Benjamin Franklin once said, “A spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar.” The emperor Octavian Augustus is a great example of somebody who followed this philosophy in order to influence a troubled nation. He took it upon himself to change the organization of Rome by being pleasant and patient, rather than using force to prevail. The emperor Octavian Augustus used his qualities of diplomacy and subtlety to win favor among the Roman people, thereby creating a stronger and more peaceful Empire.
During the time of Octavian’s rise to power, it was necessary for him to be subtle about the changes he made. There were multiple political disagreements during that time. Many people in Rome believed that authority should be split to avoid any one man from possessing too much power. This form of government was called a republic. The senators thought that a republic was the best way to rule the Roman people. The citizens, on the contrary, believed that having one person carry most of the power was very effective. This political division was so extreme, that it led to the assassination of Julius Caesar, Octavian’s great uncle. Caesar had been perceived by the senate as having too much authority, and his death was a harsh reminder to all of Rome that there was a serious dissidence among the Roman people. It has been said that “if enough senators believed that he intended to follow in Julius Caesar’s footsteps, Augustus ran a high risk of incurring his own Ides of March”(Everitt 209). For this reason, it was important for Octavian to exercise great caution when making changes because if he had displayed any excessive boldness, he would have been harmed. In fact, “Philippus reminded his stepson that Caesar had been murdered by men whom he counted as his friends” (Corbett 206). The political unrest was causing good people to do terrible things. There was chaos among all people in Rome. This is why diplomacy was vital for Octavian.
Octavian had to be skillful to accomplish his goal of uniting Rome. The chaotic environment was harming Rome as a whole. Octavian knew Rome had to make some immense changes in order to become more united; but he was “fully aware that he would have to be very discreet at first if he was to achieve his purpose” (Jones 12). Octavian was an intelligent man. He followed a well thought out plan to attain his objective and even though he understood the dangers of his plan, he still pursued authority for the good of the people. This decision affected the entire history of Rome. Had he set out to accomplish his agenda too boldly, the chaos of the time would have been magnified. The people, who were already living in anxiety, may have rebelled, and the fall of Rome could have occurred at this point in history, rather than later. Thus, one of Octavian’s most effective strategies was subtlety.
The emperor Octavian Augustus did not want to shock the Roman people, nor the senate, so using diplomacy, he made all citizens believe that he had their best interests in mind. The first thing he did was fought and finished all of the wars Rome had been fighting. That, alone, improved Rome’s unity and brought peace to the Roman Empire. With war no longer considered a threat, “the rising poets of the age celebrated the arrival of peace” (Everitt 114). This is the point where Octavian felt that he could begin to make changes; however, he said that he was making these changes to bring the republic back. The Senate and the people all seemed to be content with this, so Octavian continued with his ideas. He implemented his plan slowly though, and carefully listened to all preferences and suggestions. In one famous address to the people, Octavian said, “I transferred the commonwealth from my own power to the free choice of the Roman Senate and people” (Jones 46). By using terms such as these, he made everyone feel as if they, themselves, were making the decisions for Rome. This nonthreatening approach was so pleasing to the people that they continually trusted him with more power, elevating him to the status of an emperor. As Rome’s political environment began to resemble an empire rather than a republic, Octavian still refused to call himself the emperor. He only called himself the First Citizen, a title which created a bond between him and the people. With this bond, Rome was a strong and stable empire. Through his diplomatic approach, Octavian was able to reconstruct Rome because the people and the Senate perceived him as both leader and fellow citizen.
Octavian was a charismatic man who was able to ask for anything without directly saying so. For example, when he had been in power for a long time, he said he was going to resign in order to let somebody else have leadership. In reality, Octavian wanted to stay in his position because there was still work to be done. However, he knew that if he insisted on continuing on as First Citizen, people might have felt threatened. Even though he had gained the trust of the majority of Romans, he was still cautious with his actions. To Octavian’s relief, the Senate and the people did not want him to resign. It is said that “the Senate conferred upon him guardianship over the state ‘that he may have the right and power to do and perform whatsoever he shall judge to be in the interest of the commonwealth’” (Jones 46). Even the Senate was pleased with the work that Octavian had been doing, and nobody was alarmed about how much power he had. This was significant because he was being granted the same level of supreme power that Julius Caesar had held, and which the Senate had vowed never to allow again. His plan was working very well. He also was able to ask for loyalty and support without saying it overtly. He would sometimes be very nice and helpful to poor people so that they would trust and support him. For instance, “the astute Augustus took good care to fund them generously and thereby constrain their freedom to oppose him” (Everitt 209). Most people would not overthrow someone who had helped them. Octavian may have been covert in his strategies to keep himself in power, but it benefited Rome later on.
Many of the changes he made had to do with the government, but Octavian also made some changes with the physical construction of Rome. During his reign, Octavian built eighty-two temples and also built a considerable number of roads throughout Rome. He knew that the people would appreciate safety and organization. To insure the happiness of the people, “Octavian turned his attention to the needs of the people… in a continuing program of improvements that came under the broad general headings of personal safety, protection of property, and reduced taxation” (Corbett 226). The changes he made to Rome’s physical structures affected the atmosphere in Roman society. People could travel more efficiently, businesses were housed in more effective buildings, and Roman life was enhanced. In this way, it was not only the political atmosphere which improved when Octavian became emperor, but also the physical infrastructure.
Octavian’s reign also changed Rome’s relationship with other nations. Through his gift for diplomacy, Octavian began expanding the empire to make it more powerful. While other rulers focused on acquiring land through conquest, Octavian chose to pursue expansion through civilized and peaceful manners. He was able to increase the boundaries of the empire without even declaring war. For example, at one point, he signed a treaty with Parthia saying that the border line was changing. Having a larger empire increased the wealth of the nation and made Rome more powerful than it was before. Octavian knew how to take care of major issues, both at home and abroad, without bringing up a dispute. This is why people felt very confident and comfortable with him as their leader. Whenever Octavian had an idea or a suggestion, he always asked the people for permission to carry out the plan. Most times the people agreed with him because he had done so many good things for them. An account written near that time puts it simply: “People were pleased with this and gladly complied” (Nicolaus of Damascus).
Octavian’s subtle changes strengthened and united Rome. During his reign, the people happily let go of their war-burdened, chaotic environment and began to enjoy a peaceful and trusting one. That is why this period was called the Golden Age. People loved living in Rome, loved Octavian, and no one seemed to oppose his supreme power. People’s trust in their government was restored because they had someone who listened to their ideas and who had demonstrated that he could also solve any problems they had. Historians have said that Octavian turned Rome from a city of brick into a city of gold. His reorganization of Rome brought stability and control. It was this type of atmosphere that led to financial prosperity. This is important because with a more prosperous empire, Rome was able to become more influential among other nations. This pleased the people even more, which served to increase Octavian’s popularity. During his reign, “what kept… Octavian in power was the active support of the people” (Everitt 117). People were supporting their leader because they were pleased with everything he was doing. Rome was becoming stronger because there were fewer disagreements among the citizens.
The environment of Rome drastically changed during the time of Octavian’s reign. Before he came into power, there was a great deal of dissension and unrest in Rome because of the political separation between the Senate and the people. While he reigned, Rome became a united, strong, and powerful empire where citizens lived contentedly. However, without his skillful diplomacy, it is likely that Octavian would not have risen to power at all. His subtlety allowed him to make changes without shocking or alarming the people and the Senate. With Octavian’s achievements, people were much more confident with the government, more pleased with the empire itself, and more harmonious in their interactions with each other.
Corbett J.H. "The Succession Policy of Augustus." Latomus 33 (1974). Web.
Everitt, Anthony. Augustus: the Life of Rome's First Emperor. New York: Random House, 2006. Print.
Jones, A. H. M. Augustus. New York: Norton, 1970. Print.
Nicolaus of Damascus. Nicolaus of Damascus' Life of Augustus. Trans. Clayton M. Hall. Ann Arbor, MI: Xerox Univ. Microfilms, 1975. Web.