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In what ways did the senators gain or lose from Augustus' Principate?

The Principate of Augustus, which was the bridge between the Roman Republic and the Imperial Period, was of the utmost importance in Roman history.  When this period actually started is a matter of some debate.  Perhaps cautioned by the example of his adoptive father, Julius Caesar, Augustus' journey to supreme power was made up of a number of steps, some of which appeared to be steps back, and the supreme power itself derived from a collection of ordinary constitutional powers and extraordinary but legally bestowed powers.  23BC seems the best date, if a date has to chosen, as this was the "second settlement" which granted Augustus tribunician power without holding the role of tribune, and maius imperium (greater authority)over all Roman provinces.  These powers, of course, impinged on the power of senators.  Tribunician power allowed Augustus to call meetings of the senate and apply a veto to their decisions if he so wished.  maius imperium granted him higher authority than the (senatorial) magistrates who had been commissioned to rule provinces.  The characteristic feature of the beginning of what would become imperial rule was the increase in Augustus' power until it was greater than that of any magistrate, and the corresponding reduction in the real power of the nobility, the senate and elected magistrates (many of whom were the same people).  More than any other part of Roman society, "we tend to see a group of families, the republican 'nobility', as the losers" in the new regime.  But what, exactly did they lose?

In the centuries immediately preceding the Civil War which left Augustus in charge of the Roman Empire, Rome had been ruled by elected magistrates such as quaestors, praetors and consuls.  Rules about who could hold these magistracies, at what age and for how long, had been formulated over the centuries since the fall of the monarchy until an accepted route through political life, the cursus honorum, was formalised.  Those qualified by age and a minimum level of landed wealth (400,000 sesterces) were eligible to stand for the lower levels of public office.  A magistracy entailed automatic admission to the senate, where the decisions that affected the empire were made.  Success in obtaining a more junior magistracy (the quaestorship) opened up the route to more senior roles in the fullness of time, with the ultimate ambition being the consulship.  This in turn led to a pro-consulship as the governor of a province, a wonderful opportunity for enriching oneself, rewarding friends with lucrative posts, and gaining further supporters.

The great names of the Republic disappeared from public life, names such as Scipio, Metellus, Lucullus and Hortensus, but new families arose to take their place.  These senators gained power rather than losing it in Augustus' Principate.  Equally, those of the old families who were willing to become courtiers to the Princeps could do very well, some marrying into Augustus's family and going on to become the ancestors of future emperors, others being promoted by him to be patricians.  "Upper-class survivors found that slavish obedience was the way to succeed," says Tacitus, "both politically and financially," and succeed many of them did.  Tacitus deplored this adulatio on the part of the noble families but for those who were prepared to sacrifice not only their power corporately but also their dignity individually, the Principate of Augustus was a time of great opportunity.

Despite the rewards open to individuals who cultivated Augustus and his family, the broader picture was much bleaker for the senate.  They had gained peace, along with the rest of Roman society.  They had also gained stability, even if it was a monarchy that was stable.  Safety was not guaranteed but the danger from one ruler was less than the danger from a number of competing rulers.  In exchange for this, however, the senators had given up not only their ability to direct the destiny of Rome, but also the trappings of their status, the rewards of their success, the public ostentation of their role in society.  They senate had lost its character as a governing body and senators as a body had therefore lost their raison d'etre.  Almost as much as the scrabble for imperial succession, the defining feature of the Imperial Period of Rome was the ineffectiveness of the senate, reduced to little more than a rubber stamp for the Emperor.  In Augustus' Principate the senators gained their survival, and sometimes even achieved great success as individuals, but as a group they lost almost everything that had made senators who they were in the Republic.

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