An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors
AUGUSTUS (31 B.C. - 14 A.D.)
Nina C. Coppolino
Augustus was born Gaius Octavius on 23 September 63 B.C. His mother, Atia, was the niece of Julius Caesar; Atia's mother was Caesar's sister. Augustus, therefore, as the great-nephew of Julius Caesar, had family connections to political power at Rome. Unlike his great-uncle and adoptive father who was murdered by a senatorial conspiracy in 44 B.C., Augustus lived a long life, having replaced the oligarchic rule of the Roman Republic with a constitutional monarchy, controlled first by the Julio-Claudian Dynasty (31 B.C. -- 68 A.D.), in which Augustus was followed by Tiberius, Claudius, Caligula, and Nero, all of whom were descended from Augustus or his wife, Livia.
Introduction and Summary
Through his gradual efforts, and through the circumstances of his era, Augustus ruled Rome alone for nearly a half-century (31 B.C. -- 14 A.D.), and he set for all his successors the institutional and ideological foundations of the Roman Empire. The broad bases of his power were the army, whose loyalty was maintained by money and land-grants at retirement, and Tiberiuspparently genuine support of many people, who wanted at any constitutional cost an end to the factional bloodshed of the late Republican civil wars; the nobles retained niches in the regular operation of the still prestigious political administration or in military roles, property was ultimately secured, administrative roles were more easily filled by some increased social mobility among the ranks and classes, and the populace (once fed) was ostensibly defended by the tribunicia potestas with which Augustus legitimized his rule, and which finally became the official rubric under which the state was run for centuries. The innovative outcome of Augustus' rule was the acquisition of sole power at Rome and abroad by the assumption of traditionally distributed powers found in long-standing Roman magistracies, military commands, state religious honors, patronage, family connections, and personal influence.
Rise and Acquisition of Powers
In 51 B.C., at the age of twelve, Octavian first appeared publicly to give the funeral oration for his grandmother, Julia. In 48 Caesar had his fifteen-year-old great-nephew elected to the priestly college of the pontifices, and he also enrolled him in the hereditary patrician aristocracy of Rome: on his mother's side Octavian had the patrician blood of the Caesars, while his father's family, the Octavii, were wealthy townsmen from Velitrae, southeast of Rome, to which his father came only as an equestrian banker, though his grandfather was a senator. After recovering from illness in 46, Octavian joined Caesar in Spain against the two sons of Pompey the Great, and in 45 Octavian was sent to Apollonia in Epirus to study with the Greek rhetorician Apollodorus of Pergamum, and to train with legions stationed nearby. In 44, only several months after his arrival in Greece, Octavian learned that Julius Caesar had been murdered at Rome. Octavian then arrived back in southern Italy to discover that he had been adopted in Caesar's will as his son and heir. From this time Octavian called himself C. Julius Caesar Octavianus, though to avoid confusion, modern scholars customarily refer to him as Octavian before 27 B.C.
Youth and career to 28 B.C.
A feud soon developed between Octavian and Antony, Caesar's colleague as consul, who intended to gain hold of Caesar's Gallic provinces and was luring Caesar's veterans to his side. Octavian raised an army on his own. Under the terms of Caesar's will, Octavian was required to pay a legacy to the urban plebs, but Antony refused to hand over the necessary cash which Caesar's widow had given to him. In 43 at Mutina Antony was defeated by Octavian with armies given to him by the senate. Octavian was elected consul that year for the first time at the unusually young age of nineteen; he had refused to fight unless he got the consulship because he was convinced that the senate would discard him after they had used him to get rid of Antony. Finally in 43 at Bononia, Octavian made terms with Antony and Lepidus, who had alternately supported Caesar, Antony, and the senate. Together the three men formed the triumvirate, which had been initially granted absolute powers for five years. They ruthlessly proscribed 120 senators and many equestrian whose property and money were confiscated to pay troops. In 42 Antony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius, the murderers of Caesar, in two battles at Philippi in Macedonia; the credit went to Antony because Octavian was ill during the fighting. On the ostensibly Republican side, only Sextus Pompey survived with a fleet, and Domitius Ahenobarbus with the fleet of Brutus and Cassius.
In the division of provinces and duties after Philippi, Antony got the potential wealth and glory of the East, and Octavian got the difficult task of settling veterans in Italy by confiscating property, since there was no money yet to buy it. He faced protest at home and the starvation of Rome by Sextus Pompey, who was blockading grain ships in Sicily. In 40 Antony married Octavian's sister Octavia. In that year at Perusia Octavian fought and defeated Antony's brother, Lucius, who had objected to Octavian's receiving credit for settling troops in Italy before Antony returned from the East. Though Lucius was pardoned, others of Octavian's enemies and the town council of Perusia were executed. Octavian tried to win the support of Sextus Pompey and his fleet by marrying Pompey's aunt, Scribonia, in what was now Octavian's third and penultimate match, producing his only daughter, Julia. Pompey, however, sided with Antony who was vexed at the Perusine episode and since 42 was spending winters in Egypt with Cleopatra. In the autumn of 40 at Brundisium, Octavian confronted Antony and the combined fleets of Pompey and Ahenobarbus, but instead of hostilities they agreed to a pact; they declared Antony's the Greek-speaking provinces east of Macedonia, and Octavian's the Latin-speaking provinces west of Illyricum, while Lepidus remained in Africa, and Pompey initially got nothing and continued to blockade Italy.
Despite concessions to Pompey, in 38 war broke out in indecisive sea battles off Cumae and Rhegium on the coast of southern Italy. Octavian divorced Scribonia and married his last wife Livia, who brought to the marriage her own sons, Tiberius and Drusus. In 38 Octavian replaced his praenomen Gaius with Imperator, the title by which troops hailed their leader after military success (ultimately Imperator developed into the title Emperor). From this time Octavian's full title was Imperator Caesar Divi Filius, including the reference to him as the son of his deified father. In 37 Octavian built a new fleet under the direction of his friend and lieutenant Agrippa, and he met Antony at Tarentum to renew the triumvirate for five more years. In 36 Octavian, Agrippa, and Lepidus launched a triple attack on Sextus Pompey in Sicily, and they won a naval battle at Naulochus, after which Pompey was killed in Egypt, and Lepidus was ousted from the triumvirate for trying to take over Sicily.
In 36 Octavian received tribunician sacrosanctity for his personal security and as an invocation of his father's support of the people; he circumspectly declined the title of pontifex maximus because it was held by Lepidus. Antony launched a failed campaign against the Parthians, and when his wife, Octavia, attempted to bring supplies and additional troops, he snubbed her and her brother by sending her home. In 34 Antony gave eastern provinces to his children by Cleopatra, and Egypt and Cyprus to Cleopatra's children by Caesar; these were the so-called Donations of Alexandria. In the resulting propaganda war, Octavian did the most damage to Antony by presenting Cleopatra and her territorial gains as a foreign menace to the security of Rome. From 35 to 33 Octavian fought in Illyricum and Dalmatia, the eastern borders of Italy. In 33 Agrippa as aedile dealt with the precious water supply in Rome and restored aquaducts.
In 32 the inhabitants of Italy and of many provinces swore a personal oath of allegiance to Octavian to support him against his private enemies. By this oath Octavian claimed that the people were demanding him as leader in the now inevitable war, declared nominally against Cleopatra. Antony divorced Octavia. In 31 Octavian defeated the combined forces of Antony and Cleopatra in a naval battle at Actium off the coast of Greece. After the suicides of Antony and Cleopatra in Egypt, Octavian annexed Egypt as a province. In 31 Octavian assumed the consulship at Rome for the third time and monopolized it successively through 23.
In 29 Octavian celebrated a triple triumph at Rome for his conquest of Illyricum, for the battle of Actium, and for the annexation of Egypt. Octavian's now huge army of sixty legions began to be demobilized and was shortly reduced to twenty-eight. Soldiers and veterans were paid with funds now drawn from the vast wealth of Egypt. Despite the fact that wars were going on in Gaul and Spain, the temple of Janus at Rome was ceremoniously closed, an event that happened only twice before in history, to signify that Rome was at peace with the world. The senate and people voted Octavian countless other honors, crowns, games, commemorative structures, and additional powers, including his ability to create patricians, both to enlarge and to preserve the social hierarchy into which Julius Caesar had previously introduced Octavian himself. In 28 with Agrippa as his colleague in his sixth consulship, Octavian held a census of the people and moderately reduced the swollen ranks of the senate from 1000 to 800 members, of which he was appointed the leading man.
'The Republic Restored':
In 27 Octavian declared that he had restored the republic, a claim echoed but also dismissed even among the ancients. Octavian gave amnesty to his former opponents in the civil wars. While the senate and assemblies resumed their regular functions, Octavian maintained his hold on the consulship, but elections for his colleague took place. The swollen ranks of praetors and quaestors were reduced by half to the Sullan numbers of eight and twenty, respectively, and all these offices retained their traditional functions, including the consulship and praetorship as springboards for provincial commands.
The First Constitutional Settlement of the Principate, 27-24 B.C.
The real, monarchical hold, however, that Octavian had on the state was military. When Octavian announced his plans to lay down supreme power, there had been protest in the senate, partly from his partisans and partly perhaps from concern that the state would erupt again into civil war. In the so-called 'first settlement' of 27, Octavian agreed to accept for ten years a provincial command which contained the largest standing Roman armies, then stationed in Spain, Gaul, and Syria, the so-called 'imperial provinces.' By the removal of senatorial proconsuls from Octavian's three major provinces, and with the placement there of subordinate legates, Octavian was no longer threatened by men of consular rank with significant armies. The three major senatorial provinces of Illyricum, Macedonia and Africa appeared to balance Octavian's grant, but in reality these provinces held only a few legions. Thus without appearing to force the senate, Octavian obtained sole proconsular power over the major provincial armies; though this power normally lapsed at Rome, he maintained both civil and military authority there through his consulship. Technically Octavian used powers given to him for a fixed period by the senate and people of Rome, and there were Republican precedents, albeit abnormal ones, for such powers and continuous rule.
Octavian later claimed that in 27 he had no more power than any of his colleagues in any magistracy (Res Gestae 34.3), and he referred to himself simply as princeps, the first man among equals at Rome. This strictly unofficial and broad title, not to be confused with the narrow parameters of the 'princeps senatus', had already been applied to individuals in the late Republic, and for centuries the leading men of Rome had been known as 'principes viri'. Thus the 'principate', as the era is now designated, suggests a mere pre-eminence in civil affairs which belies absolute power based ultimately on the army.
The official title decreed to Octavian by the senate in 27 was Augustus, the name by which he is most widely known, making his full title Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus. He considered adopting the name 'Romulus' and the association it would have for him as the refounder of Rome. Because Romulus, however, also had the contemporary discredit of both overt monarchy and fratricide, Augustus preferred the association of his new title with religious awe: holy things, for instance, were called augusta. The title was traditionally linked by etymology with augere, 'to increase'; the adjective was juxtaposed with the religious practice of augury in Ennius's well-known description of Romulus's founding of Rome augusto augurio. The title Augustus was subsequently held by all Roman emperors except Vitellius, and Augusta was used to address the wife of the reigning emperor, or his mother.
After 27 Augustus maintained that he excelled all his equals only in his auctoritas. This term, also etymologically connected with augustus, had no constitutional meaning and implied no legal powers; it signified Augustus's moral authority and increased prestige which guaranteed the good of the order in Rome. Auctoritas was personal power which rested on the loyalty of people who, as clients of Augustus, recognized his military conquest and his achievement of political stability for the commonwealth. This type of power was seen previously in the personal oath of allegiance of 32, and it did not depend on the immediate constitutional settlement.
In 27 Augustus ultimately and perhaps wisely freed Rome from his presence to visit the western provinces of Gaul and Spain. When he returned to Rome in 24, he became consul for the tenth time with one Norbanus Flaccus, who had supported both Sextus Pompey and Antony in the civil wars. Despite an indecisive outcome in the Spanish war, honors were voted by the senate to Augustus's relatives who participated. Augustus himself was ill and facing a conspiracy against his life.
In Augustus's absence from Rome, dissatisfaction with the new regime had apparently resulted in a conspiracy by his colleague in the consulship, Varro Murena, and a Republican, Fannius Caepio, both of whom were brought to trial and executed. Though Augustus veiled monarchic power more than Julius Caesar did, Augustus's unending series of consulships was a thorn in the side of the senatorial class, which was prevented yearly from competing for one of the two seats of the supreme magistracy. In 23 Augustus abdicated the consulship, and in so doing, he made room for more nobles, relieved himself of consular duties, and increased the number of former consuls available for administrative work. He held the consulship again on only two occasions, 5 and 2 B.C., to introduce his grandsons to public life; he held this office a total of thirteen times, nine of them consecutively from 31-23.
The Second Settlement and the Evolution of the Principate, 23 -- 16 B.C.
Without the consulship Augustus lacked legitimate civil and military authority at Rome. Accordingly in 23, he was awarded the tribunicia potestas for life. With this grant, Augustus regained the initiative to bring legislation and motions before the senate; he got the right of putting the first motion in any meeting of the senate, despite the fact that the seniority of the actual tribunate was very low; he technically had the right to the tribunician veto, but he probably never had to use it, because he would already have approved of motions before they reached the senate; he got magisterial power to compel citizens to obey his orders; he got the power to help citizens oppressed by other magistrates (and he had already been granted tribunician sacrosanctity for his personal protection in 36). Augustus did not need any of these new powers themselves, but rather the legitimacy they provided. It was also convenient that tribunician power was traditionally invoked in protection of the common people. To advertise this association with the people, Augustus set the official beginning of his reign at the assumption of tribunician power in 23; traditionally years had been numbered by the annual consulship, but now they were counted by the successive tenure of tribunician power, a practice which continued throughout the Imperial period.
Without the consulship, Augustus technically did not any longer have military power in Rome, but only in his own provinces. The senate therefore enlarged his proconsular imperium so that it did not lapse when he entered the boundaries of the city; more importantly, since the consuls at Rome had more power than any one abroad and could command any army, Augustus's military power was officially declared greater than any proconsul's, reducing them all to his legates, with what was called 'maius imperium proconsulare'. Greater military power and tribunician power were thus for Augustus the legitimate bases of rule, and they remained so throughout the duration of the Empire.
Perhaps Augustus's illness in 23 forced him to provide for the control of the armies abroad by having the senate grant Agrippa proconsular imperium for five years; Agrippa then got an eastern command. In 22 riots broke out at Rome, when flood, disease and famine were attributed to the fact that Augustus had withdrawn from the consulship and apparently was not in charge. Augustus refused to take the office of dictator, which was too politically charged with envy and hatred, and he also refused to accept the censorship for life and its traditionally despised power to expel members of the senate arbitrarily. He did, however, assume the care of the grain supply, which he quickly repaired, and then he left for Sicily, Greece, and Asia.
After Augustus left Rome, there was disorder at the consular elections of 22, with only one consul elected when Augustus refused to stand for the office; the next year there was a similar crisis. Augustus refused to return to Rome during all the trouble. To help elect the consuls and to restore order he sent Agrippa, who in 21 married Augustus's daughter, Julia, then widowed by the death of Marcellus two years earlier. In 19 Augustus was again begged to take the consulship, which he refused, and was summoned to Rome because of more unrest; the day he finally arrived was declared a holiday by the senate, and an altar was dedicated to Fortune the Homebringer. In 19 he accepted consular power for life, the right to sit between the two elected consuls, to bear the fasces as symbols of power, and to be attended by twelve lictors. Though Augustus did not need consular power, the visibility of it appeared to quell the agitation of the people. He also accepted a five-year appointment as supervisor of morals with censorial powers. By 19 he held not the invidious offices but the actual powers of the consulship, tribunate, censorship; effectively, he also held the military dictatorship.
In 18 the powers of the principate were renewed for five more years through the extension of the proconsular power which was initially granted to Augustus for ten years at the first consitutional settlement of 27. Now Augustus made Agrippa virtually co-regent through the renewal award of proconsular power, and the award of tribunician power. In 18 Augustus used his censorial power to reduce the ranks of the senate again from eight-hundred to six- hundred members (the three such senatorial reforms took place in 29, 18, and 11). By the authority of his tribunician power, he passed the Julian Laws of 18 for moral reform and the criminal code. The new laws were intended to mitigate the social and civil disorder caused by the cynicism of late Republican anarchy, and to encourage long-term stability for the state. There were laws against adultery and promoting marriage and childbirth by the grant of special privileges or penalties, laws against luxury and electoral corruption, and appellate laws superceding public jury-verdicts ultimately to the jurisdiction of Augustus himself.
To mark the new age of Augustus in 17, he and Agrippa celebrated the solemn sacrifices at the time-honored Secular Games. In succession plans that year, Augustus adopted his grandsons, Gaius and Lucius, sons of Agrippa and Julia. From 16 to 13 Augustus was abroad organizing Gaul, and Agrippa was in Asia. In 15 Augustus established the Imperial mint at Lugdunum; the senate, which traditionally controlled coinage, continued to produce money in bronze, while Augustus obtained direct control over gold and silver coinage with the mint at Lugdunum in the west and at Antioch in the east. In 13 Augustus and Agrippa returned to Rome, and their provinces were renewed for five more years, as was Agrippa's tribunician power; later in that year Agrippa died, leaving Augustus without his long-trusted friend, who was buried with lavish honors in Augustus's mausoleum on the bank of the Tiber river. After Agrippa's death, Julia bore their third son, Agrippa Postumus. Tiberius had to divorce his wife, Vipsania, to marry the widowed Julia. In 13 the former triumvir, Lepidus, also died, leaving open the life-long office of the high priest of Roman state-religion; in 12 Augustus became pontifex maximus. Augustus's power as supervisor of morals was renewed for five more years. He reformed the senate for the third time, and he set up a permanent commission for the care of the water supply, which had been Agrippa's domain. Tiberius and Drusus campaigned in Germany and Dalmatia, and in 9 Drusus died. In 8 Augustus's proconsular power was renewed for a third time for ten years; a census was held, the month Sextilis was renamed August, and Rome was divided into fourteen regions.
Remaining years of the Principate and Succession, 17 B.C. -- 14 A.D.
In 6 Tiberius was given tribunician power for life and was sent to the east to settle the throne in Armenia. In 5 and 2 Augustus again assumed the consulship only to introduce his grandsons, Gaius and Lucius, to public life, with their ceremonial assumption of the toga virilis. At the designation of Gaius in 5 as princeps iuventutis and so as apparent sucessor of Augustus, Tiberius settled at Rhodes for eight years in so-called retirement, which may have been used to gain support in the east for his own succession. In 2 B. C. Augustus received the purely honorific title pater patriae, with the associations of the power and prestigious influence of a father over the state family. His titles includedImperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus Pontifex Maximus, Pater Patriae. All of his titles were republican, including Imperator. His military proconsular power was never given prominence in his official appellation; Trajan was the first emperor to use the title proconsul, and only when he was not in Italy.
In 2 Gaius was dispatched from Rome to negotiate with the Parthians in the east. In this year Augustus was compelled to banish from Rome his own daughter, Julia, for her scandalous personal behavior, which was a great embarrassment to her father's legislative efforts at moral reform. With Julia's departure and divorce from Tiberius, Augustus had to make his dynastic plans without the hope of any more male grandchildren, the supply of which dwindled to only Agrippa Postumus, when Lucius and Gaius died, in 2 and 4 A.D., respectively. In 2 A.D. Tiberius was recalled from Rhodes to Rome, perhaps because eastern support for his succession had surpassed Gaius'; Tiberius' consular imperium and tribunician power had run out in 1 B.C. and had not been renewed. In 4 A.D., after the death of Gaius, Augustus adopted Tiberius and Agrippa Postumus. Though Augustus preferred a Julian heir to the Claudian Tiberius, Augustus disliked the wild behavior of Agrippa Postumus and exiled him three years after his adoption. Tiberius, now adopted into the Julian line, was forced to enlarge the line further by adopting, in dynastic preference to his own son by Vipsania, his nephew Germanicus; his mother was the daughter of Augustus's sister, and Germanicus married Augustus's granddaughter, Agrippina.
From 4 to 11 Augustus employed Tiberius in campaigns in the Balkans and Germany. In 6 Augustus established the aerarium militare as a public treasury to pay soldiers; though he made the initial grant from his own money, thereafter the treasury was maintained by new sales and inheritance taxes, with the result that donations to retired soldiers did not appear to depend on the emperor. A new fire brigade and nocturnal police force was also established, in seven cohorts of one-thousand freedmen each, with two cohorts for each of the fourteen regions of the city. In 12 Tiberius celebrated a triumph for Dalmatia and Pannonia, and Germanicus held the consulship.
In 13 Tiberius was again granted proconsular imperium and tribunician power. In 14 he conducted a census with Augustus and then left Rome for a command in Illyricum. Augustus died on 19 August A.D. 14 at Nola. The armies were loyal to Tiberius, and he had the tribunician right of initiative at Rome. This hereditary system of succession was established by Augustus for centuries.
Political power at Rome had always been won through the force, prestige, and wealth of conquest; Augustus' armies conquered more lands than any of his Roman predecessors or successors. After the death of Cleopatra in 30, Egypt was the first major gain by Augustus, with the wealth and flourishing cities of the Ptolemies, and Egyptian grain. Exposed geographically only in the south, the province was advanced to the First Cataract by the prefect Cornelius Gallus; in 25 there was another successful expedition against raids by the Ethiopians. Although Augustus, through his legate, failed to conquer Arabia Felix, the Red Sea was secured and sea-trade with India was ultimately established. In 27 Augustus visited Gaul and held a census there for the purpose of fairer taxation, and in 26-25 he fought a war in Spain, which Agrippa finally concluded in 19, with the pacification of the province. While Augustus was in Spain, Varro Murena defeated the Salassi, who were raiding Cisalpine Gaul from Aosta in the western Alps. In 25 Augustus settled Juba as the king of Mauretania in Africa, another province valuable for the grain supply to Rome.
In 25 in Asia Minor, Galatia was annexed, and Augustus founded the colony of Caesarea at Antioch. The main problem in the east was Parthia, which could unsettle Roman control in neighboring Armenia, and further west into Galatia. In 30 Augustus refrained from a draining war with Phraates of Parthia, by refusing to abet a pretender to the Parthian throne, by setting up a client-king in Armenia minor, and by holding the brothers of Armenian king Artaxes as hostages to Armenia's good behavior as a buffer state in the area. Ten years later, after the watchful regency of Agrippa from 23-21, Augustus reached a diplomatic settlement with Parthia for the return of the Roman standards captured from Crassus in 53 B.C., for the stability of the Parthian kingdom in the region, and for Parthian agreement to Roman control in Armenia; Parthia acquiesced under only the threat of combined military force from Augustus in Syria and Tiberius in Armenia. From 16-13 Agrippa was back in the east settling the Bosporan kingdom, which was economically important as the main source of food from southern Russia for cities of northern Asia Minor and the Aegean, as well as for Roman troops on the eastern frontier; despite a later shift in local control, Roman hegemony was established.
In 15 Tiberius and Drusus completed the pacification of the northern Alpine frontier, begun in 25 when T. Varro wiped out the Salassi on the western side. Now on the eastern side of the Alps, the frontier was pushed up to the Danube river, including Raetia and Noricum. With Alpine passes open, Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul became more united and prosperous; the raids of the Alpine tribes of Italy were over, and Roman armies could more easily get to central Gaul and the Rhine. From 13-9 the northern frontier was further strengthened near Illyricum by the conquest of Pannonia. Roman control thus stretched from the Adriatic to the Danube, making an overland route from Rome to Illyricum through the eastermost Julian Alps, and connecting Macedonia to Italy and Gaul. After an uprising in Thrace was quelled from 11-9, the Romans were in control of the territory south of the entire length of the Danube to the Black Sea. At the northernmost frontier, Drusus campaigned in Germany from 12-9 and tried to advance Caesar's German frontier of the Rhine as far as the Elbe, but he accomplished only raids between the two rivers.
On the eastern frontier, the Parthians and Armenians were in dispute again, and in 2 B.C. Augustus sent his grandson Gaius there, in what was already a successfully negotiated end to the trouble. Since 37 Judea had been controlled by Herod the Great as a friend of Augustus; Judea was finally made into a Roman province in 6 A.D., when at the request of the Jews, Archelaus, the son of Herod, was driven out.
In 5 A.D. on the northern frontier Tiberius reached the Elbe, and then tried to subdue the Marcomanni, so that by linking the Elbe with the Danube a new frontier could be established all the way to the Black Sea. His efforts were interrupted and never resumed. In 6 there was a great and bloody revolt in Pannonia and Dalmatia, which Tiberius finally crushed in 7-8 in Pannonia, and in 9 in Dalmatia. Though Tiberius did return to Germany, he and Germanicus were occupied in defending the Rhine after Quinctilius Varus suffered a disastrous defeat there at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, losing three legions and all the territory east of the river. Despite the recovery of the river and forays beyond it, Augustus gave up the thought of a frontier beyond the Rhine.
In his relationship with the armies as well as with the provincials, Augustus operated as a patron to clients. He was the only patron of the client army, which he controlled with land or money, often out of his own great wealth; he gave to his successors an army accustomed to dynastic loyalty. Similarly in the provinces, local client-kings and magistrates who were loyal to Augustus created relative stability for an empire whose allegiance no longer shifted to the latest victor in Roman civil wars, but rested on the dynasty of the principate.
Imperial Policy and Ideology
While an overseas empire demanded a standing army instead of simply an emergency force, Augustus still did not have an integrated imperial policy of either defense or expansion. Military campaigns were conducted pragmatically for the protection of frontiers, the assurance of the food supply, or the reaction to rebellion. Augustus, however, exploited the appearance of aggressive conquest, taking military credit even for diplomatic gains like Parthia, and granting decisive honors for family who were only minimally successful, or who had to return subsequently to quell rebellion.
The ideology of the Pax Augusta referred to the condition of those who had been subdued; peace was born of broad imperial conquest, which did not imply any limits or a governing policy of pacifism. Similarly, conquest or colonization by Augustus did not have an ideological and policy goal of Romanization. The primary purpose of colonization of pacified regions was military control through the grant of land to soldiers who formed garrison-colonies, and these colonies had the effect of encouraging trade in the provinces. In the west, the adoption of Roman customs and language took place spontaneously in the relative cultural void, which absorbed the Roman pattern of urbanization; in the east the sophisticated native cultures were not Romanized, nor did Augustus intend them to be.
Roman religion consisted of cult ritual, whose regular and traditional performance had a cohesive role in the state. The prestige of religious things had been dampened by neglect during the civil war years, but now religion was restored and promoted by Augustus for stability and for his own position in the state. Julius Caesar had traced the divine ancestry of his family to Venus and Mars, and when he was deified in 42, Augustus early in his career became the son of a god; in 29 he dedicated the Temple of the Divine Julius in the Roman Forum. Augustus's defeat of Antony and Cleopatra was portrayed as a victory of Roman over Egyptian gods; in 28 Augustus dedicated a temple to 'Actian Apollo' on Rome's Palatine Hill, where Augustus himself lived. Apollo was represented in a cult statue and in reliefs as both the god of vengeance against sacrilege like Antony's, and also as a bringer of peace. Augustus undertook the restoration of existing temples in the city, and he claims to have rebuilt eighty-two. (Res Gestae, 20.4)
State Religion, and Imperial Image and Building
After Actium Augustus was venerated as a divine king in Egypt, and the provinces in the east were allowed to erect temples to him in association with the goddess Roma. At Rome the senate made the traditional vows and prayers for his safety, and included him in annual prayers at the beginning of the year; even at Rome, however, the process of divination was begun. His name was included in the ancient Salian hymn to Mars or Quirinus. In 27 the cult of the Genius of Augustus was established, in which it was decreed that a libation should be poured to his guardian spirit at public and private banquets. The senate authorized a tribute to his moral leadership by setting up in the senate-house a golden shield celebrating his military virtue, clemency, justice, and social and religious responsibility; this shield was associated with the goddess Victoria and therefore implied god-given rule. Laurel trees sacred to Apollo were set up on either side of Augustus's house, and for rescuing citizens he was awarded the corona civica, made of oak leaves from the tree sacred to Jupiter. On coins of the period Jupiter's eagle, a symbol of apotheosis, was depicted with the civic crown and laurel branches.
In 27 in the Campus Martius Agrippa built the Pantheon, but he was not allowed to fashion it as an overt 'Augusteum'; instead the temple was dedicated to the divine ancestry of Augustus through Venus, Mars, and the deified Julius. In 25-24 work began on the Temple of Mars Ultor, which Augustus had vowed at the battle of Philippi in vengeance for his father's murder, and which later housed the standards returned by the Parthians. In 22 the temple of Juppiter Tonans was dedicated on the Capitoline Hill by Augustus who had escaped being struck by lightning during the Spanish campaign. After 20 the Prima Porta Augustus was commissioned, a statue of the emperor on whose cuirass is depicted the return of the standards by Parthia, in the presence of Mars, Apollo, and Venus.
In 17 Augustus celebrated the Secular Games which marked the close of a saeculum or epoch of a human life-span, defined in the Republic at one- hundred years, but celebrated elastically in Augustus's day at one-hundred- and-ten. In the new spirit of prosperity, the traditional deities of dread, including warlike Mars, and underworld Pluto and Persephone, were absent; sacrifices were made in honor of the Fates, the goddess of childbirth, Earth Mother, Jupiter and Juno, and Apollo and Diana. The poet Horace was commissioned to write a hymn which was sung by twenty-seven boys and twenty-seven girls.
In 13 at the return of Augustus from Spain and Gaul, the senate decreed the Ara Pacis to be built near the Campus Martius. This altar was to be used by magistrates and priests for annual sacrifices. Reliefs on the altar depict the symbols and fruits of peace in juxtaposition with figures of war by which peace was gained, and there are processions perhaps representing the major priesthoods in Rome, with Augustus himself portrayed in religious attire. Near this altar was a sundial associated with Augustus's patron, the sun-god Apollo. In 12 in the western province of Gaul, Drusus set up an altar at Lugdunum dedicated to Roma and Augustus.
After Actium, when Augustus was given the power of creating new patricians, the supply of men for priesthoods was increased. Augustus himself became a member of the Fratres Arvales, an elite fraternity which performed time-honored, public sacrifices for the prosperity of the state- family. In 12 Augustus became pontifex maximus; in 11, a new high priest of Jupiter, the flamen dialis, was appointed. When Augustus in 8 divided Rome into fourteen regions, the humble worship by the poor of the gods of the crossroads, the Lares Compitales, was elevated to official stature; this worship was promoted throughout the regions of Rome and Italy in association with the worship of the genius of Augustus. At this time the genius of Augustus was probably included in official oaths.
Less than one month after his death in 14 A.D., divine honors were decreed to Augustus at Rome, and the precedent was set there for the posthumous deification of successive emperors.
There was not a dyarchic division of power between the senate and Augustus. Augustus ultimately had the power of all the legions abroad and of the standing army of 9,000 soldiers in the Praetorian Guard at Rome and in the Italian towns. The senate, however, had important judicial, financial, and probouleutic functions at home, and it was the source of provincial governorships. The basic social hierarchy of Rome was maintained with the senatorial nobility at the top; the equites, who were of the same economic class but lacked the prestige of the senate, still staffed the jury-courts and junior army and procuratorial posts, but now they also got provincial commands. Around Augustus there was not so much a 'party' of political alliance, as a group of friends or clients who were confidants by the personal choice of Augustus. Most important for advisory, administrative, and military positions was the dynastic network of the imperial family.
In both the ancient and modern assessments of Augustus, there is a tension between the favorable view that the statesman Augustus atoned for the ruthlessness of Octavian, and the negative view that Augustus pursued power under all circumstances, doomed the nobility, slaughtered libertas, and was the political forerunner of World War Two continental dictators. It is apparent, at least, that the most historically significant result of the principate was the restoration of a ratified rule of law, with Augustus as the supreme judge, initiator, and executive officer. This rule evolved gradually and pragmatically; its basic ideology and administration were transmitted by the dynastic system for centuries of relative stability at Rome.
On Augustus as Octavian, Cicero's letters and Philippics describe the year after Julius Caesar's murder (March 44 - summer 43 BC); Plutarch's Lives of Brutus and Antony are sources for the triumviral period.
The Monumentum Ancyranum is an inscription known since the sixteenth century from the temple of 'Rome and Augustus' at Ancyra in Galatia. The inscription is Augustus's own account of his achievements and honors at Rome. This account is commonly known by its prefatory title Res Gestae Divi Augusti, or "achievements of the divine Augustus." The purpose of the inscription was to show and justify Augustus's influence and power at Rome and in the Roman world. The text, which is addressed to the Roman people, describes the beginning of his public life, his military successes, honors given to him, official expenditures for the public good, foreign policy, and ultimately the highest honor any Roman could receive, the title of pater patriae, 'father of the country.' Since Augustus received this title in 2 B.C. the text of the Ancyra inscription appears to date from that time, though earlier drafts are likely, as his honors and achievements grew. According to Suetonius (Aug. 101, 4), the inscription was originally designed for bronze tablets set up in front of Augustus's mausoleum built substantially, if not completely, in 28 BC at Rome.
The Fasti Consulares and Fasti Juliani provide further epigraphic evidence about Augustus and his time in the form of official lists of the holders of the annual consulship at Rome, and of holidays and religious festivals, respectively.
Nicolaus of Damascus wrote a Life of Augustus c. 25-20 B.C.; only a fragment of this eulogistic work survives concerning Augustus's youth and ending with the death of Julius. The work was probably a free paraphrase of an autobiography by Augustus.
Velleius Paterculus, who wrote the Histories during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 A,D.), provides a virtually contemporary, often eye-witness, and flattering account of wars of the Augustan period.
Appian describes events at Rome until 35 B.C. Though he wrote the Civil Wars in the second century A.D., Appian's account, sometimes favorable and sometimes not, is based on the contemporary history of C. Asinius Pollio, who was consul in 40 B.C.
Dio Cassius is the main source for events at Rome from 36 B.C., though the author himself lived c. 150-235 A.D., and his sources for the Augustan period are unknown. His account describes a ruthless Octavian, but an ideal Augustus as princeps, and a model for the Severan Era.
Tacitus gives an account of Augustus's merits and mostly demerits in the Annals, which the historian may have started composing as early as 115.
Suetonius wrote a Life of Augustus in the second century A.D. Suetonius was the court archivist of Hadrian ( 117-38 A.D.), and he had access to imperial documents of the Augustan age. Detached anecdotes replace a fully connected chronology.
Philo of Alexandria extolls the benevolence of Augustus in contrast to Caligula, in Embassy to Gaius, c. 40 A.D.
Flavius Josephus both favored and disfavored Rome in Bellum Judaicum c. 75 and Jewish Antiquites c 93-94A.D..
Pliny the Elder wrote negative reports about Augustus in Natural History, completed in 77 A.D.
Florus wrote a second century A.D. Epitome of all Wars during 700 Years, an abridgement of the history of Roman wars waged through the Age of Augustus. Eutropius and Aurelius Victor were fourth century A.D. epitomists; Eutropius based his early Roman history on an epitome of Livy, and Victor wrote the Caesares based on Suetonius. John Zonaras wrote a twelfth century epitome of Dio Cassius.
Lastly, for the era and the man, the literature of the Augustan Age is a major source which includes the works of Livy, Vergil, Horace, Ovid, Propertius, and Tibullus
Birch, R.A. "The Settlement of AD 4 and its Aftermath," CQ 31 (1981): 443-56.
Bowersock, G.W. Augustus and the Greek World. 1965.Oxford.
Bowman, Alan K., Edward Champlin, and Andrew Lintott, edd. T h e Cambridge Ancient History, vol. X, The Augustan Empire 43 B.C. - A.D. 69. second edition, 1996. Cambridge University Press.
Brunt, P.A. "The Role of Senate in the Augustan Regime." CQ 34 (1984): 423-44.
Brunt, P.A. Roman Imperial Themes. 1990. Oxford.
________.and J.M. Moore, edd. Res Gestae Divi Augusti. 1967. Oxford.
Chilver, G. E. F. "Augustus and the Roman Constitution 1939-50." Historia 1 (1950): 408-35.
Chisholm, Kitty and John Ferguson, edd. Rome, The Augustan Age, A Source Book. 1981. Oxford.
Cook, S.A., F.A. Adcock, and M.P. Charlesworth, edd. The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. X, The Augustan Empire 44 BC -- AD 70. 1952. Cambridge University Press.
Corbett, J.H. "The Succession Policy of Augustus," Latomus 33 (1974): 87-97.
Earl, D.C. The Age of Augustus. 1968. Crown Publishers, New York.
Ehrenberg, V. and A.H.M. Jones, edd. Documents Illustrating the Reigns of Augustus and Tiberius. 1970. Oxford.
Fitzler, K. and O. Seeck, "Iulius (Augustus)," RE 10.1 (1919), cols. 275-385.
Furneaux, H. ed. The Annals of Tacitus. vol I 1934. Oxford.
Galinsky, Karl. Augustan Culture: An Interpretive Introduction. 1996. Princeton.
Gray, E.W. "The Imperium of M. Agrippa," Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 6 (1970): 227-238.
Gray-Fow, M.J.G. "The Wicked Stepmother in Roman Literature and History: An Evaluation," Latomus 47 (1988): 741-57.
Gurval, R. A. Actium and Augustus. 1995 Ann Arbor: U of Mich. Press.
Hammond, M. The Augustan Principate in Theory and Practice. Cambridge; CUP, 1933.
Hammond, N. G. L. and H. H. Scullard, edd. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. second edition. 1970. Oxford.
Holmes, T. Rice. The Architect of the Roman Empire. 1928. Oxford.
Hornblower, Simon, and Anthony Spawforth, edd. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. third edition. 1996. Oxford.
Jameson, S. "Augustus and Agrippa Postumus," Historia 21 (1972): 287-314.
Jones, A.H.M. Augustus. 1970. W.W. Norton & Company, New York.
Kienast, Dietmar. Römische Kaisertabella. Grundziüge einer römischen Kaiserchronologie. 1990. Darmstadt.
Levick, B. "Drusus Caesar and the Adoptions of AD 4," Latomus 25 (1966): 227-44.
________."Abdication and Agrippa Postumus," Historia 21 (1972): 674-97.
________."Tiberius' Retirement to Rhodes in 6 BC," Latomus 31 (1972): 779-813.
________."Julians and Claudians," Greece and Rome 22 (1975): 29-38.
________. Tiberius the Politician. London: Thames 8, Hudson, 1976.
Lewis, Naphtali, ed. Greek Historical Documents on The Roman Principate 27 BC -- 285 AD. 1974. Hakkert, Toronto.
Lexicon der alten Welt. 1965. Artemis, Zurich, and Stuttgart.
Millar, F. "The Emperor, the Senate, and the Roman Provinces." JRS 55 (1966): 156-66.
________. "Triumvirate and Principate." JRS 63 (1973): 50-67
________. and E. Segal. Caesar Augustus: Seven Aspects. 1984. Oxford.
Mellor, Ronald, ed. From Augustus to Nero: The First Dynasty of Imperial Rome. 1990. Michigan State University Press.
Raaflaub, Kurt A. and Mark Toher, edd. Between Republic and Empire: Interpretations of Augustus and his Principate. 1990. University of California Press.
Ramage, E. S. The Nature and Purpose of Augustus's 'Res Gestae'. Stuttgart: Historia Einzelschriften 44, (1987).
Rich, J.W. Cassius Dio. The Augustan Settlement. Roman History 53-55.9. 1990. Aris &Phillips LTD.
Richardson, L. A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. 1992. Johns HopkinsUniversity Press.
Rubincam, C. "The Nomenclature of Julius Caesar and Later Augustus in the Triumviral Period." Historia 41 (1992): 88-103.
Salmon, E. T. "The Evolution of the Augustan Principate." Historia 5 (1956): 456-78.
________, ed. A History of the Roman World from 30 BC to AD 138. 1994. Methuen &Co. LTD.
Scullard, H. H. From the Gracchi to Nero. 5th ed. 1982. Routledge: London and New York.
Starr, Chester G. The Roman Empire 27 BC -- AD 476, A Study in Survival. 1982. Oxford.
Shotter, D. Augustus Caesar. 1991. London: Routledge.
Syme, R. The Augustan Aristocracy. 1987 Oxford: Clarendon Press.
________. The Crisis of 2 BC. 1974 Munich: Beck.
________.. The Roman Revolution. 1939. Clarendon Press.
Talbert, R.J.A. The Senate of Imperial Rome. 1984 Princeton, PUP.
Taylor, Lily Ross. The Divinity of the Roman Emperor. 1931. American Philological Association.
Wells, Colin. The Roman Empire. 1984. Stanford University Press.
Zanker, Paul. The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus. 1988. University of Michigan Press.
Copyright (C) 1997, Nina C. Coppolino. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.
Comments to: Michael DiMaio, Jr.
Updated: 25 May 1998
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