Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius

Andrew Wallace-Hadrill of the University of Reading wrote for the BBC: “ One image of the imperial system is of strong, effective central control. The figure of the emperor himself, as defined by Julius Caesar and Augustus, stands for good order in contrast to the chaos of pluralism - squabbling city-states or competing aristocrats. [Source: Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“Historians have underlined the benefits of provincial government restrained by imperial control and the development of a sophisticated and complex law code which still underlies continental legal systems. They have pointed to the benefits of the central bureaucracy built up by the early emperors, especially Claudius, which provided a structure for long-term continuity amid changing dynasties. That bureaucratic mentality, you could say, transmitted from late antiquity through the papacy to modern nation states, is what makes contemporary Brussels possible. |::|

“But look at the figures of the Caesars themselves and what fascinates us now is their arbitrary nature. We see not an efficient system of fair and sober government, but a gamble at work. From Augustus's ruthless intelligence, to Caligula's scary insanity, or Nero's misplaced parade of rockstar popularity, we seem to be dealing with a system which throws the individual and his personal foibles into excessive prominence. |::|

“The 'mad' and 'bad' Caesars seem more interesting than the good, sober ones - certainly, from Quo Vadis to I Claudius to Gladiator, they are the ones who have fired the popular imagination. It is as if we do not want to learn the secret of Roman success, but scare ourselves by looking deep into the irrationality of an apparently successful system. In that sense, the Caesars now serve us not as a model of how people ought to rule but a mythology through which we reflect on the terrifying power of the systems in which we may happen to find ourselves entrapped.” |::|

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

Caesar Crosses the Rubicon

The crossing of the Rubicon — a small stream in northern Italy that defined the border between Rome and its northern provinces— was a pivotal event in Roman history and the creation of the Roman Empire and ultimately modern European culture. While serving as governor of Gaul, Caesar amassed a personal fortune and displayed his military skill in subduing the native Celtic and Germanic tribes. Caesar became so popular with the masses, he presented a threat to the power of the Senate and to Pompey, who held power in Rome. Under these condition, the Senate called upon Caesar to resign his command and disband his army or risk being declared an "Enemy of the State". Pompey was entrusted with enforcing this edict. [Source:]

After Julius Caesar finished subduing Gaul in 51 B.C., he prepared to return to Rome. While he was away in Gaul, Crassus was killed and Pompey became leader. Pompey wielded great power and declared Caesar a public enemy and ordered him to disband his army. Caesar refused. When he moved his army from Gaul into Rome's formal territory, it was interpreted as a declaration of war against Rome. Caesar reached the border of greater Rome at the Rubicon River. He then he plunged his horse in the water, shouting , “The die is caste."

According to to Republican tradition, victorious Roman generals were not allowed to return to Rome with their armies out of fear they would try to overthrow the government. In January 49 B.C., Caesar was staying in the northern Italian city of Ravenna. He had to decide whether to obey the Senate's command or ignore it and march his army southward to confront Pompey, plunging the Roman Republic into a bloody civil war. An ancient Roman law forbade any general from crossing the Rubicon and entering Italy proper with a standing army. To do so was treason and a point of no return.

Timeline of Events Around the Time Caesar Crossed the Rubicon
58-50 B.C.: As governor of the province, Caesar conducts a series of military campaigns to conquer Gaul, boosting his political career, bringing him the wealth and endearing him among the Roman masses.
50 B.C.: Following his victories in Gaul, Caesar attempts to return to Rome with his army, a breach of Roman law, and his former ally Pompey and his enemies in the Senate order him to either disband his army or stay of Italy proper.
January 10-11, 49 B.C.: Faced with an ultimatum from the Senate, Caesar and the 13th Legion cross the Rubicon, the official border between Gaul and Italy, a decision that leads to civil war.
49 B.C.: As Caesar advances on Rome, Pompey and his allies retreat south, ultimately fleeing Italy for Greece. Caesar defeats Pompey’s forces in Spain.
48 B.C.: Caesar pursues Pompey across the Adriatic and decisively defeats him at the Battle of Pharsalus in Greece. After the loss, Pompey flees to Egypt where he is assassinated.
46 B.C.: Caesar defeats Pompey’s remaining followers at Thapsus in North Africa. Caesar becomes dictator of Rome. [Source: Fernando Lillo Redonet, National Geographic History magazine, March-April 2017] Book: “Rubicon — The Last Years of the Roman Republic” by Tom Holland (Doubleday, 2004)

Civil War After Caesar Crosses the Rubicon


Fernando Lillo Redonet wrote in National Geographic History magazine: “The choice facing Rome was either decades of more factionalism and political chaos, or accepting a strongman to impose reform, and set its affairs in order. On swiftly passing to the far bank of this minor river, Caesar set the republic hurtling down the second course.” [Source: Fernando Lillo Redonet, National Geographic History magazine, March-April 2017]

Caesar marched into Rome with his army and seized control of the government and the treasury and declared himself dictator while Pompey, in command of the Roman navy, fled to Greece. But this campaign was just the beginning. Five years of civil war followed. Caesar was forced to cover huge distances in his effort to destroy Pompey and his extensive allies across the Roman world.

Caesar defeated Pompey in a series of land battles that took place throughout the Roman empire over a four years period. After Caesar put down a revolt in modern-day Marseille in France and routed Pompey’s loyalists in Spain at the Battle of Ilerda in June 49 B.C., he defeated Pompey in Greece. Pompey fled to Egypt. The Ptolemies refused to provide quarter for a loser and had him executed and cut off his head.

Suetonius wrote: “In all the civil wars he suffered not a single disaster except through his lieutenants, of whom Gaius Curio perished in Africa, Gaius Antonius fell into the hands of the enemy in Illyricum, Publius Dolabella lost a fleet also off Illyricum, and Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus an army in Pontus. Personally he always fought with the utmost success, and the issue was never even in doubt save twice: once at Dyrrachium, where he was put to flight, and said of Pompeius, who failed to follow up his success, that he did not know how to use a victory; again in Spain, in the final struggle, when, believing the battle lost, he actually thought of suicide.” [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

The defeat of Pompey and his allies made Caesar the unchallenged leader. Caesar said, “It is more important for the state that I should survive...I have long had my fill of power and glory; but should anything happen to me, Rome will enjoy no peace."

Caesar Becomes Dictator of Rome

Caesar's campaign in Gaul allowed Rome to claim France, the Netherlands and Belgium. In campaigns early in the Civil Wars period he claimed Portugal, Spain, and Greece. With Egypt under the control of Cleopatra, Caesar set his sights on the Middle East.

After annihilating the Parthians in Pontus and Zela in the Middle East in 47 B.C., Caesar sent home the immortal message, " Veni, vidi, vici " ("I came, I saw, I conquered"). This victory allowed him to claim Syria, Israel, and western Turkey. Afterwards he returned home to Rome to fight another rival, Cato, who had gone to North Africa to raise an army to challenge Caesar. That didn't happen. Instead, Caesar sent his army to Africa and crushed Cato.

In 46 B.C., the last of Pompey's forces were defeated in Spain. With the civil wars over Caesar was the unchallenged leader of Rome. In the meantime Portugal, Spain, France, the Netherlands Belgium, Italy, Greece, Syria, Israel, western Turkey, and northern Libya were added to Rome under Caesar, making it a truly great empire. Caesar was merciful enough to forgive his enemies. A general amnesty was proclaimed; and friend and foe were treated alike.

In 44 B.C., Caesar declared himself “Dictator for Life” and was crowned with a royal diadem at a religious ceremony, ushering in the era of imperial Rome. Many Romans were appalled by Caesar's audacious seizure of power and riled further when he placed a statue with his likeness next to statues of the founders of Rome. Almost immediately members of the Senate began plotting against him.

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: In 45 B.C. Caesar “again chose to be named dictator, this time with the complete title of dictator rei publicae constituendae "dictator for the purpose of rebuilding the Republic", which Sulla too had been called, and with a fixed term of ten years. The Republicans were unimpressed by the ten-year limitation, nor willing to deceive themselves about the nature of Caesar's autocratic powers at this stage. And a variety of symbols confirmed Caesar's extraordinary status. For example, in public he was attended after 46 B.C. by 72 lictors (24 for each dictatorship), whereas the standard number for a consul was 12. Although Caesar had refrained from imitating Sulla's violent proscriptions, he was reputed to have opined that Sulla was a fool for having voluntarily stepped down from his dictatorship and retired from public life (Suet. Jul. 77, citing a collection of Caesar's public pronouncements by T. Ampius). [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

In 44 B.C. the dictatorship, for reasons which are not altogether clear, was redefined as perpetual rather than for ten years. Among the evidence which ensures that the perpetual dictatorship is not an invention by hostile sources are the coins (e.g. Crawford RRC # 480 7b, a denarius bearing the legend CAESAR DICT(ator) PERPETUO). Of course his enemies spread the unlikely rumour that Caesar lusted after the title of king (rex). One is reminded of the stories about how Ti. Gracchus was supposed to have motioned with his hand indicating that he wanted to receive a crown. Crowns were powerful symbols for the Romans. Suetonius says Caesar was annoyed when the tribunes removed a royal crown someone had placed upon his statue, not because he wished to have it there, but because he wished to refuse it himself. The story seems confirmed in as much as it hangs on a matter of public record, that the two tribunes responsible were later deposed; but that may not have been. as Suetonius believes, at Caesar's insistence. M. Antonius tried to crown Caesar himself at the festival of the Lupercalia in 44, as Suetonius also says (Jul. 80); but this was undoubtedly a publicity stunt, designed to make the most of Caesar's public refusal of the dubious honor.

Caesar’s Reforms

Caesar held his great power only for a short time. But the reforms which he made are enough to show us his policy, and to enable us to judge of him as a statesman. Fernando Lillo Redonet wrote in National Geographic History magazine: “Having returned to Rome, he continued implementing significant reforms in the year of life left to him. These included improving land and grain distribution, as well as the reorganization of local government across Italy. No doubt Caesar hoped for many years of life to enact his reforms.” [Source: Fernando Lillo Redonet, National Geographic History magazine, March-April 2017]

Suetonius wrote: “Then turning his attention to the reorganisation of the state, he reformed the calendar, which the negligence of the pontiffs had long since so disordered, through their privilege of adding months or days at pleasure, that the harvest festivals did not come in summer nor those of the vintage in the autumn; and he adjusted the year to the sun's course by making it consist of three hundred and sixty-five days, abolishing the intercalary month, and adding one day every fourth year [the year had previously consisted of 355 days, and the deficiency of about eleven days was made up by inserting an intercalary month of twenty-two or twenty-three days after February]. Furthermore, that the correct reckoning of seasons might begin with the next Kalends of January, he inserted two other months between those of November and December; hence the year in which these arrangements were made was one of fifteen months, including the intercalary month, which belonged to that year according to the former custom. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

“Moreover, to keep up the population of the city, depleted as it was by the assignment of eighty thousand citizens to colonies across the sea, he made a law that no citizen older than twenty or younger than forty, who was not detained by service in the army, should be absent from Italia for more than three successive years; that no senator's son should go abroad except as the companion of a magistrate or on his staff; and that those who made a business of grazing should have among their herdsmen at least one-third who were men of free birth. He conferred citizenship on all who practiced medicine at Rome, and on all teachers of the liberal arts, to make them more desirous of living in the city and to induce others to resort to it. As to debts, he disappointed those who looked for their cancellation, which was often agitated, but finally decreed that the debtors should satisfy their creditors according to a valuation of their possessions at the price which they had paid for them before the civil war, deducting from the principal whatever interest had been paid in cash or pledged through bankers; an arrangement which wiped out about a fourth part of their indebtedness. He dissolved all colleg [associations], except those of ancient foundation. He increased the penalties for crimes; and inasmuch as the rich involved themselves in guilt with less hesitation because they merely suffered exile, without any loss of property, he punished murderers of freemen by the confiscation of all their goods, as Cicero writes, and others by the loss of one-half.

“He administered justice with the utmost conscientiousness and strictness. Those convicted of extortion he even dismissed from the senatorial order. He annulled the marriage of an ex-praetor, who had married a woman the very day after her divorce, although there was no suspicion of adultery. He imposed duties on foreign wares. He denied the use of litters and the wearing of scarlet robes or pearls to all except to those of a designated position and age, and on set days. In particular, he enforced the law against extravagance, setting watchmen in various parts of the market, to seize and bring to him dainties which were exposed for sale in violation of the law; and sometimes he sent his lictors and soldiers to take from a dining-room any articles which had escaped the vigilance of his watchmen, even after they had been served.

“In particular, for the adornment and convenience of the city, also for the protection and extension of the Empire, he formed more projects and more extensive ones every day; first of all, to rear a temple to Mars, greater than any in existence, filling up and levelling the pool in which he had exhibited the sea-fight, and to build a theater of vast size, sloping down from the Tarpeian Rock; to reduce the civil code to fixed limites, and of the vast and prolix mass of statutes to include only the best and most essential in a limited number of volumes; to open to the public the greatest possible libraries of Greek and Latin books, assigning to Marcus Varro the charge of procuring and classifying them; to drain the Pomptine marshes; to let out the water from Lake Fucinus; to make a highway from the Adriatic across the summit of the Apennines as far as the Tiber; to cut a canal through the Isthmus; to check the Dacians, who had poured into Pontus and Thrace; then to make war on the Parthians by way of Lesser Armenia, but not to risk a battle with them until he had first tested their mettle. All these enterprises and plans were cut short by his death. But before I speak of that, it will not be amiss to describe briefly his personal appearance, his dress, his mode of life, and his character, as well as his conduct in civil and military life.

Caesar’s Political Reforms

The first need of Rome was a stable government based on the interest of the whole people. The senate had failed to secure such a government; and so had the popular assemblies led by the tribunes. Caesar believed that the only government suited to Rome was a democratic monarchy—a government in which the supreme power should be held permanently by a single man, and exercised, not for the benefit of himself or any single class, but for the benefit of the whole state. Let us see how his changes accomplished this end. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

In the first place, the senate was changed to meet this view. It had hitherto been a comparatively small body, drawn from a single class and ruling for its own interests. Caesar increased the number to nine hundred members, and filled it up with representative men of all classes, not simply nobles, but also ignobiles—Spaniards, Gauls, military officers, sons of freedmen, and others. It was to be not a legislative body but an advisory body, to inform the monarch of the condition and wants of Italy and the provinces. In the next place, he extended the Roman franchise to the inhabitants beyond the Po, and to many cities in the provinces, especially in Transalpine Gaul and Spain. All his political changes tended to break down the distinction between nobles and commons, between Italians and the provincials, and to make of all the people of the empire one nation. \~\

Suetonius wrote: ““He filled the vacancies in the senate, enrolled additional patricians, and increased the number of praetors, aediles, and quaestors, as well as of the minor officials; he reinstated those who had been degraded by official action of the censors or found guilty of bribery by verdict of the jurors. He shared the elections with the people on this basis: that except in the case of the consulship, half of the magistrates should be appointed by the people's choice, while the rest should be those whom he had personally nominated. And these he announced in brief notes like the following, circulated in each tribe: 'Caesar the Dictator to this or that tribe. I commend to you so and so, to hold their positions by your votes." He admitted to office even the sons of those who had been proscribed. He limited the right of serving as jurors to two classes, the equestrian and senatorial orders, disqualifying the third class, the tribunes of the treasury. He made the enumeration of the people neither in the usual manner nor place, but from street to street aided by the owners of blocks of houses, and reduced the number of those who received grain at public expense from three hundred and twenty thousand to one hundred and fifty thousand. And to prevent the calling of additional meetings at any future time for purposes of enrolment, he provided that the places of such as died should be filled each year by the praetors from those who were not on the list. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

Caesar Worship

caesar deification

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Some moderns do accept that Caesar in his last years encouraged the worship of himself as a god at Rome (following Dio 44.6.5-6, Appian BC 2.106); but this may be a distortion of the indisputable fact that a temple had been erected to clemency or to his clemency. Naturally, being acclaimed as a god by the people of the east (as Caesar was) was seen at Rome as matter of small import. It is true that the Senate declared Caesar to have been a god upon his death, and the popular belief was that a comet seen shortly after his assassination marked his assumption into the heavenly realm (a tale lovingly fostered by Augustus). In short, although there are some distortions, even the most ardent defenders of Caesar must admit that at the end he seems to have become drunk with power and the endless stream of honors heaped upon him by the Senate, and that he ended by making a mockery of Republican practices. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class]

Suetonius wrote: “To an insult which so plainly showed his contempt for the Senate he added an act of even greater insolence; for at the Latin Festival, as he was returning to the city, amid the extravagant and unprecedented demonstrations of the populace, someone in the press placed on his statue a laurel wreath with a white fillet tied to it [an emblem of royalty]; and when Epidius Marullus and Caesetius Flavus, tribunes of the plebeians, gave orders that the ribbon be removed from the wreath and the man taken off to prison, Caesar sharply rebuked and deposed them, either offended that the hint at regal power had been received with so little favor, or, as he asserted, that he had been robbed of the glory of refusing it. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

“But from that time on he could not rid himself of the odium of having aspired to the title of monarch, although he replied to the plebeians, when they hailed him as king, "I am Caesar and no king" [with a pun on rex ('king') as a Roman name], and at the Lupercalia, when the consul Marcus Antonius several times attempted to place a crown upon his head as he spoke from the rostra, he put it aside and at last sent it to the Capitol, to be offered to Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Nay, more, the report had spread in various quarters that he intended to move to Ilium or Alexandria, taking with him the resources of the state, draining Italia by levies, and leaving the charge of the city to his friends; also that at the next meeting of the Senate Lucius Cotta would announce as the decision of the Fifteen [the quindecimviri sacris faciundis ('college of fifteen priests') in charge of the Sybilline books], that inasmuch as it was written in the books of fate that the Parthians could be conquered only by a king, Caesar should be given that title.”

Cicero’s Concerns About Caesar

The great orator and politician Cicero (106-43 B.C.) raised concerns about Caesar’s rise in Letter XXX: To Atticus (at Rome) Matius' Suburban Villa, 7 April, 44 B.C: “I have come on a visit to the man, of whom I was talking to you this morning. His view is that "the state of things is perfectly shocking: that there is no way out of the imbroglio. For if a man of Caesar's genius failed, who can hope to succeed?" In short, he says that the ruin is complete. I am not sure that he is wrong; but then he rejoices in it, and declares that within twenty days there will be a rising in Gaul: that he has not had any conversation with anyone except Lepidus since the Ides of March: finally that these things can't pass off like this. [Source: Cicero, Marcus Tullius: “The Letters of Cicero”, translated by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh (d. 1906), London, G. Bell and sons, 1899-1900]

What a wise man Oppius is, who regrets Caesar quite as much, but yet says nothing that can offend any loyalist! But enough of this. Pray don't be idle about writing me word of anything new, for I expect a great deal. Among other things, whether we can rely on Sextus Pompeius; but above all about our friend Brutus, of whom my host says that Caesar was in the habit of remarking: "It is of great importance what that man wishes; at any rate, whatever he wishes he wishes strongly": and that he noticed, when he was pleading for Deiotarus at Nicaea, that he seemed to speak with great spirit and freedom.

“Also - for I like to jot down things as they occur to me - that when on the request of Sestius I went to Caesar's house, and was sitting waiting till I was called in, he remarked: "Can I doubt that I am exceedingly disliked, when Marcus Cicero has to sit waiting and cannot see me at his own convenience? And yet if there is a good-natured man in the world it is he; still I feel no doubt that he heartily dislikes me." This and a good deal of the same sort. But to my purpose: Whatever the news, small as well as great, write and tell me of it. I will on my side let nothing pass.”

Assassination of Caesar

In 44 B.C., after Caesar declared himself “Dictator for Life” and was crowned with a royal diadem at a religious ceremony, ushering in the era of imperial Rome. Many Romans were appalled by Caesar's audacious seizure of power and riled further when he placed a statue with his likeness next to statues of the founders of Rome. Almost immediately members of the Senate began plotting against him.

On the ides of March (March 15, 44, B.C.), a month after he proclaimed himself Dictator for Life, 55-year-old Caesar was assassinated on the floor of the Senate by Brutus and Cassius, an event recounted in a famous Shakespeare play.

The assassination was at least in part a display of contempt against Caesar’s ruthless impoundment of power and rumors that he was planning to rule the Roman Empire with Cleopatra from Alexandria. Brutus, a close friend of Caesar, and Cassius, the mastermind of the conspiracy, recruited 20 Senators and 40 other conspirators, including many people who had been loyal to Caesar. They ones that planned to participate in the killing carried daggers concealed under their cloaks.

Book: “The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome” by Michael Parenti

Augustus’s Rise

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]

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

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.”

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.

Res Gestae

“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.

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

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.

Augustus as Emperor

Augustus (Octavian) Octavia officially became emperor of Rome at the age of 35 in 27 B.C., three years after the Battle of Actium (he had been the unofficial leader of Rome since 31 B.C.). He was given the formal title of Augustus Caesar, a named denoting majesty and dignity, and enthroned in a ceremony that implied he was at last semi-divine. Augustus reportedly selected the name Augustus because he defeated his toughest enemy, Egypt and Syria under Antony and Cleopatra, in the month of August.

Augustus began his career as a firm believer in Republicanism but ended it as an absolute dictator. Historians mark the year he took power, 31 B.C., as the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of Imperial Rome. Even so Augustus mostly ruled benevolently like a simple public magistrate and "advocated moderation and virtues."

Augustus delivered Rome to the hands of the emperors by destroying, coopting and intimidating the old governing elite into submission. The once powerful Senate was stripped of much of its power and became something along the lines of a rubber stamp legislature like that in China today. Augustus paid lip service to its republican traditions" and "legitimized his power under a facade of constitutional authority" and kept up appearances by acting as the princeps, first citizen. "It was on the dignity of the senate," Gibbon wrote, "that Augustus and his successors founded their new empire." The result he wrote was "an absolute monarchy disguised by the forms of a commonwealth,"

Under Augustus the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Large landowners swindled small land owners out of the land. There was a mass migration of rural people to Rome. People went hungry and were homeless.

Titles and Powers of Augustus

Soon after returning to Rome in 27 B.C., Augustus resigned the powers which he had hitherto exercised, giving “back the commonwealth into the hands of the senate and the people”. The first official title which he then received was the surname Augustus, bestowed by the senate in recognition of his dignity and his services to the state, He then received the proconsular power (imperium proconsulare) over all the frontier provinces, or those which required the presence of an army. He had also conferred upon himself the tribunician power tribunicia potestas,by which he became the protector of the people. He moreover was made pontifex maximus, and received the title of Pater Patriae. Although Augustus did not receive the permanent titles of consul and censor, he occasionally assumed, or had temporarily assigned to himself, the duties of these offices. He still retained the title of Imperator, which gave him the command of the army. But the title which Augustus chose to indicate his real position was that of Princeps Civitatis, or “the first citizen of the state,” The new “prince” thus desired himself to be looked upon as a magistrate rather than a monarch—a citizen who had received a trust rather than a ruler governing in his own name. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Suetonius wrote: “The whole body of citizens with a sudden unanimous impulse proffered him the title of Pater Patriae ["Father of his Country"]; first the commons, by a deputation sent to Antium, and then, because he declined it, again at Rome as he entered the theatre, which they attended in throngs, all wearing laurel wreaths; the Senate afterwards in the House, not by a decree or by acclamation, but through Valerius Messala. He, speaking for the whole body, said: "Good fortune and divine favour attend you and your house, Caesar Augustus; for thus we feel that we are praying for lasting prosperity for our country and happiness for our city. The Senate in accord with the people of Rome hails you Father of your Country." Then Augustus with tears in his eyes replied as follows (and I have given his exact words, as I did those of Messala): "Having attained my highest hopes, Fathers of the Senate, what more have I to ask of the immortal gods than that I may retain this same unanimous approval of yours to the very end of my life." [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]

“In honour of his physician, Antonius Musa, through whose care he had recovered from a dangerous illness, a sum of money was raised and Musa's statue set up beside that of Aesculapius. Some householders provided in their wills that their heirs should drive victims to the Capitol and pay a thank-offering in their behalf, because Augustus had survived them, and that a placard to this effect should be carried before them. Some of the Italian cities made the day on which he first visited them the beginning of their year. Many of the provinces, in addition to temples and altars, established quinquennial games in his honour in almost every one of their towns.

“His friends and allies among the kings each in his own realm founded a city called Caesarea, and all joined in a plan to contribute the funds for finishing the temple of Jupiter Olympius, which was begun at Athens in ancient days, and to dedicate it to his Genius [i.e., one's tutelary divinity, or familiar spirit, closely identified with the person himself]; and they would often leave their kingdoms and show him the attentions usual in dependents, clad in the toga and without the emblems of royalty, not only at Rome, but even when he was travelling through the provinces.:

Augustus’s Effort to Choose a Successor

model of an Augustus Temple

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “In 23 B.C. Augustus, ill and expecting his demise to come at any moment, gave his signet ring to his friend, general, and later M. Vipsanius Agrippa, while at the same time he entrusted the consul, Piso, with the custody of his personal papers. This was an indication, albeit somewhat ambiguous, that Augustus intended Agrippa to be the emergency successor in the event of his death in 23 B.C. . However, his hopes at that time were truly centered on the man who was then married to Julia, Augustus' daughter by his second wife (Scribonia; cf. Suet. Aug. 62 for his brief first marriage to Claudia); this was his nephew M. Claudius Marcellus, the son of Augustus' sister Octavia. The hopes for Marcellus were dashed by his untimely death at the age of 20 in 23 B.C., an event lamented by the poets (Virg. Aen. 6. 860-886), and Augustus promptly married Julia to Agrippa. So far his machinations illustrate the difficulty of separating the office of the Princeps, in this early stage, from the familial wealth and position of Caesar and Augustus. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“Julia's marriage to Agrippa started well. She gave birth to sons, Gaius and Lucius Caesar, in 20 and 17 B.C. (Dio 54. 8 and 18), then two daughters (a Julia who died young, and that Agrippina later known as the Elder), and finally in 12 B.C. another son (Agrippa Postumus). The success of this union, together with the apparently high personal regard in which Augustus held Agrippa, caused him to mark that man out as his heir apparent. In 18 B.C. Agrippa became Augustus' colleague in the tribunician power, and his prominence throughout the period is attested by his appearance on the coins; in 13 B.C. his tribunician power was renewed, and he also held imperium (maius? cf. the fragment of a Greek translation of Augustus' funeral oration for Agrippa preserved on papyrus, ZPE (1970) 226 = Sherk 12) in the provinces. Meanwhile his sons, Gaius and Lucius, were themselves singled out for special honors. Augustus adopted them himself and gave them the honorary title of principes iuventutis. The existence of Gaius and Lucius softened the blow when Agrippa, too, predeceased the princeps in 12 BC. A letter of Augustus to Gaius from A.D. 1, preserved by Aulus Gellius, included these lines: ‘I beg the gods that whatever time I have left might pass with all of us in good health and with the state in the happiest condition, and with the two of you behaving like men and succeeding to my post of honor. (Attic Nights 15.7.3) ^*^

“In 6 B.C. there was agitation at Rome for Gaius Caesar to be made consul (Dio 55.9.2) and Augustus responded, with an outward show of reluctance at the transgression of Republican limitations, by designating him consul for A.D. 1 and his brother Lucius consul for A.D. 4; Gaius was made a pontifex and Lucius an augur. A flood of coinage proclaimed their status as heirs apparent. When Lucius died in A.D. 2, there was still the hope of Gaius, but he too passed away two years later.” ^*^

Emperor Worship in Ancient Rome

Emperor worship was a key part of Rome state religion. Generally referred to as the imperial cult, it regarded emperors and members of their families as gods. Starting with Caesar and Augustus emperors that considered themselves gods ruled the Roman Empire. The Roman emperors seemed to believe in their divinity and they demanded that their subjects worship them. Marcellus was honored with a festival. Flaminius was made a priest for three hundred years. Ephesus had a shrine for Serilius Isauricus. Antony and Cleopatra referred to themselves as Dionysus and Osiris and named their children Sun and Moon. Caligula and Nero demanded to be worshiped like gods in their lifetime. And Vespasian said on his deathbed "Oh dear, I'm afraid I'm becoming a God."

Dr Nigel Pollard of Swansea University wrote for the BBC: “On his death, Julius Caesar was officially recognised as a god, the Divine ('Divus') Julius, by the Roman state. And in 29 B.C. Caesar's adopted son, the first Roman emperor Augustus, allowed the culturally Greek cities of Asia Minor to set up temples to him. This was really the first manifestation of Roman emperor-worship. [Source: Dr Nigel Pollard of Swansea University, BBC, March 29, 2011 |::|]

“While worship of a living emperor was culturally acceptable in some parts of the empire, in Rome itself and in Italy it was not. There an emperor was usually declared a 'divus' only on his death, and was subsequently worshipped (especially on anniversaries, like that of his accession) with sacrifice like any other gods. |::|

Imperial Cult in Ancient Rome

Dr Neil Faulkner wrote for the BBC: “This concept, of a tough but essentially benevolent imperial power, was embodied in the person of the emperor. His presence was felt everywhere. His statues dominated public places. He was worshipped alongside Jupiter and the military standards in frontier forts, and in the sanctuaries of the imperial cult in provincial towns. His image was stamped on every coin, and thus reached the most remote corners of his domain - for there is hardly a Roman site, however rude, where archaeologists do not find coins. The message was clear: thanks to the leadership of the emperor we can all go safely about our business and prosper. [Source: Dr Neil Faulkner, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“How did the spin-doctors of ancient Rome represent the great leader to his people? Sometimes, wearing cuirass and a face of grim determination, he was depicted as a warrior and a general; an intimidating implicit reference to global conquest and military dictatorship. At other times, he wore the toga of a Roman gentleman, as if being seen in the law-courts, making sacrifice at the temple, or receiving guests at a grand dinner party at home. In this guise, he was the paternalistic 'father of his country', the benevolent statesman, the great protector. |::|

Caesar's funeral

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The cult of the emperors developed naturally enough from the time of the deification of Julius Caesar. The movement for this deification was of Oriental origin. The Genius of the emperor was worshiped as the Genius of the father had been worshiped in the household. The cult, beginning in the East, was then established in the western provinces and finally in Italy. It was under the care of the seviri Augustales in the municipalities. The worship of the emperor in his lifetime was not permitted at Rome, but spread through the provinces, taking the place of the old state religion. It was this that caused the opposition to Christianity, for the refusal of the Christians to take part was treasonable. Their offense was political, not religious. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

A sculpted relief from the base of the column of the emperor Antoninus Pius, dated to A.D. 161, shows the apotheosis (transformation into gods) of Antoninus Pius and his wife Faustina. “They are shown by the portrait busts at the top of the frame, flanked by eagles - associated with imperial power and Jupiter - and were typically released during imperial funerals to represent the spirits of the deceased. Antoninus and Faustina are being carried into the heavens by a winged, heroically nude figure. The armoured female figure on the right is the goddess Roma, a divine personification of Rome, and the reclining figure to the left - with the obelisk - is probably a personification of the Field of Mars in Rome, where imperial funerals took place. [Source: BBC]

Emperor Worship: A Unifying Force in the Roman Empire

Dr Nigel Pollard of Swansea University wrote for the BBC: “Emperor-worship was a unifying factor in the Roman world, practiced not only by army units spread throughout the empire but also by individuals in the provinces, where there were collective imperial cult centres at places such as Lyons (Gaul), Pergamon (Asia) and (probably) Colchester (Britain). The imperial cult helped to focus the loyalty of provincials on the emperor at the centre of the empire, and in some regions (such as Gaul), there is evidence that Roman authorities took the initiative in setting it up, presumably for that very reason. [Source: Dr Nigel Pollard of Swansea University, BBC, March 29, 2011 |::|]

Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “In the last century before the common era, the Greek cities had fallen prey to corrupt Roman administrators and sporadic local insurrections, as the power struggles between rival Roman factions consumed the remaining vigor of the dying Roman republic. All of these struggles came to an end when Octavian (who, as emperor, was given the name Augustus) defeated the forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium. [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998. Bonz was managing editor of Harvard Theological Review. She received a doctorate from Harvard Divinity School, with a dissertation on Luke-Acts as a literary challenge to the propaganda of imperial Rome.]

“With the advent of the reign of Augustus in 27 B.C., life in the provincial cities of the Greek East became far more stable and prosperous than it had been for a very long time. The relief of the subject peoples was immense, and a number of the cities issued decrees honoring the new emperor as the earthly appearance of a benevolent god: "Providence. . .by producing Augustus [has sent] us and our descendants a Savior, who has put an end to war and established all things. . . ."

“Such a response was not without precedent. Since the time of Alexander the Great, the Greeks had been accustomed to giving their rulers divine honors. But with the advent of Augustus, the situation was different. As historian S. R. F. Price observes, the decrees honoring Augustus "make explicit and elaborate comparisons between the actions of the emperor and those of the gods."

“Furthermore, the worship of Augustus was not tied to specific benefactions or civic improvements. Rather, Augustus was worshipped throughout the empire as the benefactor of the whole world. The outpouring of praise, gratitude, and affection for this first emperor, who reigned at the time when Jesus was born, was undoubtedly genuine.

“It was Augustus's virtually unchallenged prestige and popularity that provided the impetus for establishing a cult of the emperors. And this cult, once established, provided continuing support for the imperial governing authority. Accordingly, from the very beginning, the cult of the emperors was a complete merging of religion and politics.

Reforms of Diocletian


Dr Jon Coulston of the University of St. Andrews wrote for the BBC: “The denigration of the imperial office through a vicious cycle of usurpations and assassinations was halted long enough by Diocletian (ruled 284 - 305 AD) and his co-emperors for stable rule to be re-established. He established a 'college' of four emperors - two senior men with the title 'Augustus' who appointed two junior 'Caesars' - called the Tetrarchy. This ensured stability of succession and meant that four men could handle simultaneous crises on widely-spread frontiers. [Source: Dr Jon Coulston, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“Military and civil (judicial and financial) administrations were entirely separated for enhanced security against rivals. Currency reforms, regularisation of army supply, enlargement of the army, and successful operations against usurpers and foreign enemies contributed to internal stability. New legions were raised and new, imposing designs in fortifications were applied across the empire. A programme of regime propaganda and harnessed traditional cults enhanced loyalty to the state.” |::|

The general result of the new policy of Diocletian was to give to the empire a strong and efficient government. The dangers which threatened the state were met with firmness and vigor. A revolt in Egypt was quelled, and the frontiers were successfully defended against the Persians and the barbarians. Public works were constructed, among which were the great Baths of Diocletian at Rome. At the close of his reign he celebrated a triumph in the old capital. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

“Diocletian attempted to use the state religion as a unifying element. Encouraged by the Caesar Galerius, Diocletian in 303 issued a series of four increasingly harsh decrees designed to compel Christians to take part in the imperial cult, the traditional means by which allegiance was pledged to the empire. This began the so-called "Great Persecution." ^|^

Diocletian’s Oriental-Style Monarchy

Abandoning the tradition of a citizen king, Diocletian elevated himself above the masses by initiating imperial ceremonies and requiring his subjects to prostrate themselves in his presence.

Diocletian made himself an Oriental, or at least Persian-style, monarch. He assumed the diadem of the East. He wore the gorgeous robes of silk and gold such a were worn by eastern rulers. He compelled his subjects to salute him with low prostrations, and to treat him not as a citizen, but as a superior being. In this way he hoped to make the imperial office respected by the people and the army. The emperor was to be the sole source of power, and as such was to be venerated and obeyed. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Ralph W. Mathisen of the University of South Carolina wrote: ““Following the precedent of Aurelian (A.D.270-275), Diocletian transformed the emperorship into an out-and-out oriental monarchy. Access to him became restricted; he now was addressed not as First Citizen (Princeps) or the soldierly general (Imperator), but as Lord and Master (Dominus Noster) . Those in audience were required to prostrate themselves on the ground before him. [Source: Ralph W. Mathisen, University of South Carolina ^|^]

Some of their ideas of reform no doubt came from the new Persian monarchy, which was now the greatest rival of Rome. In this powerful monarchy the Romans saw certain elements of strength which they could use in giving new vigor to their own government. \~\

Constantine's “Oriental-Style” Monarchy


Constantine believed with Diocletian that one of the defects of the old empire was the fact that the person of the emperor was not sufficiently respected. He therefore not only adopted the diadem and the elaborate robes of the Asiatic monarchs, as Diocletian had done, but reorganized the court on a thoroughly eastern model. An Oriental court consisted of a large retinue of officials, who surrounded the monarch, who paid obeisance to him and served him, and who were raised to the rank of nobles by this service. All the powers of the monarch were exercised through these court officials. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

These Oriental features were now adopted by the Roman emperor. The chief officers of the court comprised the grand chamberlain, who had charge of the imperial palace; the chancellor, who had the supervision of the court officials and received foreign ambassadors; the quaestor, who drew up and issued the imperial edicts; the treasurer-general, who had control of the public revenues; the master of the privy purse, who managed the emperor’s private estate; and the two commanders of the bodyguard. The imperial court of Constantine furnished the model of the royal courts of modern times. \~\

Damnatio Memoriae

Michael Van Duisen wrote for Listverse: “A practice common with nearly every ancient culture, and even some today, damnatio memoriae was the ritualistic and symbolic removal of a person from history. Seen as the worst punishment imaginable, worse than execution, the damned’s name was scratched from inscriptions, frescos with his face were painted over, and any statue was defaced, as if it was really him. It was normally reserved for the worst emperors in Roman history; Caligula and Nero escaped this punishment by having powerful friends, even after death. [Source: Michael Van Duisen, Listverse, February 13, 2014]

“Only three emperors are known to have been officially given this punishment, including Maximian, whose friend and co-emperor Diocletian is said to have been so stricken with grief that he died shortly after hearing the news. Obviously, it didn’t work as well in practice as it did in theory; we still know about everyone who was the subject of damnatio memoriae. Some scholars feel it may have served a cathartic purpose for the public, enabling them to vent their frustration over the failures of their leaders.”

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, AFP and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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