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5. Military Achievements

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In this lecture we think about Augustus’ military achievements, focusing in particular on: (i) the importance of Augustus’ military achievements to his claim to power; (ii) the sheer extent of Augustus’ military achievements, as outlined in the Res Gestae (A – 26-33); (iii) the extent to which contemporary poetry echoes the rhetoric of unlimited, unstoppable expansion, including Jupiter’s prophecy in Virgil’s Aeneid (G36 – 1.257-96) where he grants the Romans an empire without bounds [imperium sine fine] (iv) Augustus’ difficulties in Germany, most notably the catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD; (v) the extent to which the boundaries of the Roman Empire are already beginning to solidify by the end of Augustus’ reign; (vi) the extent to which Augustus exaggerates his military achievements, focusing in particular on an aureus from 20-18 BC which declares ARMENIA CAPTA (‘Armenia has been conquered’); (vii) the various revolts that Augustus has to deal with, including those in Dalmatia, Pannonia and Germany; (viii) Augustus’ diplomatic victories, most notably the recovery of the Parthian standards in 20 BC, and the extent to which these are presented as military victories; (ix) Augustus’ use of deputies to do his fighting for him, most notably Agrippa and Tiberius; (x) the means by which Augustus ensured the loyalty of the army; and (xi) the costs associated with maintaining a large standing army and the means by which Augustus met these costs, including: the reduction of the size of the army following the Battle of Actium, the extension of terms of service, the establishment of a military treasury [aerarium militare] in 6 AD, and the establishment of two new taxes: an inheritance tax of five per cent [vicesima hereditatium] and a sales tax of one per cent on good sold at auction [centesima rerum venalium].


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.

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APA style

Nicholls, M. (2023, May 23). Augustus - Military Achievements [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Nicholls, M. "Augustus – Military Achievements." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 May 2023,