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Romans and divine right

Yoo-hoo!
celandineb, darana, thanatos_kalos, and all you historians and anthropologists (aspiring ones such as erebrandir and yodge included): I have another question for you.

Did Roman emperors, who paid lip service to their own deification, rule by acknowledged divine right?

Again, I'll have to tell you later, in a running edit, why I ask.
Here's the gist of it: My father and I were having a discussion yesterday about why certain cultures seem to have a more ingrained tolerance for totalitarian rule.1 I conjectured that a long period of feudalism and in particular the principle of the "Mandate of Heaven" tended to foster this culture, whereas cultures that received the yoke later tended to throw it off sooner. It was a case of the damnable old frog-in-a-pot syndrome, I claimed. My dad didn't quite buy it, though.

So, I'm trying to get some real historians' viewpoints to corroborate or refute my hypothesis.

1 Yes, that's typical after-dinner conversation here. Does this surprise you? ;-)

--
Banazîr

Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
borgseawolf
Apr. 13th, 2004 04:25 am (UTC)
It's all because of rice.
Divine Right was introduced in the Dominate period, but was given its actual power it had later by christianity.
Remember that not all emperors were deified, and except Caligula and Domitian and perhaps some few others... (my Roman Lore is a bit rusty today) they were introduced into divinity posthumously by the senate - which was mostly an equivalent of catholic canonization of saints. They had 'divine' or 'sacred' or 'augustus' as their titles, but it meant little - their rule was based on law and military power. That was during the principate, during the dominate for the first time the 'Divine Power' was introduced, as Diocletian told the Senate to shut up, but it gained much more power since Constantine, when the Emperor was backed by the power of One God, instead of just one of a multitude of divine beings (this was, according to some -me included- main reason Constantine embraced christianity as national religion).
Here's a nice summary of Nature of Dominate Monarchy.
banazir
Apr. 15th, 2004 02:25 am (UTC)
Re: It's all because of rice.
Divine Right was introduced in the Dominate period, but was given its actual power it had later by christianity.

Thanks.
BTW, forgive my ignorance, but did you study history at uni?
I lost track.

Remember that not all emperors were deified, and except Caligula and Domitian and perhaps some few others... (my Roman Lore is a bit rusty today) they were introduced into divinity posthumously by the senate - which was mostly an equivalent of catholic canonization of saints..

Right, and this was the gist of one of my rebuttals to my dad's theory.
(BTW, what's the title of this comment thread about?)

They had 'divine' or 'sacred' or 'augustus' as their titles, but it meant little - their rule was based on law and military power.

Yes, but so were the Chinese emperors'.
Perhaps not in latter Qing or (orthogonally) in Japan, but that's a different story.

That was during the principate, during the dominate for the first time the 'Divine Power' was introduced, as Diocletian told the Senate to shut up, but it gained much more power since Constantine, when the Emperor was backed by the power of One God, instead of just one of a multitude of divine beings (this was, according to some -me included- main reason Constantine embraced christianity as national religion).

I've read theories to this effect, but for me the jury is still out.

Thanks for the summary.

--
Banazir
borgseawolf
Apr. 15th, 2004 02:51 am (UTC)
Re: It's all because of rice.
Thanks.
BTW, forgive my ignorance, but did you study history at uni?


Yes, but only for a year - only ancient period, hence the title of my next post :)

They had 'divine' or 'sacred' or 'augustus' as their titles, but it meant little - their rule was based on law and military power.

Yes, but so were the Chinese emperors'.


As a foundation of their rule, yes. But - didn't the Chinese emperors demand worship from their subjects? And weren't there various quasi-religious, widely recognized rules about opposing them, objecting them etc. (ie. 'You opposed the Emperor! That's a sacrilege!') ?
Early emperors had nothing of the sort. Sure, simple people worshipped them, or people who believed there was a profit in it (it were times when it was easy to worship a stone that fell from the sky, why not a powerful human being?) but the worship didn't automatically correspond to the Right to Rule. And it was not written in law.

(BTW, what's the title of this comment thread about?)
Oh, that's a vague reference to some old theory of mine, that compared types of crops grown in various regions of the world to the prevalent philosophical and social systems in those regions. Basically, it was sorgo=survival, wheat=individual, rice=social. That sort of thing.
thanatos_kalos
Apr. 13th, 2004 08:23 am (UTC)
Actually, there's a strong sense of "Manifest destiny" in Virgil's _Aeneid_. In Book one, lines 225 to 296 (or thereabouts, I don't have the Latin in front of me) Jupiter tells Venus all about the glorious destiny of the Roman people, especially of the Iulii (Which was the gens of Julius Caesar.) The Aeneid was of course commissioned by Augustus, the first Emperor. And the term "divos", relating to a divinised human, is used in Virgil's earlier work the Eclogues. It may be seen in the _Res Gestae_ as well, I'm not sure.

Does that help?

(and have I mentioned I'm working on my MA in Classical archaeology? ;)
banazir
Apr. 14th, 2004 11:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks!
Actually, there's a strong sense of "Manifest destiny" in Virgil's _Aeneid_.

Google and Project Gutenberg are our friends:
Latin
English

An age is ripening in revolving fate
When Troy shall overturn the Grecian state,
And sweet revenge her conqu'ring sons shall call,
To crush the people that conspir'd her fall.
Then Caesar from the Julian stock shall rise,
Whose empire ocean, and whose fame the skies
Alone shall bound; whom, fraught with eastern spoils,
Our heav'n, the just reward of human toils,
Securely shall repay with rites divine;
And incense shall ascend before his sacred shrine.


(Googled for nigh on half an hour looking for an online, line-numbered English translation; found many, but mostly Gutenberg Project derivatives. I would get a classics library in print, really I would; only, the ents and huorns would get me. Ents and me are like Lindsey and W&H. Um, yeah, comes of being a past graduate TA and present university prof. ;-))

In Book one, lines 225 to 296 (or thereabouts, I don't have the Latin in front of me) Jupiter tells Venus all about the glorious destiny of the Roman people, especially of the Iulii (Which was the gens of Julius Caesar.) The Aeneid was of course commissioned by Augustus, the first Emperor. And the term "divos", relating to a divinised human, is used in Virgil's earlier work the Eclogues. It may be seen in the _Res Gestae_ as well, I'm not sure.

Fascinating.
Do you have an eidetic memory, BTW?
I could never pull line numbers out of my head like that.

Does that help?
(and have I mentioned I'm working on my MA in Classical archaeology? ;)

Yes, it does! :-)
I added you to the list of requested respondents in an edit.

--
Banazir
thanatos_kalos
Apr. 15th, 2004 07:05 am (UTC)
Re: Thanks!
(Googled for nigh on half an hour looking for an online, line-numbered English translation; found many, but mostly Gutenberg Project derivatives. I would get a classics library in print, really I would; only, the ents and huorns would get me. Ents and me are like Lindsey and W&H. Um, yeah, comes of being a past graduate TA and present university prof. ;-))

try www.perseus.tufts.edu which is the internet database we use in Classics. :)

In Book one, lines 225 to 296 (or thereabouts, I don't have the Latin in front of me) Jupiter tells Venus all about the glorious destiny of the Roman people, especially of the Iulii (Which was the gens of Julius Caesar.) The Aeneid was of course commissioned by Augustus, the first Emperor. And the term "divos", relating to a divinised human, is used in Virgil's earlier work the Eclogues. It may be seen in the _Res Gestae_ as well, I'm not sure.

Fascinating.


isnt it?

Do you have an eidetic memory, BTW?
I could never pull line numbers out of my head like that.


No-- I had the English in front of me, in a prose translation. It won't match the Lain line numbers, but it'll approximate it. I only WISH I had eidetic memory; my retention rate is something like 80% for most things.

Does that help?
(and have I mentioned I'm working on my MA in Classical archaeology? ;)

Yes, it does! :-)


good. :)

I added you to the list of requested respondents in an edit.

Gracias! ;)
borgseawolf
Apr. 15th, 2004 07:17 am (UTC)
Re: Thanks!
try www.perseus.tufts.edu which is the internet database we use in Classics. :)

Yeah. I wrote an entire yearly paper using only that source and got an equivalent of A with merit for it :) Perseus rules.
thanatos_kalos
Apr. 15th, 2004 10:41 am (UTC)
Re: Thanks!
Yeah. I wrote an entire yearly paper using only that source and got an equivalent of A with merit for it :) Perseus rules.

I use it continually for stuff-- primary sources, translations, encyclopedias, maps, occasionally site plans...though they do sometimes get translations wrong, I must admit. :P
banazir
Apr. 15th, 2004 12:23 pm (UTC)
Re: Thanks!
try www.perseus.tufts.edu which is the internet database we use in Classics. :)
Oh, very good stuff!
Thank you.

Fascinating.
isnt it?
Ah, all my possessions for a moment of time...

I had the English in front of me, in a prose translation. It won't match the Lain line numbers, but it'll approximate it. I only WISH I had eidetic memory; my retention rate is something like 80% for most things.
Hrm, same here.
My memory is pseudo-eidetic: it only works spot-on for SF television quotes. :-P (Not even that, of late; I used to have perfect retention on ST:TNG and BTVS, and now don't even recognize most Firefly quotes put in front of me. It's very sad.)

As Dorothy Sayers had Lord Peter Wimsey say:
"I have the most ill-regulated memory.
It does those things which it ought not to do and leaves undone the things it ought to have done.
But it has not yet gone on strike altogether."
(That, I got mostly from memory, but as is often the case now, I had to look it up and make a correction. So annoying.)




borgseawolf: Yeah. I wrote an entire yearly paper using only that source and got an equivalent of A with merit for it :) Perseus rules.
thanatos_kalos: I use it continually for stuff-- primary sources, translations, encyclopedias, maps, occasionally site plans...though they do sometimes get translations wrong, I must admit. :P
Sounds (and looks) great.

--
Banazir
celandineb
Apr. 13th, 2004 08:45 am (UTC)
I wouldn't call it "divine right," no. Far too many of the Roman emperors ruled very clearly at the will of the army - not the will of a god or gods, and not the will of the people (despite some lip service in that direction) - for them to claim "divine right" as the foundation of their rule.

Deification usually took place after death, rather than during life. Though many emperors took on priestly roles, that was simply another source of authority (and harked back to republican-era tradition).

Furthermore, the strong tradition of law and of republican institutions would militate against any attempt by any emperor to claim such a thing as a divine mandate for his rule. It was quite a long way into the imperial era before they openly admitted that the republic was dead...

(I'm not trained in ancient history, so this is off-the-cuff!)
borgseawolf
Apr. 14th, 2004 02:41 am (UTC)
I, on the other hand, know ONLY ancient history :)
Furthermore, the strong tradition of law and of republican institutions would militate against any attempt by any emperor to claim such a thing as a divine mandate for his rule. It was quite a long way into the imperial era before they openly admitted that the republic was dead...

I don't know if that is a 'long way into the imperial era', but by Diocletian (ca. 300 AD) all this was just poppycock and sillytalk. Nobody cared about senate, or the Republic, or the will of people. Thanks to introducing 'divine right' instead of just 'divine descent' (earlier emperors often claimed being descended from gods, but it never meant much), there were fewer assassinations, fewer internal clashes , and overall more peaceful times came for the Rome itself (which was just as well, since there soon came a time to deal with external threats).
And then, of course, came Constantine.
(Julian, my favourite of the emperors, tried to introduce a singular pagan religion throughout the empire to back his divine right to rule, instead of Constantine's christianity, but it was too late by then)
banazir
Apr. 15th, 2004 02:29 am (UTC)
Re: I, on the other hand, know ONLY ancient history :)
I don't know if that is a 'long way into the imperial era', but by Diocletian (ca. 300 AD) all this was just poppycock and sillytalk.
:nod:

Julian, my favourite of the emperors, tried to introduce a singular pagan religion throughout the empire to back his divine right to rule, instead of Constantine's christianity, but it was too late by then)
Interesting.
Reminds me of the recent conflict between the Ra'elian cultists and the Georgia school board, wherein the GA school board wanted to replace the evolutionary science curriculum with a (Christian, nominally Judeo/Christian/Muslim) creationist one. "We believe in creation too!" said the Ra'elians, and the church who sponsored the bill backpedaled long and hard to distance themselves.

--
Banazir
banazir
Apr. 14th, 2004 08:14 am (UTC)
Off-the-cuff history
I wouldn't call it "divine right," no. Far too many of the Roman emperors ruled very clearly at the will of the army - not the will of a god or gods, and not the will of the people (despite some lip service in that direction) - for them to claim "divine right" as the foundation of their rule.

Thanks - that's almost exactly what I said to my dad, whose position was that divine right had been around since classical (Greco-Roman) the eras, nearly as long as the Mandate of Heaven had been around in China.

Maybe in the Old and Middle Kingdoms of Egypt, but not in Greece or Rome, true?

Deification usually took place after death, rather than during life.

Just so, and IIRC the origin of the last words "Woe is me! I think I am becoming a god."

Though many emperors took on priestly roles, that was simply another source of authority (and harked back to republican-era tradition).

/me nods
Yes, exactly.

Furthermore, the strong tradition of law and of republican institutions would militate against any attempt by any emperor to claim such a thing as a divine mandate for his rule. It was quite a long way into the imperial era before they openly admitted that the republic was dead...

That was the other point I made with my dad, though the Taoists were big on both law and harmony with imperial rule. I think it has somewhat to do (in Egypt and China) with the claim of divine right by divine ancestry.

(I'm not trained in ancient history, so this is off-the-cuff!)

No problem atoll; your cuffs are a lot more extensive than mine!

--
Banazir
darana
Apr. 13th, 2004 07:39 pm (UTC)
Not my era
Sorry I know very little about Roman Emperors.

Though if I recall didn't Rome receive Divine Right only after ehh Constantine or Theodosius?
banazir
Apr. 13th, 2004 10:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Not my era
Sorry I know very little about Roman Emperors.
No problem. Prolly more than I do, at any rate.

Though if I recall didn't Rome receive Divine Right only after ehh Constantine or Theodosius?
Probably. I'm not aware that any Roman emperors actually claimed to rule by the mandate of the Jovian pantheon, at any rate. Constantine I was the first declared Christian emperor, Theodosius the last ruler of both Eastern and Western Empires, so that would make sense.

--
Banazir
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