“In all ages, whatever the form and name of government, be it monarchy, republic, or democracy, an oligarchy lurks behind the façade.”
But it is not enough to redeem Augustus from panegyric and revive the testimony of the vanquished cause. That would merely substitute one form of biography for another. At its worst, biography is flat and schematic; at the best, it is often baffled by the hidden discords of human nature. Moreover, undue insistence upon the character and exploits of a single person invests history with dramatic unity at the expense of truth. However talented and powerful in himself, the revolutionary leader cannot stand alone, without allies, without a following. That axiom holds both for the political dynasts of the closing age of the Republic and for their last sole heir—the rule of Augustus was the rule of a party, and in certain aspects his Principate was a syndicate.
In truth, the one term presupposes the other. The career of the revolutionary leader is fantastic and unreal if told without some indication of the faction he led, of the personality, actions, and influence of the principle among his partisans. In all ages, whatever the form and name of government, be it monarchy, republic, or democracy, an oligarchy lurks behind the façade; and Roman history, Republican or Imperial, is the history of the governing class. The marshals, diplomats, and financiers of the Revolution may be discerned again in the Republic of Augustus as the ministers and agents of power, the same men but in different garb. They are the government of the New State.
— Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution