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Augustus Principate Essay

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Assess Augustus' claim to have restored the Republic. It is easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to draw conclusions about Augustus' Principate based primarily on the system it preceded: the organization of the state under the princeps contained the seeds of the Empire, if not the beginning of it. Beard and Crawford characterize the Principate of Augustus, like the dictatorship of Caesar, as 'monarchical in all but name'. This view is not satisfactory. While it would be naive to accept at face value Augustus' claims to have 'freed the Republic', it is impossible to see the saeculum Augustum as indistinct from the reign of Tiberius. To do so is to completely dismiss the facet of his Principate of which Augustus himself was most proud. While the princeps created the basis for an imperial system of rule in the powers he accumulated in his person, and more to the point took careful steps to secure the succession of his heir, he always operated within a republican constitutional framework. We must therefore follow Syme in seeing the Principate as a 'binding link' between Republic and Empire, and Eder in concluding that the Principate 'should not be unequivocally aligned with either a republican or a monarchical "reality"'. The key question then becomes where in the range between the two to place it. It has been argued on the one hand that Augustus' use of and respect for the Senate and his recourse to tradition support his presentation of the state as a restored Republic. On the other hand, the manner of his rise to power, his unprecedented personal stature and influence and his retention of a military sanction point in the other direction. Judging his innovations is especially challenging, as these paradoxically had their roots in social conservatism. This debate is essentially a constitutional one: how far did Augustus go towards monarchy; how different was he from a tyrant? There are, however, other ways to judge a 'restoration'. Augustus instigated a stronger, more efficiently organized imperium; a period of peace and prosperity longed for by the Roman people and a series of social and religious reforms. His pride in these accomplishments, expressed through the Res Gestae, confirms that, in his eyes at least, they constituted an administrative, social and moral restoration of the Roman state - in whatever way it was governed. The question of whether Augustus was a republican or a monarch is not a new one. Contemporaries, too, struggled to define the Principate: Velleius called him a republican, Plutarch saw him as the second in a line of monarchs, while Suetonius included him in his biographies of the Caesars, which started with Julius, but saw him presiding over the res publica, albeit one with a 'novus status'. As far as Augustus himself was concerned, there was no question as to the legality of his position of power. The Res Gestae carefully documents each of his official appointments, and stresses that the initiative for them each time came from the Senate and the people: he is given imperium in the first instance 'senatus decretis', he stresses that his defeat of Julius Caesar's murderers followed due process of law, and prior to the First Settlement of 27 BC he had acquired absolute power 'per consensum universorum'. After that time, he claims, though he had precedence in rank, he possessed no more power than any other magistrate. This is the point at which, according to the inscription, 'rempublicam ex mea potestate in senatus populique Roman arbitrium transtuli'. The wording of the phrase is significant: Augustus never claimed himself to have 'restored the Republic' per se. Although this is certainly the implication the phrase, 'restitua republica' appears only in other authors' work. He instead claims to have 'returned power to the Senate and the people'.


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