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J. E. Lendon offers a new interpretation of how the Roman empire worked in the first four centuries AD. A despotism rooted in force and fear enjoyed widespread support among the ruling classes of the provinces on the basis of an aristocratic culture of honour shared by rulers and ruled. The competitive Roman and Greek aristocrats of the empire conceived of their relative standing in terms of public esteem or honour, and conceived of their cities - towards which they
felt a warm patriotism - as entities locked in a parallel struggle for primacy in honour over rivals. Emperors and provincial governors exploited these rivalries to gain the indispensable co-operation of local magnates by granting honours to individuals and their cities. Since rulers strove for
honour as well, their subjects manipulated them with honours in their turn. Honour - whose workings are also traced in the Roman army - served as a way of talking and thinking about Roman government: it was both a species of power, and a way - connived in by rulers and ruled - of concealing the terrible realities of imperial rule.