Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Policing the Roman Empire$

Christopher Fuhrmann

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199737840

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199737840.001.0001

“To squelch the discord of the rabble”: Military Policing in Rome and Italy under Augustus's Successors

(p.122) (p.123) 5 “To squelch the discord of the rabble”: Military Policing in Rome and Italy under Augustus's Successors
Policing the Roman Empire

Christopher J. Fuhrmann

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Augustus’ formative influence shaped his successors’ approach to public order in Rome and Italy. Starting with his immediate successor Tiberius, the emperors continued expanding military policing in Italy, used soldiers against bandits as well as political enemies, and reacted to disorders in various towns. Rome's military security complement (vigiles, urban cohorts, praetorians, and others), meanwhile, swelled to over 20,000 by the early third century. Soldier-police in Rome administered spectacles, protected the emperor, monitored the populace (sometimes acting as domestic spies), and guarded against ordinary criminality. Praetorian Prefects became increasingly important adjutants in law, security, and administration of public order.

Keywords:   Rome, Italy, Tiberius, Roman emperors, vigiles, urban cohorts, praetorian guard, Praetorian Prefects

IT TOOK AUGUSTUS more than fifty years to remold his reputation, from warlord to symbol of domestic peace and stability. The success of his efforts can be measured by his successor's desire to associate himself with Augustus's perceived achievements.1 Tiberius's subordinates played along. In fact, obedience to Tiberius was linked to the honor owed to Augustus, to such an extent that an offense against one registered as a slight to the other. Note, for example, the recently discovered senatorial decree condemning the memory of Gnaeus Piso, who was not only accused of directly violating the cult of divus Augustus but was also charged with trying “to stir up civil war, all the evils of which have long since been banished by the divine guidance of the deified Augustus and by the virtues of Tiberius Caesar Augustus.”2

The police apparatus that Augustus established in Rome helped Tiberius secure his rule. In Tacitus's account of the transfer of power, soldiers keenly guarded the ailing Augustus and his wife as they waited for Tiberius to arrive. As soon as Augustus died, an officer was specially instructed to kill Augustus's exiled grandson, Tiberius's potential rival. Tiberius quickly made sure that he had the loyalty of the soldiers, above all the praetorians; he (p.124) communicated his grasp on power by appearing everywhere with a military guard. Tiberius paid out three hundred sesterces to each ordinary soldier in accordance with Augustus's will, five hundred to the soldiers of the urban cohorts. Praetorians received a thousand.3

Despite these efforts, Tiberius's accession was not entirely smooth. Knowing the vicissitudes of power and the potential challenges facing him, he compared ruling the empire to holding a wolf by its ears (Suet. Tib. 25.1). For good reasons: The legions in Germany and Pannonia mutinied for better conditions, and theater factions starkly divided the populace of Rome. In AD 15, a number of soldiers, including a centurion, died in a fracas in the theater, “while trying to prevent insults against the magistrates and to squelch the discord of the rabble.”4 (Although service in the city was more commodious than marching around a frost-bitten frontier, it could still be challenging and risky.) Throughout his reign, Tiberius continued to rely on military police in Rome and Italy. Suetonius claimed that “above all he was concerned to keep the peace from street violence, banditry, and lawless dissension …. He took zealous precautions lest popular uprisings arise, and severely repressed them once they started.”5

Early Emperors’ Use of Soldiers as Police in Rome and Italy

Soldiers helped impose order in the capital under Tiberius's successors, but we know little about the actual day-to-day policing routines of the various soldiers stationed in Rome. Part of the problem is that writers such as Tacitus rarely differentiated among praetorians, soldiers of the urban cohorts, and other military men, preferring the catch-all word for soldiers, milites.6 It is clear, however, that they arrested would-be political opponents and could be called out for a show of force when needed, as in the aftermath of the Varian disaster and the Pisonian conspiracy in Nero's reign. After Nero learned of (p.125) this plot in 65, he “became increasingly afraid and protected himself with a bolstered guard. Indeed, with the buildings occupied by soldiers and the sea and river likewise besieged, it was as if he had arrested the whole city, for there were infantry and cavalrymen hovering over the public squares, private homes—even the countryside and territories of neighboring towns.”7 Having used his soldier-police to liquidate whomever he wished to be out of the way, Nero rewarded them handsomely.8

Augustus's successors also used praetorians for these sorts of elimination missions outside of the capital in Italy. Claudius's wife, Messalina, for example, seems to have persuaded him to get rid of Valerius Asiaticus, a former consul. Claudius sent out the praetorian prefect Rufrius Crispinus “with enough troops to put down a rebellion” to hunt down their victim, whom they found and arrested at Baiae near Puteoli.9 This ugly business of destroying personal enemies highlights the praetorians’ main purpose of safeguarding the emperor and his family. It behooved them to advance the emperor's interests, no matter how heinous. The emperor did not pay the praetorians hundreds of thousands of sesterces in salary and bonuses to chase cat burglars and muggers, making the streets safe for the ordinary citizen. That said, the new military police gave the regime greater stability, and the vigiles at least were manifestly concerned with making life in the city safer.

Emperors used military units as a disciplinary reaction force to impose order and inflict exemplary punishment on problematic Italian communities. After a scandalous incident in Pollentia, Tiberius sent “a cohort from the city” (p.126) and another from the Alpine client kingdom of Cottius against the Pollentians. The soldiers surrounded the city, infiltrated it from all sides, and imprisoned most of its people and leaders (decurions) for life.10 After a small naval crew detected an incipient slave revolt in southern Italy in AD 24, the same emperor hastily dispatched a strong force commanded by a praetorian tribune (Tac. Ann. 4.27). Later, under Nero in 58, a praetorian cohort was stationed in Puteoli to establish order there amid violent riots and charges of official corruption, instilling fear through the “punishment of a few.”11 Military police were a key tool the emperors used to encourage a stable atmosphere in Italy as well as in Rome.

They had other forces at their disposal for sensitive missions besides praetorians. Most notoriously, a naval commander loyally served Nero by assassinating his mother, Agrippina the Younger. Tacitus imagined that the dynastically minded praetorians would be unwilling to cooperate in killing Germanicus's daughter.12 Often, we cannot be sure if certain military agents were praetorians or some other kind of soldier. Otho, for example, dispatched a reservist (evocatus) to kill Galba's former praetorian prefect.13 Emperors would use whatever trustworthy soldiers were at their disposal for such grim tasks.

(p.127) More mundane duties in Rome included policing the audience of games and entertainments, which could become rowdy. One might assume that gladiator shows, with their inherent violence, sparked the most disturbances among fans in Rome. In fact, theatrical mime competitions were much more problematic, as were chariot races, especially in later years. In both cases, crazed fans of certain performers formed theater claques or circus factions that would occasionally brawl.14 It is notable that even though Nero tried to curry popularity by removing military guards from the shows, he eventually reinstalled them.15 Unstable principes who were themselves overinvolved devotees of particular spectacle competitors, such as Caligula, Nero (naturally), Vitellius, Domitian, Commodus, and Caracalla, supposedly used their guards to threaten and even execute spectators who did not seem to support the “right” side.16

There were many occasions on which the security reforms instituted by Augustus backfired for his successors. Instead of providing stability, the Rome-based military units sometimes created problems themselves or did not respond to threats against their emperor. Amid various emergencies, the vigiles almost never interceded on behalf of their paymaster. One exception was in 31, when Tiberius used the vigiles as agents of Sejanus's downfall; this act amounted to pitting one type of Roman police against another, the night watchmen against the praetorians—much to the latter's chagrin, since they were still loyal to their prefect Sejanus.17 According to Dio, in the great fire of (p.128) 64, the soldiers in Rome, eager for more plunder, actually started new fires, and even the vigiles were guilty of this treachery.18 Most notorious was the praetorian guard's interference with imperial succession, reaching a low point with the greedy “auctioning of the empire” that brought Didius Julianus to power in 193.19 After Septimius Severus marched on Italy to oust the highest bidder, he completely replaced the disgraced guard with legionaries who had supported him.20 The praetorians’ ability to interfere politically came to an end in 312, when Constantine dissolved the praetorian guard upon taking Rome from his rival Maxentius.

Despite this shaky legacy, Augustus's successors maintained and even bolstered the military police stationed in the capital during the principate. Continuing disorder in Rome made this necessary. Especially when there was a food shortage, the urban populace might physically assault the emperor himself. This seems to have happened to both Claudius and Antoninus Pius.21 So various emperors revived semimercenary personal bodyguards similar to the Germani corporis custodes. After Galba disbanded the original German bodyguards, emperors may have relied more on their speculatores as special military guards (chapter 4 above).22 Later, Trajan, or possibly one of the Flavians, created a special horse guard, the equites singulares Augusti. When Septimius Severus came to power, he doubled their number to two thousand. They were drawn mostly from the German and Danubian provinces (Raetia, Noricum, Pannonia). The equites singulares Augusti were apparently so similar to the Julio-Claudians’ earlier German bodyguards that (p.129) they shared the same nickname: Batavi.23 As a full-fledged cavalry unit, they were naturally of more use outside of the city, which was just as well, since many later emperors spent more time campaigning and less time amusing themselves in Rome. Of course, we are not to imagine these equites always atop their horses when doing guard duty in Rome. We know, for example, that they served as foot guards in the emperor's palace.24

It was not until Tiberius's reign that the praetorian guards were stationed together in Rome itself, based from a permanent, unified camp.25 The number of praetorians fluctuated in the first century, until Domitian fixed the number of praetorian cohorts at ten, and at this point, we can be certain that they were each one thousand strong. It was also in Flavian times that the urban cohorts in Rome underwent a significant expansion, growing to four cohorts of one thousand each. By 205, there were 7840 vigiles serving in Rome, with detachments in Ostia and Puteoli also. It was Claudius who “stationed individual cohorts [of vigiles] at Puteoli and Ostia to prevent outbreaks of fire,” a measure that was likely related to his concern over the capital's grain supply.26 In fact, marines (classiarii) regularly patrolled the roads from Ostia and Puteoli to Rome.27 The Roman navy had major fleets based at Misenum (near Naples) and at Ravenna; not only did they police Italy's coasts, but each of these fleets also had a detachment permanently stationed in Rome. There they helped administer bloody spectacles—mainly by manning the massive awnings (vela, literally “sails”) to shade the crowd, but (p.130) Commodus once supposedly called on them to punish spectators. They also may have served as harbor police.28

Notionally, this amounts to more than 23,840 military police in Rome, not counting seamen or frumentarii (chapter 6 below). We remarked in chapter 4 that Augustan Rome's 1:100 police-to-civilian ratio compares very favorably with the police presence in most modern urban environments. It more than doubled in strength by the early third century, and there was now roughly one military policeman for every forty-two residents of Rome. Another way to express this extraordinary level of coverage is that any male randomly chosen off the street would have a 1-in-21 chance of being a soldier.29

Septimius Severus and the Bandit King Bulla

Septimius Severus's triumphal entry into Rome in 193 marked a change in the ethos of military policing in both Rome and Italy. The new praetorian guard he installed was no longer of the traditional “pure Roman stock” (that is, drawn from Italy and historic Roman provincial communities), although he may have compensated for this change by increasing the number of vigiles and urban cohorts drawn from local recruits.30 Thereby he also tightened his grip on the capital. In one case, he even called on civilians to help his soldiers police the capital. In a letter addressed to the board of fifteen men preparing for the Secular Games of 204, he and his sons “instruct[ed] urban property-owning civilians and renters to ensure with diligence the safety of the city districts, along with our soldiers on patrol, during these (p.131) nocturnal festivities.”31 While the vigiles were not fully military in nature at their conception, they were clearly considered soldiers by the early third century.32

The legal enumeration of the urban prefect's duties, as we have it in Justinian's Digesta, reflects an increase in that official's policing capacity, the growth of which may have been largely thanks to Septimius Severus himself. Indeed, citing a letter of Severus, Ulpian noted that “the prefecture of the city has arrogated to itself all criminal cases whatsoever, and not only those which are committed within the city, but also those which are committed beyond the city in Italy.”33 Ulpian also charged this official with keeping order at the shows and to use the soldiers of the four urban cohorts under his command to do so: “And indeed he should also have posted soldiers (stationarii) placed in different places to protect the peace of the commoners’ seats (popularia) and to report to him what is happening and where.”34 Thus, in Severan times, the urban prefect had absorbed much of the public-order maintenance and legal jurisdiction traditionally associated with the praetors, aediles, and other traditional republican magistracies.35

By this point, the competence of the prefect of the vigiles had likewise crossed into criminal jurisdiction, but he could only hear cases over petty thefts, burglaries, and robberies; serious cases (such as intentional and malicious (p.132) arson) were to be remitted to the superior urban prefect. Both could order summary punishments, such as flogging, for misdemeanors (Ulp. Dig. 1.15.4). In fact, as real imperial power in later centuries moved to other centers, leaving the urbs Roma with only symbolic importance, the urban prefecture evolved into a sort of de facto mayor cum chief of police over the still-large and sometimes unruly population of Rome. All three military police branches (praetorians, urban cohorts, vigiles) were disbanded in the fourth century, making it difficult for the urban prefect to keep order in late antiquity. In a letter to Theodosius, Bishop Ambrose asked: “Do you not remember, emperor, how many homes of the prefects at Rome were torched, and no one avenged them?”36

The disorders of AD 193 in Rome also highlight the growing political importance of the urban prefect. Unlike the praetorian prefect and the prefect of the vigiles, both equestrian posts, the praefectus urbi was a consular-level senatorial appointee and thus a potential princeps. Holding this post and its command of the urban cohorts gave Pertinax leverage in his ascent to the throne after Commodus's death. Didius Julianus's rival bidder, Sulpicianus, was also the urban prefect. Thus, later emperors were keen to ensure the loyalty of the man holding this office; Didius Julianus, in fact, installed his own son-in-law.37 Tacitus famously remarked that Nero's fall and the ensuing usurpations in AD 68–69 “revealed the secret of empire, that an emperor could be made elsewhere than at Rome.”38 Later emperors, however, likewise realized that despite the political and military changes since the early principate, an emperor still might be made in Rome.

Accordingly, safeguarding the loyalty of Rome, in an era when the emperor was often absent on campaign, was one motive that prompted Septimius Severus to break with custom and station a legion, the II Parthica, in Italy itself. It was posted at castra Albana, just thirteen miles southeast of Rome. As under previous emperors, some soldiers from the praetorian guard and urban cohorts continued to be detached from their units in the city and outposted as stationarii in Italy and the provinces;39 but now the emperors and (p.133) their administrators had another large body of troops to draw from for nearby policing tasks and for ensuring their authority in the capital. This sort of change also reveals a growing decline in Italy's status. Initially, Italy was differentiated from the provinces by special treatment and institutional arrangements: it had no governor, its inhabitants were free from many taxes and liturgies, and there was normally no military draft. As the third century played out, though, Italy lost these benefits and indeed became just another group of provinces in Diocletian's reorganization at century's end.40

The usurpations of 193, the reign of Severus, and the problematic succession of emperors of his dynasty all reveal that the state had become thoroughly militarized. To be sure, military prowess was a fundamental Roman virtue, and any perspicacious observer knew that Augustus's power ultimately rested on the soldiers. But imperial militarism was made palatable by the traditional Republican façade of the principate, and Suetonius noted that Augustus, “after the civil wars, never called his men ‘comrades’ either in assemblies or edicts, but ‘soldiers.’”41 Such pretenses grew ever thinner throughout the second century, as principes often called their men commilitones (“fellow soldiers”).42 When friends of the rhetorician Favorinus criticized him for bogusly conceding a trivial academic point to Hadrian, he retorted that a man who commands thirty legions may safely be considered the most learned of all.43 Civilians still appreciated gestures of republican modesty, even in the late fourth century, when generals such as Stilicho acted as the effective head of the empire.44

But the reality under Severus and his successors was unmistakable: a legion was stationed in Italy, and Rome was swarming with more than twenty thousand military police. In more stable times, this military presence did not seem to cause widespread disruption for civilian life in Rome and Italy (as did the military irregularity amid the disorders of A.D. 68–69), although Juvenal colorfully illustrated the unpleasantness of individual encounters with (p.134) soldiers, even under the “Good Emperors” of the second century.45 But the third century brought real military changes in Rome, Italy, and beyond. We will see that wandering soldiers caused disturbances in the provinces. Amid growing third-century military and political instability, commanders desperately sought to buy their soldiers’ loyalty, economically squeezing the provinces more harshly than at any time since the late Republic.

Traditionalists were not pleased. As a witness to Septimius Severus's entry into Rome, Cassius Dio offered this reaction:

And he did many things not to our liking, and he was blamed for making the city turbulent through the presence of so many soldiers and by burdening the state by his excessive expenditures of money, and most of all, for placing his hope of safety not in the good will of his associates [in government], but in the strength of his army. Some found fault with him most of all because he abolished the practice of drawing his praetorian guardsmen exclusively from Italy, Spain, Macedonia and Noricum, whereby men of more respectable appearance and milder habits were selected, but instead ordered that any vacancies should be filled from all legions alike. Now he did this with the idea that that he should thus have guards with a better knowledge of the soldier's duties, and should also be offering a prize to those who proved brave in war; but in fact it became only too apparent that he had incidentally ruined the youth of Italy, who turned to brigandage and gladiatorial fighting in place of their former service in the military, at the same time filling the city with a throng of motley soldiers most savage to behold, most terrifying to hear, and most boorish to converse with.46

Considering Dio's status as an elite Greek senator, we cannot necessarily put too much stock in his appraisal of the soldiery; as a moralizing historian in the traditional literary genre, Dio in his views on banditry is not necessarily trustworthy. It is significant, however, that he put soldiers and bandits on the same continuum (chapter 8 below).

Dio's most notable theme on banditry is his discussion of the bandit chief Bulla Felix, who pestered Italy itself circa 206–7. Recent research in ancient (p.135) banditry has shown that most brigandage was not on the “social bandit” model of Robin Hood and his merry band of rogues but instead was normally carried out on a small scale by ordinary people who occasionally engaged in criminal misbehavior.47 Across the board, brigandage seems to have been on the rise in the third century, including some examples that seem to fit the Robin Hood model of a charismatic bandit chief, evading and undermining state authority. In the account found in the epitome of Dio's history, the wily Bulla led six hundred men on acts of limited theft and kidnapping, moderated by a sort of justice toward ordinary people. He cleverly evaded the forces Severus sent against him, largely by imitating forms of legitimate Roman authority. Having outmaneuvered a centurion in charge of his pursuit, Bulla was next countered by a large cavalry force under a praetorian tribune, whom the outraged Severus motivated with dire threats should he fail. In the end, the tribune only succeeded with the help of a man whose wife Bulla had bedded.48

The whole story of Bulla is rightly seen as a meditation on the nature of power, with the tenuous and revealing interaction between forces legitimate and illegitimate, so called. When Bulla appeared before Severus's right-hand man, the praetorian prefect Papinian, the latter supposedly asked him, “Why are you a brigand?” To which Bulla replied, “Why are you a prefect?”49 This exchange is suspiciously polished, as is the whole Bulla story, thus raising doubts about the veracity of the episode. Bulla and other robbers extraordinaires may be more literary construction than fact. Perhaps Dio took Bulla as a catch-all type, representing all bandits who challenged the imperial order and this controversial emperor in particular.50 Following the old rhetoric of imperial peace and stability, Septimius Severus reportedly bolstered his own legitimacy by seeking to be known as “an enemy to bandits everywhere.”51

(p.136) In their actual opposition to bandits, we must note that imperial administrators relied heavily on Roman soldiers. As noted in chapter 3 above, there were elements of civilian policing in Italy, but our sources do not detail civilian police operations in Italy during the second and third centuries. In this era of the late principate, soldiers were increasingly dispatched to counter security problems in Italy and beyond, a process that started in the earliest years of the empire, as we have observed. For instance, in the later third century, the emperor Probus dispatched a force of soldiers to crush a band of runaway gladiators and the followers they collected amid their plundering.52 As brigandage was markedly increasing in third-century Italy, emperors commissioned special commanders (praepositi) to lead military forces to resecure parts of central and southern Italy. The town of Canusium (modern Canosa) celebrated a local equestrian's service as praepositus “on account of his exceptional work in guarding the security of the region at the behest of the people.”53 The service of a local leader in the Canusium case is atypical, because in the other five known instances of this sort of position, elite outsiders were appointed for this security task, including two primipilares centurions, an equestrian with ample high-level administrative experience, and a senator who attained the consulship.54 The inscription that most clearly specifies the nature of this military command mentions a “praetorian agent, deputized against banditry, with soldiers” at his disposal, including a twenty-man detachment of marines from the Ravenna fleet, and his own praetorian cohort.55 Although the other five inscriptions do not specify, most of the soldiers posted to antibandit praepositi were probably praetorians, as we have seen them often used in policing missions in Italy; but units from the navy, urban cohorts, or regular legions were also possible. (p.137) It is clear that when security challenges exceeded the competency of civilian officials and their limited policing capacity, higher officials looked to employ soldiers as police. We will further see that this increasing militarization of policing was a very mixed blessing. By the third century, the strong sway of the soldiers in policing and other matters of state is clear, reflected in Septimius Severus's alleged deathbed advice to his sons: “Enrich the soldiers, but disdain all the rest.”56

The Bulla episode and the six Italian praepositi inscriptions illustrate two further facets of imperial policing in Italy: the growing policing power of the praetorian prefect and the use of centurions as special agents.57 Naturally, command over the emperor's elite guard brought the praetorian prefects influence, and the prefects of the early empire arrested and interrogated suspected enemies of the state.58 Characters such as Sejanus and Nymphidius Sabinus are early examples of power-mongering prefects in Rome, and Macro was clearly the power behind the throne early in Gaius Caligula's reign. Early emperors also used their praetorian prefects to process arrested individuals from the provinces: in 92, Casperius Aelianus supposedly arrested and interrogated Apollonius of Tyana, and Trajan later asked Pliny to send a man to his praetorian prefects in chains (vinctus) because he was found in Bithynia despite a previous sentence of banishment from the province.59 The apostle Paul may have also been handed over to the prefect after his arrival in Rome, where he was guarded by a soldier.60

(p.138) While Seneca mentions the prefect Burrus working with Nero in the punishment of two bandits (Clem. 2.1.2), it was in later centuries that the praetorian prefects’ administrative, judicial, and military roles had grown to such an extent that they essentially became assistant emperors. The Saepinum inscription (chapter 2 above), from early in Marcus Aurelius's reign, offers the first hard evidence for the prefects’ independent and ample police authority in Italy (where, again, there was no provincial governor). It preserves shepherds’ complaints of mistreatment at the hands of local officials and stationarii and a menacing letter from the praetorian prefects to the magistrates of Saepinum, urging that abuses be stopped, especially since some of the affected flocks belonged to the emperor.61

Tigidius Perennis can be seen as a prefect of a new, ambitious stamp. Having orchestrated the downfall of his colleague Taruttienus Paternus in 180, Perennis held the office under Commodus until 185. The aloof emperor left him to his own devices, and accordingly, Perennis became heavily involved in administrative and legal matters, asserting his authority even in the face of senators. It was only when he encroached too far into military matters that Commodus got rid of him.62 The power of Septimius Severus's ambitious praetorian prefect Plautianus is said to have rivaled—even surpassed—the emperor's. (Plautianus's military entourage included domestic spies and centurions for special missions, as when he sent some to the eastern frontier to steal zebras.)63 It was his successor, Papinian, who supposedly presided at Bulla's trial and condemned him to the beasts.64 By the 290s, the jurist Arcadius Charisius wrote that “the authority of the prefects has deservedly grown, to such an extent that there can be no legal appeal from the praetorian prefects …. For the emperors trusted that they, who are summoned to the splendor of this duty on account of their singular initiative and by their verified faith and earnestness, would not render judgment differently than he himself would render judgment.”65

(p.139) In the Presence of the Emperor

Emperors and their subjects feared each other. Domitian used to complain that no one believed that a conspiracy against an emperor had really been discovered unless it succeeded in killing him.66 The conspiracy against Domitian succeeded because he was betrayed by his own chamberlains. The trustworthiness of personal servants was essential. Emperors were vulnerable to the disloyalty of their doormen, who carefully controlled entry to their bedchamber. In public settings, emperors varied in their attitudes toward searching callers for weapons. Claudius, for example, was a proponent of the practice; Vespasian dispensed with it, despite the tension of the civil war that brought him to power. There were situations in which emperors could not be surrounded by a throng of military guards. Meetings of the senate could be especially problematic, where emperors had to strike a balance between civility and personal safety.67

Ordinarily, though, armed guards accompanied the emperor wherever he went, and people were well aware that the emperor had the effective power of life and death over anyone in his presence. By the Severan age, when the principate's republican façade had faded, this element of the imperial entourage might intimidate even the most nonthreatening innocents. Such was the case with the orator Heracleides of Lycia, who apparently broke down in the middle of an extemporaneous speech “fearing the emperor's guard.”68 Many later emperors spent little time in Italy, but the cruelty of earlier emperors who resided there remained long in the popular memory. Suetonius related an anecdote in which Caligula blackly joked to the consuls that he could have both of their throats cut by merely nodding his head.69 It is no wonder that Seneca took pains to advise young Nero to limit strictly his power to inflict violence—a (p.140) power that, the philosopher acknowledged, was limited by little else than the ruler's temperance.70 (Of course, Seneca would eventually fall victim to his former pupil's wrath.) While most second-century emperors cultivated an air of tolerance, restraint, and clemency worthy of Seneca, one never knew when a Hadrian or a Marcus Aurelius might suddenly degenerate into a Caligula or a Nero.

In fact, the emergence of imperial autocracy gave rise to a vibrant literary topos in second- and third-century literature: audacious denunciations of emperors on the part of heroic men who would rather die than live dishonestly under tyranny. This appealing “speaking truth to power” theme has deep roots in Stoic and Cynic philosophy, which would eventually be paralleled in some facets of Christian martyrology. Examples include Tacitus's guarded admiration of Helvidius Priscus and other senators of the “Stoic opposition” or Plutarch's account of the interaction between Alexander the Great and Diogenes the Cynic.71 Herodes Atticus vehemently berated Marcus Aurelius so much that the praetorian prefect Bassaeus Rufus remarked on his apparent desire for execution. But, as Alexander did before him, the virtuous philosopher-emperor chose not to play the tyrant.72 In other accounts, though, the emperor ordered summary execution for provincials who insulted him during trials or hearings.73

The most striking specimen of the genre is the series of semiliterary papyrological fragments known as the Acta Alexandrinorum (“Acts of the Alexandrians,” or, much less correctly, “Acts of the Pagan Martyrs,” by analogy to Christian acta).74 These texts preserve bits of polished narrative and dialogue between (p.141) haughty members of Alexandria's Greek elite and various Roman emperors from Caligula to Commodus. Pointedly anti-Roman, virulently anti-Semitic, and scornful toward native Egyptians, the Acta Alexandrinorum are written from a Greek perspective and represent the triple ethnic division that so troubled the empire's second-largest city. These Alexandrian patriots are depicted bravely facing death so that they can defiantly look Claudius in the eye and call him “a reject son of the Jewess Salomê” and then (against the princeps’ explicit warning) mock his friend Herod Agrippa as “a two-bit Jew.” A most arresting exchange occurs between an Alexandrian gymnasiarch and Commodus, in which the former charges the latter with “tyranny, ignorance of the good, and lack of education,” dismissing Commodus as a “bandit chief” as he is led off to execution.75

This is stirring stuff, no doubt, and the earliest editors assumed that the Acta Alexandrinorum were official documents. Some of the Alexandrian characters can be identified with individuals in other historical records; but later scholars, noting novelistic and rhetorical elements in the Acta, have formed a consensus that the texts derive from expansions of real events, drawn from embassy reports or oral accounts from witnesses. Even this limited assessment probably overestimates the Acta Alexandrinorum's historicity.76 In any (p.142) case, the very circulation of such material is striking.77 And especially if they are fictitious, the Acta Alexandrinorum reveal a vivid provincial perception of what it was like to appear before the chief representative of a resented hegemony, in which the courageous speakers of truth to power were dragged off to the executioner. In a key passage, Gaius Caligula apparently ordered one disputant to be burned alive.78

Conclusion: Monitoring the Populace

A major irony in the Acta Alexandrinorum is the Greeks’ perception that the emperors were biased in favor of Jews. While there are certainly many instances of cooperation between Roman officials and particular Jewish leaders, Jews were often on the receiving end of Roman hostility.79 Indeed, a common way in which the emperors monitored and policed Rome was by expelling or repressing scorned groups such as Jews, Christians, certain philosophers, astrologers, and soothsayers.80

Emperors targeted these groups for varied reasons. They feared people asking astrologers about their own deaths, potentially destabilizing their rule. (p.143) Philosophers were notoriously outspoken. Jews and Christians were simply marginal and unpopular. Traditionally minded Romans had an almost eugenic disdain for the former slaves, strange easterners, and charlatans whom they saw infiltrating the populace. But ordering these people to leave Rome or Italy was mostly about public posturing on the part of the princeps; there were no door-to-door searches. Tacitus described one expulsion of astrologers from Italy as atrox et inritum—severely worded but empty and wholly ineffectual. In another work, Tacitus wrote that astrologers were “a class of men who were faithless to the powerful and treacherous to those hoping for power; in our city they will always be banned but always retained.”81

Emperors did use troops to monitor Rome's inhabitants. We have noted above soldiers posted at the games and vigiles patrolling to catch arsonists and burglars. They could also target individuals and perhaps even root out dissent. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus mentioned that “in this fashion the rash are ensnared by the soldiers in Rome. A soldier, dressed like a civilian, sits down by your side and begins to speak ill of Caesar, and then you, too, just as though you have received from him some guarantee of good faith in the fact that he began the abuse, tell likewise everything you think, and the next thing is—you are led off to prison in chains.”82 I know of no other evidence for soldiers in Rome acting as agents provocateurs, laying this sort of random trap in Rome. In AD 89, Domitian expelled philosophers, including Epictetus; if this anecdote has any truth to it, perhaps it reflects the particularly autocratic aspects of Domitian's reign. Much depended on the temperament of the princeps. Cassius Dio complained that the emperor Caracalla “was informed of everything from everywhere, even the most insignificant things; and he accordingly ordered that the soldiers who kept their ears and eyes open for these details should not be punished by anyone but himself. Nothing good came of this order, but rather another set of tyrants to terrorize us—even these soldiers.”83

(p.144) Even well-regarded emperors employed soldier-police to gather damaging information from unsuspecting people. Hadrian's biographer found fault with the emperor for using frumentarii soldiers (chapter 6 below) to snoop into not only the affairs of his own household but even the private lives of his friends.84 (Unlike the soldiers in Epictetus's anecdote above, these soldiers’ invasions of privacy and violations of trust are carefully targeted.) Many emperors were more eager than Hadrian to control citizens through fear; Suetonius claimed that Caligula often repeated the proto-Machiavellian dictum, Oderint, dum metuant: “Let them hate me, so long as they fear me.”85 At times, emperors would inflict fear and threats not only in Rome but in any province of the empire; we will now see that the emperor's ability (and inclination) to use soldier-police to enforce public order and imperial control extended outside of Rome.

Before turning to the provinces, let us briefly review and evaluate the situation in Rome and Italy under the emperors. The former had an enormous contingent of military police, which often operated outside the city in Italy. These troops protected the emperor and his family, and the praetorian guard in particular often performed the unpleasant task of liquidating the emperor's rivals and personal enemies. Vigiles, urban cohorts, and other institutions made the streets safer, safeguarded grain delivery, and helped make mass entertainments possible. Surrounded by strong deputies, emperors could kill whomever they wanted.

All that said, the growth of policing and security personnel in Rome and Italy created new problems, not least of which was the fact that many emperors died at the hands of their own guards. Cassius Dio described praetorians and other soldiers he witnessed in the late 220s as a surly lot—menacing, disobedient, and murderous. At one point, praetorians and civilians became embroiled in a bloody three-day battle; the soldiers could only get the upper hand by starting fires in the city. Later, they killed their prefect, the jurist Ulpian, even though he had taken refuge in the palace with the emperor Alexander Severus and his mother (who themselves were later murdered by recalcitrant soldiers, as were most third-century rulers).86 Edicts of expulsion and thousands of soldier-police were no panacea for imperial disorder, if there was a collapse of consensus and social order. That is essentially what happened (p.145) again in the year 238: an unpopular emperor (Maximin Thrax), provincial officials, provincial armies, senators, urban plebs, and praetorians variously aligned against one another, and five emperors died in five months. Civilians in northern Italy apparently starved Maximin's army into submission. In Rome, there was chaos, as civilians and gladiators battled praetorian guardsmen, dropping roof tiles from above and ultimately besieging their well-fortified camp. It seems that the praetorians surrendered only after the civilians successfully cut their water supply.87

Policing, in itself, was not enough.


(1.) See, e.g., Tac. Ann. 1.77. Lyasse, Le Principat, appreciates the individual complexities of this emulation for each of Augustus's first-century successors. Cf. de Blois, The Policy of the Emperor Gallienus, 120–49; Cooley, “Septimius Severus”; and Barnes, “Aspects of the Severan Empire.”

(2.) On Piso's supposed violations of Augustus's religious rites, see SC de Pisone 68–70. Quoted are lines 45–47: bellum etiam civile excitare conatus sit, iam pridem numine Divi Aug(usti) virtutibusq(ue) Ti. Caesaris Aug(usti) omnibus civilis belli sepultis malis. Gnaeus Piso the Elder was accused of murdering Germanicus and challenging imperial authority early in Tiberius's reign (AD 20). This text was first published in 1996 by Eck et al. in Das Senatus consultum; also see the 1999 special issue of the American Journal of Philology, vol. 120, no. 1; Rowe, Princes; and Flower, The Art of Forgetting, 132–38. For other links between loyalty to Tiberius and devotion to Augustus's memory, see Tac. Ann. 3.66 and the opening of the Pisidian inscription (JRS 66, 107–9) in Mitchell, “Requisitioned Transport” (discussed further below).

(3.) Tac. Ann. 1.5–8; Suet. Aug. 101.2, Tib. 22–24.

(4.) Tac. Ann. 1.77 (cf. 1.16, 1.54, Suet. Tib. 25). A praetorian tribune was injured in the same incident. Such lawlessness had started the previous year, the year of Augustus's death, and was getting worse. Upper-class fans were a large part of the problem. This particular outbreak led the senate to enact many measures to curb the insolence of the fans, which Tacitus does not specify, focusing instead on restrictions against the actors. See Dio 57.14.10 and Suet. Tib. 37.2, on the ineffectiveness of these measures, which ultimately led Tiberius to exile the pantomimes (Dio 57.21.3), a step that would be repeated by other emperors.

(5.) Suet. Tib. 37.1–2; cf. Vell. Pat. 2.126.2.

(6.) Nippel, Public Order, 93; Ménard, Maintenir l’ordre, 26–27.

(7.) Suet. Aug. 23.1 (AD 9, see chapter 4 below); Tac. Ann. 15.58 (quoted). One might compare the anxiety around the prosecution of Gnaeus Piso the Elder in AD 20. The S. C. de Pisone patre inscription reveals concern (cast as praise) for the loyalty of the soldiers and mandates the display of the decree in legionary bases (lines 159–72).

(8.) See Tac. Ann. 15.60–72. Two praetorian tribunes saw to the deaths of Lateranus and Seneca, although a centurion of the guard delivered the final death sentence to the latter. (Cf. Juv. 10.17–18: “a whole cohort besieges the fine mansion of the Laterani,” making the point that soldiers rarely storm humble upstairs apartments.) Attendant soldiers actually intervened to avert the suicide of Seneca's wife, Paulina. The double-dealing praetorian prefect Faenius Rufus was seized by a soldier whom Nero kept with him on account of his bodily strength. Subrius Flavus, a tribune of the guard, was executed at the hands of one of his colleagues. Nero sent another guard and cohort into a dinner party of the consul M. Julius Vestinus Atticus; his guests were held under arms well after their host had committed suicide. For their loyalty, Nero gave two thousand sesterces and free grain to each of the soldiers (manipulares; Tacitus is imprecise, but it was probably the praetorians alone who received this donative). Cf. Suet. Calig. 23, Vesp. 5.3, Titus 6, Dom. 8.5.

(9.) Tac. Ann. 11.1 (AD 47): cum militibus tamquam opprimendo bello. Rufrius: PIR 2 7.1.169. Valerius Asiaticus: RE VII A2 106 (coll. 2341–45); he committed suicide back in Rome during his trial (Ann. 11.2–3).

(10.) Suet. Tib. 37.3 A crowd of Pollentians had held the body of a primipilaris centurion hostage, in order to force his family to pay for a gladiatorial show. While this cohort dispatched from the city (cohors ab urbe) was conceivably an urban cohort, the praetorians were most often used for policing missions in Italy. Rivière argues that the punishment, vincula perpetua, could have been a life of hard labor, such as in a stone quarry or other opus (cf. Pliny Ep. 10.31–32): Le cachot, 91–95, 130–33. Also note the punishment of Sena (modern Siena) for outrages committed against the senate: Tac. Hist. 4.45.

(11.) Tac. Ann. 13.48: paucorum supplicio. In Tacitus's account, action was precipitated by opposing delegations to the senate from rival factions in Puteoli; he made no mention of imperial involvement. The senate obviously still had some capacity to hear problems from Italian communities, but Nero or one of his praetorian prefects must have been involved in the punishment and garrisoning of the cohort.

(12.) Tac. Ann. 14.3–8. Anicetus was commander of the fleet at Misenum, an imperial freedman, and Nero's former tutor. He contrived to have Agrippina drown in the wreck of a sabotaged ship. When this complicated plan fell through, he and a few other naval officers killed her the old-fashioned way. A deputy of Tiberius used private agents or soldiers (Tacitus was unsure which) to arrest the false Agrippa Postumus (actually a former slave of Augustus's disowned grandson) in AD 16: Tac. Ann. 2.40.

(13.) Tac. Hist. 1.46; the victim was Cornelius Laco. Evocati were soldiers who had served long enough for discharge but could be drawn back into limited service as a reserve force. The one mentioned here may have been a praetorian or could have even performed the task in hopes of joining the guard, for the disorders of 69 allowed (or compelled) many soldiers to switch the type of service they were enrolled in: Tac. Hist. 2.94.

(14.) Note above, on Tac. Ann. 1.77, the theater brawl in which soldiers and civilians died. See MacMullen, Enemies of the Roman Order, 168–73; Alan Cameron, Circus Factions, esp. 157–97; and Fagan, Lure of the Arena, 148–54.

(15.) On Nero, see Tac. Ann. 13.24 (mentioning a statio cohortis adsidere ludis solita: “the accustomed stationing of a cohort to watch over the games”) and 14.15 (on Burrus and a cohors militum—“cohort of soldiers” and their officers at Nero's theatrical debut); cf. Suet. Nero 26 and Dio 61.8.1–3, which also highlight Nero's own misbehavior. Both praetorians and urban cohorts guarded entertainments (note Dig. below on the cohortes urbanae, and Bingham, “Security at the Games”). With the focus on the praetorian prefect Burrus in Tac. Ann. 14.15, it seems that here, as in Ann. 1.77, the soldiers in question were praetorians.

(16.) Suet. Calig. 30.2, Vit. 14.3, and Dom. 10.1; Tac. Ann. 16.5.3; Pliny Pan. 33.3–4; Dio 73.20–21; Herodian 4.6.4–5. Commodus's biographer claims that he ordered the marines (milites classiarii) who spread the arena's awnings to slaughter the audience, because he thought his adoring spectators were actually mocking him: SHA Comm. 15.6.

(17.) Dio 58.9 and 58.12. Sablayrolles cites this episode as evidence that the vigiles could be quite military in nature: Libertinus miles, 42–43. The urban cohorts and praetorians seemed poised against each other in 41, just after Caligula's assassination: Suet. Claud. 10.3. In the disorders of AD 69, the vigiles and urban cohorts fought for Vespasian's brother, Flavius Sabinus (the urban prefect), against Vitellius's praetorians and German bodyguards: Josephus BJ 4.645; Tac. Hist. 3.64, 3.69–70. Dio (74.9) claimed that Pertinax could have killed a band of two hundred praetorians, who invaded his palace to assassinate him, with “the night guard and cavalrymen” (τῇ … νυκτερινῇ φυλακῇ καὶ τοῖς ἱππεῦσιν), which probably means vigiles and equites singulares Augusti at his disposal. Herodian (1.12.9) claimed that the urban cohorts hated the “cavalrymen” (here, probably the equites singulares Augusti) and protected people against them in a riot under Commodus (see Whittaker, “The Revolt of Papirius,” for background). Also note Sablayrolles, “La rue,” 147.

(18.) Dio 62.17.1: “The soldiers, and among them also the night watchmen (vigiles), looking out for plunder, not only did not put out the fire, but even set new ones.” Cf. Tac. Ann. 15.38.7 and, on the aftermath of Caligula's assassination, Josephus AJ 19.160.

(19.) According to his biographer, Didius Julianus promised each praetorian twenty-five thousand sesterces and actually paid out thirty thousand to each; SHA Did. Jul. 3.2. See also Dio 74.11 (all Cassius Dio references are to the Loeb edition).

(20.) Dio 75.1; Herodian 2.13. Curran gives an excellent sketch of the next several decades: Pagan City, 26–35.

(21.) Suet. Claud. 18.2; Epitome de Caes. 15.9.

(22.) E.g., Tac. Hist. 1.35, where a speculator (chapter 4 above) acts as if he has killed Otho to protect Galba.

(23.) See M. P. Speidel, Die Equites Singulares Augusti and Riding for Caesar, 10–11, 29–76 and passim. Speidel notes that the cohortes praetoriae had their own cavalry units and points out that despite changes in name, emperors always had some sort of mounted soldiers among their guard. He sometimes might go too far in equating general German bodyguards with specialized cavalry, however. Herodian 4.7.3 states that Caracalla selected his personal guard from especially well-built German auxiliaries.

(24.) E.g., Dio 74.9.

(25.) Suet. Tib. 37.1 mentions the establishment of a unified praetorian barracks in the context of Tiberius's efforts against lawlessness. According to Tacitus (Ann. 4.2), this was at the instigation of the prefect Sejanus, in order to increase their power and ability to intimidate. On the Castra Praetoria (located at the northeastern edge of the city) and other camps, see Coulston, “Armed and Belted Men,” esp. 82–86; Lissi Caronna, “Castra praetoria; and Busch, “Militia in urbe” (I have not seen her Militär in Rom).”

(26.) Suet. Claud. 25, cf. 18; on the context, see Osgood, Claudius Caesar, 182–87. Much of the wheat imported from Africa and Egypt entered Italy through these two port cities. Epigraphic evidence for the Ostian detachment (which also came to cover nearby Portus) stretches into the late fourth century. Comparatively little is known of the cohort of vigiles at Puteoli, which may not have remained nearly so long.

(27.) Suet. Vesp. 8.3.

(28.) See Coulston, “Armed and Belted Men,” 78, and Coarelli, Rome and Environs, 171, 337. We do not know the size of these detachments. The Castra Misenatium was near the Colosseum, so the Misenum marines may have been chiefly responsible for its vela. The Ravenna fleet's camp was probably in Trastevere, near the large Naumachia complex where Augustus (RGDA 23) and later emperors staged mock sea battles. They may well have helped put on these shows. We lack explicit evidence of either unit acting as river police in Rome, but the Ravenna camp's probable proximity to the Tiber raises the reasonable possibility that they guarded the bustling depots around the Aventine Hill. Known cases of seamen policing Italy and Rome (discussed in broader context below): Tac. Ann. 4.27; SHA Commodus 15.6; CIL 11.6107 = ILS 509, lines 14–15 (AD 246).

(29.) Of course, these figures rest on many assumptions: accuracy of sources, the presence of the emperor in Rome, population of one million, equal numbers of men and women, and military units at full strength. Military units often operated below full strength, as Goldsworthy points out in The Roman Army at War (passim).

(30.) E. Birley, “Septimius Severus.” For the guard in the later third century, see Potter, The Roman Empire at Bay, 257.

(31.) CIL 6.32327 (p. 3824; cf. ILS 5050a), lines 20–22: admonemus Quirit[es d]ominos urbano[s … et eos quo]que qui mercede habitant in noctib[us feriarum illarum ut una cum mili]tibus nostris circumeuntibus reg[ionum] tutelam [diligenter administrent]. The activity of nocturnal patrolling and care for the safety of Rome's regiones suggests that these milites (soldiers) were vigiles.

(32.) Sablayrolles, Libertinus miles, 51–54 (stressing the Severan emperors’ close ties with the vigiles).

(33.) Ulp. Dig. 1.12.1.pr.: Omnia omnino crimina praefectura urbis sibi vindicavit, nec tantum ea quae intra urbem admittuntur, verum ea quoque quae extra urbem intra Italiam. But the urban prefect's exact jurisdiction is not altogether clear: a separate citation of this same letter (Dig. specifies a one-hundred-mile radius for the prefect's power. Ulpian Dig. 1.12.3 states that he could appoint judges outside of Rome, although he himself could exercise his authority only while inside the city. See Vitucci, Ricerche, 52–81, with Cadoux's critical review, 156–60. Note also Juvenal 4.77–78, comparing an urban prefect to a vilicus (chief slave manager of an estate; chapter 3 above) and 13.157–58, on a conscientious praefectus urbi who hears criminal cases all day.

(34.) Dig. Quies quoque popularium et disciplina spectaculorum ad praefecti urbi curam pertinere videtur: et sane debet etiam dispositos milites stationarios habere ad tuendam popularium quietem et ad referendum sibi quid ubi agatur. Watson's translation of this passage is inaccurate; ad tuendam popularium quietem here refers not to monitoring the populace (populares) in general but to the surveillance of the popularia (neuter plural), the physical area where the lower orders sat at games; cf. Suet. Claud. 25.4 and Dom. 4.5 for parallel usages of the term. On milites stationarii (roughly, “posted soldiers,” or “soldiers on guard duty”), see chapter 8 below; this is the only attested usage of the phrase in Rome itself.

(35.) Nippel, Public Order, 94–96. Some manuscripts of the Liber Pontificalis (22.5) have the urban prefect conducting the trial of Pope Cornelius (AD 251–253) with the emperor.

(36.) Ambrose Ep. 40.13; on disorder in fourth-century Rome: Amm. Marc. 14.6, 28.4.

(37.) SHA Did. Jul. 3.6; cf. Hadr. 5.5.

(38.) Hist. 1.4. As praefectus urbi, Vespasian's brother Flavius Sabinus was an influential player in the civil strife of AD 69: note esp. Tac. Hist. 3.64–75.

(39.) Praetorians as outposted stationarii: I. Ephesos 6.2319 (= ILS 2052, CIL 3.7136, Ephesus); I. Smyrna 382 (third century); AE 1991, 1668 (= ILS 9072, stationarius ripae Uticensis); AE 1981, 344 (=AE 1957, 218, Heba, northwest of Rome, second or third century); cf. AE 1937, 250 (a dedication found in Bithynia from a cavalryman of the equites singulares Augusti). The Saepinum inscription (CIL 9.2438, JRS 73, pp. 126–27; ca. 170, quoted at the end of chapter 2 above) may allude to praetorian stationarii in rural Italy. Soldiers from the urban cohorts as stationarii: AE 1954, 53 (Thuburbo Maius, south of Carthage, post-AD 177).

(40.) See Ausbüttel, Die Verwaltung, 85–103; Lo Cascio, “The Emperor,” 165–69, 180–81. Correctores served as governors of the Italian provinces: Slootjes, The Governor, 19.

(41.) Suet. Aug. 25.1. Nor did Augustus allow his family members to use the term commilitones.

(42.) On the emperors’ use of the word commilitones, see, e.g., Pliny Ep. 10.20 (Trajan) and Dio 72.24.1 (sustratiôtai, Marcus Aurelius); and esp. Campbell, The Emperor and the Roman Army, 32–39.

(43.) SHA Hadr. 15.12–13.

(44.) See, e.g., Claudian De Quarto Consulatu Honorii Augusti, lines 1–17 (AD 398).

(45.) On civilian suffering amid military disorder in 68–69, see esp. Tac. Hist. 2.56 and 2.87–88 (Italy); 1.8–9, 1.31–46, 2.88–89, 2.93–96 and 4.1 (Rome). Collapse of military discipline is a major theme in our sources; see Ash, “Severed Heads” and Ordering Anarchy; and de Blois, “Soldiers and Leaders.” On violent encounters between civilians and soldiers, see Juvenal's fragmentary Satire XVI. Durry (“Juvénal et les prétoriens”) identified the soldiers criticized here as praetorian guardsmen.

(46.) Dio 75.2.2–6. Loeb trans., adapted.

(47.) See esp. McGing, “Bandits, Real and Imagined”; Riess, Apuleius und die Räuber; and Grünewald, Bandits.

(48.) Dio 77.10 (= Boissevain 76.10). The cavalry force involved may have been the equites singulares Augusti; see M. P. Speidel, Riding for Caesar, 63.

(49.) Dio 77.10.7; cf. Cic. Rep. 3.24 Tac.Ann. 2.40, and August. De civ dei 4.4 for similar rhetorical exchanges. Aemilius Papinianus's (RE 105, PIR2 1.388) legal work is often cited in Justinian's Digest.

(50.) On the literary construction of Bulla and Maternus as bandit antikings, see Grünewald, Räuber, 157–95 (= Bandits 110–36); Shaw, “The Bandit,” 334–38; and Riess, Apuleius und die Räuber, 168–71. The bandit Maternus will be discussed below. Riess (170) calls Maternus and Bulla “den literarisierten Räubern par excellence,” more literary symbol than reality. Also consider Dio 75.2.4 (Loeb p. 198), in which a major eastern bandit named Claudius rode up to Severus as if he were an officer, saluted and kissed the emperor, and then rode off safely, without Severus knowing who he was.

(51.) SHA Sev. 18.6: Latronum ubique hostis.

(52.) Zosimus Historia Nova 1.71.

(53.) CIL 9.334 = ILS 2768: ob … singularem industriam ad quietem regionis servandam postulatu populi. This M. Antonius Vitellianus (PIR 2 A 881) had been appointed praepositus over the tractus of Apulia, Calabria, Lucania, and Bruttium. Tractus may refer to his general region of responsibility or may carry the specific meaning of transhumant shepherd trails, by analogy to the modern Italian derivative “tratturo.” See above on shepherds and banditry, and Riess, “Hunting Down Robbers,” 209 et passim.

(54.) AE 1911, 128 (= ILS 9201); CIL 11.6336 (= ILS 2769); CIL 8.26582 (= ILS 9018); and AE 1968, 109, respectively. Cf. CIL 5.1057 (= CIL 5. Suppl. Ital. 3 [Pais] 83). A primipilaris or primus pilus was the chief centurion of a legion, a very high distinction that brought equestrian status upon retirement.

(55.) CIL 11.6107 (= ILS 509), lines 10–16, Umbria, AD 246. Aurelius Munatianus, evocatus ex cohorte VI pr(a)etoria p(ia) v(indice) Philippiana agens at latrunculum cum militibus n(umero) XX clas(sis) pprr (sic) Ravenatis p(iae) v(indicis) Filipporum. See Flam-Zuckermann, “À propos d’une inscription,” and on the possible context of this inscription, see Peachin, “Which Philip?” Note that according to Tacitus (Ann. 4.27), marines from the Ravenna fleet had been instrumental in revealing an incipient slave revolt in southern Italy in AD 24.

(56.) Dio 77.15.2: τοὺς στρατιώτας πλουτίζετε, τῶν ἄλλων πάντων καταφρονεῖτε. The verbatim text suggests that Dio was eager to stress his accuracy here: τάδε λέγεται τοῖς παισὶν εἰπεῖν (ἐρῶ γὰρ αὐτὰ τὰ λεχθέντα, μηδὲν ὅ τι καλλωπίσας). “He is said to have spoken these words to his sons (for I relate his words just as they were spoken, with nothing embellished).” Cf. Dio 78.10. Both Septimius and Caracalla substantially raised soldiers’ pay.

(57.) Caracalla tried using centurions to orchestrate the praetorian prefect Plautianus's ouster in 205: Dio 77.3.2–4. To be sure, centurions assassinating state enemies in Italy predates the principate: e.g., App. BCiv. 4.28.

(58.) On the following discussion of the evolution of the praetorian prefect's criminal jurisdiction and policing powers, see, above all, Absil, Préfets du prétoire, 67–76. Also note Jones, The Criminal Courts, 98; Millar, The Emperor, 122–32; Sablayrolles, “Fastigium equestre; Honoré, Ulpian, 4, 28–36; and Salway, “Equestrian Prefects.” By the early third century, emperors were referring criminal cases from all over the empire to be tried by them.

(59.) See Absil, Préfets du prétoire, 127 and 156. Casperius Aelianus (ca. AD 93): PIR 2 2.462. On Apollonius, see Philostr. VA 7.16–28 (material from this fantastic biography must be taken with the proverbial grain of salt). Trajan: Pliny Ep. 10.57. See also Dio 69.18 on Q. Marcius Turbo's (RE 14.2, coll. 1597–600) conscientiousness in performing his duties under Hadrian.

(60.) Phil. 1:13 and Acts 28:16; cf. 1 Clement §5 (late first century). Sherwin-White conjectured (Roman Society, 108–10) that Paul was probably handed over to an administrative subordinate to the praetorian prefect, the princeps castrorum of the praetorian cohorts. (Although principes castrorum [“heads of camp”] are well attested in the legions, explicit documentary evidence for praetorian heads of camp starts only under Trajan: ILS 9189.) See further Tajra's somewhat speculative The Martyrdom of St. Paul, esp. 40–45.

(61.) CIL 9.2438 = Abbott & Johnson 109, with Corbier, “Fiscus and Patrimonium” (whence AE 1983, 331). Dated to the years 169–172, it is partially quoted in chapter 2 above.

(62.) P. Taruttienus (or Tarruntenus or Tarrutenius) Paternus: PIR 2 T 35; RE 4 A2, coll. 2405–7. On Commodus and Tigidius Perennis (RE 6 A1, coll. 952–56), see SHA Commodus 4.7, 5.1–6, 6.1–2, Pertinax 3.3–6; Dio 72.9.1–2; Euseb. Hist. eccl. 5.21; and Howe, The Pretorian Prefect, 11–14.

(63.) Dio 76.14–15. C. Fulvius Plautianus (PIR 2 3.554) served from ca. 197 until Caracalla orchestrated his death in 205 (Dio 77.3.2–4). See Salway, “Equestrian Prefects,” 120–24.

(64.) Aemilius Papinianus (RE 105, PIR 2 1.388, the jurist cited in the Dig.) was prefect from 205 to 211 or 212.

(65.) Dig. praefectorum auctoritas … in tantum meruit augeri, ut appellari a praefectis praetorio non possit …. credidit enim princeps eos, qui ob singularem industriam explorata eorum fide et gravitate ad huius officii magnitudinem adhibentur, non aliter iudicaturos esse … quam ipse foret iudicaturos. Arcadius's period of activity cannot be securely dated, but Honoré (Emperors and Lawyers, 115–19) conjectures that he was Diocletian's magister libellorum (“master of petitions”) in 290–91. Honoré's method of stylistic and statistical analysis is not without controversy (see, e.g., Millar, “A New Approach,” 272), but he may be on safe ground with Arcadius's particularly ornate style.

(66.) Suet. Dom. 21.1; cf. Cic. Off. 2.25, Dio Chrys. 6.35–39. On detection of conspiracies, see Sheldon, Intelligence Activities, 150–53, 279–80.

(67.) Suet. Aug. 19.2 and 35.1–2, Tib. 25.3, Claud. 35, Galba 10.3, Vesp. 12, Dom. 16–17; Tac. Ann. 4.21, 11.22.1; Dio 58.17–18; cf. Dionysius of Halicarnassus 2.13.

(68.) Philostr. VS 2.26.614: δορυφόρους δείσαντα. See also Millar, ERW, 64, on the later imperial body guard. Constantine's appearance without bodyguard at the Council of Nicaea in 325 was a symbol of trust and good faith in the assembled clergy.

(69.) Suet. Calig. 32, one of many Suetonian anecdotes of Caligula's ill-tempered character.

(70.) Sen. Clem. 12.1–4, 13.1–5, 19.5–8 and passim. See Roller's discussion, Constructing Autocracy, 239–43.

(71.) Tac. Agr. 2, Ann. 13.49, 14.12, 14.48–49, 15.23, 16.21–35 (the manuscript breaks off in the midst of Thrasea's death scene). Diogenes the Cynic's outspokenness earned Alexander's admiration: Arrian Anabasis Alex. 7.2; Plut. Alex. 14 (cf. 13 on his admiration for a defiant Theban woman; contrast 50–51, the murder of Cleitus).

(72.) Philostr. VS 2.1.561 (cf. the encounter between Apollonius and Domitian in VA 7.33ff). Bassaeus Rufus (PIR 2 1.69) is one of the actors involved in the Saepinum-Bovianum inscription (quoted at the end of chapter 2 above) relating to the theft of imperial livestock. On suicidal rudeness to emperors, cf. the Acta Alexandrinorum corpus discussed below, esp. the remark of “Trajan” in Acta Alex. 8 (= CPJ 2.157), col. 3, lines 40–41.

(73.) E.g., the fictional second-century Life of Secundus the Philosopher depicts Hadrian ordering a speculator (chapter 4 above) to take the stubborn, mute philosopher from Athens to the port for execution (Perry, ed., Secundus, 72–74); cf. Paradosis Pilati (fourth century?) 8–10 (Ehrman and Pleše, The Apocryphal Gospels, 506–8).

(74.) The first pieces were published at the end of the nineteenth century. The most convenient editions are Musurillo's The Acts of the Pagan Martyrs and his 1961 Teubner edition (Acta Alexandrinorum) and Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum II, 55–107 (i.e., C. Pap. Jud. or CPJ 2.154–59, eds. Tcherikover and Fuks, whom I generally find more trustworthy than Musurillo). Note also a new fragment of CPJ 2.155 published by Musurillo and Parássoglou (“A New Fragment”), with a full reedition in Kuhlmann, Die giessener literarischen Papyri, 4.7. Most of the copies we have are second- or third-century. Harker's fine recent study Loyalty and Dissidence supersedes previous treatments.

(75.) Claudius: Acta Alex. 4a col. 3 (= CPJ 2.156d col. 3), lines 11–12; and Acta Alex. 4b col. 1 (= CPJ 2.156b col. 1), lines 17–18: τί/[μέλει σοι ὑπὲρ Ἀγρίπ]που Ἰουδαίου τριωβολείου. (“What do you care for a three-obol Jew like Agrippa?” On the meaning of τριωβολεῖος, see Harker, Loyalty and Dissidence, 43–44.) We are not sure which descendant of Herod the Great this is supposed to be. It is probably Agrippa I in AD 41 (Tcherikover, CPJ 2.156, intro.; Smallwood, The Jews under Roman Rule, 253; Harker, Loyalty and Dissidence, 23–24); others think Agrippa II in 53 is more likely (Musurillo, Acts of the Pagan Martyrs, 126–28; Barrett, Caligula, 79). The Salomê in question is probably the sister of Herod the Great (see Musurillo, 128–29). Commodus: Acta Alex. 11b, col. 2 (= CPJ 2.159b), lines 12–13; and 11b, col. 4, line 8: σὺ ὁ λῄσταρχος.

(76.) E.g., Musurillo, Acts of the Pagan Martyrs; Crook, Consilium Principis, 84, 134; MacMullen, Enemies, 84–88; Barrett, Caligula, 79; and Griffin in OCD 3 (“basically historical,” 11) are rather trusting of the Acta's historicity, although Crook aptly points out that emperors might tolerate frankness—even limited hostility—from people appearing before them, thus expressing their virtue of patientia. See esp. Crook's app. 4 on παρρησία, “free speech.” More guarded assessments of the Acta's historicity are offered by Smallwood, The Jews under Roman Rule, 250–53; Bowman, Egypt after the Pharaohs, 43 (“probably largely fictional”); Kuhlmann, Die giessener literarischen Papyri, 117–18; Fuhrmann, “Keeping the Imperial Peace,” 144; and Harker, Loyalty and Dissidence, 174–78.

(77.) MacMullen (Enemies, 87) assumes that writing and circulating such texts was criminally dissident. Harker (Loyalty and Dissidence, 35–36, 175–76) points out that the Acta's depiction of Caligula is no worse than our mainstream sources, nor is their hostility toward Claudius any more treasonous than Seneca's Apocolocyntosis. For provincial hostility toward the Roman emperor in the third century, cf. the opening lines (1–6) of the Thirteenth Sibylline Oracle.

(78.) The reading of the phrase in question is secure: Acta Alex. 3, col. 3 (CPJ 2.155), lines 24–25: Γɑȋος Καῖσαρ ἐκ[έ]λευσεν τὸ[ν] κα-/-τήγορον καῆναι. “Caesar Gaius ordered the accuser (who may be a native Egyptian) to be burned.” Perhaps this refers to nonlethal torture. Bell (“Acts of the Alexandrines,” 30) thought Caligula was inflicting the archaic (and rare) Roman punishment for calumny: branding with the letter K. But most editors assume immolation (Musurillo, Tcherikover in CPJ 2.155, Kuhlmann in Die giessener literarischen Papyri, 4.7). Compare Nero's treatment of Rome's Christians: Tac. Ann. 15.44.

(79.) In fact, the showdown between a Jewish sage and a tyrannical king in the apocryphal 4 Maccabees can be seen as a loose Jewish parallel to the Acta Alexandrinorum. 4 Macc. was written some time in the first century AD, although it is set two centuries earlier. See MacMullen's discussion in Enemies of the Roman Order, 83–84.

(80.) The earliest imperial “cleansing” of unsavory groups from Rome occurred under Augustus, when Agrippa expelled astrologers and charlatans from the city: Dio 49.43.5; cf. 54.6.4–6 and Suet. Aug. 42.3; see chapter 4 above for republican precedents. Other cases include Joseph. AJ 18.65–80 and Tac. Ann. 2.85.5 (Tiberius, Jews, and followers of Egyptian rites); Suet. Tib. 36 (Jews and astrologers, cf. Dio 57.18); Tib. 37 (theater faction leaders and actors); Acts 18:2 and Claud. 25 (Jews, but cf. Dio 60.6.6); Tac. Hist. 2.62 (Vitellius vs. astrologers); Dio 65.9.2 (Vespasian vs. astrologers; cf. Suet. Vitell. 14); Suet. Dom. 10.3 (philosophers); CTh.9.16.12 (AD 409, against astrologers). Christians: Tac. Ann. 15.44, Suet. Nero 16; cf. Liber pontificalis 18/19 (Duchesne ed., I, 54, 154, expulsion of leaders in 235).

(81.) Tac. Ann. 12.52; Hist. 1.22. Phillips, “Nullum crimen,” 264, notes ten expulsions of astrologers. Hatred and distrust of astrologers was not limited to rulers: Cato Agr. 5.1–5, Juv. 6.553–91, and Artemidorus Oneirocritica, preface; Columella wrote a lost treatise Against the Astrologers (ca. AD 60). On eugenic anxiety, see Gowers, “The Anatomy of the City,” 30. See further MacMullen, Enemies of the Roman Order; Rutgers, “Roman Policy toward the Jews”; and Gruen, Diaspora, 8, 15–19; cf. Harris, Dreams and Experience, 189, 220–21.

(82.) Epict. Diss. 4.13.5: Οὕτως καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν στρατιωτῶν ἐν Ῥώμῃ οἱ προπετεῖς λαμβάνονται. Παρακεκάθικέ σοι στρατιώτης ἐν σχήματι ἰδιωτικῷ καὶ ἀρξάμενος κακῶς λέγει τὸν Καίσαρα, εἶτα σὺ ὥσπερ ἐνέχυρον παρ’ αὐτοῦ λαβὼν τῆς πίστεως τὸ αὐτὸν τῆς λοιδορίας κατῆρχθαι λέγεις καὶ αὐτὸς ὅσα φρονεῖς, εἶτα δεθεὶς ἀπάγῃ. Loeb trans.

(83.) Dio 78.17, Loeb trans., adapted. Dio seems to be speaking on behalf of the senatorial order.

(84.) SHA Hadr. 11; cf. Tac. Ann. 4.67–69.

(85.) Suet. Calig. 30, citing a line from Accius's (ca. 160–90 BC) lost tragedy Atreus (fragment 203). How the English language lacks Latin's ominous concision!

(86.) Dio 80.2–5; cf. Herodian 6.9; SHA Alex. Sev. 51.4, 59.6–60.2. On Ulpian's death and service as praetorian prefect: Honoré, Ulpian, 27–36, arguing that he died in 223 or 224.

(87.) The main source for the civil war of 238 is Herodian, books 7–8, with relevant SHA biographies; note also Ando, Imperial Ideology, 196, 243–45 (throughout, Ando stresses consensus as a necessary element in making the empire work); Potter, The Roman Empire at Bay, 168–72; Ménard, Maintenir l’ordre, 77–89; and Drinkwater, “Maximinus to Diocletian,” 30–33.