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Augustus’ Career as Princeps of Rome

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Beginning in the 8th century BC, ancient Rome grew from a very small town into an empire that at its peak had control of most continental Europe, Britain, western Asian, northern Africa, and the Mediterranean islands. As the legend says, Rome was founded by the twins, Romulus and Remus. After killing his brother, Romulus became the first king of Rome. However, Rome’s era as a monarchy ended in 509 BC, when it turned into a republic. The power of the monarch passed to two annually elected magistrates called consuls. Though elected by the people, the magistrates largely came from the Senate, which was dominated by the descendants from the original senators from the time of Romulus. Politics in the early republic was defined by the long struggle between patricians and plebeians. During the early republic, the Roman state grew exponentially in size and power. Rome’s complex politics institutions started to slowly crumble under the growing empire, leading Rome to an era of internal turmoil.

In 27 BC, Augusts became the first princep (emperor) of Rome. Augustus’ rule restored morale in Rome after a century of chaos and corruption and led in the famous ‘pax Romana’ which was two centuries of peace and prosperity in Rome. As seen in ‘Res Gestae’ by Augustus, ‘The Annals of Imperial Rome’ by Tacitus, and ‘Suetonius’ Life of Augustus’, Augustus’s career as Princeps of Rome was very successful because he reorganized Rome and made changes to public facilities, changed the way of life for Romans through reformed imperial institutions and administrative changes, and established a Roman standing army to expand the empire.

Much of the technology that was used by the Romans mostly remained similar between the Republic and the Empire. However, Augustus altered the system to oversee public works, including roads, aqueducts, and sewers. He made permanent positions of those who oversaw the construction and maintenance of these projects. This helped improve accountability. It also provided a way for the emperor to reward his supporters with important and secure jobs.

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August both directly commissioned and indirectly encouraged the construction of multiple temples, a new forum, bathhouses, and theaters. Many public buildings were “erected by him, the most considerably of which were a forum, containing the temple of Mars the Avenger, the temple of Apollo on the Palatine Hill, and the temple of Jupiter Tonans in the capitol” (Suetonius, 93). Recognizing that the population in Rome continues to grow exponentially, Augustus was clever to build a new forum because there were too many cases to be tried in court and the two forums already in place did not provide sufficient space. In ‘Res Gestae’, Augustus talks about his accomplishments in reorganizing Rome by stating “I built the senate-house and the chalcidicum adjacent to it, and the temple of Apollo on the Paletine with its porticoes…” (Augustus,). He “restored aqueduct channels in several places which we collapsing through old age” and even “doubled the capacity of the aqueduct which is called Marcian by introducing a new spring into its channel” (Augustus, 80). This demonstrates that Augustus used restructuring Rome’s public facilities to mark his place in Rome’s history. Also, these newly built structures were a form of propaganda and hailed the accomplishments of Augustus. These infrastructures reinforced Augustus’s legitimacy and praised the new golden age he brought to Rome. Without Augustus, all these new infrastructures would have not existed and no one would remember who Augustus was. Implementing monumental buildings and forums was a way for Augustus to not only improve Rome but also to show the people that Rome has improved under Augustus’s administration.

While Augustus was in power, he created multiple reforms within imperial institutions and made administrative changes to better the Roman lives. Augustus made many important reforms at the beginning of his rule, having to do with both noble causes and popular causes. As the aristocracy continued its rule, the people demanded privilege after privilege, soon making the senate theoretically the supreme power of the state. The senate became more and more powerful until it controlled the consuls completely. Essentially, this leads to a very corrupt government. According to Tacitus, “Augustus had put the state in order not by making himself king or dictator, but by creating a Principate” (Tacitus, 38). The Principate period was characterized as a time where rulers of the new monarchy that tried their best to preserve aspects of the Roman Republic. This reveals that Augustus was a leader for his people’s concerns and needs rather than a dictator who just wants absolute power and pursue their interests. Augustus brought back a sense of dignity and nobility from being on the senate by decreasing the number of people on the senate, as well as taking away provincial powers. He appointed capable people, no matter what their family background, to areas of responsibility as well as get rid of corrupt administrators. Augustus writes in ‘Res Gestae’ how he “increased the number of patricians by command of the people and senate when consul for the fifth time” and “revised the membership of the senate three times” (Augustus, 66). This shows that Augustus was willing to revise the court system so that people can be assured of greater justice. He was not corrupt and did not seek for just absolute power; instead, he was willing to ensure that his people had a fair government and the right to receive justice. Not only did he improve the government, but he also corrected many ill practices. To avoid crime like behaviors, he issued “posts of soldiers in suitable stations” (Suetonius, 93). This police force helped rid the city of criminal elements and any violence. By establishing these security forces to get rid of brigands and thieves who attacked and kidnapped people, Augustus made travel in Italy safer.

Augustus’ military career sets him apart as a leader. He was the first Roman to create a professional standing army in which he put to good use in expanding the empire with campaigns in Spain, North Africa, and Germany. Before Augustus formed his standing army, he had to conquer Mark Antony and Cleopatra in the battle of Actium. Mark Antony who was married to Augustus’ sister Octavia divorced her and formed a romantic alliance with Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt. In retaliation, Augustus declared war on both of them. After the civil war between Augustus and Mark, there were around 60 legions of soldiers in the Roman army. This large of an army was too much of an expense to keep around and would be impossible to employ usefully. Augustus’s response to this problem was to release around 300,000 troops and give the land grants. The total amount of money which “he gave to the discharged soldiers was 600,000,000 denarii” (Augustus, 100). Additional to these forces, there was a similar number of auxiliary troops. Augustus also reformed the length of time a soldier serves, increasing it from six to twelve years. Under the Republican legions, Augustus created a professional standing army with legions becoming permanent units composed of career soldiers. Under the late Republic, a Roman citizen could legally be required to serve a maximum of sixteen years in the legions. With this professional, highly trained army, Augustus was able to add more land to the Roman empire than any single individual. According to ‘Res Gestae’, Augustus “settled colonies of soldiers in Africa, Sicily, Macedonia, both Spains, Achea…” (Augustus, 92). Augustus names in ‘Res Gestae’ the provinces which he added to the empire. The list is very extensive and he brought more territory within the dominion of the Roman state than any other: Egypt, northern Spain, the Alpine lands, Raetia, Pannonia, Moesia, etc. This shows that Augustus’s skill at using the military as an unbeatable force and expanding the land was one of his greatest strengths as a leader. From ‘Res Gestae’, it can be seen that Augustus writes mostly about his militaristic accomplishments, especially how he established an army of soldiers and utilized them well to expand the empire. It can be implied here that Augustus wanted to be remembered by his military achievements after his death and that his military capabilities were his unique status.

Some historians may argue that a “principate” is characterized by the reign of a single emperor and suggest the idea of monarchy. They may disagree with the idea that Augustus had a successful career because he influenced the Roman empire with the principate government. The Romans became a republic under the premise that there should never be a single man with too much political power. The Republic was constructed to prevent a new king from returning. However, by the time of Augustus’ accession, the Republic had already become a complete and unmitigated disaster. The disorganized, disunited Senatorial class started to gain more power and take advantage of the power they had within the republic. Augustus’s solution was to constitutionally create a “warlord in chief”, e.g. an emperor. The emperor was the chief military officer of the state and provided stability. Augustus also reorganized the empire and got it under control for the most part. He was able to re-bridge the connection between the lower class and the Senate as well as implemented good policies to keep people away from moral corruption. Without this fix, there could have not been a successful Roman empire for centuries after. Essentially, Augustus’ successful career as princep of Rome played a fundamental role in the Roman empire. Augustus was able to fix a lot of the problems that plagued and ultimately led to the collapse of the Roman republic. As seen in ‘Res Gestae’ by Augustus, ‘The Annals of Imperial Rome’ by Tacitus, and ‘Suetonius’ Life of Augustus’, Augustus’ career as Princeps of Rome was very successful because he reorganized Rome and made changes to public facilities, changed the way of life for Romans through reformed imperial institutions and administrative changes, and established a Roman standing army to expand the empire.

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Augustus’ Career as Princeps of Rome. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from
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