Coinage in Roman Imperial Policy, 31 B.C.-A.D. 68

By C. H. V. Sutherland | Go to book overview

VI
GAIUS AND THE ESTABLISHMENT OF AUTOCRACY

TIBERIUS' conscientious and deliberate effort to preserve the essentials of Augustus' governmental machinery allowed the Principate to take root firmly and permanently. Upon Tiberius' death, after nearly three-quarters of a century of imperial tutelage and leadership, no alternative system could easily be conceived. Yet, simply because Tiberius had sedulously avoided making radical changes in the scope and functions of the principatus it was all the more inevitable that change would come after him. That change might manifest itself in succeeding principes themselves, anxious (like Gaius) to prevent their high office from developing a formal character which would circumscribe individualism and initiative in its holders. It was bound to occur also in the upper classes upon whom a princeps had to draw so constantly for his administrators. The tendency among senators towards criticism and suspicion of the Principate was as old as the Principate; and it was growing steadily. Unsettled in their outlook and chafed by their dependence, however carefully concealed, they became more keenly aware, as the perspective of the years lengthened, of the power that they had lost. A weak or ineffectual Senate, increasingly shorn of responsibility, could do only two things. Either, as the 'Stoics' were later to show, it could organize tactics of deliberate obstruction or non-collaboration, or, taking the simpler course, it could move ever faster and more easily before the quickening stream of imperial domination, necessarily obsequious and therefore the more hostile.

When Tiberius died, however, a third possibility perhaps presented itself to the minds of all but the clearest thinkers. Gaius, now 25, was not the enfant terrible that Octavian had been at the same age. No positive achievements--save perhaps his very survival--stood to his credit. The tragic history of the house of Germanicus under Tiberius had compelled him to spend the formative years in obscurity. From this Tiberius had only very lately recalled him: his promotion had begun, but

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