During the period of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, different leaders exhibited different styles of leadership and employed different political strategies. In addition, these leaders came to power and maintained their control in their own unique ways. Each leader seemed to have his own agenda, which set the tone for that era. Five prominent leaders of this time period were Agricola, Augustus, Julius Caesar, and the brothers Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus. The point to be made with respect to these particular men is related to the obvious correlation between the nature of a leader’s agenda and the impact of his reign.
In the end, a ruler’s fate was dependent not on his agenda, but on style and strategy with which he pushed his agenda. Those leaders whose methods were completely altruistic were heralded as great leaders, while those with devious and/or unethical methods of pushing their agendas were hastily assassinated. First consider Tiberius Gracchus. It is imperative to analyze his style of leadership and his political strategies. During his term as tribune, Tiberius’ major goal was to pass a land reform bill. This bill was biased toward the masses.
Tiberius tried fairly and squarely to gain the support of the Roman senate, but this effort was to no avail. Tiberius then resorted to unfavorable tactics when he impeached another tribune, Octavius, the major opponent of Tiberius’ bill. Thus Tiberius willingly destroyed the long-held and quite favored notion of an immune tribune. However, this is what the common people wanted. Tiberius’ big mistake was blatantly opposing, thus disrespecting the Roman senate. As a result, the senate assassinated Tiberius. The lesson to be learned here is not that Tiberius’ agenda was constructed out of self-interest or greed.
Tiberius simply wanted to help the common people. However, Tiberius’ methods were not proper for that time in that place. And it is probable that Tiberius could easily have been persuaded to compromise. Thus, Tiberius’ downfall was not his agenda, but his style and political strategy. A different example of the same principle is summed up with the story of Tiberius’ younger brother, Gaius Gracchus. Gaius worked not to appease the senate, but to appease the people. Although this seems quite noble of him, it was still a mistake to oppose the senate. Granted, this notion is counter-intuitive.
One would expect that the senate is supposed to help the people, and since Gaius was helping the people, the senate should favor him. One would also expect that because it was the common people and not the senate that elected him, that he should have unwavering loyalty to the people. However, one must not look at the situation with a 1990’s, American, free will and liberty, democratic eyes. Rome was not a democracy. The senate commanded respect, and to disregard the senate, whether the people were in favor of you or not, was not a wise thing to do.
Thus, Gaius was also assassinated, like his brother, by the senate. It does not seem fair that Gaius was killed, but such is life, and had Gaius employed a more “senate-friendly” strategy of passing his laws, it is probable that his fate would not have been what it was. One final example of this is Julius Caesar. Caesar was a warlord and a dictator, but if one can look past that, as ridiculous as it sounds, then one would also notice that Caesar did a lot of good for Rome. As dictator, Caesar saw to a series of rapid reforms in many areas of Roman life.
He scaled down his large army by settling many of his soldiers in newly founded colonies and extended Roman civilization into some of the provinces. His most lasting reform was one by which we still regulate our lives – the establishment of a calendar based on the old Egyptian reckoning of 365 days, with one day added every fourth year. This “Julian” calendar lasted until 1582. Then, there were those leaders whose style of leadership and political strategy fit perfectly into the framework of society, such that they were considered to be great leaders. These leaders were Agricola and Augustus.
Agricola was an army commander for most of his relatively long life. He was regarded to be one of the best men anywhere, and he was revered by all. Yet, being an army commander does require some killing and punishing. Let’s be real. How is it that Agricola was, by the nature of his profession, a killer, yet was so respected, while Tiberius and Gaius strove to help people, and were assassinated? The answer goes back to style. Agricola’s style and political strategy was simple: do the job. If Agricola had a goal, then he simply did the best he could to attain that goal.
He was incorruptible and straightforward. He was not devious, nor was he unethical. People loved to see these qualities in a leader, and as a result, they loved Agricola. There was no difficulty about recognizing him as a good man, and one could willingly believe him to be a great man. He had fully attained those true blessings which depend upon a man’s own character. He had held the consulship and bore the decorations of triumph: what more could fortune have added? He had no desire for vast wealth, and he had a handsome future.
It is likely that even if he made a decision that was initially looked down upon by the people, the people still knew that Agricola was altruistically making the decisions that he felt were best. He would not have made a decision under the influence of somebody else for political reasons. The citizenry could trust Agricola, which is something that can be said about only a handful of leaders. Clearly, the reason he was held in such high regard wasn’t that he conquered a great deal of territory, or that he was a superior general, although those things help.
It was Agricola’s way of leading that people admired and respected. One last example of a similar type of leader was Augustus Caesar. Augustus defined the epitome of good leadership. Tiberius, Gaius, and Caesar all could have learned some very valuable, life saving lessons from Augustus. The most important lesson to be learned, perhaps, is moderation. Augustus was very much like Agricola in that he considered a very good leader. However, Augustus was emperor, and he had the power to do whatever he wanted, despite whether the people wanted it or not. Why didn’t he? Well, he actually did do what he wanted.
However, in accordance with the main point we have been discussing, he did so with a particular style and political strategy, so as not to offset social order. He ruled very subtly. He saw to it that he got what he wanted, yet he did so with such caution that it was disguised as interest in providing for the good of the citizens. Therefore, Augustus’ reign supports the theory that a ruler can drive a selfish agenda, yet as long as the style and political strategy of the leader in question is favored by the people, then the leader can still be considered a good ruler.
Therefore, upon considering the lives of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, Julius Caesar, Agricola, and Augustus Caesar, it is clear that people in the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire considered a leader’s particular actions more that his agenda when deciding whether or not a leader is worthy of being called “great” or being assassinated. Obviously, a leader’s agenda and accomplishments are important factors, but we have seen with these five particular leaders that sometimes accomplishments do not matter. What matters greatly are the steps taken by a leader to obtain goals or satisfy certain needs.