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Bill Thayer

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Chapter XXI

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Rome
Tenney Frank

published by
Henry Holt and Company
New York 1923

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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Chapter XXIII

 p406  Chapter XXII

Augustus and the Empire

Advance into Germany. We left Augustus in the year 17 B.C. celebrating amidst great jubilation the "seventh centenary" of Rome's foundation. During those days there were few citizens or subjects who did not pray fervently that Augustus might live and reign to a ripe old age; and their wishes were fulfilled, for he was destined to rule for thirty more years.

The year after the celebration began with a long series of northern frontier wars, when the Usipetes and Tencteri, Germanic tribes once punished by Caesar, crossed the Rhine and defeated the Roman army of defense. The whole frontier question needed settlement, and Augustus began the new work in thorough fashion by bringing into subjection the Raeti, who held the Tyrol and the Brenner pass, so that Germany might if necessary be approached from two sides. He chose his two vigorous step-sons, Tiberius and Drusus, to do this preliminary work, the former pushing eastward through Switzerland from the Rhine, the latter marching directly north through the Brenner pass. Raetia and Noricum became provinces in consequence of this brilliant dash, and the exploit was celebrated in one of Horace's most successful national odes. Roman culture found its way northward, never quite to be driven out, and the fact that "Ladin" is still spoken in southern Tyrol indirectly influenced the decisions of the conference at Paris in 1919.

In the year 12 B.C. the general advance northward began Tiberius and Piso subduing the eastern country as far as the Danube, where the provinces of Moesia and Pannonia  p407 were laid out while Drusus, then only twenty-five years of age, pushed directly into Germany from the Rhine, subjugating the tribes in the region of modern Cologne. When and why the momentous decision was adopted of pressing on to the river Elbe (Albis) and of making that the frontier instead of the Rhine we do not know. Perhaps the easy success of Drusus and his youthful optimism influenced Augustus to take the step. At any rate, it was not an unreasonable plan, for now that the Danube had become the frontier in the northeast, the line to be guarded would be very much shortened if the Elbe were adopted for the frontier line running to the sea. The program was carefully mapped out for advancing by successive stages to the Ems (Amisia), the Weser (Visurgis), and finally to the Elbe. The fleet operating on the Rhine was strengthened and a canal was dug from the Rhine to the Zuyder Zee (Lacus Flevo). Then, while the fleet coasted along the shores of Frisia to the Ems and up that river Drusus marched inland toward the north and east advancing as far as the Weser. The next year he subjugated the tribes farther south, establishing the line of the Weser to its upper course, and placing forts at Mainz, Strasbourg, and Bonn. Finally in the year 9, Drusus advanced to the Elbe, reaching it in the neighborhood of modern Magdeburg, where he erected a trophy. On his return toward winter quarters he fell from his horse, sustaining injuries from which he died after many days of suffering.

Tiberius was sent to take his place, but for reasons which we are not given, he confined his operations within the line of the Ems. He spent the year of his second consulship (7 B.C.) in Rome, and in the next, because of a disagreement with Augustus, he retired to Rhodes where he lived in seclusion for many years.

Tiberius and the succession. This unpleasantness between Augustus and Tiberius, which proved disastrous to one of Rome's important enterprises, concerned the question  p408 of who should be Augustus' successor. Since Augustus had no male heirs, Tiberius had had every reason to suppose that he was to be the choice. Augustus' wife, Livia, was a woman of determination and of no little influence over her husband. Her desire to see her sons, Tiberius and Drusus, elevated to high office seemed to be on the point of fulfilment, when, after Agrippa's death (12 B.C.), Tiberius was mated to Augustus' daughter, Julia. But the marriage had been far from happy. Julia, it was said, was suspected of being too intimate with certain young profligate nobles who had nothing to do. Furthermore, Julia's two sons, Gaius and Lucius Caesar, were already adopted by Augustus and were so constantly honored that Tiberius seems to have concluded that he had been given Julia as wife not in order to become Augustus' heir, but to serve as a reliable guardian to the future heirs. It was indeed a peculiar position for him, the stepson of Augustus, to have as his stepsons the adopted sons of Augustus. This anomalous position led to the disagreement of which we have spoken and to Tiberius' untimely retirement.

As the years passed, Tiberius, in voluntary exile, grew morbid and Julia's profligacy became a public scandal. The reports of her behavior finally came to Augustus' ears in 2 A.D. Julia was banished to the island of Pandateria, off Campania, and Julius Antonius, the son of Mark Antony and a man frequently honored by Augustus, was put to death as being her paramour. In the same year Lucius Caesar died and two years later Gaius Caesar. The only direct male descendant left was the third son of Julia, Agrippa Postumus, a boy of feeble intelligence. Augustus, who had in succession lost Marcellus, Agrippa, and his two beloved grandsons, each of whom at some time had been looked upon as a prospective heir to his position, was now forced to adopt Tiberius, after having offended him deeply and by his mistreatment made a morose cynic of a once sturdy and efficient helper. Tiberius in turn was made to  p409 adopt Drusus' son, Germanicus, a boy two years older than his own son, Drusus, and was thus forced into the position of placing his nephew in line of succession over his own son. This made his days no pleasanter. Meanwhile he was given the tribunicia potestas for ten years, which was now recognized as bestowing powers of peculiar significance. Then he was sent to the German border.

Evacuation of Germany. In Germany Tiberius undertook to reëstablish the frontier along the Elbe, reaching the river with his army and navy in the year 5 A.D. Most of the Germanic tribes within the line acknowledged Rome's dictation. However, the Marcomanni, under King Maroboduus, had some time before migrated westward, taking possession of Bohemia from the Boian Celts dwelling there (whence the name Bohemia). Since Marbod now straddled the frontier line which Rome wished to draw from the Elbe to the Danube he must next be dealt with. Hence Tiberius took charge of the army of the Danube, leaving the Elbe army under the charge of Sentius, the plan being to advance pincers simultaneously from both rivers. Success seemed assured in establishing this line, a success which would certainly have resulted in the Romanizing and civilizing of the major part of Germany. It may be futile to conjecture how history might have been changed if Tiberius had succeeded, but one can hardly escape the logic of the historian who has argued that the war of 1914 would probably not have taken place. However, just as Tiberius set out, the Pannonians and Dalmatians revolted, apparently in opposition to the taxes and conscriptions recently imposed upon them. Tiberius had to turn back from Bohemia and three years of hard fighting were required to restore peace. Meanwhile the thought of annexing western Bohemia was given up. But this was not all. No sooner had Tiberius stemmed this revolt than the Germans, under Arminius, led P. Quintilius Varus, the Roman general of the Rhine into a skilfully placed ambush in the Teutoburg forest, and annihilated  p410 his three legions. This disaster took place in 9 A.D. Tiberius was hurried to the Rhine, but it seemed futile to try again to conquer Bohemia, and without that the Elbe line was useless. He did little more than reassert Rome's position among the tribes along the Rhine. It was then decided to fall back to the old Rhine frontier, and Augustus' last instructions at his death confirmed this decision.

The organization of the Empire. In the other provinces there was but little warfare. Augustus, however, passed each under scrutiny and laid down the boundaries and administrative forms for each with meticulous care.

Spain was divided into three provinces, Lusitania (Portugal) and Tarraconensis (Northern and Western Spain), both governed by Augustus' legati, and Baetica, the peaceful and prosperous southern province governed by a proconsul of praetorian rank sent by the Senate. The north was now completely pacified, the south so thoroughly Romanized that Latin was spoken by most of the urban people there.

Britain was not considered a part of the empire by Augustus.

Further Gaul, conquered by Caesar, was divided into three provinces, all governed by legati of Augustus: Aquitania, which now extended as far north as the Loire (Liger), Lugdunensis, most of old Celtica, with its capital at Lyons, and Belgica. At times the three were given to one legatus if he was an important person like Tiberius or Drusus. Augustus wisdom and liberality were especially in evidence in the organization of the Gauls, for he dealt directly with the sixty tribal units, recognizing them as autonomous in civil affairs, assigned the tribute on the basis of a census, and even permitted the concilium of Gallic representatives to make suggestions regarding the apportionment of the tribute. During his long reign we hear of only one serious effort to revolt in Gaul; the process of natural assimilation through trade relations proceeded rapidly.  p411 Augustus, however, did not continue Caesar's more liberal policy of giving citizenship freely. Narbonensis continued as a senatorial province.

Sicily, Macedonia, Achaia, Cyprus, and the combined Crete and Cyrene were all left to the charge of the Senate, which sent praetorian proconsuls to rule them.

On the Danube, Raetia and Noricum were, like Sardinia, governed by Augustus's prefects, while the two mountain districts of the Maritime and the Cottian Alps (modern Savoy) also had prefects sent to suppress brigandage and keep the roads open. Pannonia, Dalmatia and Moesia, on the other hand, not thoroughly subdued and lying near the powerful Marcomanni and Dacians, were governed by Augustus' legati of consular rank; while Thrace was still left in charge of a client king.

In Asia Minor the two old provinces, Asia and Bithynia, were considered peaceful enough to be left under the Senate's care. Galatia was made a province on the death of its king and kept in imperial hands. The people here still spoke Celtic that could be understood by the Gauls of the west, but they were rapidly assuming Greek customs. Pamphylia was severed and became a separate province, but Lycia and Rhodes, probably because of the suffering they had endured at the hands of Brutus and Cassius, were allowed to remain independent allied states in the midst of the great empire. Cappadocia, a diminutive Pontus, Paphlagonia, and Lesser Armenia were ruled by autonomous princes recognized by Augustus as clients. Armenia and Parthia were two powerful kingdoms which from time to time recognized Rome's distant suzerainty by accepting Augustus' nominees as kings, but Rome's temporary successes in this region were due rather to internal jealousies in and between these kingdoms than to any direct compulsion on Rome's part. At any rate, it cannot be said that Augustus succeeded before his death in placing upon these  p412 peoples the permanent impress of his claims to sovereignty over them.

Syria remained under the emperor's care since it harbored the four legions quartered in the East against the Parthian border. Within the sphere of operation of the Syrian legatus were several peculiar client-states of the Oriental type. The Arab kingdom of the Nabateans, holding sway from Damascus to Arabia, recognized Rome's overlordship. The theocracy of Judea had been included in Syria by Pompey. Caesar had allowed the Idumean royal house to extend its parasitic sway here, as though it were not enough that the people had to pay tithes to their own priests and tribute to Rome. King Herod, however, angered his subjects by his constant attempts to Hellenize them and to suppress theocratic ideas. He died in 4 B.C., and though his policy had been one which could only have profited Rome, Augustus, in 7 A.D., put an end to it, and, permitted the Jews to become directly responsible to Rome. Judea then became a petty province governed by a procurator, who was probably considered a subordinate of the Syrian legatus. Another temple state was at Emesa, obedient to a local Baal whose priest was considered king. This king was a proverbial example of insignificant pomp, but he deserves mention because a mad descendant of his, Heliogabalus, later became the lord of the Roman Empire. Two other client kingdoms were Commagene, north of Antioch, and Palmyra, situated on an oasis through which passed the trade route to the Euphrates. To these also we shall have to refer again.

Arabia had been invaded by the prefect of Egypt at Augustus' command but without permanent results. Of the remarkable prefecture of Egypt we have spoken elsewhere.

Finally, Africa is interesting in revealing Augustus' policy of moderation. King Juba of Numidia had made the mistake of aiding Cato in the civil war. Caesar, therefore, had seized his kingdom and included it in the province  p413 of Africa. Augustus had the courage, despite the protests of chauvinists, to disannex Numidia again and place the younger Juba, then a hostage at Rome, on the throne. However, "hauling down the flag" was no more popular then than it has been since. Augustus finally yielded to criticism, gave Mauretania to Juba, and again brought Numidia into the province of Africa, which was now a senatorial province.

[image ALT: A political map of the Roman Empire showing its subdivision into provinces.]

The Growth of the Roman Dominion
from the Gracchi to the Death of Augustus, 133 B.C. to 14 A.D.

[A larger version, fully readable, opens here (1.8 MB).]

The end of Augustus' Reign. The last years of Augustus were not happy ones. His granddaughter Julia had followed in the footsteps of her banished mother, and she too was exiled, and at the same time the poet Ovid, whose writings Augustus thought contributory to the laxity of morals. He tried to check the increase of immorality by sharpening the edge of the marital laws which he had passed many years before. Perhaps he was too old and severe to understand the difference between youthful exuberance and immorality; perhaps also he struck too much at symptoms instead of at causes. For the conditions his régime cannot be held wholly blameless. The strenuous and full-blooded youth of rich and noble families did not have enough responsible work to do under his paternalistic rule. In the Republic such men had had at least to educate themselves for a severe political career. Now they got offices through influence, and found the offices sinecures when they reached them. Moreover, too much of Rome's wealth came without effort. Men were simply gathering in the proceeds of the imperialistic investments of a strenuous Republic. "Coupon-cutting" on a vast scale does not make for national morale. Finally, the peace and prosperity of the Roman world, when wars were fought mainly by auxiliaries and only on the far distant frontier, gave a new carefree experience in spending the too rapidly accumulating wealth. The platitudinous rhetoricians were beginning to say, not without truth, that Rome had won the whole world only to lose her own soul.

 p414  Augustus died a very old and tired man in 14 A.D. He knew all too well that his reign had not brought the far‑heralded age of gold. He was buried in the magnificent mausoleum in the Campus Martius which the Romans to‑day use as a concert hall. Outside of his tomb there was inscribed a full "account of his stewardship" which he had himself made for the purpose, a statement of how he had been invited of the power though he had offered to "restore the Republic," of the many wars that he had waged "without wrongful aggression," of the buildings he had erected, of the moneys he had received, given way, or spent for purposes of state. We happen to have a fairly complete copy of it, found on the walls of a temple at Angora in Anatolia. It is of course a very valuable historical document.​a

At his death he asked his friends whether he had not well acted the drama of life. It was easy to answer in the affirmative. When one remembers how the great Caesar had misread his people, what use the brilliant Antony had made of power, what confusion the Senate must have wrought had it been restored, one can only call Rome fortunate in happening upon the services of Augustus at the critical moment. Even the republican zealots could not accuse him of having labored to weariness for self-aggrandizement, for he kept well intact machinery of a Republic for the use of anyone who might care to prove that Rome was still capable of using it.

He had in his youth, to be sure, participated in the crimes of his elders in a way that a young man of the earlier Republic could not have done. But that this sin was not of his own nature, but due to association with an autocracy that made men callous, he proved by his later life. He was not a great general; he seems to have lacked both the magnetism and the constructive genius of a great tactician. But he was both courageous and dependable as the leader of armies. He left no laws that show unusual penetration, but his legislation was never of a chimerical nature. His  p415 sympathies were extensive though restrained; they did not carry him into fanatical paternalism anywhere. As a prudent organizer and administrator he was at his best. Caesar had indeed pointed the way, but Augustus deserves the credit of devoting infinite pains and thought to the problems of the external empire. It speaks well of him also that he could win the enduring loyalty and constant service of disinterested advisers and efficient helpers like Agrippa and Maecenas. That the intimates of his last years were not of the same type may be attributed to the natural querulousness of advanced age. It is in great measure due to the solid qualities of Augustus' thought that the dyarchy was able to carry Rome safely through some of the harrowing experiences that lay in store for her in the reigns of such men as Nero and Domitian.

Thayer's Note:

a The Res Gestae Divi Augusti — "The Achievements of His Lamented Majesty Augustus" — are onsite in full.

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