How did Emperor Augustus usher in Pax Romana?

Origins of Pax Romana

“I found Rome a city of bricks, and left it a city of marble.” (Marmoream se relinquere, quam latericiam accepisset”).

So goes one of the last things Roman Emperor Augustus said before his death in 14 AD.

More than 40 years prior, Augustus rose to power and provided Rome a way out of its political and economic problems, making himself the first Emperor of Rome.

The statement highlights Augustus’s significant contributions to the architectural development of Rome during his reign, which ushered a period called Pax Romana.

Pax Romana, which means “Roman peace” in Latin, refers to a period of relative peace, stability, and order that existed in the Roman Empire from approximately 27 BCE to 180 AD.

The almost two-century period is often associated with the reign of Emperor Augustus and the early years of the Roman Empire.

However, it should be noted that the Pax Romana, which has often been called as Rome’s Golden Age, was not a complete absence of conflict but rather a period characterized by a general reduction in large-scale wars and internal strife.

One thing is for certain: Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, played a crucial role in establishing and maintaining the Pax Romana, a two-century period of relative peace, order, and stability in the Roman Empire.

Here are some key ways in which Augustus contributed to the Pax Romana:

First, he consolidated his power

Augustus’s 41-year reign as emperor was praised for the sheer amount of transformation he made. It also made him the second longest-reigning Roman Emperor in history, only behind Theodosius II of the Eastern Roman Empire who reigned for 42 years, from 408 to 450 AD.

After a long period of civil wars and political instability, Augustus emerged as the sole ruler of Rome in 27 BC. This came in the aftermath of his famous victory over his fiercest rival and former triumvir (of the Second Triumvirate) Mark Antony around 30 BC. At the battle of Actium, Octavian handed the alliance of Mark Antony and his mistress, Egyptian Queen Cleopatra VII, a resounding defeat, which resulted in Antony and Cleopatra committing suicide.

Octavian then proceeded to skillfully cement his power by restoring the outward appearance of the Roman Republic while holding ultimate authority as the princeps, or first citizen.

His elevation meant that the power of the Senate was reduced, transforming Rome from a Republic to an empire with emperors.

By establishing a stable and centralized government, he laid the foundation for the Pax Romana.

READ MORE: Cleopatra’s Greatest Accomplishments

Augustus’s military reforms sets Rome on the path of never-before-seen greatness

Augustus undertook significant military reforms to strengthen the Roman legions. He reduced the number of legions, increased their pay, and established a standing army.

As emperor, Augustus made sure that Roman soldiers were rewarded to the extent that their loyalty was to the empire and not their commanders. This professionalized military structure ensured the empire’s defense and deterred external threats, contributing to the peace and stability of the Pax Romana.

The military reforms also made it possible for to stretch the empire’s borders into places in central Europe and present-day Israel.

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When things looked dire, he resorted to diplomacy in order to expand Rome’s influence

Augustus pursued a policy of diplomacy and cautious expansion. He focused on securing the empire’s borders rather than engaging in aggressive conquests. Through diplomacy, he formed alliances, negotiated treaties, and established client kingdoms, which helped to maintain peaceful relations with neighboring regions and reduced the risk of conflicts.

In effect, Augustus branded the growing empire as the most civilized in the region. This enabled him to assimilate foreign lands and enemies with little to no resistance. Basically, the allure of Roman citizenship and its associated advantages enticed many to embrace Roman identity.

And those that insisted on keeping their identities, Augustus did not have any problem with them so long as they stayed loyal to the empire.

Roman pharaohs

Augustus was the one who built Rome in such a way that it gained the ability to transform former foes into allies, leveraging their contributions for ongoing prosperity and triumph. Image: Augustus as Roman pharaoh in an Egyptian-style depiction, a stone carving of the Kalabsha Temple in Nubia

Introduced a number of administrative reforms

Augustus reformed the administration of the Roman Empire, streamlining the bureaucracy and establishing a more efficient system. He appointed capable governors and officials, reorganized provinces, and implemented a system of taxation and governance that reduced corruption and improved the administration of justice. This contributed to stability and effective governance throughout the empire.

For example, under Augustus’s reign, a salaried civil service was instituted to enforce laws, manage tax collection, and govern with increased efficiency. This shift of power from the nobility to a bureaucratic system allowed for a more organized and streamlined administration.

In addition to those notable administrative initiatives, he introduced a census to ensure equitable taxation by assigning fixed quotas for each Roman province.

His reign, also saw the establishment of a postal service, a dedicated police force, and a fire brigade to enhance public safety and security.

One of his significant creations was the Praetorian Guard, initially conceived as his personal bodyguard, which later evolved into a fierce political force and an imperial guard that carried a number of assassinations.

Pax Romana

Infrastructure Development

Augustus invested in extensive infrastructure projects across the empire. He improved road networks, constructed aqueducts, and developed public buildings. These projects not only facilitated trade and communication but also provided employment opportunities, contributing to economic stability and social welfare.

For example, it’s been stated that during Augustus’s reign, more than 45,000 miles of new roads were constructed. Not only did those infrastructure projects enhance the economic fortunes, they also allowed Augustus’s Roman army to march unimpeded.

Aqueduct of Segovia (in present-day Spain) was built around the first century AD, probably during the the reigns of the Emperors Domitian, Nerva, and Trajan. In 1985, the Old Town of Segovia and the aqueduct, were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cultural Patronage

Augustus was a generous patron of the arts and literature. He supported poets, writers, and artists, encouraging the flourishing of Roman culture. This cultural patronage created an environment of intellectual and artistic development, fostering a sense of shared identity and contributing to the overall stability and prosperity of the empire.

Some of the notable poets and scholars that flourished during Augustus’s reign were Virgil (70 BC – 19 BC) and Livy (59 BC – 17 AD). The former is famed for his work the Aeneid, an epic poem that describes the legendary Trojan War as well as how Rome came to being.

Augustus displayed a notable generosity as a patron of the arts and literature. He provided support to poets, writers, and artists, fostering an environment conducive to the vibrant growth of Roman culture. Image: Virgil reading the Aeneid to Augustus and Octavia, by French paitner Jean-Joseph Taillasson, 1787

Propagation of Roman Values

As part of his quest to cement the gains he had chalked in the political and military spheres of Rome, Augustus promoted traditional Roman virtues and values, emphasizing family, morality, and civic duty. He encouraged marriage, family life, and childbearing through legislation and social policies. This focus on social stability and the reinforcement of Roman cultural norms played a significant role in maintaining internal harmony during the Pax Romana.

The Arch of Augustus in Rimini (Ariminum), dedicated to Augustus by the Roman Senate in 27 BC, one of the oldest surviving Roman triumphal arches

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the above programs initiated by Emperor Augustus laid the groundwork for a relatively prosperous and peaceful Rome – a Rome that his successors like Emperor Trajan (reign: 98-117 AD), Hadrian (reign: 117-138 AD), and Marcus Aurelius (reign: 161-180 AD) would build upon and make it one of the greatest empires in world history.

Although the period was not entirely devoid of conflicts or internal issues, Augustus’s reforms and policies played a vital role in maintaining peace, order, and stability across the vast Roman Empire for two centuries.

READ MORE: Major Achievements of Augustus, Rome’s First Emperor

Answers to popular questions about Pax Romana

Ara Pacis Augustae

The Ara Pacis Augustae, referred to as the “Altar of Augustan Peace” in Latin, is a dedicated monument in Rome that symbolizes the concept of Pax Romana. It was commissioned by the Roman Senate on July 4, 13 BC, to commemorate Augustus’s return to Rome after a three-year period in Hispania and Gaul. The altar was consecrated on January 30, 9 BC, marking an important milestone in Roman history.

Here’s what you need to know:

How long did Augustus reign?

Adopted by Julius Caesar, Augustus officially ascended to the throne around 27 BC and went on to achieve many important things. His reign of 41 years makes him the second longest-ruling emperor in Rome’s history.

Born in Rome in 42 BC, Tiberius ascended to the imperial throne after the reign of Augustus. Tiberius was the stepson of Augustus. HIs reign spanned from AD 14 to 37.

Who were Augustus’s biological parents?

Augustus, born on September 23, 63 B.C., spent his formative years in a town located approximately 25 miles southeast of Rome. His father, Roman senator Gaius Octavius, unfortunately passed away unexpectedly in 59 BC, when Augustus was just four years old. His mother, Atia, was the niece of Caesar.

How did Augustus rise to power?

Born Octavian, Augustus was the great uncle and later adoptive son/heir of the famed Roman general and dictator Julius Caesar. After Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC by some members of the Roman Senate, a 19-year-old Octavian succeeded Caesar. He inherited Caesar’s vast estate as well as the dictator’s legions of Roman soldiers.

Death of Julius Caesar

The Death of Caesar by Italian painter Vincenzo Camuccini (1771-1844). On 15 March 44 BC, Octavius’s adoptive father Julius Caesar was assassinated by a conspiracy led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome.

Realizing that he was not strong, politically and financially, enough to assert his claim to Rome, he went into an alliance with Roman generals Mark Antony (63 – 14 BC) and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (C. 89 – 12 BC), thus forming the Second Triumvirate. The political alliance then went ahead to either kill or exile anyone that was involved in Caesar’s assassination. Basically, the Second Triumvirate, like the Caesar-led First Triumvirate, were in charge of the Roman Republic.

Octavian and Mark Antony

Roman aureus bearing the portraits of Mark Antony (left) and Octavian (right), issued in 41 BC to celebrate the establishment of the Second Triumvirate by Octavian, Antony and Marcus Lepidus in 43 BC. Both sides bear the inscription “III VIR R P C”, meaning “One of Three Men for the regulation of the Republic”.

And just like the First Triumvirate, the Octavian-Lepidus-Antony alliance fractured due to irreconcilable differences and immense rivalries.

In the end, Octavian came out the victor of the intense power struggle that ensued in the Republic. The final showdown took place between Octavian and Mark Antony, who was being backed by Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. Octavian forces defeated Antony and Cleopatra in the Battle of Actium in 31 BC.

Following his victory at Actium, he returned to Rome a beloved figure of both the people and Senate. In 27 BC, the latter conferred on him the title of Augustus and Princeps, which translate as ‘exalted one’ and ‘first among equals’, respectively.

Battle of Actium 30 BC

The Roman Republic, which was fraught to the core with difficulties and infighting among politicians, gave way for the Roman Imperial System led by Octavian (later Augustus Caesar). Image: Battle of Actium (30 BC) was the final war of the Roman Republic. After which point, Octavian emerged as the sole ruler of Rome. Image: The Battle of Actium, by Flemish painter Laureys a Castro, painted 1672, National Maritime Museum, London

In the nutshell, those honors confirmed Octavian as the sole ruler of Rome. He thus became the first emperor of the Roman Empire.

How did he come to be called Augustus?

Originally named Gaius Octavius, he later adopted the name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, commonly known as Octavian, after being formally adopted by his great-uncle.

After his victory over Mark Antony and Egypt’s Cleopatra, the Senate honored him with the title Augustus, which means “exalted one” or “revered one”. He was also known as imperator, which means commander-in-chief, and divi filius, which translates as “son of a god” or “son of the divine Julius”. The latter epithet was an allusion to the fact that he was the successor of Julius Caesar, who was deified by the Roman Senate in 42 BC.

Emperor Augustus

Aureus minted c. AD 13, marked: “Caesar Augustus Divi F Pater Patriae”

How long did Pax Romana last?

Known as Rome’s Golden Age, Pax Romana spanned from around 27 BC to 180 AD – i.e. from the reign of Augustus to around the reign of Marcus Aurelius.

The sustained period of peace was a rare occurrence in ancient history and had a profound impact on the empire and its subjects.

How stable was Rome politically during the period?

Emperor Augustus established a stable political system by consolidating his power and establishing the principate, a form of monarchy disguised as a republic. The system allowed for a smooth transfer of power from one emperor to the next, avoiding the frequent civil wars that plagued the late Roman Republic.

The Temple of Augustus and Livia is an ancient Roman temple located in the historic city of Vienne, which is a modern-day city situated in the French department of Isère, within the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Built during the early 1st century, the temple was dedicated to the imperial cult, to honor the Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia.

Was there any blip in Rome’s Golden Age period?

For the enormous work he undertook in ushering Rome into a period never-before-seen peace and stability, Augustus was praised as the “Peace Bringer” in addition to the numerous honorific titles he received.

Augustus established such a strong name as the bringer of stability in Rome that his family held the imperial throne until 68 AD, when Nero (reign: 54-68 AD), after being overthrown in a coup, committed suicide. His immediate successors belonged to Julio-Claudian dynasty (27 BC -68 AD).

Year of Four Emperors

The year 69 AD was a minor disruption in the 200-year-long Pax Romana (Roman Peace) that Augustus had initiated. The Praetorian Guard were very influential during the Year of the Four Emperors (68-79 A.D.), a period sometimes known as the first civil war of the Roman Empire. Image (L-R): Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian

But for the brief civil war that erupted in 69 AD, when four emperors battled for the throne, the Pax Romana was a relatively peaceful period in Rome. Known as the first civil war of the Roman Empire, the Year of the Four Emperors in 69 AD saw four emperors rule in succession. They were Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian.

While not all emperors that came after Augustus could match his standards and feats, their rule generally proved adequate in preserving peace for approximately two centuries.

How much economic prosperity did Pax Romana come with?

The Pax Romana witnessed a period of economic growth and prosperity within the empire. Stable political conditions, secure trade routes, and the establishment of a common currency (the denarius) promoted trade and commerce. The expansion of agriculture and the exploitation of resources also fueled economic development.

Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge, was constructed during the first century AD with the purpose of transporting water over a distance of 50 kilometers (31 miles) to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes).

How did the interconnectedness of the empire help sustain the Golden Age?

The Pax Romana facilitated the exchange of ideas, customs, and cultures across the vast Roman Empire. The interconnectedness of the empire allowed for the spread of Roman values, language, law, and infrastructure throughout the territories. This cultural integration helped forge a sense of shared identity and created a foundation for later European civilizations.

What were some of the notable architectural feats chalked during the period?

In the Roman times, the Colosseum was called Flavian Amphitheater. The word ‘amphitheater’ means ‘double stage’.

The Roman Empire witnessed remarkable advancements in architecture and infrastructure during the Pax Romana. The construction of monumental buildings, such as the Colosseum and aqueducts, stands as a testament to Roman engineering prowess. The road network, bridges, and ports connected different regions, facilitating trade, communication, and the movement of troops. Many of these structures and engineering techniques continued to be admired and emulated in later civilizations.

Also known as the golden age of the Roman Empire, Pax Romana was a period during which the Roman Empire’s influence, territorial control, and population growth reached its zenith. This period, which started with Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, had some very influential Roman generals and emperors, including Trajan, Vespasian, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius. The Roman Empire in reached it greatest extent during the reign of Trajan, one of the Five Good Emperors

The following are some of the impressive buildings by the Roman emperors of the period:

  • Emperor Trajan is credited with the building of the Forum of Trajan and Trajan’s Column.
  • Hadrian, who is often seen as a contender for the best Roman emperor of the period, built the Hadrian Wall to keep the so-called barbarians in the North from bothering Rome’s province in Britannia, i.e. Roman Britain. He also built a magnificent temple (Hadrian’s temple) in Ephesus.
  • Construction of the Colosseum, the Great Amphitheatre of ancient Rome, by Emperor Vespasian (reign: 69-79 AD) in 79 AD. His successor and son Emperor Titus (reign: 79-81 AD) would complete the monumental building in 80 AD. Covering a land area of over 24,500 square meters, the Colosseum could hold an estimated 55,000 spectators.
The Pantheon and Emperor Hadrian

The Pantheon and Emperor Hadrian

READ MORE: The Five Good Roman Emperors and their Accomplishments

When did Pax Romana end?

Curtains closed on Rome’s Golden Age around 180 AD, coinciding with the end of the reign of Marcus Aurelius (reign: 161-180 AD). The emperor’s successor and son, Commodus, proved to be an ineffective leader and was accused of being very immoral and having strong dictatorial tendency. After Commodus was assassinated in 192 AD, a period of civil war ensued, signaling the initial stages of the empire’s gradual decline. Nonetheless, it would take many years before the empire eventually collapsed.

Emperor Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 AD) was the last Emperor of the Pax Romana.

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