The Julio-Claudians

Join Dr. Kathryn Welch for The Julio-Claudians. In this 5-hour course, explore the imperial family and the problems of succession; the place (and power) of women in the Julio-Claudian line; how to run an empire with the role of freedman and women. We will also cover the large-scale building programs in Rome and finalise the day by looking at emperor worship and the imperial cult.

$360 (+GST)

In this course you will learn

Part 1: The Imperial Family and the Problems of Succession

Rome’s system of government in the first century CE emerged from twenty years of civil war and an ensuing political compromise that only looks stable in hindsight. According to Tacitus and others, women were a problem in that they had far too much power and influence. In the first part of Annals he focuses on Livia, wife of Augustus and mother of Tiberius. The story of the elder Agrippina’s destruction is a convenient stick with which to beat Tiberius, but Tacitus is wary of her too. This presentation will examine the make-up of the so-called “Julio-Claudian” dynasty to reveal it as being three families descended from three women, Livia, Octavia and Scribonia. It will also look at what roles were considered proper for women – and this section will contain some surprises. In each generation, however, the women of “the family” vied for power among themselves and their children – power that sat uneasily within an ethos that viewed dynasty (even more that women’s open involvement in political institutions) with suspicion. Did Tacitus have a case? Was he a misogynist, even by the standards of his day? Can both questions be answered with a yes?

Part 2: How to run an empire: the role of freed slaves in Roma administration

For its entire history, Rome had resisted the development of a professional bureaucracy. Members of a significant player’s household had always assisted in public administration, whether within Rome or in the territories it ruled. When experts were needed, they were to hand. Sometimes they came from the political classes of allied cities or provinces, sometimes they emerged from enslaved and formerly enslaved members of elite households.

This presentation will track the role of freedmen and women in Roman society and politics. By doing so, we can better place the freedmen of Claudius in a context. In so many ways, there should have been little to criticise and yet they feature prominently in any attempt to denigrate him. Did they deserve it? Did Claudius? And does their comparatively privileged position tell us anything more about the lives of the formerly enslaved at Rome.

Part 3: Building Julio-Claudian Rome

By 14 CE, Rome had been transformed into a magnificent imperial centre under the careful watch of Augustus – or so the common story goes. In this talk we will begin with the impact of the “Augustan” building program in setting out an ideology of city development from which later principes deviated at their peril. Tiberius appears to have shown little interest, although he was responsible for two major temple renovations before Augustus died. There was little method in Caligula’s madness, it would seem, but Claudius made a considerable impact, especially in water management.

It was Nero who comes closest to Augustus in the scale and types of his works. In part, this was due to the terrible extent of the great fire of 64 CE, but even before this catastrophe he reveals his interest in huge public works. His palace, the infamous Golden House, was later used to denigrate his memory but this presentation will attempt to contextualise it by examining all the other building works he sponsored. Did he overstep the bounds of building propriety in Rome or was it merely a matter of being the last member of a dynasty that had passed its used-by date?

Part 4: Emperor Worship or Imperial Cult?

What does it mean to worship a human being? What did it mean to the Romans? This talk will track emperor worship in Rome from its inception under Julius Caesar through to the excesses of Caligula and Nero.  It will focus in particular on the work of Ittai Gradel and his reasons for preferring the term “emperor worship” to imperial cult, mostly because “imperial cult” implies a standard form and a degree of centralised organisation for which evidence is lacking. His work also takes us not just to Rome but to the practice of “worshipping” the emperor in the Vesuvian regions.

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About dr kathryn

A/Prof Kathryn Welch is an honorary associate professor from the University of Sydney where she taught Ancient History between 1991 and 2021 with an emphasis on the Roman Republic and the early empire. Before that, she spent six years as an Ancient History teacher at Kogarah High School, but she has never lost her connection with students and teachers as a popular presenter at conferences and professional learning days. Dr Kathryn is also co-director of the Pompeii Cast Project with Dr. Estelle Lazer. Her current research interest is in constructing syllabuses and modes of study in order to test the assumptions embedded in the minds of ancients and in our own time.