Augustan Reforms

Augustus Caesar claimed he "found Rome a city of stone and left a city of marble" and after his rule Rome was in Pax Romana for 200 years. He did these things through military, political, social and religious reforms, undertaking a massive civil works projects and presenting himself to the Roman people as a god and their savior.

Military Reforms:
  • reduced number of legions because the army had grown too large to be manageable.
  • settled his veterans in colonies, who previously found themselves unsupported after retirement. This increased loyalty and morale in the existing troops by showing them that their service was appreciated by Augustus and they would be well taken care of after retirement.
  • paid them well (another measure to secure loyalty)
  • funds came from his victories in Egypt against Cleopatra and Marc Antony
  • was the institution of the Praetorian Guard who were his personal police force and that of most emperors who came after him. This select group of men numbered 3000 and were stationed all over Italy.

Senate Reforms:
  • managed the Senate with tact and deference unlike later Emperors who, by their behavior, turned the Senators against them.
  • reduced the number of Senators, getting rid of the Senators he felt would be most likely to oppose him.
  • allowed the Senate to continue to oversee some provinces (the ones Augustus himself did not oversee) as a way of showing the Senate he didn't want to take all the power away from them.

Social Reforms:
  • de maritandis:
    Penalties, punishments and incentives for couples to produce more children -- if a woman had three or more legitamate children she was released from her father's control. These included encouragement to marry by a certain age and encouragement for both widows and widowers to remarry within a certain amount of time. Unmarried men and couples with no children were forced to pay more taxes.
    b) de adulteriis:
  • Penalties for adultery, which was made a criminal offense -- for women only. Before adultery was a matter to be worked out by the family, but the law stated that a man would be punished if he didn't punish his wife if she were guilty of adultery. It did, however, prohibit killing a wife unless she was caught in the act in the husband's bed. Augustus exiled his own granddaughter, Julia, for adultery.

Religious Reform:
  • gave himself the title Augustus, starting the tradition that Emperors were considered descendants of the gods.
  • pontifex maximus -- appointed himself chief of all priest.
  • restored 82 temples
  • revived cults and festivals which made him very popular with the common people
  • provided funding for these
  • provided a stipend for and filled vacant priesthoods

Building Program:
  • "found Rome brick and left her marble" (quote from Res Gestae)
  • began an expansive road building program which promoted unity in the Empire
  • Forum: built the temple to Caesar and finished other Caesarian buildings
  • built Theatre to Marcellus
  • built Mausoleum of Augustus
  • built Baths of Agrippa
  • He ensured water supply to most Roman houses, building or completing aqueducts and a sewage system.
  • He created a fire department which was in great need, especially in 'insulae' or apartment buildings which were prone to outbreaks of fire.
  • He ensured at long last a steady supply of wheat to the city and removed the constant fear of famine.
  • The Empire (which extended to the Euphrates in the east, the Atlantic Ocean in the west, and the African desert in the south) was not expanded during Augustus' rule because he felt it would be impossible to rule justly if it were any bigger.

  • spoke of pietas: devotion and loyalty to Rome. Citizens were expected to be more loyal to Rome than to their own family.
  • "reordered and restored the Republic" by bringing stability to a place just prior torn by civil war
  • justified his claims to power in many ways, visible in four examples:
  1. Ara Pacis, Altar of Peace, 13 B.C.-9 B.C. constructed as a testament of the loyalty and peace Augustus brought to Rome.
  2. Statue of Augustus from Prima Porta, 1st c. A.D. a statue venerating Augustus.
  3. Res Gestae Divi Augusti ('Divine Accomplishments of Augustus'), autobiography of Augustus in which he sets forth all the great and noble things he's done.
  4. Ordered the writing of The Aeneid by Virgil, which was pro-Augustan propaganda. Augustus was the patron of Virgil and the Aeneid conveniently refers to Augustus as a descendant of Venus, giving credibility to Augustus' divinity. The Aeneid's purpose was also to give Romans an epic poem to call their own and a unified identity.

The reforms of Augustus were an attempt to control and reunify a country devestated by years of civil war. Augustus knew how to not only make the politicians love him, but also the common people and that made him a very successful leader. The changes he made in the Roman government were used for years and brought a period of peace and prosperity to Rome. For these reasons, the rule of Augustus marks the beginning of the "Golden Age" of Rome.


Lecture notes from Mark Lippman - Graduate student, Duke University
The Great, Wise, Noble, and Talented: A.L.E. Hinkle, the Latin teacher who knows everything.
The History Guide:

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