To what extent did ordinary Romans love the emperors? How can we tell?
M Kalugerovich, Bathgate
AAll Roman citizens were,
in theory, of equivalent status, the head of state being acknowledged simply with the title primus inter pares (first among equals).
In practice, however, emperors were quite clearly different to mere mortals. After death, they could be promoted to the status of a god, with temples dedicated in their honour.
Within the provinces, emperors seem to have been widely and genuinely adored, their portraits appearing on statues in all major towns and forts, their names occurring in a variety of public and private religious dedications. Augustus, Claudius, Vespasian and Hadrian are good examples of emperors who, following their demise, became deities and were worshipped across the empire.
Closer to Rome, though, emperors were not always so admired. Certain individuals could swiftly fall from grace. Being strangled, poisoned, smothered or stabbed in a palace coup was one thing, but society had another effective way of eradicating those emperors who were politically unloved: a form of memorywipe known as damnatio memoriae, whereby images of the deceased were vandalised, re-carved, or removed from view and their name erased. The emperors Caligula, Nero, Domitian, Commodus and Caracalla were just such imperial bad boys who effectively became non-people.
A bust of the emperor Domitian (AD 51– 96), one of the “imperial bad boys” who many ordinary Romans preferred to forget