Augustus and the Pax Romana

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016

Since the Pax Romana was established by Augustus, it is sometimes called Pax Augusta. Its span was approximately 206 years.

After Actium and the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian was in a position to rule the entire Republic under an unofficial principate, - but he had to achieve this through incremental power gains. He did so by courting the Senate and the people while upholding the republican traditions of Rome, appearing that he was not aspiring to dictatorship or monarchy. Marching into Rome, Octavian and Marcus Agrippa were elected as dual consuls by the Senate. Years of civil war had left Rome in a state of near lawlessness, but the Republic was not prepared to accept the control of Octavian as a despot or 'king'. At the same time, Octavian could not simply give up his authority without risking further civil wars among the Roman generals and, even if he desired no position of authority whatsoever, his position demanded that he look to the well-being of the city of Rome and the Roman provinces. Octavian's aims from this point forward were to return Rome to a state of stability, traditional legality, and civility by lifting the overt political pressure imposed on the courts of law and ensuring free elections - in name at least.


In 27 BC, Octavian made a show of returning full power to the Roman Senate and relinquishing his control of the Roman provinces and their armies.
Under his consulship, however, the Senate had little power in initiating legislation by introducing bills for senatorial debate.
Octavian was no longer in direct control of the provinces and their armies, but he retained the loyalty of active duty soldiers and veterans alike.
The careers of many clients and adherents depended on his patronage, as his financial power was unrivaled in the Roman Republic.
The sum of his power derived first of all from various powers of office delegated to him by the Senate and people, secondly from his immense private fortune, and thirdly from numerous patron-client relationships he established with individuals and groups throughout the Empire.
All of them taken together formed the basis of his auctoritas, which he himself emphasized as the foundation of his political actions.
To a large extent, the public were aware of the vast financial resources that Augustus commanded.
He failed to encourage enough senators to finance the building and maintenance of networks of roads in Italy in 20 BC, but he undertook direct responsibility for them.
This was publicized on the Roman currency issued in 16 BC, after he donated vast amounts of money to the 'Aerarium Saturni', the public treasury.
Augustus's power, however, was based on the exercise of "a predominant military power and the ultimate sanction of his authority was force, however much the fact was disguised.
The Senate proposed to Octavian, the victor of Rome's civil wars, that he once again assume command of the provinces.
The Senate's proposal was a ratification of Octavian's extra-constitutional power.
Through the Senate, Octavian was able to continue the appearance of a still-functional constitution. 
Feigning reluctance, he accepted a ten-year responsibility of overseeing provinces that were considered chaotic.
The provinces ceded to him for that ten-year period comprised much of the conquered Roman world, including all of Hispania and Gaul, Syria, Cilicia, Cyprus, and Egypt.
Moreover, command of these provinces provided Octavian with control over the majority of Rome's legions.
While Octavian acted as consul in Rome, he dispatched senators to the provinces under his command as his representatives to manage provincial affairs and ensure that his orders were carried out.
The provinces not under Octavian's control were overseen by governors chosen by the Roman Senate.
Octavian became the most powerful political figure in the city of Rome and in most of its provinces, but he did not have sole monopoly on political and martial power.
The Senate still controlled North Africa, an important regional producer of grain, as well as Illyria and Macedonia, two martially strategic regions with several legions, however, the Senate had control of only five or six legions distributed among three senatorial proconsuls, compared to the twenty legions under the control of Augustus, and their control of these regions did not amount to any political or military challenge to Octavian.
The Senate's control over some of the Roman provinces helped maintain a republican façade for the autocratic Principate.
Also, Octavian's control of entire provinces followed Republican-era precedents for the objective of securing peace and creating stability, in which such prominent Romans as Pompey had been granted similar military powers in times of crisis and instability.
On 16 January 27 BC the Senate gave Octavian the new titles of 'Augustus' and 'Princeps'.
'Augustus' is from the Latin word 'Augere' (meaning to increase), and can be translated as "the illustrious one".
It was a title of religious authority rather than political authority.
According to Roman religious beliefs, the title symbolized a stamp of authority over humanity - and in fact nature - that went beyond any constitutional definition of his status.
After the harsh methods employed in consolidating his control, the change in name served to demarcate his benign reign as Augustus from his reign of terror as Octavian.
His new title of Augustus was also more favorable than Romulus, the previous one which he styled for himself in reference to the story of Romulus and Remus (founders of Rome), which symbolized a second founding of Rome.
The title of Romulus was associated too strongly with notions of monarchy and kingship of Tarquin, an image that Octavian tried to avoid.
Princeps comes from the Latin phrase 'primum caput', "the first head", originally meaning the oldest or most distinguished senator whose name would appear first on the senatorial roster.
In the case of Augustus, however, it became an almost 'regnal' title for a leader who was first in charge.
Princeps had also been a title under the Republic for those who had served the state well; for example, Pompey had held the title.
Augustus also styled himself as 'Imperator Caesar divi filius', "Commander Caesar son of the deified one".
With this title, he boasted his familial link to deified Julius Caesar, and the use of 'Imperator' signified a permanent link to the Roman tradition of victory.
The word Caesar was merely a cognomen for one branch of the Julian family, yet Augustus transformed Caesar into a new family line that began with him.
Augustus was granted the right to hang the 'corona civica' above his door, the "civic crown" made from oak, and to have laurels drape his door-posts.
This crown was usually held above the head of a Roman general during a triumph, with the individual holding the crown charged to continually repeat to the general "memento mori", or "Remember that you are mortal".
Additionally, laurel wreaths were important in several state ceremonies, and crowns of laurel were rewarded to champions of athletic, racing, and dramatic contests.
Thus, both the laurel and the oak were integral symbols of Roman religion and statecraft; placing them on Augustus' door-posts was tantamount to declaring his home the capital.
However, Augustus renounced flaunting insignia of power, such as holding a scepter, wearing a diadem, or wearing the golden crown and purple toga of his predecessor Julius Caesar.
If he refused to symbolize his power by donning and bearing these items on his person, the Senate nonetheless awarded him with a golden shield displayed in the meeting hall of the Curia, bearing the inscription 'virtus, pietas, clementia, iustitia' - "valor, piety, clemency, and justice."


By 23 BC, some of the un-Republican implications were becoming apparent concerning the settlement of 27 BC.
Augustus' policy of holding of an annual consulate drew attention to his dominance over the Roman political system, at the same time cutting in half the opportunities for others to achieve what was still purported to be the head of the Roman state.
Further, he was causing political problems by desiring to have his nephew Marcus Claudius Marcellus follow in his footsteps, and eventually assume the Principate in his turn, alienating his three biggest supporters – Agrippa, Maecenas, and Livia.
Feeling pressure from his own core group of adherents, Augustus turned to the Senate for help.
He appointed noted Republican Calpurnius Piso for co-consul in 23 BC, after his choice Aulus Terentius Varro Murena was executed as part of the Marcus Primus Affair, in an attempt to bolster his support there, especially with the Republicans.
(Murena had fought against Julius Caesar and supported Cassius and Brutus.)
In the late spring Augustus suffered a severe illness, and on his supposed deathbed made arrangements that would ensure the continuation of the Principate in some form, while at the same time put into doubt the senators' suspicions of his anti-republicanism.
Augustus prepared to hand down his signet ring to his favored general Agrippa.
However, Augustus handed over to his co-consul Piso all of his official documents, an account of public finances, and authority over listed troops in the provinces while Augustus' supposedly favored nephew Marcellus came away empty-handed.
This was a surprise to many who believed Augustus would have named an heir to his position as an unofficial emperor.
Augustus bestowed only properties and possessions to his designated heirs, as an obvious system of institutionalized imperial inheritance would have provoked resistance and hostility among the republican-minded Romans fearful of monarchy.
With regards to the Principate, it was obvious to Augustus that Marcellus was not ready to take on his position; nonetheless, by giving his signet ring to Agrippa, it was Augustus' intent to signal to the legions that Agrippa was to be his successor, and that no matter what the constitutional rules were, they would continue to obey Agrippa.
Soon after his bout of illness subsided, Augustus gave up his annual consulship.
The only other times Augustus would serve as consul would be in the years 5 and 2 BC, both times to introduce his grandsons into public life.
This was a clever ploy by Augustus; his ceasing to perennially be one of two annual consuls allowed aspiring senators a better chance to fill that position, while at the same time Augustus could exercise wider patronage within the senatorial class.
Although Augustus had resigned as consul, he desired to retain his consular imperium not just in his provinces but throughout the empire.
This desire, along with the Marcus Primus Affair, led to a second compromise between him and the Senate known as the Second Settlement.


The primary reasons for the Second Settlement were as follows.

First, after Augustus relinquished the annual consulship, he was no longer in an official position to rule the state, yet his dominant position remained unchanged over his Roman, 'imperial' provinces where he was still a proconsul.
When he annually held the office of consul, he had the power to intervene with the affairs of the other provincial proconsuls appointed by the Senate throughout the empire, when he deemed necessary.
When he relinquished his annual consulship, he legally lost this power because his proconsular powers applied only to his imperial provinces.
Augustus wanted to keep this power.

A second problem later arose showing the need for the Second Settlement in what became known as the "Marcus Primus Affair".
In late 24 or early 23 BC, charges were brought against Marcus Primus, the former proconsul (governor) of Macedonia, for waging a war without prior approval of the Senate on the Odrysian kingdom of Thrace, whose king was a Roman ally.
He was defended by Lucius Lucinius Varro Murena, who told the trial that his client had received specific instructions from Augustus, ordering him to attack the client state.
Later, Primus testified that the orders came from the recently deceased Marcellus.
Such orders, had they been given, would have been considered a breach of the Senate's prerogative under the Constitutional settlement of 27 BC and its aftermath - i.e., before Augustus was granted imperium proconsulare maius - as Macedonia was a Senatorial province under the Senate's jurisdiction, not an imperial province under the authority of Augustus.
Such an action would have ripped away the veneer of Republican restoration as promoted by Augustus, and exposed his fraud of merely being the first citizen, a first among equals.
Even worse, the involvement of Marcellus provided some measure of proof that Augustus's policy was to have the youth take his place as Princeps, instituting a form of monarchy – accusations that had already played out.
The situation was so serious that Augustus himself appeared at the trial, even though he had not been called as a witness.
Under oath, Augustus declared that he gave no such order.
Murena disbelieved Augustus's testimony and resented his attempt to subvert the trial by using his auctoritas.
He rudely demanded to know why Augustus had turned up to a trial to which he had not been called; 
Augustus replied that he came in the public interest.
Although Primus was found guilty, some jurors voted to acquit, meaning that not everybody believed Augustus's testimony, an insult to the 'August One'.

The Second Constitutional Settlement was completed in part to allay confusion and formalize Augustus' legal authority to intervene in Senatorial provinces.
The Senate granted Augustus a form of general imperium proconsulare, or proconsular imperium (power) that applied throughout the empire, not solely to his provinces.
Moreover, the Senate augmented Augustus' proconsular imperium into 'imperium proconsulare maius', or 'proconsular imperium' applicable throughout the empire that was more (maius) or greater than that held by the other proconsuls.
This in effect gave Augustus constitutional power superior to all other proconsuls in the empire.
Augustus stayed in Rome during the renewal process, and provided veterans with lavish donations to gain their support, thereby ensuring that his status of proconsular 'imperium maius' was renewed in 13 BC.


During the second settlement, Augustus was also granted the power of a tribune ('tribunicia potestas') for life, though not the official title of tribune.
For some years, Augustus had been awarded 'tribunicia sacrosanctitas', or the immunity from physical attack given to a Tribune of the Plebeians.
Now he decided to assume the full powers of the magistracy in perpetuity.
Legally, it was closed to patricians, a status that Augustus had acquired some years earlier when adopted by Julius Caesar.
This power allowed him to convene the Senate and people at will, and lay business before them, to veto the actions of either the Assembly or the Senate, to preside over elections, and to speak first at any meeting.
Also included in Augustus' tribunician authority were powers usually reserved for the Roman censor; these included the right to supervise public morals and scrutinize laws to ensure that they were in the public interest, as well as the ability to hold a census and determine the membership of the Senate.
With the powers of a censor, Augustus appealed to virtues of Roman patriotism by banning all attire but the classic toga while entering the Forum.
There was no precedent within the Roman system for combining the powers of the tribune and the censor into a single position, nor was Augustus ever elected to the office of censor.
Julius Caesar had been granted similar powers, wherein he was charged with supervising the morals of the state, however, this position did not extend to the censor's ability to hold a census and determine the Senate's roster.
The office of the 'tribunus plebis' began to lose its prestige, due to Augustus' amassing of tribunal powers, so he revived its importance by making it a mandatory appointment for any plebeian desiring the praetorship.
Augustus was granted sole imperium within the city of Rome itself, in addition to being granted proconsular imperium maius and tribunician authority for life.
Traditionally, proconsuls (Roman province governors) lost their proconsular "imperium" when they crossed the Pomerium - the sacred boundary of Rome - and entered the city.
In these situations, Augustus would have power as part of his tribunician authority but his constitutional imperium within the Pomerium would be less than that of a serving consul.
That would mean that, when he was in the city, he might not be the constitutional magistrate with the most authority.
Thanks to his prestige or 'auctoritas', his wishes would usually be obeyed, but there might be some difficulty.
To fill this power vacuum, the Senate voted that Augustus's imperium proconsulare maius (superior proconsular power) should not lapse when he was inside the city walls.
All armed forces in the city had formerly been under the control of the urban praetors and consuls, but this situation now placed them under the sole authority of Augustus.
In addition, the credit was given to Augustus for each subsequent Roman military victory after this time, because the majority of Rome's armies were stationed in imperial provinces commanded by Augustus through the 'legatus', who were deputies of the princeps in the provinces.
Moreover, if a battle was fought in a Senatorial province, Augustus' proconsular imperium maius allowed him to take command of (or credit for) any major military victory.
This meant that Augustus was the only individual able to receive a triumph, a tradition that began with Romulus, Rome's first King, and first triumphant general.
Lucius Cornelius Balbus was the last man outside Augustus' family to receive this award in 19 BC.(Balbus was the nephew of Julius Caesar's great agent, who was governor of Africa and conqueror of the Garamantes.)
Tiberius, Augustus' eldest son by marriage to Livia, was the only other general to receive a triumph - for victories in Germania in 7 BC.
Many of the political subtleties of the Second Settlement seem to have (not surprisingly) evaded the comprehension of the Plebeian class, who were Augustus' greatest supporters and clientele.
This caused them to insist upon Augustus' participation in imperial affairs from time to time.
Augustus failed to stand for election as consul in 22 BC, and fears arose once again that he was being forced from power by the aristocratic Senate. In 22, 21, and 19 BC, the people rioted in response, and only allowed a single consul to be elected for each of those years, ostensibly to leave the other position open for Augustus.
Likewise, there was a food shortage in Rome in 22 BC which sparked panic, while many urban plebs called for Augustus to take on dictatorial powers to personally oversee the crisis.
After a theatrical display of refusal before the Senate, Augustus finally accepted authority over Rome's grain supply "by virtue of his proconsular imperium", and ended the crisis almost immediately.
It was not until AD 8 that a food crisis of this sort prompted Augustus to establish a 'praefectus annonae', a permanent prefect who was in charge of procuring food supplies for Rome.


A final reason for the Second Settlement was to give the Principate constitutional stability, and staying power, in case something happened to Princeps Augustus.
His illness of early 23 BC showed that the regime's existence hung by the thin thread of the life of one man, Augustus himself, who suffered from several severe and dangerous illnesses throughout his life.
If he were to die from natural causes, or fall victim to assassination, Rome could be subjected to another round of civil war.
The memories of Pharsalus, the Ides of March, the proscriptions, Philippi, and Actium, barely twenty-five years distant, were still vivid in the minds of many citizens.
Proconsular imperium was conferred upon Agrippa for five years, similar to Augustus' power, in order to accomplish this constitutional stability.
The exact nature of the grant is uncertain, but it probably covered Augustus' imperial provinces, east and west, perhaps lacking authority over the provinces of the Senate.
That came later, as did the jealously guarded tribunicia potestas.

Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus
Augustus' powers were now complete.
In fact, he dated his 'reign' from the completion of the Second Settlement, July 1, 23 BC.
Almost as importantly, the Principate now had constitutional stability.
Later Roman Emperors were generally limited to the powers and titles originally granted to Augustus, though often newly appointed Emperors would decline one or more of the honorifics given to Augustus in order to display humility.
Just as often, as their reign progressed, Emperors would appropriate all of the titles, regardless of whether they had been granted them by the Senate.
Later Emperors took to wearing the civic crown, consular insignia, and the purple robes of a Triumphant general (toga picta), which became the imperial insignia.


Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus chose Imperator ("victorious commander") to be his first name, since he wanted to make an emphatically clear connection between himself and the notion of victory.
By the year 13, Augustus boasted 21 occasions where his troops proclaimed "imperator" as his title after a successful battle.
Almost the entire fourth chapter in his publicly released memoirs of achievements known as the 'Res Gestae' was devoted to his military victories and honors.
Augustus also promoted the ideal of a superior Roman civilization with a task of ruling the world (to the extent to which the Romans knew it), a sentiment embodied in words that the contemporary poet Virgil attributes to a legendary ancestor of Augustus: 'tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento'—"Roman, remember by your strength to rule the Earth's peoples!"
The impulse for expansionism apparently was prominent among all classes at Rome, and it is accorded divine sanction by Virgil's Jupiter in Book 1 of the 'Aeneid', where Jupiter promises Rome 'imperium sine fine', "sovereignty without end".
By the end of his reign, the armies of Augustus had conquered northern Hispania (modern Spain and Portugal) and the Alpine regions of Raetia and Noricum (modern Switzerland, Bavaria, Austria, Slovenia), Illyricum and Pannonia (modern Albania, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia, etc.), and had extended the borders of the Africa Province to the east and south.
Judea was added to the province of Syria when Augustus deposed Herod Archelaus, successor to client king Herod the Great (73–4 BC).
Syria (like Egypt after Antony) was governed by a high prefect of the equestrian class rather than by a proconsul or legate of Augustus.
Again, no military effort was needed in 25 BC when Galatia (modern Turkey) was converted to a Roman province shortly after Amyntas of Galatia was killed by an avenging widow of a slain prince from Homonada.
The rebellious tribes of Asturias and Cantabria in modern-day Spain were finally quelled in 19 BC, and the territory fell under the provinces of Hispania and Lusitania.
This region proved to be a major asset in funding Augustus' future military campaigns, as it was rich in mineral deposits that could be fostered in Roman mining projects, especially the very rich gold deposits at Las Medulas.
Conquering the peoples of the Alps in 16 BC was another important victory for Rome, since it provided a large territorial buffer between the Roman citizens of Italy and Rome's enemies in Germania to the north.
Horace dedicated an ode to the victory, while the monument Trophy of Augustus near Monaco was built to honor the occasion.
The capture of the Alpine region also served the next offensive in 12 BC, when Tiberius began the offensive against the Pannonian tribes of Illyricum, and his brother Nero Claudius Drusus moved against the Germanic tribes of the eastern Rhineland.
Both campaigns were successful, as Drusus' forces reached the Elbe River by 9 BC - though he died shortly after by falling off his horse (?).
It was recorded that the pious Tiberius walked in front of his brother's body all the way back to Rome.
Muziris in the Chera Kingdom of Southern India, as shown in the Tabula Peutingeriana, with depiction of a "Temple of Augustus" ("Templum Augusti"), an illustration of Indo-Roman relations in the period.
To protect Rome's eastern territories from the Parthian Empire, Augustus relied on the client states of the east to act as territorial buffers and areas that could raise their own troops for defense.
To ensure security of the Empire's eastern flank, Augustus stationed a Roman army in Syria, while his skilled stepson Tiberius negotiated with the Parthians as Rome's diplomat to the East.
Tiberius was responsible for restoring Tigranes V to the throne of the Kingdom of Armenia.
Yet arguably his greatest diplomatic achievement was negotiating with Phraates IV of Parthia (37–2 BC) in 20 BC for the return of the battle standards lost by Crassus in the Battle of Carrhae, a symbolic victory and great boost of morale for Rome.
Augustus used the return of the standards as propaganda symbolizing the submission of Parthia to Rome.

Temple of Mars Ultor
The event was celebrated in art such as the breastplate design on the statue Augustus of Prima Porta (see above), and in monuments such as the Temple of Mars Ultor ('Mars the Avenger') built to house the standards.
Parthia had always posed a threat to Rome in the east, but the real battlefront was along the Rhine and Danube rivers.
Before the final fight with Antony, Octavian's campaigns against the tribes in Dalmatia were the first step in expanding Roman dominions to the Danube.
Victory in battle was not always a permanent success, as newly conquered territories were constantly retaken by Rome's enemies in Germania.
A prime example of Roman loss in battle was the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in AD 9, where three entire legions led by Publius Quinctilius Varus were destroyed by Arminius, leader of the Cherusci, an apparent Roman ally.
Augustus retaliated by dispatching Tiberius and Drusus to the Rhineland to pacify it, which had some success although the battle of AD 9 brought the end to Roman expansion into Germany.
Roman general Germanicus took advantage of a Cherusci civil war between Arminius and Segestes; they defeated Arminius, who fled that battle but was killed later in 21 due to treachery.

to be continued.......