Guarding the Emperor in an Age of Chaos

Book chapter

Hebblewhite, Mark Kenneth. (2023). Guarding the Emperor in an Age of Chaos. In Brill's Companions to Classical Studies pp. 249 Brill.
AuthorsHebblewhite, Mark Kenneth

The period between the rise of the Severan Dynasty in 193 CE and the emergence of the Tetrarchy was one of the most volatile in all of Imperial Roman history. Between 235–284 alone, there were 27 emperors and countless more failed pretenders. In this period of political turmoil and military upheaval the emperor was in perpetual danger of assassination. Accordingly, the units he chose to protect his life was one of the most important decisions of his reign. Remarkably, our knowledge about which units served as imperial bodyguards during this period is extremely uneven. This contribution seeks to improve of our understanding of what bodyguards served the emperor during this period and why they were chosen. It will begin with detailing the changes made to the traditional imperial bodyguard establishment under the Severan emperors. The Chapter will then demonstrate that many of the component parts of this establishment remained in the role of imperial bodyguards well into the the Tetrarchic period and even as far as the start of Constantine’s reign. The Chapter will also show that while traditional bodyguard units such as the Praetorians and equites singulares augusti continued to regularly serve as imperial bodyguards throughout the period, more emperors than ever before were prepared to ‘widen’ their bodyguard establishment by adding newer units to their existing bodyguards. Often these units would boast strong links to the emperor himself or his regime and in many cases the emperor’s decision to enhance his bodyguard establishment was directly related to his own political and military response to the instability of the age.

KeywordsSeveran Dynasty; Roman history; Praetorian; equites singulares augusti; Ancient history; History of warfare; Classical studies
Page range249
Year01 Jan 2023
Book titleBrill's Companions to Classical Studies
Place of publicationNetherlands
SeriesBrill's Companions in Classical Studies : Warfare in the Ancient Mediterranean World
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Open accessPublished as non-open access
Research or scholarlyResearch
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All rights reserved
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Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online19 Dec 2022
Print22 Dec 2022
Publication process dates
Deposited31 May 2024
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Copyright 2023 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.

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