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The famous statue of Octavian at the Prima Porta (Vatican Museums)
The famous statue of Octavian at the Prima Porta ( Vatican Museums)
Caesar Augustus ( Latin:IMP·CAESAR·DIVI·F·AVGVSTVS) ¹ ( 23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14), known to modern historians as Octavian for the period of his life prior to 27 BC, is considered the first and one of the most important Roman Emperors, though he downplayed his own position by preferring the traditional Republic title of princeps, usually translated as "first citizen". Although he preserved the outward form of the Roman Republic, he ruled as an autocrat for more than 40 years and his rule is the dividing line between the Republic and the Roman Empire. He ended a century of civil wars and gave Rome an era of peace, prosperity, and imperial greatness, known as the Pax Romana, the Roman peace. He was married to Livia Drusilla for 51 years.

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Early life
Rise to power
Octavian becomes Augustus: the creation of the Principate
Augustus's legacy
Augustus in popular culture

Early life - Contents

Augustus was born in Rome with the name Gaius Octavius. His father, also Gaius Octavius, came from a respectable but undistinguished family of the equestrian order and was governor of Macedonia. Shortly after Octavius's birth, his father gave him the surname of Thurinus, possibly to commemorate his victory at Thurii over a rebellious band of slaves. His mother, Atia Balba Caesonia, was the niece of Julius Caesar, soon to be Rome's most successful general and Dictator for Life. He spent his early years in his grandfather's house near Veletrae (modern Velletri). In 58 BC, when he was four, his father died. He spent most of his childhood in the house of his stepfather, Lucius Marcius Philippus.In 51 BC, aged eleven, he delivered the funeral oration for his grandmother Julia Caesaris. He put on the toga virilis at fifteen, and was elected to the College of Pontiffs. Caesar requested that Octavius join his staff for his campaign in Africa, but Atia protested that he was too young. The following year, 46 BC, she consented for him to join Caesar in Hispania, but he fell ill and was unable to travel. When he had recovered, he sailed to the front, but was shipwrecked; after coming ashore with a handful of companions, he made it across hostile territory to Caesar's camp, which impressed his great-uncle considerably. Caesar and Octavius returned home in the same carriage, and Caesar secretly changed his will.

Rise to power - Contents

Bust of Caesar Augustus.
Bust of Caesar Augustus.
When Caesar was assassinated in March 44 BC, Octavius was studying in Apollonia, in what is now Albania. When Caesar's will was read it revealed that, having no legitimate children, he had adopted his great-nephew as his son and main heir. By virtue of his adoption, Octavius assumed the name Gaius Julius Caesar. Roman tradition dictated that he also append the surname Octavianus to indicate his biological family, from which historians derive the name Octavian; however, no evidence exists that he ever used the name Octavianus. Mark Antony later charged that he had earned his adoption by Caesar through sexual favors, though Suetonius describes Antony's accusation as political slander.Octavian, as he is now conventionally called, recruited a small force in Apollonia. Crossing over to Italy, he bolstered his personal forces with Caesar's veteran legionaries, gathering support by emphasizing his status as heir to Caesar. Only eighteen years old, he was consistently underestimated by his rivals for power.In Rome, he found Marcus Antonius ( Mark Antony) in control. After a tense standoff, and a war in Gaul after Antony tried to take control of the province from Decimus Brutus, he formed an uneasy alliance with Mark Antony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, Caesar's principal colleagues. The three formed a junta called the Second Triumvirate, an explicit grant of special powers lasting five years and supported by law, unlike the unofficial First Triumvirate of Pompey, Caesar and Crassus.The triumvirs then set in motion proscriptions in which three hundred senators and two thousand equites were deprived of their property and, for those who failed to escape, their lives, going beyond a simple purge of those allied with the assassins, and probably motivated by a need to raise money to pay their troops.Antony and Octavian then marched against Brutus and Cassius, who had fled to the east. At Philippi in Macedonia, the Caesarian army was victorious and Brutus and Cassius committed suicide ( 42 BC). While Octavian returned to Rome, Antony went to Egypt where he allied himself with Queen Cleopatra, the ex-lover of Julius Caesar and mother of Caesar's infant son, Caesarion.While in Egypt, Antony had an affair with Cleopatra that resulted in the birth of three children, Alexander Helios, Cleopatra Selene, and Ptolemy Philadelphus. Antony later left Cleopatra to make a strategic marriage with Octavian's sister Octavia in 40 BC. During their marriage Octavia gave birth to two daughters, both named Antonia. In 37 BC Antony deserted Octavia and went back to Egypt to be with Cleopatra. The Roman dominions were then divided between Octavian in the west and Antony in the east.Antony occupied himself with military campaigns in the east and a romantic affair with Cleopatra; Octavian built a network of allies in Rome, consolidated his power, and spread propaganda implying that Antony was becoming less than Roman because of his preoccupation with Egyptian affairs and traditions. The situation grew more and more tense, and finally, in 32 BC, Octavian declared war. It was quickly decided: in the bay of Actium on the western coast of Greece, after Antony's men began deserting, the fleets met in a great battle in which many ships burned and thousands on both sides lost their lives. Octavian defeated his rivals who then fled to Egypt. He pursued them, and after another defeat, Antony committed suicide. Cleopatra also committed suicide after her upcoming role in Octavian's triumph was "carefully explained to her" and Caesarion, the supposed son of Julius Caesar by Cleopatra, was "butchered without compunction". Augustus supposedly said "two Caesars are one too many" as he ordered Caesarion's death.. It is said that Cleopatra used a snake to kill herself.

Octavian becomes Augustus: the creation of the Principate - Contents

Augustus as a magistrate
Augustus as a magistrate
The Western half of the Empire had sworn allegiance to Octavian prior to Actium in 30 BC, and after Actium and the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra, the Eastern half of the Empire followed suit, placing Octavian in the position of ruler of the entire Empire. Years of civil war had left Rome in a state of near-lawlessness, but Rome was not prepared to accept the control of Octavian as a despot; however, Octavian could not simply give up his authority without risking further civil wars amongst the Roman generals, and even if he desired no position of authority whatsoever, his position demanded that he look to the well-being of the provinces. Disbanding his personal forces, Octavian held elections and took up the position of consul; as such, though he had given up his personal armies, he was now legally in command of the legions of Rome.

The First Settlement
In 27 BC he officially returned power to the Senate of Rome, and offered to relinquish his own military supremacy over Egypt. Reportedly, the suggestion of Octavian's stepping down as consul led to rioting amongst the Plebeians in Rome. A compromise was reached between the Senate and Octavian's supporters, known as the First Settlement. Octavian was given proconsular authority over the Western half of the empire and Syria — the provinces that, combined, contained almost 70% of the Roman legions.The Senate also gave him the titles Augustus and Princeps. Augustus was a title of religious rather than political authority. In the mindset of contemporary religious beliefs, it would have cleverly symbolized a stamp of authority over humanity that went beyond any constitutional definition of his status. Additionally, after the harsh methods employed in consolidating his control, that the change in name would also serve to separate his benign reign as Augustus from his reign of terror as Octavian. Princeps translates to "first-citizen" or "first-leader". It had been a title under the Republic for those who had served the state well; for example, Gnaeus Pompey had held the title.In addition, and perhaps the most dangerous innovation, Augustus was granted the right to wear the Civic Crown of laurel and oak. This crown was usually held above the head of a Roman general during a Triumph, with the individual holding the crown charged to continually repeat, "Remember, thou art mortal," to the triumphant general. The fact that not only was Augustus awarded this crown but awarded the right to actually wear it upon his head is perhaps the clearest indication of the creation of a monarchy. However, it must be noted that none of these titles, or the Civic Crown, granted Octavian any additional powers or authority; for all intents and purposes the new Augustus was simply a highly-honored Roman citizen, holding the consulship.These actions were highly abnormal from the Roman Senate, but this was not the same body of patricians that had murdered Caesar. Both Antony and Octavian had purged the Senate of suspect elements and planted it with their loyal partisans. How free a hand the Senate had in these transactions, and what backroom deals were made, remain unknown.

The Second Settlement
In 23 BC Augustus renounced the consulship, but retained his consular imperium, leading to a second compromise between Augustus and the Senate known as the Second Settlement. Augustus was granted the power of a tribune (tribunicia potestas), though not the title, which allowed him to convene the Senate and people at will and lay business before it, veto the actions of either the Assembly or the Senate, preside over elections, and the right to speak first at any meeting. Also included in Augustus' tribunician authority were powers usually reserved for the Roman censor; these included the right to supervise public morals and scrutinize laws to ensure they were in the public interest, as well as the ability to hold a census and determine the membership of the Senate. No Tribune of Rome ever had these powers, and there was no precedent within the Roman system for combining the powers of the Tribune and the Censor into a single position, nor was Augustus ever elected to the office of Censor. Whether censorial powers were granted to Augustus as part of his tribunician authority, or he simply assumed these responsibilities, is still a matter of debate.In addition to tribunician authority, Augustus was granted sole imperium within the city of Rome itself: all armed forces in the city, formerly under the control of the Praefects, were now under the sole authority of Augustus. Additionally, Augustus was granted imperium proconsulare maius, or "imperium over all the proconsuls", which translated to the right to interfere in any province in the Roman Empire and override the decisions of any governor. With maius imperium, Augustus was the only individual able to receive a triumph as he was ostensibly the head of every Roman army.Many of the political subtleties of the Second Settlement seem to have evaded the comprehension of the Plebeian class. When in 22 BC Augustus failed to stand for election as consul, fears arose once again that Augustus, seen as the great "defender of the people", was being forced from power by the aristocratic Senate. In 22, 21, and 20 BC the people rioted in response, and only allowed a single consul to be elected for each of those years, ostensibly to leave the other position open for Augustus. Finally in 19 BC the Senate voted to allow Augustus to wear the consul's insignia in public and before the Senate, sometimes known as the Third Settlement. This seems to have assuaged the populace; regardless of whether or not Augustus was actually a consul, the importance was that he appeared as one before the people.With these powers in mind, it must be understood that all forms of permanent and legal power within Rome officially lay with the Senate and the people; Augustus was given extraordinary powers, but only as a pronconsul and magistrate under the authority of the Senate. Augustus never presented himself as a king or autocrat, once again only allowing himself to be addressed by the title Princeps. After the death of Lepidus in 13 BC he additionally took up the position of pontifex maximus.Later Roman Emperors would generally be limited to the powers and titles originally granted to Augustus, though often, in order to display humility, newly appointed Emperors would often decline one or more of the honorifics given to Augustus. Just as often, as their reign progressed, Emperors would appropriate all of the titles, regardless of whether they had actually been granted by the Senate. The Civic Crown, consular insignia, and later the purple robes of a Triumphant general ( toga picta) became the imperial insignia well into the Byzantine era, and were even adopted by many Germanic tribes invading the former Western empire as insignia of their right to rule.

Reign - Contents

Having gained power by means of great audacity, Augustus ruled with great prudence. In exchange for near absolute power, he gave Rome 40 years of civic peace and increasing prosperity, celebrated in history as the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace.

Military reforms
He created Rome's first permanent army and navy and stationed the legions along the Empire's borders, where they could not meddle in politics. A special unit, the Praetorian Guard, garrisoned Rome and protected the Emperor's person. He also reformed Rome's finance and tax systems. Augustus channeled the enormous wealth brought in from the Empire to keeping the army happy with generous payments.

Provincial reforms and imperial expansion
The Roman Empire expanded enormously during the reign of Augustus. A war in the mountains of northern Hispania from 26 BC to 19 BC finally resulted in that territory's conquest. After Gallic raids, the Alpine territories were conquered. Rome's borders were advanced to the natural frontier of the Danube, and the province of Galatia was occupied. Further west, an attempt to advance into Germany ended with the defeat at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9. Thereafter Augustus and his successors accepted the Rhine as the Empire's permanent border. In the east, he satisfied himself with establishing Roman control over Armenia and the Transcaucasus. He left the Parthian Empire alone maintaining generally good relations with them.

Civil reforms, innovations and entertainments in Rome
He founded a ministry of transport that built an extensive network of roads — enabling improved communication, trade, and mail. Augustus also founded the world's first fire brigade, and created a regular police force for Rome.He channeled the enormous wealth brought in from the Empire to keeping the army happy with generous payments, and keeping the citizens of Rome happy by staging magnificent games. His use of games and special events to celebrate himself and his family cemented his popularity.

Building programmes in Rome
He famously boasted that he "found Rome brick and left it marble" (though that hardly applied to the rickety flats of the Subura. He built
  • a new home or Curia for the Senate
  • the Forum of Augustus
  • new temples to
    • Apollo
    • Divine Julius
    • Mars Ultor in his new forum
  • a shrine near the Circus Maximus.
He restored
  • the Capitoline Temple
  • the Theater of Pompey
These are recorded as his projects, but his name was deliberately uncredited.He also encouraged others such as Lucius Cornelius Balbus (minor) ( Museo Nazionale Romano#Crypta Balbi) to carry out building projects .

Economic policy
Roman rulers understood little about economics, and Augustus was no exception. Like all the Emperors, he overtaxed agriculture and spent the revenue on armies, temples, and games. However, wages and prices moved freely and allowed efficient markets to operate. When the Empire stopped expanding, and had no more loot coming in from conquests, its economy began to stagnate and eventually decline. The reign of Augustus is thus seen in some ways as the high point of Rome's power and prosperity. Augustus settled retired soldiers on the land in an effort to revive agriculture, but the capital remained dependent on grain imports from Egypt.

Religious reforms
Augustus also strongly supported worship of Roman gods, especially Apollo, and depicted Roman defeat of Egypt as Roman gods defeating Egypt's.

Harking back to Rome's heritage
He sponsored Virgil's Aeneid in the hopes that it would increase pride in Roman heritage (one of the titles he had refused in favour of Augustus was Romulus, as a 'second founder' of Rome).

His own image
Bronze statue of Augustus, Archaeological Museum, Athens
Bronze statue of Augustus, Archaeological Museum, Athens
The 'Prima Porta Augustus'(Vatican Museums)
The 'Prima Porta Augustus'( Vatican Museums)
He made a concerted campaign to have a standard version of his image reproduced throughout the empire as a focus of loyalty and, sometimes, worship. Even when he was old, he was portrayed this way. As a result, his image is the most recognizable of all the emperors in museums across the world, including
  • * British Museum (eg head from Meroe [5]
  • * Museo Nazionale Romano#Palazzo Massimo, Via Labicana type, found on the Via Labicana, Augustus as a Pontifex Maximus
  • * Vatican Museums, Prima Porta Augustus.
See The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, Paul Zanker.

Moral crusade
Augustus also launched a morality crusade, promoting marriage, family, and childbirth while discouraging luxury, unrestrained sex (including prostitution and homosexuality), and adultery. It was largely unsuccessful (indeed, his own daughter and - possibly in connection to her - Ovid were both banished due to it.)

Cultural patronage
As a patron of the arts, Augustus showered favors on poets, artists, sculptors, and architects. His reign is considered the Golden Age of Roman literature. Horace, Livy, Ovid, and Virgil flourished under his protection, but in return, they had to pay tribute to his genius and adhere to his standards. (Ovid was banished from Rome for violating Augustus's morality codes.)

He eventually won over most of the Roman intellectual class, although many still pined in private for the Republic. His use of games and special events to celebrate himself and his family cemented his popularity. By the time Augustus died, a return to the old system was unimaginable. The only question was who would succeed him as sole ruler.

Succession - Contents

Augustus' control of power throughout the Empire was so absolute that it allowed him to name his successor, a custom that had been abandoned and derided in Rome since the foundation of the Republic. At first, indications pointed toward his sister's son Marcellus, who had been married to Augustus' daughter Julia Caesaris. However, Marcellus died of food poisoning in 23 BC. Reports of later historians that this poisoning, and other later deaths, were caused by Augustus' wife Livia Drusilla are inconclusive at best.After the death of Marcellus, Augustus married his daughter to his right hand man, Marcus Agrippa. This union produced five children, three sons and two daughters: Gaius Caesar, Lucius Caesar, Vipsania Julia, Agrippina the Elder, and Postumus Agrippa, so named because he was born after Marcus Agrippa died. Augustus' intent to make the first two children his heirs was apparent when he adopted them as his own children. Augustus also showed favor to his stepsons, Livia's children from her first marriage, Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus and Tiberius Claudius, after they had conquered a large portion of Germany.After Agrippa died in 12 BC, Livia's son Tiberius divorced his own wife and married Agrippa's widow. Tiberius shared in Augustus' tribune powers, but shortly thereafter went into retirement. After the early deaths of both Gaius and Lucius in AD 4 and AD 2 respectively, and the earlier death of his brother Drusus ( 9 BC), Tiberius was recalled to Rome, where he was adopted by Augustus.On August 19, AD 14, Augustus died. Postumus Agrippa and Tiberius had been named co-heirs. However, Postumus had been banished, and was put to death around the same time. Who ordered his death is unknown, but the way was clear for Tiberius to assume the same powers that his stepfather had.

Augustus's legacy - Contents

Portrait drawing of Augustus: a detail of the famous statue found at Prima Porta
Portrait drawing of Augustus: a detail of the famous statue found at Prima Porta
Augustus was deified soon after his death, and both his borrowed surname, Caesar, and his title Augustus became the permanent titles of the rulers of Rome for the next 400 years, and were still in use at Constantinople fourteen centuries after his death. In many languages, caesar became the word for emperor, as in German ( Kaiser), in Dutch (keizer), and in Russian ( tsar). The cult of the Divine Augustus continued until the state religion of the Empire was changed to Christianity in the 4th century. Consequently, there are many excellent statues and busts of the first, and in some ways the greatest, of the emperors. Augustus' mausoleum also originally contained bronze pillars inscribed with a record of his life, the Res Gestae Divi Augusti.Caesar Augustus is mentioned in Luke 2:1.Many consider Augustus to be Rome's greatest emperor; his policies certainly extended the empire's life span and initiated the celebrated Pax Romana or Pax Augusta. He was handsome, intelligent, decisive, and a shrewd politician, but he was not perhaps as charismatic as Julius Caesar or Marc Antony. Nevertheless, his legacy proved more enduring.The month of August (Latin Augustus) is named after Augustus; until his time it was called Sextilis (the sixth month of the Roman calendar). Commonly repeated lore has it that August has 31 days because Augustus wanted his month to match the length of Julius Caesar's July, but this is an invention of the 13th-century scholar Johannes de Sacrobosco. Sextilis in fact had 31 days before it was renamed, and it was not chosen for its length (see Julian calendar).In looking back on the reign of Augustus and its legacy to the Roman world, its longevity should not be overlooked as a key factor in its success. People were born and reached middle age without knowing any form of government other than the Principate. Had Augustus died earlier (in 23 BC, for instance), matters may have turned out differently. The attrition of the civil wars on the old Republican oligarchy and the longevity of Augustus, therefore, must be seen as major contributing factors in the transformation of the Roman state into a de facto monarchy in these years. Augustus' own experience, his patience, his tact, and his political acumen also played their parts. He directed the future of the empire down many lasting paths, from the existence of a standing professional army stationed at or near the frontiers, to the dynastic principle so often employed in the imperial succession, to the embellishment of the capital at the emperor's expense. Augustus' ultimate legacy was the peace and prosperity the empire enjoyed for the next two centuries under the system he initiated. His memory was enshrined in the political ethos of the Imperial age as a paradigm of the good emperor, and although every emperor adopted his name, Caesar Augustus, only a handful, such as Trajan, earned genuine comparison with him. His reign laid the foundations of a regime that lasted for 250 years.

Augustus in popular culture - Contents

In the HBO television series " Rome", young Octavian is portrayed by Max Pirkis.Augustus was ranked #18 on Michael H. Hart's list of the most influential figures in history.Augustus was portrayed in the famous BBC miniseries I, Claudius by Brian Blessed. (1975)Augustus was portrayed in the movie Imperium: Augustus (part of the Imperium movie series) by Peter O'Toole.
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