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Octavia

Augustus, good or bad emperor?

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You're right .... they could have eventually mobilized some more legions and tried again. Why didn't they, except for some revenge expeditions by Tiberius and Germanicus?

 

 

Probably because they weren't worth it. The Germans were less developed economically and culturally than the Celts, and arguably more dangerous. This made the economics of conquest very unprofitable. The Germans were at an agricultural level barely above scratching the soil with a stick, and the further the Romans pentrated into Germanic territory, the less likely it was the legions could live off any conquered settements.

 

It made more sense in the long run to simply fortify the borders and deal with the bands of raiders that managed to penetrate. Because the Germans were not in any sense united, they fought amongst each other more than against the Romans (within ten years of the Varus disaster, Arminius was assassinated by his own people and the German tribes were reverting to civil war). Augustus could never have foreseen that 300 years later these groups would have amalgamated into supertribes thanks to the Hunnish migration.

 

Exactly!

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A question pops into my mind. Why didn't Caesar make an attempt on Germania rather than planing an invasion of the East?

 

 

The East was richer. More plunder. Plus they had to avenge the recent defeat of Crassus and the lost of the legion eagles to the Parthians.

 

The east also had definable targets to conquer, objectives such as cities and such. The forests of germany were a deep inpenetrable wilderness which probably didn't look too attractive to roman eyes. Also, there was more kudos to be gained from conquering the civilised east rather than a sodden patch of fir trees. As always, Rome wanted to expand into civilised areas first, in that they would be more amenable to roman luxuries and culture, and had the benefit of an existing infrastructure.

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So, in your view, Tacitus was wrong that there were two views about Augustus? That, in fact, there was only one view--that is, unanimous praise for the butcher of Perusia? That's very difficult to believe. If that's not your view, what alternative interpretation should we be "careful" not to overlook?

 

You're still into Revisionist history Cato? I thought you'd grow out of it eventually. It doesn't matter how Tacitus or some delusional people in Rome felt about Augustus; what matters are the results. Under the great Emperor Augustus, Rome grew out of the petty politics that plagued the late Republic era, and flourished into the greatest empires ever known. Augustus' reign and adminstrative skills triggered the most prosperous era in Roman history, and there is nothing Tacitus can say to alter that.

Edited by tflex

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So, in your view, Tacitus was wrong that there were two views about Augustus? That, in fact, there was only one view--that is, unanimous praise for the butcher of Perusia? That's very difficult to believe. If that's not your view, what alternative interpretation should we be "careful" not to overlook?

 

You're still into Revisionist history Cato? I thought you'd grow out of it eventually. It doesn't matter how Tacitus or some delusional people in Rome felt about Augustus; what matters are the results. Under the great Emperor Augustus, Rome grew out of the petty politics that plagued the late Republic era, and flourished into the greatest empires ever known. Augustus' reign and adminstrative skills triggered the most prosperous era in Roman history, and there is nothing Tacitus can say to alter that.

 

It's still doesn't contradict the fact that some people wasn't satisfied from the autocratic rules of the princeps.

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Augustus' reign and adminstrative skills triggered the most prosperous era in Roman history, and there is nothing Tacitus can say to alter that.

 

Actually, I'm not sure how one defines the comparable prosperity. If everyone was so prosperous during the principate, why the need for such massive grain doles and common monetary donatives? Extreme populism created a dependent population in the process of reducing political conflict. Was it really any different than the conditions immediately after the punic wars that led to massive prosperity for the elite but relative economic stagnation for the common people? Clearly there were many prosperous people in the Augustan era, but the greatest beneficiaries of this prosperity were the same classes it had always been. The "poor" may have received most of their state provided welfare without the political opposition of previous eras, but they still very much existed.

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Augustus' reign and adminstrative skills triggered the most prosperous era in Roman history, and there is nothing Tacitus can say to alter that.

 

Actually, I'm not sure how one defines the comparable prosperity. If everyone was so prosperous during the principate, why the need for such massive grain doles and common monetary donatives? Extreme populism created a dependent population in the process of reducing political conflict. Was it really any different than the conditions immediately after the punic wars that led to massive prosperity for the elite but relative economic stagnation for the common people? Clearly there were many prosperous people in the Augustan era, but the greatest beneficiaries of this prosperity were the same classes it had always been. The "poor" may have received most of their state provided welfare without the political opposition of previous eras, but they still very much existed.

 

Well, the fact that all the civil wars ended, that commerce flourished more than ever before, that the Provincials got better government than ever before, that Rome got a better police force, a better fire department, a better water supply and infrastructure, that the Golden Age of Latin Literature happened under his reign, that more people outside the closed senatorial order, especially the equestrians and the provincial elite, got more offices and improved their status, would imply that the lives of many people improved over that experienced before Actium, would indicate the fact that it generally improved life for almost all classes of people. The only class that loss ground was the senatorial elite who lost the power to decide the destiny of Rome to the Princeps.

 

It is perfect? No. Was there mass poverty? Yes. But it is certainly better than what there was before.

Edited by Tonifranz

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What a motley bunch of myopia, silly speculation, and outright falsehood.

 

First, Augustus' legacy was not limited to his own reign. By kicking aside a deliberative mechanism of succession (i.e., the vote) for no mechanism whatever (i.e., adoption did not grant imperium), the principate--with its unlimited powers--was always up for grabs, thereby inaugurating centuries of civil war far more brutal and wasteful than any from the republic. Count up the 400 years before the inauguration of the principate and the 400 years after, and you'll find that nearly HALF of all emperors were killed in civil wars and strife, compared to only some 5% of consuls in the republic. Augustus brought an end to one civil war--but his constitution (such as it was) led to many, many more.

 

Second, what evidence is there that Rome got a "better police force and fire department"?? These institutions didn't exist in the ancient world. Moreover, Augustus' one contribution to the water supply--the Aqua Alsietina--produced such undrinkable water that it was mainly used for watering gardens and ancient industrial work like tanning.

 

Third, the quality of literature in the Augustan age is a matter of taste, but Augustus' treatment of the people who actually produced that literature is a matter of record. The greatest of these--like Ovid--were persecuted by Augustus' fascist family values campaign, a program of minute control of the very reproductive freedom of Romans that would not see its equal in totalitarian ambition until the advent of Communism, or were so utterly disgusted by Augustus--like Virgil--that they wanted their work destroyed rather than to be used to marble over the sewage heap of Augustus' legacy.

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Under the great Emperor Augustus, Rome grew out of the petty politics that plagued the late Republic era, and flourished into the greatest empires ever known.

It did nothing of the sort. Rome remained very involved in petty politics and the Julio-Claudian family became extinct with Nero for that very reason. What kept it together was wealth and power of those running the show, and if they couldn't wield any power, then someone who could soon replaced them.

 

Augustus' reign and adminstrative skills triggered the most prosperous era in Roman history, and there is nothing Tacitus can say to alter that.

But I can. There were grain shortages during that period, outbreaks of disease, military reversals, no end of political chicanery and incidents of outright rebellion. For many people, prosperity was a pipedream. Augustus made some clever moves early in his career, aimed at cementing his power and avoiding assassination. Nonetheless, he didn't have it all his own way, and more than once left the senate house with his tail between his legs. It took time for his reign to pull it all together and the quote that 'I found Rome in brick and left it in marble' applies to someone looking back at his life, not someone who changed Rome instantly. Also, Augustus was behaving in a manner very similar to a mafia boss. There was a guy in egypt who came to a sticky end because he had worked toward political advancement without Augustus's approval. Deals done on the quiet, ruthless control and punishment over anyone working his patch, and a public image of respectability. His numerous liaisons with women weren't unusual for roman men - perhaps we don't need to look too closely at that, but look closer at his administrative skills. Augustus had the assistance of able men in the background - he did right from the start by virtue of his family connections - and as a leader its noticeable how easily he panicked. Marc Antony had nothing but contempt for him, the viewpoint of a coarse military man. Augustus lacked the personal courage under fire that Caesar had in spades. Certainly he wasn't afraid to push himself forwards, yet there are instances recorded of Augustus turning tail. At the Siege of Perugia, when he was praying close to wall, a group of gladiators sallied forth and sent him running away. He ran from his first major battle. The defeat at Kalkriese stopped his plans for roman expansion completely. The conclusion is that his followers were supporting his reign. It wasn't only down to Augustus.

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And so, my dear Caldrail, that is why he is reckoned one of the greatest men in history! Well, you and that 'other party' notwithstanding.

Edited by Gaius Octavius

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But thats just it - I don't see him as one of the greatest men in history. His whole reign wasn't about making the empire a better place, it wasn't about reducing poverty, disease, crime, or any other of the ills that Rome suffered. His reign was all about staying in power like so many other dicatorial types have done throughout history. many of the comments made to glorify Augustus have also been made for Saddam Hussein. He did well (no, lets rephrase that, he did very well), but realistically he did no more than any other capable survivor of the civil wars could have achieved - or wanted to achieve.

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His reign was all about staying in power like so many other dicatorial types have done throughout history.

And not just dictatorial types. I read somewhere that Augustus was the greatest politician that ever lived and maybe that is his true legacy. Flatter,cajole and bribe the rivals you can. Ridicule, crush or otherwise marginalize the ones you can not. Give the people bread and circuses and a patriotic hope in something larger than themselves "Imperium sine fine". He always sought to keep the illusion of the Republic and it's institutions alive even after it was long dead. It's brilliant if you can pull it off and it still works today.

Edited by Horatius

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That makes you a success, not a great man. There have been any number of successful dictators around the world throughout history, and I'm sure you could name a few, yet their reputations vary considerably even though their psychology is essentially similar. Augustus has the good fortune to have good press, but I do concede he won a lot of people over as they got used to his reign.

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What a motley bunch of myopia, silly speculation, and outright falsehood.

 

First, Augustus' legacy was not limited to his own reign. By kicking aside a deliberative mechanism of succession (i.e., the vote) for no mechanism whatever (i.e., adoption did not grant imperium), the principate--with its unlimited powers--was always up for grabs, thereby inaugurating centuries of civil war far more brutal and wasteful than any from the republic. Count up the 400 years before the inauguration of the principate and the 400 years after, and you'll find that nearly HALF of all emperors were killed in civil wars and strife, compared to only some 5% of consuls in the republic. Augustus brought an end to one civil war--but his constitution (such as it was) led to many, many more.

 

Second, what evidence is there that Rome got a "better police force and fire department"?? These institutions didn't exist in the ancient world. Moreover, Augustus' one contribution to the water supply--the Aqua Alsietina--produced such undrinkable water that it was mainly used for watering gardens and ancient industrial work like tanning.

 

Third, the quality of literature in the Augustan age is a matter of taste, but Augustus' treatment of the people who actually produced that literature is a matter of record. The greatest of these--like Ovid--were persecuted by Augustus' fascist family values campaign, a program of minute control of the very reproductive freedom of Romans that would not see its equal in totalitarian ambition until the advent of Communism, or were so utterly disgusted by Augustus--like Virgil--that they wanted their work destroyed rather than to be used to marble over the sewage heap of Augustus' legacy.

 

Augustus constitution only produced two brief civil wars in a span of some 250 years from 31 BC to 235 BC, the Year of the Four Emperors, which lasted for only one year, and the struggle after the assassination of Pertinax to the triumph of Severus, about four years. All in all, about five years out of two hundred of open civil war between rival Roman armies. Other incidents, like the assassination of Caligula, only were coups like what happened in Thailand and Thaksin, and didn't lead to much disturbance of the peace. There is reason why Gibbon called the second century as one of the happiest of man.

 

I'll concede the period of 235 to 284 AD as much much worst. But consider the 250 years before that, the same span of time from the adoption of the US Constitution to the present. After 284 BC, it could no longer be called the Augustan constitution, as it was changed much in character by Diocletian.

 

As for the Police and fire protection, well, he did established the Vigiles, which did police work and fight fires, although large fires still threatened to engulf Rome, as it did for several times afterwards.

 

As for Augustan Literature, I'll concede he was harsh on Ovid, but Ovid was not the greatest of the writers. To my mind, and certainly generation after generation of Romans and Westerners, Virgil was the greatest of all Latin Poets. And remember that Augustus and his friend Maecenas actively patronized Virgil and Horace. It was Augustus and Maecenas who patronized and subsidized the works of these two poets. And don't forget Livy, who also wrote during the Augustan era.

 

Augustus has many faults. It is regretful he made the Republic a mere name, and tried to limit his office to his own family. He was cruel, capricious, ruthless and cold. His policy to annex Germany east of the Rhine to the Elbe was unsuccessful. His policy to promote the family was ludicrous.

 

But he was successful in other things, which was already mentioned time and time again, that made him ultimately the greatest of Roman Emperors.

 

But was there ever a Princeps that stood greater than Augustus? None that I know of. Of later Emperors, only Trajan would rival Augustus' reputation with the Roman people, as the saying, "May you be as great Trajan and as fortunate as Augustus," depicts. Among the vast majority of historians, there is even no contest. Most regard Augustus, among all the emperors, as the greatest of them all.

Edited by Tonifranz

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That makes you a success, not a great man. There have been any number of successful dictators around the world throughout history, and I'm sure you could name a few, yet their reputations vary considerably even though their psychology is essentially similar. Augustus has the good fortune to have good press, but I do concede he won a lot of people over as they got used to his reign.

 

What's the similarity between, say, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Peter the Great, Augustus, Kemal Ataturk, Henry VIII, Alexander the Great, Napoleon I, Oliver Cromwell, Seleucus I, Darius I, Philip II of Macedon, Pisastratus the Tyrant, Sulla, Ptolemy I, Antiochus IV, Caesar, and all others like them?

 

They are dictators who used Mafia like techniques, as you may phrase it, to maintain absolute power. They killed, murdered, etc, etc... They had absolute control of their countries, or at least tried to. All those leaders, in their aim, and technique, are like mobsters in control of states.

 

Whats the difference between them?

 

Some are physically brave, like Alexander. Others are cowards in battle, like, as you say, Augustus.

 

Some are great generals, like Alexander, and Philip, Napoleon, and Caesar.

 

Some are great reformers, like Ataturk, Peter the Great, Darius, Cromwell and yes, even Augustus (if only for his reform of provincial government, if nothing else, and the empires finances), and Napoleon I.

 

Some are great administrators, like Darius I, Philip II, Augustus, Ptolemy I.

 

Some leave a great legacy to future generations for hundreds of years, like Peter the Great, Darius, Alexander, Caesar and Augustus.

 

Some left their country in utter ruin, like Hitler and Napoleon, or civil war, like Caesar.

 

Some made a decisive break with the past and changed their country's history, whether or not they want to or not, like Henry VIII, Caesar, Augustus, Peter the Great, Stalin, Sulla, and Cromwell.

 

Some left their countries enlarged in area, like Caesar, Augustus, Sulla, Alexander, Philip, Stalin, Cyrus the Great.

 

Some led their countries into a victorious war with a foreign enemy, like Philip II of Macedon, Alexander, Sulla, Stalin, Ataturk, Napoleon, while some led them into a foreign war only to be defeated, like Hitler, Henry VIII, Antiochus III and IV, and Napoleon

 

Some presided over their country's cultural golden age, like Augustus, or Elizabeth I.

 

Some presided over a long spell of internal peace and prosperity, like Augustus, or Antoninus Pius.

 

Some founded important institutions that endured for a long long time, like Henry VIII, Augustus, Peter the Great, while others crumble at their death or even before their death, like Hitler, Napoleon, and Ahkenaton.

 

This criteria is of course, arbitrary.

 

However, it does underscore my point that the only way to fairly evaluate Augustus as an emperor is to compare him to his peers, the other emperors of Rome, and other leaders of history who wielded great if not absolute control. It is unfair that we levy standards, so perfect, so high, that no one can be judged favorably as a result.

 

How does Augustus measure up to other emperors of the Roman Empire? How does he measure up to the task he set out to do with the tools he had as a disposal?

 

To my mind, in absolute standards, he still accomplished great things, but has serious faults, but in comparison to other emperors and rulers, he truly was a great emperor.

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Yes this all all very interesting reading about oneself... but I have always said I am the greatest Emperor the world has known....

 

Seriously, I will not write an essay on the guy but his tenure was long and his deeds were great. The man needs no further words from me - he is well written about here and elsewhere but I will say he is a man I would DEFINITELY go back in time to meet... no hesitation!!

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