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Book IV
Chapter V

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Augustus
by
John Buchan

published by
Hodder and Stoughton
London 1937

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Book IV: Pater Patriae

 p319  Chapter VI

The Close

I am an old and solitary man,

Mine eyes feel dimly out the setting sun,

Which drops its great red fruit of bitterness

To‑day as other day, as every day,

Within the patient waters.

Browning, Soliloquy of Aeschylus.

I

When in the beginning of A.D. 13 Tiberius at last celebrated his triumph for Pannonia and Germany, Augustus had completed his seventy-fifth year. His span of life had far exceeded those of Alexander and Julius. By a strict and temperate regime a body, naturally frail, had been preserved to a great age, but now infirmities were crowding fast upon him. Rheumatism crippled his limbs, his poor circulation made him feel cold acutely, and he was easily fatigued. For a little the tragedy of Varus had prostrated him, and, though he had recovered his spirits, it was plain to those around him that his vital force was ebbing. The Princeps had become a very old man.

In those last years he seems to have felt his loneliness. His daughter and granddaughter were in exile, and his only surviving grandson was half an idiot. There was no one of his own blood to succeed him, and this he was apt to lament with the sad monotony of age. He was beginning to turn more and more to his stepson, Tiberius, to write him affectionate letters, and to worry about the chances of his smooth succession. There were several others who might make a bid for it: Lucius Arruntius, for example, and Asinius Gallus, and Marcus Lepidus — all unsuitable; he must see to it that there was no  p320 mishap.1 His mind, too, turned back on his long career, reviewing every detail of it, and he set himself to complete a summary of his work which he could leave as his testament. He had long been busied with this, and now he brought it up to date. It would be published everywhere, so that he who ran might read what he had done for Rome and the empire, for he knew well that when the lion was dead the dogs would bark again.2

The Last Census He could still transact business, but he had to husband his strength. He could no longer go regularly to the Senate-house, so he did most of his work in his own rooms at the Palatine, with the help of Tiberius and his privy council, and the Senate decreed that the decisions thus arrived at should have all the force of a senatorial order. He kept a close watch on finance, and he did not forget his old ingenuity; for, finding that his tax on bequests was unpopular, he proposed to replace it by a levy on lands, houses and commission-agents, with the result that the Senate hastily confirmed the original proposal. In A.D. 13 he accepted a renewal of his imperium for another ten years, while the tribunician power was continued for Tiberius; a law was also passed giving the latter equal rights with his stepfather in the command of the armies and the government of the empire, and empowering the two to conduct a census together. The census was duly held, and was concluded in May A.D. 14 with a solemn purification in the Field of Mars. Augustus was too ill to read the customary vows, and left them to Tiberius. During the ceremony strange things happened. An eagle circled round his head, flew to Agrippa's tomb and perched on the first letters of Agrippa's name, as if to warn the Princeps that he must soon follow his great marshal. A flash of lightning obliterated the first letter of "Caesar" on a statue of Augustus on the Capitol; now "aesar" in Etruscan  p321 meant a divinity and "C" stood for 100, and the augurs prophesied that within one hundred days he would join the gods. Moreover, there was an eclipse of the sun,a and meteors in the sky foretold the death of princes. The mind of Rome was attuned to marvels and Augustus accepted the omen. He had already deposited his will with the Vestal Virgins, and he now put the finishing touches to his political testament. He had wound up his account with the world.

For long he had been feeling the burden of age and sickness, and a melancholy satiety with life. He had dared so much, schemed so much, and how he was at the end of the road. The writing of his testament had given him a momentary satisfaction, but it was soon dimmed as one dreary day of weakness succeeded another. Milton's words in Samson Agonistes might have been his:

So much I feel my genial spirits droop,

My hopes all flat: Nature within me seems

In all her functions weary of herself.

His one comfort lay now, as ever, in work. He struggled to finish the census, the last of his imperial duties, but the pleasure had gone out of achievement though the obligation remained. As he reviewed his career he saw the shades rather than the lights, the immense, almost superhuman labours which to his present weakness seemed monstrous in the retrospect.3

The Last Journey But, his final official tasks completed, his mood seems to have changed. The hour of release was near and his spirit was suddenly enlarged. He welcomed the thought of death with a kind of gaiety.4 He would take a last  p322 holiday and see again that happy south Italian land which he had always loved. He would revisit the home of his forefathers.

That holiday was in accord with the tenor of a sane and strenuous life, the proper "falling close" to a great epic. Tiberius had certain matters to arrange in Illyria, and the Princeps resolved to accompany him as far as Beneventum on his way to Brindisi. He set out from Rome with Livia and a large suite, and came by the Via Appia to the little coast town of Astura on the bay of Antium, where the river of that name twined through woods to the sea. There Cicero, when the loss of Tullia drove him from Tusculum, had purchased a small villa looking across the marshes, where he spent his days planning a shrine for his dead daughter.5 At Astura the company joined the imperial yacht, and, since the state of the wind compelled them to embark by night, Augustus caught a chill in the bowels; so it was in weakness and discomfort that he coasted down the lovely Campanian shore, where fifty-eight years earlier he had met his mother and made the decision which changed the course of the world. He was greatly cheered by what happened at Puteoli, where the yacht put in. The crew of a cornº‑ship from Alexandria greeted him in white raiment with incense and garlands, praising him for safeguarding their lives and occupations.6 This was the kind of tribute he loved, and he gave forty pieces of gold to each of his attendants to be spent on Alexandrian wares.

His health improved and he passed several days at his villa at Capri, that fortunate isle where land and water make the fairyland of a dream. A boyish gaiety returned to him, as if he had rid himself of the burden of the years. He gave dinners to his friends and many gifts, compelling the company to dress fantastically, Romans in the pallium and Greeks in the toga. He entertained a band of young athletes who were training for the Greek games at Naples, and joined in pelting them with fruits and sweetmeats. He invented bad Greek verses, and  p323 puzzled one of Tiberius's learned astrologers by demanding from what poets they came. He made jokes about Capri, calling part of the island Apragopolis, the Land of Do‑nothings, because of the laziness of its people. Whenever his complaint ceased to trouble him he was in a mood of youthful high spirits.

Capri had given him rest, but when he crossed to Naples he overtaxed his strength and brought back his illness. He was unwilling to disappoint honest folk who desired to compliment him, so he sat through the whole of a blazing Campanian day watching athletic games which had been established in his honour. Then he continued his journey to Beneventum, where he said good‑bye to Tiberius. It would seem that he now felt his weakness increasing, for he set out at once on his return journey. But at Nola, eighteen miles from Naples, he became gravely ill and was compelled to halt. There he was put to bed in a villa of his family, in the very chamber where, when he was five years old, his father had died. It was clear to his attendants that his days were numbered, and a messenger was sent post-haste to recall his stepson. Tiberius arrived in time to spend some hours with him, and to receive his last words of counsel.

It was the month of August, his lucky month which bore his name. On its nineteenth day he had entered upon his first consulship, and that was to be the day of his death. His mind was clear and he was free from pain, except for the swift ebbing of strength. He had finished his course and he faced the end with a gentle dignity. Homer had always meant much to him, and he may have found comfort in that line which is the quintessence of peace: "The night is at hand, and it is good to yield to the night."7 His friends gathered about him, and he asked them whimsically if they thought that he had been a good actor in the comedy of life. As Julius had quoted a tag of Menander before crossing the Rubicon, so he quoted a verse from a Greek play:

Since well I've done my part, then, gentles, pray

Applaud, and send me with your thanks away. . . .

p324 He was left alone with Livia. For a moment his mind wandered into a nightmare, and he cried out something about young men carrying him off. He recovered himself, and sent for a mirror, had his hair combed and his sagging jaw put straight. He asked about a child of Drusus who was ill, and then, feeling the coming of death, he endeavoured to kiss his wife, murmuring "Farewell, Livia; live mindful of our marriage." He died in the arms of the one being left to him in the world to love.8

II

The days were too hot for travel, so the body was carried by night along the roads to Rome. The magistrates in each little city had charge of it in turn, and each day it lay in the local court-house. Nola sent the dead Princeps to Naples, Naples to Cumae, Cumae to Formiae, and Formiae across the Pomptine marshes and the Latin plain to Bovillae among the Alban hills. The grape-gatherers, coming home from the vintage, saw the mourning procession setting out on its night's journey, and at dawn the workers in the olive-yards saw it reach its daily resting-place.

Bovillae, twelve miles from the capital, contained the family shrine of the Julii, the proud race which claimed descent from the Goddess of Love. There, as was fitting, the principal ceremonies began. The equestrian order, which had been Augustus's special care, had obtained from the consuls the privilege of now taking charge of the body, and the deputation of knights was headed by an odd, vacant youth, Claudius, the son of the elder Drusus, who was one day to be emperor. The journey from Nola had taken the better part of a fortnight, and it was now early September. That night the cortège set out on its last stage along the Appian Way. It  p325 entered the sleeping city by the Porta Capena, passed through the hollow between the Caelian hill and the Palatine, and crossed the ridge beneath the Esquiline till it reached the palace, where the body was laid in the vestibule.

The Funeral Next day the Senate, summoned by Tiberius, met to arrange the funeral. The magistrates had discarded their purple-bordered togas, and Tiberius and his son Drusus were in sombre black. A great wave of sorrow and regret had passed over Rome, and many novel proposals were made to honour the dead. One was that his life, from his birth to his death, should be officially known as the Augustan Age, and so entered in the calendar. The Princeps had left explicit instructions for the ceremonial on the same lines as the funeral of Agrippa, and these must be followed. The will, drawn up the previous year, was brought by Drusus from the care of the Vestal Virgins, and, according to custom, was read by an imperial freedman. There were large bequests to Livia and Tiberius, and huge donations to the Roman populace. Then Drusus read various testamentary memoranda, a statement as to the army and public finance, notes of advice to his successor, and the summary of his life's work, which we call the Res Gestae. It was a solemn moment, for these were the last words of Augustus to his people.

Then came the funeral. The coffined body was laid beneath a couch of gold and ivory, which was draped with coverlets of purple and gold. Above, on the couch, so that all men could see it, was a wax image of the dead man in triumphal garb. The procession was formed, other images of Augustus in gold being borne behind the bier, as well as images of his ancestors and kin, and of famous Romans like Pompey. Only Julius was not there, for Julius was a god. The mourners descended from 1 the Palatine to 2 the Sacred Way and thence to the Forum, the heart of Rome;b past 3 the temple of Vesta and 4 the dwelling-place of the Vestals; past 5 the new temple of Castor and Pollux, rebuilt by Tiberius in honour of Drusus, and 6 the well where the Twins had watered their horses; past 7 the temple of Janus to 8 the Rostra, where so  p326 much of Roman history had been made. At the Rostra the cortège halted, and Drusus delivered the customary funeral panegyric on the virtues of the dead. At 9 the temple of Divus Julius, Tiberius pronounced a second eulogy, of which Dio has a paraphrase.9 It dealt chiefly with his official work, his devotion to the state, his public economy and private liberality, his love of candour and honest speech, his supreme administrative gifts. There was no rhetoric in the speech, but much sober fact; its tone was that of the Res Gestae, and it was such a tribute as Augustus would have approved.

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The procession moved on in the hot September noon, while crowds choked the streets and covered every house‑top. It passed under 10 the Capitol and the shining new temples which Augustus had built, and through the Triumphal Gateway to the Field of Mars, where, beyond the bend of the Tiber, loomed the great dome of 11 the imperial Mausoleum. All Rome followed it, senators and senator's wives, the equestrian order, and the praetorian guards. The body was laid on a pyre, and on the pyre, as a last tribute, the citizens cast the decorations which they had won in war. Then centurions applied the torches. As the flames mounted an eagle was released and soared skywards, a custom drawn from the ancientry of the East, and a symbol that the soul of the Princeps had ascended to Heaven. . . . Slowly the great concourse departed, but Livia remained for five days on the spot. On the sixth day, accompanied by some of the chief men of the equestrian order barefoot and ungirded, she collected the ashes and placed them in the Mausoleum, which held the mortal remains of Octavia and Marcellus and Agrippa.

Deification of Augustus On the 17th of September the Senate formally declared that Augustus now ranked among the deities of the state. An ex‑praetor, one Numerius Atticus, swore that he had seen him ascending to the skies, and was well rewarded for his vision.10 Temples were decreed to him in Rome and elsewhere, and priests and festivals assigned to his cult. His image on a gilt couch was placed in the  p327 temple of Mars, and the house at Nola, where he died, was made holy ground.

The news of his death was soon carried by the official posts to the uttermost parts of the empire. To the armies it meant little; they had taken the oath to him, but it was Tiberius who, for the past decade, had led them in the field. The peoples, who from the Loire to the Euphrates were worshipping him as a saviour, had a moment of alarm as if their foundations were cracking. But they comforted themselves, reflecting that Augustus was a god and that gods do not die. They redoubled their offerings to one who was not only divine but had now joined his fellow-divinities. . . .

The child whose birth we have seen in Bethlehem that winter night when Quirinius had ordered a census of Judaea, was now out of his teens, and pursuing his trade of carpenter in Nazareth, where he had taken over Joseph's business. He had accompanied his parents to the solemn festivals in Jerusalem, and had won something of a name for his skill in expounding the Jewish scriptures in the local synagogue. He was commonly known as Jesus of Nazareth, but sometimes as the Son of Mary. When not working at his trade he was given to long wanderings, for, though he was friendly to all, he loved wild nature and solitude. When the news of the death of the master of the world came to the Galilean hills, and the neighbours were troubled lest this should mean the end of the Augustan peace and an orderly empire, he did not seem greatly concerned, for his thoughts were on a different peace and another empire. Sixteen years later he was to proclaim a kingdom mightier than the Roman, and to tell of a world saved not by Man who became God, but by God who became Man.

III

The career of Augustus may be likened to a high plateau approached by a long, steep and perilous ascent.  p328 For fifteen years his feet were on the crags, and for forty-three he surveyed the world from the tableland. In the first stage his problem was how to win supreme power, and in the second how best to use it. His character remained the same throughout his life, in the sense that the qualities which enabled him to outstrip his rivals were those which made it possible to remould the world — iron self-command, infinite patience, and an infallible judgment of facts and men. Few have ever entered upon a more apparently hopeless task than Augustus when, in his nineteenth year, he left Apollonia, and few have ever won a more triumphant success. For years he led a life of unremitting physical toil and mental anxiety combined with miserable health — no small test of fortitude. Close-lipped, tenacious, cautious and yet intrepid, he is amazing, but he is not attractive. The earlier Augustus is the Industrious Apprentice raised to the highest power, the Eldest Son of the fairy tales, whom nothing will keep from his heritage. He lived in constant peril, but his prudent days had none of the glamour of adventure. He took desperate risks, but only after meticulous calculation. He is the least romantic of great men.

When Actium was fought and won he revealed the same qualities, but they were given a new direction and tempered by something of which hitherto there had been few traces. The common arriviste is apt to find himself lost at his journey's end. He does not know how to use what he has gained. The very gifts which made him formidable on the road keep him puzzled and uncertain at the goal. Here — on the side of character — lies the marvel of Augustus's career. A cold, self-contained youth was exchanged for a genial maturity; he who had held himself apart became the friend of all the world; what had appeared to be a devouring personal ambition was transmuted into an anxious benevolence, a selfless care for the vast oecumene of which he was the head. To "pietas" and "gravitas" were added "civilitas" and "clementia" and "providentia," and between them they made up a complete "auctoritas." These latter qualities he had always possessed, but they had been necessarily frost-bound during the bleak years of struggle  p329 and fruition. The miracle was that they did not die, but, when at last the sun shone, could break into blossom and fruit.

The Mind of Augustus His character, as I have said, was adequate to his powers of mind, a thing unfissured, four-square, simple, wholly intelligible. He had most of the major virtues which Aristotle enumerates, but especially he had phronēsis, that practical wisdom which is the proper attribute of the ruler. Here we are faced by something far from simple. We have seen its results in the system of government which he created; it will be well to look into it more closely, for it is in this respect that he excelled other men.

His inspiration came from Julius. What that inspiration was we can only guess, for there was little time allowed the conqueror of the world to make his thoughts explicit. The mind of Julius, so far as we can read it, was the mind of a dreamer joined to the temperament of a soldier. He believed that, just as he had beaten his enemies and brought a great part of the earth under his sway, so he could mould to his will the civilian life of the world. His penetrating vision saw the ultimate needs of the empire, but he underestimated the difficulties in the way of meeting them, the tardiness of the process by which human nature can be accustomed to a new mode of life. Had he lived he might have gone far in the path he had marked out, but no lesser man could equal his pace.

With the cardinal article of his faith, that the old Republic could not govern an overseas empire, Augustus agreed; but on four points, as we have seen, he revised his policy. Julius would have made the frontier secure by fresh conquests in the East and North; Augustus, aware that he was not a military genius, hesitated and compromised. Julius aimed at an hereditary monarchy which should have something of the sanctity of the Eastern and Hellenistic thrones. To this the empire was to come in the end, but Augustus realized that time was not ripe for it, and that republican sentiment was still a force to be reckoned with. Julius was a bold  p330 iconoclast about republican forms which had survived their usefulness; Augustus sought to cherish whatever of these forms could be made to work, that there might be a decent bridge for tradition-loving Romans between past and present. Lastly, Julius stood for the ideal of a universal imperial citizenship, an ideal which was one day to be realized, and which was to be the chief imperial cement. There is evidence that Augustus would have accepted this as an ultimate purpose, but he saw that for the moment his task was to restore to Italy prestige and self-confidence, since Roman citizenship would be valueless without an authoritative Rome. Who shall say that in these matters he did not judge wisely?

Political Development He was a builder whose concern was with things, not fancies. He could appreciate a far‑reaching plan, but towers and adminicles must wait for the deep foundations. He had his preferences like other people, but he brought them always to the test of plain reality. Julius had been a dreamer; Augustus admired, examined and discarded many of his dreams. There were dreamers in plenty in Greece and the East; his sharp practical logic saved the world both from oriental extravagance and the sterile mysticism of the philosophers. He had none of the dangerous fanaticism which is to be found in men so diverse as Machiavelli and Calvin, an exaggerated view of the sanctity of the state; he would give the state the sanctity which belonged to it and no more. He was free from egalitarian whimsies, a malady from which the ancient world did not greatly suffer; he did not believe in that degeneration of democratic theory which imagines that there is a peculiar inspiration in the opinions of the ignorant and a singular nobility in the character of the penniless. But he had equally no belief in a crude authoritarianism; he would have assented to Aristotle's definition of the purpose of the state — that it originated for the sake of life and was continued for the sake of the good life.11 He sought not only to give every class a modest comfort, but to assign it a function in the community.

 p331  This doctrine of function was no new thing, for it derived from the Greek philosophers,12 and at the time was accepted by most thinking men; but after Augustus it had to wait for many centuries until it was revived as a principle of democracy. We must be careful in using this last term, for it has acquired a flavour to‑day which would have been incomprehensible to the ancient world. Of the familiar democratic technique certain parts, like the representative idea, were in the circumstances impracticable. But one democratic essential — government by discussion — Augustus would fain have established. He sought to make the Senate, constantly refreshed from below and therefore in a sense representative, a true consultative assembly, whose decisions the Princeps must accept or refute by argument. He would have applauded, too, the definition of Pericles: "Our constitution is named a democracy because it is in the hands not of the few but of the many. Our laws secure equal justice for all in their private disputes, and our public opinion welcomes and honours the best in every branch of achievement, not for any class reason, but on grounds of excellence alone."13 The Republic had been a close oligarchy; the empire brought a large new recruitment to the public service and endeavoured to give to the humblest a modicum of civic interests.

Augustus had notable advantages. He had to deal with the stubborn reactionary, but he was little troubled by the foolish progressive. The voice of the revolutionary was stilled; Rome had had too much of him and craved above all things for order and decorum. Nor did he suffer from the minor intellectual, the man whose talent is for a cheap disintegration. Rome did not want the atomiser; her one desire was to escape from chaos. Moreover, the sophist was everywhere at a discount when men were seeking a positive faith. Callicles and Thrasymachus were rare types even in the academies; Plato three centuries before had put them out of business and  p332 they had not recovered. Lastly, Augustus was free from intellectual pride. He was not dogmatic, but content to feel his way modestly, and when he blundered to retrace his steps. And he did not overrate himself or his achievements. Like Ecclesiastes, he could rejoice in his labour, and yet admit that much of it was vanity and its reward vexation of spirit. He had his task which must be done without thought of the price. The mainspring of his life was the Stoic precept: "We also must be soldiers, and in a campaign where there is no intermission and no discharge."14

His Achievement We have already seen flaws in the great structure, which were to widen into breaches. The chief was that he laid too heavy a burden on his successors. Not all his ingenuity could devise a means of making the empire fool-proof, and the state suffered when its head was a dolt or a degenerate. That was on the executive side; a graver blemish was that it did not bring the governed into any close organic relation with the government, and therefore prevented the growth of political capacity and true citizenship. But from this, as we have seen, there was no escape. Self-government had been possible in the small city-state, but no method had been found of applying it to a larger unit; indeed, it may be questioned whether in the full sense such a technique has yet been discovered.

For the rest, the Augustan constitution remains one of the major products of the human intelligence. It was a whole into which the parts fitted smoothly, but both whole and parts were elastic and capable of swift adaptation to unforeseen conditions. It was elaborate, but that was necessary, both because of its origin and its purpose. Augustus succeeded to a lawless world. Now lawlessness cannot be got rid of merely by a strong hand. Penal and repressive measures, unless they are woven into a fabric which fits the social body, will remain external applications and not internal remedies, and will sooner or later issue again in lawlessness. Civilization is always a matter  p333 of delicate adjustments, a conspiracy and a construction. The cure for anarchy is a hierarchy.

Elaboration was needed, too, because of the vast range and variety of the new duties of government. Augustus did not unduly revere the institutions which he created, or put too high a value on any mechanism for its own sake. He was less a slave to a panacea than we moderns, who are apt to credit some type of constitution, some economic dogma, some international apparatus with a plenary power of salvation. But he recognized the truth that a complex task demands a complex technique. It should be remembered that Plato, the foe of the mechanical, in the Laws, which he wrote in extreme old age, and therefore as his final testament, provides for the state a perfect jungle of minute regulations.

To most minds the Roman experiment lacks the charm of certain earlier polities. In the Rome of Augustus we cannot look for the free grace and simplicity of the Athens of Pericles. That is inevitable. Any large-scale organization must lose some of the merits of its rudimentary beginnings. Quantity will have a coarsening effect on quality. In the Protagoras15 Plato describes a gathering before dawn in the colonnades of an Athenian house, where young men meet to talk philosophy, and old Prodicus, still in bed and wrapped in a sheepskin, discoursed in his deep rumbling voice. Such a scene has a morning freshness which will not be found in the most perfectly equipped of universities. But quantity was of the essence of the problem which faced Augustus, since his task embraced the known world.

There is no merit in an empire as such. Extension in space does not necessarily mean spiritual advancement. The small community is easier to govern, and, it may well be, more pleasant to live in. If its opportunities are limited its perils are also circumscribed. But the alternatives which confronted him were empire or anarchy. He must make an oecumene of the world or let it sink into chaos. What he achieved was a polity so reasonable and so well adjusted that it continued for centuries, and in its fall left behind it massive foundations on which men  p334 are still building. The Athenian empire lasted for fifty years at the most, and the stupendous creation of Alexander the Great for less. What has been the fate of succeeding imperialisms? That of Spain endured on the grand scale for little more than a century; that of Napoleon for a decade; the British Empire is less than two centuries old, and in its present form is a thing of yesterday. In the brief span of recorded history empires have had a shorter life than many monarchies, theocracies and even republics. The Augustan alone reached a venerable age. In the coming of Christianity it had to face the greatest of all historic convulsions, but such was its potency that it weathered the storm and influenced profoundly the organization of the Christian church.

The Perspective of History The true achievement of Augustus is that he saved the world from disintegration. Without him Rome must have lost her conquests one by one, and seen them relapse into barbarism or degenerate into petty satraps. The wild peoples of the East and North would have antedated their invasions by centuries. Without him a parochial Rome would have assuredly been destroyed by eternal civil war. Without him the great traditions of Hellas and Palestine would have been choked by debris, the night of the Dark Ages would have fallen sooner, and our civilization to‑day would have lacked its most precious spiritual foundations. He gave the world a new and rational way of life. Also — and this was not the least of his bequests — he preserved for it two great Roman ideals which were in danger of perishing, one of character and one of government. It was owing to him that a succeeding emperor could write: "Let the God which is within thee be guardian of a living being, manly and of ripe age and engaged in state affairs, a Roman and a ruler, who has taken his post like a man waiting for the signal which summons him from life, ready to go." It was the inspiration of Augustus which enabled a poet three centuries later to pay a tribute to Rome which wise nations have taken as their creed:

Alone she gathers to her bosom those

Whom late she vanquished; citizens, not foes,

She calls them now. Their conqueror they proclaim

p335 Mother, not mistress. So her general name

Enfellowships mankind, makes fast, with bands

Of love devout, the far‑off daughter lands,

That wheresoe'er we range, 'tis all one race —

Debtors to her by whose peacemaking grace

No place is strange but everywhere a home —

One world-wide family all akin with Rome.16

It is due to him that the Roman concepts of public duty and service are still a living force among us. Historians have denied him the name of genius which they grant readily to Alexander and Julius and Napoleon; but if it be not genius to re‑make and re‑direct the world by a courageous realism and supreme powers of character and mind, then the word has no meaning in human speech.

The wheel of birth and death moves inexorably in that sphere of man's activity which is concerned with government. Constitutions come into being, flourish, wither, and descend to an unlamented grave, only to be later revived, acclaimed and again rejected. Nothing lives continuously, but nothing wholly dies.

Multa renascentur quae jam cecidere, cadentque

quae nunc sunt in honore.17

The work of Augustus was for centuries too much the accepted background of their life for men to question or assess it; it was taken for granted like the equinoxes and the seasons. In the Middle Ages, under the name of Octavian, he became a cloudy figure of necromancy. But now, at the second millenary of his birth, scholarship has enlarged our knowledge of him, and the problems he faced have a livelier interest for us, since they are not unlike our own. History does not repeat itself except with variations, and it is idle to look for exact parallels, but we can trace a resemblance between the conditions of his time and those of to‑day. Once again the crust of  p336 civilization has worn thin, and beneath can be heard the muttering of primeval fires. Once again many accepted principles of government have been overthrown, and the world has become a laboratory where immature and feverish minds experiment with unknown forces. Once again problems cannot be comfortably limited, for science has brought the nations into an uneasy bondage to each other. In the actual business of administration there is no question of to‑day which Augustus had not to face and answer.

If his "magna imago" could return to earth, he would be puzzled at some of our experiments in empire, and might well complain that the imperfections of his work were taken as its virtues, and that so many truths had gone silently out of mind. He had prided himself on having given the world peace, and he would be amazed by the loud praise of war as a natural and wholesome concomitant of a nation's life. Wars he had fought from an anxious desire to safeguard his people, as the shepherd builds the defences of his sheep-fold; but he hated the thing, because he knew well the deadly "disordering," which the Greek historian noted as the consequence of the most triumphant campaign. He would marvel, too, at the current talk of racial purity, the exaltation of one breed of men as the chosen favourites of the gods. That would seem to him a defiance not only of the new Christian creed, but of the Stoicism which he had sincerely professed. True, he had been sparing in his grants of Roman citizenship, but that had been for a temporary purpose, since the heart of the principate must be first made strong if the blood was to circulate freely to the members. From the Elysian Fields he had watched the development of his empire and had come to see the wisdom of Julius's liberalism, for had that empire not drawn much of its strength from the non‑Italian stocks, in philosophers, poets, emperors and soldiers?

Law and Liberty But chiefly, I think, he would be perplexed by the modern passion for regimentation and the assumed contradiction between law and liberty. To bring order out of anarchy he had been forced to emphasize the first, but he  p337 had laboured also to preserve the second. His aim had been to keep the masculine vigour of the republican character, and to cherish likewise all worthy local and provincial autonomies, for he recognized that the empire depended upon men, and that men to be of any account as citizens must have a decent measure of freedom. He would sadly admit that the machine which he created had been too strong for Roman liberties, and that in its grip the Roman character had lost its salt and iron. Being too much governed, men had forgotten how to govern themselves. But in the centuries since his death he had observed that the world had discovered certain methods of which he had not dreamed, and that it was possible for greater numbers than he had ever ruled to live a life which was both orderly and free. With the disappearance of slavery and the spread of education the constituents of society had changed, and self-government need not be mob‑government. Here lay a path to the solution of what had been his gravest problem, and he would be amazed that men should so light-heartedly reject it. And when this expert in mechanism observed the craving of great peoples to enslave themselves and to exult hysterically in their bonds, bewilderment would harden to disdain in his masterful eyes.


The Author's Notes:

1 Tac. Ann. I.3.

2 His defence was a recital of things done, res gestae, against the charge that his work was trickery achieved by bribes; cf.  Tac. Ann. I.2. "Militem donis, populum annona, cunctos dulcedine otii pellexit." The original is lost, but copies exist at Ancyra in Galatia (in Latin) and at Apollonia in Pisidia (in Greek), and fragments of another at Antioch in Pisidia. See Hardy's ed. of Mon. Anc., Introd.

3 Corneille has caught his temper:

"J'ai souhaité l'empire, et j'y suis parvenu ;

Mais en le souhaitant je ne l'ai pas connu.

Dans sa possession j'ai trouvé pour tous charmes

D'effroyable soucis, d'éternelles alarmes :

Mille ennemis secrets, la mort à tout propos,

Point de plaisir sans peine, et jamais de repos."

4 See on this point the remarks of W. Weber in Princeps, Studien zur Geschichte des Augustus (1934), 9 sqq.

5 ad Att. XII.1936.

6 "per illum se vivere, per illum navigare, libertate atque fortunis per illum frui." Suet. Div. Aug. 98.

7 νύξ δ’ ἤδη τελέθει· ἀγαθὸν καὶ νυκτὶ πιθέσθαι. Iliad, VII.282.

8 Suet. Div. Aug. 99 sqq.; Vell. II.123; Dio LVI.30 sqq.; Tac. Ann. I.5 sqq.; Pliny N. H. VII.150; Plutarch, de garrulitate 11. There is some baseless scandal in Tacitus and Dio which is examined by M. P. Charlesworth, A. J. Phil. (1923), XLIV.145‑57.

9 LVI.35‑41.

10 Dio LVI.46.

11 Politics I.2.8.

12 E.g. Plato's conception of justice as each man doing his proper task (τὸ τὰ αὐτοῦ πράττειν), and Aristotle's definition of health as a "harmony of functions."

13 Thucydides II.37.2.

14 Seneca, Ep. LI.6.

15 316 sqq.

16 Claudian, de cons. Stilich. III.150‑60. The translation is by my friend, the late Professor J. S. Phillimore of Glasgow.

17 Hor. Ars Poet. 70‑1.


Thayer's Notes:

a A mistake. There was no eclipse of the sun, whether total, annular, or partial, seen anywhere in the Roman Empire in A.D. 14. The last solar eclipse to be visible in the empire had been on Aug. 10, 2 B.C., sixteen years before the death of Augustus: the path of totality came from the Arctic to end in Jutland, so that nearby areas of Gallia Belgica and Germany must have seen the eclipse as partial. The bulk of the empire, including Rome, never saw it at all.

The mistake was not exactly Buchan's, though: the statement is made by Dio Cassius (LVI.29.3) — my thanks to historian Imogen Rhia Herrad for the heads‑up — or at least as filtered thru Xiphilinus and Zonaras: ὅ τε γὰρ ἥλιος ἅπας ἐξέλιπε; quite unambiguously, a total (ἅπας) eclipse at that. The mystery remains entire; to me, at least.

b The reader will notice that the details that follow are very slightly off, probably for style and readability; the exception, so it seems to me, being the two funeral orations: did the cortège really double back to the Temple of Julius, or was Tiberius' eulogy there the first of the two rather than the second?


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