Academic journal article Antichthon

The Succession Planning of Augustus

Academic journal article Antichthon

The Succession Planning of Augustus

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Erich Gruen has questioned the notion of 'succession planning' under Augustus, arguing that the princeps was careful to avoid giving the impression that he wanted to create a heritable dynasty, for it was not in his interest to emphasise autocracy and there was no office of state to pass on. This view seems incomplete, since the prerogatives and resources of the Julian family were of such magnitude that Augustus' heir could hardly fail to occupy a position of dominance in the state, as everyone surely knew. Moreover, it seems likely that Gruen overestimates the level of opposition to autocracy, that the cause of state stability was aided overall by clear lines of succession, that relevant attitudes were dynamic rather than static, and that there was a higher public profile (and more practical, substantial importance) for the imperial family than Gruen describes.

It has long been taken for granted that Augustus wanted a member of his family to succeed him, and that he began planning for this to happen from as early as the lifetime of Marcellus in the 20s BC.1 Erich Gruen, however, did much to problématisé the topic of succession planning in a paper which argues that Augustus was careful to avoid giving the impression that he wanted to create a heritable dynasty, for it was not in his interest to emphasise autocracy and there was no office of state to pass on. Gruen believes that Augustus was faced throughout his rule by a fundamental dilemma: how could he maintain the continuity of his principate (personal leadership) in the interests of stability without giving the offensive impression that he was instituting a Principate (a heritable autocracy)? His solution was to operate as princeps rather than create a Principatus? This is perhaps only half the story, because Augustus also wanted, like any noble under the Republic, to pass on to his heir a family enhanced in power and standing, and in this case that meant passing on family prerogatives and resources of such magnitude that the heir could hardly fail to occupy a position of dominance in the state. Moreover, there was considerable support for Julian pre-eminence, so that the cause of state stability was probably aided overall by clear lines of succession. Augustus went to great lengths to plan for inheritance within his family. This planning obviously had implications for the state, as everyone surely knew, even if the message was not made explicit. The great value of Gruen's paper, however, is that it forces the revision of several questions whose answers are often taken for granted. Who, for instance, were Augustus' direct successors? How much opposition to monarchy did he encounter, and how did he deal with it? How clear were the implications of family marriages? To what degree did he favour blood relatives? ft emerges that there are points still to be made about the evolution and 'dynastic' nature of this planning, about support as well as opposition, the importance of descent by blood, changes in tactics employed over time, and the roles played by Agrippa and Tiberius. The aim in what follows is to discuss these matters in response to Gruen's thoughtful treatment, ft seems likely that ideas of personal leadership and heritable autocracy existed in constant tension, but that the Principate was always a likely outcome.

The Republic saw magistrates progress through the cursus honorum according to votes of the Roman people. A 'dynasty', however, would see a man progress on the basis of his family relationship to the ruler. There can be little doubt in this light that dynastic progression took place at Rome during the lifetime of Augustus. In fact, it began with the rise of Octavian/Caesar himself in the wake of Julius Caesar's assassination. The new 'Caesar' was accepted as a major player from the start, not because he was a senior figure in terms of the cursus honorum, but because he successfully laid claim to the massive resources of the Julian family, including the men, property and bonds of loyalty accumulated by Julius Caesar. …

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