For over 10,000 years after the first ice age, humanity has fought and died for the chance at the one source of freedom they want above all earthy pleasures, POWER.
Many individuals in history have called it their mistress. Indeed, she has many names and can take on many personalities. Countless races have defined her differently and still she never conforms to any individual’s taste: she only embraces and enthrones those who work hard at her conquest and abandons those who fail to obey her laws.
Those endowed with her favor may accomplish moral achievements or very bad feats. The ambitions and names of those who tried to tame her reach out to us from across the centuries of recorded history; Hatshepsut, Gaius Julius Caesar, Darius the Great, Elizabeth Tudor, George Washington, Mao Zedong, Napoleon Bonaparte, Kim Jong Il, Louis XIV of France and above them all stood this man Caesar Augustus. This was the man who established the tone for those who came before him, and for all others to follow, and formulated the blueprint for reaching the pillars of her throne. This series tells the stories of dozens of men and woman who have drawn out the sounds, and chords of power.
THE FIRST PRINCIPTE OF ROME
The mistress of power has a master, and his name is Divi Filius Augustus Caesar. This is the man who saved his country’s empire and redefined what it meant to rule a state. Augustus is arguably the most successful ruler in western culture and one of the rarest fortunate successes in human history. He found his world as it seemed on the verge of complete collapse, by giving it what it needed, a first among equals.
“He (Julius Caesar) learned that Alexander , having completed nearly all his conquests by the time he was thirty-two years old, was at an utter loss to know what he should do during the rest of his life, whereat Augustus expressed his surprise that Alexander did not regard it as a greater task to set in order the empire which he had won than to win it,”
Augustus of course took on the heavier task. Indeed, his career was a master study of power brought on by unique life experiences only he knew what to do with. He learned how his adoptive father obtained authority and above all, through his death how to keep it. In this blog I will be using his correct title of Principate and not the title Roman emperor as historian’s assert to use. He was not head of a new empire but the keeper of a restored imperial Republic with the title of First Citizen. The use of the word’s imperator and Caesar as a title to hail a seating Emperor would not be realized and accepted until the reign of Domitian a hundred years later.
An Imperator was a magistrate with military authority, but also mainly in the later Roman Republic and during the late Republican civil wars, Imperator was the honorific title assumed by certain military commanders. After an especially great victory, an army’s troops in the field would proclaim their commander Imperator. An acclamation necessary for a general to apply to the Senate for a triumph. After Augustus stabilized the republican empire; however, the title Imperator was generally restricted to the Principate. Though in the early years of the imperial republic it would occasionally be granted to a member of his family.
When entering the dance of power, one’s form must be perfect before his audience. His or her steps choreographed followed by an inhuman ability for theater acting and pose. Augustus danced, and more. Augustus displayed a consummate ability to manipulate people’s services, to play men off against each other, and to maintain a convincing self-righteousness in the most unpromising of situations. Giving the leading families in society a stable environment to flourish. But more importantly, Augustus understood what the average roman wanted.
“It is typical of Augustus approach to running the state that he tried to solve a difficult problem by employing a remedy for which a Republican precedent existed, and only set up a novel organization after a long lapse of time, when it was shown that the earlier solution was not satisfactory.”
— CASSIUS DIO
Augustus learned at the age of eighteen he was adopted by his maternal great-uncle Gaius Julius Caesar following Caesar’s assassination. Together with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus, they establish the Second Triumvirate to defeat the assassins of Caesar. Succeeding, their victory at Philippi made the three masters of Rome. The new Triumvirate divided the Roman Republic among themselves as did the first triumvirate in 60 BC. But while the first was unofficial with the original members taking power with out consent of the roman senate. The new masters were voted in by the Senate and people of Rome. Which publicly ended the rule of the senate as the highest law in the Republic.
This trifecta government was not to last. The triumvirate was eventually torn apart under the hostile ambitions of its members: Lepidus was driven into exile and stripped of his status, and Antony committed suicide following his defeat at the Battle of Actium by Augustus in 31 BC. The long years of the civil wars were over, due in part to all the major players were now dead. like today in all parts of the world, governments, or political parties go to war, even starting civil war promising to restore the old order or the will of the people, but with close examination it’s all about absolute power, in Augustus time, and in the time before him many took up arms to bring back the aristocracy republic of their four fathers and in the name of the people, but what the citizens of Rome wholeheartedly wanted, Augustus gave them, a stable Republican Empire. An aristocracy government for the people once again with an added benefit, it would be ruled by one man. The old saying rings true, there is nothing new under the sun. Moreover, history never really, exactly repeats itself. it just renovates.
The tyrannical years of civil war had left Rome in a state of near lawlessness in 27 BC Augustus argued that,
“Rome must return to normalcy after 100 years of civil war.”
His friends Gaius Maecenas and Commander of the Army Agrippa helped in this goal. Maecenas encouraged propaganda poetry praising Augustus for restoring Roman virtue and honor. While Agrippa enforced his friends rule over Rome through his well-earned reputation as a great general despite his low born background.
Augustus during his life resisted his own deification, which the Senate “pressed” on him during his life as well. He did not want to be a new, self-obsessed tyrant, and towards that end, he even melted all gold statues of himself, re-dedicating the gold to the god Apollo or his father who was made a God by the senate and the people of Rome. He was content publicly with being just the son of a god. A wise political move. Not only does he show modesty towards the gods. but he reveals his understanding of the political climate in Rome. Dead gods yes. living ones only brought disaster.
The methods for his success were based on a cold realism in identifying the essential in each situation, his caution and his gift for public relations. His political genius lay in his grasp of the fact that to reform the Aristocracy, he had to preserve the Republic, with slow experiment and with pragmatism, Augustus felt his way towards a constitutional settlement with the Senate, but one that advantageous to both. Augustus consciously strove as an architect working to a new design with old materials, the Republic, and breathed fresh meaning into old names and institutions and could stand forth as a reformer rather than an innovator.
— CASSIUS DIO
The Roman military, senate and the people of Rome
In Augustus early reign he showed his commitment to the stability of Rome for the next two centuries by debilitating the ancient tradition whereby military achievement was the high road to success in public life. But his supreme feat was undoubtedly to put real political power beyond reach of competition.
Augustus divided tasks between the Senate and his own civil service. Government by experts was a favorite resort of Augustus. like Mark Anthony he employed ministers with talents superior to his own. His employees include those who were kept out of government in the Republic just because they were born in the wrong place or the wrong social class. Knights and freedmen all over Italy now had an opportunity to take part in the administration of the new republic.
Among his many public services in Rome Augustus ensured fresh water-supply. Before the end of Augustus’s time in office water was available for most of the households in Rome. He made the city secure again by supplying a police force and Rome’s first fire-brigades. Under Augustus the city was for the first time called, Urbs Aeterna: The Eternal City.
Augustus lasting achievement was the office of the Principate. it would go through a complex progression over the centuries of its existence. I do believe Augustus aimed for one-person rule but not monarchy he had foresaw the dangers in monarchy or an absolute ruler. What I believe he intended was the restoration of his world and Rome’s destiny as a world power. However, what he created was the inevitable outcome of his success. A constitutional one-person rule with consent of all breaches of the empire. By force of personality one could rule over a million lives. A blueprint in which century’s later men and women around the world in all social classes would use for their own bids for authority; kings and queens, the presidency, prime minister, the chairmanship, chancellery, and many more title’s in all languages and cultures. All leading back to the house Augustus built, Rome. Because of his style of rule Augustus ruled with respect of the army, senate, and the people for over 44 years as a first among equals and a brilliant student of the art of power.
I end now with the words of Augustus, A testament to his use of power.
“After this time, I surpassed all others in authority, but I had no more power than the others who were also my colleagues in office.’’