These People Were The Real Power Behind The Throne
These People Were The Real Power Behind The Throne

These People Were The Real Power Behind The Throne

Khalid Elhassan - July 13, 2023

These People Were The Real Power Behind The Throne
Augustus. Encyclopedia Britannica

Augustus Repeated Pompey’s King-making

After his victory over Mark Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BC, Gaius Octavius, better known to history as Augustus (63 BC – 14 AD), reorganized power in the Eastern Mediterranean. Rulers from the Nile in Egypt to the shores of the Black Sea were confirmed, deposed, or installed, as reward or punishment for their stances during the recently concluded conflict. Herod the Great, mentioned in the New Testament as having ordered the Massacre of the Innocents, was among the kings whose fates were decided by Augustus. He was an unlikely kingmaker. Octavius had been born to an affluent plebian family on his father’s side, while his mother was of the patrician Julii lineage, and a niece of Julius Caesar.

Octavius’ famous grand uncle launched him into public life, and groomed him to be his heir. He was in Albania, engaged in military and academic studies, when Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. When he returned to Italy, Octavius learned that Caesar had adopted him as his son in his will, and made him his chief heir. However, Caesar’s lieutenant, Mark Antony, refused to honor the will, while Caesar’s assassins ignored the teenager. Cicero, an elder statesmen and a key figure in a politically powerful but militarily weak faction, sought to manipulate him. He quipped that he would “raise, praise, then erase” Octavius.

These People Were The Real Power Behind The Throne
Bronze bust of Augustus. British Museum

From a Power Behind the Scenes, to Top Dog

All underestimated Octavius. He paid for public games in honor of his adoptive father to gain recognition and popularity, and wooed Caesar’s veteran soldiers to his side. Cicero’s faction sought Octavius’ aid, bent the rules to appoint him a senator despite his youth, and sent him against Mark Antony, who was forced to retreat from Italy to Gaul. The consuls in official command of the forces arrayed against Mark Antony were killed, so Octavius compelled the Senate to appoint him to a vacant consulship despite his youth. He then double crossed the Senate, cut a deal with Mark Antony, and joined him in a power sharing dictatorship. The duo then launched a massive purge that executed thousands of suspected opponents, including Cicero.

They then went after Caesar’s assassins, defeated them, and exacted revenge. The duo swore friendship, and to seal the bargain, Antony married Octavius’ sister. They then divided the Roman Empire: Antony ruled the east, while Octavius stayed in Rome and ruled the west. Things soured when Antony fell in love with Queen Cleopatra in Egypt, married her, and abandoned Octavius’ sister. Octavius used that as a pretext to attack Antony, whom he defeated in 31 BC. He then seized Egypt and the eastern provinces, and finally brought the entire Roman realm under his control. After his victory, Octavius engaged in a round of king-making in the Eastern Mediterranean, nearly as extensive as that of Pompey the Great a generation earlier.

These People Were The Real Power Behind The Throne

The Indian Philosopher Who Became a Power Behind the Throne

Kautilya, also known as Chanakya or Vishnugupta (flourished in the fourth century BC), was an Indian philosopher, teacher, and royal advisor. He pioneered the field of political science when he penned the Arthashastra (“The Science of Material Gain”), history’s first political treatise on statecraft, economic policy, and military strategy. It was a compilation of all that had been written up to his time about artha (economics, property, or material success). Kautila was also a kingmaker who played an instrumental role in the rise of Chandrugupta and the establishment of his Mauryan Empire.

Kautilya was a Brahmin priest, who had the misfortune of being ugly as sin. One day, a king named Dhana Nanda, disgusted by Kautilya’s appearance, ordered him thrown out of a ceremony. Understandably upset, Kautilya vowed revenge, and set out to find a substitute monarch. He managed to recruit the king’s own son, Pabbata, and also came across a promising youth, Chandragupta. With Chandragupta and Pabbata, Kautilya had two potential contenders. So to choose between them, he devised a test.

These People Were The Real Power Behind The Throne
Kautilya and Chandragupta, as depicted in modern media. Pinterest

The Power Behind the Mauryan Empire

Kautilya gave each of Pabbata and Chandragupta an amulet, dangling from a thread to be worn around the neck. One day, while Chandragupta slept, Kautilya asked Pabbata to remove the amulet from his neck without waking him. Pabbata tried, but failed when Chandragupta woke up. A few days later, while Pabbata slept, Kautilya asked Chandragupta if he could remove the amulet without waking him. Chandragupta came up with a simple but ruthless solution: he chopped off Pabbata’s head. Kautilya had his man. For the next few years, until Chandragupta reached adulthood, Kautilya instructed him in royal duties and the art of governance.

When his charge came of age, Kautilya raised an army and marched against Dhana Nanda. After an initial setback, kingmaker and would-be king emerged victorious, and killed Dhana Nanda. Kautilya then anointed Chandragupta the new king. He remained by the new monarch’s side as chief advisor, while Chandragupta expanded his realm to create the Mauryan Empire. After Chandragupta’s death, Kautilya continued in his role as chief adviser to his son and successor, Bindusara. Thanks to Kautilya, the Mauryan Empire under Chandragupta, and later Asoka (reigned circa 268 – 232 BC) became a model of good administration and efficient government.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Barton, Dunbar B. – The Amazing Career of Bernadotte (1930)

BBC History – Augustus

Bedoyere, Guy de la – Praetorian: The Rise and Fall of Rome’s Imperial Bodyguard (2017)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Carl Otto Morner

Encyclopedia Britannica – Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby

Flomen, Max, McGill University Classics – The Original Godfather: Ricimer and the Fall of Rome

Glubb, John Bagot – A Short History of the Arab Peoples (1969)

Gordon, Matthew – The Breaking of a Thousand Swords: A History of the Turkish Military of Samarra, AH 200-275/ 815-889 CE (2001)

Greece & Rome, Vol. 22, No. 66 (Oct., 1953) – Decline and Fall of Pompey the Great

Historia, Bd. 44, H. 3 (3rd Qtr., 1995) – The Birth of Ricimer

Historic UK – Warwick, the Kingmaker

History Collection – The 10 Women Behind 10 of the Most Influential Men in History

History of War – Thomas, Lord Stanley, Earl of Derby

India Netzone – Sayyid Brothes in Later Mughal Politics

Leach, John – Pompey the Great (1978)

Lumanriaum Encyclopedia Project – Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, ‘The Kingmaker’

Mason, Emma – The House of Godwine: The History of a Dynasty (2004)

Mookerji, Radhakumud – Chandragupta Maurya and His Times (1966)

News Nine – Sayyid Brothers: Know About the Siblings in Mughal Court Who Dictated the Course of the Empire in Early 18th Century

Oman, Charles – The Dark Ages, 476-918 AD (1914)

Singh, Upinder – A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century (2008)

Spectator, The, March 4th, 2017 – Who Will Guard the Guards?

Suetonius – The Twelve Caesars: Life of Augustus

Traditio, Vol. 28, 1972 – Earl Godwin of Wessex and Edward the Confessor’s Promise of the Throne to William of Normandy

World History Encyclopedia – Pompey

World History Encyclopedia – Praetorian Guard