The Roman Emperor Augustus

Categories: Ancient RomeHistory
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In Res Gestae, Augustus alludes several times to his objectives which reflect his republican ideals, claiming that he fought Mark Anthony at Mutina solely “in defence of the Republic. Augustus also confesses his primary objective which is “namely to be called the author of the best form of constitution. ” In reality however, these claims are likely to be propaganda and simply a means of maintaining the illusion that he wished to restore the Republic, when he was arguably dismantling it.

Augustus claims that he did “not accept any office inconsistent with the customs of our ancestors” which would suggest that maintaining the Republic was what he desired.

(Res Gestae) This claim is highly debatable however as in many cases Augustus receives powers which have a questionable legality to them. For instance in 43BC during the battle of Mutina, Augustus is given the powers of propraetor and thus given imperium which is controversial as it essential breaks the cursus honorum as Augustus was too young to be able to hold any office at the time.

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Augustus’ statement that he refused to hold any office inconsistent with Republican traditions can be argued to be true to an extent as he seems to get around this fact by holding powers of certain offices without holding the position itself. For instance, Augustus held the powers of Maius Imperium which gave him control over all other proconsuls which he fails to mention in Res Gestae and had no real precedent; he also held consular powers for life without accepting the title itself.

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This method of holding power can be argued to be an innovation and thus acting against the Republican and not restoring it to its ‘true title. ‘ Augustus is quick to mention in Res Gestae the positions which he did not accept such as Consul for life and dictator for life which could argue that Augustus wasn’t in fact an emperor. In reality however this can be seen to simply be propaganda or even a fear of Caesar’s ghost and thus assassination.

In 27BC Augustus also offers the Senate all of his powers would also suggest that Augustus was a true republican but like the powers he rejected can realistically be concluded to be a political charade and propaganda stunt. I therefore believe that whilst the powers that Augustus held acted within a legal framework, they are not reflections of a citizen aiming to restore the Republic but rather those of an Emperor creating the mirage of the former.

Augustus’ relationship with the Senate and the powers he took away and changes he made to the institution can be used to determine whether or not he restored the roman republic. According to Dio, during the post-Actium period Augustus forbade any senator from leaving Rome. In fact even when the panic had subsided he continued to disallow any Senators from entering Egypt and continued to control their freedom of action.

The powers of Censor were also a threat to Augustus’ power as they effectively decided who was a Senator and citizen so it was no surprise that Augustus effectively destroyed the position to ensure it was never used against him. The position of censor was a traditional Republican position so by destroying it, Augustus was chipping away at the Republic and therefore not restoring it. Another Republican tradition that was, in the Senate, the order of speaking was determined by the age of the Senator but under the rule of Augustus, it was he himself that spoke first and chose those who spoke in the Senate.

As a result of this, according to Suetonius, he who spoke after Augustus would simply state “I agree with the previous speaker. ” This was due to Augustus’ auctoritas which acted as a catalyst in the deconstruction, in Res Gestae Augustus claims that he possessed seven hundred Senators and eighty three consuls serving under his standards which reflect his supreme influence over the state. Augustus stresses his influence in Res Gestae when he says that he “excelled all others in his auctoritas.

” Therefore, whilst the position of princeps senatus had a legal precedent behind it, it effectively killed the Republic to an extent and turned the Senate into a body of sycophants, acting in the interests of themselves rather than those of the Republic by chasing wealth and position that only Augustus could provide. However, according to Suetonius Augustus sometimes refused to speak first in order to determine the true thoughts and opinions of the Senate which would imply that Augustus was in fact concerned with their opinions and verdicts which would absolve him to an extent of being an absolutist like emperor.

Augustus also altered as to how the position of Praetor Urbanus was achieved, under the Republic this position was chosen by vote but under Augustus it was he who would select the praetor urbanus and the assemblies became much less important. The incident in Rome with Messalla in 26BC where he refused to hold the position of city prefect claiming that it went against the Republic which is also a clear indication of how Augustus had abandoned the ways of the Republic and simply wasn’t restoring it.

It is also interesting to note that under the Republic, in order for a Senator to gain notoriety amongst the people it was essential for them to become Aediles in order to organise games, public buildings and public services in Rome; it was therefore no surprise that Augustus reduced the power of the Aediles as for a Senator to make a name for himself it, under the Principate, would be a direct threat to Augustus himself. This therefore suggests further that Augustus did not restore the political powers of the Republic.

However, it is essential to note that the Senate still functioned similarly to how it did under the Republic. Magistrates were still elected for instance, although it is still important to note that despite this, the Senate acted largely as a rubber stamp to Augustus and agreed unconditionally with him due to his influence over him. This therefore meant that whilst things operated similarly in the Senate house, in reality it was under the thumb of the emperor Augustus as a result of his auctoritas and would therefore suggest that he did not restore the Republic.

Augustus made changes to the constitution in terms of inheritance and succession which would seriously suggest that he did not restore the Republic. According to Suetonius, Augustus encouraged Senators sons to enter the army and allows the position of Senator to be inherited which greatly opposed traditional republican virtues in which a man could only enter the senate after a career as a magistrate. This can largely be viewed as a way of allowing his own adopted sons Lucius and Gaius Caesar into the Senate which reflects his monarchical ambitions and designs on having a successor.

This is evident as initially, Augustus allowed Marcellus, Tiberius, Gaius and Lucius Caesar to gain experience in the top magistracies by persuading the Senate to make exemptions on them by lowering the minimum age requirement. They were initially employed as legates and diplomats and were later granted even consular and tribunician powers which when coupled with the oath of allegiance to Augustus and his heirs in 33BC undermines significantly the traditions of the republic and would indeed suggest that he did not restore it.

In conclusion, I therefore believe that Augustus did not restore the political powers of respublica as despite his political charades involving the rejection of certain titles such as Dictator for life there were still too many cases which overshadow this in which the powers that Augustus held were not in keeping with the traditions with the Republic, most notably consular powers for life and the controversial Maius Imperium which gave him absolute proconsular powers.

Augustus’ auctoritas and influence in the Senate house too granted him unconditional powers and mutated the institution into a body of sycophants which can also be seen as detrimental to the Republic. The changes and alterations Augustus made to the Senate also make evident the extent to which Augustus failed to restore the republic, notably the destruction of the positions of Censor and the weakening of the position of Aedile which were threats to Augustus and his principate.

The creation of a hereditary Senate can be argued to be the most important argument in suggesting that Augustus had no intention of restoring the Republic as it greatly opposed traditional republican customs in the ancient world. It allowed Augustus to choose his successor Tiberius and thus reflects his monarchical ambitions and lack of concern for the Republic. I therefore conclude that Augustus did not in fact restore the political powers of the republic.

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The Roman Emperor Augustus. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

The Roman Emperor Augustus

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