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Camille Papa

The roman empire

Age of Augustus (31B.C. – 14 A.D.)

In 27B.C., Octavian proclaimed the “restoration of the Republic.” He understood the


need to appease the senatorial ruling class and realized from the experience of Julius
Caesar that he could not exercise power to openly. Only traditional republican forms
would satisfy the senatorial aristocracy. At the same time, Octavian was aware that the
Republic could not fully restored and managed to arrive at a compromise that worked, at
least during his lifetime.

In 27 B.C., the senate awarded him the title of Augustus “the revered one.” He preferred
the title princeps meaning chief citizen or first among equals. The system of rule that
Augustus established is sometimes called the principate, conveying the idea of a
constitutional monarch as co-ruler with the senate. But while Augustus worked to
maintain this appearance, in reality, power was heavily weighted in favor of the princes.
After the devastating political chaos of the late Republic, it should come as no surprise
that the position of princeps eventually became that of an absolute monarch.

New Order

In the new constitutional order that Augustus created, the basic government structure
consisted of a princes (Augustus) and an aristocratic senate. Augustus retained the senate
as the chief deliberative body of the Roman state. Its decrees, screened in advance by the
princeps, now had the effect of law. The senate officially controlled disbursements from
the public treasury and serves as a high court of justice. Despite its powers, however, the
senate was not a full and equal partner with the princes.

The title of princes – first citizen of the state – carried no power in itself, but each year
until 23 B.C. Augustus held the office of consul, which gave him imperium, or the right
to command. When Augustus gave up the consulshipin 23 B.C., he was granted a
proconsular or maius imperiem – a greater imperium than all others. The consulship was
now unnecessary. Moreover, very probably in 23 B.C. Augustus was given the power of
a tribune, without actually holding the office itself, a power that enabled him to propose
laws and veto any item of public business. In 12 B.C., Augustus was also elected pontifex
maximus or chief pontiff, head of the official state religion. While the officials continued
to be elected, Augustus’s authority ensured that his candidates for offices usually won.
This situation caused participation in elections to decline. Consequently, the popular
assemblies, shorn of any real role in elections and increasingly overshadowed by the
senate’s decrees, gradually declined in importance

By observing proper legal forms for his power, Augustus proved to be highly popular. As
the Roman historian Tacitus commented, “Indeed, he attracted everybody’s goodwill by
the enjoyable gift of peace. . . Opposition did not exist.” No doubt, the ending of the civil
wars had greatly bolstered Augustus’s popularity. At the same time, his continuing
control of the army, while making possible the Roman peace, was a crucial source of his
power.

The achievements of Augustus

This except is taken from a written text by Augustus and inscribed on a bronze tablet at
Rome. This is called “the most famous ancient inscription,” the Res Gestae of Augustus
summarizes his accomplishments in three major areas:
a. his offices
b. his private expenditures on behalf of the state
c. hid exploits in war and peace

Augustus Res Gestae


1. at the age of 19, on my own initiative and at my own expense, I raised an army
by means of which I liberated the Republic, which was oppressed by the
tyranny of a faction [Mark Anthony and his supporters]
2. Those who assassinated my father [Julius Caesar, his adoptive father] I drove
into exile, avenging their crime by due process of law; and afterwards when
they waged wars against the state, I conquered them twice on the battlefield.
3. I waged many wars throughout the whole world by land and by sea, both civil
and foreign, and when victorious I spared all citizens who sought pardon. . .
5. The dictatorship offered to me. . . by the people and the senate, both in my
absence and in my presence, I refused to accept
9. The senate decreed that the vows for my health should be offered up every fifth
year by the consuls and priests. In fulfillment of these vows, games were often
celebrated during my lifetime, sometimes by the four most distinguished
colleges of priests, sometimes by the consuls. Moreover, the whole citizen body,
with one accord, both individually and as members of municipalities, prayed
continuously for my health at all the shrines…
17. Four times I cam to he assistance of the treasury with my own money,
transferring to those in charge of the treasury 150,000,000 sesterces. And in the
consulship of Marcus Lepidus and Lucius Arruntius I transferred out of my own
patrimony 170,000,000 sesterces to the soldiers’ bonus fund, which was
established on my advice for the purpose of providing bonuses for soldiers who
had completed twenty or more years of service…
20. I repaired the Capitol and the theater of Pompey with enormous expenditures on
both works, without having my name inscribed on them. I repaired the conduits
of the aqueducts which were falling into ruin in many places because of age…
22. I gave a gladiatorial show three times in my own name, and five times in the
names of my sons or grandsons; at these about 10,000 fought…
25. I brought peace to the sea by suppressing the pirates. In that war I turned over to
their masters for punishments nearly 30,000 slaves who had run away from their
owners and taken up arms against the state…
26. I extended frontiers of all the provinces of the Roman people on whose
boundaries were people not subject to our empire…
27. I added Egypt to the empire of the Roman people…
28. I established colonies of soldiers in Africa, Sicily, Macedonia, in both Spanish
provinces, in Acheas, Asia, Syria, Narbonese Gaul, and Pisidia. Italy, moreover,
has twenty-eight colonies established by me, which in my lifetime have grown
to be famous and populous.
35. When I held my 13th consulship, the senate, the equestrian order, and the entire
Roman people gave me the title of “father of the country” and decreed that this
title should be inscribed in the vestibule of my house, in the Julian senate house,
and in the Augustan Forum on the pedestal of the chariot which was set up in
my honor by decree of the senate. At the time I wrote this document I was in my
76th year.

The Army

The peace of the Roman Empire depended on the army and so did the security of the
princeps. Though primarily responsible for guarding the frontiers of the empire, the army
was also used to maintain domestic order within the provinces. Moreover, the army,
played an important social role. It was an agent of upward mobility for both officers and
recruits and provided impetus for Romanization wherever the legions were stationed. The
colonies of veterans established by Augustus throughout the empire proved especially
valuable in Romanizing the provinces

After the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C., Augustus reduced the size of the army. He
consider it larger than the empire needed as well as too expensive to maintain. He
established a standing army of twenty-eight legions. Since each legion at full strength
numbered 5.400 soldiers the roman empire had an army of about 150,000 men, certainly
not large either by modern standards or in terms of the size of the empire itself (the
population of the empire was probably close to 50 million). Roman legionaries served 20
years and were recruited only from the citizenry and, under Augustus, largely from Italy.
Augustus also maintained a large contingent of auxiliary forces enlisted from the subject
peoples. They served as both light-armed troops and cavalry and were commanded a
cohort of German tribesmen as Roman auxiliaries. During the principate of Augustus, the
auxiliaries numbered around 130,000. they were recruited only from non citizens, served
for 24 years, and along with families received citizenship after their terms of service.

Augustus was responsible for establishing the praetorian guard. These “9 cohorts of elite
troops,” roughly 9,000 men, had the important task of guarding the person of the princes.
They were recruited from Roman citizens in Italy and served for 16 years. Eventually, the
praetorian guard would play an important role in making and deposing emperors.

The role of the princes as military commander gave rise to a title by which this ruler
eventually came to be known. When victorious, a military commander was acclaimed by
his troops as imperator. Augustus was so acclaimed on a number of occasions. Imperator
is our word for emperor. Although such a title was applied to Augustus and his
successors, Augustus still preferred to use the title princes. Not until the reign of
Vespasian 969-79) did emperor become common title for the roman ruler.
Roman Provinces and Frontiers

During the Republic, as we have seen, the Romans had established control over a number
of overseas possessions, which we called provinces. Two praetors were chosen in 227
B.C. to govern the first provinces of Sicily and Sardinia, and two more beginning in 197
for the two Spanish provinces. Eventually, a new system developed in which ex-consuls
and ex-praetors had their imperium extended as (proconsuls and propraetors) and were
then sent out as governors. Under the Republic, the senate appointed the provincial
governors.

Augustus inaugurated a new system for governing the provinces. Certain provinces were
allotted to the princes, who assigned deputies known as legates to govern them. These
legates were from the senatorial class and held the office as long as the emperor chose.
The remaining provinces were designated as senatorial provinces. They continued to be
ruled by proconsuls and propraetors as governors who are appointed annually by lot for
one year and reported directly to the senate. Although dual system of provincial
administration seemed to have been created, in reality the greater proconsular imperium
that had been granted to Augustus gave him the power to overrule the senatorial
governors and hence to establish a unified imperial policy. Egypt was treated differently
from the other provinces in that the emperor considered it a personal possession ang
governed it through as equestrian prefect. Because all provincial governors, whether
imperial or senatorial provinces, now received regular salaries, there was less need for the
kind of extortion that had characterized provincial administration in the late Republic. In
general, although there were still abuses, especially in the area of tax collection,
provincial administration under Augustus was more efficient than under the Republic,
and provincials were better protected against abuses of power.