Posted by: ken98 | September 24, 2009

B.F. Skinner and Reaping the Whirlwind

Day 12
Ken here


Augustus set up the Praetorian Guard – a permanent standing army stationed in the Roman capital – so that powerful men (read: the Senate) with private armies couldn’t threaten Rome without going to obvious effort and expense having to battle the Praetorian Guard first. Augustus and future Princeps/Emperors could see trouble brewing far in advance and try and head it off before all hell broke loose. Self-serving? Yes, but also – like oil on the water – a welcome dampener on the wild political gyrations of Roman civic life.

The Praetorian grew into a special relationship with whomever the current Emperor was at the time and also grew accustomed to a tradition new Emperors were helpless to stop: immense donatives (“voluntary” bonuses) awarded to the Guard on the accession of an emperor to guarantee the Guard’s loyalty.

B. F. Skinner circa 1950 at Harvard

B. F. Skinner circa 1950 at Harvard

Any disciple of B. F. Skinner or an adequately-trained economist, or even a dog owner could see where reinforcing this behavior would lead – faster and faster turnover in the Emperor department. This in turn finally led to multiple emperor years (years with more than one emperor reigning).

The Whirlwind

There are 4 multiple-Emperor years in Western Roman History in a strange upward grouping

Year 69: Year of the 4 Emperors
(Galbo, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian)
Year 193: Year of the 5 Emperors
(Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Clodius Albinus, Pescennius Niger, Septimus Severus)
Year 238 Year of the 6 Emperors
(Maximinus Thrax, Gordian I, Gordian II (his son), Capellinus, Pupienus, Balbinus)

We stand at the second (We’ll back up and look at the first some other day, and the third, well, we’ll get to that soon enough).

After Pertinax was murdered (86 days into his reign) by the Praetorian Guard, the Guard thought of a much more efficient way to handle the whole process of Donatives – rather than waiting, why not just be honest about it and offer it up to the hiighest bidder? A rich, old (and foolish) Senator

Coin Dupondius - Didius Julianus - rare coin (emp 3-28-193 to 6-2-193)

Coin Dupondius - Didius Julianus - rare coin (emp 3-28-193 to 6-2-193)

Didius Julianus took them up on their offer, bought the Guard (after engaging in a bidding war with a certain Sulpicianus.

Meanwhile 3 other men (much more seasoned, military men – both with 3 legions a piece) Septimius Severus in rough neck Pannonia (part of modern-day Hungary) Pescannius Niger in rich Syria, and Clodius Albinus in far-away Britain announced their “candidacy” for the throne.

A curious thing about Britain – for some reason in Roman times British governors tended to lead many more revolts against reigning Emperors than other governors. We’ll start a list of pretenders to the throne from Britain to track it – Constantine (or his father?) started out originally from Britain. It’s just surprising because Britain was not rich, nor populous, nor close to Rome. You just wouldn’t think rebellion would naturally break out there more often. That is, unless the incessant gray and damp brought on a generally higher irritation with life, the status quo, and crazy Roman politics, eventually resulting in an irruption of British legions into the Empire.

Interesting quote on the Austrians.

until tomorrow

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