Augustus Caesar, also known as Octavian, reigned over the Roman Empire for 41 years from 27 BC till his death in 14 AD. He ended a period of lengthy civil wars in the Roman Republic and started a period known as Pax Romana or Roman Peace, which would last for over two centuries. Augustus was an administrative genius who brought consistent taxation and implemented many political, financial, religious and other reforms which led to prosperity in his empire. He also initiated several building projects. Know more about the contributions of the famous Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar by studying his 10 major accomplishments and achievements.
#1 Augustus founded the Roman Empire and was its first Emperor
In 31 BC, Octavian decisively defeated the forces of Cleopatra and Antony at the Battle of Actium. They were forced to withdraw to Alexandria and after Octavian besieged the city, they committed suicide. This made Octavian Rome’s undisputed ruler. In 27 BC, Octavian made a show of restoring power back to the Roman senate though in reality he remained the de facto emperor of the Roman Empire. And the senate conferred him with the new title of Augustus. The start of the monarchy of Augustus is either dated to 31 BC or 27 BC. His reign lasted for 45 or 41 years till his death on 19th August, 14 AD. Augustus Caesar is credited with founding the Roman Empire which lasted for approximately 1400 years.
#2 He was primarily responsible for the two centuries long Pax Romana
There had been frequent warfare in the Roman Republic for centuries. Augustus’s victory at Actium in 31 BC brought the lengthy civil wars to an end and transformed the decaying republic into a stable monarchic regime. It initiated a period of relative peacefulness and minimal expansion in the Roman Empire which lasted for over two centuries from 27 BC to 180 AD and is known as Pax Romana (Roman Peace). The Pax Romana is said to have been a “miracle” as before it there had never been such a long period of peace in the history of the region. Augustus is credited for ensuring durable peace in the Roman Empire through his administrative genius and reforms which brought stability and prosperity.
#3 He initiated religious reforms to revive belief of his people in traditional gods
According to Augustus, lengthy civil wars had led to moral deterioration of Rome; temples across the empire had fallen into decay and its people had lost faith in the gods. He believed that there was an urgent need to reawaken the importance of religion among his subjects. Augustus Caesar oversaw the renewal and repair of numerous temples across his empire, and initiated projects to build many more. He worked towards renewing the trust of people in the traditional gods to revive the spirit of Rome. Augustan era also saw the return of many of the old, popular festivals.
#4 Augustus established a very effective financial system in his empire
The financial reforms of Augustus played a critical role on the subsequent success of the Roman Empire. Arbitrary taxation had often led to resentment among taxpayers increasing the chances of revolts. Augustus imposed consistent, direct taxation on the provinces in the empire. There were two main direct taxes: a poll tax (tributum capitis), paid by all adults in most provinces but sometimes by males only, and a land tax (tributum soli). There were also indirect taxes like a 4% tax on the price of slaves. Augustus Caesar’s financial system was far more effective than any implemented in the empire before. It greatly increased Rome’s net revenue and established a stable relationship between Rome and its provinces.
#5 He abolished private tax farming
Tax farming was a Roman practice whereby the burden of tax collection was reassigned by the Roman State to private individuals or groups. The system was widely abused and tax farmers were unfair and at times barbarously cruel to taxpayers to maximize their profit, which included any additional amount they could forcibly extract. Also tax farmers amassed great wealth and some even influenced the amount of votes for politicians in Rome. Augustus abolished the system of tax farming and replaced tax farmers with salaried civil service tax collectors.
#6 His monetary reforms led to expansion in trade
Roman coinage was greatly expanded and improved during the reign of Augustus. The aureus was the gold coin which was equal to 25 silver denarii. Aureus and denarius of remarkable purity were issued in large quantities at a number of distributed mints. Comprehensive reforms were brought in denominations below the denarius. The absence of bronze coinage was compensated by the creation of abundant mintages in red copper and orichalcum, an alloy of copper and zinc. Coinage and taxation reforms of Augustus Caesar provided stimulus to trade leading to stability and prosperity throughout the Roman Empire.
#7 Augustus transformed the appearance of Rome with massive building projects
Numerous building projects were undertaken during the reign of Augustus. The network of roads was expanded with a number of well-built roads leading to enhanced trade. Aqueducts were built and repaired, including Aqua Julia and Aqua Virgo. Many temples were built including Temple of Caesar and Temple of Apollo Palatinus. Other renowned constructions of Augustan era include the Forum of Augustus, built to house the Temple of Mars Ultor and provide space for legal proceedings; Baths of Agrippa, Rome’s first Imperial Bath; Arch of Augustus, the first Roman arch with three passageways; and Ara Pacis, an altar dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of Peace.
#8 He secured order and protection of Rome by instituting police and fire-fighting forces
Augustus instituted a new fire-fighting force in Rome called Vigiles Urbani (Watchmen of the City). Apart from combating the common problem of fires, it also acted as a night watch and maintained order in the streets. It was divided into 7 units of around 70 to 80 men with each unit patrolling two of the city’s fourteen administrative regions. Vigiles was complimented by Rome’s first institutionalized police force known as Cohortes Urbanae (urban cohorts). It was divided into three cohorts with each containing around 500 men. While the Vigiles performed the day-to-day role of policing the streets and protecting against fires, the urban cohorts acted as a heavy duty police force, capable of riot control duties.
#9 He made the Prefect a permanent office to effectively administer Rome
To ensure regulation of public lands as well as proficient census and tax collection, Augustus divided Italy into eleven regiones. To efficiently administer Rome, it was divided into 14 administrative regions. Augustus converted the occasional appointment of prefect of the city (praefectus urbi) of Rome into a permanent office. The Prefect held the responsibilities of supervising all guilds and corporations, ensuring provision of grains from overseas, maintaining the city’s sewers and water supply system, keeping the Tiber River clean and maintaining the monuments of the city. To enable the Prefect to exercise his authority, the Cohortes Urbanae and Vigiles Urbani were placed under his command.
#10 He built a state run courier service based on relay stations
Augustus Caesar established a system where people of senatorial or equestrian rank were given the responsibility to issue contracts for repair of roads. A commission of five senators called curatores locorum publicorum iudicandorum (Supervisors of Public Property) was put in charge of maintaining public buildings and temples of the state cult. Another senatorial commission known as curatores viarum (Supervisors for Roads) was created to oversee the maintenance of roads. Augustus also created a state-run courier and transportation service known as cursus publicus (the public way). It was used to transport messages, officials, and tax revenues between the provinces and Rome through a system of relay stations. Also an efficient fleet was organized to police the Mediterranean.