Romans not only gave gifts to express emotion and build relationships; a long-standing tradition of mutual aid gave rise to more intensive exchange of gifts and services (or reciprocity), among relatives, friends, and business associates; from the wealthy to the public in the form of public benefactions; and in legally sanctioned relationships between patrons and clients. Roman gift culture, distinctive among its contemporary Mediterranean societies, became increasingly transactional from the middle Republic to early Empire.
Gloria Vivenza and Neville Morley
Roman attitudes to wealth were complex and sometimes ambivalent. Wealth was an essential basis for political and social life, but also a topic of extensive debate, which focused on the proper uses of wealth and the proper ways of attaining it. These moral, philosophical, and literary debates had practical implications for how the Romans spent their wealth and how they acquired it.
Susan Bilynskyj Dunning
In Roman conceptions of time, the saeculum became the longest fixed interval, calculated as a period of 100 or 110 years (as opposed to, e.g., a lustrum of only five years; cf. “census”). The term originally indicated a “generation” or “lifetime,” but greater significance developed through its association with the Ludi Saeculares (Secular Games), which were performed to celebrate the advent of a new saeculum in Rome. Through the Secular Games, the emperor advertised his role in establishing his dynasty and ushering in an age of peace; emperors who wished to capitalize on this expression of authority made official references to the saeculum in coinage and inscriptions if they were unable to hold the Games during their reigns, thus creating a close link between the saeculum, imperial families, and political control. In Late Antiquity, the Christianization of the empire led to other usages. Because of its association with political power, the saeculum came to signify “the present age of the world,” in contrast with an eternal, heavenly realm; it could also be applied to a new, Christian era.
Arising from the agrarian and domestic contexts of classical antiquity, the notion of “frugality” (frugalitas) was a positive, desirable, and in many respects distinctively Roman concept that generally refers to a set of practices, ethical principles, and cultural and moral values pertaining to the production and consumption of resources. Closely related to this more general category is the concept of “parsimony” (parsimonia), which, as one type of frugalitas, is properly concerned with the prudent and judicious management of property and wealth. Both concepts tend to be associated with temperance and moderation (moderatio; cf. Gk. sophrosyne) and are often framed in opposition to “luxury” (luxuria) and “greed” (avaritia). Partly as a response to perceived increases in social ills and partly under the influence of Greek philosophy, the moral connotations of frugalitas and parsimonia become increasingly pronounced over time and are variously embraced by later Christian writers. Prominent historical exempla for these important Roman concepts include L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi, M.’ Curius Dentatus, and Cato the Elder.
T. Corey Brennan
Tribunicia potestas (tribunician power) refers to the rights granted to Rome’s tribuni plebis—including sacrosanctity, that is, personal inviolability while in office—and (later) to the claim by Roman emperors to the plebeian tribunes’ privileges, a status which they employed to reckon their own years of rule and also publicly designate a successor. In official titulature the emperors commonly list it second among their distinctions (with number of continuous years held, thus functioning akin to a regnal year), after the office of pontifex maximus and before the number of imperatorial acclamations and consulships (see imperator, consul).
Tribunes originally received their prerogatives to defend and support the plebs, which essentially formed a “state within a state” in the Roman polity. But already in the mid-4th century
W. Jeffrey Tatum
The reception of Caesar constitutes, for obvious reasons, an immense topic. As a political idea, Caesar exhibits from the very beginning a tension between his role as dictator and destroyer of the Republic and his standing as the political and military genius who founded the Empire. This contrariety, not least by way of the analytic category of Caesarism, is especially marked in the political discourse of the 19th and 20th centuries. Caesar’s literary reception, though influenced by contemporary political conflicts, is not always tethered to them in straightforward ways. The Caesar of literature is often a reaction to the Caesar of Shakespeare. And there are other important issues: Caesar as a problem in the recovery of authenticity, or Caesar, because he is a canonical author, as a symbol of the conservative claims of the established order. In art, Caesar the god and Caesar the chivalrous king gradually give way to Caesar the slain dictator or Caesar the imperious conqueror. In popular culture, however, Caesar’s manifestations vary wildly: although he continues to register at a political level, he can also signify imperial excess or martial prowess, and he is available as a medium for lampooning the various guises of his own reception.