Chapter 6: The Roman Empire
The age of Augustus (31 B.C. – A.D. 14)
In 27 B.C., Octavian proclaimed the restoration of the Republic to appease the senatorial aristocracy. The Senate awarded him the title of Augustus (revered one). He preferred the title princeps meaning chief citizen and established the principate – a constitutional monarch with the senate as co-ruler. This compromise made the senate very happy. In reality, he held the real power.
A. The New Order
Under the new constitutional order, the basic government structure consisted of the princeps and an aristocratic senate which remained the chief deliberative body of the Rome. The decrees initiated by the Senate were screened in advance by the princeps. Augustus held the office of consul until 23 B.C. when he assumed the power of a tribune which gave him power to propose laws and veto any item of public business. By observing proper legal procedure, Augustus became very popular.
1. The Military
Augustus maintained a standing army of 28 legions – about 150,000 men. The military guarded the frontiers and also participated in maintaining domestic order within the provinces. Roman legions were recruited from citizens from Italy. He also maintained an auxiliary force of 130,000 men recruited mainly from the subject peoples. He also established the praetorian guard (about 9,000 men) as body guards of the princeps. Augustus was proclaimed imperator (emperor) after each victorious campaign though he continued to refer himself as the princeps.
2. Roman Provinces and Frontiers
Under the Republic, the Senate appointed the provincial governors while certain provinces were allotted to the princeps who then assigned deputies (legates) to govern them. As his prestige grew, Augustus became powerful enough to overrule the senatorial governors and establish a uniform imperial policy.
After stabilizing the Roman frontiers, Augustus conquered the central and maritime Alps and further expanded to the Balkan peninsula up to the Danube River. His attempt to conquer Germany failed in 9 A.D. when three Roman legions under Varus were massacred in the Teutoburg Forest by a coalition of German tribes. The defeat taught him a lesson that he could have unlimited victories.
B. Augustan Society
Roman citizens were divided into three basic classes – senators, equestrian, and lower classes. The senators filled the chief magistracies and most important military posts, and governed the provinces. One needed property worth one million sesterces to belong to the senatorial order. The equestrian order was open to all Roman citizens of good standing who possessed property valued at 400,000 sesterces. They could hold military and government offices of less important than those of the senators.
The lower classes made up the overwhelming majority of the free citizens. Many of these people were given free grain and public spectacle to prevent them from creating disturbances. However, by gaining wealth and serving as lower officers in the Roman legions, they could advance to the equestrian order.
Augustus believed that Roman morals were corrupted by Greek culture during the late Republic. He thought that indulgence in luxuries had undermined traditional Roman frugality and simplicity and led to the loosening of morals as evidenced by easy divorces, falling birth rate among the upper classes, and lax behavior manifested in hedonistic parties and love affairs of prominent Romans with fashionable women and elegant boys.
Through his new social legislation, Augustus hoped to restore respectability to the upper classes and reverse the declining birth rate. Lavish feasts were curtailed and adultery became a criminal offence. Augustus’ own daughter, Julia, was exiled for adultery. He also revised the tax law to penalize bachelors, widowers, and married persons who had fewer than three children.
C. The Augustan Age
Augustus died in A.D. 14 after dominating the Roman world...
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