Augustus as Commander in Chief: Approaching Strategy and Leadership in (Civil) War



Augustus, Young Caesar, Agrippa, Civil War, commander in chief, field commander, strategy, learning curve, attrition, Mutina, Perusia, Philippi, Naulochus, Illyricum, Actium, the Cantabrian Wars


When focusing on Augustus as a commander in chief, a strategist, and a field commander – and especially the formative years of the civil war(s) –, there are numerous potential approaches. We know that he fought battles, campaigns, and wars. Sometimes he did well, sometimes less so. Traditionally, Augustus has not been viewed as a good general, but he was, or so this article claims, an excellent commander. We shall here discuss the actual fighting only when it has a direct bearing on what might be termed the ‘command structure’, in this case during the triumvirate and beyond, and its formulation of strategy. Rather, the main question is as follows: how did the learning curve followed by Young Caesar on his rise to power create a new, shared command structure as part of a monarchical system, with Augustus as commander in chief? If we look at political initiative in warfare and military campaigns, rather than just considering warfare from a tactical point of view, then leadership is always a learning curve. This is accordingly a question of how we, as scholars, approach ancient warfare, strategy, and the relationships between commanders: for example, the ‘high command’ or commander in chief in one theatre and the field commander in the other. This is thus an article on how we, as scholars, approach Roman military history in general.