The structure of Roman society and Government during the Empire was pretty much a superposition of the structures they had during the kingdom and during the republic. The first Emperor, Augustus, was keen to give the people at least the idea that the republican institutions were still thriving and that the Emperor was there with their support. In fact the Emperor's image was very much one of military authority and the title "Imperator" was in fact a military title.
It was only a matter of time before successive Emperors went closer and closer to defining themselves as divinities in the Oriental style of rule whilst the Senate's power became increasingly nominal. By the end of the Empire the Senate was little more than an inflated city council.
Caligula's institution of the Praetorian Imperial Guards created a new centre of power and in fact it became quite common for the military to be directly involved in the elimination of one emperor and the election of another ending up in situations which amounted to little less than civil wars punctuated by totalitarianism. Diocletian tried to restore some stability by introducing the Tetrarchy but Constantine later managed to do away with his opponents and reassume total control of power.
Read more about Ancient Roman Society and Government.
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