Management Secrets of Rome’s First Emperors

An interesting article by Josiah Osgood on Forge:

In a reversal of the usual self-help formula, Suetonius’ depictions of Rome’s bad emperors become a guide for , whatever your role in life.

Julius Caesar refusing to stand to greet the Senators when they come bearing honors is a lesson in how to treat colleagues. Tiberius trying to win glory from a disastrous fire: a reminder that you shouldn’t always try to take credit for your accomplishments. Caligula brutalizing those around him, even forcing his father-in-law to cut his throat with a razor: brutalize, and you will be brutalized back. Nero meeting the threat of rebellion by loading his wagons with organs for the theaters and concubines with buzz cuts: your pet projects may fatally undermine you and your organization.

Read the whole thing


One thing you’ll notice when you visit Rome is that classical things got preserved – if they could be Christianized in some way. It is easy to get upset at Christians for such imperialism, but their faith was perhaps stronger than ours, and the choice, for them, was either Christianization, or obliteration. Let us be glad for such things as:

• Trajan’s column being topped with a statue of St. Peter.

As a student asked today, why didn’t they rename it the “Monotheon”? Or the “Panhagion!”, I replied.

• The Pantheon becoming the “Church of St. Mary and the Martyrs.”


• Egyptian obelisks being crowned with crosses

• Hadrian’s Mausoleum becoming the Castel Sant’Angelo, the medieval papal safe house. 

The Colosseum, alas, was not Christianized – thus its dilapidated state. Once Emperor Theodosius banned gladiatorial combat in the late fourth century, there was no use for this building, so it was used as a quarry in the Middle Ages, and you can find bits of the Colosseum in other buildings throughout Rome. It has been considered sacred by Christians as a site of martyrdom, but I’ve often felt it was a bit of a shame that there was no late antique Joel Osteen figure who would repurpose the Colosseum as a megachurch. 

By the way, the official name of the Colosseum is the Flavian Amphitheater, having been built during the Flavian dynasty in the late first century A.D. The second word, “amphitheater,” is also accurate, as the theater goes all the way around (amphi = Greek for “on both sides”). Most “amphitheaters” these days are actually just theaters. 

(All images Wikipedia.) 

The Twelve Tables

Like the Code of Hammurabi, the Twelve Tables of Law of the Roman Republic form a great teaching tool, because while the laws may not have been enforced, no one passes a law against something that isn’t happening, or against something they’re unconcerned about. So they form a great insight into the early Roman Republic. 

I am always amused by these laws, from Table VIII:

3. If one is slain while committing theft by night, he is rightly slain.

13. It is unlawful for a thief to be killed by day…. unless he defends himself with a weapon; even though he has come with a weapon, unless he shall use the weapon and fight back, you shall not kill him. And even if he resists, first call out so that someone may hear and come up.

If nothing else, it emphasizes how the Romans lacked street lighting, and how anxious they were about nighttime (Law 26: “No person shall hold meetings by night in the city”) – as though it’s cheating to use the cover of darkness to commit crimes. It reminds me of the only time I’ve been in Montana, where, I discovered, there are lower speed limits for nighttime driving. 

But I am always amused to discover a Roman law that’s actually more lenient than the ones in force today. In Georgia, if someone breaks into your house, no matter what the time of day, you are allowed to respond with deadly force, as God and the Constitution intended. The daytime theft law that the Romans had sounds like something that might be on the books in Massachusetts – a “duty to retreat” or something like that. What prompted the Romans to institute this criminal rights statue, I wonder? Were too many people getting killed, with the killer than claiming that the deceased was trying to rob him? Was it a bone that the rich were willing to throw to the poor, in the same way that they allowed for the existence of the Plebeian Assembly?