Home » Antiquity » Emperor Octavian ‘Augustus’ Part II

Emperor Octavian ‘Augustus’ Part II

Gaius Caesar Octavianus ‘Augustus’ [63 BC-14 AD]

The Principate

With his opponents crushed, and he the sole authority in the Roman ‘Republic’, Octavian looked to solidify his power and strengthen his lands. He would slowly decrease the number of legions from 60 to around 28, with support drawn from auxiliary forces from around the Republic’s territories. However, Octavian was no fool and fully understood what had caused Julius Caesar’s death was due to his blatant seizure of power. Therefore, he would mask his near total control of the state through a veil of republicanism.

In 27 BC, Octavian would go through what is known as the ‘First Settlement’ where he would make a grand display of ‘returning’ all his power to the Roman Republic and Senate, despite instantly being given the governorship of modern-day Iberia, Gaul, Syria, Egypt and Cyprus for 10 years. This gave him an immense amount of power due to the provinces holding a significant amount of legions. Not only this, but he would attempt to influence the appointments of other governors of the other provinces, and he also managed, from 31 BC to 23 BC, to maintain his power through successive consulships. Despite his control, most other posts still remained in a normal ‘republican’ fashion, except now Octavian could influence many positions with his prestige.

Soon after, Octavian would further increase his name through the addition of Augustus (meaning venerable, revered), a name through which most people recognise him today, and would maintain his title of Imperator (victorious general) yet to further veil his power, he referred to his position publicly as Princeps (Meaning the first man/citizen).

Augustus would then move north in 27 BC to handle the Alpine tribes who were becoming uppity, and following this Galatia was annexed as a Roman province. He would then handle another campaign in Hispania, and travel through Gaul before finally returning to Rome in 24 BC. Suddenly, in 23 BC, Augustus became incredibly ill, to the point that many suspected that he would soon pass away. Yet he recovered and would go through the ‘second settlement’ to further secure his power and authority.

Marcus Primus

Augustus would be spurned on to the ‘second settlement’ via the ‘Marcus Primus affair’ in which the former governor of Macedonia, Marcus Primus, was tried for his illegal war on the Roman ally of the Odrysian Kingdom in which it would be claimed that Augustus had told him to do so, and went so far as to produce somewhat legitimate proof of Augustus attempting to create a monarchy. This being a serious issue due to Macedonia not being one of Augustus’ provinces, but a senatorial one. Despite not being called in, Augustus came to the trial anyway due to the severity of the situation and denied the claims. The fact that he came at all seemed to prove his participation, and this instance could’ve lead to the fall of Augustus. Yet it was not to be, as he went through with the second settlement with the intention of gaining further powers, including the authority to intervene in senatorial provinces. Whilst also gaining the powers and rights of the Tribune of the Plebs, calling it ‘Tribunicia Potestas’ (Tribunician Power), this furthered the plebians support for him, due to the post’s reputation, as well as several other powers from other positions, such as the ability to scrutinise public morals from the ‘censor’.

Accompanying this were certain changes in order to maintain stability since it had become painfully apparent that nearly everything rested upon Augustus, and he had both been near the brink of death through illnesses, and through conspiracies. Thus, simultaneously with Augustus, Marcus Agrippa would be granted similar powers in 23 BC should anything occur to the Princeps, with the hopes of preventing any repeat of the civil wars that had plagued Rome before.

 

Augustus would then travel throughout the empire, moving through Sicily, Greece, and Asia instituting reforms and reorganisations as he went. After this, he also managed to secure a deal with the Parthians in 20 BC, getting them to acknowledge Rome’s protectorate over Armenia, whilst also gaining back the legionary standards lost during Crassus’ invasion.

From 16 BC to 15 BC he would also begin expanding Rome’s territory further, with his stepsons by his wife, Livia, Tiberius and Drusus, taking Raetia and Noricum, thus annexing them into the state. Following this, they also expanded the border to the upper Danube, further expanding Rome.

Yet war would not be the extent of Augustus’ achievements, as he would begin expanding the bureaucracy with the creation of a committee to help oversea senatorial business, whilst also further expanding his own staff to lower the administrative burden. This would essentially give birth to the civil service within Rome, allowing for a far more efficient governance.

This would be followed by a revenue and tax reform, with Augustus instituting a standardized form of taxation upon the provinces, based on set quotas and population censuses. Not only did this create a far more stable flow of funds back to Rome, but also helped to lower resentment with the replacement of the arbitrary tributes against the provincial territories. The private tax collectors, known as ‘publicans’, were abolished and replaced with a set of state tax collectors. In 20 BC the Rome mint would also be reopened by Augustus, amongst several other places within the principate being given permission to mint coinage.

Augustus would also create several public service branches, the maintenance of the aqueducts was put under the authority of 3 commissioners to make sure that the city of Rome would always have water.

In 12 BC Lepidus would finally die,  allowing Augustus to take his position as the ‘pontifex maximus

From 12 BC to 9 BC the principate would continue its expansion. Tiberius would shorten the border by pulling it back to the Danube, whilst Drusus would go campaigning through Germania all the way to the Elbe. Despite his success, he would die in 9 BC, and Tiberius would replace him and in 6 BC gain similar powers to Augustus, but he would retire to Rhodes. It would then be in 2 BC in which Augustus would gain the title of ‘pater patriae’ (father of the country).

The end of expansion

With the return of Tiberius in 2 AD, and his subsequent adoption by Augustus in 4 AD, Augustus would send him to handle the Germanic tribes and solidify Roman control on the east of the Rhine in 4 AD, Tiberius would remain there until 5AD. However, this was cut short, in 6 AD, by an uprising in the Illyrian territories which forced Tiberius to had to the western Balkans to put it down. After 3 years, Tiberius had finally succeeded in putting down the revolt. Despite this, that very year, Arminius would lead an uprising of the Germans, culminating in the Battle of Teutoburg where Rome would lose 3 legions.

Augustus was seriously affected by this, with him bashing his head against the walls continuously shouting, “Quintili Vare, legiones redde!” (Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!)  – two of the three legions were never reestablished, a rarity within Rome, suggesting a large psychological effect emanating from this defeat – due to this, and the difficulty of raising troops, the plans to move into Bohemia were now fully scrapped and any movements across the Rhine were indefinitely postponed.

 

Yet despite the military defeat, Augustus would undergo several more peaceful innovations. Judea would be fully annexed into the Roman Principate in 6 AD, and in Rome, a fire brigade would be established, a dedicated policing unit, the ‘cohortes urbanae’ would be established in 13 AD. An independent military treasury, called the ‘aerarium militare’ would be created to further stabilise the funds to the legions, and in 13 AD would make the prefect of Rome a permanent position whilst simultaneously extending his rule for another 10 years.

 

Epilogue

One of the most important contributions that Augustus gave Rome was the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) which was the end of the turbulent and self-destructive crises that preceded Augustus. With it, the empire was finally able to prosper and maintain itself. Although seeming rather simple, it cannot be understated the importance of the Pax Romana which was one of the underlying causes for the survival of Latin culture to be so prominent in the western world since it allowed the principate to survive and fully transition into the Roman Empire. If there had been another period of chaos the Roman Empire is likely to have never risen in the same form as it did ours. It would also further excuse Augustus’ attempts at creating a dynasty, with the several adoptions that he underwent throughout his position as Princeps. 

Yet the stability he gave Rome is the reason that it still – metaphorically at least – stands with us today, its effects far-reaching. He also understood his limits, for he was no Caesar, often relegating command to his commanders, a fact which seriously aided him maintaining his power behind a veil of republicanism.

Without this, Julius Caesar is likely to have been as remembered as Sulla, and Augustus with him. But he is not, he is remembered as Augustus

The Venerable.

Just an old man from Halicarnassus, who loves history.

Related books

Leave a Comment