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Early Empire

Augustus' ascendancy as the first Roman Emperor in 27 BC, followed by confirmation of his powers in 23 and 19 BC, marked a clear, irrevocable, yet necessary change in Roman political philosophy. No longer were the Imperators, or ruler generals of the former Republic, in position to challenge Republican constitutional ideals. With the institution of the emperor into figure-head status, along with literal supreme power of the entire Roman world, the social and political squabbles of the old system gave way to new challenges.

The political ills of the Republic were soon to be replaced with royal family intrigue and Praetorian corruption mixed in with the occasional interference of the Senate, which still existed as a governing body, though largely stripped of any real power.

At first, however, Augustus largely avoided these problems through shrewd political manipulation, the overwhelming support of the masses, and complete unadulterated control of the legions. While later successors, especially those within his own Julio-Claudian line, proved themselves incapable or undeserving of their positions, which were granted largely due to family ties, Augustus was the perfect, if not only man capable of settling the civil wars of the former Republic.

The Principate (from the imperial title Princips for 'first among equals') as the early empire was known, was established simply through the brilliance of Augustus, and of course through the efforts of those who supported him. Without him, including his personality, prestige and dignity, along with the ever popular name of Caesar as validation, the Roman nation and all its provinces may have slid into a continual degeneration of political upheaval and civil war. Because of him, this potential and destructive further slide into historical oblivion was avoided, at least for another 5 centuries.

After years of civil war and general instability the entire Roman way of life was in danger of collapse, both internally and from external enemies. Great empires like Parthia challenged Roman authority in the east, while the many individual tribes of places like Germania and even mostly Romanized Hispania provided considerable reason for concern along the frontiers. A final settlement of resistance to Roman rule, which had so easily propped up in the wake of attention given to internal conflicts, was necessary on a fairly wide scale.

Though later in life, Augustus adopted and encouraged a strict imperial strategy of maintaining the status quo of the borders ('Pax Romana'), war and conquest was a necessary strategy from the onset of his reign. Modern day Germany (Germania) Switzerland (Raetia), Austria (Noricum), and the Balkans, (Pannonia and Moesia) were early sources of expansion, and the east, long ruled at least in part by client kings, was in dire need of additional imperial control. Despite these foreign wars which would commence early in his tenure, and a great bloodless victory over Parthia which saw the return of Crassus' lost standards from the battle of Carrhae some 30 years earlier, Augustus was far more than a warrior prince. During his long, stabilizing and prosperous rule, Rome entered into a new golden age where the arts, architecture and literature flourished.

Under Augustus, Rome went through an enlightened period where literature reined supreme within the eternal city. Latin's great poets: Virgil, Horace and Ovid published their brilliant works mostly during the Augustan age, while others like the satirist Petronius, Strabo the geographer, Vitruvius and the invaluable ancient historian Livy contributed their own forms of literature. But the written word was not the only great contribution of the Augustan age. Under his friend and confidant Marcus Vipsanisu Agrippa, Rome received a major face-lift in which it was transformed from a city of brick into a true imperial city of great marble structures, worthy of the title: Capital of the World.

Among those projects undertaken were 3 aqueducts supplying fresh water to the growing city: the Julia, Virgo and Alsietina. The original Pantheon, the great temple of the Roman gods, Agrippa's baths, the Saepta Julia and Augustus' Mausoleum were built as well. Improvements to, or complete replacements were constructed for nearly every public building including courthouses, offices and administrative buildings of all kinds. Perhaps even more importantly, Augustus conducted a major census of the city and provinces, which had long been neglected during the civil wars.

Though he faced many challenges, some devastating, like the loss of 3 legions in the Teutoburger Wald of Germania, Augustus ruled Rome in virtual contrast to all administrations both before and after. Stability and general prosperity ruled the day. Even the urban poor in a vast, sprawling city then exceeding 1 million residents, seemed to have little complaint. Octavian's imperial name of Augustus was not only an honorific title, but proved to be the truest definition of the man who bore it: Imperator Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus Augustus was a man without peer in the ancient world.

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Did you know?

Augustus' control of power throughout the Empire was so absolute that it allowed him to name his successor, a custom that had been abandoned and derided in Rome since the foundation of the Republic.


Early Empire - Related Topic: Roman Emperors


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