Wars of Augustus

Extent of the Roman Empire under Augustus; the yellow legend represents the extent of the Empire in 31 BC, the shades of green represent gradually conquered territories under the reign of Augustus, and pink areas on the map represent client states.

The wars of Augustus are the military campaigns undertaken by the Roman government during the sole rule of the founder-emperor Augustus (30 BC - AD 14). This was a period of 45 years when almost every year saw major campaigning, in some cases on a scale comparable to the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), when Roman manpower resources were stretched to the limit. The result of these wars was a major expansion of the empire that Augustus inherited from the Roman Republic, although in one case, the German Wars, there was little end-result to show for the enormous deployment of resources involved.


In 29 BC, the Roman Senate ordered the closure of the doors to the Temple of Janus in the Roman Forum for the first time in over 200 years. Signifying that the Roman state was no longer at war, this act reportedly pleased Augustus, then in his 5th Consulship, more than all the other honours showered on him. But the closure could not have been less appropriate. As Dio himself points out, there were ongoing major operations against the Treveri in Gaul, and the Cantabri and Astures in Spain.[1] Furthermore, the closure inaugurated nearly half a century of virtually incessant warfare, as a result of which the Roman Empire assumed the borders it would hold, with a few modifications, for its entire history.


30 BC

GAUL: The Morini and Treveri tribes of Gallia Comata province (Pas-de-Calais region of NE France), rebel against Roman rule and the Suebi Germans cross the Rhine to give them support. But the Morini are defeated by the proconsul (governor) of Gaul, Gaius Carrinas, who goes on to drive out the Suebi, for which he is awarded a joint Triumph with Augustus in 29 BC.[2]

EGYPT: The prefectures Aegypti (governor of Egypt) Gaius Cornelius Gallus quells two local revolts in Heroonpolis in the Nile delta and in the Thebaid.[3] Subsequently, he leads a Roman army South of the First Cataract of the Nile for the first time. He establishes a puppet-state called Triacontaschoenos under a local petty king to act as a buffer-zone between Egypt and Aethiopia (i.e. the kingdom of Aksum), as well as a loose protectorate over Ethiopia itself.[4] Despite his success, Gallus incurs Augustus' displeasure by erecting monuments to himself and is recalled to Rome, tried by the Senate and convicted of various unspecified charges and banished.[5]

29 BC

GAUL: The Treveri revolt is quelled by the new proconsul of Gaul, C. Nonius Gallus, who is rewarded with the title of imperator ("supreme commander").[6]

LOWER DANUBE: The proconsul of Macedonia, M. Licinius Crassus, grandson of Crassus the triumvir, launches the conquest of Moesia. He chases an army of Bastarnae, which was raiding a Roman allied tribe, back over the Haemus (Balkan) mountains but fails to bring them to battle. He then marches against a major fortress held by the Moesi people. Although his vanguard is routed by a Moesi sortie, Crassus succeeds in taking the stronghold. After that, he intercepts and routs the Bastarnae host near the Ciabrus river (Tsibritsa, Bulgaria), personally killing its leader in combat. Those Bastarnae who escape across the Danube river, and entrench themselves in a natural strongpoint, he dislodges with the assistance of the local king of the Getae. Crassus then turns his attention to the Moesi again. After a long and arduous campaign, he forces the submission of the great majority of Moesi.[7]

26 BC

SPAIN: Augustus takes personal command of the campaign against the Cantabri.[8]

EGYPT: Responding to a directive from Augustus, the prefectures Aegypti, Aelius Gallus (no relation to his predecessor, Cornelius Gallus) leads an expedition across the Red Sea against the Sabaeans of Arabia Felix (mod. Yemen). The key attraction was that this region produced aromatic substances such as frankincense and myrrh, which were greatly prized in Rome. In addition, occupation of Sabaea would give the Romans control of both sides of the entrance to the Red Sea, the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, since Cornelius Gallus had established a garrison at Arsinoe (near Assab, Eritrea) on the Ethiopian shore. The expedition consists of 10,000 troops including allies, and 130 freight-ships. Gallus was counting on the assistance of the Nabataean Arabs of NW Arabia, whose king Obodas was a Roman ally and contributed 1,000 warriors under his chief secretary, Syllabus. But the latter allegedly sabotaged the mission throughout with poor advice. The force sails by ship from Clysma (Suez, Egypt) to Luke Come (prob. Sharmah, Hijaz, NW Saudi Arabia) but suffers heavy losses to storms in transit, so that on arrival, Gallus is forced to spend the rest of the year at Lake Come to give his men a chance to recuperate and to effect repairs to his fleet.[9]

25 BC

SPAIN: Augustus, although in nominal command of the campaign against the Astures and Callaeci, is incapacitated by illness. The campaign is brought to a successful conclusion, with the last rebels crushed, by the governors of Hispania Citerior and Ulterior, respectively Gaius Antistius Vetus and Publius Carisius.[8]

ALPS: Augustus despatches an army under Aulus Terentius Varro Murena against the Salassi tribe of the Val d'Aosta region of the northwestern Alps. The latter controlled the Great St Bernard pass, the shortest route between Italy and the Upper Rhine region.


  1. Dio LI.20
  2. Dio LI.20.5; LI.21.6
  3. Strabo XVII.1.53
  4. CAH X 148
  5. Dio LIII.23.5-7
  6. ILS 895
  7. Dio LI.23-5
  8. 1 2 CAH X 451
  9. Strabo XVI.4.23-5




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