Discuss Representations Of Augustan Power And The Ways In Which This Power Has Been Portrayed As Beneficial For Rome And The Roman Empire

1860 words - 8 pages

Throughout his rule Augustus, born Gaius Octavius Thurinus, the Emperor of Rome, actively promoted his achievements in inscriptions, works of art and literature. This essay outlines and analyses these representations of Augustan power and the ways in which this power has been portrayed as beneficial for Rome and the Roman Empire.Augustus was adopted by his famous uncle Julius Caesar in 44 BC, and was thenceforth known as Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. Subsequently, after Caesar's assassination, in 44 BC, Octavian united with Mark Antony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus in a military autocracy branded the Second Triumvirate. The Triumvirate was ultimately torn asunder by the hostile ambitions of its members: Lepidus was forced into exile, and Antony chanced upon suicide following his defeat at the Battle of Actium by the armada of Octavian in 31 BC. Subsequently, as Thomson, notes "after the demise of the Second Triumvirate, Octavian restored the outward facade of the Roman Republic, with governmental power vested in the Roman Senate, but in practice retained his autocratic power" (Thomson 2006, 62). It took numerous years to work out the precise framework through which an officially republican state could be led by a solitary ruler; in 27 BC, Augustus became the earliest emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled single-handedly till his death in AD 14.The reign of Augustus was very successful: he "expanded the Roman Empire, secured its boundaries with client states, and made peace with Parthia through diplomacy" (Starr 1954, 55). Further, he transformed the Roman structure of levies and differing taxes, urbanized networks of roads with an authorized courier system, rebuilt the majority of the city, established a standing army and a diminutive navy, set up the Praetorian Guard, and formed official police and fire-fighting services for Rome. This last action underpinned the populist and indeed the public relations aspects of Augustus' rule; he sought to avoid the mistake of his predecessor, Julius Caesar, who projected a god-like image of himself. "Augustus renounced flaunting insignia of power such as holding a sceptre, wearing a diadem, or wearing the golden crown and purple toga of his predecessor Julius Caesar" (Eder 2005, 13) . Ultimately, under the rule of Augustus, Rome emerged with a far more effective and efficient government, underpinned by a stability that had previously been lacking due to the civil war. Linked with stability came an increase in security for the ordinary populace which in turn lead to unprecedented prosperity, a prosperity that played a vital role in forging the strength of the Roman Empire. These achievements, and indeed the Emperor's substantive power, stemmed from financial success and resources gained in conquests, the building of patronage relationships throughout the Empire, the loyalty of many military soldiers and veterans, the authority of the many honours granted by the Senate, and the respect of the people. Overall, the rule of Augustus initiated an era of relative peace known as the Pax Romana, or Roman peace. Despite incessant frontier wars, and the one year-long civil war over the imperial succession, the Mediterranean world stayed at peace for more than two centuries.Augustus was a luminous politician, who utilised the hesitant climate of the time to firmly entrench himself in office, yet at the same time make it appear that he was more than willing to give up all his powers - even going as far as resigning his consulship only for the Senate to grant him yet more extensive powers. Further, "by law, Augustus held a collection of powers granted to him for life by the Senate, including those of tribune of the plebs and censor" (Dio 1987, 153). Importantly, as all successful politicians do, he actively promoted his achievements and successes. Examples abound, so much by that "by 14 AD, his presence dominated every corner of the city, forcefully linking the image of Rome with a single personality" (Favro 1984, 19). Turning to specifics, Augustus wrote a record of his own accomplishments, known as the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, which has survived to the present day. This account of his achievements was to be inscribed in bronze in front of his mausoleum. Copies of the text were inscribed throughout the Empire upon his death. Augustus used a variety of mediums to depict his majestic nature. Utilising such iconography as coins and the Prima Porta Statue, coupled with the Ara Pacis Augusatae - the Altar of Augustus - Augustus portrayed himself as the saviour of Rome. He also claimed that "I raised an army with which I set free the state, which was oppressed by the domination of a faction" (Augustus in Course Guide).As well as inscriptions, art and literature, religion was also utilised to augment Augustus' power. Of course, "the religious distinction of Augustus' position was already great. The emperor was the descendant of divine ancestors who would one day join his forbears in the apotheosis that was to come to him after death" (Taylor 1975,181). However, what eventuated in Augustan Rome is more accurately portrayed as a state sanctioned cult with Augustus as its high priest. Even in Egypt, a newly acquired territory, Augustus was depicted as a God. His portrait appeared on monuments in the guise of the Pharaohs and his statue was erected in all the temples of the land, with his name as the King of Egypt being carved into stone.Furthermore, the poetry of the Augustan period, much like Augustus's own accounts of his achievements glorified Rome and its Emperor. Virgil, the most illustrious poet of the era, presents an Augustus who is nothing short of deified. His 'Parade of Heroes', at the end of Aeneid 6, in which the history of Rome is set forth, is a spectacular example of Augustus apotheosized. "The entire course of Roman history, as it is presented to Aeneas, seems to culminate in the reign of the glorious Augustus" (Virgil, Aeneid VI)Getty (1950, 10) points out that "scholars have frequently discussed the Augustus' relationship with Romulus, the legendary and deified founder of Rome, in the poem, suggesting that Augustus is to be seen as a second founder, another, greater divine champion of Rome" while "others have suggested that this portrayal of Augustus is very similar to the cult worship of Alexander (the Great)" (Bosworth 1999, 14). Furthermore, during his reign a wide range of poems emerged focusing on the battles Augustus endured while also discussing his military might and acumen - even though it is widely acknowledged that Augusts lacked proficient military skills. One epic poem highlights this glorification of Augustus: "On One side Augustus Caesar, high up on the poop, is leading the Italians into battle, the Senate and the people with Him, His home-gods and the great gods; two flames shoot up from his helmet in jubilant light, and his father's star dawns over its crest" (Virgil Aeneid XII).Even after his death in 14 AD, and in furtherance of Roman power, the influence of Augustus was still utilised by the state: his successor, Tiberius, promoted his divinity, with strong support from the Senate which officially recognized him as Divus Augustus, fulfilling what the Roman poets had been claiming all along. The perpetuity of Augustus' celestial status was sustained until the state religion of the Empire was altered to Christianity in 391 by Theodosius I. Succeeding emperors who, of course, were then considered as divine, sought to interpret Augustus's position to benefit Rome and the Empire. Even his names, Augustus and Caesar, were adopted by every subsequent emperor leading to many excellent statues and busts of the first emperor. Indeed, Caesar became the word for Emperor, as in the German Kaiser and in the Bulgarian and subsequently Russian Tsar. A concrete example of the continuing use of the power and glory of Augustus was that the then month of Sextilis was officially renamed August in his honour.To conclude, there can be no doubt that Augustus' reign laid the foundations of a regime that lasted centuries until the eventual decline of the Roman Empire. In fact, Ogilvie argues that "Roman civilisation would have collapsed without Augustus" (Ogilvie 1969, 124). Both his borrowed family name Caesar and his title Augustus became the enduring titles of the ensuing leaders of the Roman Empire. Through carefully crafted politics, Augustus managed to appeal to the populace of Rome, who were crying out for stability after years of civil upheaval. Furthermore, Augustus utilised Julius Caesar's old popularity pedestal, but cautiously avoided the drawbacks which ultimately lead to his renowned uncle's death. Through poetry, literature and iconography, such as coins; through temples, both abroad and at home; through the Prima Porta Statuette and Augustus's legendary exploits, Res Gestae, inscribed on pillars portraying both his military ingenuity coupled with his divinity, Augustus portrayed his growing powers in a way greatly beneficial to Rome and the Empire. His reign changed the political system which both aided the populace for generations to come and at the same time secured his place in the annals of history. For modern observers, the attraction of Augustan Rome lies both with the number and quality of urban projects and with the perceived beneficent absolutism of Augustus himself. Determining the urban image of Rome was an extremely politicized act. The Roman link connecting meaning and place, and between civic buildings and patrons thus inspired Augustus. As his goals and audience transformed with time, so did Rome's urbanized representation.BibliographyAugustus, cited in Course Guide, Citizens, Cults and Emperors: Power and Status in Greece and Rome, 480 BC - 350 CE, 2008, 39.Bosworth, Brian, "Augustus, the Res Gestae and Hellenistic Theories of Apotheosis," The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 89, 1999, 1-18.Cassius, Dio, The Roman History: The Reign of Augustus, Penguin Classics, UK, 1987.Eder, Walter, Augustus and the Power of Tradition, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2005.Favro, Diane G, The urban image of Augustan Rome, Michigan University Press: Ann Arbor, 1984.Getty, Robert J, "Romulus, Roma, and Augustus in the Sixth Book of the Aeneid," Classical Philology, Vol. 45, No. 1, 1950, 1-12.Ogilvie, R.M, The Romans and their gods in the age of Augustus, Chatto & Windus: London, 1969.Starr, Chester G, Civilization and the Caesars, Cornell University Press: Ithica, 1954.Taylor, Lilly Ross, The Divinity of the Roman Emperor, Porcupine Press: Philadelphia, 1975.Thomson, O, Mass persuasion in history: An historical analysis of the development of propaganda techniques, Paul Harris: Edinburgh, 1977.Virgil, Aeneid XII, cited in Course Guide, Citizens, Cults and Emperors: Power and Status in Greece and Rome, 480 BC - 350 CE, 2008, 41.Virgil, Aeneid, VI.756-901, cited in Kenneth Scott, "The Identification of Augustus with Romulus-Quirinus," Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 56, 1925, 82-105.


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