THE AUGUSTAN REFORMATION

 

Augustus became the ruler of Rome and its empire at the end of a long and bitter civil war.  A competent general (he was the only one standing at the end of the war), he transformed himself into a brilliant statesman and created political institutions that would rule Rome for centuries.

His political and economic reforms were very successful and earned him the gratitude of the Roman people;  however, as Will Durant in The Story of Civilization said, "He destroyed his own happiness by trying to make people good as well as happy; it was an imposition that Rome never forgave..."

The extension of citizenship as a means of gaining support for political reforms; the increasing tendency to emancipate slaves whose children automatically acquired Roman citizenship; the low marriage and birth rates among native Romans---all of these things were causing a major shift in the racial balance.  Augustus was convinced that Rome's success depended on the self discipline, morality , and dedication that could be found only in the native born, aristocratic Roman:  this class had declined considerably in number, scorned marriage, and allowed its women far too much freedom.

 

AUGUSTAN FAMILY VALUES REFORMS

Restrictions were placed on the attendance of women at public spectacles.

A father could kill his daughter and her lover if he caught them in the act of adultery.

In his own home, a husband could kill his wife and her lover if he caught them in the act of adultery.

A husband must divorce his wife within 60 days if it is proven she has committed adultery.

A woman who has committed adultery is subject to the following additional penalties:

  • banishment

  • loss of half her dowry

  • loss of one third of any additional wealth she possessed.

Men under 60 and women under 50 must marry. Failure to do so would mean they could not inherit.

Women with three or more children could wear a special garment and were freed from the authority of their husbands.

These laws were certainly unpopular and were probably failures as well.  Tacitus, writing a century later, certainly thought so, and even Augustus in the end bemoaned the inability of his generation to come up to the ancient standards.  An interesting victim of the anti-adultery law was the Emperor's own daughter, Julia, who was banished as an example to all.

After decades of civil war Rome was ready for whatever political and economic reforms could guarantee peace, stability and the opportunity to enjoy the benefits that came from ownership of the ancient world's greatest empire.  The Augustan moral reforms were resented by all but the most conservative elements of society for seeming to fly in the face of a new world.  Rising prosperity had contributed to a steady increase in the standing of women, especially women in the upper classes, and the Augustan social reforms threatened to end all of that.  Many married just to meet the legal requirement and then divorced immediately after.

 

 

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