Social Development of the Roman Empire.
Augustus died the twenty-third of August of the year 14 A.D., saying to Livia, as she embraced him: "Adieu, Livia, remember our long life." Suetonius adds that, before dying, he had asked the friends who had come to salute him, if he seemed to them "mimum vitae commode transegisse" - to have acted well his life's comedy. In this famous phrase many historians have seen a confession, an acknowledgment of the long role of deceit that the unsurpassable actor had played to his public. What a mistake! If Augustus did pronounce that famous sentence, he meant to say quite another thing. An erudite German has demonstrated with the help of many texts that the ancient writers, and especially the stoic philosophers, commonly compared life to a theatrical representation, divided into different acts and with an inevitable epilogue, death, without intending to say that it was a thing little serious or not true. They only meant that life is an action, which has a natural sequence from beginning to end, like a theatrical representation. There is then no need to translate the expression of Augustus "the play" - that is, the deceit - "is ended," but rather "the drama" - the work committed by destiny - "is finished."
The drama was ended, and what a drama! It is difficult to find in history a longer and more troubled career than that known by Augustus for nearly sixty years, from the far-away days when, young, handsome, full of ambition and daring, he had come to Rome, throwing himself head first into the frightful turmoil let loose by the murder of Caesar, to that tranquil death, the death of a great wise man, in the midst of thepax Romana, now spread from end to end of the Empire! After so many tragic catastrophies had struck his class and his family, Euthanasia - the death of the happy - descended for the first time since the passing of Lucullus, to close the eyes of a great Roman.
There is no better means of giving an idea of the mission of the Roman Empire in the world than to summarise the life and work of this famous personage. Augustus has been in our century somewhat the victim of Napoleon I. The extraordinary course of events at the beginning of the nineteenth century made so vivid an impression on succeeding generations, that for the whole of the century people have been able to admire only the great agitators, men whose lives are filled with storm and clamorous action. Compared with that of Napoleon or of Caesar, the figure of Augustus is simple and colourless. The Roman peace, in the midst of which he died, was his work only very indirectly. Augustus had wearied his whole life in reorganising the finances and the army, in crushing the revolts of the European provinces, in defending the boundaries of the Rhine and the Danube, in making effective in Rome, as far as he could, the old aristocratic constitution. All intent on this service, a serious and difficult one, he never dreamed of regenerating the Empire by a powerful administration. Even if he had wished it, he would not have had the means - men and money.
For the past century, the vastness and power of the administration that governed the Empire has been greatly admired. Without discussing many things possible on this point, it must be observed that this judgment does not apply to the times of Augustus and Tiberius, because then this administration did not exist. During the first fifty years of the Empire, the provinces were all governed, as under the Republic, by proconsuls or propraetors, each accompanied by a quaestor, a few subordinate officials, freedmen, friends, and slaves. A few dozen of men governed the provinces, as vast as states. Augustus added to this rudimentary administration but one organ, the procurator, chosen from freedmen or knights, charged with overseeing the collection of tribute and expenses; that is, caring for the interests, not of the provinces, but of Rome. Consequently, the government was weak and inactive in all the provinces.
Whoever fancies the government of Rome modelled after the type of modern governments, invading, omnipotent, omnipresent, deceives himself. There were sent into the provinces nobles belonging to rich and noted families, who had therefore no need to rob the subjects too much; and these men ruled, making use of the laws, customs, institutions, families of nobles, of each place, exactly as England now does in many parts of its Empire. As in general these governors were not possessed of any great activity, they did not meddle much in the internal affairs of the subject peoples. To preserve the unity of the Empire and the supremacy of Italy against all enemies, within and without; to exploit reasonably this supremacy; for the rest, to let every people live as best pleased it: such was the policy of Augustus and of Tiberius, the policy of the first century A.D. In short, this was but the idea of the old aristocratic party, adapted to the new times.