“Let there be no violence contrary
to my wish”: Emperors
and Provincial Order
Petition and Response, Trajan and Pliny
No emperor wanted to suffer Nero’s fate. The last Julio-Claudian seems to have been aloof from administration, allowing his underlings to mismanage affairs. He failed to handle intensified problems in the provinces, such as the ruinous state of affairs in Judaea before the First Jewish Revolt. Forced to suicide in 68 as power slipped out of his hands, he also failed to forestall potential rivals outside of Rome. Dynastic propaganda may distort the record and exaggerate a previous emperor’s flaws, but even so, it is hard to make the case that Nero was an effective administrator.1
Many later emperors were more responsible, but others were just as bad. How much did the emperor’s attitude toward administration matter in the lives of his subjects? We will keep that an open question for now, but from the second century on, the general trend is toward greater imperial involvement with the provinces: many emperors and senators now had provincial roots, and the empire became less politically and culturally centered on Italy and Rome; moreover, earlier habits of negotiation and politicking—petitions, embassies, official speeches—became more regular and widespread;2 finally, innovation in institutional policing helped keep the periphery connected to the center.
1. On Neronian maladministration, see, e.g., Jos. BJ 2.250–308, Plut. Galba 4.1, Suet. Nero 32; and de Blois, “Soldiers and Leaders.” Cf. Tac. Hist. 4.48 on the effect of Gaius’s reign on Africa. Less credibly, this theme is a leitmotif of the Historia Augusta’s biography of Gallienus.
2. Speeches on official occasions played into the “Second Sophistic” revival of Greek oratory, as the writings of Philostratus, Menander Rhetor, and others attest. Also note Harrison, Apuleius: A Latin Sophist, and Sandy, The Greek World of Apuleius.