The Roman Emperors Weren’t Warring With Other Nations, They Were Warring With Themselves.

Julius Caesar


In the first century AD politics roiled hotly through Rome. Around 42 BC, the Roman Senate, the wake of the murder of Julius Caesar, declared that Caesar had been a God; and so it was partly by divine imprimatur that Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son, and Mark Anthony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus were appointed as The Second Triumvirate, the officially recognized rulers of Rome. The First Triumvirate was Caesar, Pompey and Crassus. Of course the First Triumvirate went about as well as one might expect a ten-year reunion of Housewives Of New Your City would go, but with gladii. It was a bloody civil war that unsettled Romans for decades and it need not have happened at all. In fact, happened for all the same reason that the Second Triumvirate failed:  there are times when there can only be one leader, and the kinds of leaders that circulated the upper crust of Rome could not be the liege of their peers.





It was for this reason that early on in the Roman Republic, Consuls travelled in pairs and shared authority over Roman Legions on expedition. One man who runs an army can easily run over the government. Of course competing visions of victory was a famously inefficient way to win a war. Despite these restrictions on military governance, the Roman Army won often enough. Politics was front and center in Roman history. And empire building was driven by ego and love of power in the same way it is today.


Roman Maniple



A friend of mine, the account executive that runs the agency where I work for has been at the top of giant global companies. He made the remark to me “The second you are in that seat there is a bullet for you.” How true. But all configurations of power in Roman in the first century AD were a tangled, backstabbing, power grabbing ravelment. It was in the DNA of power grabbers to grab power, to replevin as it were what one believes it has a right to, and apologize later. After the cowed Senate voted the dictators into power, as much as a way of recognizing It didn’t take long for the members of the Second Triumvirate to larrup each other on the way to the top.


The Ides Of March The Assassination Of Julius Ceasar



When Lepidus took command of some of Octavian’s troops, Octavian disencumbered him from the weight of command.


Mark Anthony


That left just one more obstacle to absolute power and that was Mark Anthony. Mark Anthony’s discipline disappeared and as he wavered, he returned to Egypt and took up with Cleopatra again, after an on again off again 14 year affair. They were setting themselves up as a sort of power couple that could rule from their Eastern Roman outpost in North Africa. But Octavian would have none of it. Of course, all Mark Anthony did was prorogue a conclusion that was on the way. It might be noted that this is quite a love story here that Mark Anthony could not bring himself to be away from Cleopatra, and so he gambled his position as one of the most powerful men in the Western hemisphere all because of his love.



Octavian of course pursued the opportunity to eliminate this rival and so sent troops to battle Mark Anthony. The conclusion came with a massive naval invasion that disembarked tens of thousands of Roman legionnaires. His army crumbled with desertions losing 19 divisions in what they saw as a lost cause. And so Mark Anthony killed himself, and even died in the embrace of Cleopatra.



Octavian was quite the ventose speaker but he lacked the charisma and gravitas his father projected. He rebuilt the entire Roman Empire in the Pax Romana, the extended period of peace, the first such time Rome could remember. It extended from 27 BC to 180 AD. Like all shrewd politicians he inculcated into his subjects the image he wanted to project even if it wasn’t entirely true. He made certain that he gave off a simple unpretentious attitude and an austere lifestyle. He began by adopting a new moniker: Augustus, “the splendid”. His wife, Livia Augusta was devoted to upholding the glory and the dignity of the Roman state. She modeled herself as the devoted and somewhat tough Roman housewife. Livia was so attuned to this role, and so accommodating for the face she was putting on Royal authority that she turned a blind eye to Augustus’ cavorting with slave girls and lovers of all kind.



She did wear her hair in a bun, called a nodus, or knot. It was an expression of her austere, very rich but decidedly unlavish way of comporting herself. For Livia, every thing she did was theater. Her husband had just crushed his two partners in the Triumvirate and might be looked at as a power grabbing autocrat. He was. However it helped when they gave off that they were quiet and concerned more with governing than with the trappings of power.




Livia’s Nodus hairstyle was a statement about morality. Her austere, neatly held hair didn’t cascade down her shoulders like Cleopatra. She didn’t share her bed with whoever happened to sail into port, like the Egyptian queen. Livia’s comportment, her devotion to simplicity and efficiency were proclamations that she was the embodiment of Roman womanhood.


Source: The Rise And Fall Of The Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon, 1776


1 thought on “The Roman Emperors Weren’t Warring With Other Nations, They Were Warring With Themselves.”

  1. As far as I know, both triumvirates were never acclaimed in the Senate. As a matter of fact, they, the Senate, still appointed two consuls every year, although it was obvious those two consuls did not have any real authority. And Octivianus was no charismatic man, but he was just as shrewd as his adopted father. He managed to aquire all the really important civilian, religious and military jobs. He only asked for the privilige of being the first to have the right to speak in Senate, and thereby prove that he was not power grabbing, like Ceasar, who was murdered partly because he was suspected of wanting to become king.

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