Adrian Goldsworthy, an award-winning biographer and historian, has brought ancient Rome to life through a trilogy of biographies of the leaders of the greatest empire of all time. In Caesar: Life of a Colossus and Antony and Cleopatra, Goldsworthy cut through the traditional stories told of these well-known figures, exposing the complexity of their political maneuvers and providing more human portraits to balance the legends. His new book, Augustus: First Emperor of Rome, to be released this August, holds up the same revealing lens to a character who is less well-remembered, but equally—if not more so—influential in the history of Rome.
Yale University Press: Although Augustus is far less well-known than his great uncle, Julius Caesar, you find that he was actually a much more compelling figure. Why is that so?
Adrian Goldsworthy: Julius Caesar’s career was conventional until he reached middle age. But Augustus broke all the rules and was a master of re-inventing himself. There are more surviving images of him than anyone else in the ancient world. Augustus boasted that he had given the Romans peace after decades of chaos and violence, and yet at the same time he presided over the most intensive period of Roman imperial expansion.
YUP: One of the fascinating overarching themes of your book is how Augustus transformed the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. What were his tactics and why were they so effective? Why is his reign of such immense historical importance?
AG: Augustus claimed to have restored the res publica—the state—but in reality he monopolized military power and was a military dictator in all but name. On the other hand he worked hard to justify his supremacy, spending more than half his reign touring the far-flung provinces, and, wherever he was, devoting a great deal of attention to petitioners who came to him from all over the world. The new system was less democratic but it worked, not only during his lifetime but also in the centuries to follow, when the empire was more stable and prosperous than ever before.
Adrian Goldsworthy is a leading historian of the ancient world and author of acclaimed biographies of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra among many other books. He lectures widely and consults on historical documentaries produced by the History Channel, National Geographic, and the BBC. He lives in the Vale of Glamorgan, UK.