The hate of Tyrants and Kings in Rome lasted for many centuries of Roman history: When the Romans rebelled against the last of the seven kings, Tarquin the Proud, they swore never to have another king. Lucius Junius Brutus was one of the first Consuls and led the way to a system which would prevent future tyranny: a Republic. Following the expulsion of Tarquin a law was passed which forbade royalist policies or ideals to be pursued by anyone. Brutus himself had two of his sons executed for supporting a return of Tarquin.
Tyrants and Kings of the Roman Republic
The religious responsibilities of kings were handed over to a new position known as Rex Sacrorum whilst many of the kingly prerogatives fell on the Senate. Throughout the period of the Roman republic institutions and laws were set in place in an effort to create a better balance of power. The noble Patrician class held much of the Senatorial power and unwillingly gave any of it up to the Plebeians. Over time this led to bloody civil wars:
Marius (Plebeians) vs Sulla (Patricians)
Caesar (Plebeians) vs Pompey (Patricias)
Octavian and Marc Anthony vs Brutus and Caesar’s assassins (the liberatores)
Octavian (aka Emperor Augustus) vs Marc Anthony
General Sulla managed to grab absolute dictatorial power and used it in an effort to turn back the clock. Proscription lists were drawn up to assassinate and eliminate any who might have shown support for the opposing side. He managed to turn the Republican state into all but a puppet. He died of ill health and the system slowly regained the Republican tracks. Julius Caesar himself was a promoter to reinstate the power of the ‘Tribunes of the people’. Which Sulla has nullified.
The love for personal freedom and the fear of an absolutist tyrant lasted well into the future, to the point that Julius Caesar himself was murdered by a group of republican idealists. The group of assassins included Caesar’s own adoptive son, Brutus: A descendant of Lucius Junius Brutus who had fostered the transition from Kingdom to Republic. Ironically Brutus was also instrumental in seeing the end of the Republic and transition towards an Empire.
The hate for Tyrants and Kings of the Roman Empire
The great emperor Augustus learned of this lesson and he himself achieved absolute control by showing himself, at least in propaganda, to be disinterested in personal gain or power. A first among equals. Whilst he took absolute power he was always careful to be seen to give up a good share of it. Representations of him also show Augustus wearing the Roman crown known as “Civic Crown” – normally used for individuals who had saved the life of a fellow countryman. That way he held on to power and increased it through time by having the Senate award him one title after another. In such a way he fashioned the figure of the emperor which was to rule over Rome for the forthcoming centuries.
Later Roman emperors were not so cautious but they had learned that the Roman hate for absolutist Tyrants and Kings could be heavily diluted by softening the mind of the Plebeians with free food and circus games.
Emperor Nero went as far as making extravagant donations to the poor but this turned heavily against him when the cut price food he had promised faltered.
Several emperors were to be remembered as Tyrants and would-be kings, often hated by the Roman populations. A few of them include Caligula or the later Heliogabalus – detested for their violence and excesses.