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Did Augustus restore the republic? Essay

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In this essay, I will discuss to what extent did Augustus restore the Roman republic following the disruption following the dictatorship of Julius Caesar. Firstly, I will discuss the second triumvirate of Augustus, Mark Antony and Lepidus and how this was a step in the right direction to the restoration of the republic, but towards the end of the triumvirate, it shows Augustus’ intent to become a monarch. Next will be the principate of Augustus and how he gained ultimate power and ruled as a monarch over the Roman world but simply without the title of King, this shows that Augustus wanted to put up a façade that he was trying to return to the republic but was in fact in complete control of the empire. Lastly will be the ways in which Augustus showed himself to the people of Rome by refusing dictatorship and annual consulship while having the power of these positions and also how he was portrayed in sculpture which contradicts his attempts of concealing his wish for monarchical rule.

In 43 B.C. the second triumvirate was formed between Augustus, Mark Antony, and Lepidus after Augustus seized the consulship illegally by force after being denied it by the Senate. These men all had consular power and the Roman empire was distributed among them. This was a step back towards the republic because in the years preceding the second triumvirate Caesar was ruling as perpetual dictator so essentially ruling as a monarch which was illegal in the republic where dictatorship was to last for 6 months maximum and only in times of crises. Now there was a return to the Roman world being under control of consuls, however, there were 3 rather than 2 which had been the law since the republic was formed and that this triumvirate held 2 terms of 5 years, where constitutionally a consul served for a single year. This era of hope for a restoration of the republic was put to rest by Augustus after the Donations of Alexandria when Mark Antony gifted parts of the Roman empire to Cleopatra’s children including Caesarion who was the son of Julius Caesar, therefore, giving him a claim to power in Rome which threatened that of Augustus. This led ultimately to the suicide of Antony and Cleopatra after their defeat at the battle of Actium in 31 B.C. and the execution of Caesarion by Augustus leaving him in complete control of the Roman empire after the triumvirate was not renewed for a second time in 33 B.C. Augustus then founds the principate in 27 B.C. and names himself princeps to mask the idea of him being a dictator or monarch.

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Following the foundation of the principate, Augustus conducted a series of settlements with which he gained the power that his adopted father had, simply without the title of the perpetual dictator and so was not unpopular with those still passionate about the republic. For the first settlement of 27 B.C. he gave up his triumviral powers but was given an annual consulship which was against the constitution of the republic, but he was still ruling with another consul giving the impression that the Roman world was still under a republic, however, this annual consulship angered many members of the Senate because it cut the number of people able to achieve their career goal of consulship in half. Augustus was also in control of many of the Roman provinces that were in crisis, where historically a proconsul was a governor of a province, this shows that even though Augustus was given the consulship he still had powers extending beyond those of a consul meaning Augustus was not trying to fully restore the republic but instead was trying to gain more power for himself. Also in 27 B.C., he was given the name of Augustus, which he chose after the name Romulus was proposed but Augustus refused this to maintain the impression among the people that he was not a King like Romulus was but merely the princeps and so was not to seem to be thinking of himself as a monarch.

This was another way in which Augustus tried to hide his aim of monarchical rule and transition away from the republic. In the second settlement of 23 B.C. he renounced his annual consulship which helped him to gain favour with the Senate because more senators would now be able to gain the consulship each year which on its own would be seen as a step to restoring the republic but at the same time Augustus was given tribunician power as well as imperium proconsulare menus with which he had superior power to any other proconsul and he began to rule over his provinces with his legates. The second settlement was a huge increase in power for Augustus and therefore was a large step in transitioning them from the death of the republic into a state ruled by one man. The third and final settlement was when Augustus truly became the ruling monarch when was given consular powers, but 2 consuls were still elected each year, he had ultimate power over the Roman empire but was only known as the princeps and his rule as the principate rather than reign.  ‘I transferred the republic from my power to the dominion of the senate and people of Rome.’ Here Augustus writes that the republic has been restored and handed back to the Senate and the people, but the republic had not been restored as he was a single monarch with ultimate power over the Roman empire. Livy writes ‘The consul’s harangue had a great effect on the commons; the patricians, recovering their spirits, considered the state as re-established’ which shows that Augustus had restored the Roman state but had replaced the republic with a monarchy.

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