Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Joel Allen


Augustus; Cassius Dio; moderation; Pliny; Suetonius; Tacitus


Aware of the Roman people's weariness following decades of civil war, Augustus founded the Principate on the notion that the traditions of the Republic had been restored and that Augustus was not a monarch but an ordinary citizen serving his nation. This modest image of the emperor was characterized by his ceremonial refusal of honors and offices and his preservation of the Senate's dignity. However, the purpose of this thesis is not simply to examine the modest image of the emperor but rather to provide a detailed study of the memory of Augustus' moderation in the works of later authors.

The first chapter will discuss Augustus' documentation of his moderate deeds in the Res Gestae and his attempt to preserve his legacy and provide an example for his successors to imitate. Similar depictions of his modesty are represented on coins and Augustan monuments such as the Ara Pacis Augustae and the so-called Laudatio Turiae. Lastly, this chapter will examine the poetic recusationes of Horace, Propertius, and Ovid as evidence of their skepticism regarding the sincerity of Augustus' political refusals.

The second chapter will examine Pliny the Younger's political career under the tyrannical reign of Domitian and his praise of Trajan's moderation in the Panegyricus. Pliny exhibits signs of insincerity in his panegyric that resemble the methods of doublespeak used earlier by Horace, Ovid, and Statius. Pliny's false praise of Trajan's moderation reflects his suspicion of the Principate as a whole. The third chapter will discuss Tacitus' relationship with Agricola and his career under Domitian. Like Pliny, Tacitus is skeptical of imperial moderation but is more explicit in his condemnation. He criticizes the Principate for its feigned moderation and its capacity for cruelty. Tacitus attributes these problems of the Principate to its founder Augustus while criticizing his false modesty with a literary recusatio.

The fourth chapter will discuss Suetonius' career as an imperial secretary under Trajan and its impact on his work. Suetonius enjoyed a post-Domitianic career and did not witness the same atrocities as Pliny and Tacitus. Thus, Suetonius lacked the impetus to convey the moderation of Augustus and the Principate in a negative light. Suetonius' negative depiction of Octavian might imply a perceived insincerity in the moderation of Augustus. However, it is evident from Suetonius' account that he is more concerned with his continuous display of moderation as emperor, which serves as a model for his successors.

The fifth and last chapter will discuss Cassius Dio's career during the reigns of Commodus and the Severan dynasty. Like Pliny and Tacitus, Dio witnessed many atrocities committed by emperors. However, Dio seeks to remedy present ills by invoking Augustus' moderation as precedent for present and future emperors. While Dio explicitly recognizes that this modest image is false, he prefers the pretense of moderation over the open cruelty of a tyrant.

This thesis will show that the moderate image that Augustus created was not a static representation of the emperor. Later authors manipulated the image of the emperor according to their own ideological goals. Augustus was no longer a man but an idea that could be invoked for praise or criticism of one's present circumstances.