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Augustus

Augustus

Augustus (63 B.C.-A.D. 14) was the first emperor of Rome. He established the principate, the form of government under which Rome ruled the empire for 300 years. He had an extraordinary talent for constructive statesmanship and sought to preserve the best traditions of republican Rome.

The century in which Augustus was born was a period of rapid change and, finally, civil war for Rome. Of the many factors which led to the civil wars, two are of crucial importance for understanding his career. By the middle of the 1st century B.C. Rome had conquered nearly all the lands bordering the Mediterranean, and Caesar's conquest of Gaul in 49 B.C. brought transalpine Europe into the sphere of Roman influence.

Rome and its provinces were governed throughout the republic by the Senate, composed largely of members of a small hereditary aristocracy. But the Senate was showing itself unequal to the task of governing the Mediterranean, and its authority was increasingly usurped by the generals in command of the victorious Roman legions. Because he had the support of his army and great personal popularity, Julius Caesar had become virtually a dictator in Rome following his conquest of Gaul. He was strongly opposed by the Senate and in 44 was assassinated by conspirators among them. It was at that juncture that Augustus entered the Roman political arena.

Augustus was born Gaius Octavius on Sept. 23, 63 B.C., in a house on the Palatine hill in Rome. His father, Gaius Octavius, held several political offices and had earned a fine reputation, but he died when Octavius was 4. The people who most influenced Octavius in his early years were his mother, Atia, who was Julius Caesar's niece, and Julius Caesar himself.

When Caesar's will was read, it was revealed that Caesar had adopted Octavius as his son and heir. Octavius was then at Apollonia studying oratory. Against the advice of his friends and family, Octavius—who changed his name to Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (English, Octavian)— immediately set out for Italy to claim his inheritance. He was only 18, rather frail physically, and although he had delivered the funeral oration for his grandmother when he was 12 and had won Caesar's admiration, he had given no previous indications of his ambitions or his genius for political maneuvering. Octavian displayed both these qualities in abundance as soon as he entered Rome in 43.

Rise to Power

Octavian's enemy in his rise to power was Mark Antony, who had assumed the command of Caesar's legions. The two men became enemies immediately when Octavian announced his intentions of taking over his inheritance. Antony had embarked on a war against the Senate to avenge Caesar's murder and to further his own ambitions, and Octavian joined the senatorial side in the battle. Antony was defeated at Mutina in 43, but the Senate refused Octavian the triumph he felt was his due. Octavian abandoned the senators and joined forces with Antony and Lepidus, another of Caesar's officers; they called themselves the Second Triumvirate. In 42 the triumvirate defeated the last republican armies, led by Brutus and Cassius, at Philippi.

The victors then divided the Mediterranean into spheres of influence; Octavian took the West; Antony, the East; and Lepidus, Africa. Lepidus became less consequential as time went on, and a clash between Antony and Octavian for sole control of the empire became increasingly inevitable. Octavian played upon Roman and Western antipathy to the Orient, and after a formidable propaganda campaign against Antony and his consort, Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, Octavian declared war against Cleopatra in 32. Octavian won a decisive naval victory, which left him master of the entire Roman world. The following year Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, and Octavian annexed Egypt to Rome. In 29 Octavian returned to Rome in triumph.

Political Authority

Octavian's power was based on his control of the army, his financial resources, and his enormous popularity. The system of government he established, however, was designed to veil these facts by making important concessions to republican sentiment. Octavian was extremely farsighted in his political arrangements, but he continually emphasized that his rule was a return to the mos maiorum, the customs of the ancestors. Early in January of 27 B.C., therefore, Octavian went before the Senate and announced that he was restoring the rule of the Roman world to the Senate and the Roman people. The Senate, in gratitude, voted him special powers and on January 16 gave him the title Augustus, signifying his superior position in the state, with the added connotation of "revered." A joint government gradually evolved which in theory was a partnership; in fact, Augustus was the senior partner. Suetonius, his biographer, said that Augustus believed that "he himself would not be free from danger if he should retire" and that "it would be hazardous to trust the state to the control of the populace" so "he continued to keep it in his hands; and it is not easy to say whether his intentions or their results were the better."

The government was formalized in 23, when Augustus received two important republican titles from the Senate— Tribune of the People and Proconsul—which together gave him enormous control over the army, foreign policy, and legislation. His full nomenclature also included his adopted name, Caesar, and the title Imperator, or commander in chief of a victorious army.

Character and Achievements

Suetonius has given a description of Augustus which is confirmed by the many statues of him. "In person he was unusually handsome and exceedingly graceful at all periods of his life, though he cared nothing for personal adornment… He had clear, bright eyes, in which he liked to have it thought that there was a kind of divine power, and it greatly pleased him, whenever he looked keenly at anyone, if he let his face fall as if before the radiance of the sun. … He was short of stature … but this was concealed by the fine proportion and symmetry of his figure."

Augustus concerned himself with every detail and aspect of the empire. He attended to everything with dignity, firmness, and generosity, hoping, as he said himself, that he would be "called the author of the best possible government." He stabilized the boundaries of the empire, provided for the defense of the frontiers, reorganized and reduced the size of the army, and created two fleets to form a Roman navy. His many permanent innovations included also the creation of a large civil service which attended to the general business of administering so vast an empire.

The Emperor was interested in public buildings and especially temple buildings. In 28 B.C. he undertook the repair of all the temples in Rome, 82 by his own count. He also built many new ones. In addition, he constructed a new forum, the Forum of Augustus, begun in 42 B.C. and completed 40 years later. It was with good reason that Augustus could boast that he had "found Rome built of brick and left it in marble."

Repairing the temples was only one aspect of the religious and moral revival which Augustus fostered. There seems to have been a falling away from the old gods of the state, and Augustus encouraged a return to the religious dedication and morality of the early republic. In 17 B.C. he held the Secular Games, an ancient festival which symbolized the restoration of the older religion. The poet Horace commemorated the occasion with his moving Secular Hymn.

Augustus tried to improve morals by passing laws to regulate marriage and family life and to control promiscuity. In A.D. 9, for example, he made adultery a criminal offense, and he encouraged the birthrate by granting privileges to couples with three or more children. His laws did not discourage his daughter Julia and his grand-daughter (also Julia), both of whom he banished for immoral conduct. Suetonius reports that "he bore the death of his kin with far more resignation than their misconduct."

Throughout his long reign Augustus encouraged literature, and the Augustan Age is called the Golden Age because Roman writing attained a rare perfection. It was above all an age of poets—Horace, Ovid, and most especially, Virgil. And in Virgil's great epic, the Aeneid, there is expressed for all time the sense of the grandeur of Rome's imperial destiny which culminated in the age of Augustus.

The Succession

Augustus suffered many illnesses, and these caused him to designate an heir early in his reign. But he had many deaths to bear and outlived his preferred choices, including his two young grandsons, and was finally forced to designate as his heir Tiberius, his third wife's son by her first marriage.

The first emperor died at Nola on Aug. 19, A.D. 14. On his deathbed, according to Suetonius, he quoted a line used by actors at the end of their performance: "Since I've played well, with joy your voices raise/ And from your stage dismiss me with your praise."

Further Reading

The main ancient source for Augustus's life is Suetonius's chapter "The Deified Augustus" in the Lives of the Twelve Caesars. The career of Augustus is also discussed in Tacitus's History. Augustus left an account of his own deeds called the Res gestae, or more popularly, the Monumentum ancyranum. John Buchan, Augustus (1937), is still the standard biography in English. Much that is valuable relating to Augustus's career may be found in T. Rice Holmes, The Architect of the Roman Empire (2 vols., 1928-1931), and in Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution (1939). See also Henry Thompson Rowell, Rome: In the Augustan Age (1962). □

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Augustus

Augustus

Born: September 23, 63 b.c.e.
Rome (now in Italy)
Died: August 19, c.e. 14
Nola (now in Italy)

Roman emperor

Augustus was the first emperor of Rome. He established the principate, the form of government under which Rome ruled its empire for three hundred years. He had an extraordinary talent for statesmanship (the ability to take an active role in the shaping of a government) and sought to preserve the best traditions of republican Rome, the period in ancient Rome's history when governing power was in the hands of the Senate rather than the emperor.

Caesar's legacy

Augustus was born Gaius Octavius on September 23, 63 b.c.e., in Rome. His father had held several political offices and had earned a fine reputation, but he died when Octavius was four. The people who most influenced young Octavius were his mother, Atia, who was the niece of the Roman leader Julius Caesar (c. 10044 b.c.e.), and Julius Caesar himself. Unlike Caesar, one of Rome's military heroes, Augustus was sickly as a young boy. Poor health troubled him throughout his life. Nevertheless his mother, who made sure the finest teachers tutored him at home, groomed him for the world of politics. By the age of sixteen he was planning to join his great-uncle and serve in Caesar's army.

At this time Rome and the areas it controlled were governed by the Senate, composed largely of members of a small group of upper class citizens who had inherited their positions. The generals who commanded the armies that conquered new territory for Rome's rule increasingly challenged the Senate's authority, however. One such general, Caesar, had basically become a dictator (someone who assumes absolute power) of Rome. The Senate strongly opposed Caesar, and in 44 b.c.e. conspirators (a group of people who plot in secret) assassinated (killed) him.

When Caesar's will was read, it revealed that Caesar had adopted Octavius as his son and heir. Octavius then set out to claim his inheritance in 43 b.c.e., changing his name to Octavian (Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus in Latin).

Rise to power

Octavian's rival at this time was Mark Antony (c. 8330 b.c.e.), who had taken command of Caesar's legions, the largest Roman military units. The two men became enemies immediately when Octavian announced his intention to take over his inheritance. Antony was engaged in war against the Senate to avenge Caesar's murder and to further his own ambitions. Octavian sided with the Senate and joined in the fight. Antony was defeated in 43 b.c.e., but the Senate refused Octavian the triumph he felt he was owed. As a result Octavian abandoned the senators and joined forces with Antony and Lepidus, another of Caesar's officers. The three men, who called themselves the Second Triumvirate (a group of three officials or government leaders in ancient Rome), defeated their opponents in 42 b.c.e. and assumed full governing power.

They then divided the empire into areas of influence. Octavian took the West; Antony, the East; and Lepidus, Africa. Over time Lepidus lost power, and it seemed impossible that Antony and Octavian could avoid clashing. In 32 b.c.e. Octavian declared war against Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, to whom Antony was romantically and politically tied. After a decisive naval victory in this conflict, Octavian was left as master of the entire Roman world. The following year Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide (killed themselves), and in 29 b.c.e. Octavian returned to Rome in triumph.

Political authority and achievements

Octavian's power was based on his control of the army, his financial resources, and his enormous popularity. The system of government he established, however, also recognized and made important compromises toward renewing republican feeling. In 27 b.c.e. he went before the Senate and announced that he was restoring the rule of the Roman world to the Senate and the people. To show their appreciation, the members of the Senate voted him special powers and gave him the title Augustus, indicating his superior position in the state. A joint government developed that in theory was a partnership. Augustus, however, was in fact the senior partner. The government was formalized in 23 b.c.e., when the Senate gave Augustus enormous control over the army, foreign policy, and legislation.

As emperor Augustus concerned himself with every detail of the empire. He secured its boundaries, provided for the defense of remote areas, reorganized the army, and created a navy. He also formed a large civil service department, which attended to the general business of managing Rome's vast empire. Augustus was also interested in encouraging a return to the religious dedication and morality of early Rome. His efforts included passing laws to regulate marriage and family life and to control promiscuity (loose sexual behavior). He made adultery (when a married person has a sexual relationship with someone other than his or her spouse) a criminal offense, and he encouraged the birthrate by granting privileges to couples with three or more children.

The succession

Augustus suffered many illnesses, but he outlived his preferred choices for legal heir. He was finally forced to appoint as his heir Tiberius, his third wife's son by her first marriage. Tiberius took power upon Augustus's death on August 19, c.e. 14.

For More Information

Jones, A. H. M. Augustus. New York: Norton, 1971.

Nardo, Don. The Age of Augustus. San Diego: Lucent, 1997.

Southern, Pat. Augustus. New York: Routledge, 1998.

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Augustus

Augustus (ôgŭs´təs, əgŭs´–), 63 BC–AD 14, first Roman emperor, a grandson of the sister of Julius Caesar. Named at first Caius Octavius, he became on adoption by the Julian gens (44 BC) Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus (Octavian); Augustus was a title of honor granted (27 BC) by the senate.

The Second Triumvirate

When Octavius was a youth, Caesar took a great interest in his education and made him his heir without the boy's knowledge. Octavius was in Illyricum when Caesar was killed, and he promptly set out for Rome to avenge the dictator's death. Before he reached the city, he heard that he was Caesar's heir. At Rome, Antony was in control, and Octavian was recognized by Cicero and the senate as a leader against him. Antony went north to take Gaul and was defeated (43 BC) at Mutina (modern Modena).

Octavian secured the consulship and made an alliance with Antony and Lepidus (d. 13 BC) as the Second Triumvirate. Having proscribed the enemies of the triumvirate and the assasins of Caesar, Octavian and Antony went east and defeated (42 BC) the army of Marcus Junius Brutus and Caius Cassius Longinus at Philippi. Octavian's forces then attacked Sextus Pompeius, who controlled Sicily and Sardinia; Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa defeated (36 BC) Pompeius at Mylae.

Emperor

Consolidation of Power

While his enemies were being defeated abroad, Octavian also had been consolidating his power in Rome. He was helped by the growing impatience of Rome with Antony's alliance with Cleopatra, and he had himself appointed (31 BC) general against Antony. After the naval battle off Actium, which Agrippa won over Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian controlled all Roman territories. Although he began to reform the city and the provinces, he never returned control of the state back to the people.

He did, however, give the impression that Rome had gone from a military dictatorship to constitutional rule. He established no court, and he considered himself, at least publicly, not the ruler, but rather the first citizen of the republic. The senate delighted to honor him: in 29 BC he was made imperator [Lat.,=commander; from it is derived emperor], in 28 BC princeps [leader; from it is derived prince], in 27 BC augustus [august, reverend], in 12 BC pontifex maximus [high priest], and a month (Sextilis) was renamed Augustus (August) in his honor.

In his effort to hold the borders set by Caesar, he attempted to create a buffer state of the German territory between the Rhine and the Weser (or the Elbe). This led to a rebellion in AD 9 by Arminius in which Varus was defeated. This was the only real reverse Augustus suffered.

Reforms and Policies

Augustus's reforms, which were far-reaching, fostered a revival of Roman tradition. He divided the provinces into two classes—senatorial, ruled by a proconsul chosen by the senate with a term of one year, and imperial, in charge of a governor solely responsible to Augustus with an indefinite term. To control the provinces Augustus encouraged local autonomy in administrative matters and allowed ethnic customs and cultural patterns to to flourish. He also spread the army throughout the empire; before this Italy had been burdened with a huge standing army.

Augustus studied the plans of Caesar for colonization throughout the empire. In economic policy, he supported business and industry. He made taxation more equitable and had general censuses taken. Knowing that the roads were the arteries of the empire, he lavished expenditures on them. He built a new forum, beautified the streets, improved housing conditions, and set up adequate police and fire protection. He was munificent to arts and letters, and he was a close friend of Maecenas and a patron of Vergil, Ovid, Livy, and Horace. He was succeeded by his stepson Tiberius.

Bibliography

See biographies by A. Everitt (2006) and A. Goldsworthy (2014); V. Ehrenberg and A. H. M. Jones, Documents Illustrating the Reigns of Augustus and Tiberius (2d ed. 1955); R. Syme, The Roman Revolution (1939); G. W. Bowersock, Augustus and the Greek World (1965); F. Millar and E. Segal, ed., Caesar Augustus: Seven Aspects (1984).

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Augustus

Augustus (63 bc–ad 14) ( Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus) First Roman Emperor (29 bc–ad 14), also called Octavian. Nephew and adopted heir of Julius Caesar, he formed the Second Triumvirate with Mark Antony and Lepidus after Caesar's assassination. They defeated Brutus and Cassius at Philippi in 42 bc, and divided the empire between them. Rivalry between Antony and Octavian was resolved by the defeat of Antony at Actium in 31 bc. While preserving the form of the republic, Octavian held supreme power. He introduced peace and prosperity after years of civil war. He built up the power and prestige of Rome, encouraging patriotic literature and rebuilding much of the city in marble. He extended the frontiers and fostered colonization, took general censuses, and attempted to make taxation more equitable. He tried to arrange the succession to avoid future conflicts, though had to acknowledge an unloved stepson, Tiberius, as his successor.

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Augustus

Augustus (63 bc–ad 14), the first Roman emperor; also called (until 27 bc) Octavian. He was adopted by the will of his great-uncle Julius Caesar and gained supreme power by his defeat of Mark Antony in 31 bc. In 27 bc he was given the title Augustus (‘venerable’) and became in effect the first Roman emperor.

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Augustus

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