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Roman Emperors Pt. 1

Updated on December 10, 2009

Rome was said founded in 753 BCE but for over 250 years earlier it was a village near Palatine Hill (one of the seven hills of Rome) beside the Tibur river. 

Ruled by kings until 510 BCE, the Roman Republic lasted 450 years until 27 BCE, when the rule of Roman Emperors began.  The Imperator (Emperor) ruled Rome and commanded the Roman Legions.  Around 500 BCE, Rome joined up with other Latin cities in mutual defense against the Sabines, an Italic tribe, and consolidated its supremacy over its neighboring cities in 393 BCE.

In 387 BCE, Rome was sacked and burned by the Senones, a Gallic people in eastern Italy.  Rome hastily rebuilt and began a military offensive that lasted for hundreds of years and spread its dominance to the far corners of the known earth.

By the time of its first emperor, Augustus, the Roman Empire had brutally subjugated Europe and the Mediterranean and had a population of one to two million people.  The Empire fractured into the Western Roman Empire and Eastern Roman Empire in 285 by Emperor Diocletian.  The Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476 and the Eastern Roman Empire in 1453.

Early in the first century BCE, the Roman Republic began to experience violent contractions, in the form of the Social War between Rome and its allies(91-88 BCE) and continuing Servile Wars (slave revolts) (135 – 132 BCE; 104 – 100 BCE; 73 – 71 BCE), after which Rome arguably lost its confidence.

While his successor Octavian was the first Emperor, Julius Caesar ushered in the end of the Republic.  He conquered Gaul, marched against Rome, destroyed his opponents and ruled Rome until his assassination in 44 BCE.  From 44 -31 BCE, Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) and Octavian, Caesar’s nephew, struggled for supreme power over Rome.  Octavian finally defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE and quickly consolidated his power over the Roman Empire.  He took the title Princeps (First Citizen) and was later named Augustus by the Senate.

The *Principate Emperors - (30 BCE – 192 CE)

*Designated a Principae because, from Augustus to the death of Commodus, all emperors ruled under the fiction that they were merely the leader of the Senate.  Caesar and Christ, p. 114, Will Durant


Reigned:  16 January 27 BCE -- Augustus 19, 14

First Emperor of Rome, Augustus ruled from 27 BCE until his death in 14 CE.  Born Gaius Octavius Thurinus, Octavian was adopted by his great uncle Julius Caesar, and renamed Gaius Julius Caesar and renamed again Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus in 27 BCE.

After defeating Mark Antony and Cleopatra, after killing Caesarion (the son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra) and a son of Anthony by Fulvia and adopting the children of Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian returned to Rome.  He found a Rome beset with the fruits of 20 years of civil war.  Farms were in ruin, towns had been sacked, wealth stolen and destroyed, robbers made streets unsafe, highwaymen kidnapped travelers and sold them into slavery, trade was diminished, interest rates were soaring and property values were falling.   Rome was filled with newly poor men and soldiers who had tasted adventure and wanted more, taxes were increasing and childlessness spreading.  Caesar and Christ, p. 211, Will Durant

Hesitating before abolishing the old constitution, Augustus formed his power by blending the theories of Cicero, the precedents of Pompey and the policies of Caesar.  Caesar and Christ, p. 212, Will Durant  Weary of civil war and disorder, the people had lost their thirst for freedom and looked more intently for security, order, life at the games and bread. 

Loaded with the treasury from Egypt, Octavian arrived with such abundance, which he shared with Rome, that interest rates fell from twelve to four percent and the value of property rose enormously.  Octavian restored the confidence of many by restoring the sacredness of property rights and saw trade expand and wealth begin again to flow into Rome. Using his great wealth, Octavian retained 200,000 soldiers and bound them by an oath of loyalty.  He discharged 300,000 soldiers and allotted them agricultural land and a gift of money.  He forgave property owners tax arrears and publicly burned records of such debt.  Caesar and Christ, p. 210-14, Will Durant 

As his money slipped away and his reputation grew, Octavian lived modestly and shunned luxuries but was accumulating more political power.  As imperator and consul, he ruled the Legions and he Treasury and administered Rome’s laws.  Caesar and Christ, p. 214, Will Durant  He genius lay in binding the perceived need for security with the need for freedom.

But when he began to undertake to improve Roman ‘morals’ at the expense of their happiness,  the Roman people never forgave him.    Looking for racial purity, he began by seeking to slow the growth of freed slaves and increasing the birth rate of Romans to preserve what he considered “Rome.”  He joined with the older generation and formed a puritan party to govern people’s morals by law.  For the first time in Roman history marriage was brought under the protection of the state but while women could be condemned for adultery, men could not.  In addition, marriage was made obligatory for all marriageable males under sixty and women under fifty.  Unmarried citizens could not inherit and could not attend public games.  Every Roman class was soon offended but, undeterred, Augustus assumed that moral reform would better follow a religious dictatorship and tried to elevate the power of religion.  Irony being what it is, he found himself forced to destroy his own daughter and granddaughter for violating his moral reforms.   Caesar and Christ, p. 221-224, Will Durant

In his personal life, he had one child by three wives—Claudia, Scribonia (who gave birth to his daughter Julia) and Livia. Livia came with two children, Tiberius and Drusus. He loved Drusus, who died during a military campaign, but only respected Tiberius. Julia, his daughter, siding with the younger Romans and against the puritans who had allied with her father, made his town house her salon of pleasure and wit. Octavian forced Tiberius to divorce his pregnant wife (the daughter or a dear friend) and forced Julia to marry him. When Julia took lovers at her pleasure no matter the marriage, Tiberius moved to Rhodes and lived for seven years as a simple citizen. In time, Octavian banished his daughter to a desolate island. When his granddaughter followed in her mother’s steps, Octavian banished her to a desolate island, as well. At his end, he saw the collapse of his family, his honor and his laws. Caesar and Christ, p. 221-232, Will Durant

At his death, the Roman Empire had restored its dominance of the seas, stabilized its government, opened new mines, increased the circulation of its currency and covered 3,340,000 square miles.

Continued in Roman Emperors Pt. 2

Have you ever heard of Augustus?

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