Augustus' reign laid the foundations of a regime that lasted, in one form or another, for nearly fifteen hundred years through the ultimate decline of the Western Roman Empire and until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Both his adoptive surname, Caesar, and his title Augustus became the permanent titles of the rulers of the Roman Empire for fourteen centuries after his death, in use both at Old Rome and at New Rome. In many languages, Caesar became the word for Emperor, as in the German Kaiser and in the Bulgarian and subsequently Russian Tsar. The cult of Divus Augustus continued until the state religion of the Empire was changed to Christianity in 391 by Theodosius I. Consequently, there are many excellent statues and busts of the first emperor. He had composed an account of his achievements, the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, to be inscribed in bronze in front of his mausoleum. Copies of the text were inscribed throughout the Empire upon his death. The inscriptions in Latin featured translations in Greek beside it, and were inscribed on many public edifices, such as the temple in Ankara dubbed the Monumentum Ancyranum, called the "queen of inscriptions" by historian Theodor Mommsen.
There are a few known written works by Augustus that have survived such as his poems Sicily, Epiphanus, and Ajax, an autobiography of 13 books, a philosophical treatise, and his written rebuttal to Brutus' Eulogy of Cato. Historians are able to analyze existing letters penned by Augustus to others for additional facts or clues about his personal life.
Many consider Augustus to be Rome's greatest emperor; his policies certainly extended the Empire's life span and initiated the celebrated Pax Romana or Pax Augusta. The Roman Senate wished subsequent emperors to "be more fortunate than Augustus and better than Trajan". Augustus was intelligent, decisive, and a shrewd politician, but he was not perhaps as charismatic as Julius Caesar, and was influenced on occasion by his third wife, Livia (sometimes for the worse). Nevertheless, his legacy proved more enduring. The city of Rome was utterly transformed under Augustus, with Rome's first institutionalized police force, fire fighting force, and the establishment of the municipal prefect as a permanent office. The police force was divided into cohorts of 500 men each, while the units of firemen ranged from 500 to 1,000 men each, with 7 units assigned to 14 divided city sectors.
A praefectus vigilum, or "Prefect of the Watch" was put in charge of the vigiles, Rome's fire brigade and police. With Rome's civil wars at an end, Augustus was also able to create a standing army for the Roman Empire, fixed at a size of 28 legions of about 170,000 soldiers. This was supported by numerous auxiliary units of 500 soldiers each, often recruited from recently conquered areas.
With his finances securing the maintenance of roads throughout Italy, Augustus also installed an official courier system of relay stations overseen by a military officer known as the praefectus vehiculorum. Besides the advent of swifter communication among Italian polities, his extensive building of roads throughout Italy also allowed Rome's armies to march swiftly and at an unprecedented pace across the country. In the year 6 Augustus established the aerarium militare, donating 170 million sesterces to the new military treasury that provided for both active and retired soldiers.
One of the most enduring institutions of Augustus was the establishment of the Praetorian Guard in 27 BC, originally a personal bodyguard unit on the battlefield that evolved into an imperial guard as well as an important political force in Rome. They had the power to intimidate the Senate, install new emperors, and depose ones they disliked; the last emperor they served was Maxentius, as it was Constantine I who disbanded them in the early 4th century and destroyed their barracks, the Castra Praetoria.
Although the most powerful individual in the Roman Empire, Augustus wished to embody the spirit of Republican virtue and norms. He also wanted to relate to and connect with the concerns of the plebs and lay people. He achieved this through various means of generosity and a cutting back of lavish excess. In the year 29 BC, Augustus paid 400 sesterces each to 250,000 citizens, 1,000 sesterces each to 120,000 veterans in the colonies, and spent 700 million sesterces in purchasing land for his soldiers to settle upon. He also restored 82 different temples to display his care for the Roman pantheon of deities. In 28 BC, he melted down 80 silver statues erected in his likeness and in honor of him, an attempt of his to appear frugal and modest.
The longevity of Augustus' reign and its legacy to the Roman world should not be overlooked as a key factor in its success. As Tacitus wrote, the younger generations alive in AD 14 had never known any form of government other than the Principate. Had Augustus died earlier (in 23 BC, for instance), matters might have turned out differently. The attrition of the civil wars on the old Republican oligarchy and the longevity of Augustus, therefore, must be seen as major contributing factors in the transformation of the Roman state into a de facto monarchy in these years. Augustus' own experience, his patience, his tact, and his political acumen also played their parts. He directed the future of the Empire down many lasting paths, from the existence of a standing professional army stationed at or near the frontiers, to the dynastic principle so often employed in the imperial succession, to the embellishment of the capital at the emperor's expense. Augustus' ultimate legacy was the peace and prosperity the Empire enjoyed for the next two centuries under the system he initiated. His memory was enshrined in the political ethos of the Imperial age as a paradigm of the good emperor. Every Emperor of Rome adopted his name, Caesar Augustus, which gradually lost its character as a name and eventually became a title. The Augustan era poets Virgil and Horace praised Augustus as a defender of Rome, an upholder of moral justice, and an individual who bore the brunt of responsibility in maintaining the empire.
However, for his rule of Rome and establishing the principate, Augustus has also been subjected to criticism throughout the ages. The contemporary Roman jurist Marcus Antistius Labeo (d. AD 10/11), fond of the days of pre-Augustan republican liberty in which he had been born, openly criticized the Augustan regime. In the beginning of his Annals, the Roman historian Tacitus (c. 56c.117) wrote that Augustus had cunningly subverted Republican Rome into a position of slavery. He continued to say that, with Augustus' death and swearing of loyalty to Tiberius, the people of Rome simply traded one slaveholder for another. Tacitus, however, records two contradictory but common views of Augustus:
Intelligent people praised or criticized him in varying ways. One opinion was as follows. Filial duty and a national emergency, in which there was no place for law-abiding conduct, had driven him to civil warand this can neither be initiated nor maintained by decent methods. He had made many concessions to Anthony and to Lepidus for the sake of vengeance on his father's murderers. When Lepidus grew old and lazy, and Anthony's self-indulgence got the better of him, the only possible cure for the distracted country had been government by one man. However, Augustus had put the state in order not by making himself king or dictator, but by creating the Principate. The Empire's frontiers were on the ocean, or distant rivers. Armies, provinces, fleets, the whole system was interrelated. Roman citizens were protected by the law. Provincials were decently treated. Rome itself had been lavishly beautified. Force had been sparingly usedmerely to preserve peace for the majority.
According to the second opposing opinion:
filial duty and national crisis had been merely pretexts. In actual fact, the motive of Octavian, the future Augustus, was lust for power ... There had certainly been peace, but it was a blood-stained peace of disasters and assassinations.
In a recent biography on Augustus, Anthony Everitt asserts that through the centuries, judgments on Augustus' reign have oscillated between these two extremes but stresses that:
Opposites do not have to be mutually exclusive, and we are not obliged to choose one or the other. The story of his career shows that Augustus was indeed ruthless, cruel, and ambitious for himself. This was only in part a personal trait, for upper-class Romans were educated to compete with one another and to excel. However, he combined an overriding concern for his personal interests with a deep-seated patriotism, based on a nostalgia of Rome's antique virtues. In his capacity as princeps, selfishness and selflessness coexisted in his mind. While fighting for dominance, he paid little attention to legality or to the normal civilities of political life. He was devious, untrustworthy, and bloodthirsty. But once he had established his authority, he governed efficiently and justly, generally allowed freedom of speech, and promoted the rule of law. He was immensely hardworking and tried as hard as any democratic parliamentarian to treat his senatorial colleagues with respect and sensitivity. He suffered from no delusions of grandeur.
Tacitus was of the belief that Nerva (r. 9698) successfully "mingled two formerly alien ideas, principate and liberty". The 3rd-century historian Cassius Dio acknowledged Augustus as a benign, moderate ruler, yet like most other historians after the death of Augustus, Dio viewed Augustus as an autocrat. The poet Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (AD 3965) was of the opinion that Caesar's victory over Pompey and the fall of Cato the Younger (95 BC46 BC) marked the end of traditional liberty in Rome; historian Chester G. Starr, Jr. writes of his avoidance of criticizing Augustus, "perhaps Augustus was too sacred a figure to accuse directly."
The Anglo-Irish writer Jonathan Swift (16671745), in his Discourse on the Contests and Dissentions in Athens and Rome, criticized Augustus for installing tyranny over Rome, and likened what he believed Great Britain's virtuous constitutional monarchy to Rome's moral Republic of the 2nd century BC. In his criticism of Augustus, the admiral and historian Thomas Gordon (16581741) compared Augustus to the puritanical tyrant Oliver Cromwell (15991658). Thomas Gordon and the French political philosopher Montesquieu (16891755) both remarked that Augustus was a coward in battle. In his Memoirs of the Court of Augustus, the Scottish scholar Thomas Blackwell (17011757) deemed Augustus a Machiavellian ruler, "a bloodthirsty vindicative usurper", "wicked and worthless", "a mean spirit", and a "tyrant".