Was Augustus' Foreign Policy after 27BC peaceful?


After the First so called Constitutional Settlement in 27BC where Augustus was given his name and attempted to return powers on account of his ill health, the Senate had ipso facto given Augustus even more power. This allowed him to dictate Roman policy as he was running the state, although this was debatably happening after his defeat of Antony at Actium in 31BC.

There are many different ways of viewing how Augustus portrayed his foreign policy, such as his building program in Rome, his diplomatic actions and what he himself did in the years following the Settlement.

For example, a view can be taken that Augustus had a strong policy for peace after the settlement because in 13BC he started construction of the Ara Pacis Augustae – better known as the altar to Augustan peace. On the carving of the walls and on the inside of the Ara Pacis are many themes leading back to peace, most prominently Augustus emphasises prosperity and fertility. Examples of which include the Cornucopia on the Tellus Panel and the Lupercal Panel showing the upbringing of Romulus and Remus with the she wolf.

In addition to the Ara Pacis, there are two further monuments of note after the Settlement; the Forum Augustae and the Prima Porta. The construction program itself is a dedication and commitment to peace because Augustus is focusing on improving the city, hence Suetonius’ famous quote of “I found Rome built of bricks; I leave her clothed in marble”. The Prima Porta is a statue of Augustus posing as an imperator. An imperator was a commander of the Roman legions in his designated province. As such, the Prima Porta, as Augustan propaganda is promoting war. It is hypothesised and strongly argued that in one hand he holds a toga to represent peace – and I believe a toga virilis since it represents the coming of age for Rome- to a golden age and in the other hand he holds aloft a spear, as his position would demand. His garb is a cuirass with decorative features showing the Parthian king Phraates IV returning the standards lost by Antony and Crassus at Carrhae to a Roman figure presumed to be either Mars or Tiberius. This gives the idea that the Romans recaptured their standards rather than took them back through diplomatic tribute and as such promotes war, however some scholars suggest that the Prima Porta shows the rewards of war and hence demonstrate peace through war which is a key notion to the Romans, as backed up on the aforementioned Ara Pacis by the Roma panel which has Roma sitting on a chair of shackled weapons.

The final monument is a construction to Augustus’ greatness. It contains a temple to Mars Ultor which is where the Parthian standards finally came to rest as promised in the Res Gestae from his oath on the eve of the Battle of Philippi in 42BC. In the temple is also the deified Julius Caesar and Venus Genetrix (mother) highlighting Augustus’ links to his divine heritage and right to govern and also linking in to growth and prosperity by mentioning his mother in the same temple as war. In addition in the exedrae of the Forum are the summi viri, the great men of the Roman Race featuring Aeneas and the kings of Albany and also some well-known Romans like Fabius Maximus Cunctator. All of these busts in the forum demonstrate Augustus’ knowledge, links to these men and his respect for them, which would compare him to them to a contemporary audience. It should also be noted that the colossus of Augustus and the chariot of Augustus at the entrance of his Forum overwhelmed a spectator by their sheer size and splendour into thinking that the man who made it must be powerful. This links in to his foreign policy since his construction show his own power to his people rather than showing military might he is focusing on wealth and why he is good to be leading the romans in their golden age which he claimed to have led them into.

A key part of the push through propaganda for the peace policy was the closing of the Temple of Janus. Augustus specifically mentions in his Res Gestae that he closed the temple doors to Janus three times which was more than had been done in the history of the Romans collectively before his rule. I would also argue that since he had to close it three times he must have reopened it at least twice and as such must have been pushing for peace because he wanted to keep it closed so much!

The final key point in the foreign policy of Augustus is what he did in the years beyond the First settlement. Most importantly he fortified the borders of the Roman Empire signifying that he didn’t want to expand the Empire any further than it already had. He made deals with the tribes along the Rhine in Germany, he didn’t invade Britain as his father had before him, he dealt with the Cantabrian revolt in the 3rd decade BC, he made peace with the Parthians and even boasts in his Res Gestae that ambassadors from India came to seek his hand in peace.

In conclusion, Augustus’ policy after the first settlement of 27BC was predominantly peaceful yet not to the extent that foreign empires would forget how strong the Roman legions were. This is shown by his focus on construction in Rome, the focus on his legacy and the focus on fortifying his borders to keep them safe from invasion.

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