Crown, granted Augustus any additional powers or authority; officially he was simply a highly-honored Roman citizen, holding the consulship."5
Over the next couple of hundred years, although the official role and meaning of emperor basically stayed the same, the various individuals filling the office varied widely. They were heroes and they were villians. Some were loved and worshipped, others were quickly assisted to an early grave. Violent uprisings resulted in whole ruling families being wiped out, along with large numbers of senators, military leaders and other conspirators. Increasingly, emperors dispensed with the idea of the Republic and operated more openly as monarchs. This was naturally accompanied by a process of shifting authority and administrative powers out of the hands of the other various political bodies.
For purposes of this study (the 7 Heads on the beast supporting Mystery, Babylon), we are particularly interested in identifying who had dominant control of the crown(s) within the Roman realm. This could mean either who had the power to appoint emperors, who legitimatized them or from where were emperors chosen. The history of the Roman realm (encompassing the Republic and Empire phase) has caused much discussion and intrigue for historians, being difficult to identify specific turning points as changes came about in a gradual way. Even so, there are some points of clarity that stand out amongst the seemingly neverending history of in-fighting, haphazard violence and glimmers of enduring Roman honor.
First, it should be noted that there were various factors and political bodies during this first time period (Head #1: 31 AD to 217 AD) that were important in order for emperors to ascend and remain in power, each being emphasized more vigorously at different times. The more important of these included a relationship to a preceding ruler, acceptance by the Senate, loyalty by the army, support of personal staff, tranquility of the populace and divine bestowal by the gods.
Of course, the armies were quite capable of forcing their will upon the Empire, although it is interesting that they weren't seen "as much of a political instrument - or even an autonomous political force" until after 100 BC.6 This changed as they came to be respected as a separate entity and gradually became more aware of their own power during the first century AD. Even so, for this time period, they were generally loyal to the central government, usually accepting a new emperor's "accession donative" (begun by Claudius in 41 AD) with outstreched hands, appropriate acclamations and oaths of allegiance.
Whoever rose as a candidate for emperor, usually through heriditary rule (though the principle of hereditary succession was never formalized), needed the bestowal of the imperium by the Senate on behalf of the state in order to formally take power. During this time period, it was the Senate, initially largely made up of Italian aristocratical families, that could thus legitimize power.7 They alone retained the right to confer the title of emperor. This power over the crown is morbidly elucidated by the fact that "no ruler who lost the support of this [Senate] class, except to some degree Tiberius in his last years, survived to experience a natural death."8
This power was also made clear through an understanding that emperors would be chosen from among those of senatorial rank. "For senators, their status as senators, as the ideological heirs of those senators who had conquered the empire before Augustus, was important, as was the notion that the emperors must be drawn from their ranks."9
Indeed, every emperor from Augustus up through 217 AD, was of senatorial rank. In addition to the emperors themselves, major military commands and major provincial governorships were drawn from the senatorial ranks.10
TransitionIn the second century BC, two tiers of Roman elite had developed, which were later officially defined under Emperor Augustus. The senatorial rank was the highest tier, dominating the magistrate offices and governing the provinces. The equestrian rank, also known as the Knights, were the second tier, owning the businesses and banking activities. For hundreds of years, these two classes worked together to run the empire.
The practice of using equestrians to serve as heads of ministries with the Roman government began in the year 69 AD. This resource enabled the many aspects of the Roman bureaucracy to succeed. With the equestrians being a step below the senatorial rank, it made them more suitable for certain important offices of state, in order to keep too much power from landing in the hands of senators. This also solved the problem of the elite possibly becoming less powerful than freedmen who might otherwise be enabled to move up in government.
The reliance on the Italian elite ranks changed in the late second and early third centuries as emperors began to rely more heavily on military equestrians. Those of this class were not necessarily of noble birth, or from Italy, and rose to the equestrian rank through a military career. The dynasty of the Severi, from 193 to 235 AD, was instrumental in implementing these changes. When Augustus reigned, ninety eight percent of senators were of Italian origin, but by the reign of Septimius Severus (193-211 A.D.), less than half were of Italian stock.11
The high positions in the military, the generals and legion legates were almost always of senatorial rank, but in the third century emperors appointed military equestrians directly to the top military commands instead of the Italian aristocrats. Thus, there was a "progressive takeover of the top positions in the empire's administration and army by military equestrians and the concomitant exclusion of the Italian aristocracy, both senators and equites."12
The reduction in senatorial power is also shown in their decreasing role as jurists. Since Augustus, the leading jurists had been members of the senatorial order, but by the middle of the second century almost all were equestrians.13 By early third century, the jurists and the military men composed the "two sectors of the government that were the most dominant."14
All these changes served to cut away the empire's links to the Roman Republic and thus the Senate's role as representatives of that Republic. As a realm that was no longer concerned with maintaining the perception of a Republic, the Senate was no longer needed to legitimatize emperors.
The third century also saw imperial chaos and declining loyalty of the military to the emperor. At the same time, during the reign of the Severi, the military, having acquired a strong sense of its own power, began to take government into its own hands. The emperors, though dependent upon the support of the legions, had previously held them in control. "Now the army assumed control of the emperors, creating and destroying them at will."15
The army's step up from proclaiming emperors that were then formalized by the Senate, to forcing its will in regard to imperial succession, become the regular course of politics during the third century. Up until then, the power of the Senate had been delegated to one of its members, the emperor.
It was Macrinus, who ascended to the throne in 217, who became the first equestrian emperor, not a member of the senatorial class and not of the old Italian aristocracy. He didn't even visit Rome during his rule, the first emperor not to do so.16 "Even more serious was a failure to acknowledge the formula of accession, which placed acclamation by the military ahead of senatorial approval... In form they were asserting their prerogative to have the first say in the succession."17
Macrinus ascended to the throne while on a campaign with the Emperor Caracalla against the Parthian Empire. Parthia was the powerful realm to the east of the Roman Empire, consisting of a loosely joined monarchy of kings known as the Arsacids. Rome and Parthia had been at war off and on for centuries. In 216 AD, Caracalla won a major victory over the Parthian king Artabanus. But, in 217 Artabanus returned with an army keen to take revenge on the Romans. On his way to meet Artabanus, on April 8, 217, Caracalla was murdered.18 His murder appears to have had support of key individuals within the realm and was "clearly a well organized plan."19
The troops declared Macrinus emperor and went out to meet Artabanus' army. The battle ended after two days, when Macrinus sent an embassy to Artabanus informing him that Caracalla was dead and offering money and to restore prisoners. They worked out a peace treaty and the greatly weakened Parthian army withdrew its forces. This brought the era of Roman-Parthian wars to an end.
The efforts of Macrinus' predeccors to fill high ranking government positions with equestrians, finally culminated in the successful placement of an equestrian on the throne. Though information about Macrinus is lacking, his brief reign "can be viewed as a pivotal one for the Roman empire."20 Macrinus' equestrian background set the stage for future emperors to ascend the throne via a military career path. There were some future emperors who also held senatorial rank, but the army clearly controlled succession. The next emperor, Elagabalus (218-222), dated his reign by his victory at Antioch and "assumed the imperial titles without prior senatorial approval, which violated tradition but was a common practice among 3rd-century emperors nonetheless."21
Decline"The military monarchy of the Severan period stands out clearly defined between the earlier Antonine monarchy of the 'good emperors' and the later period of military anarchy. The emperor was no longer regarded as a servant of the state, but its dominating head. Thus when Macrinus and Elagabalus were accepted by the troops, they merely notified the Senate of their accession and did not allow this body any traditional share in the granting of power... Power had gone, but prestige remained."22
Macrinus immediately set about securing his power by removing opponents and establishing supporters in key positions. In the article Antichthon, in the Journal of the Australasian Society for Classical Studies, the argument is presented that Macrinus' changes resulted in "an overhaul of government personnel without parallel."23 It goes on to say that
"This interventionist approach to provincial administration was a significant departure from the usual practice of emperors retaining their predecessor's governors. It is argued that Macrinus' break with tradition was motivated by the fact that he was the first emperor to be elevated from the ordo equester,and wanted to consolidate his position by ensuring that the provinces were entrusted to trustworthy legates."24
In terms of political power, things went from bad to worse for the Senate. When Maximinus Thrax accended the throne in 235, it was one of the last attempts by the Senate to influence succession.25 Later, senators were more or less excluded from the army. Furthermore, after 282 it was not even expected that the Senate would confer official recognition on a new ruler.26
The imperial image had also progressively deteriorated, which led military strongmen to be more inclined to attempt to seize power. The loss of power by the senatorial aristocracy corresponds to the destabilization of imperial rule. When the Severan dynasty came to an end in 235, there followed 21 emperors in less than 50 years. From Gordian III to Diocletian, the majority of Emperors' deaths were brought about by their own staff or troops.27
Though the Senate lost almost all military and political authority, it remained influential because of the reputation and wealth of the senators. Although, the extravagence and frivolity of the Italian aristocracy was especially hated by military officers. Some emperors were even openly hostile towards the Senate, which would naturally be accompanied by little or no cooperation in running the empire.
The shifting of power from the Senate to the military coincides with the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire. During the period of 235 to 270 AD, there was a string of invasions and repeated struggles for internal power. These problems existed because of the army's prevailing role in politics and the absence of rules for succession. Though some of these problems were solved by diocletian (reigned 284 to 305), the main issues remained and eventually brought about the collapse of the Empire in 486 AD. The disintegration and dividing of the realm are the subject of the 2nd Trumpet.
In summary, the Senate lost control of the military and the crown. Over time it became political irrelevant. At the same time, the complexity of the Roman Republic disintegrated irreversibly as the emperors seemed to prefer being mere monarchs and the military grasped for power over honor. The time period of this Head #1 (31 AD to 217 AD) corresponds to the 1st Trumpet, which portrays the judgment that God's rebelling people and those ruling over them (the Senate), brought upon themselves. (See the 7 Trumpets.)
Continue to: Head #2
- 1. M.C. Howatson, Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, page 517.
- 2. Sam Edwards, "The Emperor - An Analysis of the Roman State's Highest Post," All Empires, last modified 16 August 2007, http://www.allempires.com/article/index.php?q=the_emperor_-_an_analysis_of_the_roman_state.
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- 13. Potter, The Roman Empire at Bay, page 159.
- 14. Andrew G. Scott, "Change and discontinuity within the Severan dynasty: the case of Macrinus," page 169, accessed 5 February 2016, Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.7282/T3WQ044V
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- 17. The Roman Empire at Bay AD 180-395, David S. Potter, page 171.
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- 19. Scott, "Change and discontinuity within the Severan dynasty: the case of Macrinus".
- 20. Scott, "Change and discontinuity within the Severan dynasty: the case of Macrinus," page 176.
- 21. "Elagabalus," Wikipedia, accessed 27 July 2016, last modified 19 July 2016, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elagabalus.
- 22. M. Cary and H. H. Scullard, A History of Rome, (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1975), page 499.
- 23. The Provincial Appointments of the Emperor Macrinus, Antichthon, Volume Forty-Six, (Australasian Society for Classical Studies, 2012, page 202.
- 24. The Provincial Appointments of the Emperor Macrinus, page 184.
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- 26. Starr, The Roman Empire, page 147.
- 27. Starr, The Roman Empire, page 147-148.