14

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Have I played the part well?

Contributed by David Verne

In late July, Augustus traveled south to Nola in southern Italy. Battling diarrhea at sea, he barely made it to his family home. On August 19th, his last public words were, "I found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble." That afternoon surrounded by his wife and a few friends he said, "Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit." The Emperor died a few months short of his 76th birthday. [1]

My Take by David Verne
With both his public and private last words, Augustus meant them both figuratively and literally. After securing power as the only man left standing after a series of civil wars, he started many building projects that transformed Rome into a city that looked like the capital of the known world. He also, as the first emperor, reformed what had been a corrupted cesspit of a republic where a few oligarchs ruled at the top, into something a little better. Before the empire, taxes were handled by private companies who would give a bid to the Senate. The bid was the amount they would pay in taxes, the rest they would keep for themselves, encouraging them to squeeze the provinces dry. Augustus did away with this and instituted a public tax collecting agency. His final private words about playing the part well would truly come into play later in the empire. The emperor was supposed to embody the perfect Roman, and they had to act like it. Augustus was not the most just or merciful leader ever, but he did his best to lay a solid foundation for the Empire.

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References

  1. Heroman, Bill (12-31-2007). Year by Year:14 AD.

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