Marc Antony and Octavia

After Julius Caesar was assassinated, Octavian (Augustus) inherited Caesar’s army and used it to occupy Rome and pressure the Senate to make him consul. Marc Antony, who had assumed the leadership of Rome after Caesar’s death, was forced to make an alliance with Lepidus, a high priest, and Octavian in the form a triumvirate (“Group of Three). The leaders led a ruthless campaign to punish Caesar’s assassins but soon turned on each other. Octavian first attacked Lepidus and took control of Africa and all of Italy. Antony strained relations between Octavian and himself by divorcing Octavian's sister, in favor of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Finally, in 31 B.C., war broke out between Octavian and the combined forces of Cleopatra and Antony. Octavian defeated his foes at the naval battle of Actium and became sole ruler of Rome. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato,]

Octavian, Antony and Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate in 43 B.C.. Octavian was able get Caesar's old soldiers behind him and win the support of the Senate. The Triumvirate battled Cassius and Brutus for control of Rome during a civil war. After defeating the armies of Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Phillipi in 42 B.C., Lepidus was stripped of his power and Octavian and Marc Antony divided the empire, with Octavian getting Italy and the west and Antony getting the east. Mark Anthony and Octavian, shared power for ten years until Octavian declared war on Antony's lover's Cleopatra. While Antony and Cleopatra were enjoying themselves, Octavian was building up his army and navy and preparing for a fight.

In 34 B.C. Octavian seized Antony's will from the Temple of the Vestal Virgins. The will revealed that Antony planned to be buried in Alexandria, not Rome, with Cleopatra. This infuriated the citizens of Rome. There were reports that Antony was wearing a Greek chlamy not a Roman toga and planned to leave Rome to Cleopatra. A year later the Roman court declared war on Egypt and the “harlot queen," If Antony and Cleopatra had seized the moment and attacked Italy then they might have prevailed but instead they sailed to Greece, where they stayed for a year, enjoying themselves and organizing a drama festival, and were trapped on the west coast of Greece near the port of Actium

Octavian soundly defeated th navies of Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. A year after the battle Octavian invaded Egypt and Antony was defeated for good at Alexandria. The Battle of Actium was the last great ship battle for control of the Mediterranean in ancient times. It marked the end of the Hellenistic Age and the beginning of the Roman Empire. After the Battle of Actium, Octavian became the uncontested ruler of the Roman empire

The historian Tacitus (died A.D. 117) wrote in “Annals” 1.1-2: “After there were no longer any public armies in the field (Brutus and Cassius having been slaughtered and Sextus Pompeius having been crushed in Spain) and with no other leader remaining even for the Julian party, with the exception of Octavian (Lepidus being out of the way and Antony having been killed), the latter doffed the name of triumvir and put on that of consul, and, "content" with his tribunician powers for "the assurance of the safety of the plebs," he seduced the army with gifts, the general populace with free grain, and everyone with the lure of relaxation after the toils of civil war. Gradually he began to increase his power, taking to himself the functions of the Senate, of the magistrates, and of the laws. No one opposed him: his fiercest enemies had died, either in battle or in the ensuing proscriptions, while the rest of the nobiles were rewarded with riches and offices in direct proportion to their readiness to display a fawning servility. These last, having acquired a lofty position as a result of the new political order, preferred to enjoy their present status in safety rather than return to the old and dangerous ways of the past. Nor did the provinces object to this new state of affairs, since they had grown suspicious of the authority of the Senate and the people, due to the fierce rivalries of Rome's generals and the greed of her magistrates; furthermore, they felt that no aid was to obtained by recourse to the laws, which had been thrown into confusion by violence, political ambition, and (finally) money. [Source: John Porter, translator, University of Saskatchewan]

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Augustus’s Military Victories Before Becoming Emperor

Augustus at the tomb of Alexander the Great

Nina C. Coppolino wrote: “Despite concessions to Pompey, in 38 B.C. 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 B.C. 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 B.C. 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. [Source: Nina C. Coppolino, Roman Emperors ]

“In 36 B.C. 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 B.C. 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 B.C. Octavian fought in Illyricum and Dalmatia, the eastern borders of Italy. In 33 B.C. Agrippa as aedile dealt with the precious water supply in Rome and restored aquaducts.

“In 32 B.C. 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 B.C. 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 B.C. Octavian assumed the consulship at Rome for the third time and monopolized it successively through 23 B.C..

“In 29 B.C. 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 B.C. 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.”


Augustus Usurps the Consulship

Suetonius wrote: “He received offices and honours before the usual age, and some of a new kind and for life. He usurped the consulship in the twentieth year of his age [43 B.C.], leading his legions against the city as if it were that of an enemy, and sending messengers to demand the office for him in the name of his army; and when the Senate hesitated, his centurion, Cornelius, leader of the deputation, throwing back his cloak and showing the hilt of his sword, did not hesitate to say in the House, "This will make him consul, if you do not." He held his second consulship nine years later [33 B.C.], and a third after a year's interval [31 B.C.]; the rest up to the eleventh were in successive years [30-23 B.C.], then after declining a number of terms that were offered him, he asked of his own accord for a twelfth after a long interval, no less than seventeen years [5 B.C.], and two years later for a thirteenth [2 B.C.], wishing to hold the highest magistracy at the time when he introduced each of his sons Gaius and Lucius to public life upon their coming of age. The five consulships from the sixth to the tenth he held for the full year, the rest for nine, six, four, or three months, except the second, which lasted only a few hours; for after sitting for a short time on the curule chair in front of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in the early morning, he resigned the honour on the Kalends of January and appointed another in his place. He did not begin all his consulships in Rome, but the fourth in Asia, the fifth on the Isle of Samos, the eighth and ninth at Tarraco. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum--Divus Augustus” (“The Lives of the Caesars--The Deified Augustus”), written A.D. c. 110, “Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum,” 2 Vols., trans. J. C. Rolfe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1920), pp. 123-287]

“He was for ten years a member of the triumvirate for restoring the State to order, and though he opposed his colleagues for some time and tried to prevent a proscription, yet when it was begun, he carried it through with greater severity than either of them. For while they could oftentimes be moved by personal influence and entreaties, he alone was most insistent that no one should be spared, even adding to the list his guardian Gaius Toranius, who had also been the colleague of his father Octavian in the aedileship. Julius Saturninus adds that after the proscription was over Marcus Lepidus addressed the Senate in justification of the past and held out hope of leniency thereafter, since enough punishment had been inflicted; but that Augustus on the contrary declared that he had consented to end the proscription only on condition that he was allowed a free hand for the future. However, to show his regret for this inflexibility, he later honoured Titus Vinius Philopoemen witll equestrian rank, because it was said that he had hidden his patron, who was on the list. While he was triumvir, Augustus incurred general detestation by many of his acts. For example, when he was addressing the soldiers and a throng of civilians had been admitted to the assembly, noticing that Pinalius, a Roman knight, was taking notes, he ordered that he be stabbed on the spot, thinking him an eavesdropper and a spy. Because Tedius Afer, consul elect, railed at some act of his in spiteful terms, he uttered such terrible threats that Afer committed suicide. Again, when Quintus Gallius, a praetor, held some folded tablets under his robe as he was paying his respects, Augustus, suspecting that he had a sword concealed there, did not dare to make a search on the spot for fear it should turn out to be something else; but a little later he had Gallius hustled from the tribunal by some centurions and soldiers, tortured him as if he were a slave, and though he made no confession, ordered his execution, first tearing out the man's eyes with his own hand. He himself writes, however, that Gallius made a treacherous attack on him after asking for an audience, and was haled to prison; and that after he was dismissed under sentence of banishment, he either lost his life by shipwreck or was waylaid by brigands. He received the tribunician power for life, and once or twice chose a colleague in the office for periods of five years each. He was also given the supervision of morals and of the laws for all time, and by the virtue of this position, although without the title of censor, he nevertheless took the census thrice, the first and last time with a colleague, the second time alone.

Augustus Restores the Republic

Republican flag

In 27 B.C., Octavian made a bold and clever political move by declaring the Republican Government restored. He immediately offered to resign from the position of consul, but the Senate, instead of accepting his offer, decided to give him the position of princeps. The Senate also gave him the name Augustus, meaning "revered one". The Senate decided to give Octavian control of the provinces of Gaul, Syria, Spain and Egypt. These areas had large numbers of troops stationed within their borders giving Octavian almost total military authority. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, +]

Suetonius wrote: “He twice thought of restoring the republic; first immediately after the overthrow of Antonius, remembering that his rival had often made the charge that it was his fault that it was not restored; and again in the weariness of a lingering illness, when he went so far as to summon the magistrates and the Senate to his house, and submit an account of the general condition of the empire. Reflecting, however, that as he himself would not be free from danger if he should retire, so too it would be hazardous to trust the State to the control of more than one, he continued to keep it in his hands; and it is not easy to say whether his intentions or their results were the better. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum-Divus Augustus” (“The Lives of the Caesars – The Deified Augustus”), written A.D. c. 110, “Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum,” 2 Vols., trans. J. C. Rolfe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1920), pp. 123-287]

“His good intentions he not only expressed from time to time, but put them on record as well in an edict in the following words: "May it be my privilege to establish the State in a firm and secure position, and reap from that act the fruit that I desire; but only if I may be called the author of the best possible government, and bear with me the hope when I die that the foundations which I have laid for the State will remain unshaken." And he realized his hope by making every effort to prevent any dissatisfaction with the new regime. Since the city was not adorned as the dignity of the empire demanded, and was exposed to flood and fire, he so beautified it that he could justly boast that he had found it built of brick and left it in marble. He made it safe too for the future, so far as human foresight could provide for this.”

Octavian’s Power

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “The triumvirs had held power as the result of a law, the Lex Titia, which was passed by the popular assembly, initially for five years, from January 1, 43 B.C., to December 31, 38 B.C.. The triumvirate was renewed in the fall of 37 B.C. for another five years, but this was retroactive to the beginning of 37, and thus the formal powers of the triumvirs ended with the year 33 B.C. (taking the evidence of the consular Fasti over Appian, Ill. 28). However, although Octavian held no formal office in the year 32 (except for being consul-elect for the following year), it seems likely that he continued to exercise the powers reserved to the triumvirs by virtue of never having abdicated the office, regarding himself in effect as prorogued. The power of the triumvirs had in any case been very much like that of a consul, and when in 32 B.C. we find Octavian summoning and addressing meetings of the senate, after both of the recalcitrant consuls have declared for Antony and fled the city, he is presumably doing so by virtue of his continuing status as a triumvir. Notice, however, that this fact is fudged if not directly falsified at RG 7.1, where Augustus says he was triumvir for ten consecutive years. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“From 31 to 27 B.C. Octavian held the consulship every year. His power, which from this point forward Dio describes as monarchical, rested on his tenure of the consulship and also on the oath of allegiance, which (as he says in the Res Gestae, 3.3) he extracted from more than five hundred thousand soldiers. Interestingly, he acknowledged in some measure that many of the acts of the triumvirs had been illegal when, in 28 B.C., he formally declared that such measures were to become null and void by the end of his sixth consulship (Dio 53.2.5). In other ways too the Republican system appeared still to be functioning. For example, although the appointment of proconsular governors for the provinces had been taken out of the hands of the senate and arrogated to the triumvirs (a necessary measure since provincial governors were the commanders of armies), nonetheless the proconsuls continued to celebrate triumphs. And, also in 28 B.C., Octavian took the significant step of allowing his colleague in the consulship, M. Vipsanius Agrippa, to have the fasces (in previous years his preeminence in the office had been signaled by his sole possession of the fasces).

Settlement of 27 B.C.

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “In January of 27 B.C. Octavian rose in the senate and announced that he was giving up the consulship and transferring control of the state, including the armies and the provinces, back to the Senate and People of Rome. The senators responded by refusing this noble gesture, and a bargain was struck, which amounted to a confirmation of his supremacy. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“Octavian, now renamed with the honorific title Augustus (he had considered and rejected the name of Romulus as having unpleasantly regal associations) was made governor en absentia of Spain, Gaul, Cilicia, Cyprus and Syria for ten years with proconsular authority, the provinces to be governed in actuality by his appointees, who had the title of legatus Augusti. He continued to administer Egypt in his own name through the equestrian Cornelius Gallus, as a special case. This arrangement ensured that most of the troops were directly or indirectly under the command of Augustus. As Dio says:

“The purpose of this decision, as he explained it, was that the senate should enjoy without anxiety the fairest territories in the empire, while he should confront the hardships and dangers. But the real object of this arrangement was that the senators should be unarmed and unprepared for war, while he possessed arms and controlled the troops. (53.12) ^*^

“Given that this was the reality, it is instructive to consider how the settlement of 27 was portrayed by other sources. The standard line holds that it was presented as a full restoration of the Republican system. Velleius Paterculus, a Roman who reached the praetorship in A.D. 15, wrote: “In the twentieth year civil wars were brought to an end, foreign wars buried, peace recalled; the frenzy of arms was everywhere lulled to sleep, the laws recovered their vigor, the courts their authority, the senate its majesty, the imperium of the magistrates was restored to its ancient extent .... the pristine form of the republic was recalled as of old. “ ^*^

“Augustus himself describes this event in the Res Gestae, 34.1, as follows: “In my sixth and seventh consulships, after I had extinguished civil wars, and at a time when with universal consent I was in complete control of affairs, I transferred the republic from my power to the dominion of the senate and people of Rome.” ^*^

“Thus it is tempting to think in terms of a propaganda campaign which falsely claimed that the old Republican system had returned. However, Fergus Millar ("Triumvirate and Principate") has offered a powerful corrective to the standard line. He points out that although proconsuls were now appointed by lot, as of old, rather than by Augustus, and a few of them continued to be allowed to celebrate triumphs, the legates of Augustus could not; Augustus' power to appoint them and govern through them was thus openly un-Republican, and everybody knew it. Moreover, although elections by the tribal assembly resumed, they were now constrained by the practice of commendatio (the official stamp of approval by the princeps), and in some cases we hear of Augustus flat out granting consulships and other offices. Again, un-Republican. ^*^

“Millar argues that although in Tacitus the term "res publica" refers unambiguously to the Republican system of government as opposed to the principate, there is little if any evidence to support that in the 20's BC it meant anything other than "the commonwealth". The phrase "res publica restituta" is actually surprisingly rare in the period, and when they it does appear it can plausibly be argued that it means "the state was restored to health" rather than "the system of republican government was restored" (as e.g. in the legend of the coin). In a number of passages (including Suet. Aug 28) we hear that Augustus was thinking about reinstituting the Republican system; but the wording in these cases is always "res publica reddita" or "rem publicam reddere". Millar also notes that Tacitus, in referring to the event, simply says (3.28) that Augustus "when consul for the sixth time felt sure enough of his position to cancel all that he had decreed as triumvir in favor of a new order: peace and the Principate." Would Tacitus have missed the chance to debunk such a specious claim as that the old system of government had been restored in 28/27, had such a claim really been made? Likewise, Millar points to a number of published texts of the 20's which openly acknowledge the extent of Augustus' power, and argues that they would be very undiplomatic if indeed Augustus had been trying to convince everyone that he had restored the Republic. ^*^

First Constitutional Settlement of the Principate, 27-24 B.C.

Nina C. Coppolino wrote: “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. [Source: Nina C. Coppolino, Roman Emperors ]

“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 B.C., 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 B.C. 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 B.C. 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 B.C. 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.

Settlement of 23 B.C. and the Tribunicia Potestas

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Augustus spent the years 27-24 B.C. abroad in his provinces. In the year 23 B.C. , with Augustus back at Rome, there was a serious crisis involving a conspiracy against his life, led by Fannius Caepio and the consul of 23 B.C., a Murena. There is a conflict in the sources about his identity, and Dio puts the whole affair in 22 B.C., but the Fasti support the date of 23 B.C., and the consequence, that the adjustment made by Augustus to his constitutional position in that year was a reaction to the crisis of the conspiracy. In 23 B.C. Augustus thought better of his decision to hold successive consulships, as this cut the number available to the members of the senate by half. In later years a solution was evolved whereby men held the office for only a part of the year and then allowed themselves to be replaced; but in 23 Augustus needed a quicker fix. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^^] “On July 1 of that year he resigned the consulship. Thereafter he would hold it again only for ceremonial purposes, as e.g. in 5 and 3 BC to honor the entry of his grandsons Gaius and Lucius into public life. The centerpiece of the settlement of 23 was the adoption by Augustus of the office of tribune of the people, the tribunicia potestas, which he held thereafter continuously until his death in A.D. 14. This is a bit tricky in so far as we hear on two previous occasions of Augustus taking the tribunician power, first in 36 B.C. (Appian, BC 5.132; Orosius, 6.18.34), and then again in 30 (Dio 51.19.6). However, Augustus clearly states in the Res Gestae (4.4) that his tribunician power began in 23 B.C.. The likeliest explanation is that on the previous occasions he had been interested only in acquiring the tribunician inviolability ( sacrosanctitas ). In practical terms the tribunician power did not amount to much, except insofar as it allowed him to veto any public act and to propose measures directly to the popular assembly. But in symbolic terms its importance cannot be overstated. The tribunician power came to be identified completely with the office of the princeps, and Augustus and his successors, on their coins and public documents, date the years of their reigns by it. When Augustus sought to identify someone as his designated successor (a delicate business inasmuch as he had to avoid the appearance of creating a dynasty) he did so by taking that person as a colleague in the tribunician power. ^^

“Tribunes of the people do not command armies. Augustus' command of the armies was not, however, jeopardized by the settlement of 23. He was granted proconsular imperium (extended in 19 BC to a life term), and this was to be imperium maius quam proconsulare, which meant that he could overrule the authority of other provincial governors in their own provinces (Dio 53.32). Although there were (dubious) Republican precedents for the holding of maius imperium (Pompey had had it in the 60's), Augustus' was unique in that it did not stop at the pomerium, the sacred boundary of the city. ^*^

Second Settlement and the Evolution of the Principate, 23-16 B.C.

Nina C. Coppolino wrote: “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 B.C. 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. [Source: Nina C. Coppolino, Roman Emperors ]

“Without the consulship Augustus lacked legitimate civil and military authority at Rome. Accordingly in 23 B.C., 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 B.C.). 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 B.C. 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 B.C. 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 B.C., 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 B.C. 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 B.C. 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 B.C. 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 B.C. . Now Augustus made Agrippa virtually co-regent through the renewal award of proconsular power, and the award of tribunician power. In 18 B.C. 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 B.C.). By the authority of his tribunician power, he passed the Julian Laws of 18 B.C. 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.

Roman Empire in AD 14

Principate 17 B.C.-14 A.D.

Nina C. Coppolino wrote: “To mark the new age of Augustus in 17 B.C., 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 B.C. Augustus was abroad organizing Gaul, and Agrippa was in Asia. In 15 B.C. 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 B.C. 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 B.C. 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 B.C. Drusus died. In 8 B.C. 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. [Source: Nina C. Coppolino, Roman Emperors ]

“In 5 and 2 B.C. Augustus again assumed the consulship only to introduce his grandsons, Gaius and Lucius, to public life, with their ceremonial assumption of the toga virilis. 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 included Imperator 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 6 A.D. 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.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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