A leadership lesson from the emperor

1/6 – The things you see after a drink in Rome

0YBAK9ITCAfter a hot summer day in Rome, an aperitivo in the square where the Pantheon is located seemed a sufficient reason to celebrate a deal with clients.
Suddenly my eye was caught by the Latin inscription on the façade of the temple.
A question that could not remain unanswered crossed my mind. That is how I ended up receiving a 2000-year old leadership lesson.


2/6 – The first Roman emperor

Born Gaius Octavius Thurinus (September 23, 63 BC), his maternal great-uncle was that Julius Ceasar. After Ceasar’s assassination in 44 BC, Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as adopted son and heir, after which he was known as Octavianus.
At his arrival in Rome on 6 May 44 BC, Octavianus found consul Mark Antony, Caesar’s former associate, in a tense cease-fire with the assassins of his uncle. After a quick rise to power, he shared command of the Roman republic with Mark Antony and Pompeus, but the game did not last long. With the Battle of Actium and the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra, Octavianus became the sole ruler of Rome.

In 27 BC the Senate gave Octavianus the new title of Augustus. In 8 BC, the month Sextilis (the sixth after March, that was considered the first month in light of the Spring equinox, like in the Persian and other Asian cultures) was renamed August in honor of Augustus.
Calling himself as Imperator Caesar divi filius, “Commander Caesar son of the deified one”, according to many he has to be considered the first Roman emperor.
Consolidating and expanding Gaius Julius Ceasar’s conquests, Augustus gave prosperity and stability to an empire that, through many highs and lows, lasted almost 1500 years, until the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

The title of Augustus was then assigned to all Roman emperors and, in many languages, Caesar became the very word for Emperor, as Kaiser in German and Czar in Russian. Perhaps counterintuitively, the Ceasar salad has little to do with the great emperor, as it turns out it was created many centuries later in Mexico by an Italian immigrant named Cesare.


3/6 – The Pantheon
After the Battle of Actium, one of the most famous Roman temples, today still perfectly preserved, was built in the capital city of what was to become the Roman empire during Octavianus’s rule: the Pantheon.
Pantheon in Greek means “All the gods”, so we can infer that the temple was actually dedicated to all gods, although, according to Cassius Dio, a Roman senator who wrote about the building, “Pantheon” was in fact a name associated with the many statues decorating the structure.

The Pantheon is a very peculiar landmark: according to an interpretation, the interior of the dome was intended to symbolize the arched “vault of the skies”. The opening on the top of the dome, the oculus, is the main natural source of light. Throughout the day, the light from the oculus moves around this space in a reverse sundial effect. The oculus also serves as a cooling and ventilation method.

Allegedly, the oculus would not allow rain to come in by virtue of its thermal current.Oculus

Indeed a marvel of the world, that I had the fortune to visit many times in my trips to the Ethernal City. But that hot day in Rome, something made me profoundly curious about this construction: on the front of the Pantheon there is a massive inscription indicating the name of the one person who took credit for building it and….it is not the emperor Augustus, but another guy, one not really famous.

The inscription on the front of the temple reads:
That is to say: “M[arcus] Agrippa L[ucii] f[ilius] co[n]s[ul] tertium fecit,” which means “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, made [this building] when consul for the third time.”
It should be mentioned that according to a research the Pantheon made by Agrippa had been completely destroyed except for the façade and then rebuilt.
However, the point is:


4/6 – Who the hell was Marcus Agrippa?

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa was a Roman consul, general and architect, who was lieutenant to Octavianus Augustus.
Probably not famous for being a handsome man, he was nonetheless responsible for important military victories. He was appointed by the emperor governor of Gallia Transalpina (today France). He fought the Germanic tribes before being summoned back to Rome by Octavianus to become consul.


Later in 31 BC, he was Augustus’ key general in the Battle of Actium against the armies of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. He was also responsible for great infrastructural improvements in the city of Rome, including the renovation of aqueducts and public baths. According to many, Marcus Agrippa was the Emperor’s right hand. Eventually he was vested with considerable powers, including veto rights on the decisions of the Senate.

5/6 – A 2000 years old leadership lesson
You are the heir of Julius Caesar. You win epic battles. You give the name to a month of the year. You become the ruler of the known world at 36 years old. Yet you let your lieutenant put his name, not yours, on the main temple of Rome, your empire capital city.
But was this just the prize for Agrippa’s loyalty? If one is to analyze Augustus’s management style, the answer should be negative.
“I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble”, as the emperor reportedly said in his dying hours. Indeed, he renovated the infrastructures of both Rome and its provinces, improved roads, bridges, sewers, created a standing army of 28 legions and 170,000 soldiers, instituted courier systems, police corps and fire brigades and initiated the construction of many landmark buildings.

Most importantly, he extended the boundaries of the empire through new conquests (in green in the map) and, according to a term attributed to Seneca, initiated the so-called Pax Romana, a period of prosperity starting from the Battle of Actium until 180 AD with the death of the emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius (yes, the old man who dies at the beginning of Ridley Scott’s gladiator, father to Commodus).
Those results did not come overnight. Contrary to what many Roman emperors after Augustus failed to do, he succeeded in staying in power, and, most importantly, alive, for more than 50 years.

Could Augustus do all this alone? Certainly not. Augustus showed great ability to create public consensus and had effective delegation skills. And, in my personal view, he did more than delegating tasks: he delegated the construction of his vision, so that it became the vision of the many, and he empowered his people to actively pursue that vision. Indeed, it seems that Agrippa did not ask permission to build the Pantheon, nor was he ordered to build it. He just did it because he was given the power to.
Following this line of thought, Agrippa’s Pantheon should not be seen just as a loyalty reward, but rather as the physiological byproduct of a successful delegation and empowerment process.
6/6 – Easter egg: why all the Italians take holidays in August
In 18 BC the emperor introduced the Feriae Augusti, the festivities of Augustus, to link all the pre-existing summer celebrations and festivities. Bottom line, in Italy we still pay our respect to the emperor!

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