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Aldarion

Characteristics of a good ruler

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I have been thinking about what would good ruler be like, and went back to thinking about Byzantine Emperors. Now, Macedonian dynasty is the apegee of Middle Byzantine power, but I will also look outside it.

So, what were good Emperors, and their characteristics?

First, for Macedonian dynasty:

Jon I Tzimiskes - strenghtened the Empire and made Basil II's victories possible. A member of Anatolian military aristocracy, joined army at an early age. During service, he defended Armenia and captured 60 border cities.

Basil II - son of a previous emperor, tutored by a general who married into the family. Became good administrator and a general.

Now, for the best of the rest:

Diocletian - reformed the military and administration, a competent general and excellent politician. Before becoming an emperor he was a commander of Emperor's bodyguard, and also a general.

Heraclius - son of a general, but I am not aware of him holding any significant command before ascension. Proved to be a good general and administrator, but his rebellion was supremely badly timed. Even so, he rebuilt an army from a scratch and defeated Sassanids.

Leo III Isaurian - As Emperor, ended Twenty Years of Anarchy, defended the Empire against Umayyads. While in service to Justinian II he was dispatched on a diplomatic mission to Alania and Lazica, and was eventually appointed strategos of the Anatolic theme - the most important theme of all.

Constantine V - consolidated Byzantine security against external threats. Was appointed co-Emperor at two years of age.

Michail VII Paliologos - (temporarily) recovered Byzantine power. Son of megas domestikos. Served as governor of Thracian towns Melnik and Serres under command of his father Andronikos. He later served as a mercenary commander.

Alexios I Komnenos - served with distinction against Turks under Romanos IV Diogenes, subdued mercenary rebellion, before ascending to the throne.

Now, what are their characteristics:

  • may have been highborn or lowborn
  • may or may not have received good education
  • had command experience - both battle command and administrative
  • served under / was mentored by a capable commander and administrator before acceeding to the throne

What can also be seen from Roman history is that practice does not, in fact, make perfect. Quite a few rulers were thrown into ruling without preparation, either from high or low class. These may or may not have performed well. That being said, age was not necessarily a factor: Severus Alexander performed well, and Elagabalus also may not have been a bad ruler. Experience only helps if one is able to understand lessons, however.

So, from the above, best option among candidates for the Iron Throne would be

Spoiler

Stannis Baratheon

Robert OTOH was a terrible choice - impression (which may be wrong) I got of him during Rebellion is that he went around caving in people's skulls, and left actual management to Ned Stark and Jon Arryn.

That being said, actual Renaissance ruler I am most interested in - Matthias Corvinus - was very far from the above characteristics. He was extremely well-educated and well-read, but had absolutely no experience in anything before his election for a king. He did have a very capable regent in Michael Szilagy, but Corvinus was also very headstrong and often did not listen to advice. Even so, Matthias Corvinus became possibly the best ruler in history of Hungarian-Croatian kingdom. Going by this, both Aegon and Daenerys have a chance of becoming capable rulers.

Thoughts?

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I think that being adaptable to changing circumstances and being a good judge of character are very important traits for a ruler, especially in a realm with weak institutions where personal relations are important.

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2 hours ago, Lion of the West said:

I think that being adaptable to changing circumstances and being a good judge of character are very important traits for a ruler, especially in a realm with weak institutions where personal relations are important.

True, but I was thinking more about argument "what kind of upbringing / experience can produce a good ruler". Adaptability and good judge of character are partly result of upbringing, plus I do not think they are enough by themselves.

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10 minutes ago, Aldarion said:

True, but I was thinking more about argument "what kind of upbringing / experience can produce a good ruler". Adaptability and good judge of character are partly result of upbringing, plus I do not think they are enough by themselves.

You are right in that they are not enough by themselves, but I was thinking of more general traits as opposed to more situational advantageous traits.

For example; at some periods you need a warrior, some times a diplomat and some times a good administrator depending on the state of the realm and the challenges its facing. But I think that regardless if you need a warrior, a diplomat or an administrator, adaptability and character judgement are things that are always critical to have in a pre-modern ruler.

Taking examples from the Classical and Late Antiquity Western Roman Empire, the Emperor presumably needs to be good at different things at different times. There's no single skill set that's always going to win out regardless of circumstances, except being perfect and best at everything, of course. So I say that for example during the Julio-Claudians to the end of the Five Good Emperors, being a good diplomat and administrator is the key. Having military or scheming talents are probably good as well, but nothing that you absolutely must have in that era. Then comes the Crisis of the Third Century when to my knowledge any skill beyond military talent and certain populist skills are next to useless as the soldiers decides who is emperor and they respect military talent and love populist policies directed at their benefit. Then we can take the final period in the Western Roman Empire when military men held most emperors as puppets and then the emperor, needs to be a schemer who can detect and eliminate threats to himself within the Imperial court.

In the three example periods I picked I see an emperor primarily needing very different skills to have a foundation for thriving in his office. But to go back to my suggested traits, adaptability and judgment of character is always useful, no matter if the emperor has to be an administrator, a general or a schemer to keep the Imperial throne.

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The person must have a vision in the first place.  This is something they want to make happen.  There's no reason to want to rule without this vision.  There are those in power in the books who have/had no reason other than it fell on their laps (Robb, Joffrey, Tommen, the Wise Masters, slave owner).  Power just came to them.  Inheritance gave it to them.  Not one of these people were any good at ruling.  The candidate must have enough belief in their vision to commit and take great risks in order to earn the right to lead.  Yes, yes, being born from a noble clan helps a great deal and removes the ceiling.  Jon, for example, would not have had the opportunities and the unreasonable leniency that he received from Mormont had he been common.  Another much better boy who was the son of a farmer would not have had preferential treatment.  Still, even though I dislike Jon, he did show bravery and somewhat passable leadership up until he started the ill-advised, illegal, Arya-Rescue-Mission and took up arms against the Boltons.  Robb and Joffrey got theirs by default.  Daenerys time and time again proved her strength of character and resourcefulness with the Dothraki and her khalasar.  Thus, she has earned the right to rule over them, customs be damned.  She doesn't just break chains, she breaks customs and traditions as she sees fit because she is worthy to pass judgement.  

Even a coward like Sam Tarly has a place, just not as a ruler.  

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12 hours ago, Lion of the West said:

 You are right in that they are not enough by themselves, but I was thinking of more general traits as opposed to more situational advantageous traits.

 For example; at some periods you need a warrior, some times a diplomat and some times a good administrator depending on the state of the realm and the challenges its facing. But I think that regardless if you need a warrior, a diplomat or an administrator, adaptability and character judgement are things that are always critical to have in a pre-modern ruler.

Taking examples from the Classical and Late Antiquity Western Roman Empire, the Emperor presumably needs to be good at different things at different times. There's no single skill set that's always going to win out regardless of circumstances, except being perfect and best at everything, of course. So I say that for example during the Julio-Claudians to the end of the Five Good Emperors, being a good diplomat and administrator is the key. Having military or scheming talents are probably good as well, but nothing that you absolutely must have in that era. Then comes the Crisis of the Third Century when to my knowledge any skill beyond military talent and certain populist skills are next to useless as the soldiers decides who is emperor and they respect military talent and love populist policies directed at their benefit. Then we can take the final period in the Western Roman Empire when military men held most emperors as puppets and then the emperor, needs to be a schemer who can detect and eliminate threats to himself within the Imperial court.

In the three example periods I picked I see an emperor primarily needing very different skills to have a foundation for thriving in his office. But to go back to my suggested traits, adaptability and judgment of character is always useful, no matter if the emperor has to be an administrator, a general or a schemer to keep the Imperial throne.

What I am looking for is the kind of upbringing and education which would help produce these traits. Regardless of where you place emphasis, you cannot just pluck a peasant from countryside and expect him to be a good ruler. Nor can you just place a soldier on the throne, though making a soldier an emperor may be more or less advantageous or disadvantageous depending on the specifics. Likewise, adaptability and judgement of character are skills which are grown, not born with, and are not enough by themselves.

That is why I see Byzantine thematic system as being ideal for producing emperors. You had several - dozens, in later period - army generals who were, at the same time, also political leaders and administrators. The difference between strategos and basileus was not one of nature as much as it was one of scale - and the fact that strategos who underperformed could be rather easily sacked. A successful commander of a theme (unless it happened to be a late-period Armeniac theme) came with essentially all the skills required to rule the Empire. And that is what we see: majority of emperors of the Macedonian dynasty served as thematic generals before ascending to the throne, which is likely one of factors which made "Macedonian Renaissance" possible.

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@Aldarion

Since you're a Byzantine Empire fan, I've a question for you:

If originally Rome was not split vertically between West and East, but instead divided North and South with Iberia, Sicily,  North Africa, levant and Egypt as Southern Empire. And Gaul, Italy, Greece and Anatolia as Northern Empire, how do you think history would have played out?

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1 hour ago, Br16 said:

@Aldarion

Since you're a Byzantine Empire fan, I've a question for you:

If originally Rome was not split vertically between West and East, but instead divided North and South with Iberia, Sicily,  North Africa, levant and Egypt as Southern Empire. And Gaul, Italy, Greece and Anatolia as Northern Empire, how do you think history would have played out?

That was never going to happen. Split was East-West because West was Latin and East was Greek. Different languages, different cultures, different everything. West was more rural, East was more urbanized. West had Roman legal and cultural tradition, East had Hellenic one. In a way, the West-East split was merely a formalization of already known differences. Even before the split, army of the West often fought against army of the East (Vespasian, Diocletian etc.).

The only way such a split would have happened if you had no Alexander the Great and thus no Hellenism. If, say, Rome or Greece had culturally dominated the North and Carthage the South. Kinda the situation after Muslim conquests, actually: that is when the North/South split you talk of has happened.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Aldarion said:

That was never going to happen. Split was East-West because West was Latin and East was Greek. Different languages, different cultures, different everything. West was more rural, East was more urbanized. West had Roman legal and cultural tradition, East had Hellenic one. In a way, the West-East split was merely a formalization of already known differences. Even before the split, army of the West often fought against army of the East (Vespasian, Diocletian etc.).

The only way such a split would have happened if you had no Alexander the Great and thus no Hellenism. If, say, Rome or Greece had culturally dominated the North and Carthage the South. Kinda the situation after Muslim conquests, actually: that is when the North/South split you talk of has happened.

That was the easy choice and why it happened. But let's say there was a strong emperor that managed to force a North South split (perhaps an alternative Diocletian)--in order to not have all the wealthy Eastern provinces concentrated on one side.  Perhaps Alexandria heading the Southern Empire and Rome remaining the capital of the North. 

How do you feel this playing out over the long term, with its fairer distribution of population and wealth -e.g. Britain,Gaul,Italy, Greece, Anatolia/Levant for North, and Egypt/Africa/Spain/Sicily for South?

Edited by Br16

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1 hour ago, Br16 said:

 That was the easy choice and why it happened. But let's say there was a strong emperor that managed to force a North South split (perhaps an alternative Diocletian)--in order to not have all the wealthy Eastern provinces concentrated on one side.  Perhaps Alexandria heading the Southern Empire and Rome remaining the capital of the North. 

How do you feel this playing out over the long term, with its fairer distribution of population and wealth -e.g. Britain,Gaul,Italy, Greece, Anatolia/Levant for North, and Egypt/Africa/Spain/Sicily for South?

Who knows? But Rome would have never remained capital, it was not well positioned for that. Anyway, groupings you have listed might have had two outcomes. Maybe Northern empire would have survived for longer than Western empire did, simply because of its greater resources. But geographical and geopolitical realities would not have changed, so more likely outcome still ends with the loss of Western Europe during Migration period. Except this time around, Balkans would have likely been lost much sooner than IRL. OTOH, this split may have preserved Northern Africa for longer, giving greater resources to surviving Empire and possibly facilitating easier reconquest during Justinian.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Aldarion said:

Who knows? But Rome would have never remained capital, it was not well positioned for that. Anyway, groupings you have listed might have had two outcomes. Maybe Northern empire would have survived for longer than Western empire did, simply because of its greater resources. But geographical and geopolitical realities would not have changed, so more likely outcome still ends with the loss of Western Europe during Migration period. Except this time around, Balkans would have likely been lost much sooner than IRL. OTOH, this split may have preserved Northern Africa for longer, giving greater resources to surviving Empire and possibly facilitating easier reconquest during Justinian.

Agree, perhaps with a lot of good luck, a wealthy Southern Empire holding the two chokepoints of Sinai and Pyrenees, protected by a good fleet, might have kept the legacy of Rome far longer than imaginable. 

Also, and I know this is just their myth, but if you were at location of Rome during Remus and Romulus, and it was up to you to decide which hill to start building on, would you chose Aventine or Palatine, and why?

Edited by Br16

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Br16 said:

 Agree, perhaps with a lot of good luck, a wealthy Southern Empire holding the two chokepoints of Sinai and Pyrenees, protected by a good fleet, might have kept the legacy of Rome far longer than imaginable. 

Also, and I know this is just their myth, but if you were at location of Rome during Remus and Romulus, and it was up to you to decide which hill to start building on, would you chose Aventine or Palatine, and why?

As it is, Eastern Empire held legacy of Rome far longer than imaginable. Not sure much would have improved in the alternate scenario. Cultural homogeinity is as important for survival as geography is.

Hill is a hill. But personally, I would have chosen one closest to Tiber.

Edited by Aldarion

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@Aldarion

Those Roman/Byzantine qualities are in no way how they judge character/ability/fitness to lead in Westeros. A leader is the product of a society, so people get in a leader what they look for.

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7 minutes ago, Ser Leftwich said:

@Aldarion

Those Roman/Byzantine qualities are in no way how they judge character/ability/fitness to lead in Westeros. A leader is the product of a society, so people get in a leader what they look for.

Any complex society is like every other complex society in certain fundamental ways. Robert and Joffrey would have been as unfit for being a ruler in Roman Empire (of any period), Ancient Persia or China as they were in Westeros. And I did note that:

Quote

That being said, actual Renaissance ruler I am most interested in - Matthias Corvinus - was very far from the above characteristics. He was extremely well-educated and well-read, but had absolutely no experience in anything before his election for a king. He did have a very capable regent in Michael Szilagy, but Corvinus was also very headstrong and often did not listen to advice. Even so, Matthias Corvinus became possibly the best ruler in history of Hungarian-Croatian kingdom. Going by this, both Aegon and Daenerys have a chance of becoming capable rulers.

 

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Trajan- A conqueror, favourite of the people, and his own administration. 

But, the Iron Throne of Westeros doesn't conquer Essos. They don't need that. They also don't care too much for the smallfolk; Trajan was giving money directly to the plebs.

Perhaps, you only need to be accepted by the administration-nobility of Westeros and you're fine.

Other problem with this comparisons is that the Romans very often were adopting children which they preferred to be next Emperors. Augustus, the first Emperor, has chosen Tiberius, his adoptive son to be next. 

In Westeros, the bloodline is very important, so even in a situation when Targaryens were overthrown, it was important that Robert has a claim on the throne through his Targaryen line. Romans didn't care too much for the bloodline, if you need an heir, just adopt one.

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3 hours ago, The Sunland Lord said:

In Westeros, the bloodline is very important, so even in a situation when Targaryens were overthrown, it was important that Robert has a claim on the throne through his Targaryen line. Romans didn't care too much for the bloodline, if you need an heir, just adopt one.

Rome never was a proper monarchy. It was a military dictatorship. People certainly tried and did establish dynasties, but they never got the kind of divine aura medieval royalty got in hereditary monarchies - where it was practically impossible to overthrow a dynasty. You could usurp a throne if you had royal blood yourself, of course, but you could not set up yourself as the new king if you were just some general or lowborn thug who had risen through the ranks of the legions.

The Seven Kingdoms practically worship royal blood. They have royal and noble bloodlines that go back thousands of years in - as far as we know - unbroken lines. That is ridiculous from a realistic viewpoint and entails - if we take it seriously within George's fictional world for a moment - that nobody in this world can imagine that a person who doesn't have royal blood can ever sit or steal a throne. Such people simply won't get a following.

[The exceptions to that rule would be the Riverlands in their chaotic eras and, of course, the Ironborn.]

But there is a paradox there - George portrays backstabbing and betrayal and politics very realistically - which means that if the rules we see in the main series did also apply to the kings of old it is utterly ridiculous that there are still Starks and Arryns and Lannisters. After all, most kings born to the purple should have been bad or mediocre - and such men should have been killed and overthrown by their more ambitious and competent bannermen and vassals. That this didn't happen is essentially a joke.

One can try to make sense of that by imagine the Starks, Arryns, and Lannisters as a vast clan in various periods of the history of the Seven Kingdoms, with infighting and civil wars and backstabbing eradicating various branches of the tree but it is still not really believable that there weren't any ambitious Baratheons, Lannisters, Littlefingers, successful Boltons, Freys, etc. who overthrow the old houses.

But if one thinks of how none of the old royal bloodlines was ever overthrown in thousands of years the ambitions of people like Littlefinger - if we assume he is truly after the Iron Throne - are doomed from the start. The people of Westeros would never suffer such a lowborn upstart on the Iron Throne.

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10 hours ago, Aldarion said:

As it is, Eastern Empire held legacy of Rome far longer than imaginable. Not sure much would have improved in the alternate scenario. Cultural homogeinity is as important for survival as geography is.

True, but that long Eastern border was just too hard to defend. A chokepoint at Pyrenees, another at Sinai, and a central fleet base on Sicily seems more feasible from a defense point of view. 

10 hours ago, Aldarion said:

Hill is a hill. But personally, I would have chosen one closest to Tiber.

I agree, looks like Remus was right. 

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9 hours ago, Br16 said:

 True, but that long Eastern border was just too hard to defend. A chokepoint at Pyrenees, another at Sinai, and a central fleet base on Sicily seems more feasible from a defense point of view. 

I agree, looks like Remus was right. 

True, but long borders were kinda thing for Roman Empire. It was an empire centered on the Mediterranean sea, essentially a maritime empire, even though we usually think of Roman legions. So one way or another, it was going to have long borders because it wrapped itself around the Med.

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50 minutes ago, Aldarion said:

True, but long borders were kinda thing for Roman Empire. It was an empire centered on the Mediterranean sea, essentially a maritime empire, even though we usually think of Roman legions. So one way or another, it was going to have long borders because it wrapped itself around the Med.

Yeah, when I was little, whenever I looked at a Roman Empire map, I was impressed. But eventually, I realized those borders were an absolute nightmare. 

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