The Crimen Maiestatis and the Emergence of Autocratic Rule, from Republic to Principate

van Diepen, Lily, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Meyer, Elizabeth, AS-History (HIST), University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the evolution of the crimen maiestatis (or the crimen maiestatis minutae) from its inception in the Roman Republic to the Principate and explores the intimate relationship between maiestas and the emergence (and consolidation) of autocratic rule during the Julio-Claudian era. At no point, either under the Republic or the Principate, was there ever a precise definition of the crimen maiestatis or a static understanding of what constituted maiestas minuta; rather, the meaning of the crime was evolving and intimately linked to shifting conceptions of the res publica and perceptions of where—or in whom—its power was manifested. Under the Principate the focus of the crimen maiestatis shifted from harmful acts that imperiled the res publica as a whole to offenses against the princeps specifically, such as physical attacks on his life and, more significant, injury to his dignitas and honor. This dissertation argues that the reorientation of maiestas towards the princeps and his protection did not occur through any formal means—such as the enactment of a new lex maiestatis or a senatus consultum—nor was it orchestrated by the emperor. Rather, the transformation of the crime was driven by the actual treatment of maiestas in practice and by the experiments and innovations of individual Romans, who raised accusations of maiestas for increasingly novel offenses against the princeps, offenses that would not have been viewed or prosecuted as maiestas under the Republic. This dissertation examines each case of maiestas over the course of the Republic and Principate to understand how Romans were interpreting and conceiving of the crime at each stage of its development. Special focus is given to the reign of Tiberius, which marked a critical point in both the evolution of the crimen maiestatis and the formulation of the imperial position. The dissertation broadly concludes that the way that maiestas, in connection with the emperor, was perceived and treated was crucial to the development of the imperial system and the position of princeps.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
maiestas, crimen maiestatis, maiestas minuta, Principate, princeps, emperor, lex maiestatis, lex Iulia, lex Cornelia, lex Varia, lex Appuleia, treason, auctoritas, Tiberius, Tacitus, autocracy, delator, delatores, Augustus, auctoritas
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