After the fall of the Roman Republic, Rome was in need of a leader who would employ major social change. During Augustus' reign in Ancient Rome, he created an Empire that would last several centuries. Augustus implemented many changes that transformed Rome in terms of the religion, the economy and social life. After the fall of the Republic, the political structure was a mess and was in dire need of change. It became apparent that the system of government that had been in effect for the last four centuries was no longer efficient and had become corrupt. In Book I of The Annals written by Tacitus, he begins by discussing the end of the Republic and that state that the government was in. “...the protection of the laws was unavailing, as they were continually deranged by violence, intrigue, and finally by corruption.”1 The failure of the Republic cannot be blamed solely on one person or on one event but rather on a series of events that had dire consequences. One of the main contributing factors to the Republic's demise was the complexity of the system. This is confirmed by Scott Gordon who wrote, "the Republic...was a system operating with a complex set of political and social institutions and established tradition".2 Before Augustus, the organization of the political structure was intricately and delicately designed to fit together; if one part was disturbed, the entire system suffered After Augustus, the structure of the government was uncomplicated, as it is a system based on a hierarchy with one central seat of sovereignty3. After continuous changes in the governmental structure, the foundations of the Republic began to crumble. The position of power in Rome was constantly shifting; first it was run by a Republican government, followed by a dictatorship, and then, with Augustus' reforms, was taken over by the Principate. Augustus chose to introduce the Principate in order to achieve the political stability that the failing Republic needed so desperately after the devastating civil wars.
In ancient Rome, religion was a fundamental institution. Like Greece, ancient Roman society was polytheistic, meaning they worshiped several deities rather than one. The earliest form of Roman religion is recognized today as “animism”.4 Essentially, animism is the attribution of a spirit to a inanimate object.5 Each of these deities had a very specific sphere of influence. Augustine of Hippo was a critic of state religion, and in City of God, mockingly (yet accurately) provides a detailed account of the different deities. “They were not willing to entrust the care of all their land to just one deity...nor could they find just one goddess...to whom they could entrust their grain crops once and for all.”6 Augustine continues to explain that the Romans worshiped three gods who guarded the entrance to their homes, as well as four different gods were assigned to differing shapes of land. The earliest gods that are thought to have emerged in Rome are the gods of war, law, and production, also known as Jupiter, Juno and Minerva; together these three made up the Capitoline triad.7 Highly influenced, and with a growing association with the Greek Gods, Roman gods assumed similar mythological characteristics.8 These gods were not merely absorbed into their culture, but instead were identified with attributes of their own Roman gods.9 The reign of Augustus was a period of restoration. Along with other institutions, the religious system went under radical reconstruction. Augustus reinstated forgotten rituals, as well as restored traditional cults and ruined temples.10 Augustus himself provides a detailed account of all of his achievements entitled The Deeds of the Divine Augustus. Augustus proudly writes “in my sixth consulship, on the authority of the Senate, I rebuilt eighty-two temples of the gods in the city omitting none which should have been rebuilt at that time.”11 A crucial religious change that took place in the early Principate, was the development of rituals that concentrated specifically on Augustus. These rituals are generally seen as the foundations of the ‘Imperial Cult.’12 The most important factor within the Imperial Cult was the divinity of the emperor. While Augustus did not claim himself to be directly divine, he did claim the divinity of Rome with the worship of himself13. Augustus forbade any sort of formal worship in Rome, but did allow the worship cults of his genius or numen.14 The divine powers of Augustus, or numen, were honored on a regular basis.15 The establishment of this official cult signaled that Augustus was not receiving worship due to the gods, but at the same time signaled that there was very little difference between him and the gods.16 During the Augustan period, many changes were made within the religious structure. The entire institution of religion was transformed into an Imperial Cult that was focused on dedications to Augustus himself, and upon his death, was he promoted to divine status.
During the Roman Republic and well through the Roman Empire, the Roman market was principally based on slave importation, trade and commerce. Foreign conquests and wars made slaves increasingly abundant and inexpensive17, therefore causing the economy to develop a reliance on slavery. However, at the end of the wars, the supply of slaves from abroad was lessened considerably.18 Another problem in regards to slavery, was that of informal manumission. Augustus fixed this problem with a series of laws that places restrictions on the freeing of slaves. First, in 17 B.C., Augustus placed legal restrictions on the children of informally manumitted slaves by allowing them to be free-born, but restricting their ability to attain land.19 Then in 2 B.C., He limited the number of slaves a master could free, and finally four years later, made it illegal for a master to free a slave during his lifetime (but could do so in his will, if he wished).20Augustus was not the only one to object to manumission. Dionysius, a Greek rhetorician, opposed to manumission not because of the high demand of slaves, but because of their moral character. Dionysius believed that the manumission of slaves would increase the crime rate in Rome. “...Others who are witnesses or even accomplices to their masters in...murders, in crimes...receive from their masters freedom as a favor or reward.”21 Augustus’ legislation was designed to keep the slave trade in check, as well as create a greater demand for free labour. The Roman Empire was started and continued on as a free trade society.22 Like Caesar, Augustus understood the potential in world-wide free trade with Rome at the centre.23 The economic prosperity that was seen by Rome was caused by several contributing factors. First of all, there was a rise in the middle classes, the bankers, merchants, and industrialists, who began to influence the state. 24 Another contribution was the new roads which made trade much easier. Augustus took special care of the roads by setting up a special commission for the main highways.25 Augustus’ main objective was clear and defined from the beginning as one of restoration and reconstruction. The new state that he worked so hard to build, was a redevelopment of the traditional Republican model, but in many ways, was an improved and better functioning version.
In the Roman Empire, Augustus made several important reforms in society. Augustus’ sole purpose in his reforms was the restoration of tradition.26 Life in the Republic had become corrupt, and Augustus wanted to see a major social change. In his attempt to do so, he established several laws. First of all, because of the greed and corruption in the Senate, Augustus instituted requirements in order to gain entry into the Senatorial class. In order to reform the Senatorial order, one must have had served a term of military service, property requirements worth 200,000 denarii (eventually raised to 250,00) as well as personal integrity.27 Another way in which Augustus attempted to reestablish tradition into Roman society, was through laws regarding marriage, fertility, and fidelity. Augustus, concerned about the declining birth rate, promoted a piece of legislation that encourage people to have large families, called the Julian Laws, passed in 18 B.C.28 This legislation was largely unpopular and therefore unsuccessful, especially among the middle classes.29 These laws were established to correct the failing institution of marriage, making it more difficult to divorce, provided harsh punishments for adultery and seduction, and provided privileges to large families.30 Dio Cassius discusses these laws in Roman History. “Augustus placed heavier penalties on unmarried men and on woman without husbands. On the other hand, he offered rewards for marriages and for having children.”31 Furthermore, in A.D. 9, Augustus passed the Papia-Poppaean Laws which, according to Tacitus in Annals, supplemented the Julian Laws to encourage the penalties on celibacy.32 While Augustus’ reforms were not very successful, his efforts respected. These laws were respected so much, that they were kept intact for three hundred years, eventually becoming more relaxed.33 However indirect, Augustus’ impact on Roman society during the first century A.D. is quite clear.
During the transition of the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire, Augustus made major social changes that transform Roman society. These changes were necessary due to the lack of congruity that was a result of the complex system that ruled the Republic.