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3. The First Settlement, 27 BC

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About this Lecture


In this lecture, we think about the constitutional settlement of 27 BC, focusing in particular on: (i) the distinction between the power that comes from holding a magistracy [potestas] and that which comes from one’s personal authority [auctoritas]; (ii) the story of how Augustus emerged as the sole leader in the Roman world by 27 BC; (iii) his success in turning a highly fragile situation into a highly stable system of government; (iv) the various meanings of the Latin term res publica, from the strict constitutional meaning (= rule by annually-elected magistrates) to the broader meaning of ‘public good’ or ‘commonwealth’, and the usefulness of this ambiguity to Augustus; (v) the main provisions of the constitutional settlement of 27 BC, including the creation of imperial provinces, his consecutive consulships, and his various honours – e.g. the name Augustus, the civic crown, the shield of virtue, etc.; (vi) the way these new powers are presented in the Res Gestae (34.1-3); and (vi) the way these new powers are presented in Tacitus (Annals 1.2.1-2) and Cassius Dio (Roman History, 53.4).


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 - The First Settlement, 27 BC [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Nicholls, M. "Augustus – The First Settlement, 27 BC." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 May 2023,