In 27 BC, Octavian made a show of returning full power to the Roman Senate and relinquishing his control of the Roman provinces and their armies. Under his consulship, however, the Senate had little power in initiating legislation by introducing bills for senatorial debate. Octavian was no longer in direct control of the provinces and their armies, but he retained the loyalty of active duty soldiers and veterans alike. The careers of many clients and adherents depended on his patronage, as his financial power was unrivaled in the Roman Republic. Historian Werner Eck states:
The sum of his power derived first of all from various powers of office delegated to him by the Senate and people, secondly from his immense private fortune, and thirdly from numerous patron-client relationships he established with individuals and groups throughout the Empire. All of them taken together formed the basis of his auctoritas, which he himself emphasized as the foundation of his political actions.
To a large extent, the public were aware of the vast financial resources that Augustus commanded. He failed to encourage enough senators to finance the building and maintenance of networks of roads in Italy in 20 BC, but he undertook direct responsibility for them. This was publicized on the Roman currency issued in 16 BC, after he donated vast amounts of money to the aerarium Saturni, the public treasury.
According to H. H. Scullard, however, Augustus's power was based on the exercise of "a predominant military power and ... the ultimate sanction of his authority was force, however much the fact was disguised."
The Senate proposed to Octavian, the victor of Rome's civil wars, that he once again assume command of the provinces. The Senate's proposal was a ratification of Octavian's extra-constitutional power. Through the Senate, Octavian was able to continue the appearance of a still-functional constitution. Feigning reluctance, he accepted a ten-year responsibility of overseeing provinces that were considered chaotic.
The provinces ceded to him for that ten-year period comprised much of the conquered Roman world, including all of Hispania and Gaul, Syria, Cilicia, Cyprus, and Egypt. Moreover, command of these provinces provided Octavian with control over the majority of Rome's legions.
While Octavian acted as consul in Rome, he dispatched senators to the provinces under his command as his representatives to manage provincial affairs and ensure that his orders were carried out. The provinces not under Octavian's control were overseen by governors chosen by the Roman Senate. Octavian became the most powerful political figure in the city of Rome and in most of its provinces, but he did not have sole monopoly on political and martial power.
The Senate still controlled North Africa, an important regional producer of grain, as well as Illyria and Macedonia, two martially strategic regions with several legions. However, the Senate had control of only five or six legions distributed among three senatorial proconsuls, compared to the twenty legions under the control of Augustus, and their control of these regions did not amount to any political or military challenge to Octavian.
The Senate's control over some of the Roman provinces helped maintain a republican faade for the autocratic Principate. Also, Octavian's control of entire provinces followed Republican-era precedents for the objective of securing peace and creating stability, in which such prominent Romans as Pompey had been granted similar military powers in times of crisis and instability.
On 16 January 27 BC the Senate gave Octavian the new titles of Augustus and Princeps. Augustus is from the Latin word Augere (meaning to increase) and can be translated as "the illustrious one". It was a title of religious authority rather than political authority. According to Roman religious beliefs, the title symbolized a stamp of authority over humanityand in fact naturethat went beyond any constitutional definition of his status. After the harsh methods employed in consolidating his control, the change in name served to demarcate his benign reign as Augustus from his reign of terror as Octavian.
His new title of Augustus was also more favorable than Romulus, the previous one which he styled for himself in reference to the story of the legendary founder of Rome, which symbolized a second founding of Rome. The title of Romulus was associated too strongly with notions of monarchy and kingship, an image that Octavian tried to avoid. Princeps comes from the Latin phrase primum caput, "the first head", originally meaning the oldest or most distinguished senator whose name would appear first on the senatorial roster. In the case of Augustus, however, it became an almost regnal title for a leader who was first in charge. Princeps had also been a title under the Republic for those who had served the state well; for example, Pompey had held the title.
Augustus also styled himself as Imperator Caesar divi filius, "Commander Caesar son of the deified one". With this title, he boasted his familial link to deified Julius Caesar, and the use of Imperator signified a permanent link to the Roman tradition of victory. The word Caesar was merely a cognomen for one branch of the Julian family, yet Augustus transformed Caesar into a new family line that began with him.
Augustus was granted the right to hang the corona civica above his door, the "civic crown" made from oak, and to have laurels drape his doorposts. This crown was usually held above the head of a Roman general during a triumph, with the individual holding the crown charged to continually repeat to the general "memento mori", or "Remember that you are mortal". Additionally, laurel wreaths were important in several state ceremonies, and crowns of laurel were rewarded to champions of athletic, racing, and dramatic contests. Thus, both the laurel and the oak were integral symbols of Roman religion and statecraft; placing them on Augustus' doorposts was tantamount to declaring his home the capital.
However, Augustus renounced flaunting insignia of power such as holding a scepter, wearing a diadem, or wearing the golden crown and purple toga of his predecessor Julius Caesar. If he refused to symbolize his power by donning and bearing these items on his person, the Senate nonetheless awarded him with a golden shield displayed in the meeting hall of the Curia, bearing the inscription virtus, pietas, clementia, iustitia"valor, piety, clemency, and justice."