Augustus: His Life and Work - Rene Francis

Foreign and Military Policy of Augustus

We will deal first, with what we 'nay call the 'Imperial' work of Augustus that is, his work on the frontiers, in the provinces, and in connection with the army.

Augustus, as the supreme arbiter of all foreign policy, and, whir this, the absolute master of the legions, was in a position to attempt what the Republic never could have faced, namely, the problem of establishing definite frontiers for the Empire, a definite frontier policy, and a definite scheme of frontier defence.

The western frontier of the Empire was the Atlantic. Augustus formulated no schemes for visiting or Romanizing Britain: that he left to his successors.

The southern frontier extended from the eastern borders of Egypt to the eastern borders of Mauretania. Mauretania acknowledged the sovereignty of Rome, and this carried Roman influence practically to the Atlantic seaboard. The only trouble on this frontier was that caused by occasional marauding tribes. Augustus systematized the defence of this frontier as far as he could, but left it to his successors to develop and perfect the system.

The northern and north-eastern frontiers presented far greater difficulties.

The theory of the northern (and north-eastern) frontier had been the line of the Danube and the line of the Rhine. Gallia Belgica and Raetia—this latter became a province in 15 B.C.—ensured the Rhine. Noricum (15 B.C.), Pannonia (A.D. 10), and Moesia (A.D. 6) ensured the Danube. All these were Imperial provinces—i.e. directly administered by Caesar.

But the question arose whether the Elbe would not be the proper north-eastern frontier. It would certainly provide a far better safe-guard against German invasions of Italy from the north. This had been one of Julius's ideals, and they were generally worth following, from a practical point of view. Augustus therefore pursued the extension eastward from the Rhine border.

For a time he seemed likely to succeed. Drusus and Tiberius gained ground for him steadily from 13 B.C. onward; in 9 B.C. Drusus had reached the Elbe, and three years later Tiberius took up the wort: with, apparently, excellent results. Roman troops were stationed along the new frontier; roads were being made, bridges built, canals cut. Roman administration and taxation, and even civilization, were making headway among the savage Germans. Most significant of all, the worship of Rome and Augustus was being taken up, and an altar stood in the land of the Ubii for all men to see that the northern barbarians were adopting the cult of Caesar.

Then occurred in A.D. 9 the disaster of Varus, who was cut to pieces with his three legions in the Hercynian Forest. Those who wish to read one of the most perfectly written and pathetic pages in literature have but to turn to the passage in which Tacitus describes the tragedy as only he could do it.

The incident deserves more than a passing word, for it marks the permanent abandonment on the part of Rome of expansion east of the Rhine. Augustus refused to continue his attempts: he withdrew to the Rhine, and in his will he enjoined upon his successors that the Rhine was to be their frontier.

The importance of the Rhine and Danube was such that Augustus put both rivers under special government. The Rhine and the 'three Gauls,' Aquitania, Lugdunensis, and Belgica, were under one man, and the three Danube provinces under another. Strong centralized authority was thus secured for these dangerous borders. There was no possibility of establishing anything in the nature of what we call a 'buffer-State' between Rome and the barbarian; in consequence the chain of provinces had to be under special supervision and rule.

The eastern frontier was also a source of anxiety. The great danger here was the Parthian ruler, the 'King of Kings,' as he styled himself. Ever since Parthia had risen to her great strength there had been the danger that she might, by one sweeping raid, or else on the occasion of some display of weakness on the part of Rome, induce the Asian states to throw off their allegiance to the Western Power and bow down to the 'King of Kings.'

We have seen something of the changes and chances of Parthia. It was in 62 B.C. that Rome, in her undertaking to annex Syria, had first been brought face to face with the Parthians. She found out in 53 B.C. how greatly they were to be feared.

In 40 B.C. Parthia invaded Asia, Minor and practically regained all that had been Rome's undisputed property. Ventidius Bassus won back the last lands two years later. In 36 B.C. Antony attempted his counter-invasion of Parthia, but without success.

Thanks to internal dissensions, Phraates was willing, as we have seen, to make alliance and friendship with Augustus in 30 B.C., just at the moment when Augustus needed such a compromise.

Parthia was still weak when Augustus returned thither in 20 B.C., and Phraates readily consented to give back the standards lost at Carrhae, and asked that his alliance and friendship with Rome might continue.

But, naturally, Augustus, who never liked to leave problems half solved, was anxious for some settlement which should lie on a more solid basis than the caprice or changing fortunes of an Eastern king. An invasion of Parthia would be far too costly and dangerous.

There was no clear frontier line along the whole border. Syria was safely bounded by the desert and the Euphrates on the east, but the states on the north-east between the Euphrates and the Roman provinces of Bithynia, Galatia, and Cilicia were not to be depended upon. Moreover, Bithynia was a senatorial province. All three of these states, Pontus, Cappadocia, and Commagene, were under native rule, and their allegiance was as doubtful as that of Parthia herself. Annexation was necessary, but this Augustus had to leave to his successors.

The one debatable land was Armenia, and Augustus decided to bring this country, so far as he might, within the sphere of Roman influence. He twice sent Tiberius, and once Gaius (4 B.C.), the son of Agrippa, on special missions for the encouragement of friendly relations. Armenia was to Rome and Parthia exactly what Afghanistan is to-day to the Indian Empire and Russia.

Furthermore, to ensure proper control in Asia, Augustus left Agrippa for ten years (from 23 to 13 B.C.) as special commissioner in the East.

We must now glance at the army, as the military forces of the Empire were, after the 'accession' of Augustus, indissolubly bound up with the frontier policy.

During the later days of the Republic the army had become a serious menace to the home Government and an undue burden on the provinces.

In theory it was still a militia, liable to be called out year by year for the defence of the State; but in practice it was simply a standing army. The old custom of returning home after the term of service was ended became obsolete during the last century of the Republic.

We have seen how Marius took the first real steps to separate the military from the civil element. Soldiering in his day became a profession rather than a duty. But the soldier had as yet no recognized claim to reward or pension on discharge: he could and did look to his leader for grants of money or land, wrung from that leader's victims, and in return he gave his vote—or, if wanted, his sword—for the measures which his leader wished to pass.

During the period of the 'Adventurers,' as we have called them, Rome saw, not one, but several armies, under independent leaders, who as often as not were hostile to one another. In the intervals between periods of active service these armies lived, free of cost, upon the provincials.

During the civil war there were perhaps as many as fifty legions under arms. Augustus reduced these by half. He gave money grants or land to discharged soldiers, many of whom, as we have said in the chapter previous to this, he settled in the military 'colonies' wherewith he sought to repopulate waste districts of Italy (Veii and Perusia are two instances of towns that regained their ancient importance in this way), or to strengthen doubtful borderlands—for example, in what had formerly been Cisalpine Gaul.

He retained twenty-five legions for service on the frontiers. He stationed no less than twelve on the Rhine and Danube frontier; four were for Egypt and Africa, four for Syria, three for Spain, and two for Dalmatia. A permanent force for the defence of the Empire was thus constituted. The legion was by now a distinct standing corps, with its own special number and name, and under the command of its own legate appointed by the Emperor. Its ranks and grades were clearly defined. No longer did nobles or knights enter the ranks as in the old days: the 'privates,' for the most part, remained separate front the 'commissioned' officers, and promotion from the ranks was exceptional. The men all took the oath of allegiance to Caesar, were paid by Caesar and discharged by Caesar; and their pay was put on a regular basis, being provided by certain taxes which went to fill the military chest instituted by Augustus in A.D. 6.

The term of service was sixteen years 'with the colours,' (for the Romans, the 'colours' were eagles), and then four years in the reserve. On being discharged the soldier was granted a definite sum of money. Enlistment by voluntary means was found to suffice except in rare cases (as, for example, after the defeat of Varus), when the old system of forced levy had to be resumed. However, the liability on all Romans to serve was not abolished, nor was any one save a free Roman citizen allowed to serve in the legion.

Augustus drew largely on the various allies and provinces for supplementary military aid. Contingents from various tribes acted as auxiliaries, and kept their tribal dress and arms, and even their special methods of fighting. After their term of service (in their case twenty-five years) these auxiliaries received the full Roman franchise for themselves and their descendants.

The employment of the supplementary forces served a twofold purpose. In the first place, the various warlike tribes in different provinces found an outlet for their proclivities, and this was most necessary, as the Roman Empire when peace prevailed became a trifle dull for certain of its adherents.

Secondly, the retiring auxiliaries, what; with their long association with the Roman legionaries and the full franchise given with their discharge, were in many cases thoroughly 'Romanized.' Each generation of auxiliaries ensured a second generation of legionaries.

Naturally, as the army became more and more concentrated on the frontiers, and recruited from the provinces, Italy and the peaceful senatorial provinces lost touch with it, and memory of it. It became, indeed, more and more rare for the Italians to see or even to furnish soldiers for the defence of the Empire.

We now come to the provinces. As Augustus established and consolidated the constitution, and with it his own position, he gradually created a department of his own, entirely under his personal direction and apart from all senatorial control. We shall see, a little farther on, how he annexed various portions of the home executive. But, so far as concerned the provinces, he had by far the larger share of the administration in his hands, and this share was extended under his successors. By the end of the first century A.D. no less than three-fourths of the provinces were directly under the Emperor, and were known as the 'provinces of Caesar.'



This Imperial Department, both for home and for foreign affairs, was an absolute necessity; the old Republican machinery was quite inadequate for anything like organized or efficient government, inside or outside Rome. We have only to read a few pages of Cicero for confirmation of this. It was obviously necessary to give certain definite executive powers to the Emperor. This was rendered more easy and natural by reason of the Imperial prestige; the Senate was only too ready to vote any extension of the Imperial Department that Caesar might suggest.

Of course Augustus, as having the majus imperium, or superior command, took precedence both at home and abroad, as we have shown, over all other magistrates; and he thus exercised a good deal of indirect, control even over departments and provinces that were under the charge of his 'colleagues.' In some cases he even gave direct instructions to proconsuls; at any rate, the praetors at home and the proconsuls abroad, though legally the equals of Augustus, lost their original independence. Hints or counsels from the master of the legions were usually taken as commands: at the very least they carried some weight.

The organization of the provincial system occupied Augustus fully from 27 to 19 B.C. He added thirteen provinces (eight of which he 'created') to the Empire.

In the West, as we have said, he formed three 'Gauls'—Aquitania, Lugdunensis, and Belgica. In Spain he pacified the warlike north-west highlands, and he established Roman influence firmly up to the Atlantic seaboard by constituting the province of Lusitania. In the East he formed in 25 B.C. the two provinces of Galatia and Pamphylia, after the death of King Amyntas, under whose rule they had been.

The African coast was all 'province' as far as Mauretania. Egypt was the especial province of Augustus himself, under his exclusive control, and almost his private property.

Egypt deserves special mention. It provided Augustus and his successors with money. It was indispensable to the emperors for that reason. Not only were there vast stores of treasure in the country, but the land itself, as it is now, was a veritable treasure-house, rich in crops, irrigated by the Nile, cultivated by a peasantry who were accustomed to pay taxes without a murmur. Egypt was the 'key to kingship.'

Augustus did not treat Egypt as he did the other provinces: he left the administration and general arrangements of the country very much as he found them, and put a responsible prefect at the head of all affairs. His chief concern was the irrigation. Canals and irrigation works had been neglected during the past few years. He set his legionaries actually to the work of cleaning out and repairing the canals, and he thereby made it possible for a lesser Nile-flood than before to give sufficient irrigation to the whole land. Egypt was his milch-cow, and he took care that she should be properly tended and fed.

Egypt was the only country apparently that tempted Augustus to go beyond his usual caution in development policy. His prefect Aelius Gallus attempted a campaign on the Red Sea coast, which failed disastrously, and other expeditions were tried, with equal lack of success, against Nubia and Ethiopia. True, Gallus seems to have been singularly incapable; but we can hardly suppose that he acted entirely on his own initiative. Augustus must have had ideas of trade campaigns. Perhaps the glamour of Africa enticed him, as it has others: more probably he remembered how the great monarchs of Egypt, Pepi, Usertsen (or Sesosiris), Mentuhotep, Rameses II, had all exploited Nubia and Ethiopia and Somaliland (Punt) with great commercial success. But he realized before it was too late that he must establish his frontier at Assouan (Syene) and not tempt the fortunes and dangers of the Soudan.

The provinces, under the Republic, had been so many distinct and separate principalities, so to speak, each under its own Roman governor. Under Augustus they were all, directly and indirectly, under his own imperium. The provinces under his direct control were Egypt, Gaul, Syria, Hither Spain in 27 B.C., Lusitania, Cilicia, Galatia, Pamphylia in 19 B.C., and Moesia, Pannonia, Noricum, and Raetia in 16 B.C. These, the most warlike, populous, and rich in the whole Empire, really formed one big province, administered by his own men and under his absolute rule. The most important among them were controlled by his legates, and the others by procurators, or agents, usually men of Equestrian rank. Now and again one of these procurators was given charge of the finances in a legate's province. Legates were men of senatorial rank, but the procurators, who were directly responsible to the Emperor, often acted as a check upon them.

Now and again, as in the case of Egypt, a prefect was appointed for a province.

A further check on the legate was the fact that the soldiers under him were Caesar's men, the wars he waged were declared and ended by Caesar, the triumphs were Caesar's triumphs, the salute given to the imperator  after victory was given to Caesar.

Again, as in old days the provincials had had the right of appeal to the Roman people, so now they had their appeal, so highly prized under the Empire, to Caesar, who represented the Sovereign People of Rome.

This whole system could not but mean efficiency in the highest degree. So excellent, indeed, was its effect that even those emperors who seemed to Rome to be monsters appeared to the provincials in the light, of admirable rulers.

Naturally this efficiency was respected and envied both by the governors and by the governed of the senatorial provinces. These had, of course, improved to a certain extent. They were, as before, governed by ex-consuls, or praetors, responsible to the Senate, who took with them a quaestor for the financial executive work.

But the responsibility was only technical; Augustus could, in practice, impose a check. The governors must have at least five years' standing in their rank. Also, the ranks of the magistracy were now filled by the nominees of Augustus himself.

For foreign and military affairs Augustus had, as we have said, complete control. Besides, the provinces left to the Senate were those least inclined or exposed to war: they were even described as provinciae inermes, or 'unarmed provinces.'

For taxation the old policy of levying requisitions, rightful and otherwise, which had been such a scandal in its day, was entirely suppressed. All revenue arrangements were made by Caesar's procurators.

Again, the senatorial governors had only a very limited right to confer or refuse the Roman franchise. They were liable to receive direct orders and instructions from the Emperor; and appeals were addressed to the Emperor over their heads. In more than one case—for example, those of 13itlhyni.a and Sicily—Augustus himself arranged tie affairs of the province and left the governor to watch r over what he had instituted. And, to sum up the whole matter, both the governors and the governed grew into the habit of looking to the Emperor for all things.

Under the Republic there had never been any means of ascertaining either the revenue or the expense of the provinces, or, indeed, of the Empire as a whole, nor had there been any sort of control over either income or expenditure. Augustus remedied this in the most thorough manner. Finance, indeed, seems to have been his strongest point.

He began by having a scientific statistical survey of the whole Empire made by the greatest experts the time afforded. He also took the census of his own provinces. He then instituted two definite and regular forms of tax, instead of the numerous and irregular modes of taxation imposed under the Republic. These were the tributum soli, or land tax, and the tributum capitis, or property tax. He had, of course, the entire control of all revenue and expenditure. He also organized fixed allowances instead of the ancient requisitions. Needless to say, the old system of farming out taxes was extinct.

He then arranged for an annual budget showing the financial condition, year by year, of the Empire. At his death he left a complete financial statement of the Roman Empire.

He also organized and developed the possibilities of each province by putting down all brigandage and piracy and establishing commercial and personal security; and he spent liberally on public works, besides freeing commerce and industry in general from harassing and hampering restrictions.

Lastly, he arranged that the citizens of Rome and Italy should bear a share—not a large share, but still a share—of the cost of governing and protecting their Empire.

In short, Augustus organized, and organized thoroughly, the whole of the external maintenance and development of the Roman Empire.

We shall now turn to his internal or home policy.