Augustus as Emperor of Rome

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Nina C. Coppolino wrote: “Through his gradual efforts, and through the circumstances of his era, Augustus ruled Rome alone for nearly a half-century (31 B.C.- 14 A.D.), and he set for all his successors the institutional and ideological foundations of the Roman Empire. The broad bases of his power were the army, whose loyalty was maintained by money and land-grants at retirement, and Tiberius’s apparently genuine support of many people, who wanted at any constitutional cost an end to the factional bloodshed of the late Republican civil wars; the nobles retained niches in the regular operation of the still prestigious political administration or in military roles, property was ultimately secured, administrative roles were more easily filled by some increased social mobility among the ranks and classes, and the populace (once fed) was ostensibly defended by the tribunicia potestas with which Augustus legitimized his rule, and which finally became the official rubric under which the state was run for centuries. The innovative outcome of Augustus' rule was the acquisition of sole power at Rome and abroad by the assumption of traditionally distributed powers found in long-standing Roman magistracies, military commands, state religious honors, patronage, family connections, and personal influence. [Source: Nina C. Coppolino, Roman Emperors ]

Pat Southern wrote for the BBC: “Many reforms were necessary, but he rarely imposed his will, and worked by legal means. In order to oversee his initial reforms, he entered on his fourth consulship in 30 B.C. and held it every year until 23 B.C. But the most important source of his power was that of the tribunes, which gave him the right of veto over any proposals. [Source: Pat Southern, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“In 27 B.C., he restored control of the republic to the Senate, ostensibly reverting to the old order, with annually elected magistrates, the senators sharing responsibility for government, and no single individual with supreme power. But it was a republic in name only. The reality was that Octavian emerged with the honorary title 'Augustus' and the control, via his legates, of all the provinces with armies. Augustus converted the republican citizen levy into a standing army, established regular pay and terms of service for soldiers, and a pension scheme for veterans. |::|

“Gradually by his authority and influence he became the principal fount of law, he controlled state finance, foreign policy and religion, and he shaped Roman society as the republic was transformed into the empire. In brief, he became the first emperor.” |::|

Books: “Augustus: First Emperor of Rome” by Adrian Goldsworthy (Yale University Press, 2014); “Augustus, The Life of Rome's First Emperor” by Anthony Everitt (Random House, 2006)

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

Augustus 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: the Just Ruler

Suetonius wrote: “The evidences of his clemency and moderation are numerous and strong. Not to give the full list of the men of the opposite faction whom he not only pardoned and spared, but allowed to hold high positions in the state, I may say that he thought it enough to punish two plebeians, Junius Novatus and Cassius Patavinus, with a fine and with a mild form of banishment respectively, although the former had circulated a most scathing letter about him under the name of the young Agrippa, while the latter had openly declared at a large dinner party that he lacked neither the earnest desire nor the courage to kill him. Again,when he was hearing a case against AemiliusAelianus of Corduba and it was made the chief offence, amongst other charges, that he was in the habit of expressing a bad opinion of Caesar, Augustus turned to the accuser with assumed anger and said: "I wish you could prove the truth of that. I'll let Aelianus know that I have a tongue as well as he, for I'll say even more about him;" and he made no further inquiry either at the time or afterwards. When Tiberius complained to him of the same thing in a letter, but in more forcible language, he replied as follows: "My dear Tiberius, do not be carried away by the ardour of youth in this matter, or take it too much to heart that anyone speak evil of me; we must be content if we can stop anyone from doing evil to us." [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]

“Although well aware that it was usual to vote temples even to proconsuls, he would not accept one even in a province save jointly in his own name and that of Rome. In the city itself he refused this honour most emphatically, even melting down the silver statues which had been set up in his honour in former times and with the money coined from them dedicating golden tripods to Apollo of the Palatine. When the people did their best to force the dictatorship upon him, he knelt down, threw off his toga from his shoulders and with bare breast begged them not to insist.

“He always shrank from the title of Dominus [ "Lord" or "Master"] as reproachful and insulting. When the words "O just and gracious Lord!" were uttered in a farce at which he was a spectator and all the people sprang to their feet and applauded as if they were said of him, he at once checked their unseemly flattery by look and gesture, and on the following day sharply reproved them in an edict. After that he would not suffer himself to be called "Sire" even by his children or his grandchildren either in jest or earnest, and he forbade them to use such flattering terms even among themselves. He did not if he could help it leave or enter any city or town except in the evening or at night, to avoid disturbing anyone by the obligations of ceremony. In his consulship he commonly went through the streets on foot, and when he was not consul, generally in a closed litter. His morning receptions were open to all, including even the commons, and he met the requests of those who approached him with great affability, jocosely reproving one man because he presented a petition to him with as much hesitation "as he would a penny to an elephant." On the day of a meeting of the Senate he always greeted the members in the House and in their seats, calling each man by name without a prompter; and when he left the House, he used to take leave of them in the same manner, while they remained seated. He exchanged social calls with many, and did not cease to attend all their anniversaries, until he was well on in years and was once incommoded by the crowd on the day of a betrothal. When Gallus Cerrinius, a senator with whom he was not at all intimate, had suddenly become blind and had therefore resolved to end his life by starvation, Augustus called on him and by his consoling words induced him to live.”

Arts and Culture Under Augustus

Ara Pacis Augustae

Augustus promoted learning and patronized the arts. Virgil, Horace, Livy and Ovid wrote during the “Augustan Age," Augustus also established what has been described as the first paleontology museum on Capri. It contained the bones of extinct creatures. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “During the reign of Augustus, Rome was transformed into a truly imperial city. By the first century B.C., Rome was already the largest, richest, and most powerful city in the Mediterranean world. During the reign of Augustus, however, it was transformed into a truly imperial city. Writers were encouraged to compose works that proclaimed its imperial destiny: the Histories of Livy, no less than the Aeneid of Virgil, were intended to demonstrate that the gods had ordained Rome "mistress of the world." A social and cultural program enlisting literature and the other arts revived time-honored values and customs, and promoted allegiance to Augustus and his family. [Source: Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2000, \^/]

The emperor was recognized as chief state priest, and many statues depicted him in the act of prayer or sacrifice. Sculpted monuments, such as the Ara Pacis Augustae built between 14 and 9 B.C., testify to the high artistic achievements of imperial sculptors under Augustus and a keen awareness of the potency of political symbolism. Religious cults were revived, temples rebuilt, and a number of public ceremonies and customs reinstated. Craftsmen from all around the Mediterranean established workshops that were soon producing a range of objects—silverware, gems, glass—of the highest quality and originality. Great advances were made in architecture and civil engineering through the innovative use of space and materials. By 1 A.D., Rome was transformed from a city of modest brick and local stone into a metropolis of marble with an improved water and food supply system, more public amenities such as baths, and other public buildings and monuments worthy of an imperial capital.” \^/

“Encouragement to Architecture: It is said that Augustus boasted that he “found Rome of brick and left it of marble.” He restored many of the temples and other buildings which had either fallen into decay or been destroyed during the riots of the civil war. On the Palatine hill he began the construction of the great imperial palace, which became the magnificent home of the Caesars. He built a new temple of Vesta, where the sacred fire of the city was kept burning. He erected a new temple to Apollo, to which was attached a library of Greek and Latin authors; also temples to Jupiter Tonans and to the Divine Julius. One of the noblest and most useful of the public works of the emperor was the new Forum of Augustus, near the old Roman Forum and the Forum of Julius. In this new Forum was erected the temple of Mars the Avenger (Mars Ultor), which Augustus built to commemorate the war by which he had avenged the death of Caesar. We must not forget to notice the massive Pantheon, the temple of all the gods, which is to-day the best preserved monument of the Augustan period. This was built by Agrippa, in the early part of Augustus’s reign (27 B.C.), but was altered to the form shown above by the emperor Hadrian (p. 267). [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

“Patronage of Literature: But more splendid and enduring than these temples of marble were the works of literature which this age produced. At this time was written Vergil’s “Aeneid,” which is one of the greatest epic poems of the world. It was then that the “Odes” of Horace were composed, the race and rhythm of which are unsurpassed. Then, too, were written the elegies of Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid. Greatest among the prose writers of this time was Livy, whose “pictured pages” tell of the miraculous origin of Rome, and her great achievements in war and in peace. During this time also flourished certain Greek writers whose works are famous. Dionysius of Halicarnassus wrote a book on the antiquities of Rome, and tried to reconcile his countrymen to the Roman sway. Strabo, the geographer, described the subject lands of Rome in the Augustan age. The whole literature of this period was inspired with a growing spirit of patriotism, and an appreciation of Rome as the great ruler of the world.

Games and Shows Under Augustus

Suetonius wrote: “He surpassed all his predecessors in the frequency, variety, and magnificence of his public shows. He says that he gave games four times in his own name and twenty-three times for other magistrates, who were either away from Rome or lacked means. He gave them sometimes in all the wards and on many stages with actors in all languages,a and combats of gladiators not only in the Forum or the amphitheatre, but in the Circus and in the Saepta; sometimes, however, he gave nothing except a fight with wild beasts. He gave athletic contests too in the Campus Martius, erecting wooden seats; also a seafight, constructing an artificial lake near the Tiber, where the grove of the Caesars now stands. On such occasions he stationed guards in various parts of the city, to prevent it from falling a prey to footpads because of the few people who remained at home. [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]

Circus Maximus

“In the Circus he exhibited charioteers, rumlers, and slayers of wild animals, who were sometimes young men of the highest rank. Besides he gave frequent performances of the game of Troya by older and younger boys, thinking it a time-honoured and worthy custom for the flower of the nobility to become known in this way. When Nonius Asprenas was lamed by a fall while taking part in this game, he presented him with a golden necklace and allowed him and his descendants to bear the surname Torquatus. But soon afterwards he gave up that form of entertainment, because Asinius Pollio the orator complained bitterly and angrily in the Senate of an accident to his grandson Aeserninus, who also had broken his leg. He sometimes employed even Roman knights in scenic and gladiatorial performances, but only before it was forbidden by decree of the Senate. After that he exhibited no one of respectable parentage, with the exception of a young man named Lycius, whom he showed merely as a curiosity; for he was less than two feet tall, weighed but seventeen pounds, yet had a stentorian voice. He did however on the day of one of the shows make a display of the first Parthian hostages that had ever been sent to Rome, by leading them through the middle of the arena and placing them in the second row above his own seat. Furthermore, if anything rare and worth seeing was ever brought to the city, it was his habit to make a special exhibit of it in any convenient place on days when no shows were appointed. For example a rhinoceros in the Saepta, a tiger on the stage and a snake of fifty cubits in front of the Comitium. It chanced that at the time of the games which he had vowed to give in the circus, he was taken ill and headed the sacred procession lying in a litter; again, at the opening of the games with which he dedicated the theatre of Marcellus, it happened that the joints of his curule chair gave way and he fell on his back. At the games for his grandsons, when the people were in a panic for fear the theatre should fall, and he could not calm them or encourage them in any way, he left his own place and took his seat in the part which appeared most dangerous.

“He put a stop by special regulations to the disorderly and indiscriminate fashion of viewing the games, through exasperation at the insult to a senator, to whom no one offered a seat in a crowded house at some largely attended games in Puteoli. In consequence of this the Senate decreed that, whenever any public show was given anywhere, the first row of seats should be reserved for Senators; and at Rome he would not allow the envoys of the free and allied nations to sit in the orchestra, since he was informed that even freedmen were sometimes appointed. He separated the soldiery from the people. He assigned special seats to the married men of the commons, to boys under age their own section and the adjoining one to their preceptors; and he decreed that no one wearing a dark cloak should sit in the middle of the house. He would not allow women to view even the gladiators except from the upper seats, though it had been the custom for men and women to sit together at such shows. Only the Vestal virgins were assigned a place to themselves, opposite the praetor's tribunal. As for the contests of the athletes, he excluded women from them so strictly, that when a contest between a pair of boxers had been called for at the games in honour of his appointment as pontifex maximus, he postponed it until early the following day, making proclamation that it was his desire that women should not come to the theatre before the fifth hour.

“He himself usually watched the games in the Circus from the upper rooms of his friends and freedmen, but sometimes from the imperial box, and even in company with his wife and children. He was sometimes absent for several hours, and now and then for whole days, making his excuses and appointing presiding officers to take his place. But whenever he was present, he gave his entire attention to the performance, either to avoid the censure to which he realized that his father Caesar had been generally exposed, because he spent his time in reading or answering letters and petitions; or from his interest and pleasure in the spectacle, which he never denied but often frankly confessed. Because of this he used to offer special prizes and numerous valuable gifts from his own purse at games given by others, and he appeared at no contest in the Grecian fashion [i.e., those given at Rome in the Greek language and dress, sometimes by Greek actors] without making a present to each of the participants according to his deserts. He was especially given to watching boxers, particularly those of Latin birth, not merely such as were recognized and classed as professionals, whom he was wont to match even with Greeks, but the common untrained townspeople that fought rough and tumble and without skill in the narrow streets. In fine, he honoured with his interest all classes of performers who took part in the public shows; maintained the privileges of the athletes and even increased them; forbade the matching of gladiators without the right of appeal for quarter; and deprived the magistrates of the power allowed them by an ancient law of punishing actors anywhere and everywhere, restricting it to the time of games and to the theatre. Nevertheless he exacted the severest discipline in the contests in the wrestling halls and the combats of the gladiators. In particular he was so strict in curbing the lawlessness of the actors, that when he learned that Stephanio, an actor of Roman plays, was waited on by a matron with hair cut short to look like a boy, he had him whipped with rods through the three theatres and then banished him. Hylas, a pantomimic actor, was publicly scourged in the atrium of his own house, on complaint of a praetor, and Pylades was expelled from the city and from Italy as well, because by pointing at him with his finger he turned all eyes upon a spectator who was hissing him.

Secular Games of Augustus

Nina C. Coppolino wrote: “In 17 B.C. Augustus celebrated the Secular Games which marked the close of a saeculum or epoch of a human life-span, defined in the Republic at one- hundred years, but celebrated elastically in Augustus's day at one-hundred- and-ten. In the new spirit of prosperity, the traditional deities of dread, including warlike Mars, and underworld Pluto and Persephone, were absent; sacrifices were made in honor of the Fates, the goddess of childbirth, Earth Mother, Jupiter and Juno, and Apollo and Diana. The poet Horace was commissioned to write a hymn which was sung by twenty-seven boys and twenty-seven girls.” [Source: Nina C. Coppolino, Roman Emperors]

William Stearns Davis wrote: “The "Secular Games" was “a peculiarly solemn event, supposedly permitted only once in a century. The occasion was one of general jubilation over the notable peace and prosperity of the age. The "Secular Hymn" by the court poet Horace is perhaps the most successful poem of occasion ever written. It fits admirably into the spirit of the occasion with its references to the old divinities and the contemporary rulers and their triumphs. It was probably sung on the third day of the festival at the temple of Apollo on the Palatine by a choir of twenty-seven noble boys and maidens.” The hymn is regarded as an encomium — a speech or piece of writing that highly praises someone or something. [Source: Horace (65-8 B.C.): Secular hymn, Augustan Encomiums, William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 174-179]

Horace’s Hymn for Augustus’s Secular Games

Horace “Secular Hymn” for Augustus’s Secular Games goes:
“Phoebus! and Dian, you whose sway,
Mountains and woods obey!
Twin glories of the skies, forever worshiped, hear!
Accept our prayer this sacred year
When, as the Sibyl's voice ordained
For ages yet to come,
Pure maids and youths unstained
Invoke the Gods who love the sevenfold hills of Rome.

“All bounteous Sun!
Forever changing, and forever one!
Who in your lustrous car bear'st forth light,
And hid'st it, setting, in the arms of Night,
Look down on worlds outspread, yet nothing see
Greater than Rome, and Rome's high sovereignty.
You Ilithyia, too, whatever name,
Goddess, you do approve,
Lucina, Genitalis, still the same
Aid destined mothers with a mother's love;

“Prosper the Senate's wise decree,
Fertile of marriage faith and countless progeny!
As centuries progressive wing their flight
For you the grateful hymn shall ever sound;
Thrice by day, and thrice by night
For you the choral dance shall beat the ground.

“Fates! whose unfailing word
Spoken from lips Sibylline shall abide,
Ordained, preserved and sanctified
By Destiny's eternal law, accord
To Rome new blessings that shall last
In chain unbroken from the Past.
Mother of fruits and flocks, prolific Earth!
Bind wreaths of spiked corn round Ceres's hair:
And may soft showers and Jove's benignant air
Nurture each infant birth!

“Lay down your arrows, God of day!
Smile on your youths elect who singing pray.
You, Crescent Queen, bow down your star-crowned head
And on your youthful choir a kindly influence shed.
If Rome be all your work — if Troy's sad band
Safe sped by you attained the Etruscan strand,
A chosen remnant, vowed
To seek new Lares, and a changed abode —
Remnant for whom thro Ilion's blazing gate
Aeneas, orphan of a ruined State,
Opened a pathway wide and free
To happier homes and liberty: —
Ye Gods! If Rome be yours, to placid Age
Give timely rest: to docile Youth
Grant the rich heritage
Of morals, modesty, and truth.
On Rome herself bestow a teaming race
Wealth, Empire, Faith, and all befitting Grace.

“Vouchsafe to Venus' and Anchises' heir,
Who offers at your shrine
Due sacrifice of milk-white kine,
Justly to rule, to pity and to dare,
To crush insulting hosts, the prostrate foeman spare
The haughty Mede has learned to fear
The Alban axe, the Latian spear,
And Scythians, suppliant now, await
The conqueror's doom, their coming fate.
Honor and Peace, and Pristine Shame,
And Virtue's oft dishonored name,
Have dared, long exiled, to return,
And with them Plenty lifts her golden horn.

“Augur Apollo! Bearer of the bow!
Warrior and prophet! Loved one of the Nine!
Healer in sickness! Comforter in woe!
If still the templed crags of Palatine
And Latium's fruitful plains to you are dear,
Perpetuate for cycles yet to come,
Mightier in each advancing year,
The ever growing might and majesty of Rome.
You, too, Diana, from your Aventine,
And Algidus= deep woods, look down and hear
The voice of those who guard the books Divine,
And to your youthful choir incline a loving ear.

“Return we home! We know that Jove
And all the Gods our song approve
To Phoebus and Diana given;
The virgin hymn is heard in Heaven.”

Augustus Worship and Religion Under Augustus

Augustus and the Roman goddess Cybele

Augustus held strong beliefs in traditional Roman religion. He restored over 80 temples and passed strict moral laws that mirrored older Roman values. With his encouragement of art and literature Augustus also tried to improve the religious and moral condition of the people. The old religion was falling into decay. With the restoration of the old temples, he hoped to bring the people back to the worship of the ancient gods. The worship of Juno, which had been neglected, was restored, and assigned to the care of his wife, Livia, as the representative of the matrons of Rome. Augustus tried to purify the Roman religion by discouraging the introduction of the foreign deities whose worship was corrupt. He believed that even a great Roman had better be worshiped than the degenerate gods and goddesses of Syria and Egypt; and so the Divine Julius was added to the number of the Roman gods. He did not favor the Jewish religion; and Christianity had not yet been preached at Rome. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Nina C. Coppolino wrote: “ Roman religion consisted of cult ritual, whose regular and traditional performance had a cohesive role in the state. The prestige of religious things had been dampened by neglect during the civil war years, but now religion was restored and promoted by Augustus for stability and for his own position in the state. Julius Caesar had traced the divine ancestry of his family to Venus and Mars, and when he was deified in 42 B.C., Augustus early in his career became the son of a god; in 29 B.C. he dedicated the Temple of the Divine Julius in the Roman Forum. Augustus's defeat of Antony and Cleopatra was portrayed as a victory of Roman over Egyptian gods; in 28 B.C. Augustus dedicated a temple to 'Actian Apollo' on Rome's Palatine Hill, where Augustus himself lived. Apollo was represented in a cult statue and in reliefs as both the god of vengeance against sacrilege like Antony's, and also as a bringer of peace. Augustus undertook the restoration of existing temples in the city, and he claims to have rebuilt eighty-two. (Res Gestae, 20.4) [Source: Nina C. Coppolino, Roman Emperors]

“After Actium Augustus was venerated as a divine king in Egypt, and the provinces in the east were allowed to erect temples to him in association with the goddess Roma. At Rome the senate made the traditional vows and prayers for his safety, and included him in annual prayers at the beginning of the year; even at Rome, however, the process of divination was begun. His name was included in the ancient Salian hymn to Mars or Quirinus. In 27 B.C. the cult of the Genius of Augustus was established, in which it was decreed that a libation should be poured to his guardian spirit at public and private banquets. The senate authorized a tribute to his moral leadership by setting up in the senate-house a golden shield celebrating his military virtue, clemency, justice, and social and religious responsibility; this shield was associated with the goddess Victoria and therefore implied god-given rule. Laurel trees sacred to Apollo were set up on either side of Augustus's house, and for rescuing citizens he was awarded the corona civica, made of oak leaves from the tree sacred to Jupiter. On coins of the period Jupiter's eagle, a symbol of apotheosis, was depicted with the civic crown and laurel branches.

Halicarnassus Inscription Decreeing the Worship of Augustus

Inscription on the Temple of Rome and Augustus at the Athens Acropolis

Frederick C. Grant wrote in “Ancient Roman Religion: “This decree of the Provincial Assembly of Asia is dated 9 B.C. It sets forth the usual reasons for the worship of the emperor, i.e., the benefits of the Roman peace. At the proposal of the Proconsul, Paulus Fabius Maximus, the new year is to begin with the emperor's birthday, the ninth day before the Kalends of October (September 23). We have fragments of the decree, including even a Latin translation, from Priene, Apameia, Eumeneia, and Dorylaeum. Lines 1-29 give the letter of the Proconsul, lines 30-77 the decree of the Assembly. The Greek of the inscription is especially interesting for its use of terms also found in early Christian literature." [Source: "Dittenberger, OGIS, II. 458; P. Wendland, HRK, p. 409, no. 8; F. H. Gaertringen, Inschriften von Priene (1906), No. 105, “Ancient Roman Religion,” edited and translated by Frederick C. Grant,(The Liberal Arts Press, Inc., 1957) pp. 173f]

An inscription dedicated to Caesar Augustus from Halicarnassus dated after 2 B.C. reads: “"Since the eternal and deathless nature of the universe has perfected its immense benefits to mankind in granting us as a supreme benefit, for our happiness and welfare, Caesar Augustus, Father of his own Fatherland, divine Rome, Zeus Paternal, and Savior of the whole human race, in whom Providence has not only fulfilled but even surpassed the prayers of all men: land and sea are at peace, cities flourish under the reign of law, in mutual harmony and prosperity; each is at the very acme of fortune and abounding in wealth; all mankind is filled with glad hopes for the future, and with contentment over the present; [it is fitting to honor the god] with public games and with statues, with sacrifices and with hymns." [Source: British Museum Inscriptions, 894, Cf. P. Wendland, HRK, p. 410, no. 9]

Another Inscription under a statue of Caesar Augustus in Myra in Lycia reads: "The God Augustus, Son of God, Caesar, Autokrator [Autocrat, i.e., absolute ruler] of land and sea, the Evergetes (Benefactor) and Soter (Savior) of the whole cosmos, the people of Myra [have set up this statue]." [Source: E. Petersen, Reisen in Lykien, II, 43]

Temple Construction Under Augustus

Nina C. Coppolino wrote: ““In 27 B.C. in the Campus Martius Agrippa built the Pantheon, but he was not allowed to fashion it as an overt 'Augusteum'; instead the temple was dedicated to the divine ancestry of Augustus through Venus, Mars, and the deified Julius. In 25-24 B.C. work began on the Temple of Mars Ultor, which Augustus had vowed at the battle of Philippi in vengeance for his father's murder, and which later housed the standards returned by the Parthians. In 22 B.C. the temple of Juppiter Tonans was dedicated on the Capitoline Hill by Augustus who had escaped being struck by lightning during the Spanish campaign. After 20 B.C. the Prima Porta Augustus was commissioned, a statue of the emperor on whose cuirass is depicted the return of the standards by Parthia, in the presence of Mars, Apollo, and Venus. [Source: Nina C. Coppolino, Roman Emperors ]

model of an Augustus Temple

“In 13 B.C. at the return of Augustus from Spain and Gaul, the senate decreed the Ara Pacis to be built near the Campus Martius. This altar was to be used by magistrates and priests for annual sacrifices. Reliefs on the altar depict the symbols and fruits of peace in juxtaposition with figures of war by which peace was gained, and there are processions perhaps representing the major priesthoods in Rome, with Augustus himself portrayed in religious attire. Near this altar was a sundial associated with Augustus's patron, the sun-god Apollo. In 12k2 in the western province of Gaul, Drusus set up an altar at Lugdunum dedicated to Roma and Augustus.

“After Actium, when Augustus was given the power of creating new patricians, the supply of men for priesthoods was increased. Augustus himself became a member of the Fratres Arvales, an elite fraternity which performed time-honored, public sacrifices for the prosperity of the state- family. In 12 B.C. Augustus became pontifex maximus; in 11 B.C. , a new high priest of Jupiter, the flamen dialis, was appointed. When Augustus in 8 B.C. divided Rome into fourteen regions, the humble worship by the poor of the gods of the crossroads, the Lares Compitales, was elevated to official stature; this worship was promoted throughout the regions of Rome and Italy in association with the worship of the genius of Augustus. At this time the genius of Augustus was probably included in official oaths.

“Less than one month after his death in 14 A.D., divine honors were decreed to Augustus at Rome, and the precedent was set there for the posthumous deification of successive emperors.

Augustus’s Effort to Choose a Successor

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.” ^*^



David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Tiberius Claudius Nero, the son of Augustus' third wife Livia by her previous marriage (her union with the princeps was childless), had been waiting in the wings. He had proven his abilities as a military commander, by reinstalling a Roman client king on the throne of Armenia (a continual point of contention between the Roman and Parthian empires), by putting down serious unrest in the province of Illyria, and then by strengthening Rome's position on the Rhine frontier. He was consul in 13 B.C. and several years later received a five year grant of the tribunician power; given that Gaius and Lucius were alive at that time, some scholars (e.g. Syme) have taken this as evidence that the tribunician power was not yet the mark of the designated successor it would later become; others prefer to believe that after the death of Agrippa Tiberius was, for a time at least, Augustus' choice to succeed him. In support of the latter position is the fact that Julia, whose sad lot in life it was to be the pawn in Augustus' chess game of succession, was married to Tiberius after Agrippa's death. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“In 6 B.C. Tiberius, with his tribunician power still in force, retired to the island of Rhodes. He left his wife Julia, with whom he had never gotten along very well, at Rome. Augustus had assigned him a new command in Armenia, and Tiberius had signalled his reluctance to undertake that command by a hunger strike. Did Augustus want Tiberius to retire to Rhodes, or was it Tiberius' own decision? B. Levick has argued that Tiberius threatened to go to Rhodes, in an attempt to bluff Augustus into calling off the honors for Gaius, and when that failed Tiberius had to make good on his threat. According to Suetonius (Tib. 10), the desire for a rest was the reason given by Tiberius to Augustus at the time of his initial request, but the real reason was that he realized Gaius and Lucius were being promoted ahead of him and he wanted to leave the field clear for them. Dio believes that Augustus was annoyed at the attempts by Lucius and Gaius to put on airs (Dio 55.9.1). He further states that Augustus' purpose in conferring the trib. pot. on Tiberius was to teach Gaius a lesson. And, he conveniently omits to mention, in his account of how Aug. refused to allow Gaius to be made consul for 5 BC, that Aug. promised Gaius the consulship in 5 years. Dio is so far from understanding the situation he is describing, that he represents Tiberius' going to Rhodes as something imposed upon him by Augustus (Dio's word at 55.9.5 is estalê meaning literally "he was sent there"). It is Suetonius who reports that Augustus complained of the decision and called it an act of desertion; in Dio's account, Augustus was complaining because Tiberius refused to go to Armenia as a commander. In short, Dio believes that Augustus first assigned Tiberius to go to Armenia; then, after it appeared that this offended Gaius, Augustus tried to placate Gaius by sending Tiberius to Rhodes as a private citizen, with the pretext that the object was to continue his education. ^^ “Whatever the facts behind the events which led to Tiberius' retirement, it is clear that he had temporarily removed himself from the succession picture. Again according to Suetonius, Tiberius spent his time at Rhodes in true retirement, chatting with the locals, taking long walks, and avoiding contact with the Roman officials who stopped off at Rhodes on their way to destinations further East. This picture has been questioned by G. Bowersock, however; Bowersock traces out a body of evidence which indicates that Tiberius spent his time in Rhodes consolidating his base of power with a view to his eventual succession. ^^

“Those efforts finally bore fruit in A.D. 4 when Augustus, with Gaius and Lucius both dead, recalled Tiberius from Rhodes and adopted him as his son. From that point on Tiberius' position as successor to the Principate was unchallenged. When Augustus died on August 14, A.D. 14, Tiberius was probably at his side (some ancient authors state that Tiberius arrived at Nola after Augustus died; cf. Tac. Ann. 1.5). However, there was a small obstacle present in the person of Agrippa Postumus, the third of the boys born to Julia and M. Agrippa, 26 years old in A.D. 14. Acting on written orders, the cohort assigned as the bodyguard for Agrippa Postumus put him to death; Livia, Augustus' widow, was accused of having forged the orders (her motive was obvious, since Tiberius was her son), but suspicion also fell upon Tiberius himself (Suet. Tib. 22, Tac. Ann. 1.6).

Augustus Prepares Tiberius to Be His Successor

Nina C. Coppolino wrote: “In 6 B.C. Tiberius was given tribunician power for life and was sent to the east to settle the throne in Armenia. At the designation of Gaius in 5 as princeps iuventutis and so as apparent sucessor of Augustus, Tiberius settled at Rhodes for eight years in so-called retirement, which may have been used to gain support in the east for his own succession. In 2 B.C. Gaius was dispatched from Rome to negotiate with the Parthians in the east. In this year Augustus was compelled to banish from Rome his own daughter, Julia, for her scandalous personal behavior, which was a great embarrassment to her father's legislative efforts at moral reform.

With Julia's departure and divorce from Tiberius, Augustus had to make his dynastic plans without the hope of any more male grandchildren, the supply of which dwindled to only Agrippa Postumus, when Lucius and Gaius died, in 2 and 4 A.D., respectively. In 2 A.D. Tiberius was recalled from Rhodes to Rome, perhaps because eastern support for his succession had surpassed Gaius'; Tiberius' consular imperium and tribunician power had run out in 1 B.C. and had not been renewed. In 4 A.D., after the death of Gaius, Augustus adopted Tiberius and Agrippa Postumus. Though Augustus preferred a Julian heir to the Claudian Tiberius, Augustus disliked the wild behavior of Agrippa Postumus and exiled him three years after his adoption. Tiberius, now adopted into the Julian line, was forced to enlarge the line further by adopting, in dynastic preference to his own son by Vipsania, his nephew Germanicus; his mother was the daughter of Augustus's sister, and Germanicus married Augustus's granddaughter, Agrippina.

“From 4 to 11 A.D. Augustus employed Tiberius in campaigns in the Balkans and Germany. In 12 Tiberius celebrated a triumph for Dalmatia and Pannonia, and Germanicus held the consulship. In 13 A.D. Tiberius was again granted proconsular imperium and tribunician power. In 14 A.D. he conducted a census with Augustus and then left Rome for a command in Illyricum.” After Augustus’s death “the armies were loyal to Tiberius, and he had the tribunician right of initiative at Rome. This hereditary system of succession was established by Augustus for centuries.”

Augustus’s Last Days and Signs of His Impending Death

bad omens

Suetonius wrote: “His death, too, of which I shall speak next, and his deification after death, were known in advance by unmistakable signs. As he was bringing the lustrum to an end in the Campus Martius before a great throng of people, an eagle flew several times about him and then going across to the temple hard by, perched above the first letter of Agrippa's name. On noticing this, Augustus bade his colleague Tiberius recite the vows which it is usual to offer for the next five years; for although he had them prepared and written out on a tablet, he declared that he would not be responsible for vows which he should never pay. At about the same time the first letter of his name was melted from the inscription on one of his statues by a flash of lightning; this was interpreted to mean that he would live only a hundred days from that time, the number indicated by the letter C, and that he would be numbered with the gods, since aesar (that is, the part of the name Caesar which was left) is the word for god in the Etruscan tongue. Then, too, when he was on the point of sending Tiberius to Illyricum and was proposing to escort him as far as Beneventum, and litigants detained him on the judgment seat by bringing forward case after case, he cried out that he would stay no longer in Rome, even if everything conspired to delay him — and this too was afterwards looked upon as one of the omens of his death. When he had begun the journey, he went on as far as Astura and from there, contrary to his custom, took ship by night since it chanced that there was a favourable breeze, and thus contracted an illness beginning with a diarrhea. [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]

“Then after skirting the coast of Campania and the neighbouring islands, he spent four more days at his villa in Capreae, where he gave himself up wholly to rest and social diversions. As he sailed by the gulf of Puteoli it happened that from an Alexandrian ship which had just arrived there, the passengers and crew, clad in white, crowned with garlands, and burning incense, lavished upon him good wishes and the highest praise, saying that it was through him they lived, through him that they sailed the seas, and through him that they enjoyed their liberty and their fortunes. Exceedingly pleased at this, he gave forty gold pieces to each of his companions, exacting from every one of them a pledge under oath not to spend the sum that had been given them in any other way than in buying wares from Alexandria. More than that, for the several remaining days of his stay, among little presents of various kinds, he distributed togas and cloaks as well, stipulating that the Romans should use the Greek dress and language and the Greeks the Roman.

“He continually watched the exercises of the ephebi [Greek youths between the ages of eighteen and that of full manhood, who had regular gymnastic training as a part of their education], of whom there was still a goodly number at Capreae according to the ancient usage. He also gave these youths a banquet at which he himself was present, and not only allowed, but even required perfect freedom in jesting and in scrambling for tickets for fruit, dainties and all kinds of things, which he threw to them. In short, there was no form of gaiety in which he did not indulge. He called the neighbouring part of the island of Capreae Apragopolis [the "land of the do-nothings"] from the laziness of some of his company who sojourned there. Besides he used to call one of his favourites, Masgaba by name, Ktistes [the Greek name for a founder of a city or colony], as if he were the founder of the island.

“Noticing from his dining-room that the tomb of this Masgaba, who had died the year before, was visited by a large crowd with many torches, he uttered aloud this verse, composed offhand: "I see the founder's tomb alight with fire"; and turning to Thrasyllus, one of the suite of Tiberius who was reclining opposite him and knew nothing about the matter, he asked of what poet he thought it was the work. When Thrasyllus hesitated, he added another verse: "See you with lights Masgaba honoured now?" and asked his opinion of this one also. When Thrasyllus could say nothing except that they were very good, whoever made them, he burst into a laugh and fell a joking about it. Presently he crossed over to Naples, although his bowels were still weak from intermittent attacks. In spite of this he witnessed and then started with Tiberius for his destination [Beneventum]. But as he was returning his illness increased and he at last took to his bed at Nola, calling back Tiberius, who was on his way to Illyricum, and keeping him for a long time in private conversation, after which he gave attention to no business of importance.”

Death and Funeral of Augustus

Augustus died on 19 August A.D. 14 at Nola. He was 75 years old , and his reign covered a period of forty-five years. During this time he had been performing “the difficult part of ruling without appearing to rule, of being at once the autocrat of the civilized world and the first citizen of a free commonwealth.” His last words are said to have been, “Have I not played my part well?” [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

death of Augustus

Suetonius wrote: “On the last day of his life he asked every now and then whether there was any disturbance without on his account; then calling for a mirror, he had his hair combed and his falling jaws set straight. After that, calling in his friends and asking whether it seemed to them that he had played the comedy of life fitly, he added the tag: "Since well I've played my part, all clap your hands And from the stage dismiss me with applause." Then he sent them all off, and while he was asking some newcomers from the city about the daughter of Drusus, who was ill, he suddenly passed away as he was kissing Livia, uttering these last words: "Live mindful of our wedlock, Livia, and farewell," thus blessed with an easy death and such a one as he had always longed for. For almost always on hearing that anyone had died swiftly and painlessly, he prayed that he and his might have a like euthanasia, for that was the term he was wont to use. He gave but one single sign of wandering before he breathed his last, calling out in sudden terror that forty young men were carrying him off. And even this was rather a premonition than a delusion, since it was that very number of soldiers of the pretorian guard that carried him forth to lie in state. [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 died in the same room as his father Octavius, in the consulship of two Sextuses, Pompeius and Appuleius, on the fourteenth day before the Kalends of September [August 19, 14 A.D.] at the ninth hour, just thirty-five days before his seventy-sixth birthday. His body was carried by the Senators of the municipalities and colonies from Nola all the way to Bovillae, in the night time because of the season of the year, being placed by day in the basilica of the town at which they arrived or in its principal temple. At Bovillae the members of the equestrian order met it and bore it to the city, where they placed it in the vestibule of his house.

“In their desire to give him a splendid funeral and honour his memory the Senators so vied with one another that among many other suggestions some proposed that his cortege pass through the triumphal gate, preceded by the statue of Victory which stands in the House, while a dirge was sung by children of both sexes belonging to the leading families; others, that on the day of the obsequies golden rings be laid aside and iron ones worn; and some, that his ashes be collected by the priests of the highest colleges.

One man proposed that the name of the month of August be transferred to September, because Augustus was born in the latter, but died in the former; another, that all the period from the day of his birth until his demise be called the Augustan Age, and so entered in the Calendar. But though a limit was set to the honours paid him, his eulogy was twice delivered: before the temple of the Deified Julius by Tiberius, and from the old rostra by Drusus, son of Tiberius; and he was carried on the shoulders of Senators to the Campus Martius and there cremated. There was even an ex-praetor who took oath that he had seen the form of the Emperor, after he had been reduced to ashes, on its way to heaven. His remains were gathered up by the leading men of the equestrian order, bare-footed and in ungirt tunics, and placed in the Mausoleum. This structure he had built in his sixth consulship [28 B.C.] between the Via Flaminia and the bank of the Tiber, and at the same time opened to the public the groves and walks by which it was surrounded.

Augustus’s Will

Suetonius wrote: “He had made a will in the consulship of Lucius Plancus and Gaius Silius on the third day before the Nones of April [April 3, 13 A.D.], a year and four months before he died, in two note-books,written in part in his own hand and in part in that of his freedmen Polybius and Hilarion. These the Vestal virgins, with whom they had been deposited, now produced, together with three rolls, which were sealed in the same way. All these were opened and read in the Senate. He appointed as his chief heirs Tiberius, to receive two-thirds of the estate, and Livia, one-third; these he also bade assume his name. His heirs in the second degree were Drusus, son of Tiberius, for one-third, and for the rest Germanicus and his three male cbildren. In the third grade he mentioned many of his relatives and friends. [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]

Augustus Mausoleum

“He left to the Roman people forty million sesterces; to the tribes three million five hundred thousand; to the soldiers of the pretorian guard a thousand each; to the city cohorts five hundred; and to the legionaries three hundred. This sum he ordered to be paid at once, for he had always kept the amount at hand and ready for the purpose. He gave other legacies to various individuals, some amounting to as much as twenty thousand sesterces, and provided for the payment of these a year later, giving as his excuse for the delay the small amount of his property, and declaring that not more than a hundred and fifty millions would come to his heirs; for though he had received fourteen hundred millions during the last twenty years from the wills of his friends, he said that he had spent nearly all of it, as well as his two paternal estates and his other inheritances, for the benefit of the State.

“He gave orders that his daughter and his granddaughter Julia should not be put in his Mausoleum, if anything befell them. In one of the three rolls he included directions for his funeral; in the second, an account of what he had accomplished, which he desired to have cut upon bronze tablets and set up at the entrance to the Mausoleum; in the third, a summary of the condition of the whole empire; how many soldiers there were in active service in all parts of it, how much money there was in the public treasury and in the privy-purse, and what revenues were in arrears. He added, besides, the names of the freedmen and slaves from whom the details could be demanded.”

Augustus’s Legacy: a Benevolent Dictator, or Something Worse?

The part which Augustus had to perform in restoring peace to the world was a great and difficult task. In the midst of conflicting views which had distracted the republic for a century, he was called upon to perform a work of reconciliation. And it is doubtful whether any political leader ever performed such a work with greater success. When he became the supreme ruler of Rome he was fully equal to the place, and brought order out of confusion. He was content with the substance of power and indifferent to its form. Not so great as Julius Caesar, he was yet more successful. He was one of the greatest examples of what we may call the “conservative reformer,” a man who accomplishes the work of regeneration without destroying existing institutions. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Nina C. Coppolino wrote: ““In both the ancient and modern assessments of Augustus, there is a tension between the favorable view that the statesman Augustus atoned for the ruthlessness of Octavian, and the negative view that Augustus pursued power under all circumstances, doomed the nobility, slaughtered libertas, and was the political forerunner of World War Two continental dictators. It is apparent, at least, that the most historically significant result of the principate was the restoration of a ratified rule of law, with Augustus as the supreme judge, initiator, and executive officer. This rule evolved gradually and pragmatically; its basic ideology and administration were transmitted by the dynastic system for centuries of relative stability at Rome. [Source: Nina C. Coppolino, Roman Emperors]

In a review of the book “Augustus: First Emperor of Rome” by Adrian Goldsworthy, Steve Donoghue wrote in the Washington Post: “The man who became known as Augustus played a crucial role in the transformation of ancient Rome from a republic governed by an oligarchy to an absolute monarchy ruled by a dictator. The slain Julius was his great-uncle, and the young relative stepped into the legend’s name and a large portion of his power soon after Brutus, Cassius and the other assassins did their work. Through intense political maneuvering, liberal bribing of the legions and pure dumb luck, Julius Caesar’s grand-nephew first ruled Rome as part of the Second Triumvirate (along with Mark Antony and Lepidus) and then, after a series of victories culminating in the defeat of Antony’s navy at the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C., ruled alone for 41 years”. [Source: Steve Donoghue, Washington Post, October 3, 2014]

Ronald Syme, author of the brilliant 1939 book “The Roman Revolution,” written at the time “Mussolini’s fascism was on the rise in Italy, drew a scathing portrait of Augustus as just another strongman dictator with slick PR, and as Goldsworthy points out, that interpretation set the tone for Augustus studies for more than half a century. Essentially, it’s a question of how you write about military dictators. Augustus has been hailed for 20 centuries as the humble, benevolent founder of the Roman empire, a man who declined honors, was careful to uphold the trappings of the old Roman republic and styled himself merely “princeps,” its first citizen, albeit a citizen with unshared control of the legions, the temples, the grain supply and the popular imagination (as Goldsworthy puts it, more images of Augustus survive than of “any other human being from the ancient world” — doubtless a nod to the mixed parentage of Jesus Christ). Goldsworthy’s unenviable job is to reconcile that paternal figure with the ruthless back-stabber Augustus had to be to become Rome’s first emperor at all.

“That emperor, Goldsworthy admits, “killed a lot of people,” but he “inflicted on the world nothing like the misery of a Hitler or a Stalin.” Our author is aware of how faint this praise is; as he puts it, “to be not as bad as Hitler is scarcely a ringing endorsement.” But he wants to praise Augustus just the same...“Inevitably, he comes back to dictatorship, closing his book with the rather fumbling concession that although his subject was a blood-stained warlord, “as military dictators go, Caesar Augustus was not such a bad one.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

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

Last updated October 2018

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