The Roman Empire: Augustus and the Principate Period


Officially, after the battle of Actium in 31 BC, Octavius (Augustus from here on) was the sole ruler of Rome. He was never referred to as “king”, however; the Romans were not fond of this word. Yet, no republican form of government could keep the Roman state in line. They resorted back to monarchy mainly because this was the only true way for Rome to be ruled.

Augustus was the beginning of the time called the Principate period, which is characterized as a time where rulers of the new monarchy tried their best to preserve aspects of the Roman Republic. Augustus was a perfect example of this. He did his best to keep all conservative forms of government and keep most political shapes in tact. Augustus’s sole purpose was to wipe out the hatred and confusion that was caused by the civil war. He proved that he was a strong politician throughout his gaining of power, and his rule proved also that he was a very successful statesman. The Roman senate were the ones who actually gave Octavius the title of Augustus, for Augustus wanting to restore power back to the Roman senate in his new reforms.



Obviously enough, being the first emperor of a very new type of monarchy for Rome, Augustus took on several new titles that provided him with the power that he held. Just to name a couple, he was bestowed proconsular power (imperium proconsulare), he retained the title of Imperator (which allowed him to stay in control of the roman army), and he was made pontifex maximus (“chief priest”). Of all the titles he had received, he was fond of being referred as by one in particular: Princeps Civitates, which means “first citizen of the state”.

Augustus made many important reforms in the beginning of his rule, having to do with both nobile causes and popular causes. He brought back a strong sense of dignity and nobility from being on the senate by decreasing the amount of people on the senate, as well as taking away some provincial powers. Augustus did not deem the populus responsible for making major political decisions, and took away a lot of power from the assemblies of the people (they were now mainly only kept to vote for new magistrates). He did not change much about the cursus honorum (which, again, is the process of moving up the ranks of the Roman magistracies) and he saw the current republic magistrates as a special, executive position. Augustus also decreased the Roman army from 50 legions to only 20 and spread them throughout the provinces so the Roman army was less of a burden on the people of Rome. Finally, he introduced the “praetorian guard”, a system of protection used for inside of Italy.

As stated above, Augustus’ goal during his reign was to attempt to make Rome as systematic, organized, and peaceful as he could. He separated the Roman city into 14 wards or districts, and put in place special “police” forces to enforce law and order throughout the city. He hoped that the introduction of these police forces to Roman society will decrease the extreme violence that had been seen in recent previous years of Roman history. The entirety of Italy was then split up into eleven regions (administrative districts), a curator viarurn (“superintendent of highways”) was installed to keep the large system of roads in good condition, and a post system was introduced; all of these steps clearly showed Augustus’ desire for the Roman people to live a clean, systematic life.

Each of the seperate “police” forces that were installed were controlled by a specific chief; for example, the praefectus vigilum was the chief in charge of the fire and detective department. 

Augustus did a lot of work in reorganizing not only the system of Rome’s provinces but the money flow of the provinces as well. The provinces were now divided into two separate groups. The senatorial provinces were those who remained in control of the senate, while the imperial provinces were now under control of the emperor. Under either a senate with new power, or under an emperor with good morals, it was seen that the provinces of Rome increased in both prosperity and wealth quickly. The revenues earned from the senatorial provinces were put directly into the treasury of the senate, while the inflow of money from imperial provinces went to the fiscus (treasury of the emperor). Augustus could be seen as one of the most economically smart rulers anywhere near his time. With the help of a very systematic approach to a new monarchy and a sharp mind, Augustus was able to successfully create a very strong and powerful Rome.

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