Augustus, The Greatest Ruler of Rome

By September 13, 2018 History

Ethics Portfolio: Final Essay Prompt Please write a 750-900 word essay that responds to the following: “Was Octavian/Augustus’s rise to power ethically questionable? If so, how? Was it justified? ” In analyzing justifications, be sure to take account not just of the immediate historical context, but also what you have learned about Roman history before and after Augustus’s rule.

Grading: In grading your final essay, we will be looking for your ability to identify and explain ethically questionable actions; to formulate informed, to the point, and sophisticated arguments about the justifications (or lack thereof) for that action that take account of historical facts; and to demonstrate an ability to apply what you have learned about Roman history to a specific situation. Note: Ethics Portfolios are due no later than 3 pm in Dr. Ebbeler’s office (WAG 14CA) on 22 November 2013.

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No portfolios will be accepted late, for any reason. We will accept portfolios early. Your final ethics portfolio should include: Worksheets 1a, 1b; 2a, 2b, 2c; 3a, 3b, 3c; 4a, 4b + Final essay. You may and are encouraged to revise any worksheet. Be sure to include the original worksheet with Luke’s comments as well as the revised version. Please hand in the portfolio in a soft folder like this: Gaius Octavius, later renamed Augustus, was one of the greatest rulers of Rome. He was the founder of the Roman Empire and became its first Emperor.

Despite the great contributions and peace he brought to Rome, his climb up the ladder for power was paved with destruction and violence. Octavian was ruthless in killing anyone he supposed was a threat to his power. He had no regard for any Roman laws and carried out his actions with the intention of building his own glory. It is easy to establish that Octavian’s rise to power was filled with unethical decisions. Before dying, Caesar adopted his grandnephew Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus in his will, making him Caesar’s principal heir. Octavian began winning over the support of many Roman citizens by offers of money.

In 43, Octavian had the ambitions of becoming Consul, which was opposed by the Senate considering he was only nineteen years old. At this point, Octavian marched on Rome at the head of eight legions leaving the Senate with no choice but to give into Octavian’s command. From the start, Octavian began bribing the Roman citizens with riches for their support and skipped his way to the top of the cursus honorum by use of force. It is clear that Octavian had no reverence for the Roman laws, and did not consider ethics when carrying out his actions.

In an attempt to remove all threats to his power, Octavian commanded that Caesar’s assassins be condemned and outlawed along with Sextus Pompey, the son of Caesar’s former rival Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. Octavian unnecessarily orders the death of three humans who no longer live in Rome and have not expressed any intention of removing Octavian of his power. He has allowed his greed for power to lead him in carrying out unethical actions. Moreover, in 43 Octavian along with Lepidus and Antony established the Second Triumvirate, essentially making them dictators.

They made laws without any reference to the senate or the people, exercised all orders without appeal, and nominated all magistrates with no regard to elections. The Triumvirate broke several important Roman laws, giving all three members unchecked power. In order to maintain an army of sixty legions, they enacted confiscations and proscriptions as Sulla had done before. The Second Triumvirate surpassed the precedent that Sulla set and proscribed as many as 300 senators and 2,000 equites. The creation of the Second Triumvirate is extremely ironic and shows that Octavian is willing to do anything in order to maintain his power.

He initially despised Antony and wanted to remove Antony from Rome, but was willing to join forces in order accomplish his own personal glory and gain unopposed power. After defeating Brutus and Cassius, those responsible for the assassination of Caesar, the Triumvirate carried out even more proscriptions and confiscations in order to meet the needs of their veterans. Italy was set into turmoil and plagued with injustices for years. During Octavian’s conquest in eliminating Sextus Pompey, Octavian renewed the Triumvirate with Antony and humiliated Lepidus by requiring him to live in exile.

This represents Octavian’s ambitious mission in attaining absolute power even if it meant deception and betrayal. Octavian takes the final step towards becoming the sole ruler of Rome between 36 and 30 as he eliminates Antony. He exposes Antony’s privacy by illegally seizing Antony’s will and publicizing its contents. Before going to war with Antony and seizing Alexandria, Octavian deprives the Romans of their freedom by forcing them to pledge their loyalty. From 30 onwards, Octavian essentially served as Rome’s sole ruler.

He began to build the Roman empire and the destruction he enacted prior to this momentous point in his life was diminished. Under the First Settlement, Octavian was renamed Augustus and acknowledged Agrippa as a partner to the consulship. At the moment, it seemed to contemporary Romans that the Republic was restored, however historians have acknowledged that Rome’s rule remained authoritarian. It can be clearly understood that Augustus’s rise to power was coated with injustice and immorality, however it can be justified by the greatness that was brought to Rome in the following decades.

Although he gave power back to the Senate and declared himself a Princep rather than an Imperator, Rome was not truly Republican since Augustus continued to hold the consulship year after year. Augustus resigned the consulship when he realized that he could retain its authority without having the title and took further power without office when he had himself renewed as a tribune annually. With his retainment of power but lack of title, Augustus successfully removed himself of being a dictator by name. Until his death, Augustus expanded the Roman empire more extensively than Pompey and Caesar and brought great wealth and peace to Rome.

The senate regained its former status and Rome was transformed as a city. Temples were restored, the Forum was rebuilt, and more importantly aqueducts were constructed to provide clean water to Roman citizens. Augustus’s legacy was a great one; he died with the respect of the Roman people and he was credited for completely transforming the Roman empire, making it greater than it had ever been. Augustus’s unethical acts in his rise to power were justified by the supreme condition he left Rome in. He laid the foundations for the Roman regime that would last at least a thousand years after his death.


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