During a discussion on Roman naming conventions in the era of the late Republic, I mentioned that a professor of mine postulated that names such as Aemilianus and Octavianus are, in fact, modern constructions, and that they do not reflect actual use by Romans, in this case Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Aemilianus — adoptive grandson of the first Scipio Africanus — and Gaius Octavius/Gaius Julius Caesar, i.e. “Octavian” (later “Imperator Caesar divi filius,” “Augustus”), grandnephew and adoptive son of the more famous Gaius Julius Caesar. It was my professor’s position — at the time — that such adoptive names which preserved the original patrilineal lines would not have been used since adoptions by noble Romans were intended to preserve the adopters bloodline and legacy and not the adoptees. Thus the future emperor Tiberius became Tiberius Julius Caesar upon his adoption by Augustus in 4 CE, but not Tiberius Julius Caesar Claudianus.
In the course of this discussion, someone I knew personally and well — and considered a friend — responded to my comment with the following message via private message:
Even in the darkest moments of the human condition, the desire for freedom and self-determination has never been extinguished. Even in societies which generation after generation kept others in bondage, time has preserved for us the aspirations of slaves seeking liberty and greater control over their fate. Roman society was particularly generous, granting the children of freedmen the full rights of citizenship, an especially coveted status that would enable the numerous descendants of freedmen to enter public life and eventually rise to positions of influence among the highest authorities in the Empire.
Individuals who today state that many slaves were “better off” in their servitude and even that they preferred bondage are sadly deluded, ignoring the evidence of history — and of their own eyes. Human trafficking in the present is simply the latest way of referring to the ongoing slave trade, one which may at times mirror low-wage employment. But any form of compulsive, imposed dependence is itself a form of oppression, and one which unwillingly restricts self-determination is nothing less than slavery. Indentured servitude is another such polite way of expressing the same basic idea, though in this case the promise of freedom is held out as motivation, like a carrot on a stick, but much like the cartoon analogy, the prize is all too often an illusion. Some see this reality, others do not or choose to ignore it, but all work towards a single common goal. Unlike most common goals, however, this particular goal is shared in name only, for despite the fact they all seek the same end-state, they work towards it individually rather than collectively.
We may have underestimated the ways in which a Roman popularis (s.) could motivate the passions of the people. Populares (pl.) were individuals who, in the last years of the Roman republic (133-49 BCE), were able to successfully use the concerns of the Roman populace — that is to say, the population at Rome — to their political advantage. In practice, they would circumvent the authority of the Roman Senate and magistrates by making proposals directly to the popular assembly, thereby forcing the Senate to either accept or be seen to oppose the populace.