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City of rome under augustus

Info: 3208 words (13 pages) Essay
Published: 1st Jan 2015 in History

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Identify, and discuss the significance of, any changes and continuities which can be seen in the city of Rome under Augustus.

This essay examines the changes and continuities during the Republic and the reign of Augustus, from 27 BC to the death of Augustus in AD 14. In particular I am going to look at the building projects under Augustus, concentrating on the restoration of temples; the water supply in Rome (the aqueducts and the River Tiber) and the restoring of the roads and streets. Next I will discuss the administration of Rome, which includes: the division of Rome into regions and the setting up of specific boards, i.e. the fire brigade and Augustus’ Praetorian Guard.

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Rome needed some form of renewal. Le Glay notes that Octavian was the only man who wanted to restore and defend the Republican nobility. He goes on to quote, “I do not want to die young and for nothing”. When evaluating the building projects under Augustus one could comment merely on the marvellous projects he commissioned and how magnificent Rome became. Especially when, according to Suetonius, Augustus said on his death bed, “I left Rome a city of marble, though I found her a city of bricks”. This is a valid observation as although marble could be found in buildings of Rome before Augustus, it was not extensively used as a building material until his reign. Augustus did produce an Imperial City, not only in how Rome looked, but how Rome functioned also. Cicero repeatedly described the Republican city state as supremely beautiful, he said, “They have ordained this city to be more beautiful, most flourishing, most powerful.” However, this is misleading as, although one or two buildings were impressive, the City as a whole did not astonish. In the Late Republic Caesar was the first Roman to try to commission any major building works. In 47BC, Caesar proclaimed that he had spent his private fortune and borrowed heavily to fund projects, all for the public good. He had a great list of projects he wanted to achieve, however he was assassinated and was never able to complete this list. Augustus, keen to continue what Caesar had begun, took over the plans and started to restore Rome. He gives us a detailed account of all the buildings he restored in his Res Gestae, 19 – 21. Augustus’ building work involved firstly restoring buildings and secondly remodelling the infrastructure of the City. Augustus knew the importance of creating an Imperial City, a City which he would later call the “Eternal City”; he also knew the importance of not offending the gods, therefore he immediately began restoring temples which had fallen into ruin in previous years. During the Republic temples fell into disrepair because triumphant generals had failed to upkeep the temples, which they had built, following their triumphs. Also the outbreak of the civil wars had caused a lot of buildings to become dilapidated. This changed under Augustus, who restored these temples in order to reaffirm the traditions of the City and link the establishment of peace and the end to the civil wars by himself. The Romans believed the prosperity was in the hands of the gods; the Pax deorum was important and if Augustus was to keep this ‘peace of the gods’ he was expected to restore temples because the Romans thought their success was due to the gods; therefore they were keen to please them. Horace warned that the Romans would pay if they did not restore the “crumbling houses of the gods”. They took the civil wars as an obvious sign from the gods that they had displeased them. In Res Gestae, 20 Augustus boasts that he had restored 82 temples in 28 BC; Augustus was rightly given praise when Livy stated that he was the “founder and restorer of our temples”. He saw the restoring of Rome not just as opportunistic propaganda. Augustus was seen as being pious for restoring all the temples, whereas those who did not, i.e. the Senate, were not pious. He felt he should do this in order to fulfil his role as patron of the people. It should also be noted that in creating all of these building projects, Augustus created many jobs for the plebs, which without they would have been unemployed.

In the Republican City disruptive events occurred on a regular basis: fires, floods and civil unrest for example. Having furnished the City, Augustus then had to turn his intention to restoring the infrastructure of the City. The water system, including the aqueducts and the River Tiber were an important aspect in the restoration project. The Republican Romans knew of the importance of a decent water supply and their first aqueducts were erected in 312 BC. Water was necessary for drinking, cooking, to flush away sewage, to fight fires and, from the Augustan period onwards, to the supply the baths. Most people went to the public fountains, into which the aqueducts flowed, to obtain their water; only the privileged and select few were permitted to have a water supply flow straight into their house. During Augustus’ reign the most significant changes to the aqueduct system were introduced by Agrippa who was appointed aedile in 33 BC. The Romans continued to use the existing four aqueducts which had been present in the Republic, however Agrippa repaired these and built another two. Dio claims he funded at his own expense, and established a staff of 240 slaves to help maintain them. According to Frontinus, Agrippa increased the water supply by about 70%. When Agrippa died in 12 BC responsibility for the maintenance and the slaves were transferred to Augustus. Consequently, he created the board of curator aquarum and he forwarded the position to personally chosen men. Augustus claims in his Res Gestae. 20 that he repaired the channels of aqueducts which had fallen into decay through age in many places and he doubled the aqueduct called Aqua Maria, and tapped a new supply for its channel”.

The River Tiber was an immensely important route under Augustus as it was needed for transport, especially when large amounts of building materials were being shipped in on a daily basis. This had significantly increased over the past few years. Livy documents storms in 193 BC which flooded lower sections of Rome and consequently led to the collapse of some buildings; the following year there were worse floods in which the river washed away two bridges and many houses. In the Late Republic the pons Sublicius was damaged and many boats on the River Tiber sunk; in 54 BC subsequent floods resulted in the loss life and the collapse of buildings in Rome. The flooding issues were not solved immediately under the reign of Augustus; further flooding occurred in 27 BC and again in 23 BC, when the bridge was swept away. The result of this flooding was one of the contributing factors of the food supply crisis. Augustus, therefore, cleared the river bed of rubbish and removed certain structures which narrowed its course. This did not completely suffice, however the occurrence of floods was dramatically reduced. Although Suetonius states that it was under Augustus, he created a board to maintain the channel of the Tiber and thus attempted to clear it; Dio says under Tiberius a board of five Senators was created to try to clear the River Tiber and Tacitus believes that Ateius Capito and Lucius Arruntius” made plans to try to resolve the flooding under Tiberius. Although Suetonius provides evidence for Augustus resolving the problems with the Tiber, Tacitus and Dio disagree and further flooding occurred; therefore this was most likely to be a periodic solution, which continued under Tiberius. Robinson notes that some of the embankments designed to control the floodwaters seem to date from the early years of the first century AD, however this could be under either Augustus or Tiberius. Also there is little literary sources on the anti-flood work done by the curators, and hence we must largely rely on the scant archaeological evidence.

The roads and streets in Rome were also in need of great repair and work was initiated by Augustus in 27 BC. These roads had to support the vast amount of tourists, troops and maintenance supplies coming throughout the City daily. They also had to be efficient as all the produce created in Rome had to be exported as well. The roads acted as a commercial and economic stability to Rome. Strabo notes that it the Greeks were concerned with beautiful locations for their cities, whereas the Romans gave considerable thought to their road system. Augustus began by initiating the repair of the great via Flaminia at his own expense as far as Ariminium. Cooley notes that the road was originally built by C. Flaminius, when he was censor in 217 BC. This road was the main route in and out of the City to the North of Rome and along the route was Augustus’ mausoleum and his ara pacis, therefore everybody taking this route would know it was Augustus who repaved it. To further emphasise Augustus had completed this he erected an arch at the beginning and the end of the parts he restored and had an inscription on it, naming himself. No other figure in Rome was very keen on spending money on repairing roads, they preferred glorifying the city with magnificent buildings in order to win favour, however Augustus did not appreciate this as he wanted to take all the glory for the splendid buildings in Rome himself. Cooley explains that Augustus instructed other triumphal generals to spend their war booty on repairing roads; for example, C. Calvisius Sabinus (consul 39 BC, triumph 28 BC) and M. Valerius Messalla Corvinus (consul 31 BC, triumph 27 BC) each restored part of the via Latina. Therefore in 20 BC Augustus assumed the title of cura viarum or care of the highways in the neighbourhood of Rome; however the via Flaminia was the only road he restored. Augustus is very proud of the fact he did this for the city, and once again he mentions this achievement in his Res Gestae, 20, especially when no other really wanted to help.

I am now going to focus on the administration of the City. Augustus decided to reorganise the City into regions. The older regions, from the Republic, had long since ceased to have any bearing on patterns of residence and Wallace-Hadrill affirms that the absence of an agreed system fits in with the perception of Republican Rome as chaotic and disorder. Rome was often the object of mockery during the Republic at the Macedonian court, due to the appearance of the city itself, which was still undeveloped in its public and private spaces. However, Augustus was keen to keep Rome similar to the Republican days in order to not cause an uproar with the population. This new division was necessary for not only health and safety reasons, with regards to equally distributing the fire brigades, but also this way Augustus would have more control, it would be a lot easier to see down riots this way and he could keep updated on affairs more easily. The last time Rome had been divided into regions (regions) was in the reign of the early King Servius Tullius; Augustus however divided Rome into fourteen regions in 7 BC. The regions were officially organised to mediated between the high level of running of the state, and the social realities of the neighbourhood. Under Augustus each of the fourteen regions was subdivided into 265 vici: these would be managed by a group of four annually elected vicomagistri and four ministri. During the Republic there had been a very relaxed manner and officials changed every year, although that still happens under Augustus, he institutes a more rigid system and ensures there was a permanent board to ensure the continuation of affairs. They proudly erected inscriptions recording their identity, depicting themselves in procession, or sacrificing to the local hearth gods, the Lares, and to the Genius of Augustus. Through this low level organisation, Augustus created a structure through which the tradesmen could develop a sense of self respect and identity and bring more people under the influence of himself.

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Fire was a very common problem in the Republic and the only fire fighting strategy that was in place was in the form of tresviri capitals, these were a board of state slaves, partially organised, that served the purpose for watching for fires at night. Most likely they would have been overseen by the aediles and tribunes. Fire continued to be a problem under Augustus with many reasons contributing to the problem and these included people of Rome using open flames for light in dim lit rooms; cooking on an open fire and the buildings, from the Republic, were originally made of wood. This would not have made them very stable and they were very high and close together. After a fire consumed part of the city in 23 BC Augustus decided to set up an office for a fire brigade and this was started initially by Egnatius Rufus, under his aedileship in 21 BC; where he used his own slaves to establish a private fire service. Rufus gathered a large admired following from the people who saw him in a positive light, during a time of severe urban problems and this had earned him the hatred of Augustus. Augustus did not like the idea of Rufus being in control of a large force within Rome as this brought back memories of the civil wars. He feared Rufus could create uproar and overthrow Augustus; Rufus resigned and later committed suicide. Following Rufus’ resignation a fire-fighting corps of 600 slaves had been set up in 23 BC, commanded by aediles. However, major fires occurred in 16, 14, 12 and 7 BC; so in AD 6, a paramilitary force was set up of 7000 freedmen to act as a fire brigade, under the command of a Prefect, who had to report directly to Augustus. The 7000 men where divided into seven cohorts and then sub divided into centuries, which were commanded by a centurion. This was a well organised system and each cohort would have been responsible for two regions under the new organisation. Suetonius confirms that Augustus devised a system of watchmen to help guard against fires.

Food shortages were a common aspect in the Late Republic due to the dramatic increase in Rome’s population; also there were harvest failures and destruction of ships which were carrying grains. During the Late Republic most of the lower class male depended on the grain handouts and this managed to keep their families from starvation. Riots in 57 BC led to Pompey being given a special five year commission in order to try and fix the shortages, however, it was a special honour and this was not common practice. From 44 BC the distribution had normally been the responsibility of the aediles. Caesar reduced the number of recipients of the corn dole to 150,000; however Augustus recognised the paramount importance of the grain supply and made it one of his most serious priorities, changing this number and increasing the recipients by 50,000. Erdkamp states that the corn dole would not have sufficed the food requirements of the entire population, however it was possible to feed about one third. Dio says that Augustus took control and gave out extra corn during similar riots to those experienced by Pompey in 23 – 2 BC; however, the riots were subdued by Augustus in a matter of days and so Augustus appointed Tiberius to reorganise the grain supply.However from 18 BC Augustus only made occasional donations and contributions to the corn dole; in times of need he was able to give out corn more regularly, otherwise the corn dole was distributed as necessary. The aediles remained the only permanent officials concerned with the corn supply up until AD 6 when a famine struck the City. Augustus then transferred responsibility to two ex-consuls, then later to an equestrian who was given the title praefectus annonae and his own body of staff.

Rich explains that during the Republic, commanders had been accompanied by a Praetorian cohort, specifically chosen by them. Also from 42 BC both Antony and Augustus had 4000 Praetorians, organised into several cohorts. Since the time of Sulla, Roman military forces were not allowed to be stationed in Rome or Italy, but in 27 BC Augustus changed this and allowed his Guard to be stationed on the outskirts of the city and they could enter when necessary. While Augustus understood the need to have a protector in the maelstrom of Rome, he was careful to uphold the Republican veneer of his regime. He took measures to fix his force, called the Praetorian Guard, and the number of Guards was increased from nine cohorts of 500 men to nine cohorts of 1000 men. These Guards were directly recruited by Augustus and he utilised them in suppressing any violence and crime in the City; only three cohorts were kept on duty at any given time in the capital. Augustus valued the Guards so greatly that he ensured they were paid twice that of normal soldiers, this would also make sure that they were loyal to Augustus. Finally in 2 BC they were placed under the overall command of two equestrian prefects. The need for two equestrians was to ensure that not one man could have too much power at one time.

To conclude there were numerous changes and continuities from the Republican time to the end of the Augustus era. A lot of the changes under Augustus were for the good of the people of Rome, for example the building projects adorned the city with amazing temples. The programme also made sure Rome was functioning more efficiently, following the chaos of the Republic, with regards to the water supply and the roads. Dividing the City into regions was a victorious move and rewards were seen for both Augustus, who could keep a closer watch on the city now, and for the slaves and freedmen he employed, who enjoyed a certain social status and privileges. The fire brigade was necessary, however it took a long time for Augustus to put this into place and it still had problems, like wise the corn supply continued from the Republic, however under went changes throughout Augustus’ reign. The Praetorian Guard evolved from the Republic and became a more fixed body and this was a necessary change in establishing Augustus’ power. Therefore, I believe the changes under Augustus were of substantial value to Rome and any continuities that could be seen, continued in a more evolved way.


  • Cooley, N. (2006), The Age of Augustus (London)
  • Dudley, D. R. (1967), Ubs Roma: a Sourcebook of Classical Texts on the City and its Monuments (Aberdeen).
  • Erdkamp, P. (2005), The Grain Market in the Roman Empire (Cambridge)
  • Favro, D. (1996), The Urban Image of Augustan Rome (Cambridge)
  • Le Glay, M., J. L. Voisin and Y. Le Bohec (ed.) (2005, third edition), A History of Rome (Oxford)
  • Robinson, O. F. (1992), Ancient Rome: city planning and administration (London)
  • Rich, J. W. (1990), Cassius Dio: The Augustan Settlement. Roman History 53 – 55.9 (Warminster)
  • Wallace-Hadrill, A. (2008), Rome’s Cultural Revolution (Cambridge)


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