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19. Challenges and Conspiracies

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In this lecture we think about the challenges to Augustus’ reign, focusing in particular on: (i) the fractiousness and violence of politics in the years leading up to the Battle of Actium (31 BC), and the extent to which this split over – at least to some extent – into the reign of Augustus; (ii) the limited details provided by the sources on the various challenges to Augustus’ rule – often no more than a name, a date, and an end result; (iii) the conspiracy of Caepio and Murena in 22 BC, which involved the brother-in-law of Augustus’ close associate Maecenas, and ended in both Caepio and Murena (and others) being executed; (iv) the lack of any serious challenges to Augustus after this point, and the lack of any challenge whatsoever to the system of government that Augustus had set up, i.e. the principate itself; (v) the signs that Augustus could be ruthless when he needed to be, as in the case of Egnatius Rufus; (vi) the conspiracy of Gnaeus Cornelius Cinna Magnus, who ended up being pardoned by the emperor; (vii) the extent to which Tacitus and Cassius Dio see the events of Augustus’ reign – and in particular his clemency – through their own experiences of living during the rule of two famously inclement emperors: Domitian and Commodus; (viii) the role of Livia in dictating how Augustus responded to conspiracies; (ix) the scandals surrounding Augustus’ daughter, Julia the Elder, and her exile in 2 BC; (x) the exile of Augustus’ granddaughter, Julia the Younger, in 8 AD, and the execution around the same time of her husband, Lucius Aemilius Paullus; and (xi) Augustus’ success in setting up a political system that would last without any serious challenge for four-hundred years, and the reasons for this success.


In this course, Professor Matthew Nicholls (University of Oxford) explores the reign of the first Roman emperor, Augustus. Across twenty-one lectures, we consider a range of issues including: (i) the historical sources for reign of Augustus and their reliability; (ii) the events that led to the creation of the principate, particularly the Battle of Actium; (iii) the various constitutional settlements that formalised Augustus’ powers; (iv) his military achievements; (v) the importance of contemporary poetry (Virgil, Horace, Propertius, Ovid) and coinage for understanding his reign; (vi) the significance of key figures around Augustus, such as Livia, Marcus Agrippa, Tiberius and Germanicus; (vii) the extent to which Augustus really ‘restored the republic’ as he claimed he did; (viii) Augustus’ involvement in religious life at Rome and in the provinces; (ix) his administrative changes in Rome and in the provinces; (x) his management of various different sections of Roman society – the senatorial elite, the equestrian order, the army, the people of Rome and the provincial elites; (xi) challenges to his rule; (xii) his management of the succession; and (xiii) the importance of his own record of his achievements, the Res Gestae.


Matthew Nicholls is a visiting professor of classics at the University of Reading and Senior Tutor at St John's College, Oxford, specialising in the political and social history of the Romans, and the way the built environments of Rome and cities around the empire expressed their values and priorities. In 2014, Matthew was presented with a Guardian Teaching Award for his 'Virtual Rome' project, a digital model of the city of Rome, showing the city as it appeared in c. AD 315.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Nicholls, M. (2023, May 23). Augustus - Challenges and Conspiracies [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Nicholls, M. "Augustus – Challenges and Conspiracies." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 May 2023,