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.
SELECTIONS FOR READING
Capes, Early Empire, Ch. I, “Augustus” (7).1
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.