Augustus: From Revolutionary to Emperor by Adrian Goldsworthy - review by Peter Jones

Peter Jones

And Then There Was One

Augustus: From Revolutionary to Emperor


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 598pp £25

The idea that Roman emperors spent their time engaged in or recovering from orgies is highly misleading. In 29 BC, a merchant ship anchored off a fishing village on the small, obscure Greek island of Gyaros and a local fisherman boarded. He was an ambassador for the community. His mission was to importune the emperor to reduce its tribute from 150 to 100 drachmas, a sum worth less than a cow. We do not know if he was successful but, as Adrian Goldsworthy makes clear, of such minutiae was the life of an emperor made up. As Seneca, an adviser to Nero, said, ‘So many thousands of people have to be given audience, so many petitions must be dealt with; such a crush of matters coming together from the whole world has to be sorted out, so that it can be submitted in due order to the mind of the most eminent emperor.’

Augustus, the first Roman emperor (though arguably Julius Caesar was an emperor in all but name), who became undisputed ruler in 31 BC and reigned until his death in AD 14, ushered in this new world of one-man rule. Over the previous hundred years, the authority of the traditional Roman

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