Did Augustus really begin Roman Empire because he had no alternative?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Roman Empire properly began with Augustus' uncle Julius Caesar who was killed because the Romans feared he would make himself King. Julius Caesar had instituted a centralized form of rule over Rome which had previously not existed, and had also set up colonies in North Africa, Gaul, and Spain. So it is incorrect to attribute the founding of the Empire to Augustus. In fact, after the collapse of the Second Triumvirate comprised of Octavian (later known as Augustus), Mark Antony and Lepidus, Octavian hoped to restore the old Roman Republic. He could not do so, however as if he relinquished power, the end result would be another Roman civil war much as that which had brought him to power. It was thus expedient for him to retain the reins of power, but to do so in a more subdued way. The Roman Senate awarded him the title of Augustus (which had strong religious connotation) and because of his position as head of the Roman army, he was given the title of Imperator (hence "Emperor.") In an attempt to appear as merely first among equals, (primus inter pares) Augustus awarded himself the title of "first citizen," or Princeps Civitatus. (From this term comes the word "prince." He wore modest clothes and lived in a simple house, encouraged family life and made adultery a crime. At the same time, he accumulated a great deal of power for himself; and was ultimately responsible for all important government functions. All of this an attempt to preserve the integrity of the Empire but move it as near to the former Republic as possible. So he did not really "begin" the Empire; however he did act to preserve it in an effort to prevent further war. He was obviously successful, as the period of his rule is known as the pax romana (roman peace.)