Augustus’s official titles and powers changed over time, but no one doubted who ruled Rome. Unlike Julius Caesar, Augustus chose to work with the Senate. He gained his power legally, rather than by military might, as he won elections for the consulship and the Senate granted him the powers of a tribune. He also earned the title princeps civitatis, or “first man of the state.” This honor had sometimes been awarded during the Republic. The old Republic, however, was clearly gone, because Augustus had wealth and military power no other Roman or foreign ruler in the Mediterranean could match. Romans, for the most part, accepted his rule because they were tired of civil war and because Augustus did not act like a tyrant.
to his military victory over Antony and Cleopatra, Augustus added Egypt to Rome’s territory and great riches to his personal wealth. With that money and other war booty, he rebuilt important public buildings in the capital city. In his Res Gestae, an account of his rule, Augustus wrote, “Eighty-two temples in the city in my sixth consulship [28 B. C.E.] with the authority of the Senate I repaired, passing over none which at that time ought to have been repaired” (as quoted in Robert Sherk’s Translated
Documents of Greece and Rome). The emperor also used his own funds to pay soldiers’ bonuses and establish new colonies. These included settlements in Africa, Sicily, Iberia, Macedonia, and Gaul.
After 27 B. C.E., Augustus had direct control over several Roman provinces: the Iberian peninsula (which was actually two separate provinces), Gaul, Syria, and Egypt. He appointed the officials who ran local affairs, and he could decide how to use the troops stationed there. The Senate ruled the other provinces, appointing the officials who ruled in its name. Still, Augustus could overrule these local officials when he chose.
Under Augustus Rome entered a largely peaceful era, especially in the Italian peninsula. The chaos of the late Republic was over and the economy improved. When the economy weakened, Augustus made sure everyone could at least afford wheat. Augustus also tried to improve Roman morals. He promoted marriage, punished people who had sexual relations outside of marriage, and tried to end bribery. In today’s terms, Augustus might be called a conservative, someone who valued law and order and traditional standards of behavior.
The Battle at Actium
Italian Antonio Vassilacchi (1556-1629) painted this scene of Marc Antony’s defeat in Egypt on the walls of the Villa Barbarigo just outside Venice.