Project Title: Youth in Power: Roman Perceptions to the Youthful Roman Emperors

Principal Advisor: Dr Caillan Davenport

Project Abstract: This thesis will examine Roman perceptions of the youthful emperors during the early and high Roman Empire. For the purpose of this dissertation, the phase associated with youth (iuventa) will be defined as the period between the ages of 13/14 and 28 years.[1] The emperors who fall into this category are Gaius (25), Nero (16), Commodus (co-emperor at age 11; as sole emperor he was 19), Caracalla (co-emperor at age 11; joint-rule with Geta at age 23), Geta (co-emperor at age 20; joint-rule with Caracalla at age 22), Elagabalus (14), Alexander Severus (13) and Gordian III (13). Specifically, this thesis will focus on three thematic areas and their relation to the ambivalent portrayals of youthful emperors throughout this period: Guiding and advising young emperors, games and pleasures, and the exercise of power. It will argue that the topoi associated with the culture of youth influenced the manner in which these emperors were portrayed in ancient works, both contemporary and non-contemporary. Though these emperors were given a margin of allowance to engage in youthful behaviour, the Roman elite authors interpreted the vices of youth as characterising their rule of the Empire. Accordingly, iuventa (youth) was used as a means of explaining, and often both excusing and condemning, the carefree and unrestrained behaviour of the youthful emperors, often in line with the behavioural boundaries placed by ancient writers.


[1] Although it is acknowledged that strict boundaries associated with youth did not exist in antiquity, it is acknowledged that there was a phase known as youth that typically began in ones early teenage years and continued until their late twenties (Laes and Strubbe 2014: 197-214). These age boundaries fall into line with the life stages assigned by Macrobius (Comm. Somn. Scip. 1.6.70).

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