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The Imperial Regime

In this era Rome yearned for stability, control, and wealth. The emperor Augustus was the one individual who was able to provide this following proper Republican form avoiding the dictatorial rule that Caesar relied upon. During this time period traders traveled throughout the empire and abroad. This confidence was the underlying effect of Rome's centralized government.

During the last two centuries Rome had become the capital of the great empire, but it did not yet have an agreed upon form of government. Sulla and Caesar had both achieved the rank of absolute ruler, however short-lived. In 27 BC a constitutional arrangement was agreed upon which gave Augustus ultimate power on a regular and agreed basis. This form of ruling created a long line of Roman emperors from Tiberius, Augustus's immediate successor, to Romulus, the last of the western emperors, almost five-hundred years later.

The rise of imperial Rome was not solely dependent upon emperors and armies, however, but was accompanied by an immense accession of wealth to Italy. The most abundant areas of the Mediterranean world had previously lain in the east, in Egypt, the Levant, and the lands bordering the Aegean (Greece and western Asia Minor). The rise in Rome was attributed to a decisive shift westward in the centripetal force of economic and political power. Although by the later Roman period throughout the Middle Ages, it was the east once again which attained wealth and power. But during the last centuries BC and the first two centuries AD, Italy achieved a new level of prosperity, which was made evident by looking at the cities, villas, and the production of metalwork and jewelry. Furthermore, Italian merchants and entrepreneurs ventured outward beyond the borders of the empire in search of new commercial openings.

The Augustan Settlement

In the 1st century BC Rome fell under the control of a single ruler. The old Republican institutions could no longer bear the incessant jockeying for power between dogmatic generals, nor could they demands of a growing empire be meet with such rapid succession of control. In the end it was the emperor Augustus who was able to please both the senate and the Roman people and in doing so he managed to found a new form of government that was based upon a constitutional arrangement.

Augustus obtained his role as supreme ruler by defeating Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium in 31 BC. Augustus arranged to have a constitutional arrangement made, January 27 BC. This arrangement that was refined four years later, gave him overall control of the army and most of the important provinces. It also gave him power to sit alongside the elected consuls, to overrule any provincial governor, and the power to propose or veto legislation. For the first nine years, from 31 BC to 23 BC, Augustus was an elected consul but this was irrelevant because later emperors were able to chose whether to be consul, or allow their supports the honour instead.

Augustus, not short of an ego, claimed to have "found Rome, brick and left it marble". He and his family created many structures both public and private. These structures consisted of Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of the Augustan Peace) or the huge circular mausoleum where he and his close relatives were buried. Duuring this time Rome surpassed Alexandria to become the most populous city of the western world, with a population of around a million people. Augustus took pains to build new aqueducts and reorganize the regular shipment of grain at state expense on which the urban poor depended on.

The Imperial Succession

Although Augustus had many feats and accomplishments he was most noted for his ability to hold supreme power and to live a long life. When he died in 14 AD he had been emperor for over 40 years, and he proved that the idea of one man holding such power in his hands was no longer a dangerous one. The accession of Tiberius was a smooth one and although he withdrew and spent much of his time (his last ten years) on Capri he was still respected. Gaius, generally known by his nickname, Caligula, was an emperor with many excesses. These led to resentment among the senate. Although both Augustus and Tiberius faced conspiracies neither of them fell prey to them, however Caligula did.

The death of Caligula brought forth the power that was held by the praetorians, the empires elite gorup of bodyguards. Even though the senate had a vested interest in restoring the Republic, it was the praetorians that appointed a new and unlikely emperor, Claudius. Claudius' reign lasted 14 years and during his reign the court officials and the imperial household became increasingly powerful. This trend continued under the power of the infamous Nero, who was Claudius successor. Nero was an inept emperor, he failed the achieve the grace that Augustus had. Nero did not gain the support of the senate and this undermined his position and eventually led to open rebellion in Gaul and Spain in 68 AD. Nero took his life after realizing that his guards and officials deserted him.

The death of Nero marked the end of the Julio-Claudians, the dynasty of emperors who had ruled Rome since Augustus. They were all related to each other, at least by marriage, but suprisingly no son succeed his father as emperor. Claudius was the only emperor to have a son living by the time of his death and his accession was passed over for Nero. The principal form of imperial succession was adoption- as in the case of Tiberius who was adopted by Augustus, and Nero by Claudius.

After Nero had fallen, Rome was plunged into an abyss of uncertainty. Emperors took power only to be overthrown by another that wished supreme rule. The year 69 AD saw four emperors, Galbo, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian. The new form of accession of the throne was that of military support. Hence Vitellius who was supported by the Rhine army and Vespasian came to power through the support of the eastern legions.

The emperor Vespasian was followed by his sons Titus and Domitian, the only true case of father-son succession in the whole history of the empire until the late 2nd century. This form succession however was short-lived. When Domitian was murdered, the elderly Nerva was chosen by the senate, and he in turn chose Trajan, by adoption, as his son and successor.

The Growth of the Empire

After two and a half centuries of Republican government since the First Punic War (264-241 BC), Augustus inherited rule. There was little room for planning of an imperial expansion due to all the bureaucracy involved. Once Augustus obatained centralized rule his was able to expand the empire and in turn inheriting the wealth of the defeated and creating more avenues for entrepreneurs to feed of the misfortunes of the defeated.

Augustus' victory at Actium in 31 BC proved to be a stepping stone for the empire. After his victory he than followed by an invasion of Egypt, a year later, where Antony and Cleopatra fled for refuge. This proved to be a tremendous victory for it was the principal source of grain for the ever-growing empire. This province was so important to Augustus that he kept it under his personal supervision.

Augustus' major foreign wars were fought to rationalize the imperial frontiers. He conquered the northern Balkans, so as to extend the natural boundary to the River Danube. Rivers were chosen as a suitable boundary because they provided extremely effective defensive posts. In the east, it was the River Euphrates, which marked the border between the Romans and the Parthians. In the west, the Rhine was the frontier of the new province. This left an awkward salient of unconquered territory in the Alps, between Gaul and Italy. Augustus sought to clear up this situation by moving forward and conquering the Alpine tribes and carrying the frontier to the Rover Danube. The next step Augustus took was to move the Rhine frontier forward to the Elbe. That seemed to have been achieved, and the Romans were poised to advance still further into central Europe, when Rebellion in the Balkans caused the withdrawal of troops for operations there instead. Three years later, in 9 AD, three Roman legions were massacred by the Germans while crossing the Teutoburg forest, and the hope of advancement past the Rhine were forgotten.

Augustus left his successors with the advice that they should not extend the imperial territory but instead consolidate what they had. This advice fell to deaf ears and emperors continued to acquire new provinces by peaceful means or otherwise. The idea of peaceful acquisition of new provinces was shown plausible when Rome absorbed Mauretania in 44 AD and Thrace in 46 AD. Although these types of acquisition occurred, they did not occur with any sense of frequency. The other plots for expansion were fufilled by direct military conquest. The most notable of which are Britain, invaded by Claudius in 43 AD; and Dacia, conquered by Trajan in the two brutally fought wars of 101-2 and 105-6.

The Romans justified their conquests of peoples and provinces by saying that there enemies were uncivilized and were barbarians. However this explanation was a mistruth. In fact many of the provinces overtaken by Roman rule were very civilized with there own form of stable government, there own coinage and towns. In the case of Dacia, they had a powerful kingdom with a ruler who had already successfully resisted the Roman aggression some 20 years earlier.

The key to Roman military success was of course the army, stationed mainly in camps along the frontier. The armies were given clearly defined roles and supplies as to be a defensive army or and offensive minded one. One major change from the Republic was the static thinking that Augustus brought to the armies. He fixed their pay and this caused the numbers to remain constant so as to keep a tab on how many legions he had, around 28 at the time plus a similar number of auxiliaries. The camps originally built with turf and timber were now being built with stone in an attempt to strengthen their military resistance as well as prolong its life. The frontiers too were strengthened by watchtowers and forts, a first step towards the continuous frontier barriers built by Hadrian.

The Rise of the Provinces

The 1st century marked a time of growth and prosperity within the Roman Empire. As new provinces became more Romanized and integrated the provincials themselves played and increasing role in the governing of the empire. Roman citizenship was gradually extended to whole cities and towns in the provinces (though always excluding women and slaves), and the provincials soon came to form significant minorities in the senate at Rome.

At the same time the economic centre of the empire began to shift from Italy to the provinces that were within the Roman Empire. African olive oil and Gaulish Samian ware was shipped to markets in Italy and beyond, along with the highly prized garum (fish sauce) from Spain. This trading of everyday items created a sense of communion between those in the empire, however there still lay a clearly defined line between the east (where Greek was spoken) and the west (where Latin was now the official language).

Trading oppurtunities were plentiful and diverse. Merchants traveled the Silk Route to bring eastern luxuries such as Chinese silks and exotic spices and perfumes to the markets of the East mediterranean. Roman pottery and glassware traveled east in return, but gold and silver coins remained the main form of payment, draining the empire of an estimated 100 million sesterces every year.


The Imperial Legacy

To the modern observer, the legacy of imperial Rome resides mainly in its monuments and literature. The 1st century AD was part of the golden age of Latin writing which had begun with authors such as Cicero and Catullus in the late republic. Augustus considered the support of the arts to be one of his principal duties as emperor and encouraged the likes of Horace, Virgil and Livy. Virgil's Aeneid, was without doubt the greatest literary of that time. It retold the story of the origins of Rome in the legend of Aeneas fleeing from the sack of Troy to make a new beginning in Italy. Other literature consisted of useful information dealing with architecture and Roman water supply.

In terms of the architectural accomplishments of the Romans, the 1st and early 2nd centuries have left ample remains for us to examine. Rome itself so an uplift of building under the rule of the early emperors with the building of a series of adjoining imperial fora (public squares with temples, offices and law courts). The last and most splendid of these, the Forum of Trajan, is notable for the Trajan's column, with its spiral relief record of the emperor's Dacian Wars. The Colosseum, the largest amphitheatre of the Roman world was also built in 80 AD. The great architectural feats of this time however do not souly belong to Rome itself for during these times the great arched aqueducts of Nimes and Segovia were built. It is these monuments that convey the sense of confidence and power of Rome at its highest point.