Augustus – HISTORY
- august: birth and inheritance
- augustus: the path to power
- August: Emperor in all but name
- august: family and succession
As the first Roman emperor (although he never claimed the title for himself), Augustus led Rome’s transformation from republic to empire during the tumultuous years after the assassination of his great-uncle and adoptive father Julius Caesar. cunningly combined military might, institution-building, and legislation to become the sole ruler of rome, laying the foundation for the 200-year pax romana (Roman peace) and an empire that lasted, in various guises, for nearly 1,500 years
august: birth and inheritance
Of the many names and honorifics for Augustus, historians favor three of them, each for a different phase in the emperor’s life. since his birth in 63 B.C. he was octavius; after his adoption was announced in 44 B.C., Octavian; and beginning in 26 B.C. the Roman senate gave him the name Augustus, the august or exalted. he was born gaius octavius thurinus in velletri, 20 miles from rome. His father was a senator and governor of the Roman Republic. He Atai’s mother was Caesar’s niece, and young Octavius was raised in part by his grandmother Julia Ceasaris, Caesar’s sister.
did you know? in 8 B.C. Augustus had the Roman month of Sextilius renamed after him, as his great-uncle and predecessor Julius Caesar had done with Julius. August was the month of several of the Emperor’s greatest victories, including the defeat and suicide of Antony and Cleopatra. it did not increase the length of the month, which had been 31 days since the establishment of the Julian calendar in 45 B.C.
Octavius donned the toga, the Roman symbol of manhood, at age 16 and began to take on responsibilities through his family connections. in 47 B.C. He went to Hispania (present-day Spain) to fight alongside Caesar. He was shipwrecked en route and had to cross enemy territory to reach his great-uncle, an act that impressed Caesar enough to name Octavian his heir and successor in his will.
august: the road to power
17-year-old Octavian was in Apollonia (in present-day Albania) when news came of Caesar’s death and his own inheritance. The dead ruler’s allies, including many in the Senate, rallied around Octavian against his powerful rival, Marcus Antonio. But after Octavian’s troops defeated Antonius’s army in northern Italy, the future emperor refused an all-out pursuit of Antonius, preferring an uneasy alliance with his rival.
in 43 B.C. Octavian, Antony, and Marcus Aemilus Lepidus established the Second Triumvirate, a power-sharing arrangement that divided Rome’s territories between them, with Antony given the East, Lepidus Africa, and Octavius the West. in 41 B.C. Antony began a romantic and political alliance with Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, which continued even after a senatorial decree forced her to marry Octavian’s sister, Octavian Minor. Lepidus remained a minor figure until Octavian finally ousted him after the renewal of the triumvirate in 37 BC
Anthony’s romance with Cleopatra continued, and in 32 B.C. he divorced octavia. In retaliation, Octava declared war on Cleopatra. At the naval battle of Actium a year later, Octavian’s fleet, under the command of his admiral Agrippa, trapped and defeated Antonius’s ships. Cleopatra’s army rushed to the aid of her ally, but in the end the two lovers narrowly escaped. They returned to Egypt and committed suicide, leaving Octavian as the undisputed ruler of Rome.
august: emperor in all but name
Historians date the beginning of Octavian’s monarchy to 31 BC. (the victory in actium) or 27 BC, when he was given the name Augustus. In that four-year span, Octavian secured his rule on multiple fronts. Cleopatra’s seized treasure allowed her to pay off his soldiers, ensuring his loyalty. To appease the Senate and the ruling classes of Rome, he passed laws that go back, at least on the surface, to the traditions of the Roman Republic. And to win over the people, he worked to improve and beautify the city of Rome.
During his 40-year reign, Augustus nearly doubled the size of the empire, added territories in Europe and Asia Minor, and secured alliances that gave him effective rule from Britain to India. He spent much of his time outside of Rome, consolidating power in the provinces and instituting a system of censuses and taxes that integrated the confines of the empire. He expanded the Roman road network, founded the Praetorian Guard and the Roman postal service, and remade Rome with gestures grand (a new forum) and practical (police and fire departments).
august: family and succession
Augusto was married three times, although his first union, to mark Antonio’s stepdaughter, Clodia Pulchra, was not consummated. his second wife, scribonia, gave birth to his only daughter, julia the eldest. she divorced in 39 a.c. Marry Livia Drusilla, who had two children, Tiberio and Druso, by her first husband, Marco Antonio’s ally, Tiberio Claudio Nero. The family tree became more complicated after Augustus had his stepson Tiberius briefly married his daughter, and then adopted Tiberius directly as his son and successor in AD. 4.
Augustus Caesar died in A.D. 14, the empire of him secured and at peace. His last words reported from him were two: to his subjects he said: “I found a mud blunt; I leave it to you with marble”, but to the friends who had stayed with him on his rise to power he added: “Did I play the role well? then clap for me when I come out.” shortly after that recognition of human frailty, the Roman senate officially declared its late emperor, like Julius Caesar before him, to be a god.
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