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Literature and management (8). Suetonius and the life of the divine Augustus. The Emperor Augustus and the management of change.


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Javier Andreu Pintado

Full Professor of Ancient History and director of Diploma of Archaeology

All the foundational periods of history have had great appeal for popular culture. That is why the establishment of the Roman Principality -what we usually call Empire- by Gaius Octavius Turinus, known as Augustus, after defeating framework Antony in the battle of Actium in 31 B.C., has inspired a long list of "Roman" novels. Many are set in military episodes - some in Hispania, where Augustus is recorded to have been on three occasions - or in his ability to legitimize himself through the bequest of his putative father, Julius Caesar. Others underline how he became "the first citizen", the princeps of Rome and made Rome believe that he was restoring its traditional republican government when, in reality, he was generating a totally new representative monarchic model . In all of them, the skills for the management of the change that this personage displayed are evident. Even one of the main imperial biographers, Suetonius, summarized Augustus' action by affirming that he commutavit et instituit multa: "He changed and reformed many things". And Rome needed these changes.

Since 133 B.C., the wars in the provinces had militarized society - with the presence of violence in the capital, Rome, and also of war in the peripheral territories -, had ruined the small and medium peasantry - recruited for these conflicts of conquest -, and had polarized local politics between the supporters of the old traditional aristocracy, themselves called optimates, and the reformist faction, the populars, evidence of the exhaustion of a system, the republican system, founded in 509 B.C., which, founded in 509 B.C., was not living its best moments, agitated by the leadership of characters such as Caesar or Pompey, capable of stimulating personal loyalties beyond what was able to inspire them, was not living its best moments, shaken by the leadership of characters of B degree program military as Caesar or Pompey, able to stimulate personal loyalties beyond those that the constitution itself was able to inspire. Since 44 B.C., when Caesar's will was revealed, assassinated by those who did not understand his reforms, a series of historical and family events and a remarkable political intelligence turned the young Augustus -degree scroll that he would receive later, in 27 B.C. - into a powerful character with a singular challenge : to save the republic from its crisis, to manage an unprecedented change until then. 

In the Life of the Divine Augustus, the second book of the Life of the Twelve Caesars composed by Suetonius, this Roman biographer knew how to highlight with what tools Augustus managed that change that would alter forever, and until the end of the Empire in 476 AD, the political physiognomy of Rome. And, as always, many of these tools teach a lot to those of us who, in today's uncertain environment, are doomed to constant change and innovation. Thus, Suetonius affirms that Augustus was a great team builder, an extraordinary team-builder, as could not be otherwise in someone who admired Alexander the Great, who was also one. In this context, his participation in the so-called second triumvirate - in 43 B.C. - together with two of the strong men of the time, Lepidus and Antony, should be placed in this context. But also, and this is underlined by other Roman historians such as Cassius Dion, his ability to surround himself with people with complementary skills to his own, such as Maecenas or Agrippa, the second great general manager of part of his conquests. Suetonius himself insists that Augustus was convinced of the danger of festinatio and temeritas - of "haste" and "rashness" - when taking any decision, always relying, on the contrary, on clemency and moderation. It is also said that he frequently consulted the Senate, that he was able to attract the unanimous support of his political project and that in the year 2 A.D. he was declared pater patriae, "father of the fatherland". He also had a great ability to correct abuses of his trusted men -to whom he was always loyal-, a quality that he considered fundamental in his work of governing the Empire, being, as we are told, able to recognize the virtues and merits of those, but also to understand their mistakes, as long as they did not compromise his purposes too much.

The way in which he solved the military, social and economic crisis of Rome and put an end to street violence in a capital that already had almost one million inhabitants, making it recover its pride as a State - also with a use of propaganda certainly unprecedented until now - is an example of success, well documented by historical sources and recreated by dozens of writers, which clearly shows us that with audacity, with loyal teams and with an adequate continentia, "moderation", the happy management of any change is possible.