Iovem imperium, or Sacred aspects of Roman “globalization”

Abstract. The article deals with the question of the “globalization” project of the Roman civilization. The construct “Iovem imperium” can explain the phenomenon of the Roman self-government and “sacred claim” of Roman community to domination in other lands. Pax Romana was conceived as an expression of Roman power (imperium), the boundaries of the Roman Republic were perceived as the border of the civilized world. Augustus was a brilliant manager, who could implement the Roman idea (an essential element of which was “Iovem imperium”) in the best way and create an almost perfect model of “globalization” in the ancient world. Forms of government were subordinated to the general concept of the Roman idea, and when to implement it in the new historical conditions required concentration of the supreme power in the same hands, the Romans willingly agreed to this, seeing in a World Empire highest embodiment of the republic as a “common cause” of its citizens.
Keywords: Iovem imperium, Roman idea, Ancient Rome, Pax Romana, globalization, philosophy of history, civilization.

This article was originally published:
Halapsis, A. (2014). Iovem imperium, or Sacred aspects of Roman “globalization”. Scientific cognition: methodology and technology 33(2), 173–178.
Chicago 16th / Turabian 8th (footnotes)
Halapsis, Alexis. “Iovem imperium, or Sacred aspects of Roman “globalization”.” Scientific cognition: methodology and technology 33, no. 2 (2014): 173–178.
Halapsis A. Iovem imperium, or Sacred aspects of Roman “globalization” / Alexis Halapsis // Scientific cognition: methodology and technology. – 2014. – Vol. 33, № 2. – P. 173–178.

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Some principles underlying the contemporary global order worked effectively in already extinct societies, in particular — in the society of Ancient Rome. The latter was not, of course, a World Empire, and Pax Romana, for obvious reasons, was not “global”. However, I assert that the Romans had their own specific “globalization” project. If our contemporary globalization is based on liberalism, then what the Roman version was founded on? This is what will be discussed in the present study.

History of Roman civilization is known (except for the earliest period) quite well thanks to the numerous artifacts and narrative sources (works of Greek and Roman historians). Roman history attracted both personalities of the Renaissance, and writers of Modern time; interest in it perked up especially after emergence of the fundamental work by Edward Gibbon. Philosophers also had dealt with this topic. Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu devoted to understanding Roman history special work; others prefer to consider it in context of large-scale philosophical generalizations.

There is no shortage of studies on globalization. Sometimes (especially in the polemical context) between contemporary globalization and Pax Romana drew parallels, but I don’t know any studies, in which Roman “globalization” is derived from the metaphysical depths of the Roman spirit. I would like to make a contribution to the disclosure of the Roman “globalization”.

The aim of the article is to identify the religious content of Pax Romana.

Discreteness of Roman history

As the world of history is event-world, transformations in it are inevitable, but it is equally obvious, that the variability is not absolute, and transformation processes are implemented within a structure, which, while taking various forms, retains, nevertheless, its identity itself. Yet even without talking about the totality of history (Halapsis, 2010), it is naturally to expect the detection of the integrity of its local components. In other words, exploring the history of a particular society from its “beginning” and to “the end”, we must be sure that the event-chain located between the conditional points is representing elements of the same set. However, what the metaphysical traveler wants to find in history, may not coincide with the intentions of its “priests”.

The traditional tripartite scheme of Roman history (The Royal period — The Republic — The Empire, the latter is divided, in turn, on The Principate and The Dominate), is very comfortable, but it is relevant only if a researcher perceives of its conventionality character. Otherwise, he may feel the three (four) slightly connected “worlds”, each of which is founded not only on the different, but almost on opposite worldview principles. Roman model of royal power is correlated with the monarchist models in archaic societies, and even tribes (“king-priest” (Frazer, 1925)), for the republican model researchers are trying to find analogues in Greek city-states, the imperial Rome is likened to great autocratic states such as Sassanid Iran. It would seem that this typology is justified by the fact, that the settlement of Roman history under the general scheme increases the chances of its comprehension. However, there is almost nothing in common between the societies, which Rome is compared with in different periods of its history. It turns out, that (for some preposterous coincidence) three or four “worlds” are the stages of development of same society.

The Romans, whose ancestors exiled Tarquinius Superbus and vowed to defend the reign of the people, adopted (decorated with beautiful words about freedom) Augustus’ authoritarianism. Changes of these two forms of government took place in different conditions: the abolition of the monarchy was relatively quick and “comparatively without bloodshed”; the formation of the Principate was preceded by lengthy civil wars. But both the Revolution of 509 years BC and the establishment of one-man reign should have been perceived as a shock and a violation of traditions; instead of that we actually see almost consensus omnium. In circumstances, where the supreme power became nonelected, indivisible and lifetime, the state continued to be called “republic”, and the Romans didn’t see a problem here. If they, tired of quarrels with each other ambitious politicians, just agreed with the power of the great hypocrite, it still could have been understood. But they accepted Augustus’ reign with enthusiasm!

It is hard to suspect the conquerors of the world in ordinary servility: slaves could not be good masters. But why such essential transformations of the pattern of power didn’t affect the authenticity of the idea? Apparently this idea included appropriate transformational potential. So there must be some “common denominator”, ensuring succession of epochs and filling the gaps between them, which inevitably will seem deep chasms for formal-typological approach to the problem. I think that this “denominator” can be found if we take a look at facts of Roman history under a certain angle of view; but how to do it? If you don’t know where to start, you need to start from beginning.

Pax Deorum and the Sacredness of the Community

Hardly Romulus’ contemporaries considered the foundation of Rome as a sacred act; almost certainly they took it just as a business project with promising benefits. But this event was retrospectively evaluated by their descendants as something out of the ordinary. “That city — founded under the best auspices; that Romulus — their king and their god; that capitol — eternal as the city — and the city as eternal as its founder — had formerly exercised an influence upon the spirit of the Romans which it were to be desired that they had continued to feel” (Montesquieu, 1882, p. 198—199).

The first king organized lasting contact with the gods, and his successors tried to support pax deorum. Dynastic principle of government wasn’t established in the Royal Rome, therefore Romans couldn’t regard the right to reign as a sacred attribute of “the royal blood”. After Romulus’ death (or ascension?), royal power was vacant for about a year, and only when the need to have a single leader of the community became apparent, Romans staged elections. The Senate chosed Numa Pompilius, but the new king took office only after this choice had been approved by the gods (Livius. I. 17—18). If Jupiter vetoed the Senate’s decision, the Romans would have had to find a new candidate for the King, but he had not used this right.

Generally, interventions of the gods in affairs of the community were occasional (for example, in 215 BC Jupiter through signs disagreed with the election of a consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus (Сморчков, 2012, c. 65—69), though their support has been permanent. The gods gave the Roman community sweeping powers for self-government, and then they didn’t object to the overthrow of kings. By the way, Marcellus, who decided not to enter into conflict with the gods, resigned voluntarily, for even Jupiter had no authority to compel the community to organize new elections (unlike kings, republican magistrates were not subjected to the inauguration, so — they were even less dependent on the will of the celestials).

However, Roman society of neither royal nor later periods was not secular, at least in our modern sense. Sacred sphere occupied an important place in Rome, but it was a special kind of sacredness. I suppose, that sacred status is not applied to the royal title, or to priesthood, or to any other institutions themselves. Sacred was the whole community of the Romans.

The last statement may come as a surprise, because the sacredness directly refers to the divinity, which the community could not give itself. Nevertheless, many of the facts of Roman history (in this article I mention only some) show that the Romans acted as if their community had (sacred) status. In this case, it is necessary to assume that someone gave it to them, and that someone had to be the source of divinity, since he could “distribute” it. As the supreme Roman god was Jupiter, I assume that he made the Roman community “sacred”, i.e. it is Jupiter gave “imperium” to the Romans — as the right to determine their own destiny. Although this value is not articulated by the Romans, it does not mean that it (or something similar) was not implied. I introduce the concept of “Iovem imperium” in the sense indicated above, hoping that such an approach will help understand both “mysterious Roman soul” and zigzags of its (the soul’s) biography.

Roman concept of imperium that characterized the supreme power; it had not only organizational, but also metaphysical significance as the right to take decisions on behalf of the whole community (for more details about legal and religious aspects of the supreme power in Rome see special studies of Kofanov (2001), Dementeva (2005), Smorchkov (2012) etc.). The phrase “Iovem imperium” meant the supreme authority of the chief god in general, his power over the other inhabitants of heaven — in particular (for example, Julius Caesar uses turnover “Iovem imperium caelestium tenere” (De bello gallico. VI. 17)). I mean not the very Jupiter’s reign by this term, but the reign coming from him. Idea of the special relationship of the supreme god with this community gave the Romans reason to believe that he gave it extraordinary power.

Was it a formal act? Maybe vultures flew not only in order to resolve the brothers’ dispute, especially when we take into account, that the number of lictors (they were as monarch’s guards, as a symbol of his power) was equal to the number of birds, which heralded the victory of Romulus; according to one version (Livius. I. 8. 3) was not accidental (by the way, twelve lictors were also reserved for every Republican consul). We can take as a basis the history, associated with Romulus’ disappearance. As it is known, senators argued that the king ascended to heaven, but there were rumors that they helped him leave this mortal world. In this situation patrician Julius Proculus’ testimony occurred to be very helpful, he (perhaps selfishly motivated) claimed that communicated with Romulus after his death. The words, that this witness puts into the mouth of the king, draw attention: “Go and declare to the Romans the will of Heaven that my Rome shall be the capital of the world; so let them cherish the art of war, and let them know and teach their children that no human strength can resist Roman arms” (Livius. I. 16. 7). Here aspirations to world domination are justified by the gods’ will, and as people listen to what they want to hear, the version of Proculus was accepted with faith and reverence. Of the community’s sovereign rights confirmation.

Still, I suppose that the Romans considered sacredness of the community as a constant, and if necessary — renewable connection to the world of the gods. Last ensured through religious ceremonies, in particular — the auspices, that were not only a method the coordination any action with Jupiter (and other gods), but also a form of the community’s rights confirmation and prolongation of “divine imperium”. If complied with all the rules, then there should not be any problems with the gods. Therefore, questions of procedure both in making laws and in their implementation were a factor, for which lawyers of subsequent periods valued Roman law so much, and that, in fact, was an attempt to combine the practical need with the divine will. Law was the applied theology to the Romans, but not in the sense that the Romans figured out divine will through legislation, but that they have implemented their will as law, taking care of that this will not come out beyond the powers granted to them “imperium of heaven”. In turn, the community (the Senate and the people) could delegate to kings, to magistrates, to princeps “imperium”, received from Jupiter, and it was right of the community; that is why the exile of Tarquinius Superbus did not cause religious turmoil.

The Expansion

However, “Iovem imperium” gave authority not only for self-government. Jupiter — the supreme god of the world and the Romans are his chosen people, as the Greeks are the people of Athena. But Athena is not the chief goddess; the supreme Greek god (Zeus) maintained order in the world without giving special preferences to the Greeks; ruler of Attica helps her subjects, so to speak, privately. As it may seem strange, in this respect the Romans were like the Jews, who received from Yahweh “Promised Land”. If Yahweh establishes territorial jurisdiction, why Jupiter cannot do it?

The Greeks were willing to fight for their land, pro aris et focis, but were indifferent to the seizure of foreign territories. The Romans had another paradigm. As noted by Baron de Montesquieu (1882, p. 137), “or they had carried things to such a height that nations and kings were their subjects without knowing precisely by what title — it being established that it was enough to have heard them spoken of in order to owe them obedience”. The Romans were interested in the rights of other nations not to a greater extent than the ancient Jews — the rights of those whom they held bloodletting. For the Jewish were promised world domination only in the indefinite future and it was a matter of the supernatural (the arrival of the Messiah), but the Romans had already received the necessary “license” (“the will of Heaven that… Rome shall be the capital of the world”), and therefore felt no compunction, crushing alien states.

This idea gave the perfect excuse and justification of expansion. After the victory in the Third Punic War (149—146 BC), Rome lost its serious opponents in the Mediterranean, and there was no one to stop its expansion. But if the Roman people extend far beyond Pomerium, many of its members will not be able to elect the magistrates or to discuss laws. Then implementation of the first part of the Roman project turns out to be problematic — namely, the principle of the sacredness of the community, if a significant part of the citizens will no longer take part in its life. In former times the Romans preferred to control other people, now they took the way of the direct conquest. The superiority of the army allows them to capture the lands that Rome did not have enough human material to keep. But the Romans could not organize raids, because it did not fit their world view. They didn’t consider themselves thieves and bandits, because the Romans believe that take what rightfully belongs to them.

“Iovem imperium” meant: 1) sacredness of the community as the integrity, and 2) the right to expansion. The first concerned the inner life of the community, the second — its outer side. The sacredness of the community was implemented in joint decision-making which certifies auspices, and expansion of the Romans regarded as their sacred rights to dispose of destiny of other nations. However, the latter crossed out the idea of the community as a single organism, and the civil conflicts that moved into the “hot stage” after the murder of Tiberius Gracchus, showed the weakness of the design, based on the internal contradictions. For one hundred years (133—31 BC) after that the Republic was shaken by the bloody clashes.

It became obvious that to stop internal conflicts the Romans must radically change the model of state government. At the same time, it was necessary in one form or another to preserve ideological concept, denoted by me as “Iovem imperium”. Different models had been tried — a return to the (forgotten for two centuries) dictatorship, which gives a new meaning by removing the time limitation (Sulla, Caesar), was invent such form of government as the “Triumvirate”… But the dictatorship could only temporarily stabilize the situation, and the two Triumvirates (Caesar—Pompey—Crassus and Octavian—Mark Antony—Lepidus) were only palliatives.

Augustus’ Model

As known, the civil wars ended with the coming to power of Octavian Augustus. Regardless of this politician’s motivations, he was able to combine the idea of the sacredness of the community and the need for expansion, creating a unique model of government. Augustus took upon himself the burden of decision-making, thereby “freeing” the Romans from the necessity of participation in public life, and he “untied” them from Pomerium. At the same time Augustus announced the “restoration of the republic” and created the illusion that the state was still controlled by the will “of the Senate and the people”.

Dropping the title ‘triumvir’, Octavian presented himself as a consul, and as a man satisfied to hold tribunician authority in order to safeguard the people. Then, by seducing the military with donatives, the masses with grain allowances, and everybody with the pleasure of peace, he gradually increased his powers, drawing to himself the functions of Senate, magistrates, and laws.

(Tacitus. Annals. I. 2)

Hardly the Romans were so alien to reflection, to take it at face value, nonetheless they were easily succumbed to the hype not only due to the fact that the new model was consistent with their personal interests, but also because it was correlated with “Iovem imperium” as the fundamental principle of their worldview. Augustus annexed to Rome more land than anyone else, he created a sound fiscal system, his reign contributed to the flourishing of crafts, arts, commerce, architecture, urban planning, postal service, etc. The beneficence of Augustus’ management felt not only citizens of the metropolis, but also the people of the province, which have had the opportunity of quiet and relatively comfortable existence. All these facts give grounds to call Augustus as “Godfather of Europe” (Holland, 2005), and this characteristic is not too far from the truth.

Roman state on the worldview level continued to operate republican patterns and its citizens did not take political reforms of Augustus as a return to monarchy. “Empire” is not a derivative of “emperor” as, say, “kingdom” from “king”, and certainly it is not property of ruler. Imperium Romanum is “imperium” of the Roman people, and the emperor is only a top manager.

The Latin word imperium (pl. — imperia) meant ‘power’, ‘domination’, ‘ascendance’, ‘State’ and so on. Speaking about ‘Empire of the Roman people’, the Romans had in mind first and foremost results of conquest (‘imperial’, ‘imperialist’ — in the modern sense) policy, which was initiated many centuries before Augustus, in the era of the Republic.

(Межерицкий, 1994, с. 10).

Political regime founded by Augustus for several centuries was considered the best, so it is not surprising that the Romans adored him during life and gave divine honors after his death. He was neither a great revolutionary, nor a great warlord. Rather, Augustus was a brilliant manager, who could implement the Roman idea (an essential element of which was “Iovem imperium”) in the best way and create an almost perfect model of “globalization” in the ancient world.


Investigation of the features of Roman civilization has not only historiographical value. Roman civilization has made an outstanding contribution to the historical experience of mankind, and the Roman “roots” can be found even in our contemporary globalization process. The construct “Iovem imperium” can explain the phenomenon of the Roman self-government and “sacred claim” of Roman community to domination in other lands. Pax Romana was conceived as an expression of Roman power (imperium), the boundaries of the Roman Republic were perceived as the border of the civilized world. Forms of government were subordinated to the general concept of the Roman idea, and when to implement it in the new historical conditions required concentration of the supreme power in the same hands, the Romans willingly agreed to this, seeing in a World Empire highest embodiment of the republic as a “common cause” of its citizens.


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