How was Augustus different compared to other Roman rulers?  

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readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an interesting question. Augustus was like many other leaders of Rome. There was nothing about Augustus that made him completely different. He might have been better at politics and better at hiding his lust for power than others, but for the most part, he was like any other ruler. He, like the others, wanted power, sought glory, and the like.

If we want to look at what made Augustus unique, it has more to do with the historical context. He was a transitional figure and for this reason very important. It was Augustus that established the Empire. In part he was able to do this, because Rome just had gone through two very serious civil wars. What the Romans wanted was peace. Augustus was able to provide this and the people took it, even if it meant curtailing their freedom.

jojo56 | Student

Augustus was born into an equestrian family (the equestrian order was the lower of the two aristocratic classes of Rome, ranking below the patricians). Although his father was a senator, Augustus’s mother had quite powerful connections, Julius Caesar was her uncle. While en route to Rome after Julius Caesar’s assassination (in 44 BC), Augustus learned that his great-uncle Caesar had adopted him in last will and testament.

Upon reaching Rome, Augustus found that Marc Antony and Marcus Lepidus had jointly seized power. To his dismay, Augustus did not have the power to unseat Antony and Lepidus and so was forced form a dictatorship (the Second Triumvirate) with the pair.

Many in the Senate preferred Augustus over Antony and Lepidus. Within a year, the Senate had become so supportive of Augustus that he received their blessing to wage war on Antony. Though this initial clash ended in a stalemate, by 31 BC, Augustus had driven Lepidus into exile and, his navy, commanded by Agrippa, had defeated Antony, which, in turn, caused Antony (and Cleopatra) to commit suicide.

It is important to note that the creation of the Second Triumvirate transformed the power structure of Rome by removing all of the senate’s power. Now the sole source of power, Augustus skillfully played politics while the basis by which a republican state could be led by an autocrat was determined. What replaced the republican state was the Roman Empire. Augustus of course was the emperor and ruled in different way than had the dictator Julius Caesar. Previously, the term emperor had been given to successful generals. So Augustus was given other titles as well: the consulship for life, pontifex maximus (highest religious title), princeps (first citizen), and tribunician powers for life by the senate. Tribunician powers gave him the right to call the senate to meetings, to propose legislation in the popular assembly, and to veto any enactments. Also his command over 'his' provinces became permanent. Ultimately, the senate created a new title for Augustus: pater patriae, the father of the country.

Augustus’s reign was known as the Pax Romano, or Roman peace. And for the most part it was peaceful – by Roman standards. Augustus greatly expanded the Empire through war and conquest, and endured endless fighting on Rome’s borders. But Augustus did well as an administrator: he revised the tax code, built a new network of roads, rebuilt much of Rome, created police and fire-fighting forces, a standing army, an imperial guard, and an official courier system.  Under his rule Rome was generally prosperous and politically stable.

Augustus was far more than the person who happened to be the ruler during Rome’s revolution from Republic to Empire. To a great extent, Augustus forced that revolution and made it work. He further succeeded as a conqueror, civic leader, diplomat, and he kept Rome at peace, both internally and externally. Augustus’s roll in western European history was so significant that even today he is honored: the month of August was (re)named in his honor.