2. Life at the Top

Life at the top. The Roman Empire, at its peak, spread right around the Mediterranean and stretched from Northumbria to Armenia. From the reign of the Emperor Augustus onwards, power of all that territory lay in the hands of one man: the emperor himself.

What did the emperor do all day? We have two stereotypical images of Roman emperors: the good ones led victorious armies in battle, the bad ones indulged in orgies and excess. How accurate is this picture?

Though the emperor sat at the peak of the command chain, there were other powerful figures in the Roman world - the imperial advisors, for example. So who were these people? And how much power did they have? Since the emperor's word was final, his whim was complete, and his tyranny absolute - how easy was it to keep friendly with the emperor?

Friendship was a vital tool in the running of the empire. Letters of recommendation were commonplace, and occurred at all levels. How did this network of friends-of-friends operate? What were the benefits - and disadvantages?

Those at the bottom of the social scale were not completely powerless. The emperor depended upon the good will and opinion of the people - and he knew it. How did they express their disapproval? And don't forget about the slave population of Rome, who vastly outnumbered the ranks of the free. They weren't without power, either.

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30 minutes

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Sun 26 Jan 2003 13:00