Prof. dr. Olivier Hekster
Prof. dr. Olivier Hekster

The figure and role of the emperor: six hundred years of stability(?)

Prof. Olivier Hekster's book, published late last year, is in the scholarly spotlight. In this book, he examined the figure and role of the emperor from 50 B.C. to A.D. 565. Despite the fact that the position of the emperor was never formalised during this time, expectations about it did exist. "And those expectations turned out to be surprisingly stable for over six hundred years".

How is Roman power formulated and exercised in an ever-changing society? This was the question a group of researchers engaged in for some time. The key question that concerned them was whether major cultural and political developments, such as the rise of Christianity or the relocation of the empire's capital from Rome to Constantinople, affected how people understood power and what they expected from rulers. The final result is Olivier Hekster's book, Caesar rules: The emperor in the changing Roman World (c.50 BC - AD 565).

Boekcover Caesar Rules - The Emperor in the Changing Roman World (c. 50 BC - AD 565)

Although it was never explicitly established that the emperor was the sole ruler of the Roman Empire during this time period, inhabitants of the empire did have an idea of what the emperor should be or do - and what they shouldn't. Hekster: "The [book] shows that emperorship in the Roman world was never formalised, but had to adhere to a whole host of unwritten regulations and expectations - from all sorts of different populations. And those expectations proved surprisingly stable for over six hundred years."

The book has recently received several rave reviews, including in the Times Literary Supplement, the Bryn Mawr Classical Review and the scholarly journal Greece & Rome. The book can be ordered through Cambridge University Press.

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