Augustus as general Augustus as statesman Augustus as pontifex Augustus as god
Augustus as general Augustus as statesman Augustus as religious leader Augustus as god

Over time, Augustus dramatically altered the balance of power in the Roman system of government without seeming to do so; indeed, in Res Gestae 34.3 he explicitly claimed, “I exceeded all in influence [auctoritas], but I had no greater power than the others who were colleagues with me in each magistracy.” To characterize his power, he adopted the term princeps (“chief, leader”), which had long been applied to senators with the highest prestige and influence, but such circumlocutions only thinly masked the fact that Augustus, and Augustus alone, controlled all the most crucial areas of Roman government:

Augustus became a master of political propaganda, marshalling many different types of public display in order to make his new status and power seem appropriate and justified. For example, the statues at the top of this page suggest that it is fitting for one man, Augustus, to wield power in so many different spheres; see also this series of coins, or literary tributes such as these from the poets Horace and Vergil. Augustus even deployed his extensive public building program in such a way that it would support his position; for a few examples, see Augustus: Images of Power or visit the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine in Region X of VRoma or the Forum of Augustus in Region VIII; or visit both interactively by connecting as a guest via the web gateway.

altar of the Lares

Augustus included members of his extended family in this public display, marking out a new status for the imperial household (domus principis or domus Augusta) as identified with the state. He had begun this process much earlier, during the Civil Wars, when he persuaded the Senate in 35 BCE to set up public statues to his sister Octavia and his wife Livia and to grant them sacrosanctity, a heretofore unprecedented extension of state protection to women. He continued the policy by bestowing special honors, titles, and public offices on his grandsons and heirs apparent (as in this coin depicting Julia flanked by Gaius and Lucius) even when they were still boys. This policy was apparently part of his effort to secure the succession of imperial power for a family member without appearing to create an imperial dynasty, but it was also a way to emphasize the concept of family honor, with the imperial family the most honorable of all. With such an emphasis on his own family, it is not surprising that in his will Augustus adopted Livia into his lineage with the new name Julia Augusta, giving her even closer ties to his family. Furthermore, members of the imperial household, women as well as men, were involved in his building program for the city of Rome, and their names, dedications, and even images were to be found on public monuments throughout the city. The Altar of the Lares above shows Augustus as augur, flanked by one of his grandsons and a female member of his family (probably his wife Livia) with the attributes of a priestess or goddess. One of the most striking monuments to combine state functions with family imagery is the Altar of Peace (Ara Pacis Augustae), decreed by the Senate in 13 BCE to commemorate Augustus' safe return from campaigns in Spain and Gaul and actually dedicated in 9 BCE on the birthday of Livia, January 30. Both long sides of the altar depict a great sacrificial procession designed to celebrate the peace and “restored Republic” that Augustus brought to Rome. One side depicts a traditional procession of senators, but the dominant side of the procession is composed of members of the family of Augustus, visually presenting the sentiment expressed by the poet Ovid when writing about this altar: “Pray that the household which is responsible for peace may, together with that peace, last a long time” (“utque domus, quae praestat eam, cum pace perennet,” Fasti 1.719).

Barbara F. McManus
revised October 2006
Augustus and Tiberius: Historical Background