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Augustus was the first Roman emperor and is a figure of considerable controversy. The later historical tradition has tended to be remarkably positive about Augustus, and that positive approach has been reflected in many modern understandings of the emperor. In part, Augustus’s reputation benefits from the contrast with his immediate successors. But more than any of the other emperors, Augustus had a hand in the making his posthumous reputation: he authored the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, (The Achievements of the Deified Augustus), one of the most important sources for his reign.

Augustus Prima Porta

‘Prima Porta’ Augustus from the Villa Livia at Prima Porta

There has also been a willingness to accept the overall narrative of Augustan rule, which pointed to cultural excellence, the bringing of domestic peace, the reform of imperial rule, the restoration of moral, religious and political values, and the emergence of consensus in Roman society.

Many of these claims are contentious, but also fail to acknowledge a political context in which Augustus only became Augustus after emerging victorious from a series of brutal civil wars, he maintained political dominance for more than four decades, and eroded the constitutional and political principles on which the Republic had been based.

Evaluating the Augustan period depends on how one understands that political context. Here, the main part of the history starts in 30 BC. It does so to avoid the difficult histories of the civil wars that preceded Octavian’s victory at Actium. In 27 BC, Octavian came to be known as Augustus. That name-change allows us to identify the ‘Age of Augustus’ which one could date from 30 BC or 28 BC to its end with Augustus’ death in AD 14. But no Roman living at the time would have been able to separate the reign of the revered emperor from the period of bloody tyranny and violence that marked his rise to power.

The themes of the reign are built around the transition from Republic to Empire:

  • Was Augustus a monarch?
  • Was there a consensus behind his regime and, if so, how was that created?
  • How did the transition from Republic to Empire work?
  • How did the regime affect areas of life one might consider non-political?
  • What was the basis of Augustan power?

The contents below are divided into themes, and includes material from the discussion of the An End of the Republic

Politics and political context = *

Military matters: ◊

Augustus and Religion:

Augustus, Culture and Leadership:

Augustus and Caesar: Θ

Augustus and Morals:




Contents                                 Tiberius                               End of the Republic                Octavian in 28 BC





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