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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

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

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