Let me explain. The Roman people has a very strong aversion to kings for centuries, it was legal for any citizen to kill a man who was trying to make himself king. This is part of what got Julius Caesar killed in fact, and while he was typically very popular his moves towards kingship were not received well at all.
Knowing this, the first series of emperors cloaked their imperial power in republican forms, even though they’d already killed the republic. They typically went by the title “Princeps” (first citizen), and wielded massive back room influence to accomplish their goals. Oh, and they also owned Egypt personally, and probably commanded around 20% of the empire’s wealth. It’s arguably not until Claudius, who was selected as emperor despite of his perceived idiocy specifically because of his relation to the prior emperor can we say that the political classes knew they lived in a monarchy of some sort. (Claudius turned out to be a competent emperor by the way, he and a very bad stutter that the Romans took for him being stupid).
What’s the point of this? The point is that republics don’t have to die in sudden and dramatic fashion. Sometimes they go in a Reichstag Fire, but they are also likely to rot from the inside while maintaining the old forms for a few generations.
0: They actually did use the title imperator, the root word for emperor, but this was originally a military term closely related to “commander”. This slowly merged into its modern imperial meaning roughly co-incident with the emperors slowly dropping republican forms and ruling in their own right.
But my point is more subtle. Caesar was a arguably a populist, and was both ambitious and wildly popular with the common people of Rome. But there were a few incidents where Caesar was offered to be crowned king, and the people of Rome hated it. It would be a few more generations before the idea of being ruled by a guy in purple whose dad had done the same would be okay to Romans.
But, again as you note, all of that was the first-among-equals set dressing of the Principate where the Republic's centering institutions were given lip service, and it would be hundreds of years before the outright Dominate of Diocletian would be generally accepted by Rome--and getting there required the transcendental shitshow that was the Roman third century, itself worth perturbing a lot of electrons.
In conclusions, land of contrasts, etcetera etcetera.
IIRC the purges and the rumors about Caligula mostly started after a serious illness in 37AD, where he might have just literally gone around the bend? But I'm definitely not ruling out the possibility that Caligula was played up after his death, though. If you look back at pre-Republican mythology (it ain't quite history), the seven kings of Rome are all caricatures. Caligula could definitely just be The Crazy One.
In any case, Rome put up with some real wacky characters as emperor so long as they didn't bankrupt the empire.
What I find really interesting is the murder of political opponents and how it affects legacy. From where I sit, pretty much every single emperor killed senators, perhaps excluding only Caesar himself, but only a few got saddled with the blood thirsty tyrant image. Claudius killed quite a few senators, some without good justification, yet his reputation is largely “good emperor, misunderstood”, while Tiberius gets off the hook largely because his successor was so much worse. It’s all pretty fascinating to me.
Given the reaction of the people after Caesar's assassination, it was not a popular move by the Senate, regardless of the distrust the people had toward kingship in general. I understand the point you're making but personally find it to be a bit of a stretch.
The span here is over a decade - short still, but far from sudden.
Of course, the Weimar Republic was much weaker than the Roman one, or even the American one at that point in time, meaning it was easier to kill.
I'd never heard this before, and someone please correct me if I misinterpreted anything. I don't have any references to point to. But I got the impression that there were several others before Caesar, but he was just a beast when it came to strategy.
Fantastic YouTube channel - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv_vLHiWVBh_FR9vbeuiY-A
The difference for Octavian was that at the time he seized power the republic had fallen into disarray -- the Tribunes were now typically patricians, so the counterbalancing power of the plebs was pretty effectively eroded. In addition the years of accumulation of war booty had removed the citizens from the need to support the power structure -- most of the work was done by foreigners and slaves.
In addition the structure of imperial (that is generals') power throughout the empire created large power structures outside the republic's structure. So a large army like Pompey's or Julius's outside the walls (as described above) could become, instead of a guarantee of neutrality, a threat.
Remember in those days one became wealthy through power as opposed to powerful through wealth. Julius became wealthy by being appointed governor of Hispania (IIRC) then then using that as a power base to accumulate more power and treasure. This imbalance I talked about became so large that when Octavian took power (having inherited both wealth and position from his fellow consul and adoptive father, Julius Caesar) he was wealthy enough to pay Rome's entire budget out of his personal funds with plenty left over.
So in essence it was a "gilded age" similar to todays, the wealth<->power inversion notwithstanding.
No. Pompey wanted political power just as much he wanted military power. He was able to wield the second, but never really the first. That was mainly due to his rivalry with Crassus first and Caesar second.
He just wasn't at the right time in the right place. Crassus, despite being an inferior general, was richer than him and had more influence in the Senate. Caesar initially had less political influence than him, but he was superior on the battlefield.
Yes, he was extremely popular because he was a skilled general. He had a very good understanding of Roman military strategy and tactics. Not on the top-5 but surely on the top-10 of the best Roman generals of all time.
> If that was the case, then why did he not just run the Senate out of town
That wasn't possible. The Roman Senate and the whole Roman political scene was in complete stagnation. Plus, you couldn't really "run the Senate" remotely – many tried (including Caesar) doing so, none succeeded. You had to have a physical presence or to delegate (e.g. Caesar with Mark Anthony).
At the time, Pompey had strong political power and run for Console, but on his way to power, he found Crassus with the very same goal in mind. The problem is that Crassus was the richest man in Rome (a billionaire compared to today) and he had much more political influence.
Pompey (mainly because of Crassus's obstructionism) wasn't able to fully capitalize on his military success.
Caesar well understood that the stagnation was mainly due to the Crassus/Pompey (personal) rivalry and offered them to run himself for Console, (1) stop the Senate stagnation and (2) approve their reforms.
The rest is history.
I wrote about it here: https://leonardofed.io/blog/caesar.html
Nearly all kings and leaders throughout history have been generals or commanders. And when they inherit the title, if they are ineffectual commanders, they would often get overthrown.
Force trumps all, a leader who isn't the strongest will always risk being overthrown. Even in the US, the President is Commander in Chief. Historically, Democracy and civilian rule is rare. Most famous leaders throughout all of history were conquerors and those who weren't became famous for letting a dynasty get conquered.
Without military success, one could become Questor or (if lucky) Praetor, but no way he could become Console. He had to demonstrate somehow his military value on the battlefield before.
Some exceptions were made from times to times (e.g. Cicero) but they were usually followed up by the mob.
"On September 2, 31 BC, the Battle of Actium was fought. Octavian's victory, which gave him the mastery of Rome and the empire, was mainly due to Agrippa."
Actium – like my other battles under August's reign – was mainly due to Agrippa's military skills. In a hypothetical ranking of best Roman generals of all time, he should probably be placed somewhere between 1st and 5th place.