2. Beginnings of Rome
3. Institutions of Early Rome
4. Etruscan Kings of Rome
5. Reorganization of Kingdom

6. Struggle against Kingship
7. Struggle for Economic Rights
8. Struggle for Equal Laws
9. Struggle for Political Equality
10. Conquest of Latium
11. Conquest of Central Italy
12. Conquest of Southern Italy
13. Supremacy of Rome in Italy
14. First Punic War
15. Second Punic War
16. Conquests in East
17. Reduction of Roman Conquests
18. Rome as a World Power
19. Times of Gracchi
20. Times of Marius and Sulla
21. Times of Pompey and Caesar
22. Times of Antony and Octavius

23. Reign of Augustus
24. Julian Emperors
25. Flavian Emperors
26. Five Good Emperors
27. Decline of Empire
28. Reorganization of Empire
29. Extinction of Western Empire
Outlines of Roman History
by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L.
New York, Cincinnati, Chicago: American Book Company (1901).



Table of contents




The New Imperial Government, I.Augustus and the Roman World, II.The Age of Augustus, III.


   Beginning of the Empire.—We have taken the date of the battle of Actium (B.C. 31) to mark the beginning of the empire, because Octavius then became the sole and undisputed master of the Roman world. But it is not so important for us to fix upon a particular date for the beginning of the empire, as it is to see that some form of imperialism had come to be a necessity. During the whole period of the civil wars we have seen the gradual growth of the one-man power. We have seen it in the tribunate under the Gracchi; in the successive consulships of Marius; in the perpetual dictatorship of Sulla; in the sole consulship of Pompey; in the absolute rule of Julius Caesar. The name of “king” the Romans hated, because it brought to mind the memory of the last Tarquin. But the principle of monarchy they could not get rid of, because they had found no efficient form of government to take its place. The aristocratic government under the senate had proved corrupt, inefficient, and disastrous to the people. A popular government without representation had shown itself unwieldy, and had become a prey to demagogues. There was nothing left for the Romans to do except to establish some form of monarchy which would not suggest the hated name of king.

   The Policy of Augustus.—There was no other man so well fitted to put the new monarchy into an attractive form as Octavius, whom we may now call by his official title of Augustus. We have been accustomed to think of this man as merely a shrewd politician. But when we contrast the distracted condition of Rome during the last hundred years with the peace and prosperity which he brought with him, we shall be inclined to look upon him as a wise and successful statesman. His whole policy was a policy of conciliation. He wished to wipe out the hatreds of the civil war. He regarded himself as the chief of no party, but as the head of the whole state. He tried to reconcile the conservative and the progressive men of his time. All the cherished forms of the republic he therefore preserved; and he exercised his powers under titles which were not hateful to the senate or the people.

   The Titles and Powers of Augustus.—Soon after returning to Rome, Augustus resigned the powers which he had hitherto exercised, giving “back the commonwealth into the hands of the senate and the people” (B.C. 27). The first official title which he then received was the surname Augustus, bestowed by the senate in recognition of his dignity and his services to the state, He then received the proconsular power (imperium proconsulare) over all the frontier provinces, or those which required the presence of an army. He had also conferred upon himself the tribunician power tribunicia potestas,by which he became the protector of the people. He moreover was made pontifex maximus, and received the title of Pater Patriae. Although Augustus did not receive the permanent titles of consul and censor, he occasionally assumed, or had temporarily assigned to himself, the duties of these offices. He still retained the title of Imperator, which gave him the command of the army. But the title which Augustus chose to indicate his real position was that of Princeps Civitatis, or “the first citizen of the state,” The new “prince” thus desired himself to be looked upon as a magistrate rather than a monarch—a citizen who had received a trust rather than a ruler governing in his own name.

   Augustus and the Senate.—Augustus showed his conciliatory policy in fixing the position which the senate was to assume in the new government. He did not adopt fully the plan either of Sulla or of Julius Caesar; but reconciled as far as possible their different ideas. He restored to the senate the dignity which it had in the time of Sulla. He did this by excluding the provincials and freedmen whom Caesar had introduced into it, and by reducing its number from nine hundred to six hundred members. But still he did not confer upon it the great legislative power which Sulla intended it should have; he rather made it a kind of advisory-body, according to Caesar’s idea. In theory the senate was to assist the emperor in matters of legislation; but in fact it was simply to approve the proposals which he submitted to it.

   The Assemblies of the People.—Augustus did not formally take away from the popular assemblies their legislative power, but occasionally submitted to them laws for their approval. This was, however, hardly more than a discreet concession to custom. The people in their present unwieldy assemblies, the emperor did not regard as able to decide upon important matters of state. Their duties were therefore practically restricted to the election of the magistrates, whose names he usually presented to them.

   The Republican Magistrates.—In accordance with his general policy Augustus did not interfere with the old republican offices, but allowed them to remain as undisturbed as possible. The consuls, praetors, quaestors, and other officers continued to be elected just as they had been before. But the emperor did not generally use these magistrates to carry out the details of his administration. This was performed by other officers appointed by himself. The position of the old republican magistrates was rather one of honor than one of executive responsibility.

   The Army.—While the emperor knew that his power must have some military support, he was careful not to make the army a burden to the people. He therefore reduced the number of legions from fifty to twenty-five. As each legion contained not more than six thousand men, the whole army did not exceed one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers. These legions were distributed through the frontier provinces; the inner provinces and Italy were thus not burdened by the quartering of troops. To support the imperial authority at home, and to maintain public order, Augustus organized a body of nine thousand men called the “praetorian guard,” which force was stationed at different points outside of Rome.


   Rome, Italy, and the Provinces.—We can get some further idea of the policy of Augustus by looking at the way in which he governed the different parts of the Roman world. The whole empire may be regarded as made up of three parts—Rome, Italy, and the provinces. We are now to look at the improvements which he made in these three spheres of administration.

   The Administration of Rome.—We have read enough of the distracted condition of the Roman city during the last hundred years to see the need of some improvement. Augustus met this need by creating certain new officers to keep the city under better control. In the first place, he established a city police under the charge of a chief (praefectus urbi), to preserve order and prevent the scenes of violence which had been of such frequent occurrence. In the next place, he created a fire and detective department under the charge of another chief (praefectus vigilum), to have jurisdiction over all incendiaries, burglars, and other night-prowlers. He then placed the grain supply under a regular officer (praefectus annonae) who was to superintend the transport of grain from Egypt, and was held responsible for its proper distribution. Moreover, he broke up the “secret clubs” which had been hotbeds of disorder, and substituted in their place more orderly societies under the supervision of the government. For administrative purposes the city was divided into fourteen districts, or wards. By these arrangements, life and property became more secure, and the populace became more orderly and law-abiding.

   The Administration of Italy.—Italy was now extended to the Alps, the province of Cisalpine Gaul having lately been joined to the peninsula. The whole of Italy was divided by Augustus into eleven “regions,” or administrative districts. In order to maintain the splendid system of roads which had been constructed during the republican period, the emperor appointed a superintendent of highways (curator viarurn) to keep them in repair. He also established a post system by which the different parts of the peninsula could be kept in communication with one another. He suppressed brigandage by establishing military patrols in the dangerous districts. It was his policy to encourage everywhere the growth of a healthy and vigorous municipal life. To relieve the poverty of Italy he continued the plan of Julius Caesar in sending out colonies into the provinces, where there were better opportunities to make a living.

   The Administration of the Provinces.—During the reign of Augustus the number of provinces was increased by taking in the outlying territory south of the Rhine and the Danube. The new frontier provinces were Rhaetia, Noricum, Pannonia, and Moesia. The provinces were not only increased in number, but were thoroughly reorganized. They were first divided into two groups,—the senatorial, or those which remained under the control of the senate; and the imperial, or those which passed under the control of the emperor. The latter were generally on the frontiers, and required the presence of an army and a military governor. The governors of the imperial provinces were lieutenants (legati) of the emperor. Appointed by him, and strictly responsible to him, they were no longer permitted to prey upon their subjects, but were obliged to rule in the name of the emperor, and for the welfare of the people. The senatorial provinces, on the other hand, were still under the control of proconsuls and propraetors appointed by the senate. But the condition of these provinces was also greatly improved. The establishment of the new government thus proved to be a great benefit to the provincials. Their property became more secure, their commerce revived, their cities became prosperous, and their lives were made more tolerable.

   The Finances of the Empire.—With the division of the provinces, the administration of the finances was also divided between the senate and the emperor. The revenues of the senatorial provinces went into the treasury of the senate, or the aerarium; while those of the imperial provinces passed into the treasury of the emperor, or the fiscus. The old wretched system of farming the revenues, which had disgraced the republic and impoverished the provincials, was gradually abandoned. The collection of the taxes in the senatorial as well as the imperial provinces was placed in the charge of imperial officers. It was not long before the cities themselves were allowed to raise by their own officers the taxes due to the Roman government. Augustus also laid the foundation of a sound financial system by making careful estimates of the revenues and expenditures of the state; and by raising and expending the public money in the most economical and least burdensome manner.

   The Frontiers of the Empire.—By the wars of Augustus, the boundaries of the empire were extended to the Rhine and the Danube (including the Alpine region) on the north, to the Atlantic Ocean on the west, to the desert of Africa on the south, and nearly to the Euphrates on the east. The only two great frontier nations which threatened to disturb the peace of Rome were the Parthians on the east and the Germans on the north. The Parthians still retained the standards lost by Crassus; but Augustus by his skillful diplomacy was able to recover them without a battle. He abandoned, however, all design of conquering that Eastern people. But his eyes looked longingly to the country of the Germans. He invaded their territory; and after a temporary success his general, Varus, was slain and three Roman legions were utterly destroyed by the great German chieftain Arminius at the famous battle of the Teutoberg forest (9 A.D.). The frontiers remained for many years where they were fixed by Augustus; and he advised his successors to govern well the territory which he left to them rather than to increase its limits.


   The Advisers of Augustus.—The remarkable prosperity that attended the reign of Augustus has caused this age to be called by his name. The glory of this period is largely due to the wise policy of Augustus himself; but in his work he was greatly assisted by two men, whose names are closely linked to his own. These men were Agrippa and Maecenas.

   Agrippa had been from boyhood one of the most intimate friends of Augustus, and during the trying times of the later republic had constantly aided him by his counsel and his sword. The victories of Augustus before and after he came to power were largely due to this able general. By his artistic ability Agrippa also contributed much to the architectural splendor of Rome .

   The man who shared with Agrippa the favor and confidence of Augustus was Maecenas, a wise statesman and patron of literature. It was by the advice of Maecenas that many of the important reforms of Augustus were adopted and carried out. But the greatest honor is due to Maecenas for encouraging those men whose writings made this period one of the “golden ages” of the world’s literature. It was chiefly the encouragement given to architecture and literature which made the reign of Augustus an epoch in civilization.

   Encouragement to Architecture.—It is said that Augustus boasted that he “found Rome of brick and left it of marble.” He restored many of the temples and other buildings which had either fallen into decay or been destroyed during the riots of the civil war. On the Palatine hill he began the construction of the great imperial palace, which became the magnificent home of the Caesars. He built a new temple of Vesta, where the sacred fire of the city was kept burning. He erected a new temple to Apollo, to which was attached a library of Greek and Latin authors; also temples to Jupiter Tonans and to the Divine Julius. One of the noblest and most useful of the public works of the emperor was the new Forum of Augustus, near the old Roman Forum and the Forum of Julius. In this new Forum was erected the temple of Mars the Avenger (Mars Ultor), which Augustus built to commemorate the war by which he had avenged the death of Caesar. We must not forget to notice the massive Pantheon, the temple of all the gods, which is to-day the best preserved monument of the Augustan period. This was built by Agrippa, in the early part of Augustus’s reign (B.C. 27), but was altered to the form shown above by the emperor Hadrian (
p. 267).

   Patronage of Literature.—But more splendid and enduring than these temples of marble were the works of literature which this age produced. At this time was written
Vergil’s “Aeneid,” which is one of the greatest epic poems of the world. It was then that the “Odes” of Horace were composed, the race and rhythm of which are unsurpassed. Then, too, were written the elegies of Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid. Greatest among the prose writers of this time was Livy, whose “pictured pages” tell of the miraculous origin of Rome, and her great achievements in war and in peace. During this time also flourished certain Greek writers whose works are famous. Dionysius of Halicarnassus wrote a book on the antiquities of Rome, and tried to reconcile his countrymen to the Roman sway. Strabo, the geographer, described the subject lands of Rome in the Augustan age. The whole literature of this period was inspired with a growing spirit of patriotism, and an appreciation of Rome as the great ruler of the world.

   Religious and Social Reforms.—With his encouragement of art and literature Augustus also tried to improve the religious and moral condition of the people. The old religion was falling into decay. With the restoration of the old temples, he hoped to bring the people back to the worship of the ancient gods. The worship of Juno, which had been neglected, was restored, and assigned to the care of his wife, Livia, as the representative of the matrons of Rome. Augustus tried to purify the Roman religion by discouraging the introduction of the foreign deities whose worship was corrupt. He believed that even a great Roman had better be worshiped than the degenerate gods and goddesses of Syria and Egypt; and so the Divine Julius was added to the number of the Roman gods. He did not favor the Jewish religion; and Christianity had not yet been preached at Rome.

   With the attempt to restore the old Roman religion, he also wished to revive the old morality and simple life of the past. He himself disdained luxurious living and foreign fashions. He tried to improve the lax customs which prevailed in respect to marriage and divorce, and to restrain the vices which were destroying the population of Rome. But it is difficult to say whether these laudable attempts of Augustus produced any real results upon either the religious or the moral life of the Roman people.

   Death and Character of Augustus.—Augustus lived to the age of seventy-five; and his reign covered a period of forty-five years. During this time he had been performing “the difficult part of ruling without appearing to rule, of being at once the autocrat of the civilized world and the first citizen of a free commonwealth.” His last words are said to have been, “Have I not played my part well?” But it is not necessary for us to suppose that Augustus was a mere actor. The part which he had to perform in restoring peace to the world was a great and difficult task. In the midst of conflicting views which had distracted the republic for a century, he was called upon to perform a work of reconciliation. And it is doubtful whether any political leader ever performed such a work with greater success. When he became the supreme ruler of Rome he was fully equal to the place, and brought order out of confusion. He was content with the substance of power and indifferent to its form. Not so great as Julius Caesar, he was yet more successful. He was one of the greatest examples of what we may call the “conservative reformer,” a man who accomplishes the work of regeneration without destroying existing institutions.


Capes, Early Empire, Ch. I, “Augustus” (
Pelham, Bk. V., Ch. 3, “Foundation of the Principate” (1).
Bury, Roman Empire, Ch. 2, “The Principate” (7).
Taylor, Ch. 18, “The Princeps and the Government” (1).
Merivale, Gen. Hist., Ch. 52, “Provinces under Augustus” (1).
Freeman, Hist. Geog., Ch. 3, “Formation of the Roman Empire” (14).
Abbott, Ch. 12, “The Establishment of the Empire” (13).


   THE WRITERS OF THE AUGUSTAN AGE.—Bury, Roman Empire, Ch. 11 (7); Lawton, Bk. III. (17); Cruttwell, Part II. (17). See also Appendix (17) “Literature.”

1 The figure in parenthesis refers to the number of the topic in the
Appendix, where a fuller title of the book will be found.


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