The Life of Augustus, 46–56

Suetonius  translated by J. C. Rolfe

« Suet. Aug. 36–45 | Suet. Aug. 46–56 | Suet. Aug. 57–67 | About This Work »

46After having thus set the city and its affairs in order, he added to the population of Italy by personally establishing twenty-eight colonies; furnished many parts of it with public buildings and revenues; and even gave it, at least to some degree, equal rights and dignity with the city of Rome, by devising a kind of votes which the members of the local senate were to cast in each colony for candidates for the city offices and send under seal to Rome against the day of the elections. To keep up the supply of men of rank and induce the commons to increase and multiply, he admitted to the equestrian military career those who were recommended by any town, while to those of the commons who could lay claim to worthy sons and daughters when he made his rounds of the city he distributed a thousand sesterces for each child.

47The stronger provinces, which could neither easily nor safely be governed by annual magistrates, he took to himself; the others he assigned to proconsular governors selected by lot. But he changed some of them at times from one class to the other, and often visited many of both sorts. Certain of the cities which had treaties with Rome, but were on the road to ruin through their lawlessness, he deprived of their independence; he relieved others that were overwhelmed with debt, rebuilt some which had been destroyed by earthquakes, and gave Latin rights or full citizenship to such as could point to services rendered the Roman people. I believe there is no province, excepting only Africa and Sardinia, which he did not visit; and he was planning to cross to these from Sicily after his defeat of Sextus Pompeius, but was prevented by a series of violent storms, and later had neither opportunity nor occasion to make the voyage.

48Except in a few instances he restored the kingdoms of which he gained possession by the right of conquest to those from whom he had taken them or joined them with other foreign nations. He also united the kings with whom he was in alliance by mutual ties, and was very ready to propose or favour intermarriages or friendships among them. He never failed to treat them all with consideration as integral parts of the empire, regularly appointing a guardian for such as were too young to rule or whose minds were affected, until they grew up or recovered; and he brought up the children of many of them and educated them with his own.

49Of his military forces he assigned legions and auxiliaries to the various provinces, stationed a fleet at Misenum and another at Ravenna, to defend the Upper and Lower seas, and employed the remainder partly in the defence of the city and partly in that of his own person, disbanding a troop of Calagurritani which had formed a part of his body-guard until the overthrow of Antony, and also one of Germans, which he had retained until the defeat of Varus. However, he never allowed more than three cohorts to remain in the city and even those were without a permanent camp; the rest he regularly sent to winter or summer quarters in the towns near Rome. 2Furthermore, he restricted all the soldiery everywhere to a fixed scale of pay and allowances, designating the duration of their service and the rewards on its completion according to each man’s rank, in order to keep them from being tempted to revolution after their discharge either by age or poverty. To have funds ready at all times without difficulty for maintaining the soldiers and paying the rewards due to them, he established a military treasury, supported by new taxes.

3To enable what was going on in each of the provinces to be reported and known more speedily and promptly, he at first stationed young men at short intervals along the military roads, and afterwards post-chaises. The latter has seemed the more convenient arrangement, since the same men who bring the dispatches from any place can, if occasion demands, be questioned as well.

50In passports, dispatches, and private letters he used as his seal at first a sphynx, later an image of Alexander the Great, and finally his own, carved by the hand of Dioscurides; and this his successors continued to use as their seal. He always attached to all letters the exact hour, not only of the day, but even of the night, to indicate precisely when they were written.

51The evidences of his clemency and moderation are numerous and strong. Not to give the full list of the men of the opposite faction whom he not only pardoned and spared, but allowed to hold high positions in the state, I may say that he thought it enough to punish two plebeians, Junius Novatus and Cassius Patavinus, with a fine and a mild form of banishment respectively, although the former had circulated a most scathing letter about him under the name of the young Agrippa, while the latter had openly declared at a large dinner party that he lacked neither the earnest desire nor the courage to stab him. 2Again, when he was hearing a case against Aemilius Aelianus of Corduba and it was made the chief offence, amongst other charges, that he was in the habit of expressing a bad opinion of Caesar, Augustus turned to the accuser with assumed anger and said: “I wish you could prove the truth of that. I’ll let Aelianus know that I have a tongue as well as he, for I’ll say even more about him;” and he made no further inquiry either at the time or afterwards. 3When Tiberius complained to him of the same thing in a letter, but in more forcible language, he replied as follows: “My dear Tiberius, do not be carried away by the ardour of youth in this matter, or take it too much to heart that anyone speak evil of me; we must be content if we can stop anyone from doing evil to us.”

52Although well aware that it was usual to vote temples even to proconsuls, he would not accept one even in a province save jointly in his own name and that of Rome. In the city itself he refused this honour most emphatically, even melting down the silver statues which had been set up in his honour in former times and with the money coined from them dedicating golden tripods to Apollo of the Palatine.

When the people did their best to force the dictatorship upon him, he knelt down, threw off his toga from his shoulders and with bare breast begged them not to insist.

53He always shrank from the title of Lord as reproachful and insulting. When the words

“O just and gracious Lord!”

were uttered in a farce at which he was a spectator and all the people sprang to their feet and applauded as if they were said of him, he at once checked their unseemly flattery by look and gesture, and on the following day sharply reproved them in an edict. After that he would not suffer himself to be called Sire even by his children or his grandchildren either in jest or earnest, and he forbade them to use such flattering terms even among themselves. 2He did not if he could help it leave or enter any city or town except in the evening or at night, to avoid disturbing anyone by the obligations of ceremony. In his consulship he commonly went through the streets on foot, and when he was not consul, generally in a closed litter. His morning receptions were open to all, including even the commons, and he met the requests of those who approached him with great affability, jocosely reproving one man because he presented a petition to him with as much hesitation “as he would a penny to an elephant.” 3On the day of a meeting of the senate he always greeted the members in the House and in their seats, calling each man by name without a prompter; and when he left the House, he used to take leave of them in the same manner, while they remained seated. He exchanged social calls with many, and did not cease to attend all their anniversaries, until he was well on in years and was once incommoded by the crowd on the day of a betrothal. When Gallus Cerrinius, a senator with whom he was not at all intimate, had become blind and had therefore resolved to end his life by starvation, Augustus called on him and by his consoling words induced him to live.

54As he was speaking in the senate someone said to him: “I did not understand,” and another: “I would contradict you if I had an opportunity.” Several times when he was rushing from the House in anger at the excessive bickering of the disputants, some shouted after him: “Senators ought to have the right of speaking their mind on public affairs.” At the selection of senators when each member chose another, Antistius Labeo named Marcus Lepidus, an old enemy of the emperor’s and at the time in banishment; and when Augustus asked him whether there were not others more deserving of the honour, Labeo replied that every man had his own opinion. Yet for all that no one suffered for his freedom of speech or insolence.

55He did not even dread the lampoons against him which were scattered in the senate house, but took great pains to refute them; and without trying to discover the authors, he merely proposed that thereafter such as published notes or verses defamatory of anyone under a false name should be called to account.

56When he was assailed with scurrilous or spiteful jests by certain men, he made reply in a public proclamation; yet he vetoed a law to check freedom of speech in wills. Whenever he took part in the election of magistrates, he went the round of the tribes with his candidates and appealed for them in the traditional manner. He also cast his own vote in his tribe, as one of the people. When he gave testimony in court, he was most patient in submitting to questions and even to contradiction. 2He made his forum narrower than he had planned, because he did not venture to eject the owners of the neighbouring houses. He never recommended his sons for office without adding “If they be worthy of it.” When they were still under age and the audience at the theatre rose as one man in their honour, and stood up and applauded them, he expressed strong disapproval. He wished his friends to be prominent and influential in the state, but to be bound by the same laws as the rest and equally liable to prosecution. 3When Nonius Asprenas, a close friend of his, was meeting a charge of poisoning made by Cassius Severus, Augustus asked the senate what they thought he ought to do; for he hesitated, he said, for fear that if he should support him, it might be thought that he was shielding a guilty man, but if he failed to do so, that he was proving false to a friend and prejudicing his case. Then, since all approved of his appearing in the case, he sat on the benches for several hours, but in silence and without even speaking in praise of the defendant. 4He did however defend some of his clients, for instance a certain Scutarius, one of his officers, who was accused of slander. But he secured the acquittal of no more than one single man, and then only by entreaty, making a successful appeal to the accuser in the presence of the jurors; this was Castricius, through whom he had learned of Murena’s conspiracy.

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