With Reference to ‘Suetonius’, ‘Res Gestae’, and other sources, how successfully did Augustus create his own image

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Julius Caesar’s rule had been successful, but he had neglected Roman traditions, such as religion, and had made himself king of Rome, in all but name. After the dictatorship and eventual assassination of Caesar, the Roman Republic was sent into a state of decline. ‘Republic’ meant that Roman citizens could elect a representative, and have political power through them. Rome had been losing its Republican values, due to individuals taking control of its politics through military force, using private armies.

Caesar adopted Octavian, his great nephew, and made him his appointed heir. After the assassination, Octavian gained power, and began to establish himself as a popular leader, with authority and power, and patriotism towards Rome. He needed to maintain the image of a Republican leader in order to become favoured by the citizens who believed Rome should be a Republic. He carefully created his during his rise to power, and through his reign as ‘Imperator’, to ensure that he remained well-liked among the Roman people. Gaius Octavius’; Octavian’s paternal family line, was well respected, but lacked nobility. Octavian started his career with this name, but preferred asociating himself with the Julian family line, ‘Gens Julia’. He adopted the name ‘C. Julius Caesar Octavius’, or ‘Divi Julili filius’, meaning ‘son of the divine Julius’. By taking advantage of the name Caesar, Octavian gained recognition as Julius Caesar’s son, which was a judicious political move, gaining him the support of Caesar’s former followers.

In 27BC, Octavian was given the name Augustus by the Roman Senate. This name meant ‘the exalted’ or ‘sacred’, and ‘augure’ meant to increase, implying they felt Augustus would gain more territory for the Roman Empire. Through not deifying himself directly, Augustus had created part of his image, and made himself popular with his people. Suetonius says; ‘He [Plancus] argued that Augustus was both a more honourable title, since sanctuaries and all places consecrated by the augurs are known as ‘august’… implying the increase of dignity thus given such places…

Plancus supported his point by a quotation from Ennius’ Annals: ‘When glorious Rome had founded been, by augury august. ‘ Octavian fought under Julius Caesar in Spain and fought with Mark Antony in Philippi and Macedonia, avenging the assassination of Caesar. He had military success as a young man, and desired prominence in battle, appointing himself General. He formed the second triumvirate with Antony and Lepidus; taking the western provinces, where there was a lot of support for Antony in Rome; Antony had the eastern provinces, and Lepidus had Africa.

This alliance was cemented by a marriage between Mark Antony, and Octavian’s sister, Octavia. The triumvirate collapsed after Antony gave his Roman territory to his and Cleopatra’s children in his will. This resulted in the battle of Actium, where Octavian fought and defeated Cleopatra and Antony. Egypt became part of the Roman Empire, becoming vital in the export of grain, as it was so fertile. Octavian gained praise by saving Rome from starvation, and extending the Roman Empire, as he says in the Res Gestae; ‘I added Egypt to the Empire of the people. Suetonius says; ‘Augustus turned the kingdom of Egypt into a Roman province; and then, to increase its fertility and its yield of grain for the Roman market… ‘ Augustus gained more land, and ruled large parts of the Balkans, the East and Gaul, acting as a peacekeeper. His image was created here, as Roman citizens saw him as the leader who had brought them wealth and extended their territories. They also saw him as the person who defended them against an invasion from the Egyptians.

The fact that he had saved the Romans from starvation, made him seem as if he really cared for his people, and was not just interested in his own personal gain; he also noticed their needs. Throughout his reign, Augustus was honoured with many titles, all of which were chosen to portray the idea that Rome was a Republic. He took the title ‘Imperator'(emperor), recognising him as the most powerful man in Rome, and showing those outside Rome he had transformed the state from a dictatorship, reliant on military force, to a Republic.

Later, he preferred to call himself ‘Princeps’ (‘first citizen among equals. ‘) This was a successful move; the title emphasised that Rome was a Republican State. Also successful, was not establishing a court, or calling himself King, ‘Rex’, which would have represented an absolutist rule. He says; ‘I possessed no more official power than others who were my colleagues in the several magistracies. ‘ This was a political masterstroke, as he had no more power than the others as a consul, but he is not mentioning that he had several other titles, which gave him far more power than anyone else.

Augustus maintained his popularity by declining to take titles which were seen as negative. He refused the dictatorship, so that he seemed to be maintaining a Republic, and ruling for the good of his people, not for himself; ‘The dictatorship was offered to me by both senate and people in my absence and when I was at Rome… but I refused it. ‘ He was careful what military positions he held, as he did not want to be seen as more powerful than others, showing he was a Republican leader. Augustus was given a ten year provincial command, during which he removed senatorial proconsuls.

He then replaced them with ‘subordinate legates’, which meant he had control of the territories. He also had ‘Proconsular Imperium’, which he kept for thirty years, preventing civil wars or revolts against him. He held the consulship for several years, and resigned in the second constitutional settlement, as it was said that he was blocking others from the position (people had begun to plot against him), as he had held it so long. By resigning, he was seen as not power hungry, and prevented any uprisings against him.

He was awarded ‘tribunica potestas’, which enhanced his relationship with the people, allowing him civil and military power to control the tribunes through the use of ‘veto’ (‘I forbid’). He was associated with the people, and therefore gained popularity. He was asked to take the consulship again in 19BC, after several disasters, which were said to have been caused because of his absence. He was given the title for life, and did not seek the position himself; therefore people would have viewed him favourably.

Augustus says, in ‘Res Gestae’ that ‘[he] spared the lives of all citizens who asked for mercy’, showing himself to be a fair man. However, something not mentioned in ‘Res Gestae’ is the proscription, in which 300 senators and 200 knights were killed, sealing the alliance between the Triumvir (Augustus, Lepidus and Mark Antony, who each ruled a part of the Roman Empire) , and ridding them of any enemies. This is a negative side of Augustus’ character, as he would be viewed as power-hungry. He also had a part in a proscription against 120 enemies, whose money was confiscated, and used to pay his troops.

This could prove he did not want anyone threatening his position. When the Gates of Janus were closed in Rome, the city was seen to be at peace. During Augustus’ reign, the gates were closed three times; ‘It was the will of our ancestors that the gateway of Janus Quirinus should be shut when victories had secured peace by land and sea throughout the whole empire of the Roman people… tradition records that it was shut only twice, but I was the leading citizen the senate resolved hat it should be shut on three occasions. ‘ He was seen favourably, as people viewed him as a peace-loving emperor.

The Altar of Peace, or the Ara Pacis, was consecrated in 13 BC, by Augustus to celebrate his victories in Spain and Gaul, and as a reminder to people that he had brought peace. Augustus also extended Rome’s territories; ‘I recovered all the provinces beyond the Adriatic sea towards the east, together with… I had previously recovered Sicily and Sardinia… I founded colonies of soldiers in Africa, Sicily, Macedonia, both Spanish provinces… ‘ He extinguished the civil wars, again enhancing his image; ‘In my sixth and seventh consulships, after I had extinguished civil wars… Suetonius says: ‘He fought five civil wars in all; associated respectively with the names of Mutina, Philippi, Perusia, Sicily, and Actium. ‘ Augustus was seen as capable of controlling foreign lands. His military achievements promoted the idea that peace could be achieved only through Augustus’ military power, therefore justifying the wars. Rome’s greatest writers, Virgil, Ovid, Horace and Livy were used by Augustus to write promotional material for him. Virgil’s Aeneid praised Augustus’ regime, implying that it was necessary to fight to expand Rome, and create peace within it.

Within the Aeneid, Jupiter says; ‘Unlimited power I give them… ‘ implying the gods supported Augustus. Augustus was seen as the emperor who had brought peace to Rome, and had divine support. The Aeneid praised Rome, and emphasised that Augustus was linked to the goddess Venus, via his ‘Gens Julia’ ancestry, which could be traced back to Aeneas. Mark Antony had a love affair with Cleopatra, and did not leave her, neglecting his duties to Rome. In the Aeneid, Aeneas leaves Queen Dido, his lover, as he feels his duty to Rome cannot be ignored.

Horace writes unfavourably about Cleopatra, saying she ‘dreamt herself a deity at Rome’, claiming she was a threat to Rome; ‘drunk with destruction’. Augustus’ image is enhanced here, as he defeated Cleopatra, removing a threat towards Rome. Cicero wrote ‘Philippics’, praising Augustus against Antony. Horace compares Augustus with a god, showing him as a very powerful and competent leader. ‘”Thundering Jupiter, we did believe of old the king of heaven, a present god on earth would be Augustus as his conquests add Britain and Persia to the imperial fold” – Horace Odes 3:5 1-4′.

Aeneas’ new armour, made for him by Venus, has a depiction of the battle of Actium on the shield, and shows Augustus’s defeat of Antony and Cleopatra. This not only shows Augustus’s success in war, but could also be justifying this civil war. Aeneas’ father takes him through the underworld, and shows him some of the great people waiting to be born, if he founds Rome. Augustus is mentioned, and it is said he will enlarge Rome. “Romulus, born of the stock of Assaracus by his mother… Mars’ cognizance, which marks him out for the world of earth…

Heaven – dwellers all, all tenants of the realm above. Now bend your gaze this way, look at the people there! They are your Romans. Caesar is there… beneath the arch of day. And here, here is the man, the promised one you know of, Caesar Augustus, son of a god, destined to rule. ” He is mentioned as the son of a god, and is seen as one of the great people of Rome, who will do much for the Roman people. Equally important was the use of coinage, which was effective, as every person in Rome would, at some point handle coins.

Augustus’ coins portray representations of divinity, and there was very often a reference to the god Apollo, as Augustus attributed military victories to him, such as the Battle of Actium. This showed that he was religious, and respected the gods, enhancing his image with the Roman people. It also links him with the god of war, which emphasised that he was successful in war. Paul Zanker writes; “all of [Augustus] goals and objectives, both during the struggle with Antony and… In the building of the new order, could be associated with [Apollo].

Apollo stood first of all for discipline and morality. ” Augustus styled his image upon that of Apollo, having statues made of himself in Apollo’s stance. This emphasised the links between Augustus and the gods, and maintained his image through association with the war-god. However, associating himself too closely with the gods was a mistake, as Julius Caesar had done this, and had lost popularity through it. Suetonius tells us Augustus dressed up as Apollo at a private banquet, which people could have seen as self-deification, losing him some of his well-constructed image.

Augustus developed roads, improved the fire-services and the night-policemen. He claims that he ‘found Rome built of bricks’ and left it ‘clothed in marble’. This shows his devotion to Rome and its people. He claimed he did not put his name on the new buildings, conveying modesty, and to show people he was doing it for them, not himself. However, people would remember what he did for Rome whenever they looked at the city; through improving life for his people, he improved his reputation. He staged plays and held gladiatorial games for the pleasure of his people.

He built the temple of Apollo, showing his dedication to the traditions of religion in Rome, which Julius Caesar had ignored. “I built the Senate House, and the Chalcidicum adjacent to it, the temple of Apollo on the Palatine with its porticoes… ” Augustus had a public relationship with the gods, building temples for them, therefore relating himself to the average Roman, as they all shared the same religion. This enhanced his image, and gained him support from religious people. Whenever people went into the temples, they were reminded of Augustus’ dedication to religion, as he had ‘Res Gestae’ carved onto stone tablets, and displayed.

He saw that religion was a way of controlling the people, as they all feared the afterlife and punishment from the gods if they did not live their lives properly. Augustus accepted the title of ‘Pontifex Maximus’, once Lepidus had died, which helped him to develop his image. “I declined to be made Pontifex maximus in the place of my colleague who was still alive, when the people offered me the priesthood which my father had held. Some years later, after the death of the man who had taken the opportunity of civil disturbance to seize it for himself, I received this priesthood”.

As a priest, he got to show his devotion to duty, the family and Rome. Augustus played down his links to Julius Caesar at this point, who had deified himself. Virgil and Horace had written about Augustus’ power as if it was godlike, but he was never deified, as he didn’t want to offend the senate. Augustus passed the ‘Julian Laws’, which were moral reforms, and were meant to show Rome as a stable state. He sent away his daughter Julia, who was behaving in a way that could damage his career; by going against the laws about marriage and having affairs.

Sending her away showed people that he obeyed the rules as well. Suetonius says; “He even considered her execution… He kept Julia for five years on an island prison… ” Marriage was important in the Roman world, for the creation of children, and so by promoting them, Augustus was seen to be caring for his people. He was given the title ‘Pater Patriae’, which meant he was head of the ‘household’ of Rome, and promoted him in a fatherly light. Suetonius says that Augustus said ‘I have achieved my highest ambition’ when he received this honour.

Of all his titles, this one helped his image the most, as it showed he was caring for all he ruled. Suetonius also tells us that, throughout his life, Augustus had several affairs and was an extensive gambler; something which Augustus does not mention for the sake of his image. Augustus cleverly used propaganda and military strength to enhance and maintain his image throughout his time in power. He appeared to be a leader who gained all his titles as honours from the Senate; however, he was actually carefully controlling all that happened, so that it was all in his favour.

He was seen to be upholding the traditions of Rome, and was thought to be a Republican leader. However, he was not the leader of a Republic, as he in sole command of everything, not allowing others to have any power, for fear they might challenge him. It is arguable that the only reason he was in power for so long, was because of the careful construction of his image; if he had allowed any scandals to surface, or had not ‘pulled so many strings’, he would never have retained his power.

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