Augustus at War - the struggle for the Pax Augusta, Lindsay Powell

Augustus at War - the struggle for the Pax Augusta, Lindsay Powell

Augustus ruled the Roman Emperor for just over forty years, finally ending the civil wars that had plagued the last century of the Republic, and taking credit for restoring stability and prosperity to Rome. However this book certainly dispels any idea of a ‘Pax Augusta’. Augustus’s armies were at war in almost every year of his reign, doubling the size of the Roman Empire as they went (largely because of the occupation of Egypt). Some of these wars completed earlier conquests – in particular in the north-west of Spain, and surprisingly in northern Italy and the Alps, where some key gaps had been left in the Roman dominions. After the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra there were no more civil wars, but Augustus’s armies were involved in some defensive wars, a number of revolts, and a series of wars of conquest (many deliberate, but including at least one that evolved out of a defensive war).

One interesting factor in Augustus’s success is that he was willing to exploit the military talents of the Republican aristocracy, and even allow some of them to celebrate triumphs, probably ending in 19 BC. Many of the provincial governors appointed either by Augustus or the Senate continued to act as semi-independent rulers, in the old Republican style, and this actually led to some of the Roman conquests of the period (in particular in the Danube region). This aspect of his reign is rarely mentioned in shorter histories, where the emphasis tends to be on the Imperial family and Augustus’s closest allies, in particular Agrippa. It is also noteworthy that the turbulent urban politics of Rome didn’t calm down as much as one might have expected, and there were still political riots around the election of the consuls in the early part of Augustus’s reign. Because the focus here is on all of the wars fought under Augustus, those less familiar commanders and their achievements get more attention than normal. This is a real contrast to the later Imperial period, where any sign of independent military ambition was normally seen as a threat to the Emperor and firmly crushed.

Although many of the wars covered here are fairly familiar, there are some I knew very little about. This includes the final campaigns to complete the conquest of Spain, which included Augustus’s own final campaigns, and the long and costly Great Illyrian Revolt, which came just before the Varian disaster in Germany, and many help explain why Augustus didn’t push on with the conquest of Germany.

This is an different approach to the period, mixing a good political history of Augustus’s reign with a year-by-year account of the almost constant wars of his reign. The result is a book that clearly establishes just how important the Army was to Augustus’s success throughout his reign.

1 - Seek and Destroy, 31-28 BCE
2 - Command and Conquer, 27-19 BCE
3 - On the offensive, 18-14 BCE
4 - Into the Unknown, 13 BCE-9 BCE
5 - Trouble in the East, 8 BCE-2 CE
6 - World in Tumult, 3-12 CE
7 - Toeing the Line, 13-14 CE
8 - Assessment

1 - In his Own Words: Res Gestae Divi Augusti
2 - Family and Friends: The Men Who Served Augustus
3 - Order of Battle: The Army of Augustus
4 - Propaganda War: The Coins of Augustus 

Author: Lindsay Powell
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 288
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2016

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