Augustus may have been a political genius but he was far from being a swaggering military hero like other famous leaders from history. He was a sickly, pale youth, yet he had the staying power and resilience to enable him to outlive his rivals and found the Roman empire. Read on to find out why Augustus was the best leader of all times and deserves to win the Heritage Key Fantasy General Election 2010!
He reigned for 41 years and is best remembered as a ruler with extraordinary vision but also as a moderate man committed to peace and family values.
Part of Augustus’s staying power was his genius for re-invention (he changed his name several times) and his ability to turn a situation to his own political advantage. As Octavius, he was adopted by the immensely popular Julius Caesar. This backing was crucial to his bid for leadership and he made the most of the connection by taking on Caesar’s name. Later known as Octavian, he reinvented his political role several times from son of Caesar, to one of the three co-leaders of the Roman world, ruler of the western empire and, after the Battle of Actium, he became sole ruler but a ruler as they’d never seen before.
His one-man authority and influence, or ‘auctoritas’, stemmed from his wide support throughout the Roman army, his large personal fortune and the various public offices he held. He was handsome (blond curly hair, blue eyes, a bit short with bad teeth) but he didn’t have the charisma of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony or later rulers Hadrian or Vespasian.
What Augustus did have was a vision for the future of how the provinces of the fragile republic could be united under one-man rule. He was a social as well as a political reformer and tried to improve Rome’s moral code. He more or less succeeded in establishing peace the Augustan age is synonymous with the golden age of ancient Rome.
So what’s on Augustus‘s election manifesto? Political reform tops his agenda, with family values a close second. He’s keen on security without being hell-bent on war and he’s committed to public spending, but not people power. Plus, there’s corn on the agenda.
If your political system sucks, then what you need is a leader with vision, someone who can make it all better without causing another civil war or a hung parliament. Augustus had this vision in copious quantities and could see that there was no way the old Roman republican system could be reinstated following the dictatorship of Julius Caesar, the tumultuous second triumvirate (Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus) and then the Battle of Actium.
He could see that the best hope for peace was for one man to control the senate and govern autocratically, while also seeming to uphold Roman traditions. Convenient for Augustus of course that that one man should be him, but he introduced his powers almost by stealth and was careful to present a public front of someone who just wanted the best for Rome, whilst at the same time gradually becoming a brand new type of world ruler an emperor. He established a new political order and founded a system of succession that enabled the empire to continue (with a few rough patches admittedly) for about four centuries.
Augustus has a fantastic track record in instilling moral decency in a nation. Your wife’s playing away, or your son’s a bit of a commitment-phobe? Not a problem Augustus is a fervent supporter of traditional family values, having reformed the moral code of the Roman people in 18-17 BC, which up to that point had been rather slap-dash to say the least.
Adultery and hedonism had been rife in the late republic and it was looking like the ruling class might not be able to propagate itself. The solution: Augustus’s Julian Laws made adultery a crime punishable with banishment. Husbands who caught their wives in the act were allowed to kill her lover and then had to divorce the wife, while women and men of a marriageable age who refused to marry were banned from inheriting and, worse still, they were also banned from attending public games.
There were incentives for couples who produced three male children. Augustus was a man of his word and stuck by his law when he discovered that his daughter Julia had had hundreds of lovers, he banished her to the island of Ventotene. You can’t argue with someone who’s willing to banish their own daughter to prove a point, now can you?
With his experience as head of a fledgling empire, security is one issue that Augustus takes very seriously. As emperor, instead of continuing the quest for expansion, Augustus reigned in the army, treated them well and ensured they were on his side. He recruited the Praetorian Guard from legions throughout the provinces ensuring widespread support.
Augustus was committed to strengthening borders rather than conquering new lands and he was dedicated to peace. His rule and the two centuries following it came to be known as the Pax Romana, an era of unprecedented (relative) peace. Augustus made his feelings about peace quite plain when he commissioned the Ara Pacis, his Altar to Peace.
Investing in Infrastructure
Augustus seems to have been a master of appearances, who was able to put a good bit of spin onto almost any situation so that he could come out as the political top-dog. He knew that public perception was all-important, so to make the Roman public feel good about him and about themselves, he is said to have transformed Rome from a shabby ramshackle place into a city with the white marble temples, porticoes and monuments that we imagine when we see the ruins today. He is quoted as having said: “I found Rome a city of brick and left her a city of marble.” Among his public works are the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Ara Pacis, the Theatre of Marcellus, the baths of Agrippa and the Forum of Augustus.
Augustus may not have been big on people power, but he also knew on which side his bread was buttered. When it came to keeping the plebs happy, he made sure they had enough to eat by distributing corn to the people of Rome as soon as he came to power.
A corn dole for each citizen of Rome had been introduced earlier and under Julius Caesar free corn was given out. In his typical measured fashion, Augustus limited the number of people eligible for the free grain, but nevertheless it was enough to sustain his popularity. Augustus also invested in Rome’s aqueducts.
His other public sector improvements included setting up a fire brigade and reforming the police. He was also a patron of the arts and some of ancient Rome’s most famous poets and writers lived during his rule, including Virgil, Horace, Ovid and Livy.
Why Vote for Augustus?
So why vote for Augustus? The leader with political vision, who seemed to genuinely care for the people and who was even given the title Pater Patriae (father of the country). He built ceaselessly for the Roman public theatres, aqueducts, forums and an altar and was a man with integrity and a strict personal moral code Augustus wasn’t one to indulge in lavish banquets like other leaders and he did all he could to promote good moral behaviour.
In short, a vote for Augustus is a vote for peace, for marble monuments, for investment in infrastructure. It’s a vote for literature, for security and corn. Most of all it’s a vote for family values, for banishing adulterers and for one big happy empire.