This is a brief excerpt from Tacitus’s Annals on the differences between the Roman Republic and the Roman Emperor. There is a great deal of judgement and condemnation here. Be sure to read this in conjunction with your various course materials on this period for in-depth context.
Rome at the beginning was ruled by kings. Freedom and the consulship were established by Lucius Brutus. Dictatorships were held for a temporary crisis. The power of the decemvirs did not last beyond two years, nor was the consular jurisdiction of the military tribunes of long duration. The despotisms of Cinna and Sulla were brief; the rule of Pompey and of Crassus soon yielded before Caesar; the arms of Lepidus and (Mark) Antony before Augustus; who, when the world was wearied by civil strife, subjected it to empire under the title of “Prince.” But the successes and reverses of the old Roman people have been recorded by famous historians; and fine intellects were not wanting to describe the times of Augustus, till growing sycophancy scared them away. The histories of Tiberius, Caius (Caligula), Claudius, and Nero, while they were in power, were falsified through terror, and after their death were written under the irritation of a recent hatred. Hence my purpose is to relate a few facts about Augustus- more particularly his last acts, then the reign of Tiberius, and all which follows, without either bitterness or partiality, from any motives to which I am far removed.When after the destruction of Brutus and Cassius there was no longer any army of the Republic, when Pompey was crushed in Sicily, and when, with Lepidus pushed aside and (Mark) Antony slain, even the Julian faction had only Caesar left to lead it, then, dropping the title of triumvir, and giving out that he was a Consul, and was satisfied with a tribune’s authority for the protection of the people, Augustus won over the soldiers with gifts, the populace with cheap corn, and all men with the sweets of repose, and so grew greater by degrees, while he concentrated in himself the functions of the Senate, the magistrates, and the laws. He was wholly unopposed, for the boldest spirits had fallen in battle, or in the proscription, while the remaining nobles, the readier they were to be slaves, were raised the higher by wealth and promotion, so that, aggrandised by revolution, they preferred the safety of the present to the dangerous past. Nor did the provinces dislike that condition of affairs, for they distrusted the government of the Senate and the people, because of the rivalries between the leading men and the rapacity of the officials, while the protection of the laws was unavailing, as they were continually deranged by violence, intrigue, and finally by corruption.
Questions for consideration:
- What was the role of the “dictator” in the Roman Republic?
- How does Tacitus characterize “Kings”?
- Is there a villain in this account? If so who, and how so?
- How did Augustus establish his power?