This work deals with the mutual relationship between the principes, from Augustus to Nero, and the city plebs. In a pioneering work which seeks to move far beyond simple class and ethnic description, Professor Yavetz asks the tough question: why did key Roman emperors make so many efforts to endear themselves to the urban populace?
The situation was not entirely unlike what one observes in present day advanced societies. Although a ruling elite held a monopoly of force and power in military and even legislative terms, Ceasar and Ceasarism well understood the advantages of largesse - from rent relief to public games - consolidating and legitimating power.
In a work which is self-defined as a limited slice of history, the author is yet able to illumine vast chunks of political sociology: attitudes of the urban mass to one party rule, the trade-off between material goods and politial loyalty, the maintenance of elementary forms of legality, and a populist bent among those who would rule. Yavetz's classic work, which first appeared in 1969 and has been long unavailable, faithfully employs classical events to illumine modern life - not in a forced, but better, in quite natural ways.