The Emperor inflates his charisma

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“The survival of an autocracy depends on the visible exercise of power by the autocrat himself; a democracy may be run by an abstract administrative entity (though even here figureheads are required), but an autocrat has to be seen to be actively in charge. Hence it is particularly important for him to embody the authority of the supreme purveyor of justice. A correlation has been made between the increasingly harsh penalties under the Empire and the absolutist trend in Roman government; so too the emperor is free to devise ingenious methods of ridding his empire of undesirable elements, inflating his charisma by the reincarnation of myth.”

From “Fatal Charades: Roman Executions Staged as Mythological Enactments,” by K.M. Coleman. In the Journal of Roman Studies, Volume 80, 1990.

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Legitimate objects of violence

Pollice Verso (With a turned thumb), painting by Jean-Leon Gerome.

“Pollice Verso (with a turned thumb),” 1872 painting by Jean-Leon Gerome. In the Phoenix Art Museum. Photo from Wikimedia commons.

 

“Modern scholars have long pondered how civilized Romans could condone and even enjoy, make sport of, watching hundreds and even thousands of humans and animals being killed in elaborate public spectacles. Yet violence was omnipresent in Roman society and history. From animal sacrifice and slaughter to the disciplining of slaves and children to the brutalities of ancient warfare, the Romans had long grown accustomed to regarding creatures of lowly status, others and outsiders without reason or rights, as legitimate objects of violence.”

From Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome, by Donald G. Kyle.