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Total War: Shogun 2 Heaven » Forums » Total War History » Augustus' rise to power
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Topic Subject:Augustus' rise to power
Alex_the_Bold
Ashigaru
posted 11-19-12 04:02 PM EDT (US)         
So, I was wondering whether the rise of Augustus after Julius Caesar's death was solely due to his abilities. I mean, he hadn't held any office or military command before. In my opinion, the beginning of the Principate and many of Augustus' consecutive military successes were also due to his advisors, such as Marcus Agrippa. What's your opinion on the subject?

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
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Vasta
Ashigaru
posted 11-19-12 05:04 PM EDT (US)     1 / 7       
Luck, family, money, faction building, and luck again.

Check out Syme's Roman Revolution for the now traditional understanding of how Octavian won and established the Principate, supplement that with Osgood's Caesar's Legacy.

Octavian was in the right place at the right time, had the name of Caesar, convinced a lot of people to loan him money at the right time, and most importantly, built up a faction of Italian (not really Roman) new men who wanted to participate in the state but had not been able to rise to the consulship. These new men did include people such as Agrippa and Maecenas, and because Octavian had allowed them to have a share of power, he rewarded them dramatically.

Under the Principate, the general rule was that if you were good enough and loyal enough, you would be rewarded. This was one of the biggest reasons for the longevity of the Empire and the fact that there was never any real agitation for the restoration of the Republic.

Another important component in Octavian's victory was that he won the cultural war. While Antony was basically developing a Hellenistic Kingdom in the East focused on his war against the Parthians, Octavian had to deal with the fall-out from the horrible rounds of proscriptions and land confiscations and the Perusine War (which is far more important than any pop narrative has ever expressed). He was almost killed during grain riots.

As part of this all, Octavian pulled himself away from the Hellenistic monarch, heir to Caesar the God and created an image of a traditional hard-working son of the soil Roman who would bring back the good old days of morality... and he completely destroyed Antony on this. Octavian was able to convince the West that Antony was a degenerate slave to his Egyptian mistress and had gone entirely native - entirely BS.

But Octavian cared about public image more than Antony, and really more than any of the other figures of the Triumviral period. Actium really meant nothing, and was just a tiny little battle in some backwater. Octavian won over Antony's men and convinced the Roman world that he had a better chance of winning, and thus providing stability.

(SHAMELESS PLUG) In my dissertation, I make a pretty big deal about how public image became more and more important throughout the Late Republic and peaked in the Triumviral period, and only really settled down when the existence of an Emperor ensured that only one public image mattered. When it gets turned into a book, I'm sure to put a link up on this board in an attempt to see if I can convince anyone to buy what will no doubt be an overpriced copy - but maybe you can get your library to buy one.
ShieldWall
Ashigaru
posted 11-20-12 03:53 AM EDT (US)     2 / 7       
I read a book about Octavian/Augustus a few years ago, and the impression I got from it was that his military talent was minimal, but he had the sense and modesty to recognise that and entrust command to those who had an obvious talent, like Agrippa.

Octavian, however, was a political monster and ran rings around people. He was helped in this because he was extremely young, and so everyone he came up against, like Cicero and Antony, either constantly underestimated him or made the mistake of thinking that they could use him for their own ends. Circumstances and happy chance had a lot to do with it, but I think he took advantage of situations as they came his way and played a very shrewd game.

And it was quite a remarkable transition, here was a young man who on the day of Caesar's death was in another country with nothing but a useful name to his credit. Who would have thought that within a year he would be a major political figure, and within 15 was effectively the first emperor.
Awesome Eagle
Spear of Mars
(id: awesomated88)
posted 11-20-12 02:31 PM EDT (US)     3 / 7       
I have always admired Octavian moreso then Julius Caesar. Call it personal bias but they way in which Octavian did go from an obscure boy to a world leader is astonishing. Without Agrippa i don't believe Octavian would have lasted as long as he did. You also have to feel sympathy about his woes in finding a good successor. Constantly hit by family deaths and deaths of some worthy successors he had to turn to Tiberius at the last moment and trust him with the running of the state.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it- George Santayana
History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are- David C. McCullough
Wars not make one great- Yoda
Alex_the_Bold
Ashigaru
posted 11-20-12 03:26 PM EDT (US)     4 / 7       
The amazing thing is that he made such a good settlement with the Senate that the Principate held for many years after his death, withstanding personalities such as Caligula, Nero and Commodus, unlike other totalitarian states in antiquity, like the tyrants of Syracuse, the dictatorship of Caesar, the decemviri and the Triakonta Tyrannoi of Athens...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Awesome Eagle
Spear of Mars
(id: awesomated88)
posted 11-20-12 03:45 PM EDT (US)     5 / 7       
Yes, the stability of the regime he created can be marveled at on all levels. The compromises, declining of more honors helped to endear him to the senate and noble classes. However, one major factor in the success of the Principe as a institution was the sheer longevity of Augustus' reign. Augustus held most of his powers for a massive 41 years, meaning that only the oldest of the old knew what it was like living under the republic at the time of his death. It was business as usual then when Tiberius swooped in and took over.

Have you seen the miniseries Rome? Very good show and quite historically accurate. It mostly deals with the rise of Octavian, although they had to skip large parts in series 2 due to it being cancelled.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it- George Santayana
History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are- David C. McCullough
Wars not make one great- Yoda
Vasta
Ashigaru
posted 11-20-12 06:05 PM EDT (US)     6 / 7       
It wasn't really totalitarian though, it was just monarchic. Different from the Republic, but not like modern Nazi Germany or anything of that like (despite what Syme tried to allege). Same thing for Caesar's dictatorship - the real "freedom" that was abridged was the freedom to aspire for supreme power. That was the Roman Republican ideal of libertas, not some modern Western conception of personal freedom.

Eagle is very right in saying that Augustus' personal longevity ensured the stability of the Principate. If he had died young, there would have been continued civil wars as one man after another attempted to seize the monarchy. Instead, there was genuine belief that monarchy was preferable to the instability of the Republic, or (which is more likely), the nature of monarchy made it much easier to control the army which was the ultimate guarantor of political power. The only reason rulers like Nero fell was because they lost the army.

As for compromises and declining of honors, don't ever think for a minute though that Octavian did not have full control of every one of those situations. He was smart enough to control his public image down to the last aspect, including the masking of power by not taking the name Romulus as he supposedly wanted, and through dropping his association with the Dictator Caesar (we always forget that Julius Caesar essentially vanished from public historical memory for awhile).

The strongest parts of Octavian's relationship with the nobility was (1) the old families were dead. It is easy to underestimate the way that several generations of civil war had wiped out the plebeian nobility, much less the already minuscule patrician aristocracy. (2) The survivors were complicit or were personally loyal to Octavian or Caesar. Octavian's faction building capabilities were magnificent (this is the chief benefit of Syme's prosopographical approach to history in Roman Revolution, because he can show you who was part of Octavian's faction) and so the Senate that existed after Actium was essentially Octavian's personal clientele. In order to bolster the ranks of the nobility and the patrician order, he elevated many, many new men to the consulship - again, all families who would be loyal to the Empire because that was how they were ennobled.

Another factor, which also made the general populace love the Emperor, was stability. As I tell my Roman civilization classes when we read Tacitus on Tiberius, "if you had economic prosperity, military success, and general safety and security, who cares if 30 Senators get executed in sham trials over a decade?"

Finally, a word in the defense of ancient tyrants. Almost universally, tyrants were friends of the general populace. All a tyrant meant in antiquity was someone who had taken power illegally, and only much much later came to take on the modern connotations of "tyrant." Peisistratus of Athens, for example, deposed the ruling aristocracy, yes, but then engaged in gigantic public works programs that put everyone to work and encouraged democratic assemblies. He organized gigantic festivals of the arts that, in all likelihood, gave us our first texts of Homer.

If you were an average person, and you had the ability to live under the Syracusan tyrants - who encouraged the arts, philosophy, technology, and commerce - you would have jumped at it.

Always remember that ancient history was written by the aristocracy, and often a disenfranchised aristocracy.
Alex_the_Bold
Ashigaru
posted 11-20-12 11:20 PM EDT (US)     7 / 7       
Especially in ancient Greece, the word tyrant had the meaning you wrote in your post, Vasta. IIRC, two ancient "tyrants", Periander of Corinth and Pitakkos of Mitylene were considered among the seven wisest people of their time.

As for Octavian, the Republic had served its purpose and it was not the right regime to rule a large state, as most offices were subjected to elections every year. I believe that monarchy would have been established at some point, or the Roman state would have crumbled...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
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