Emperors and the Plebs

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  • Emperors and the Plebs
    • Claudius
      • Had a populist stance
      • At public games he would rise with the audience and show his delight by clapping
        • This behaviour endeared him to the people
      • When there was a fire, he had all the city magistrates summon people before him so he could enroll them as firefighters
      • During a grain shortage, he ensured a adequate grain supply even insuring merchant ships during winter
      • His building projects provided employment for 30,000 men for 11 years/
      • Put on magnificent public shows and public picnics
        • He acted very informally at these picnics and acted in a somewhat Plebeian manner
    • The Flavians
      • Suetonius
        • Titus
          • Displayed huge generostiy
            • 5000 animals were slaughtered at the Colosseum
          • Never let a petitioner leave without some hope that his request would be favourably considered
            • Titus is showing great practical skills here in ensuring that people leave with a sense that they are getting somewhere
              • "Titus maintained that no-one ought to go away disappointed after an audience with the Emperor"
        • Vespasian
          • Rebuilt Rome after the civil wars of 68/69 AD
          • Built Colosseum. A pet project of Augustus built on the Domus Aurea
          • Ensured that the working class had enough money by hiring them to do engineering or building work over private engineers or builders
          • Had a "Pleb-like humour"
            • Suetonius showing him to be a "Man of the People"
        • Domitian
          • He too put on lavish games BUT Suetonius adds some grotesque details to blacken Domitian's image
          • Thrice he distributed three gold pieces a head, measly compared to Nero's 40.
            • He like Gaius scattered gifts and also gave out large hampers of food but smaller ones for the Plebs
          • Built the stadium on the Campus Martius, a new Forum and a artificial lake
          • Cancels the grain distributiom
            • Suetonius goes into no detail about this, other than that it occurred.
    • Tiberius
      • Suetonius
        • Crushed city riots "without mercy"
        • Hardly ever attended public shows put on by others.
          • He hardly put on any himslef
        • "Tiberius showed large scale generosity no more than twice
      • Tacitus
        • Rebuilding of the Caelian won him praise because his building projects were so rare
    • Augustus
      • Suetonius
        • Very generous toward the people
          • Amount of largesse varied. "Sometimes it was four gold pieces a head, sometimes three, sometimes two and half.
        • Gave them free grain not to win popularity but because he had their welfare in mind.
        • Was careful not to give into the demands of the plebs.
          • He expelled every "useless mouth" from the city to cope with public distress
        • Postulated the idea of stopping the grain supply to the city because it had a negative impact on Italian farming
          • Decided not to do this as he knew a politician would champion its return to gain popular support
            • He understood all to well the relationship between then Emperor and the Plebs
        • Lavish games
          • He watched games intently, even if he arrived late.
          • He took a "friendly interest" in all sorts of professional entertainers
        • Would offer a prize of ten gold pieces for every legitimate son or daughter a citizen could produce
        • He would vote in his tribe to show he was still a man of the people
      • Res Gestae
        • Tells of of the insane amount of money Augustus gave to the plebs
    • Gaius (Caligula)
      • Suetonius
        • Initially very popular with the people.
        • Twice presented every member of the Plebs with three gold pieces
        • Staged many gladiatorial shows.
          • Scattered vouchers amongst the audience which entitled them to  all sorts of gifts over and above the basket of food which was everyone's due
        • However, when he went mad "He behaved just as violently and just as arrogantly towards the other orders of society
          • "More than once he closed down the granaries and let the people go hungry"
            • His generosity towards the people was just political expediency, not concern for their welfare
    • Nero
      • Suetonius
        • He lowered some of the heavier taxes, abolished others and reduced the penalty for evasion of the Lex Papia-Poppaea by 75%
        • He presented the Plebs with 40 pieces of gold a head
        • "Gave an immense variety of entertainment"
          • All kinds of gifts were scattered to the people
        • Introduced sumptuary laws limiting private expense
        • Argues that Nero started the fire of Rome (64 AD) for monetary purposes.
          • Nero offers to pay for the removal of bodies and rubble but then sets about collecting any loot he can lay his hands on.
        • "He aggravated popular resentment by profiteering in grain, which was priced too high"
      • Tacitus
        • Fairer view of Nero during fire.
          • Credits Nero with rebuilding housing and with introducing some very sensible fire-fighting regulations.
            • He reintroduced the height limit set by Augustus, making sure fire-resistant materials were used in construction, that fire extinguishers were present in any building over a certain height and be equipped with fire-fighting platforms.

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