Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus[1], also known as Caesar Augustus, was a prominent leader in ancient history who contributed immensely towards many transformations during his period in office. Augustus was well liked in the eyes of his citizens, partly due to the positive reforms that he made. He also helped to conduct the search for the parties involved in the murder of his uncle, Julius Caesar, so that the people could have their justice.[2] However, he was also despised by many, including those involved in Caesar’s assassination, and anyone else who tried to stand against him, such as Mark Antony.[3] While most of his actions were questionable and controversial, the political, economic and social reforms that he made helped to move the Roman Empire towards a peace that would last for several hundred years.

Political Influence

Augustus, born in 63 BC[4], did not live a life of nobility at a young age. However, it was thrust upon his after Julius Caesar won civil peace in 40 BC[5] and proceeded to take over power in Rome. Augustus was a simple, orphaned boy living in the republic at the time, but Caesar need and heir to entrench his position as ruler of Rome. Having had no direct heir, and having been a close friend of Augustus’ family, he decided to adopt the young boy who upon Caesar’s death in 44 BC[6] took up leadership of the Roman Empire at the tender age of 19. In Rome, Augustus was considered a conqueror and highly celebrated. By the age of 32, he had made history as the first Emperor in Rome who pledged to reinstate tranquility and safety.[7] Augustus was careful to appease the Roman citizens and even went as far as redistributing the wealth according to his stepfather’s will.[8] In the conflict between him and Mark Antony, Augustus made the popular choice to fight Mark and won the battle. This choice and others made by Augustus to further increased his popularity with the local people. His popularity was so intense that they declared him “Dictator for life”.[9] Despite several obstacles, the people adored Augustus as he was constantly in touch with people through public meetings.[10]

From between 49 and 43 BC[11], the Roman ruler headed the implementation of the popular “Constitutional Reforms of Julius Caesar”[12]. At the start of his career, Augustus had witnessed the disorganized nature of the Roman Republic[13]. The government machinery had stopped working under the burden of imperialism. The central government had become incapable; the provinces had been changed into autonomous principalities that were fully controlled by their manipulative governors.[14] Augustus instituted a new constitution that had the main purpose of achieving three distinct goals. Firstly, Augustus desired to restrain all armed resistance that was controlling the provinces. Secondly, he wanted to restore order to the Roman Republic. Finally, Augustus desired to unite them into one interconnected unit.[15]

The first objective was attained when Augustus managed to conquer Pompey and his allies[16]. To complete the last two objectives, he had to ascertain that his control over the government was unquestionable. To do this, Augustus increased his power by maximizing his own authority, and by lowering that of the republics’ institutions.[17] Augustus went as far to amend the constitution to assume the significant magistracies, and soften the other political institutions.[18] He also established several supplementary reforms. Augustus manipulated the process for nominating candidates for magisterial positions by appointing his own people to the senate, and simultaneously, disrupted any efforts to rectify the situation by the assemblies.[19]

Initially, Augustus was a plebian, and after taking up power, he reconnected with his roots.[20] While his popularity in battle was high, Augustus had a tumultuous relationship with different political circles. Augustus took up veto power and resorted to handling people’s issues directly. He also made a concession between historical norms and a modern social, political and economic reality[21]. In other words, he effectively combined the old and the contemporary method of governance for Roman republic. His fashion of implementing reforms salvaged the Roman republic, but in the long term, dictated the collapse of representative organizations, for Augustus centered power on himself. He made himself the local tribune, the public censor, the consul and the chief priest.[22]

Additionally, Augustus was responsible for introducing formal legislation that reinstated most of the earlier customs and norms that were used in early Rome. Among the customs that were reinstated included regulations that restricted the open display of wastefulness[23]. This not only assisted in securing his place by restraining the political reputation of probable demagogues, but also restored a semblance of advanced decorum into the Senatorial order.[24] Slave laws were also formulated with the intention of controlling the number of freed slaves.[25] This and the extravagance policy significantly helped to preserve a communal status quo. Augustus also instituted marriage laws that improved the social order.[26] The legislations were crucial elements of the foundation that created massive changes in Rome and enabled it become an advanced state in its era. His efforts were largely promoted by his personal drive, but his legacy guided the operation of the Roman state for many years later.[27]

His conflict with Mark Antony also influenced Rome’s social environment. The relationship between Augustus and Antony was both cordial and conflict in nature. In the beginning, Antony and Augustus were close allies who teamed up to create a formidable team together with Lepidus.[28] However, their relationship grew sour in 33 BC when the disagreement resulted in a civil war between Antony and Augustus.[29] In the battle, Augustus defeated Antony, and this started the struggles for power between these two key individuals. The bond between these two people to assume power of the Roman Empire pitted the bulk of the Roman population against each other and almost brought the country to a standstill.[30] The conflict and battle that ensued between Augustus and Antony held serious consequences for Rome as the victory of either faction would result in deep-seated changes in the political and social environment[31]. In addition, the strong bond that Augustus and Lepidus enabled the two to have a meaningful alliance.

However, this alliance also broke down, and Lepidus was forced into exile leaving Antony and Augustus to struggle for domestic supremacy.[32] After this, the relationship between the two was marred with backhanded clashes, secret deals with public officials and other silent wars between the two individuals.[33] Mark Antony and Cleopatra were also entangled in a relationship that was partly romantic and partly political at the same time. It is supposed that Cleopatra’s choice of Antony as an ally may have been prompted by her desire to regain control over Egypt.[34] This would have been impossible had she worked with Augustus. Regardless of her intention, Cleopatra’s inclusion in the conflict served to worsen the situation as both men increasingly fought each other. These clashes divided the Romans into two factions and served to destabilize the political status.[35]

Social Influence

Augustus was a highly influential and ambitious individual who sought to rectify the problems in the Roman society. He was decisive in his administrative decisions that served to influence Romans in several ways. This trait is revealed when he succeeded in restraining all armed resistance that has taken control of the provinces.[36] He also restored order in the Roman Republic that was in turmoil prior to his takeover. Augustus made several decisions that brought him into conflict and cooperation with the upper class in Rome[37].

However, he was extremely tactful in how he handled the upper class grievances concerning the distribution of wealth in Rome and emerged from these deliberations with a lot of self-respect. He did this by granting the upper class plebeians access to magistracies.[38] Previously, this class was barred from magistracies thus preventing them from receiving their deserved share of resources or wealth.[39] Augustus made numerous extensive and tiresome meetings with the senate and other aspects of the government concerning wealth distribution.[40] His tactful appeasement methods allowed Augustus to settle most of the demands of the upper class such as the popular Parthian controversy[41]. Augustus successfully handled the situation and brought peace into Rome.

Augustus was remarkably successful in maintaining long-term peace and tranquility between and among societies and state in the larger Europe through a combination of tact and sheer might.[42] Using force, Augustus was able to control most of the domestic problems that triggered instability and war. The control over provinces within Rome was a substantial cause of conflicts during his reign and Augustus developed a method of dealing with this issue[43]. He increased governments’ efforts in controlling these provinces and wrestled them away from the hands of the army and soldier who were dictatorial and aggressive in their administration. Coupled with several laws, he managed to put an end to the constant wars that revolved around territories.[44]

Augustus also managed to gain the support and approval of the middle and lower classes and used these two to change the face of Rome greatly[45]. From deciding the selection of the new emperors to sorting out overpopulation and agriculture needs, Augustus reformed the society for the better.[46] All aspects of the Roman republic experienced Augustus’ strong and wise leadership in some way. Compared to previous rulers such as Julius Caesar, Augustus was by far the most fair, wise, strategic and tactful leader in Rome. His impact and influence by far assisted in shaping Rome into a modern and complex society way before its time.

Even so, Augustus had dictatorial tendencies that made him slightly unpopular with the masses. He started by dismissing any representative bodies such as the Assembly, the secretaries and other bodies that distributed power and accountability in the state.[47] In this way, Augustus systematically stripped the bodies of any authority and consequently awarded them to himself[48]. Slowly, he transformed Rome into a dictatorial state and himself as the leader of the state. This did not go well with the citizens, as Rome was initially one of the centers of democracy in Europe.[49] Augustus was also a detrimental influence as he disrespected the institution of marriage. Moreover, he portrayed a false image as the leader of the Roman Empire by constantly getting into problems that concerned promiscuity and divorce. Augustus had three wives, Clodia Pulchra who later divorced him because of social issues.[50] The next wife was Scribonia who was popular as she bore Julia Caesar the Elder.[51] Lastly, there was Livia Drusilla who was the mother to Tiberius.[52] From these many social conflicts and divorces, Augustus was a terrible influence to the Romans.

Even though Augustus used coercive methods in some areas, he also used liberal and open policies to rule other areas[53]. It is this complexity and flexibility in running the state that allowed him to maintain peace for many years. In some parts of the Roman Empire, Augustus allowed the Jews to keep and practice their religion and culture.[54] Therefore, while he was still the emperor in the Roman Empire, he allowed societies to have their own acknowledged forms of leadership and administration. In this way, conflicts within the empire seldom escalated to critical points. Augustus also promoted the spread of Christianity that was influential in helping him endorse peace in Europe[55]. The vast road networks and other infrastructure were vital in distributing Christianity to far-flung areas. These missionaries were allowed to operate within Rome without any restrictions, as Augustus was truly liberal when it came to culture and religion.[56] However, apart from these two significant ways, Augustus was also extremely tactful in making political and economic alliances with potential enemies and in the process eliminate the need for wars.[57] This was the case with Mark Antony and Cleopatra before they fell out.[58]

Economic Influence

Augustus was highly influential and contributed significantly to the development of Rome as a state. Using a highly realistic approach, Augustus managed to introduce economic reforms steadily and ensured that Rome was fully transformed into a different state altogether.[59] The involvement of Augustus towards the merging and stabilization of the Roman Empire through influencing the government and the armed forces was vast, but the legacy of the ruler was best demonstrated in his efforts to transforming public utilities and infrastructure.[60] While Augustus was an influential element in the success of the new government, his efforts were largely rooted in his personal efforts and without them, his legacy soon crashed[61].

His re-establishment of conventional policy and a broad range of public changes assisted to salvage Rome out of the ruins of many years of civil war, but strengthened Augustus’ position as the indisputable and uncontested leader of the Roman Empire for many years[62]. Additionally, under Augustus’ rule, Rome’s economy underwent a considerable improvement. In this case, the rates of interest fell, and most debts were relieved.[63] Ultimately, this led to the influx of money leading to the rapid expansion of business in the region. The influx of physical currency and the expansion of business created employment opportunities.[64] Additionally, the employment opportunities were facilitated by the updated and newly built infrastructure facilities.[65]

The economic achievements of Augustus were facilitated by his inquisitive studies on Julius Caesar’s colonization plans for the entire region[66]. Through this means, he was able to support industry and business. He oversaw the undertaking of general censuses and made tax more equitable. Additionally, Augustus was well aware that the roads were the main avenues of the empire’s development. Hence, he worked to construct major roads that facilitated easy movement of chariots and people.[67] He made the streets more attractive and improved housing conditions. He also established fire protection strategies and unleashed a police force to maintain law and order in the empire.[68]

Furthermore, Augustus’ influence on the Roman Empire was due to some of the reforms he put in place[69]. For instance, he used a larger chunk of Rome’s expanded land for direct and consistent taxation. In comparison, his predecessors, on the other hand, exacted intermittent and arbitrary on the empire’s conquered regions.[70] This reform had a significant improvement on Rome’s revenue derived from conquered territories. It also regularized and stabilized the financial relations between Rome and her provinces.[71] These reforms were in this case because they would have otherwise provoked further resentment from the acquired territories.[72]

The rate of tax in Augustus’ reign was determined by the results of the census on the Roman population[73]. In this case, Italy and Rome were required to pay indirect taxes. The other provinces were required to pay taxes directly. Indirect tax was collected on the following basis: four percent was charged for slave sales, one percent for auctioned goods, and five percent on inherited estates.[74] Another reform that improved the economy was the abolishment of private tax farming. This was overtaken by tax collectors who were paid by the government.[75] Private contractors were favored by this reform and to some extent gained sufficient influence on political matters in Rome.[76] Lastly, the reign of Augustus saw most of the empire’s revenue come from successful bids and tax on farmers’ profits.[77] However, ineffective supervision together with the farmer’s revolt against the tax strategies created a system characterized by arbitrary extractions.[78] In particular, this was unfair to taxpayers and harmed investments as well as the economy.


Augustus was a courageous leader who knew the proper way to influence the subjects. His period in office was marred by unwanted innovation even though he maintained enough norms to keep the public contented. Augustus was generous and granted much of his property to the army soldiers. These and other actions fully express his benevolent nature. Even though he was benevolent, Augustus also had several pessimistic and unfitting behavior and choices that influenced negatively with his subject. His atheist nature was always pointed out by the public as a negative element for the emperor especially in Catholic Rome. On various occasions, Augustus had been cited as worshipping pagan Roman idols.[79] At one point, Augustus elevated himself to a god and allowed the people of Rome to worship him as a god. Augustus was remarkably successful in maintaining long-term peace and tranquility between and among societies and state in the larger Europe through a combination of tact and sheer might. Even though most of his actions were unorthodox or controversial, his reign implemented political, economic, and social reforms that played a vital role in moving the Roman Empire towards peace that would last for several hundred years.

Works Cited

Everitt, Anthony. 2006. The first emperor: Caesar Augustus and the triumph of Rome. London: John Murray.

Ferrero, Guglielmo. 1909. Greatness and decline of Rome. Vol.5, Vol.5. Heinemann.

Firth, John B. 1909. Augustus C?sar and the organization of the empire of Rome. New York [etc.]: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Mierow, Charles Christopher. 1948. Caesar Augustus – Empire builder. Harlow, England: The Classical Bulletin 24.

Nicolaus, and Jane Bellemore. 1984. Nicolaus of Damascus Life of Augustus. Bristol: Bristol Classical Press.

Richardson, John. 2012. Augustan Rome 44 BC to AD 14: the restoration of the Republic and the establishment of the Empire. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Suetonius, and Donna W. Hurley. 2011. The Divine Augustus: Hackett Pub. Co.

Wardle D. 2012. “Suetonius on Augustus as God and man”. Classical Quarterly. 62 (1): 307-326.

[1] Caesar Augustus, Firth p.14


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