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Augustus’s Individual Autocratic Government Report (Assessment)


The scope of the Empire and the incapability of the Senate to ensure efficient management of power and the increasing importance of the army’s role were the major factors that provoked the thoughts in various social strata regarding the need for sole reign (Western Civilization 101 Online). In this way, the establishment of the individual, autocratic form of Augustus’s rule was not unexpected and did not cause any serious resistance. In Res Gestae, he stated, “I handed over the state from my power to the dominion of the senate and Roman people” (para. 34).

He continually emphasized that he did not differ from all other magistrates in terms of decision making but merely had greater authority and took the leading position among them. However, despite his claims, he maintained the full autocratic power: had a lifelong title of an Emperor, was allocated with tribunician power every year, promoted candidates to the posts of magistrates, allocated financial resources, individually decided the war and peace issues, and conducted negotiations with the foreign states. As was mentioned by Polybius, “He concentrated in himself the functions of the Senate, the magistrates, and the laws” (10). According to Augustus, he paid respect to the Senate, submitted various problems for the discussion, and allowed the magistrates to share their opinions. However, he likely only pretended to respect the institution because most of the important issues were resolved during the consulate meetings participated in by Augustus’s approximates.

Augustus and his supporters believed that they had restored the Republic. It is possible to say that for Romans, the Republic, as a form of political organization, could be combined with any style of reign until it was legal and served the common good. As was mentioned above, Augustus’s actions and decisions had the purpose of abolishing triumvirs’ extraordinary powers and restoring freedom and the traditional system. However, in reality, the whole system of power was dramatically changed. Previously, there were clear distinctions between three major categories of power. The Senate was mainly concerned with “the management and disposal of the public treasure,” the consuls were “entrusted with the absolute direction of the preparations that are made for war,” and people were “the sole dispensers of rewards and punishments” (Polybius 3). The distinctions became somewhat vague under Augustus’s rule. Formally, the people remained sovereign, but everything they had once obtained through the civil community they now received using the princess’s authority.

The Senate became filled with Augustus’ approximates and obtained a subordinate role. It is possible to presume that he maintained the visibility of the Senate’s power and the privileges of the aristocracy to build up the elite. According to Crone, the transformation of diverse holders of political power into a nationwide elite helped rulers to unite privilege holders in their loyalty to the same polity (64). In this way, Augustus managed to strengthen his control over the situation in the country. The primary justification that Augustus had for his policies was the restoration of peace in the Empire. Like students A and B mentioned in their essays, this was the major distinction of Augustus’s Res Gestae from the general practices of the ruling. At the same time, the termination of terror became possible only when the previous militant actions achieved their goals: Augustus’s supporters were satisfied, the most irreconcilable opponents were destroyed, others switched to Augustus’s side, and those who could pose a real threat no longer existed. Despite this apparent controversy, the principles of peace restoration and clemency helped the governor to create a sense of confidence and belief in the arrival of peace in the public mind. This could be one of the reasons for the emperor’s political longevity.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Augustus’s Individual Autocratic Government'. 15 November.

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