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12. The Restoration of the Republic
About this Lecture
In this lecture we consider the question of whether or not Augustus restored the republic, focusing in particular on: (i) the different meanings of the term ‘res publica’, and the usefulness of this ambiguity to Augustus; (ii) Augustus’ claim that he willingly gave up all his powers in 27 BC (“I transferred the republic from my power to the control of the senate and the Roman people”, Res Gestae 34.1); (iii) the imagery on coinage showing Augustus restoring “laws and rights” to the Roman people (H18) and helping the personified res publica to her feet (H33); (iv) the lack of any specific claim by Augustus that he restored the republican system of government; (iv) the importance of the length of Augustus’ reign in the disappearance of the republican form of government (“The younger generation had been born after the victory at Actium, and most of the elders during the civil wars. How many remained who had seen the republic?”, Tac. Ann. 1.3.6); (v) the continuities between the republican and imperial periods, including the use of republican titles of offices (e.g. quaestors, aediles, praetors, etc.) and organs of governments (e.g. the senate, provincial governments, etc.) – and the major discontinuities (e.g. the fact that all magistrates are hand-selected by, and serve at the pleasure of, the emperor); (vi) the various reasons that everyone went along with the fiction that the republic had been restored, notably the joy/relief that war was finally over; and (vii) the view of later sources (e.g. Tacitus, Cassius Dio) that Augustus’ rise to power had its positives (e.g. Rome was now safe, peaceful, and prosperous) but that any claims that he ‘restored the republic’ was obviously completely fictitious.
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
Nicholls, M. (2023, May 23). Augustus - The Restoration of the Republic [Video]. MASSOLIT. https://www.massolit.io/courses/augustus/the-restoration-of-the-republic
Nicholls, M. "Augustus – The Restoration of the Republic." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 May 2023, https://www.massolit.io/courses/augustus/the-restoration-of-the-republic