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Fagan Pennsylvania State University Introduction Augustus is arguably the single most important figure in Roman history. In the course of his long and spectacular career, he put an end to the advancing decay of Signet classics essay Republic and established a new basis for Roman government that was to stand for three centuries.
This system, termed the "Principate," was far from flawless, but it provided the Roman Empire with a series of rulers who presided over the longest period of unity, peace, and prosperity that Western Europe, the Middle East and the North African seaboard have known in their entire recorded history.
Even if the rulers themselves on occasion left much to be desired, Signet classics essay scale of Augustus's achievement in establishing the system cannot be overstated. Aside from the immense importance of Augustus's reign from the broad historical perspective, he himself is an intriguing figure: Clearly a man of many facets, he underwent three major political reinventions in his lifetime and negotiated the stormy and dangerous seas of the last phase of the Roman Revolution with skill and foresight.
With Augustus established in power and with the Principate firmly rooted, the internal machinations of the imperial household provide a fascinating glimpse into the one issue that painted this otherwise gifted organizer and politician into a corner from which he could find no easy exit: The Roman Republic had no written constitution but was, rather, a system of agreed-upon procedures crystallized by tradition the mos maiorum, "the way of our ancestors".
Administration was carried out by mostly annually elected officials, answerable to the senate a senior council, but with no legislative powers and the people who, when constituted into voting assemblies, were the sovereign body of the state.
Precedent prescribed procedure and consensus set the parameters for acceptable behavior. Near the end of the second century BC, however, the system started to break down.
Politicians began to push at the boundaries of acceptable behavior, and in so doing set new and perilous precedents. Violence also entered the arena of domestic politics. This long process of disintegration, completed a century later by Augustus, has been termed by modern scholars the "Roman Revolution.
Politics had come to be dominated by violence and intimidation; scores were settled with clubs and daggers rather than with speeches and persuasion.
Powerful generals at the head of politicized armies extorted from the state more and greater power for themselves and their supporters. When "constitutional" methods proved inadequate, the generals occasionally resorted to open rebellion.
Intimidation of the senate through the use of armies camped near Rome or veterans brought to the city to influence the voting assemblies also proved effective and was regularly employed as a political tactic from ca.
These generals also used their provincial commands to extract money from the locals as a way of funding their domestic political ambitions. As the conflict in the state wore on, popular assemblies, the only avenue for the passage of binding legislation in the Roman Republic, routinely ended in disorder and rioting.
The senatorial aristocracy, riven by internal disputes, proved incapable of dealing effectively with the mounting disorder, yet the alternative, monarchy, was not openly proposed by anyone.
When civil war erupted between Pompey and Caesar in 49 BC, few could have been surprised.
These two men were the strongest personalities in the state, each in command of significant military forces, and they were mutually antagonistic.
His concerns were first and foremost the defeat in the field of his political opponents. During these years, and following his final victory, he was content to maintain control by a combination of the consulship and the revived, albeit reviled, dictatorship.
Extensive and excessive honors of all sorts were also voted to Caesar by a sycophantic senate: Nevertheless, his broad disregard for tradition and precedent, and the general air of arrogance and high-handedness that marked Caesar's dealings with his peers, made him appear Rome's king in all but name.
To be sure, he passed various items of legislation dealing with immediate problems for instance, debt relief or the calendarbut he made no serious effort to systematize his position or tackle the issues that had generated the Roman Revolution in the first place.
In fact, in the last months of his life he was planning to leave Rome for several years to campaign against the Parthians in the East. That the cabal of nobles who conspired to kill Caesar included disaffected members of his own party constitutes stark testimony as to the effects of Caesar's tactlessness.
On 15 March, 44 BC C. Julius Caesar, dictator for life, was surrounded by the conspirators at a meeting of the senate and cut down with twenty-three stab wounds.
He died at the foot of a statue of his great rival, Pompey. The senatorial "Liberators," covered in blood and brandishing their daggers, rushed out to accept the gratitude of the liberated.
They met with a somewhat different reception. The people had loved Caesar, even if his recent behavior had been disappointing []. The Liberators, who were led by L. Cassius Longinus and M.
Junius Brutus, held public meetings in the Forum, but the reaction of the people was equivocal at best. The senate, meeting on March 17, vacillated and declared an amnesty for the Liberators inferring legitimacy for their act of tyrannicide while ratifying all of Caesar's acts and decreeing him a public funeral in the Forum inferring legitimacy for Caesar's power.
It may have seemed a workable compromise, but when Caesar's mutilated body was displayed to the crowd and the contents of his will were made public--in which some gardens were bequeathed to the public and an individual stipend given to each member of the Roman people--the dam of emotion burst and rioting ensued.
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An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Rulers. DIR Atlas AUGUSTUS (31 B.C. - 14 A.D.) [Additional entry on this emperor's life is available in DIR Archives]. Garrett G. Fagan Pennsylvania State University.
Introduction Augustus is arguably the single most important figure in Roman history. Illustration courtesy of Justine Shaw, © Origins Frank Herbert () was an unusually bright boy who grew up with sporadically alcoholic parents during the Great Depression.
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