The Creation of Consensus
Rome invoked and sought consensus through means more disparate than communicative actions. We turn first to aurum coronarium, a tax that was more than a tax: rather, this was at heart an irregular levy, a putatively spontaneous response to the arrival of good news. The Romans asked provincials everywhere to rejoice in and give thanks for benefactions anywhere. In doing so, they relied on an ideology of consensus, a belief in the unanimity of sentiment and aspirations among all members of a given community. The universalizing tendencies of Roman propaganda thus had their origin in an ideological belief grounded in the political realities of city-states and not of empires. We shall then discover how the ideological work accomplished in times of peace ensured the empire's ultimate navigation of moments of crisis. Temporary instability on the throne allowed competing claims upon the loyalty of provincial populations. In narrating such crises, ancient historians adopted rather than explored, exploited rather than explained, the tropes of imperial propaganda. Finally, we shall examine briefly the use of acclamations to express consensus and, in particular, the slow trend toward recording and publicizing acclamations. Each of these rather different political rituals strongly suggests that the Roman government could achieve consensus, as it defined that concept, only by developing and exploiting sophisticated mechanisms for the distribution of information.
All was not voluntary in the practice of diplomacy under the Roman empire, nor was all news joyous. Moments of tragedy, like the death of Gaius Caesar, no doubt continued to elicit sympathetic reactions from cities both