The Government of The Roman Empire


The Romans did not have a complex vision of government. Their philosophy and implementation of rule was quite simple. They believed that government should cover two broad categories of control: settling disputes between communities or individuals, and assembling men, goods, or money – jurisdiction and exaction. This philosophy would allow for the little bureaucratic involvement by the empire in the daily affairs of Romans and that of Rome’s conquered peoples.

The Romans ruled conquered nations by the Polis, the same standards that they ruled themselves by. Aristotle claimed that the best model for the Polis was the very nature of a good friendship. The Polis precedes the individual; that it is the family, the original polis, and the social group from which our natures as individuals, as mother, father, friend, teacher, arise. He claimed that virtue is the middle ground between excesses, a balance point. What must be practiced in order to be virtuous is anger at the right objects: anger at injustice, for instance, is proper. Rage is not virtuous because it is excessive and uncontrolled. Courage is virtue at the balance point between heedlessness and cowardice, which are both excessive forms of the same thing. The developed Polis depends on friendly relations among members, and lasting friendly relations depend on virtue.

The Roman Empire recognized three distinct forms of rule and order: magistrate, a roman government official; soldier, highly respected for their rigorous training, long amounts of marching, fighting in precise formations, and ability to kill their opponent; master of the household, the head male figure of the household. All activity in the empire can be linked with one of these roles. This again relates to the natural order that the Polis teaches both in political and philosophical practice.

Rome has also been accused of bureaucracy on the grounds that they took excellent written records of events as they occurred. From taking the minutes of a court hearing or government meetings to the accumulation of archives Romans understood the importance of keeping accurate records. However, virtuosity in the public service should not be confused with professionalism.

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