by Robert Hamilton

In this essay I will be analysing whether Augustus’ achievement of power was in the same vein as his predecessors, during the Roman Republic between 133 BC  and AD 14. I will be providing examples from ancient sources, and modern historians, which will convey some of the similarities between the rise of Roman leaders in the past and Augustus’ achievement of power; and also highlighting the contrasts.  I will also be looking at aspects of how Augustus was different and what had changed in Rome for the power elite.

In drawing upon Augustus’ ownRes Gestae Divi Augusti,  we have both a direct ancient source and a possible piece of propaganda.[1] This very long list of achievements and expenses, reads to me like the work of an accountant, as much as that of a glorious leader, and is self authored in a very particular style.  I think Augustus’ approach to governing was very much a culmination of his father’s fate and the fate’s of Pompeius Magnus, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Gaius Marius, and many of those Roman noble elites -who having reached the top were then eventually cut down by the Senate or a competitor.

Continued in Roman and Greek History by Robert Hamilton

©Robert Hamilton

[1]“ The achievements of divus Augustus, by which he subdued the world to the imperium of the Roman people, and the expenses, which he incurred for the res publica and people of Rome, as engraved upon two bronze pillars which have been set up at Rome, are copied below.” Res Gestae Divi Augusti (trans. E.A.Judge)

[2]  “When nineteen years old, I raised the army, by my private decision and at private expense, by

which I vindicated (sc. forcibly reasserted) the liberty of the res publica when it was suppressed by the

domination of a faction (Greek: ‘enslaved to conspirators’).” 1(1)Res Gestae Divi Augusti (trans. E.A.Judge)

[3] “Octavian was busy appealing to Caesar’s veterans and by his own efforts without any legal authority raised a considerable force and even won over two of Antony’s legions that were back from Macedonia: the magic of Caesar’s name was Octavian’s talisman.” P-156  From The Gracchi To Nero, Scullard. H.H


[4]  “Those who butchered my parent I drove into exile, avenging their deed in courts established by law,

and subsequently, when they were waging war on the res publica, I defeated them twice in battle.” 2 Res Gestae Divi Augusti (trans. E.A.Judge)


[5] “After this Pompey, who was only twenty-three year old and had never been appointed general by anyone, appointed himself to the command.” 6- Life of Pompey, Plutarch.

[6] “At the news of these victories the senate in Rome decreed sacrifices to the gods and public holidays and festivals to last for fifteen days – a longer period than had ever before been devoted to the celebrations of any victory.” 21- Life of Caesar, Plutarch.

[7] “And when the horsemen drew near, they leaped to the ground and greeted Marius with the good tidings that he had been elected consul for the fifth time.” 22- Life of Marius, Plutarch.

[8] “About the same time the senate resolved to destroy Carthage, rather because the Romans were ready to believe any rumour concerning the Carthaginians, than because the reports were credible. Accordingly at this same time Scipio Aemilianus was elected consul, though but a candidate for the aedileship. He was a man whose virtues resembled those of his grandfather, Publius Africanus, and of his father Lucius Paulus (he was, as has been already said, the son of Paulus, and had been adopted by the son of Publius Scipio) – endowed with all the qualities essential to a good soldier and a good citizen, the most eminent man of his day both in native ability and acquired knowledge, who in his whole life was guilty of no act, word, or thought that was not praiseworthy.” Velleius Paterculus 1.12.2-3 (Loeb trans.)


[9] “Candidates for office came to get his backing and after bribing the people with the money which he gave them, won their elections and went on to do everything likely to increase his power.” 21- Life of Caesar, Plutarch.


[10] “Here he fixed his quarters and employed his time in political intrigues. Many people came to see him and he gave each one what he wanted; everyone left him with something in hand for the present  and with hopes for more in the future.” 20- Life of Caesar, Plutarch.

[11] “But what made Caesar most openly and mortally hated was his passion to be made king.” 60- Life of Caesar, Plutarch.

[12]  “The dictatorship offered to me both in my absence and in my presence both by the people and by

the senate in the consulship of M. Marcellus and L. Arruntius (= 22 B.C.) I did not accept. (2) I did not

beg to be excused, during an extreme shortage of grain, from the responsibility for the corn-supply,

which I managed in such a way that within a few days I freed the total citizen-body from alarm and

immediate peril by my own expense and responsibility. (3) The consulship also, offered to me on that

occasion on an annual and perpetual basis, I did not accept.” 5(1)Res Gestae Divi Augusti (trans. E.A.Judge)


[13] “He secretly sent to Cicero agents of his to do all they could to persuade him to obtain the consulship for them both; they were to say that, once in office, Cicero should arrane matters just as he thought best and should direct in everything the conduct of his young colleague, whose one desire was glory and a good name.” 45- Life of Cicero, Plutarch.


[14] “Apart altogether from the massacres, the rest of Sulla’s conduct also caused offence. He proclaimed himself dictator, thus reviving a type of authority which had not been used for the last 120 years.” 33- Life of Sulla. Plutarch.

[15] “After that time in authority I stood ahead of all, while of control I had in no way more than the rest,

who with me in each magistracy were colleagues.” (3)Res Gestae Divi Augusti (trans. E.A.Judge)


[16] “This is the man promised to you so often: Augustus Caesar, son of the deified Caesar, who will create a Golden Age once more in the fields where Saturn once was king, and extend the empire past the Libyans and the Indians, to a land outside the zodiac’s belt outside the elliptic of the sun and the year, where Atlas, the sky-bearer, turns the sphere, set with shining stars, on his shoulders.” Lines 789-795 Aeneid, Virgil.

[17] “Janus Quirinus, which our ancestors desired to be closed when throughout the whole empire of the

Roman people by land and by sea peace had been established by victories, though prior to my being

born from the foundation of the city it has been handed down to memory that it had been closed twice

altogether, the senate resolved should be closed three times while I was the leader.” 13 Res Gestae Divi Augusti (trans. E.A.Judge)



[18] ” Scipio did all that they directed, and instituted sacrifices and games to the gods

for the victory. When all was finished, he sailed for home and was awarded the most glorious triumph that had

ever been known, splendid with gold and crowned with all the statues and votive offerings that the

Carthaginians had gathered from all parts of the world during their long period of continuous victories.” (vi) Appian, Punic Wars.

[19] “After the shows a census of the people was taken. The old lists had contained 320 000 names: now there were only 150 000 – a measure of the disaster caused by the civil wars and of the great loss suffered by the people of Rome.” 55- Life of Caesar, Plutarch.



[20] “To the Roman plebs on an individual basis three hundred sestertii each did I pay under the will of

my father and in my name four hundred sestertii each from the spoils of war when consul for the fifth

time (= 29 B.C.) I gave, while for the second time in my tenth consulship (= 24 B.C.) out of my

patrimony a largesse of four hundred sestertii each on an individual basis I paid out, and when consul

for the eleventh time (= 23 B.C.) twelve grain-allowances with grain privately bought I measured out,

and when with tribunician power for the twelfth time (= 11 B.C.) four hundred nummi each for the third

time on an individual basis did I give. Which largesses of mine extended to never less than two

hundred and fifty thousand people. (2) When of tribunician power for the eighteenth and consul for the

12th time (= 5 B.C.) to three hundred and twenty thousand of the urban plebs sixty denarii each on an

individual basis did I give. (3) And to the colonists who had been my soldiers, when consul for the

fifth time (= 29 B.C.), from the spoils of war on an individual basis single lots of one thousand nummi

did I give; there accepted this triumphal largesse in the colonies about one hundred and twenty

thousand people. (4) When consul for the thirteenth time (= 2 B.C.) sixty denarii each to the plebs who

were at that time receiving public grain did I give; that was a little more than two hundred thousand

people.” 15(1) Res Gestae Divi Augusti (trans. E.A.Judge)


[21] “This dutiful aspect of Augustus’ great ancestor was a feature of Augustus’ new forum, a veritable showcase of Roman leadership.41 On the face of it, Augustus chose to look backwards; he wanted to be judged by the standards of the past—thus, his own parade of heroes in the Forum Augusti to echo that of Virgil in Aeneid 6.42.” Augustus and the Evolution of Roman Concepts of Leadership Hillard. Tom.

[22] “Most will agree with the observation that Augustus was a master of what shall we call it? Spin? There will be disagreement as to the integrity of his claims. I prefer to follow the teachings of Edwin Judge that Augustus was so much in control of language that he could bend its specificity to say precisely what he wanted to say and to say what could not be gainsaid.” Augustus and the Evolution of Roman Concepts of Leadership Hillard. Tom.


[23] 15(2) Res Gestae Divi Augusti (trans. E.A.Judge)


[24] “ Their lectio (perhaps in 29, before the census of 28) reduced the senators from 1000 to 800, and Ocatavian’s name was placed at the head of the list as Princeps Senatus.” P-210 From The Gracchi To Nero, Scullard. H.H

[25] “And whereas he commanded some twenty legions in his provincial, the three proconsuls had only some five or six.”

P-211  From The Gracchi To Nero, Scullard. H.H


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