The development of the concept of ‘Empire’ at Rome into the Augustan Age

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


‘Empire’ has always been one of the key concepts in human history. Most scholars blithely talk about the growth of the Roman ‘empire’ as if it were self-evident what the term means. The principal aim of this thesis is to clarify when and how, through the main phase of overseas expansion from around 200 BC into the Augustan age, the Romans began to conceive of their rule over other states and peoples as something we can recognize as an ‘empire’. The evidence studied consists primarily of statements about Roman rule in the
extant literary sources of the period, both in Latin and Greek, with some comparative use of later writers, and epigraphic and numismatic sources as appropriate. I discuss developments in the meaning and use of key terms such as imperium, provincia, amicitia and pax. I show that mid-Republican sources tend to see Roman rule as a web encompassing various power relationships under vague terms such as amicitia, while from Cicero to Augustus there
emerged a territorial concept of ‘empire’. I argue that Augustus himself, largely reflected in the literature of his age, presented Roman rule as a core of directly ruled and taxed ‘provinces’ and a vague periphery controlled by threats or amicitia, which set the norm for the Principate.

Table of Contents

Abstract              2

List of Abbreviations      4

Acknowledgements        5

Chapter 1. Introduction 7

1.1. Subject and aims     7

1.2. Previous studies      13

Chapter 2 The idea of Roman rule in the mid- to late Republican Rome    21

2.1. The presentation of Rome’s ‘empire’ in the Histories of Polybius       21

2.2. Other contemporary sources from the third to late second century BC               44

2.3. The idea of ‘empire’ in Cicero and other late republican authors        55

2.3.1. Cicero      55

2.3.2. Caesar     72

2.3.3. Sallust      84

Chapter 3 Augustus’ image of ‘empire’ in his Res Gestae               93

3.1. Introduction             93

3.2. World conquest       96

3.3. From core to periphery        103

3.4. Conclusion 106

Chapter 4 ‘Empire’ in other Augustan sources     109

4.1. Livy              109

4.2 Strabo          113

4.3. The Augustan Poets                             122

4.3.1. Virgil         122

4.3.2. Horace     129

4.3.3. Ovid         137

4.4. Velleius Paterculus                143

Chapter 5 Conclusion     153

Bibliography      163

Date of Award1 Feb 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorDominic Rathbone (Supervisor) & Henrik Mouritsen (Supervisor)

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