Did Augustus restore the Roman Republic in 27BC? Julius Caesar is perhaps the most well known in the history of Roman Emperors, yet there is no denying that his reign was filled with controversy, no reason more so than his devious rise to power and his mischievous ways of suppressing the senate. There is no doubt that in ruling as a Dictator; Caesar lost the support of the Roman people, who had fought for freedom against an Etruscan King, a role in which Caesar was playing.
His death in 44BC coincided with what many believe to be the year in which the Republic completely its eventual ‘fall’ that it had been plummeting to since 133BC, and it is only by looking at the differences in the end of his reign to that of Augustus’ in 27BC that we can get a true idea of the extent to which he restored the Republic. Rome in 27BC and the years following, was more like a Republic in the people’s eyes, than it had been in other a 100 years, and Octavian as Augustus was at the forefront of this.
Nevertheless, one has to assess to what extent Rome was once again a Republican state, as Augustus possessed many, if not even more, of the same powers that Julius Caesar had at his disposal, and that is the reason others say that he was similar, if not more of a Dictator than Caesar was, yet achieved power and support from those around him with them believing he was solely attempting to restore Rome to its Republican form. Augustus himself believed he was owed a lot by Rome for his achievements while the city was under his unofficial command. Engraved on two bronze pillars in Rome, Augustus portrayed his ‘divine’ achievements.
In section 34, he focuses specifically on 27BC, he states how he gave control of Rome back to its people and, in essence, restoring the republic to the way they wanted it. To add to this, under the name Octavian, he had already extinguished Civil Wars, and defeated Marc Anthony and Cleopatra in battle. Yet, as stated above, to recognize the true extent to which he restores the republic in 27BC, the causes of its decline and a conclusion of the state of Rome in that time must be distinguished. The fall of the Republic can be summed up in four main steps gathered between the years 133BC to 44Bc.
First and foremost, the rise of popular tribunes caused a problem. The Gracchus brothers exploited the powers of the Plebeian tribuneship to seize power in Rome. This was the beginning of the Republics decline as though they had the most power in Rome, their political followings were not very popular, and consequently, it resulted in them both being killed through urban mob violence fomented by the aristocracy. Following this, the rise of private armies contributed to the Republics decline. Roman generals where now trying to recruit private armies who were more loyal to themselves than they were to that of the state.
As a result of the increase of private armies was the first Civil War. The victor of this Civil War, Sulla, claimed in light of his victory that he would attempt to impose a reactionary political reform as ‘Dictator vei publicae constituendae’ – Dictator for the purpose of restoring the Republic, which suggests that even then the Republic was in a bad way. Yet contrary to his initial belief the title of Dictator went against what the Romans were looking for in their Republic. 59BC saw the first triumvirate in Roman history, with three men joining together, combining their influence to seize complete power in Rome, Pompey, Crassus and Caesar.
Though it was perceived at first that all were willing to share power, individually they each wanted to rule as a sole dictator. All were in powerful positions, yet no one had gained full popularity. Pompey had his own loyal private army but was incapable of delivering on his promises of land, among other things. Crassus meanwhile had managed to benefit from Sulla’s rise to power, and became the richest man throughout Rome, yet was widely unpopular among all the Roman citizens because he nullified all of the civil rights, and used the state to confiscate all of their property.
Even though he was extremely unpopular, being in possession of the wealth he was, he was able to buy his way through the senate to the height of power. Caesar had majestically rose to power, partaking in every major position there was, using his political ingenious in his attempt to gain full control of Rome. After Crassus had died in battle, and Caesars’ army defeated and killed Pompey, he was quick to mop up all his opposition from the senate and the oligarchs across the Mediterranean and throughout Rome, in his first step to his dictatorship, his dictatorship being the final step to the republics decline.
After defeating all of his enemies, Julius Caesar was granted a 10-year dictatorship for purposes of restoring the republic, similar to the title that Sulla had granted himself many years previous. However he constituted himself as the Divine King or Ruler of Rome, essentially a REX, yet as said before, since the founding of the Republic, the Romans prided themselves on freedom from the Etruscan King, and just the term ‘King’ went against the republic mentality.
Eventually killed in plot involving over 60 senators, the death of Caesar concluded the decline of the Republic. Looking at the state of the Republic when Octavian took over, too when he died as Augustus in 14AD is how we will know whether or not if he restored it or not. While Octavian he was, military wise, very successful, so successful in fact that people where scarred to oppose him in almost every situation, his victory over Marc Anthony and Cleopatra being highlighted as his greatest.
After he had defeated Marc Anthony and Cleopatra, Octavian was in a position to rule the entire republic under an unofficial principate, yet it is more than likely that he would have suffered the same fate as that of his predecessor, Julius Caesar, especially if he had of appeared to be a new REX. But by not doing so he gained not only support from the public but from the senate also. Octavian’s name had been linked and related to a short reign of violence and terror, in his suppressing of threats to the Republic, however, 27BC saw his name be changed to Augustus, meaning ‘the great’ or ‘magnificent one’.
Augustus also received the title ‘Princep’, which when used in the days of the republic stood for those who served the republic well. The argument that he served the republic well is better summed up with evidence from 20BC. In his failure to encourage the senate to finance the building of new roads, he decided the need to build them was so great that he financed them himself. The senate offered him a 10 year period of control over the provinces, which while faking reluctance, he accepted. The command of these provinces basically gave him control over all of the Roman legions.
Augustus’ objective of achieving peace by using the provinces he controlled was seen as acceptable by the Roman public, in a time of crisis and instability. Many believe that Augustus did generally want to restore Rome to its proper Republic form and perhaps the best example and reason for those who argue he was responsible for restoring the republic, is the contents of his first settlement. In this, one of the first things he did was to renounce all of the powers he had accumulated as Octavian, and he gave to the Senate full power of the provinces such as Gaul and Spain.
In giving up all these powers, and the provinces, he also gave up his ‘private’ army that had been loyal to him. This portrayed him as not wanting full power or to open up a new dictatorship. It can also be argued that he restored the republic because he gave the citizens of Rome all their rights back and got them on side. Though it is common belief that he did restore the republic, there is the argument that he did so in an attempt to gain full power of Rome but with having more support than his uncle Julius Caesar did.
Even though he did give full power back to the senate, he did so knowing the trouble and threats the Parthians and so he knew that he would be asked to take charge and lead the provinces once again, because of his illustrious record under the name of Octavian. Yet by still giving the powers back to the senate, it would be a decision that they would make, to reinstate him with more powers, once again reiterating that he did not want to rule as a dictator, regardless of if he did or not. By gaining lots of popularity, he was able to ensure that he didn’t get betrayed like his uncle Caesar did.
He also made the transaction of strong military commander to leader of Rome very smoothly, as he eliminated all his close political enemies under the name of Octavian. He furthermore strengthened his powers by rewarding the active soldiers and veterans alike with acres of land that he purchased himself with his own funds, hence retaining their loyalty. For those who say he just wanted power, they are supported by the fact under the consulship of Augustus; the Senate had little power in initiating legislation, by introducing bills for senatorial debate.
Its argued that he was not aiming to restore the republic whatsoever, but in fact seeking to take full control of Rome, yet this can actually be immediately countered as contrary to those beliefs, it is believed that the brunt of Augustus’ powers derived from various powers of office delegated to him by the senate. He was also able to convince the public that he was aiming for a democratic state as he gained the support and loyalty of the army by awarding them, and in essence the control of the army meant that Augustus still had a vast ajority of the power within Rome, yet by having the influence of the army on his side, no one would speak out against him. The senate knew the financial wealth that Augustus was in possession of, and although deep down they knew that they were in essence granting him even more control of Rome, the influence of his money along with his political power, convinced the whole senate that it was for the best that they enriched him with more control over the proceedings of Rome. They were served right as well, with Augustus establishing new buildings on the Campus Martius and the introduction of new statues on the Roman Forum.
Not only did he do this though, but also he built more buildings, such as basilicas, shops and houses, that would serve the public and inhabitants of Rome well. Augustus’ wealth proved crucial in his quest for power and for restoring the republic to the way the Roman people wanted it, as it was to vast, that not many people could risk going against him as if they did, then many of them would worry about their careers because many of the jobs that were available in Rome at that time, were funded by the finances of Augustus.
Moreover, though those who say he did not restore the republic have valid points, such as the amount of power he came to have, and the infinite amount of control he held throughout Rome, it is without doubt that the Roman people of the time were perhaps not as bothered about his reign than they were for the likes of Julius Caesar, or similar rulers who attempted a dictatorship. This is possibly down to the fact that they were pleased with the measures of peace and stability that came as a result of Augustus, as Octavian, removing all political threats, and ending the Civil Wars that had haunted Rome since the Republic began to fall.
The debate whether Augustus restored the republic in 27BC is a complex one, to which there is no simple yes or no answer. The death of Julius Caesar in 44BC as a result of a plot by sixty plus senators is proof as to of how far the republic actually fell since 133BC, and the mere fact that his successor, Augustus, did not suffer the same fate gives reason to suggest that during his time as the biggest power in Rome he somewhat restored the republic.
In 27BC, Augustus gave all his powers back to the senate in an act of humility and recognition that his efforts of restoring the republic to Rome were successful. He had helped the Roman citizens receive the civil rights that they had lost during the reigns of Sulla and Caesar, and he had built many structures that enhanced the everyday Roman inhabitants lives.
All the evidence points towards restoring the republic, however there are those who believe in restoring it, he only ensured himself more power and in actual fact ruled more like a dictator behind closed doors, hiding his role as sole commander behind the powers he knew he would be granted by the senate due to his extremely successful record when in control of the provinces he inherited from the trimuve of Crassus, Caesar and Pompey. Also his financial prowess basically meant that the senate could ill afford to lose his support and with it the cash flow he would bring along with him.
Yet if any conclusion can be drawn from the question, then it has to be that Rome was much more of a republic under the rule of Augustus than it had been under anyone else for more than a hundred years. Regardless if he was running things on his own behind the cover of his popularity in the senate, Rome was a much more peaceful and stable state under Augustus and to those who argue otherwise that he was acting in an act for sole power, then they can be countered by Augustus himself in his divine achievements where he states Bibliography Res Gestae Divi Augusti, Brunt and Moore RG 34
Cassius Dio, Bk. 52 and 53 Suetonius, Life of Augustus, The Twelve Caesars. Eck, W, 1998, The Age of Augustus, tr. by Schneider, D. L, 2003, Blackwell Publishing Eder, W. 2005. ‘Augustus and the Power of Tradition’, in Galinsky 2005, 13-32 Lacey, W. 1996. Augustus and the Principate. The evolution of the system. McDermott, W. C, Augustus, The Classical Weekly Vol. 32, No. 4, Oct 31 1938: p42 Millar, F. and Segal, E. 1984. Caesar Augustus. Seven Aspects. Raaflaub, K. and Toher, M. 1990. Between Republic and empire. Interpretations of Augustus and his Principate. Syme, R. 1939.
The Roman Revolution. 2002 ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Cassius Dio, Augustan Rome, 53. 3-10 [ 2 ]. Res Gestae Divi Augusti, Brunt and Moore RG 34 [ 3 ]. McDermott, W. C, Augustus, The Classical Weekly Vol. 32, No. 4, Oct 31 1938 [ 4 ]. Syme, R. 1939. The Roman Revolution. 2002 [ 5 ]. Syme, R. 1939. The Roman Revolution. 2002 [ 6 ]. Suetonius, Life of Augustus, The Twelve Caesars [ 7 ]. Eck, W, 1998, The Age of Augustus, tr. by Schneider, D. L, 2003, Blackwell Publishing [ 8 ]. Eder, W. 2005. ‘Augustus and the Power of Tradition’, in Galinsky 2005