Caesar Augustus

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Bust of Augustus Caesar

Imperator Caesar Augustus (23 September 63 BC19 August AD 14), known earlier in his life as Gaius Octavius. His great-uncle was Rome's greatest conqueror, Julius Caesar. Octavius became Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus after Caesar adopted Octavian as his son and heir before his assassination on the Ides of March. After the years of civil war that followed, Octavian would defeat such enemies as Marcus Brutus, Gaius Cassius, Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII of Egypt to emerge victoriously as Caesar Augustus and the first Roman Emperor.

He would complete Caesar's dreams of unifying Rome under one man by reforming the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Although he preserved the outward form of the Roman Republic, he ruled as an autocrat for more than 40 years. He ended a century of civil wars and gave Rome an era of peace, prosperity, and imperial greatness. He established Rome's first permanent army and navy, police force and the world's first fire brigade. He finished, repaired or rebuilt almost every great structure in Rome at the time. He also reorganized the tax and financial systems of Rome, as well as prompting an age of great literacy and culture.

His rule is traditionally considered the greatest of the Roman Emperors, with the beginning of the Pax Romana, which continued for nearly two centuries after his death. His military exploits would extend the Empire in almost every direction, with the borders he established to become the natural borders for the Empire for over 400 years. His surname Caesar and title Augustus would be taken by all subsequent Emperors in honor of one of Rome's greatest rulers.


Early Life

Augustus was born in Rome as Gaius Octavius to a respectable but undistinguished family of the equestian order on September 23, 63 BC. His father was the novus homo Gaius Octavius, who had reached the rank of praetor and served as governor of Macedonia before dying when Octavian was a boy of only 4 years old in 58 BC. More importantly, his mother was Atia, the niece of Julius Caesar, making Octavian Caesar’s great nephew.

In 46 BC, Octavian took part in Caesar’s triumphal parades in Rome, earning himself some military award, despite taking no part in the effort. The following year, at the age of 18, Octavian followed Caesar to Spain, where the Caesar conducted the last battle of his career against the sons of Pompey at the battle of Munda. Caesar had placed Octavian as the cavalry commander of the Tenth Legion stationed in the rear as reserves. It was Octavian’s quick thinking to engage the enemy against Caesar’s orders that turned the tide of the battle and granted Caesar his last victory.

Caesar was very impressed with Octavian’s daring determination and courage. Caesar and Octavian’s time in Hispania was likely the first time the two were able to develop a close relationship. This was the chance for Octavian to impress Caesar, and for Caesar to bring the Octavian under his wing. Octavian learned a great deal about provincial administration, warfare and political manipulation while a part of his uncle’s entourage.

At the end of the campaign in Spain, and Caesar’s return to Rome, Caesar adopted Octavian by testament as his heir (see adoption in Rome). By virtue of his adoption, following Roman custom, Octavian then assumed the name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. But almost as soon as he arrived in Rome, Octavian was sent to Apollonia in Illyricum under Caesar’s orders, along with his friends Marcus Agrippa and Gaius Maecenas. Here he was to continue his education and gain loyalty from the Macedonian legions, while waiting to accompany Caesar on a campaign against the Dacians and the Parthians.

Octavian was still a minor player in the politics of Rome, as he had not held a single public office at this point. But Caesar intended to change that. Caesar had been elected the dictator perpetuus in early 44 BC and had selected Octavian to serve as his second-in-command in the office of master of the horse beginning in the year 43 BC. By the age of 20, Octavian was expected to occupy the second most powerful position in the Roman world, but fate, and the Ides of March would have a different plan.

Caesar’s Heir

On March 15, 44 BC, Julius Caesar, the most powerful man in the Roman world, was assassinated by a group of Senators led by Marcus Brutus and Gaius Cassius. The effects would shake the world to its foundation, and plunge it into another devastating civil war. But no Roman was as profoundly effected as his newly adopted son Octavian. At nearly 19 years old, Octavian’s destiny and the future of Rome would be forever changed.

Octavian decided to return to Rome, and accepted the adoption, and the three-fourths of Caesar’s estate that was willed to him. Octavian first crossed the Adriatic Sea and landed in Brundisium, where he decided the safest course of action was an appeal to Caesar’s veteran troops in Italy. Octavian immediately dropped the "Octavianus" from his name, and referred to himself simply as Gaius Julius Caesar. In doing so doing, he immediately gained favor with both with the Roman populace and the veteran legionaries.

A bold and daring move, and seemingly necessary to ensure his safety, it turned out to be the only way to ensure his legitimacy. The de facto leader in Rome, Marcus Antonius, essentially ignored Octavian. Not only did he disregard Caesar’s will, but made no effort to discuss the situation with Octavian or learn of his intentions. When Octavian finally arrived in Rome in late April, 44 BC, Antony continued to ignore him, and still attempted to block passing on the ratification of Caesar’s will. Octavian, however, gained support from the masses and conflict between the two seemed inevitable.

In November of 44 BC, Antony moved on Cisalpine Gaul, where he hoped to gather further strength by pushing his control into all of Gaul. While doing so, Octavian pushed the envelope of daring. He traveled among the veteran colonies of Campania and, risking the enmity of the state, raised a personal army perhaps as strong as 10,000 men. The weight of the name Caesar, as Octavian was still unaccomplished on his own merit, proved to be a powerful factor.

Antony returned to Rome to deal with the threat of Octavian’s army, but two of his five legions deserted him to Octavian’s growing army. Rather than risk a war in Italy, Antony rushed back to Cisalpine Gaul with the forces he could muster. The Senate, and Cicero in particular, all viewed Antony as the greatest threat to the Republic, and he began a campaign of disgracing Antony. Viewing Octavian as a tool to be manipulated, the Senate accepted him as a counter to Antony and legalized his command.

But the Senate had underestimated Octavian. Through Cicero, Octavian managed to have Antony’s consulship stripped of him in his absence and through force of the Macedonian Legions under his legate Marcus Agrippa, had himself placed as the suffect consul. By the close of 44 BC, the various factions continued to shore up their military positions, and war was once again on the horizon.

The Second Triumvirate

After forcing through his own political agenda in Rome, the situation with Antony was still precarious. Antony had reached Gaul and gathered strength from the legions stationed there. Together with Marcus Lepidus, the governor of in Hispania, the two were a formidable force. Octavian, despite having considerable strength himself, would find it hard to meet that challenge alone.

Octavian decided that the best course of action was to reconcile with Antony. He marched north and met with Antony and Lepidus on a small river island near Bononia. For two days the three political leaders of the western Roman world hammered out the details of an agreement that would set them up as the official government of Rome. The three established the "triumviri rei publicae constituendae", known today as the Second Triumvirate.

The three men divided the western Roman world between them. Antony would retain command of Gaul, Lepidus, maintained control of Hispania and Narbonensis and Octavian received Africa, Sardinia and Sicily. This Second Triumvirate was written into the constitution by the Lex Titia in November, 43 BC. In essence, this new government was a three-man dictatorship, where the three members had ultimate authority in government in the form of imperium maius, capable of completely disregarding Republican and Senatorial tradition through the use of military force. The only limit on their powers was the five year time limit.

With their agreement firmly in place, the triumvirate first focused on both gathering enough funds to stabilize their authority and eliminate political opposition. To do this, the triumvirs resurrected Sulla’s dreaded tool, the proscriptions. In all, some 300 Senators were proscribed, but most only faced confiscation of property. Members of the Triumvirs own families were not exempt either. Lepidus’ own brother was proscribed, as well as Antony’s cousin and Octavian’s distant relative through adoption, Julius Caesar’s legate: Lucius Caesar.

The most notable victim of the proscriptions was Marcus Tullius Cicero. Despite Cicero’s support of Caesar’s heir, Octavian agreed with Antony that Cicero had to be removed. On December 7, 43 BC, Cicero was captured attempting to flee to Greece. Cicero’s head and hands were cut off and put on display on the Rostra in the forum. To add insult to injury, and as a symbolic gesture against Cicero’s power of speech, Antony’s wife, Fulvia Antonia pulled out Cicero’s tongue and jabbed it repeatedly with a pin.

Though the proscriptions didn’t yield as much financial gain as the triumvirs had hoped, much of their political adversaries in the west had either been killed or removed from office. Despite a certain animosity between them, they were secured by the presence of a common foe in Brutus and Cassius, This stabilized the triumvirate for the time being. The next year, 42 BC, the Triumvirate would focus on eliminating Caesar’s assassins and strengthening their own power.

Civil War

In 42 BC, Octavian and Antony combined their forces, 28 legions in total, and sailed across the Adriatic and into Greece. Brutus and Cassius had 19 of their own legions, which were heavily supplemented by auxilia provided by eastern client kingdoms. Brutus and Cassius had been plundering and taking control of the east for nearly two full years since the murder of Caesar.

On October 3, the two armies met near the Macedonian town of Philippi. Cassius commanded the left wing of the Republican forces directly across from Antony while Brutus confronted Octavian’s army with the right wing. Octavian, however, was terribly ill. He was forced to stay behind the lines in his tent, while he used his officers to conduct the battle by proxy. As the battle opened, Antony had a clear advantage over Cassius, and overran the Republican left. Brutus, though, had nearly equal success against Octavian and pushed his lines back. Octavian was forced to flee his camp, taking refuge in a nearby marsh.

Cassius after having lost to Antony, and unaware of Brutus’s victory over Octavian, decided to take his own life rather than submit to Antony. Despite his own loss, Cassius was the stronger military mind of the two and his own death began to sound the end Brutus’s ability to resist. Brutus managed to regroup and take command of Cassius’s remaining army. Antony assuredly reveled in his own victory while Octavian was forced to retreat, but Brutus held his ground and delayed Antony’s triumph. On October 23, Brutus launched a final last ditch effort at victory.

At the 2nd Battle of Philippi, Octavian had recovered from his illness and commanded his own army. This time they proved themselves up to the challenge, and the triumvir’s army overran Brutus. Octavian’s forces captured Brutus’s camp and they were atoned for their previous defeat. The battle spelled the end of the Republican cause, and Brutus committed suicide on the following day. A great number of those involved in the plot against Caesar also lost their lives at Philippi and Octavian was brutal in exacting vengeance against his father’s murders.

After the battles, Octavian marched his army back to Italy, where he was now faced with the unenviable task of finding a retirement settlement for his veterans. Antony continued east where he began to secure loyalty of client kings and provincial governors alike. Also, the triumvirs used their power and Lepidus’s position as pontifex maximus to formally deify Julius Caesar as Divus Julius (Latin: the Divine Julius). As such, Octavian became referring to himself as Divi Filius (Latin: the Son of God).

After the defeat of Brutus and Cassius in the east, the triumvirs realigned their positions across the Roman World. Antony received all of the eastern provinces as his new territory, yet retained Transalpine Gaul. Octavian now moved into the second position among the three, receiving Hispania, Italy, Cisalpine Gaul and the Mediterranean islands, with Lepidus receiving Africa.

By February of 40 BC, Antony’s governor in Gaul had died, and Octavian moved in to establish his own control of the province. While Antony had not interferred with much of what Octavian had done in past years, he had to respond to the loss of a major territorial stronghold. Antony found that his men didn’t have the will to do battle with their comrades and Caesar’s heir. Forced into negotiation, Octavian’s future was saved by Antony’s own men, and war was diverted.

Under the new agreement between Octavian and Antony, the Pact of Brundisium, both men confirmed the situation as the status quo. Octavian was ceded Gaul and Antony was reaffirmed as supreme commander in the east. Lepidus, the third member of the triumvirate, languished as a small player in Africa and acted as a buffer between Antony and Octavian. However, Lepidus clearly fell behind his rivals for the ultimate power in the Roman world.

As luck would have it, Antony’s wife Fulvia died shortly after, and Antony was free to remarry. Cementing their alliance, Antony married Octavian’s sister, Octavia, and the two returned to Rome together and amidst a great deal of relief by the Roman masses. Soon after the pact, Octavian set out to deal with Sextus Pompey once and for all.

Conflict with Sextus Pompey

After the pact of Brundisium, Sextus Pompey, son of Pompey the Great, maintained a hold in Sicily and over the Roman grain supply. A short lived agreement with Antony to work in cooperation against Octavian fell apart after Brundisium, but the two triumvirs were in no position to challenge Pompey’s naval superiority.

By 39 BC, Sextus was prepared for strong resistance against the triumvirs. In the following years, military confrontations failed to return a conclusive victory for either side and in 39 BC, Sextus and the triumvirs sign for peace in the Pact of Misenum. The reason for this peace treaty was the incoming campaign against the Parthian Empire. Antony needed all the legions he could get, so it was useful to secure an armistice in the Sicilian front.

Meanwhile, Octavian’s status continued to rise. Starting just five years earlier as a virtually unknown, he had risen to stand as the joint ruler of the Roman world. Through proscription, political cunning and some military success, he had built up a considerable amount of support from the aristocracy. In the year 39 BC when his first wife, Scribonia, gave birth to his daughter Julia Caesaris, he divorced her and was impassioned by Livia Drusilla. On January 17, 38 BC, Octavian and Livia were married in an arrangement that would last an unprecedented 52 years. Octavian, emboldened by his new found alliances, adopted a new name. From 38 BC on, Octavian was referred to as Imperator Caesar Divi Filius (or Imperator Caesar, son of god). In so doing, he further strengthened his bond with Caesar, and pumped up his own military clout, simply through the use of a name.

The peace between Sextus and the triumvirate did not last for long. Octavian and Antony's frequent quarrels were a strong political motivation for resuming the war against Sextus. Octavian tried again to conquer Sicily, but he was defeated in the naval battle of Messina 37 BC and again in August 36 BC. Octavian called upon his legate Marcus Agrippa and appointed him supreme admiral of his navy to deal with Sextus. Within a month afterwards, Agrippa destroyed Sextus' navy in the battle of Naulochus. Sextus escaped to the East but by abandoning Sicily, he lost all of his support in his legions and the Senate. Sextus was later caught in Miletus in 35 BC and executed without trial by order of Marcus Titius, one of Antony's legates.

Lepidus meanwhile had Pompey’s land forces under siege on Sicily. When news of the battle of Naulochus reached Sextus’s men, they wished to surrender to Lepidus, but Octavian ordered against it. Lepidus ignored this order, however and accepted the surrender, demanding control of Sicily as a result. Octavian arranged a bribe to Lepidus’s men to join his side, and Octavian entered Lepidus’s camp and stripped him of all his political power. Taking Lepidus's 18 legions under his own command, Lepidus was sent into partial exile in a small Italian town, where he lived out his remaining years. Though he held the position of Pontifex Maximus, he was virtually removed from all aspects of political life.

At this point in 36 BC, the Triumvirate was officially over due to the set time limit on it’s powers set by the Lex Titia, leaving Octavian as the sole ruler of the west and Antony in the east, and though issues were settled for the time being, a clash was inevitable between the two superpowers of the Roman world.

Antony and Cleopatra

After the defeat of the Brutus and Cassius at Philippi, and Sextus Pompey in Sicily, and with the expulsion of Lepidus from the triumvirate, Octavian set about organizing the west under his control, as did Antony in the east, and to seek further glory against Parthia. While in the east, Antony began developing relations with Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, and Octavian would use this to his advantage. On the political stage, the situation with Cleopatra began to cast Antony as a sell-out against Roman culture, and Octavian would seize at the opportunity to publicly humiliate him.

While still married to Octavia, Cleopatra bore Antony another son in 36 BC. Antony had seemingly begun to take to eastern culture on a grand scale. He began to dress himself in Egyptian dress, practicing eastern customs while ignoring those of Rome, and granting great gifts to Cleopatra. Among these gifts was the division of the eastern provinces under Cleopatra’s children. Each child, including Caesarion the son of Caesar, was placed as regent of various kingdoms. By late 34 BC, Antony seized Armenia from his former ally Artavastes and staged a magnificent mock Roman Triumph in Alexandria to commemorate the event.

In these Donations of Alexandria, Antony declared Cleopatra as the Queen of Kings, and Caesarion as King of Kings. In so doing, he sought to undermine Octavian’s claim as Caesar’s heir by recognizing Caesarion as Caesar’s legitimate son. This was seemingly the final straw against Octavian, and the propaganda campaign in Rome against Antony’s outrages began in earnest. Antony was portrayed as a pawn of Cleopatra, the foreign Queen who, it was said, sought to become Queen of Rome.

While these declarations seem to have little impact on Antony’s supporters in the east, they did allow Octavian to degrade him in the west. While Octavian was busy solidifying his western popularity through great building and maintenance projects conducted by Agrippa, Antony continued to slip in the views of the traditional Roman.

In what would be the final proof needed, Antony seemingly married Cleopatra, at least by 32 BC, even before officially divorcing, according to Octavian: "his mistreated virtuous Roman wife" Octavia in the same year. Unlike Caesar before him, who propped Cleopatra up politically, but refused to acknowledge her in any official capacity under Roman law, as it was illegal for a Roman to marry a foreigner, Antony plunged into direct conflict with Octavian.

War on Cleopatra

News soon returned to Rome that Antony intended to set up a separate eastern Senate in Alexandria to govern the eastern part of the Republic. Octavian knew that war was coming, but now needed to rally support among the masses. Word was brought to Octavian that Antony’s will contained incriminating evidence of Antony’s anti-Roman, and pro-Cleopatra stand.

Under his own authority, Octavian illegally seized the will from the Vestal Virgins. In it, Antony recognized Cleopatra’s son Caesarion as Caesar’s legal heir, propped up his own eastern appointments by leaving large inheritances to his children by Cleopatra, and finally indicated his desire to be buried with Cleopatra in Alexandra. Already suspecting him of abandoning Rome for Cleopatra, the people clearly saw his rebuttal of Roman cremation tradition and the favoring of eternal burial with Cleopatra as proof of him falling under the Queen’s sway.

Octavian seized the opportunity to gain from the people’s sentiment, and encourage the rumors that followed. Rather than announce war with his rival, Octavian declared war on the hated Queen Cleopatra, the perceived cause of all the trouble, knowing that Antony would come to her aid. The people of the western provinces swore on oath of loyalty directly to Octavian, rather than the Roman state. This gave Octavian no legal power, but did provide proof to everyone that not only did Octavian maintain power through the legions, but also through the voice of the Roman people.

The civil war between Antony and Octavian seemed assured of dwarfing even the massive conflict between Caesar and his Republican opponents. Both sides had massive armies at their disposal, and Antony added the support of Rome’s eastern client kings, including Cleopatra of Egypt. By mid-summer of 31 BC, Octavian’s war against his rival, though popularly characterized as being against the Egyptian Queen, had worked itself into little more than a stalemate. Antony had marched his army into Greece where he planned to oppose Octavian’s advance, and the two considerable forces began to take up position against one another.

While the armies were of relatively equal strength, Octavian’s fleet was vastly superior. Octavian’s fleet of smaller, more maneuverable vessels was under the command of Marcus Agrippa, the proven admiral who excelled against Sextus Pompey. While Octavian crossed the Adriatic to confront Antony near Actium, Agrippa cut Antony’s supply lines with the fleet. Octavian wisely refused to give battle with the army, and Antony did likewise at sea.

The stalemate was working decidedly in Octavian’s favor. The presence of Cleopatra with the Roman army of Antony was making the loyalty of his men a considerable challenge. Defections from all quarters of Antony’s support, to Caesar’s side, were occurring in massive numbers. Agrippa’s blockade against Antony tightened, and disease swept through Antony’s camp. Common legionaries, commanders and Senators switched sides as the inevitable victory for Octavian seemed only a matter of time.

On September 2, 31 BC Antony desperately attempted a breakout with his fleet to escape the blockade and regroup in Egypt. With his large ships, he sailed out and engaged Agrippa’s prepared navy in the battle of Actium. Though Antony’s under matched forces fought valiantly, they were simply unable to counter Agrippa’s vast naval superiority. Cleopatra seized an opportunity to flee the battle with her own ships that were held in reserve. As a gap opened in Agrippa’s blockade, she funneled through, and was soon closely followed by Antony’s command ships. The commanders of Antony’s land forces promptly surrendered without a fight. Octavian stood as the master of the Roman world.

Master of the Roman World

After Antony had failed against Octavian, he considered suicide as the honorable Roman thing to do. However, perhaps he thought that final victory could still be secured if the forces in Alexandria could be properly compared. He sailed back to Egypt where Cleopatra waited, likely now fretting her own political ambitions.

As Octavian approached Antony and Cleopatra’s defenses in Alexandria, the opposing armies prepared for what seemed to be the final battle after nearly 20 semi continuous years of Civil War. As Antony looked on, he was abandoned by his army and his efforts to become sole ruler of the Roman world were lost to the young man who was virtually unknown just a few short years before by the name of Octavian.

Cleopatra fled into her mausoleum, which she had previously constructed as her likely final resting place, with little hope of escaping the inevitable. Antony, knowing the game was finally over, finally accepted his fate and attempted to fall on his sword as Roman tradition often dictated. According to the ancients, however, he was not entirely successful and with an open wound in his belly, was taken to join Cleopatra. Here, Antony did finally succumb to his wound and supposedly died in his lovers arms, leaving her completely at the mercy of Octavian. Cleopatra did not however immediately join her lover in death and instead entered into last ditch negotiations with Octavian. On August 9, 30 BC, Cleopatra ended her own life and left Egypt to the fate of Octavian’s will.

Within a month, Octavian was named Pharaoh, and Egypt became his personal possession. Octavian was now the clear and unequivocal force in the Roman world. Backed by the name of Caesar and the loyalty of his troops, Octavian finished what Caesar had started: the final unification of Rome under a single man. At the age of 33, the Republic was finally ready to succumb his imperial authority. Octavian rose above all, not just for being in the right place at the right time, but by expanding upon the strengths, and learning from the weaknesses of his predecessors, along with playing the political game with an unmatched determination.

Octavian Becomes Augustus

Augustus as a magistrate
Augustus as a magistrate

With the final defeat of Antony, and Octavian’s emergence as sole political power of the Roman world, the Roman Republic still teetered on the edge of potential disaster. To reconstitute the administration of Rome’s now vast empire was to re-invite a continuance of the social disorder and civil wars that had plagued it for the last century or more. What would be required was a soft and eventual rise of a single man to lead the nation as a whole. Unlike his predecessor and adoptive father, Julius Caesar, Octavian slowly consolidated his position and accepted honors and power gradually, minimizing fear and resentment among the elite classes. Coupled with the fact that most outright resistance to rule through a select few or a single head of state had been eliminated through war and previous proscriptions, the stage was clearly set for Octavian’s final transformation.

Initially, in order to maintain a semblance of legal authority under the Republican constitution, Octavian continued to rule through the domination of the Consulship. From 31 BC until 23 BC, Octavian served as Consul. This would prove to be an unsatisfactory solution, however, and steps needed to be taken to procure a more permanent and lasting authority. Though the previous oath of loyalty given to Octavian by citizens in the west now extended throughout the empire, there was still considerable work to be done on a political basis.

After overwhelming victory celebrations in Rome, including triumphal parades rivaling those of Julius Caesar, as many as 300,000 veterans were removed from active service. With the subjugation of the eastern provinces secured, and veterans settled in excess of those required, Octavian established a permanent military structure that would include 28 regular legions, loyal to the state and himself and not the individual commanders who had recruited them.

Along with the military solution, and in the wake of eastern settlements and grand triumphs in Rome, Octavian was offered several honors and political powers in 29 BC. The refusal of such honors helped prop up support for Octavian as a true supporter of the Republic and Roman tradition, while in reality, he was simply playing it safe for the time being.

By 27 BC, the matter was brought to a head through a shrewd and brilliant political show, staged by Octavian himself. In January of that year, he assembled the Senate and shocked his audience by giving up all of his powers and expressing a desire to retire to private life. In this, he tactfully secured support from both the populace, which he had maintained all along, but also from the elite who now believed that Octavian truly respected Republican ideals. Reaction from the was one of complete rejection of Octavian’s proposal. They demanded that he remain in power as it was necessary to secure peace and prevent another slide into civil war that would surely follow. On January 13, 27 BC, the first of two Constitutional Settlements took place, and control of the ‘Republic’ was split between Octavian and the Senate. Octavian three days later on the 16th was to be granted the title Augustus, or "the exalted one". Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus was now forevermore known as Imperator Caesar Augustus.

Between this settlement and an additional one 4 years later in 23 BC, Augustus was granted the right to appoint new nominate Senators for magisterial offices and of course, had complete control of the military. In fact, not only did Legionaries swear an oath of loyalty to Augustus, but Legates were his to appoint with no Senatorial interference and he held the personal right to any and all victories claimed. No longer were individual commanders allowed the right of a triumph without the agreement of the ‘Emperor’ as he alone was reserved that honor. Additionally, Augustus established his own body guard along the traditional lines of those established for provincial governors in the form of the Praetorian Guard. Abandoning the concept of lictors, which had previously been an indication of Republican authority, nine cohorts, nearly a full legion, of men were recruited and assigned to both Augustus’ personal protection and the protection of peace throughout Italy.

Augustus achieved two powers in the same year that would finally establish his empire. First, he was granted the powers of a tribune (tribunicia potestas), which allowed him to convene the Senate at will and lay business before it and veto any other proposal by any magistrate. Since the tribuneship was an office traditionally associated with the common people, this consolidated his power further. Second, he received new authority in the form of an "Imperial" power of imperium proconsulare maius (or "power greater than any"), which gave him supreme authority in all matters pertaining to territorial governance. These powers clearly assured his supreme authority over the entire Roman world in the form of the first Roman Emperor.

23 BC also saw the establishment of the title Princeps or first citizen or first among equals. This title, much like that of Augustus, was another way of granting him ultimate authority without calling him King. This was a hereditary right and by its virtue the early empire became referred to as the Principate. Among many honors, titles and privileges granted, two important titles came later. With the death of Lepidus, the former triumvir, in 13 BC, Augustus was granted the title of Pontifex Maxiumus, making him head of the state religion, granting the emperor permanent control of the state religion. Years later, in 2 BC, Augustus would be granted the title of Pater Patriae (or Father of the Fatherland). The Republic was dead, and the Empire had been born.


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. 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. He also reformed Rome's finance and tax systems.

Augustus waged no major wars. A war in the mountains of northern Spain 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 in defeat at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9. Thereafter he 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.

In domestic matters, Augustus channeled the enormous wealth brought in from the Empire to keeping the army happy with generous payments, and keeping the Romans happy by beautifying the capital and staging magnificent games. He famously boasted that he "found Rome brick and left it marble". He built the Senate a new home, the Curia, and built temples to Apollo and to the Divine Julius. He also built a shrine near the Circus Maximus. It is recorded that he built both the Capitoline Temple and the Theater of Pompey without putting his name on them. He founded a ministry of transport, which 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.

Bronze statue of Augustus, Archaeological Museum, Athens
Bronze statue of Augustus, Archaeological Museum, Athens Template:Unverifiedimage

Roman rulers understood little about economics, and Augustus was no exception. Like all the Emperors, he over-taxed agriculture and spent the revenue on armies, temples, and games. Once 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.

Augustus also strongly supported worship of Roman gods, especially Apollo, and depicted Roman defeat of Egypt as Roman gods defeating Egypt's. He sponsored Vergil's Aeneid in the hopes that it would increase pride in Roman heritage. Augustus not only rebuilt the city and advanced the Pax Romana but this era was one of pre-eminent literary achievement. Some of the greatest and most influential Latin writers in Roman history developed their various styles in this period. Vergil, Horace, Ovid, Propertius and Tibullus. Under the patronage of Augustus, along with men like Maecenas and Corvinus, Roman literature and literacy advanced to a stage to rival their Greek predecessors.

Augustus also launched a morality crusade, promoting marriage and family. Marriage laws, established to encourage the growth of the citizen population, brought back a more conservative moral foundation. While his own family, most noticeably the escapades of his daughter Julia, fell short of some of Augustus’ conservative policies, his marriage to Livia for over 50 years, ending only with his death, provided a shining example for the Roman people to emulate. Despite Augustus's good intentions with his marriage laws, they were largely unsuccessful.

Augustus also laid claim to numerous grandiose public works. He doubled the water flow capacity of the Aqua Marcia, originally built in the mid 2nd century BC, and added 3 new aqueducts, the Julia, Virgo and Alsietina (the first two administered under Marcus Agrippa). The Via Flaminia, together with many bridges along the way, was also built during Augustus’s reign. Under the supervision of Agrippa, the Roman Pantheon was built in the Augustan Age. Though it would later be destroyed and rebuilt (twice), and not take its current recognizable shape until Hadrian, a temple to all the gods was built in 27 BC. In all, Augustus oversaw the building or reconstruction of 82 temples in Rome alone. Of these, the temple of Divine Julius, the Lupercal to Romulus and Remus, three temples to Jupiter, temples of Apollo, Quirinus, Minerva, Juno, the Lares, Penates, and Mars are among the most importance.

Other great monuments built included the Curia Julia, including the attached Chalcidicum (whose purpose is debated but often identified as a great record office), the portico of the Flaminian Circus (likely built in conjunction with the improvements to the Via Flaminia), the Pulvinar at the Circus Maximus, serving as both a shrine to the gods and private seating for the imperial family, and the theatre at the Temple of Apollo. Other great structures were finished, repaired or rebuilt including the Capitol, the Theatre of Pompey, and the Forum Julia (started by Caesar). In addition, statues and works of art as well as other imperial building projects were sponsored throughout the empire.

A patron of the arts, Augustus showered favors on poets, artists, sculptors, and architects, and his reign is considered the Golden Age of Roman literature. Horace, Livy, Ovid, and Vergil flourished under his protection, but in return, they had to pay due tribute to his genius and adhere to his standards. (Ovid was banished from Rome for reasons that are not entirely clear) 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. However, by the time Augustus died, it was impossible to imagine a return to the old system. The only question was who would succeed him as sole ruler.


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. The first among these candidates was his nephew Marcellus. The son of his sister Octavia was brought into political life in much the same manner as Augustus himself was by Julius Caesar, participating as a key player in Augustus’ triumphs of 29 BC. He was allowed to hold offices far before the required ages, and in 25 BC was married to Augustus’ 14-year-old daughter, Julia, to cement the relationship.

In 23 BC, however, Marcellus died and the position of Augustus's heir was passed to his old friend and legionary commander, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. Agrippa had already been married to Augustus’ niece Marcella and his status as a trusted friend and respected member of Roman society was the logical choice in the case of possible tragedy. Agrippa was soon married to Augsutus’s widowed daughter Julia. Agrippa’s marriage with Julia also proved to be of great benefit to the dynastic line, at least temporarily. Agrippa and Julia had three sons, Gaius Caesar, Lucius Caesar and Postumus Agrippa, as well as two daughters. The first two sons were adopted as his sons and were propped up as his heirs.

The situation was ideal for the time being. Augustus’ old friend Agrippa would be in position to take over for Augustus, while both men could groom the directly related Gaius and Lucius for continuing the Principate, but fate intervened early with this plan. In 12 BC Agrippa died while on campaign in Pannonia and the order of succession was left in doubt again. At this time while Gaius and Lucius (8 and 5 years old respectively) were still in line for succession, the empire could not be left without a qualified heir to take over immediately. To fill the gap, the son of his wife Livia, Tiberius, who had been advanced under Augustus already, now stood as Augustus’s oldest and most viable male heir.

Tiberius was married to Julia (her 3rd marriage as wife to Augustus’s heir) though the marriage was largely for show. Tiberius married her out of duty, but in so doing divorced his first wife Agrippina (daughter of Agrippa) and the matter seemingly created a rift. The marriage with Julia was loveless and childless and Julia’s reputation as an adulterer would eventually grow to near epidemic proportions. Initially, however, Tiberius, along with his brother Nero Claudius Drusus, was sent to the Alps, Germania and Pannonia to expand Rome’s interest there and the situation was relaxed by Tiberius’ absence.

By 6 BC, Tiberius was back in Rome, and was granted Tribunician powers much like Agrippa was before him. Rather than continue as Augustus heir, Tiberius retired to self-imposed exile on the island of Rhodes. His marriage to Julia was obviously a source of discontent. Augustus’ rather obvious insistence that Gaius and Lucius Caesar would eventually succeed Tiberius, seemingly played a role. Additionally, all the while Tiberius’ mother Livia may have been scheming to advance her own line in Augustus’ plans.

Tiberius remained out of public life for several years while the favored heirs, Gaius and Lucius Caesar, were advanced. Before long however, Julia’s behavior finally caught up to Augustus. In 2 BC, she was accused of conducting an orgy in the Roman Forum. To preserve his own honor, Augustus exiled her to the island of Pantederia and several others were executed for involvement with her. In 2 AD, Tiberius returned to Rome as a private citizen after the deaths of both Gaius and Lucius Caesar. Augsutus was left with no other chose as heir, and adopted Tiberius as his son and heir.

As time passed and Augustus entered the twilight of his life, he still continued the administration of the empire, advancing its various causes, but his age and degenerating health required withdrawal from public perception. After nearly half a century as the sole ruler of Rome, one of the greatest men in world history finally passed. On August 19, 14 AD, just a month before his 77th birthday, Augustus died in the town of Nola. After having secured the stability of the Roman world by taking control of the legions and methodically garnering the powers of the Republican magistracies, Augustus left Rome with a renewed sense of identity and power.

While the rule of the next Emperor was uncertain, Imperator Caesar Augustus, the son of the god Julius Caesar and Father of Country saved Rome from itself and laid the foundation for its further glory. 3 days after his death, Augustus was buried in his own family mausoleum and entered the Roman Imperial Cult as the Divine Augustus. 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 as the next Roman Emperor.

Augustus’s Legacy

Missing image
Imperator Caesar Augustus

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, (and the derived titles "Kaiser" and "Tsar" would be used until the early part of the 20th century). The cult of the Divine Augustus continued until Constantine the Great converted the State Religion of the Empire to Christianity in the 4th century. Consequently we have 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.

Many consider Augustus as 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 very shrewd politician, but he was not perhaps as charismatic as the earlier Caesar or his rival Antony; as a result, Augustus is not as renowned as either man, and is often confused with Julius Caesar. Nevertheless, his legacy has proved more enduring. In the same fashion Julius Caesar had done years before, the month of Sextilis was renamed August (Latin Augustus) after Augustus

Under Augustus, Rome went through an enlightened period where literature reined supreme within the eternal city. Latin’s great poets: Virgil, Horace and Ovid published their brilliant works mostly during the Augustan age, while others like the satirist Petronius, [[Strabo] the geographer, Vitruvius and the invaluable ancient historian Livy contributed their own forms of literature. But the written word was not the only great contribution of the Augustan age. Under his friend and confidant Marcus Vipsanisu Agrippa, Rome received a major face-lift in which it was transformed from a city of brick into a true imperial city of great marble structures, worthy of the title: Capital of the World. Among those projects undertaken were 3 aqueducts supplying fresh water to the growing city: the Julia, Virgo and Alsietina. The original Pantheon, the great temple of the Roman gods, Agrippa’s baths, the Saepta Julia and Augustus’ Mausoleum were built as well. Improvements to, or complete replacements, were constructed for nearly every public building including courthouses, offices and administrative buildings of all kinds. Perhaps even more importantly, Augustus conducted a major census of the city and provinces, which had long been neglected during the civil wars. Augustus would boost in his later years that he "found the city brick and left it marble."

Augustus's ultimate legacy, however, was the peace and prosperity the empire was to enjoy 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; although every emperor adopted his name, Caesar Augustus, only a handful earned genuine comparison with him. Though he faced many challenges, some devastating, like the loss of 3 legions in the Teutoburger Wald of Germania, Augustus ruled Rome in virtual contrast to all administrations both before and after. Stability and general prosperity ruled the day. Even the urban poor in a vast, sprawling city then exceeding 1 million residents, seemed to have little complaint. Octavian’s imperial name of Augustus was not only an honorific title, but proved to be the truest definition of the man who bore it: Imperator Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus Augustus was a man without peer in the ancient world.

Augustus's Marriage and Offspring


  • 63 BC - Born in Rome
  • 46 BC - Serves Julius Caesar in the Battle of Munda
  • 45 BC - Adopted by Julius Caesar as heir
  • 44 BC - Assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March
  • 43 BC - Forms Second Triumvirate with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus
  • 42 BC - Defeats Brutus and Cassius at the Battles of Phillippi
  • 40 BC -
    • Forms Pact of Brundisium with Mark Antony
    • Marrage to Scribonia
    • Marries Octavia to Mark Antony
  • 39 BC -
    • Birth of Julia Caesaris
    • Divorces Scribonia
  • 38 BC - Marriage to Livia Drussilla
  • 36 BC - Agrippa defeats Sextus Pompey in Sicilly
  • 32 BC -
    • Antony divorces Octavia and marries Cleopatra
    • Declares war on Cleopatra
  • 31 BC - Defeats Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium
  • 30 BC - Death of Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian made Pharoah
  • 27 BC - Named Augustus by the Senate
  • 23 BC -
    • Establishes the Principate and the Pax Romana
    • Becomes the first Roman Emperor
  • 13 BC - Death of Marcus Lepidus, elected Pontifex Maximus
  • 2 BC - Named Pater Patrae by Senate
  • 2 AD - Adopted Tiberius as heir
  • 9 AD - Battle of Teutoburg Forest
  • 14 AD - Death on August 19 and deification

Preceded by:
Roman Emperor
27 BC–14 AD
Succeeded by:

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