Did Augustus Restore the Republic?

Topics: Roman Empire, Augustus, Roman Republic Pages: 8 (2493 words) Published: January 12, 2013

Samuel Francis Kelly


“I transferred the Republic from my power to the dominion of the senate and people of Rome” Did Augustus Restore The Republic?

Augustus clearly made an impression in European history achieving much, conquering many and controlling the majority, he did not restore the republic. Adopting a piecemeal strategy, Augustus gradually silenced potential threats to his ambitions to control the Roman Empire under the semblance of restoring the Republic. Deceitful in masking his intent, Augustus acted as if he was reconstituting the Republic, using this as a device to conceal his intent, creating a model of covert dictatorship, birthing the age of the Roman Emperor, coercing and manipulating the people and senate, revolutionising the underlying power structure of the Roman government.

“I transferred the Republic from my power to the dominion of the senate and people of Rome” Did Augustus Restore The Republic?

The reign of Augustus was a clear turning point in European history with Augustus systematically creating a model of covert dictatorship that was to be followed by subsequent Roman Emperors. Through manipulation, coercion and militaristic strength, Augustus employed a piecemeal strategy that revolutionised the underlying power structure of the Roman government. Under the façade of restoring the republic, Augustus increased his power, wealth and influence, stabilising and establishing a Rome of greater equality, efficiency and profitability than ever before. However, such improvements came at the expense of many civil liberties. Although claimed in the Res Gestae1 Augustus did not restore the republic. He did however; incorporate proven and currently functioning aspects of the old republic, replacing those which had failed and improving upon the historical inadequacies of previous Roman governance. Augustus established the clandestine dictatorial rule that would mark the beginning of the age of the Emperor.

Rome at the outset was a city state under the government of kings2 with dictatorships always a temporary expedient.3 As such, the political climate in which Augustus (then Octavian) entered was one of uncertainty, instability, corruption and discontent. A political structure that required a certain aspect of political delicacy, coercion and in certain areas, an autocratic style of governance for which Octavian was well suited. Although suggested by Cassius, Octavian did not have absolute control4 nor did he require or necessarily aspire for such.

1 2

Augustus RG, 34.1, in Colley, A., 2009, p.98 Tacitus Annals 1.1 3 Tacitus Annals 1.1 4 Dio Cassius, 53.16.1-2

Octavian understood the importance of correcting past failures. In order to efficiently and effectively restore faith in the Roman state he would require power and influence far exceeding that of a position available under the old republican structure. Absolute power was required however; this could not be achieved with public or senatorial awareness. A more deceitful, manipulative method must be adopted in order to achieve such an outcome as overt displays of autocracy traditionally lead to senate resentment in Rome. Hence, control of the senate would initially be required. More importantly, if Octavian was in fact attempting to correct flaws of his predecessors, did he ever consider restoring the republic to its original state? Suetonius claimed he twice thought of restoring the republic5 however, it must be considered that Octavian’s idea of restoring the republic in thought and in planning, differed considerably from that of the old republic. The traditional structure of the republic had worked for a time in the past however, ultimately failed. A new and improved structure was required.

The political delicacy for which Rome’s first Emperor (although never referred as this in his lifetime) was...
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