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Bureaucratic Consistency and Dynastic Continuity: The Case of Titus

Zachary Herz

Columbia University

This talk addresses the emperor Titus’ mass confirmation of prior imperial bequests, arguing that this practice was critical not only to the development of emperor-subject interactions in the later Principate, but also to adapting the fluid ideology of Roman rule to newer theories of legitimacy and dynasticism.

I begin by explaining the stakes of Titus’ succession and legitimation, which were vastly more contingent than later events might make them seem; Titus was not only the first non-Julio-Claudian to succeed peacefully, but also the first natural son to succeed his father (Jones 1984, Tarel 2016). While the former practice would become commonplace,  hereditary succession persisted as a controversial, if desired, practice throughout the Principate (Hekster 2015). Titus’ political messaging can thus be seen as more innovative, and more critical, than heretofore acknowledged; its image of imperial authority would influence state communication for centuries more.

I focus on one specific component of Titus’ self-representation: his mass confirmation of prior imperial grants. This confirmation is attested in both Suetonius (Tit. 8.1) and Cassius Dio (66.19.3), both of whom describe it as a break from tradition. I consider this grant from two perspectives, and examine its practical and communicative implications in turn. First, pragmatics. While the vast majority of our sources for imperial workload come from the Antonine and Severan periods, those sources describe the granting of what Suetonius calls beneficia as constituting an enormous portion of the princeps’ time (Millar 1967, 1977). This practice is not as well recorded under the Julio-Claudians, and mass confirmation (which Suetonius and Dio both suggest continued after Titus’ death) might have been a necessary condition for its eventual centrality to imperial practice. It is impossible to imagine how the imperial bureaucracy managed by Hadrian or Severus Alexander could have functioned if every grant or decision made by those emperors lost its presumptive validity upon their death. The sheer volume of individual confirmations that a successor would need to issue would dwarf new business; even leaving aside the normative desirability of fixing or stabilizing prior grants (Fuller 1964), making decisions reasonably final across moments of succession was necessary for the imperial state to take the form it did in the high Principate.

I next examine the ideological implications of such a mass confirmation. Historiographic accounts of succession are skeptical of hereditary monarchs like Titus for many reasons, but one of the most prominent is a sort of meritocratic commitment; for example, Tacitus’ Galba states when adopting Piso that being ruled by the best emperor, rather than merely the one with the right parents, might stand loco libertatis (Hist. 1.16). Adoption ensures that whoever is next in line has demonstrated some sort of desirable competence or fitness to rule; a hereditary dynast, by contrast, is a crapshoot. When imagined in light of this specific concern, Titus’ choice to confirm his father’s acts en masse gains a new valence. While confirmation is a superficially administrative act, both Suetonius and Dio juxtapose it with more obviously communicative instances of public munificence such as putting on games or banishing informers. Here, mass confirmation was not only a beneficium in its own right, but one granted by Titus as a son; it presented Titus’ rule as a continuation of his father’s. Rather than dynasticism introducing randomness into the succession, it removed it; Titus preserved the decisions and acts of his father, without implicating his own (potentially suspect) individual judgment.

Finally, I discuss the broader importance of these official acts to imperial representation, and the methodological implications of that importance. Building off of Ando 2000’s consensus model of Roman governance, I argue that many features of Roman administrative practice can be thought of as a kind of public-facing imperial generosity, as much euergetic as bureaucratic. The case of Titus shows how even major structural features of Roman bureaucracy could be shaped by imperial messaging.

Session/Panel Title

Roman Political Self-Representation

Session/Paper Number

3.4

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