Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.06.15

David Shotter, Augustus Caesar. Second edition.   London and New York:  Routledge, 2005.  Pp. 128; pls. 15, figs. 5.  ISBN 0-415-31936-6.  $18.00.  



Reviewed by Anne-Marie Lewis, York University (amlewis@yorku.ca)
Word count: 1758 words

Augustus Caesar is a revised and updated second edition of Shotter's 1991 monograph on the first emperor of Rome. The focus of the second edition remains consistent with the goal of the first: not to offer an exhaustive treatment of the topic but to highlight important themes, problems, and current research and to stimulate thought about the topic in general. The second edition has a short introduction; nine chapters that deal with topics of significance for the study of Augustus; three appendices (important dates, sources, and significant Latin terms -- the appendix from the first edition on provinces and armies in A.D. 14 has been dropped in the second edition); a select bibliography of sources, mostly monographs in English (considerably expanded from the first edition); an index, new to this second edition, of proper names and places, with the names of Roman emperors in capital letters; sixteen plates, twelve of which are coins (plates are new to the second edition); four maps and a genealogical stemma of the Julio-Claudians (the stemma is identical to that of the first edition, and the maps are the same, with the addition of shading). As in the first edition, there are no footnotes or endnotes; there are, however, relevant references in the text to primary sources in translation. Shotter is careful throughout to call Augustus by his correct name at different points in his life: Augustus was born Gaius Octavius in 63 B.C.; he changed his name in 44 B.C. upon his adoption by Julius Caesar to Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, preferring to be called Caesar, not Octavianus (Octavian in English usage); and he became Augustus in 27 B.C.

Shotter remains, in this second edition, favorably disposed toward Augustus. Although he does mention the ruthlessness of Octavian in his pre-Actium years, his main focus is on his accomplishments, as Augustus, after Actium. He emphasizes his momentous personal, political, military, and bureaucratic achievements and reminds us at the end of the monograph of Augustus' ultimate legacy -- stability in the Roman world that lasted some four centuries after Actium.

The revised Introduction clearly sets out the overall purpose of the monograph: to examine the nature and circumstances of Augustus' achievement and the personality and political qualities of Augustus himself.

The chapters in this second edition have also been revised throughout. They deal with the same topics as chapters in the first edition, with a few differences: the original first and second chapters on the Republic and the crisis of the Republic have been collapsed into one in the second edition, and the chapter on "the city of marble" has been moved up. The first three chapters are historical surveys. Chapter 1, "The Crisis of the Roman Republic," summarizes, in sixteen pages, the history of the Roman Republic. The speedy summary works well, save for page 12 where the compression of information has led to some lack of focus. The chapter ends with Julius Caesar's dictatorship and his inability to solve the problems of the Republic. Chapter 2, "The Divine Youth," picks up Octavius' story in the 60's when Julius Caesar first began to show an interest in him. Shotter does not go much into the tumultuous relationship of Octavian and Antony after Caesar's assassination, but he does discuss the important political and personal decisions Octavian made during these years. The chapter ends with Octavian's victory in the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. and with the opportunity presented to him to find the political formula that had eluded Julius Caesar and that would allow him to balance libertas with permanent one-man supervision of the Roman state. Chapter 3, "The Powers of Augustus," discusses how Octavian managed to survive and prosper in the 30's and 20's. Shotter touches briefly upon some of the discontent Augustus had to deal with in the 20's (the Primus affair and the conspiracy of Caepio and Murena). He also describes what may be considered a triumvirate of sorts made up of Augustus, Agrippa, and Livia, and the political machinations each member engaged in to balance and control the others. Shotter emphasizes that it was Augustus' own good sense during these decades that kept him from accepting powers he did not need.

The next four chapters deal with topics of significance in the post-Actium years. Chapter 4, "Auctoritas -- and Patronage," discusses the critical Roman value of auctoritas and how Augustus guaranteed compliance with his regime by using his own auctoritas as well as his patronage of senators, members of the equestrian order, ordinary people, and writers (Vergil, Livy, and Horace). Chapter 5, "The City of Marble," discusses the physical restoration of Rome as a visible reflection of the political, religious, and moral fiber of Rome. This chapter touches briefly on the temples Augustus referred to in his Res Gestae, Hellenization, Augustan architectural style, domestic architecture, and the Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace). The description (61), new to the second edition, of the location of the Ara Pacis as "close to the spot where Augustus' Mausoleum was later to stand" is puzzling: the Mausoleum was completed first, in 28 B.C., and the Ara Pacis was consecrated formally much later, in 9 B.C.; the Ara Pacis was reconstructed, in the 1930's, close to the Mausoleum. Chapter 6, "The Respublica of Augustus," repeats some information previously presented but then moves on to discuss Augustus' judicial innovations, the creation of coloniae, and the revitalization of Italian agriculture and Roman religion. The chapter also emphasizes Augustus' good sense in the way he distanced himself from being worshiped during his lifetime as a god on earth. Shotter concludes that, by recognizing the old standards, Augustus had restored the complex and changing concept that was the Roman Republic. Chapter 7, "The Empire and the Augustan Peace," discusses control of the army and imperial expansion. Shotter stresses the positive nature of Augustan rule when he concludes that the majority of provincials (contrary to what Tacitus has Calgacus say in the Agricola) did not see the Pax Romana as "a desolation" (89).

The final two chapters in the monograph deal with matters of relevance at the end of Augustus' principate and after his death. In Chapter 8, "The Succession," Shotter admits that Augustus was a virtual monarch and that his efforts to secure the succession are proof of this. He does, however, temper this admission by stating that dynastic concerns were important in all noble Republican families including Augustus' own, where the Julian faction (led by Augustus) and the Claudian faction (led by Livia) clashed over who would eventually succeed Augustus. In the end, there was no clear dominance of one faction over the other: Augustus' adoption of the Claudian Tiberius as son and heir was balanced by Augustus' requirement that Tiberius himself adopt Germanicus, the husband of Augustus' granddaughter Agrippina the Elder. In Chapter 9, "The Legacy of Augustus," Shotter explores briefly the fate of the Augustan settlement and how Roman emperors, Tiberius through Hadrian, measured themselves against Augustus and his accomplishments.

There are a few parts of the monograph (notably the plates, figures, and appendices) that could benefit from further revision:

Although it is not uncommon to see unattached illustrations in historical monographs, the plates here are not strong enough to tell a parallel story on their own, and they seem to float in the text. Most of the plates would work much better as aids to the reader if the text referred specifically to the plates (for example, the text on page 53 could refer to Plates 5 and 6). An image of the important Augustus of Prima Porta would be a welcome addition to the discussion of the return of the standards from Parthia in Chapter 7, and the inclusion of a plan of a Roman house would be helpful in Chapter 5.

The map of Italy (Figure 1) is handsome but of limited use to the reader since the only city on the map to which the text refers is Roma, and the connection of the Bay of Naples, which is mentioned in the text, with Neapolis on the map would be intelligible only to readers who knew for certain the ancient name for Naples. The reader will not find in Figure 1, Figure 3 (the map of the Roman Empire in A.D. 14), or Figure 4 (the map of the western provinces) several of the places mentioned in the text: Actium, Philippi, La Turbie in Monaco, Saragossa (or Caesaraugusta, its Roman name), Veii, Tarquinia, Osnabrück, or the River Elbe. Furthermore, readers have to go to the index to connect Lyon with Lugdunum, Merida with Augusta Emerita, Vienne with Vienna, and Aosta with Augusta Praetoria. Readers will find not Capri, Cyrene, or Dalmatia on the maps but Capreae, Cyrenaica, and Illyricum.

The genealogical stemma of Figure 5 is selective; a helpful addition would be numbers to distinguish the order of the multiple marriages. Also, no genealogical connections are supplied for Antonia the Elder, who is the ancestor, through her marriage to L. Domitius Ahenobarbus, of both Messalina, wife of the emperor Claudius, and the emperor Nero.

The terms in the very useful Glossary of Latin terms in Appendix III are identical to those in the first edition. A few terms, however, could have been added in the second edition: amicitia, cliens, clientela, Lares, patronus, Penates, and principatus. "Patrician" might be better listed, for uniformity, in its Latin form patricius and could be joined also by plebeius.

In conclusion, it is a noble undertaking, indeed, to write a short monograph that aims to deal with a historical figure as complex as Augustus and a period of history as significant as the Augustan principate, with its huge cast of characters and changing landscape. Shotter has given us a clearly written, well-organized introductory survey. It would probably be best used in a class with some expert guidance, but anyone interested in Augustus for self-study purposes would also find much of value here. A good introduction should not fill the reader up but point the way to continued study. The observant reader will find many complementary topics, only touched upon briefly in the monograph, that are deserving of further exploration: Cleopatra and Antony; the battle and site of Actium; Agrippa; the conspiracies against Augustus; Roman religion; Augustan Egypt; Augustan literature; the military disaster in Germany (A.D. 9) that resulted in the loss of three Roman legions; and the powerful women, including Livia, who were part of Augustus' family and who contributed to making Augustus the man and the ruler that he turned out to be.

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