Overview of life
Augustus (23 September 63 BC – 19 August 14 AD) was the founder of the Roman Empire and its first Emperor, ruling from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.
Born into an old, wealthy equestrian branch of the plebeian Octavii family, in 44 BC Augustus was adopted posthumously by his maternal great-uncle Gaius Julius Caesar following Caesar’s assassination. Together with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus, he formed the Second Triumvirate to defeat the assassins of Caesar. Following their victory at Phillipi, the Triumvirate divided the Roman Republic among themselves and ruled as military dictators. The Triumvirate was eventually torn apart under the competing ambitions of its members: Lepidus was driven into exile and stripped of his position, and Antony committed suicide following his defeat at the Battle of Actium by Augustus in 31 BC.
After the demise of the Second Triumvirate, Augustus restored the outward facade of the free Republic, with governmental power vested in the Roman Senate, the executive magistrates, and the legislative assemblies. In reality, however, he retained his autocratic power over the Republic as a military dictator. By law, Augustus held a collection of powers granted to him for life by the Senate, including supreme military command, and those of tribune and censor. It took several years for Augustus to develop the framework within which a formally republican state could be led under his sole rule. He rejected monarchical titles, and instead called himself Princeps Civitatis (“First Citizen”). The resulting constitutional framework became known as the Principate, the first phase of the Roman Empire.
The reign of Augustus initiated an era of relative peace known as the Pax Romana (The Roman Peace). Despite continuous wars or imperial expansion on the Empire’s frontiers and one year-long civil war over the imperial succession, the Mediterranean world remained at peace for more than two centuries. Augustus dramatically enlarged the Empire, annexing Egypt, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum, and Raetia, expanded possessions in Africa, expanded into Germania, and completed the conquest of Hispania.
Beyond the frontiers, he secured the Empire with a buffer region of client states, and made peace with the Parthian Empire through diplomacy. He reformed the Roman system of taxation, developed networks of roads with an official courier system, established a standing army, established the Praetorian Guard, created official police and fire-fighting services for Rome, and rebuilt much of the city during his reign.
Augustus died in 14 AD at the age of 75. He may have died from natural causes, although there were unconfirmed rumors that his wife Livia poisoned him. He was succeeded as Emperor by his adopted son (also stepson and former son-in-law), Tiberius.
Throughout his life, the man historians refer to as Augustus ( Classical Latin: ) was known by many names:
At birth he was named Gaius Octavius after his biological father. Historians typically refer to him simply as Octavius (or Octavian) between his birth in 63 until his posthumous adoption by Julius Caesar in 44 BC.
Upon his adoption by Caesar, he took Caesar’s name and become Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus in accordance with Roman adoption naming standards. Though he quickly dropped “Octavianus” from his name and his contemporaries referred to him as “Caesar” during this period, historians refer to him as Octavian between 44 BC and 27 BC.
As part of his actions to strengthen his political ties to Caesar’s former soldiers, in 42 BC, following the deification of Caesar, Octavian added Divi Filius (Son of the Divine) to his name, becoming Gaius Julius Caesar Divi Filius.
In 38 BC, Octavian replaced his praenomen “Gaius” and nomen “Julius” with Imperator, the title by which troops hailed their leader after military success, officially becoming Imperator Caesar Divi Filius
In 27 BC, following his defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, the Roman Senate voted new titles for him, officially becomingImperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus. It is the events of 27 BC from which he obtained his traditional name of Augustus, which historians use in reference from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.
Early life of Augustus
While his paternal family was from the town of Velletri, approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) from Rome, Augustus was born in the city of Rome on 23 September 63 BC. He was born at Ox Head, a small property on the Palatine Hill, very close to the Roman Forum. He was given the name Gaius Octavius Thurinus, his cognomen possibly commemorating his father’s victory at Thurii over a rebellious band of slaves.
Due to the crowded nature of Rome at the time, Octavius was taken to his father’s home village at Velletri to be raised. Octavius only mentions his father’s equestrian family briefly in his memoirs. His paternal great-grandfather was a military tribune in Sicily during the Second Punic War. His grandfather had served in several local political offices. His father, also named Gaius Octavius, had been governor of Macedonia. His mother, Atia, was the niece of Julius Caesar.
In 59 BC, when he was four years old, his father died. His mother married a former governor of Syria, Lucius Marcius Philippus. Philippus claimed descent from Alexander the Great, and was elected consul in 56 BC. Philippus never had much of an interest in young Octavius. Because of this, Octavius was raised by his grandmother (and Julius Caesar’s sister), Julia Caesaris.
In 52 or 51 BC, Julia Caesaris died. Octavius delivered the funeral oration for his grandmother. From this point, his mother and stepfather took a more active role in raising him. He donned the toga virilis four years later, and was elected to the College of Pontiffs in 47 BC. The following year he was put in charge of the Greek games that were staged in honor of the Temple of Venus Genetrix, built by Julius Caesar. According to Nicolaus of Damascus, Octavius wished to join Caesar’s staff for his campaign in Africa, but gave way when his mother protested. In 46 BC, she consented for him to join Caesar in Hispania, where he planned to fight the forces of Pompey, Caesar’s late enemy, but Octavius 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 crossed hostile territory to Caesar’s camp, which impressed his great-uncle considerably. Velleius Paterculus reports that after that time, Caesar allowed the young man to share his carriage. When back in Rome, Caesar deposited a new will with the Vestal Virgins, naming Octavius as the prime beneficiary.
Rise to power
Constitutional Reforms of Augustus
Heir to Caesar
The Death of Caesar , by Jean-Lon Grme (1867). On 15 March 44 BC, Octavius’s adoptive father Julius Caesar was assassinated by a conspiracy led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus
At the time Caesar was killed on the Ides of March (15 March) 44 BC, Octavius was studying and undergoing military training in Apollonia, Illyria. Rejecting the advice of some army officers to take refuge with the troops in Macedonia, he sailed to Italia to ascertain whether he had any potential political fortunes or security. After landing at Lupiae near Brundisium, he learned the contents of Caesar’s will, and only then did he decide to become Caesar’s political heir as well as heir to two-thirds of his estate.
Having no living legitimate children, Caesar had adopted his great-nephew Octavius as his son and main heir. Upon his adoption, Octavius assumed his great-uncle’s name, Gaius Julius Caesar. Although Romans who had been adopted into a new family usually retained their old nomen in cognomen form (e.g. Octavianus for one who had been an Octavius, Aemilianus for one who had been an Aemilius, etc.) there is no evidence that he ever bore the name Octavianus, as it would have made his modest origins too obvious.
Despite the fact that he never officially bore the name Octavianus, however, to save confusing the dead dictator with his heir, historians often refer to the new Caesar between his adoption and his assumption, in 27 BC, of the name Augustus as Octavian. Mark Antony later charged that Octavian had earned his adoption by Caesar through sexual favours, though Suetonius, in his work Lives of the Twelve Caesars, describes Antony’s accusation as political slander.
To make a successful entry into the upper echelons of the Roman political hierarchy, Octavian could not rely on his limited funds. After a warm welcome by Caesar’s soldiers at Brundisium, Octavian demanded a portion of the funds that were allotted by Caesar for the intended war against Parthia in the Middle East. This amounted to 700 million sesterces stored at Brundisium, the staging ground in Italy for military operations in the east.
A later senatorial investigation into the disappearance of the public funds made no action against Octavian, since he subsequently used that money to raise troops against the Senate’s arch enemy, Mark Antony. Octavian made another bold move in 44 BC when without official permission he appropriated the annual tribute that had been sent from Rome’s Near Eastern province to Italy.
Octavian began to bolster his personal forces with Caesar’s veteran legionaries and with troops designated for the Parthian war, gathering support by emphasizing his status as heir to Caesar. On his march to Rome through Italy, Octavian’s presence and newly acquired funds attracted many, winning over Caesar’s former veterans stationed in Campania. By June he had gathered an army of 3,000 loyal veterans, paying each a salary of 500 denarii.
Arriving in Rome on 6 May 44 BC, Octavian found the consul Mark Antony, Caesar’s former colleague, in an uneasy truce with the dictator’s assassins; they had been granted a general amnesty on 17 March, yet Antony succeeded in driving most of them out of Rome. This was due to his “inflammatory” eulogy given at Caesar’s funeral, mounting public opinion against the assassins.
Although Mark Antony was amassing political support, Octavian still had opportunity to rival him as the leading member of the faction supporting Caesar. Mark Antony had lost the support of many Romans and supporters of Caesar when he, at first, opposed the motion to elevate Caesar to divine status. Octavian failed to persuade Antony to relinquish Caesar’s money to him. During the summer he managed to win support from Caesarian sympathizers, however, who saw the younger heir as the lesser evil and hoped to manipulate him, or to bear with him during their efforts to get rid of Antonius.
In September, the Optimate orator Marcus Tullius Cicero began to attack Antony in a series of speeches portraying Antony as the greatest threat to the order of the Senate. With opinion in Rome turning against him and his year of consular power nearing its end, Antony attempted to pass laws which would lend him control over Cisalpine Gaul, which had been assigned as part of his province, from Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, one of Caesar’s assassins.
Octavian meanwhile built up a private army in Italy by recruiting Caesarian veterans, and on 28 November won over two of Antony’s legions with the enticing offer of monetary gain. In the face of Octavian’s large and capable force, Antony saw the danger of staying in Rome, and to the relief of the Senate, he fled to Cisalpine Gaul, which was to be handed to him on 1 January.
First conflict with Antony
Bust of Augustus in Musei Capitolini, Rome
After Decimus Brutus refused to give up Cisalpine Gaul, Antony besieged him at Mutina. The resolutions passed by the Senate to stop the violence were rejected by Antony, as the Senate had no army of its own to challenge him; this provided an opportunity for Octavian, who already was known to have armed forces. Cicero also defended Octavian against Antony’s taunts about Octavian’s lack of noble lineage; he stated “we have no more brilliant example of traditional piety among our youth.”
This was in part a rebuttal to Antony’s opinion of Octavian, as Cicero quoted Antony saying to Octavian, “You, boy, owe everything to your name.” In this unlikely alliance orchestrated by the arch anti-Caesarian senator Cicero, the Senate inducted Octavian as senator on 1 January 43 BC, yet he also was given the power to vote alongside the former consuls. In addition, Octavian was granted imperium (commanding power), which made his command of troops legal, sending him to relieve the siege along with Hirtius and Pansa (the consuls for 43 BC). In April 43 BC, Antony’s forces were defeated at the battles of Forum Gallorum and Mutina, forcing Antony to retreat to Transalpine Gaul. Both consuls were killed, however, leaving Octavian in sole command of their armies.
After heaping many more rewards on Decimus Brutus than on Octavian for defeating Antony, the Senate attempted to give command of the consular legions to Decimus Brutus, yet Octavian decided not to cooperate. Instead, Octavian stayed in the Po Valley and refused to aid any further offensive against Antony. In July, an embassy of centurions sent by Octavian entered Rome and demanded that he receive the consulship left vacant by Hirtius and Pansa.
Octavian also demanded that the decree declaring Antony a public enemy should be rescinded. When this was refused, he marched on the city with eight legions. He encountered no military opposition in Rome, and on 19 August 43 BC was elected consul with his relative Quintus Pedius as co-consul. Meanwhile, Antony formed an alliance with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, another leading Caesarian.
Roman aureus bearing the portraits of Mark Antony (left) and Octavian (right), issued in 41 BC to celebrate the establishment of the Second Triumvirate by Octavian, Antony and Marcus Lepidus in 43 BC. Both sides bear the inscription “III VIR R P C”, meaning “One of Three Men for the Regulation of the Republic”.
In a meeting near Bologna in October 43 BC, Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus formed a junta called the Second Triumvirate. This explicit arrogation of special powers lasting five years was then supported by law passed by the plebs, unlike the unofficial First Triumvirate formed by Gnaeus Pompey Magnus, Julius Caesar, and Marcus Licinius Crassus. The triumvirs then set in motion proscriptions in which 300 senators and 2,000 equites, allegedly were branded as outlaws and deprived of their property and, for those who failed to escape, their lives.
The estimation that 300 senators were proscribed was presented by Appian, although his earlier contemporary Livy asserted that only 130 senators had been proscribed. This decree issued by the triumvirate was motivated in part by a need to raise money to pay the salaries of their troops for the upcoming conflict against Caesar’s assassins, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. Rewards for their arrest gave incentive for Romans to capture those proscribed, while the assets and properties of those arrested were seized by the triumvirs.
Contemporary Roman historians provide conflicting reports as to which triumvir was more responsible for the proscriptions and killing, however, the sources agree that enacting the proscriptions was a means by all three factions to eliminate political enemies. Marcus Velleius Paterculus asserted that Octavian tried to avoid proscribing officials whereas Lepidus and Antony were to blame for initiating them. Cassius Dio defended Augustus as trying to spare as many as possible, whereas Antony and Lepidus, being older and involved in politics longer, had many more enemies to deal with.
This claim was rejected by Appian, who maintained that Octavian shared an equal interest with Lepidus and Antony in eradicating his enemies. Suetonius presents the case that Octavian, although reluctant at first to proscribe officials, nonetheless pursued his enemies with more rigor than the other triumvirs. Plutarch describes the proscriptions as a ruthless and cutthroat swapping of friends and family between Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian. For example, Octavian allowed the proscription of his ally Cicero, Antony the proscription of his maternal uncle Lucius Julius Caesar IV, and Lepidus his brother Paulus.
A denarius minted c. 18 BC. Obverse: CAESAR AVGVSTVS; reverse: DIVVS IVLIV (DIVINE JULIUS)
Battle of Philippi and division of territory
Further information: Liberators’ civil war
On 1 January 42 BC, the Senate posthumously recognized Julius Caesar as a divinity of the Roman state, Divus Iulius. Octavian was able to further his cause by emphasizing the fact that he was Divi filius, “Son of God”. Antony and Octavian then sent 28 legions by sea to face the armies of Brutus and Cassius, who had built their base of power in Greece. After two battles at Philippi in Macedonia in October 42, the Caesarian army was victorious and Brutus and Cassius committed suicide. Mark Antony would later use the examples of these battles as a means to belittle Octavian, as both battles were decisively won with the use of Antony’s forces. In addition to claiming responsibility for both victories, Antony also branded Octavian as a coward for handing over his direct military control to Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa instead.
After Philippi, a new territorial arrangement was made among the members of the Second Triumvirate. While Antony placed Gaul, the provinces of Hispania, and Italia in the hands of Octavian, Antony traveled east to Egypt where he allied himself with Queen Cleopatra VII, the former lover of Julius Caesar and mother of Caesar’s infant son, Caesarion. Lepidus was left with the province of Africa, stymied by Antony, who conceded Hispania to Octavian instead.
Octavian was left to decide where in Italy to settle the tens of thousands of veterans of the Macedonian campaign, whom the triumvirs had promised to discharge. The tens of thousands who had fought on the republican side with Brutus and Cassius, who could easily ally with a political opponent of Octavian if not appeased, also required land. There was no more government-controlled land to allot as settlements for their soldiers, so Octavian had to choose one of two options: alienating many Roman citizens by confiscating their land, or alienating many Roman soldiers who could mount a considerable opposition against him in the Roman heartland. Octavian chose the former. There were as many as eighteen Roman towns affected by the new settlements, with entire populations driven out or at least given partial evictions.
Rebellion and marriage alliances
Widespread dissatisfaction with Octavian over these settlements of his soldiers encouraged many to rally at the side of Lucius Antonius, who was brother of Mark Antony and supported by a majority in the Senate. Meanwhile, Octavian asked for a divorce from Clodia Pulchra, the daughter of Fulvia and her first husband Publius Clodius Pulcher. Claiming that his marriage with Clodia had never been consummated, he returned her to her mother, Mark Antony’s wife. Fulvia decided to take action. Together with Lucius Antonius, she raised an army in Italy to fight for Antony’s rights against Octavian. Lucius and Fulvia took a political and martial gamble in opposing Octavian, however, since the Roman army still depended on the triumvirs for their salaries. Lucius and his allies ended up in a defensive siege at Perusia (modern Perugia), where Octavian forced them into surrender in early 40 BC.
Lucius and his army were spared, due to his kinship with Antony, the strongman of the East, while Fulvia was exiled to Sicyon. Octavian showed no mercy, however, for the mass of allies loyal to Lucius; on 15 March, the anniversary of Julius Caesar’s assassination, he had 300 Roman senators and equestrians executed for allying with Lucius. Perusia also was pillaged and burned as a warning for others. This bloody event sullied Octavian’s reputation and was criticized by many, such as the Augustan poet Sextus Propertius.
Sextus Pompeius, son of the First Triumvir Pompey and still a renegade general following Julius Caesar’s victory over his father, was established in Sicily and Sardinia as part of an agreement reached with the Second Triumvirate in 39 BC. Both Antony and Octavian were vying for an alliance with Pompeius, who, ironically, was a member of the republican party, not the Caesarian faction. Octavian succeeded in a temporary alliance when in 40 BC he married Scribonia, a daughter of Lucius Scribonius Libo who was a follower of Pompeius as well as his father-in-law. Scribonia conceived Octavian’s only natural child, Julia, who was born the same day that he divorced Scribonia to marry Livia Drusilla, little more than a year after their marriage.
While in Egypt, Antony had been engaged in an affair with Cleopatra and had fathered three children with her. Aware of his deteriorating relationship with Octavian, Antony left Cleopatra; he sailed to Italy in 40 BC with a large force to oppose Octavian, laying siege to Brundisium. This new conflict proved untenable for both Octavian and Antony, however. Their centurions, who had become important figures politically, refused to fight due to their Caesarian cause, while the legions under their command followed suit. Meanwhile in Sicyon, Antony’s wife Fulvia died of a sudden illness while Antony was en route to meet her. Fulvia’s death and the mutiny of their centurions allowed the two remaining triumvirs to effect a reconciliation.
In the autumn of 40, Octavian and Antony approved the Treaty of Brundisium, by which Lepidus would remain in Africa, Antony in the East, Octavian in the West. The Italian peninsula was left open to all for the recruitment of soldiers, but in reality, this provision was useless for Antony in the East. To further cement relations of alliance with Mark Antony, Octavian gave his sister, Octavia Minor, in marriage to Antony in late 40 BC. During their marriage, Octavia gave birth to two daughters (known as Antonia Major and Antonia Minor).
War with Pompeius
A denarius of Sextus Pompeius, minted for his victory over Octavian’s fleet, on the obverse the Pharus of Messina, who defeated Octavian, on the reverse, the monster Scylla
Sextus Pompeius threatened Octavian in Italy by denying to the peninsula shipments of grain through the Mediterranean; Pompeius’ own son was put in charge as naval commander in the effort to cause widespread famine in Italy. Pompeius’ control over the sea prompted him to take on the name Neptuni filius, “son of Neptune”. A temporary peace agreement was reached in 39 BC with the treaty of Misenum; the blockade on Italy was lifted once Octavian granted Pompeius Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, and the Peloponnese, and ensured him a future position as consul for 35 BC.
The territorial agreement amongst the triumvirs and Sextus Pompeius began to crumble once Octavian divorced Scribonia and married Livia on 17 January 38 BC. One of Pompeius’ naval commanders betrayed him and handed over Corsica and Sardinia to Octavian. Antony’s additional support to attack Pompeius, became a necessity to Octavian, however, so an agreement was reached with the Second Triumvirate’s extension for another five-year period beginning in 37 BC.
In supporting Octavian, Antony expected to gain support for his own campaign against Parthia, desiring to avenge Rome’s defeat at Carrhae in 53 BC. In an agreement reached at Tarentum, Antony provided 120 ships for Octavian to use against Pompeius, while Octavian was to send 20,000 legionaries to Antony for use against Parthia. Octavian sent only a tenth the number of those promised, however, which was viewed by Antony as an intentional provocation.
Octavian and Lepidus launched a joint operation against Sextus in Sicily in 36 BC. Despite setbacks for Octavian, the naval fleet of Sextus Pompeius was almost entirely destroyed on 3 September by general Agrippa at the naval battle of Naulochus. Sextus fled with his remaining forces to the east, where he was captured and executed in Miletus by one of Antony’s generals the following year. Both Lepidus and Octavian gathered the surrendered troops of Pompeius, yet Lepidus felt empowered enough to claim Sicily for himself, ordering Octavian to leave. Lepidus’ troops deserted him, however, and defected to Octavian since they were weary of fighting and found Octavian’s promises of money to be enticing.
Lepidus surrendered to Octavian and was permitted to retain the office of pontifex maximus (head of the college of priests), but was ejected from the Triumvirate, his public career at an end, and effectively was exiled to a villa at Cape Circei in Italy. The Roman dominions were now divided between Octavian in the West and Antony in the East. To maintain peace and stability in his portion of the Empire, Octavian ensured Rome’s citizens of their rights to property. This time he settled his discharged soldiers outside of Italy while returning 30,000 slaves to former Roman owners that had previously fled to Pompeius to join his army and navy. To ensure his own safety and that of Livia and Octavia once he returned to Rome, Octavian had the Senate grant him, his wife, and his sister tribunal immunity, or sacrosanctitas.
War with Antony
Meanwhile, Antony’s campaign against Parthia turned disastrous, tarnishing his image as a leader, and the mere 2,000 legionaries sent by Octavian to Antony were hardly enough to replenish his forces. On the other hand, Cleopatra could restore his army to full strength, and since he already was engaged in a romantic affair with her, he decided to send Octavia back to Rome. Octavian used this to spread propaganda implying that Antony was becoming less than Roman because he rejected a legitimate Roman spouse for an “Oriental paramour”. In 36 BC, Octavian used a political ploy to make himself look less autocratic and Antony more the villain by proclaiming that the civil wars were coming to an end, and that he would step down as triumvir, if only Antony would do the same; Antony refused.
After Roman troops captured the Kingdom of Armenia in 34 BC, Antony made his son Alexander Helios the ruler of Armenia; he also awarded the title “Queen of Kings” to Cleopatra, acts which Octavian used to convince the Roman Senate that Antony had ambitions to diminish the preeminence of Rome. When Octavian became consul once again on 1 January 33 BC, he opened the following session in the Senate with a vehement attack on Antony’s grants of titles and territories to his relatives and to his queen.
Defecting consuls and senators rushed over to the side of Antony in disbelief of the propaganda (which turned out to be true), yet so did able ministers desert Antony for Octavian in the autumn of 32 BC. These defectors, Munatius Plancus and Marcus Titius, gave Octavian the information he needed to confirm with the Senate all the accusations he made against Antony.
By storming the sanctuary of the Vestal Virgins, Octavian forced their chief priestess to hand over Antony’s secret will, which would have given away Roman-conquered territories as kingdoms for his sons to rule, alongside plans to build a tomb in Alexandria for him and his queen to reside upon their deaths. In late 32 BC, the Senate officially revoked Antony’s powers as consul and declared war on Cleopatra’s regime in Egypt.
The Battle of Actium , by Lorenzo Castro, painted 1672, National Maritime Museum, London
In early 31 BC, while Antony and Cleopatra were temporarily stationed in Greece, Octavian gained a preliminary victory when the navy under the command of Agrippa successfully ferried troops across the Adriatic Sea. While Agrippa cut off Antony and Cleopatra’s main force from their supply routes at sea, Octavian landed on the mainland opposite the island of Corcyra (modern Corfu) and marched south. Trapped on land and sea, deserters of Antony’s army fled to Octavian’s side daily while Octavian’s forces were comfortable enough to make preparations.
In a desperate attempt to break free of the naval blockade, Antony’s fleet sailed through the bay of Actium on the western coast of Greece. It was there that Antony’s fleet faced the much larger fleet of smaller, more maneuverable ships under commanders Agrippa and Gaius Sosius in the battle of Actium on 2 September 31 BC. Antony and his remaining forces were spared only due to a last-ditch effort by Cleopatra’s fleet that had been waiting nearby.
Octavian pursued them, and after another defeat in Alexandria on 1 August 30 BC, Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide; Antony fell on his own sword and into Cleopatra’s arms, while she let a venomous snake bite her. Having exploited his position as Caesar’s heir to further his own political career, Octavian was only too well aware of the dangers in allowing another to do so and, reportedly commenting that “two Caesars are one too many”, he ordered Caesarion Julius Caesar’s son by Cleopatra to be killed, whilst sparing Cleopatra’s children by Antony, with the exception of Antony’s older son.
Octavian had previously shown little mercy to military combatants and acted in ways that had proven unpopular with the Roman people, yet he was given credit for pardoning many of his opponents after the Battle of Actium.
Octavian becomes Augustus
Constitutional Reforms of Augustus
After Actium and the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian was in a position to rule the entire Republic under an unofficial principate, but would have to achieve this through incremental power gains, courting the Senate and the people, while upholding the republican traditions of Rome, to appear that he was not aspiring to dictatorship or monarchy. Marching into Rome, Octavian and Marcus Agrippa were elected as dual consuls by the Senate.
Years of civil war had left Rome in a state of near lawlessness, but the Republic was not prepared to accept the control of Octavian as a despot. At the same time, 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 city of Rome and the Roman provinces. Octavian’s aims from this point forward were to return Rome to a state of stability, traditional legality and civility by lifting the overt political pressure imposed on the courts of law and ensuring free elections in name at least.
Constitution of the Roman Empire and History of the Constitution of the Roman Empire
In 27 BC, Octavian made a show of returning full power to the Roman Senate and relinquishing his control of the Roman provinces and their armies. Under his consulship, however, the Senate had little power in initiating legislation by introducing bills for senatorial debate. Although Octavian was no longer in direct control of the provinces and their armies, he retained the loyalty of active duty soldiers and veterans alike. The careers of many clients and adherents depended on his patronage, as his financial power in the Roman Republic was unrivaled. The historian Werner Eck states:
The sum of his power derived first of all from various powers of office delegated to him by the Senate and people, secondly from his immense private fortune, and thirdly from numerous patron-client relationships he established with individuals and groups throughout the Empire. All of them taken together formed the basis of his auctoritas, which he himself emphasized as the foundation of his political actions.
To a large extent the public was aware of the vast financial resources Augustus commanded. When he failed to encourage enough senators to finance the building and maintenance of networks of roads in Italy, he undertook direct responsibility for them in 20 BC. This was publicized on the Roman currency issued in 16 BC, after he donated vast amounts of money to the aerarium Saturni, the public treasury.
According to H.H. Scullard, however, Augustus’s power was based on the exercise of “a predominant military power and … the ultimate sanction of his authority was force, however much the fact was disguised.”
The Senate proposed to Octavian, the victor of Rome’s civil wars, that he once again assume command of the provinces. The Senate’s proposal was a ratification of Octavian’s extra-constitutional power. Through the Senate Octavian was able to continue the appearance of a still-functional constitution. Feigning reluctance, he accepted a ten-year responsibility of overseeing provinces that were considered chaotic.
The provinces ceded to him, that he might pacify them within the promised ten-year period, comprised much of the conquered Roman world, including all of Hispania and Gaul, Syria, Cilicia, Cyprus, and Egypt. Moreover, command of these provinces provided Octavian with control over the majority of Rome’s legions.
While Octavian acted as consul in Rome, he dispatched senators to the provinces under his command as his representatives to manage provincial affairs and ensure his orders were carried out. On the other hand, the provinces not under Octavian’s control were overseen by governors chosen by the Roman Senate. Octavian became the most powerful political figure in the city of Rome and in most of its provinces, but did not have sole monopoly on political and martial power.
The Senate still controlled North Africa, an important regional producer of grain, as well as Illyria and Macedonia, two martially strategic regions with several legions. However, with control of only five or six legions distributed amongst three senatorial proconsuls, compared to the twenty legions under the control of Augustus, the Senate’s control of these regions did not amount to any political or martial challenge to Octavian.
The Senate’s control over some of the Roman provinces helped maintain a republican faade for the autocratic Principate. Also, Octavian’s control of entire provinces for the objective of securing peace and creating stability followed Republican-era precedents, in which such prominent Romans as Pompey had been granted similar military powers in times of crisis and instability.
On 16 January 27 BC the Senate gave Octavian the new titles of Augustus and Princeps. Augustus, from the Latin word Augere (meaning to increase), can be translated as “the illustrious one”. It was a title of religious rather than political authority.
According to Roman religious beliefs, the title symbolized a stamp of authority over humanity and in fact nature that went beyond any constitutional definition of his status. After the harsh methods employed in consolidating his control, the change in name would also serve to demarcate his benign reign as Augustus from his reign of terror as Octavian. His new title of Augustus was also more favorable than Romulus, the previous one he styled for himself in reference to the story of Romulus and Remus (founders of Rome), which would symbolize a second founding of Rome.
However, the title of Romulus was associated too strongly with notions of monarchy and kingship, an image Octavian tried to avoid. Princeps, comes from the Latin phrase primum caput, “the first head”, originally meaning the oldest or most distinguished senator whose name would appear first on the senatorial roster; in the case of Augustus it became an almost regnal title for a leader who was first in charge. Princeps had also been a title under the Republic for those who had served the state well; for example, Pompey had held the title. Augustus also styled himself as Imperator Caesar divi filius, “Commander Caesar son of the deified one”.
With this title he not only boasted his familial link to deified Julius Caesar, but the use of Imperator signified a permanent link to the Roman tradition of victory. The word Caesar was merely a cognomen for one branch of the Julian family, yet Augustus transformed Caesar into a new family line that began with him.
Augustus was granted the right to hang the corona civica, the “civic crown” made from oak, above his door and have laurels drape his doorposts. 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 ” memento mori”, or, “Remember, you are mortal”, to the triumphant general. Additionally, laurel wreaths were important in several state ceremonies, and crowns of laurel were rewarded to champions of athletic, racing, and dramatic contests. Thus, both the laurel and the oak were integral symbols of Roman religion and statecraft; placing them on Augustus’ doorposts was tantamount to declaring his home the capital. However, Augustus renounced flaunting insignia of power such as holding a scepter, wearing a diadem, or wearing the golden crown and purple toga of his predecessor Julius Caesar. If he refused to symbolize his power by donning and bearing these items on his person, the Senate nonetheless awarded him with a golden shield displayed in the meeting hall of the Curia, bearing the inscription virtus, pietas, clementia, iustitia “valor, piety, clemency, and justice.”
By 23 BC, some of the implications of the settlement of 27 BC were becoming apparent. Augustus’ holding of an annual consulate made his dominance over the Roman political system too obvious, whilst at the same time halving the opportunities for others to achieve what was still purported to be the head of the Roman state. Further, his desire to have his nephew Marcus Claudius Marcellus follow in his footsteps and eventually assume the Principate in his turn was causing political problems and alienating his three biggest supporters Agrippa, Maecenas and Livia. Feeling pressure from his own core group of adherents, Augustus turned to the Senate in an attempt to bolster his support there, especially with the Republicans; after his choice for co-consul in 23 BC, Aulus Terentius Varro Murena died before taking office he appointed the noted Republican Calpurnius Piso, who had fought against Julius Caesar and supported Cassius and Brutus.
In the late spring Augustus suffered a severe illness, and on his supposed deathbed made arrangements that would ensure the continuation of the Principate in some form, whilst at the same time put in doubt the senators’ suspicions of his anti-republicanism. Augustus prepared to hand down his signet ring to his favored general Agrippa. However, Augustus handed over to his co-consul Piso all of his official documents, an account of public finances, and authority over listed troops in the provinces while Augustus’ supposedly favored nephew Marcellus came away empty-handed. This was a surprise to many who believed Augustus would have named an heir to his position as an unofficial emperor.
Augustus bestowed only properties and possessions to his designated heirs, as an obvious system of institutionalized imperial inheritance would have provoked resistance and hostility amongst the republican-minded Romans fearful of monarchy. With regards to the Principate, it was obvious to Augustus that Marcellus was not ready to take on his position; nonetheless, by giving his signet ring to Agrippa, it was Augustus’ intent to signal to the legions that Agrippa was to be his successor, and that no matter what the constitutional rules were, they would continue to obey Agrippa.
Soon after his bout of illness subsided, Augustus gave up his permanent consulship. The only other times Augustus would serve as consul would be in the years 5 and 2 BC’, both times to introduce his grandsons into public life. Although he had resigned as consul, Augustus retained his consular imperium, leading to a second compromise between him and the Senate known as the Second Settlement. This was a clever ploy by Augustus; by stepping down as one of two consuls, this allowed aspiring senators a better chance to fill that position, while at the same time Augustus could “exercise wider patronage within the senatorial class.”
Augustus was no longer in an official position to rule the state, yet his dominant position over the Roman provinces remained unchanged as he became a proconsul. When he was a consul he had the power to intervene, when he deemed necessary, with the affairs of provincial proconsuls appointed by the Senate. As a proconsul he would ordinarily have lost this power; he wanted to keep it, so imperium proconsulare maius, or “power over all the proconsuls” was granted to Augustus by the Senate. The existence of imperium maius is debated by scholars, and it is also argued that he was only granted imperium aequum, or power equal to that of the governors, but his supreme influence allowed him to control the affairs of the provinces.
Augustus was also granted the power of a tribune (tribunicia potestas) for life, though not the official title of tribune. Legally it was closed to patricians, a status that Augustus had acquired years ago when adopted by Julius Caesar. This 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.
With the powers of a censor, Augustus appealed to virtues of Roman patriotism by banning all other attire besides the classic toga while entering the Forum. 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. Julius Caesar had been granted similar powers, wherein he was charged with supervising the morals of the state, however this position did not extend to the censor’s ability to hold a census and determine the Senate’s roster. The office of the tribunus plebis began to lose its prestige due to Augustus’ amassing of tribunal powers, so he revived its importance by making it a mandatory appointment for any plebeian desiring the praetorship.
The Via Labicana AugustusAugustus as Pontifex Maximus.
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 prefects and consuls, were now under the sole authority of Augustus. With maius imperium proconsulare, Augustus was the only individual able to receive a triumph as he was legally the head of every Roman army. In 19 BC, Lucius Cornelius Balbus, governor of Africa and conqueror of the Garamantes, was the first man of provincial origin to receive this award, as well as the last.
For every following Roman victory the credit was given to Augustus, because Rome’s armies were commanded by the legatus, who were deputies of the princeps in the provinces. Augustus’ eldest son by marriage to Livia, Tiberius, was the only exception to this rule when he received a triumph for victories in Germania in 7 BC. Ensuring that his status of maius imperium proconsulare was renewed in 13 BC, Augustus stayed in Rome during the renewal process and provided veterans with lavish donations to gain their support.
Many of the political subtleties of the Second Settlement seem to have evaded the comprehension of the Plebeian class. When Augustus failed to stand for election as consul in 22 BC, fears arose once again that Augustus was being forced from power by the aristocratic Senate. In 22, 21, and 19 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. In 22 BC there was a food shortage in Rome which sparked panic, while many urban plebs called for Augustus to take on dictatorial powers to personally oversee the crisis.
After a theatrical display of refusal before the Senate, Augustus finally accepted authority over Rome’s grain supply “by virtue of his proconsularimperium”, and ended the crisis almost immediately. It was not until AD 8 that a food crisis of this sort prompted Augustus to establish a praefectus annonae, a permanent prefect who was in charge of procuring food supplies for Rome.
Nevertheless, there were some who were concerned by the expansion of powers granted to Augustus by the Second Settlement, and this came to a head with the apparent conspiracy of Fannius Caepio and Lucius Lucinius Varro Murena. In early 22 BC, charges were brought against Marcus Primus, the former proconsul (governor) of Macedonia, of waging a war on the Odrysian kingdom of Thrace, whose king was a Roman ally, without prior approval of the Senate. He was defended by Murena, who told the trial that his client had received specific instructions from Augustus, ordering him to attack the client state. Later, Primus testified that the orders came from the recently deceased Marcellus.
Under the Constitutional settlement of 27 BC such orders, had they been given, would have been considered a breach of the Senate’s prerogative, as Macedonia was under the Senate’s jurisdiction, not that of the Princeps. Such an action would have ripped away the veneer of Republican restoration as promoted by Augustus, and exposed his fraud of merely being the first citizen, a first among equals. Even worse, the involvement of Marcellus provided some measure of proof that Augustus’s policy was to have the youth take his place as Princeps, instituting a form of monarchy accusations that had already played out during the crisis of 23 BC.
The situation was so serious, that Augustus himself appeared at the trial, even though he had not been called as a witness. Under oath, Augustus declared that he gave no such order. Murena, disbelieving Augustus’s testimony and resentful of his attempt to subvert the trial by using his auctoritas, rudely demanded to know why Augustus had turned up to a trial to which he had not been called; Augustus replied that he came in the public interest. Although Primus was found guilty, some jurors voted to acquit, meaning that not everybody believed Augustus’s testimony.
Then, sometime prior to 1 September 22 BC a certain Castricius provided Augustus with information about a conspiracy led by Fannius Caepio against the Princeps. Murena was named among the conspirators. Tried in absentia, with Tiberius acting as prosecutor, the jury found the conspirators guilty, but it was not a unanimous verdict. Sentenced to death for treason, all the accused were executed as soon as they were captured without ever giving testimony in their defence. Augustus ensured that the facade of Republican government continued with an effective cover-up of the events.
In 19 BC, the Senate voted to allow Augustus to wear the consul’s insignia in public and before the Senate, as well as sit in the symbolic chair between the two consuls and hold the fasces, an emblem of consular authority. Like his tribune authority, the granting of consular powers to him was another instance of holding power of offices he did not hold. This seems to have assuaged the populace; regardless of whether or not Augustus was a consul, the importance was that he appeared as one before the people. On 6 March 12 BC, after the death of Lepidus, he additionally took up the position of pontifex maximus, the high priest of the collegium of the Pontifices, the most important position in Roman religion. On 5 February 2 BC, Augustus was also given the title pater patriae, or “father of the country”.
Later Roman Emperors would generally be limited to the powers and titles originally granted to Augustus, though often, to display humility, newly appointed Emperors would 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 been granted them by the Senate. The civic crown, which later Emperors took to wearing, consular insignia, and later the purple robes of a Triumphant general (toga picta) became the imperial insignia well into the Byzantine era.
War and expansion
Wars of Augustus
Extent of the Roman Empire under Augustus. The yellow legend represents the extent of the Republic in 31 BC, the shades of green represent gradually conquered territories under the reign of Augustus, and pink areas on the map represent client states; however, areas under Roman control shown here were subject to change even during Augustus’ reign, especially in Germania.
Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus chose Imperator, “victorious commander” to be his first name, since he wanted to make the notion of victory associated with him emphatically clear. By the year 13, Augustus boasted 21 occasions where his troops proclaimed “imperator” as his title after a successful battle. Almost the entire fourth chapter in his publicly released memoirs of achievements known as the Res Gestae was devoted to his military victories and honors.
Augustus also promoted the ideal of a superior Roman civilization with a task of ruling the world (the extent to which the Romans knew it), a sentiment embodied in words that the contemporary poet Virgil attributes to a legendary ancestor of Augustus: tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento “Roman, remember by your strength to rule the Earth’s peoples!” The impulse for expansionism, apparently prominent among all classes at Rome, is accorded divine sanction by Virgil’s Jupiter, who in Book 1 of the Aeneid promises Rome imperium sine fine, “sovereignty without limit”.
By the end of his reign, the armies of Augustus had conquered northern Hispania (modern Spain and Portugal), the Alpine regions of Raetia and Noricum (modern Switzerland, Bavaria, Austria, Slovenia), Illyricum and Pannonia (modern Albania, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia, etc.), and extended the borders of the Africa Province to the east and south.
After the reign of the client king Herod the Great (734 BC), Judea was added to the province of Syria when Augustus deposed his successor Herod Archelaus. Like Egypt which had been conquered after the defeat of Antony in 30 BC, Syria was governed not by a proconsul or legate of Augustus, but a high prefect of the equestrian class.
Again, no military effort was needed in 25 BC when Galatia (modern Turkey) was converted to a Roman province shortly after Amyntas of Galatia was killed by an avenging widow of a slain prince from Homonada. When the rebellious tribes of Cantabria in modern-day Spain were finally quelled in 19 BC, the territory fell under the provinces of Hispania and Lusitania. This region proved to be a major asset in funding Augustus’ future military campaigns, as it was rich in mineral deposits that could be fostered in Roman mining projects, especially the very rich gold deposits at Las Medulas for example.
Conquering the peoples of the Alps in 16 BC was another important victory for Rome since it provided a large territorial buffer between the Roman citizens of Italy and Rome’s enemies in Germania to the north. The poet Horace dedicated an ode to the victory, while the monument Trophy of Augustus near Monaco was built to honor the occasion. The capture of the Alpine region also served the next offensive in 12 BC, when Tiberius began the offensive against the Pannonian tribes of Illyricum and his brother Nero Claudius Drusus against the Germanic tribes of the eastern Rhineland. Both campaigns were successful, as Drusus’ forces reached the Elbe River by 9 BC, yet he died shortly after by falling off his horse. It was recorded that the pious Tiberius walked in front of his brother’s body all the way back to Rome.
Muziris in the Chera Kingdom of Southern India, as shown in the Tabula Peutingeriana, with depiction of a “Temple of Augustus” (“Templum Augusti”), an illustration of Indo-Roman relations in the period.
To protect Rome’s eastern territories from the Parthian Empire, Augustus relied on the client states of the east to act as territorial buffers and areas which could raise their own troops for defense. To ensure security of the Empire’s eastern flank, Augustus stationed a Roman army in Syria, while his skilled stepson Tiberius negotiated with the Parthians as Rome’s diplomat to the East. Tiberius was responsible for restoring Tigranes V to the throne of the Kingdom of Armenia.
Yet arguably his greatest diplomatic achievement was negotiating with Phraates IV of Parthia (372 BC) in 20 BC for the return of the battle standards lost by Crassus in the Battle of Carrhae, a symbolic victory and great boost of morale for Rome. Werner Eck claims that this was a great disappointment for Romans seeking to avenge Crassus’ defeat by military means. However, Maria Brosius explains that Augustus used the return of the standards as propaganda symbolizing the submission of Parthia to Rome. The event was celebrated in art such as the breastplate design on the statue Augustus of Prima Porta and in monuments such as the Temple of Mars Ultor (‘Mars the Avenger’) built to house the standards.
Although Parthia always posed a threat to Rome in the east, the real battlefront was along the Rhine and Danube rivers. Before the final fight with Antony, Octavian’s campaigns against the tribes in Dalmatia was the first step in expanding Roman dominions to the Danube. Victory in battle was not always a permanent success, as newly conquered territories were constantly retaken by Rome’s enemies in Germania.
A prime example of Roman loss in battle was the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in AD 9, where three entire legions led by Publius Quinctilius Varus were destroyed with few survivors by Arminius, leader of the Cherusci, an apparent Roman ally. Augustus retaliated by dispatching Tiberius and Drusus to the Rhineland to pacify it, which had some success although the battle of AD 9 brought the end to Roman expansion into Germany. The Roman general Germanicus took advantage of a Cherusci civil war between Arminius and Segestes; they defeated Arminius, who fled that battle but was killed later in 21 due to treachery.
Death and succession
A Roman aureus struck under Augustus, c. AD 13-14; the reverse shows Tiberius riding on a quadriga, celebrating the fifteenth renewal of his tribunal power. At least six potential heirs, including Agrippa and his sons, had expired or proven incapable of succeeding Augustus, before he finally settled on Tiberius in AD 9.
The illness of Augustus in 23 BC brought the problem of succession to the forefront of political issues and the public. To ensure stability, he needed to designate an heir to his unique position in Roman society and government. This was to be achieved in small, undramatic, and incremental ways that did not stir senatorial fears of monarchy. If someone was to succeed his unofficial position of power, they were going to have to earn it through their own publicly proven merits.
Some Augustan historians argue that indications pointed toward his sister’s son Marcellus, who had been quickly married to Augustus’ daughter Julia the Elder. Other historians dispute this due to Augustus’ will read aloud to the Senate while he was seriously ill in 23 BC, instead indicating a preference for Marcus Agrippa, who was Augustus’ second in charge and arguably the only one of his associates who could have controlled the legions and held the Empire together.
After the death of Marcellus in 23 BC, Augustus married his daughter to 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. Shortly after the Second Settlement, Agrippa was granted a five-year term of administering the eastern half of the Empire with the imperium of a proconsul and the same tribunicia potestas granted to Augustus (although not trumping Augustus’ authority), his seat of governance stationed at Samos in the eastern Aegean. Although this granting of power would have shown Augustus’ favor for Agrippa, it was also a measure to please members of his Caesarian party by allowing one of their members to share a considerable amount of power with him.
The Mausoleum of Augustus
Augustus’ intent to make Gaius and Lucius Caesar his heirs was apparent when he adopted them as his own children. He took the consulship in 5 and 2 BC so he could personally usher them into their political careers, and they were nominated for the consulships of AD 1 and 4. Augustus also showed favor to his stepsons, Livia’s children from her first marriage, Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus (henceforth referred to as Drusus) and Tiberius Claudius (henceforth Tiberius) granting them military commands and public office, though seeming to favor Drusus. After Agrippa died in 12 BC, Tiberius was ordered to divorce his own wife Vipsania and marry Agrippa’s widow, Augustus’ daughter Julia ? as soon as a period of mourning for Agrippa had ended. While Drusus’ marriage to Antonia was considered an unbreakable affair, Vipsania was “only” the daughter of the late Agrippa from his first marriage.
Tiberius shared in Augustus’ tribune powers as of 6 BC, but shortly thereafter went into retirement, reportedly wanting no further role in politics while he exiled himself to Rhodes. Although no specific reason is known for his departure, it could have been a combination of reasons, including a failing marriage with Julia, as well as a sense of envy and exclusion over Augustus’ apparent favouring of his young grandchildren-turned-sons, Gaius and Lucius, who joined the college of priests at an early age, were presented to spectators in a more favorable light, and were introduced to the army in Gaul.
After the early deaths of both Lucius and Gaius in AD 2 and 4 respectively, and the earlier death of his brother Drusus (9 BC), Tiberius was recalled to Rome in June AD 4, where he was adopted by Augustus on the condition that he, in turn, adopt his nephew Germanicus. This continued the tradition of presenting at least two generations of heirs. In that year, Tiberius was also granted the powers of a tribune and proconsul, emissaries from foreign kings had to pay their respects to him, and by 13 was awarded with his second triumph and equal level of imperium with that of Augustus.
The deified Augustus hovers over Tiberius and other Julio-Claudians in the Great Cameo of France
The only other possible claimant as heir was Postumus Agrippa, who had been exiled by Augustus in AD 7, his banishment made permanent by senatorial decree, and Augustus officially disowned him. He certainly fell out of Augustus’ favor as an heir; the historian Erich S. Gruen notes various contemporary sources that state Postumus Agrippa was a “vulgar young man, brutal and brutish, and of depraved character.” Postumus Agrippa was murdered at his place of exile either shortly before or after the death of Augustus.
On 19 August AD 14, Augustus died while visiting the place of his birth father’s death at Nola. Both Tacitus and Cassius Dio wrote that Livia brought about Augustus’ death by poisoning fresh figs, though this allegation remains unproven. Tiberius, who was present alongside Livia at Augustus’ deathbed, was named his heir. Augustus’ famous last words were, “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit”?referring to the play-acting and regal authority that he had put on as emperor. Publicly, though, his last words were, “Behold, I found Rome of clay, and leave her to you of marble.” An enormous funerary procession of mourners traveled with Augustus’ body from Nola to Rome, and on the day of his burial all public and private businesses closed for the day.
Tiberius and his son Drusus delivered the eulogy while standing atop two rostra. Coffin-bound, Augustus’ body was cremated on a pyre close to his mausoleum. It was proclaimed that Augustus joined the company of the gods as a member of the Roman pantheon. In 410, during the Sack of Rome, the mausoleum was despoiled by the Goths and his ashes scattered.
The historian D.C.A. Shotter states that Augustus’ policy of favoring the Julian family line over the Claudian might have afforded Tiberius sufficient cause to show open disdain for Augustus after the latter’s death; instead, Tiberius was always quick to rebuke those who criticized Augustus. Shotter suggests that Augustus’ deification, coupled with Tiberius’ “extremely conservative” attitude towards religion, obliged Tiberius to suppress any open resentment he might have harbored.
Also, the historian R. Shaw-Smith points to letters of Augustus to Tiberius which display affection towards Tiberius and high regard for his military merits. Shotter states that Tiberius focused his anger and criticism on Gaius Asinius Gallus (for marrying Vipsania after Augustus forced Tiberius to divorce her) as well as the two young Caesars Gaius and Lucius, instead of Augustus, the real architect of his divorce and imperial demotion.
Augustus in popular culture
Laureate bust of Augustus
Augustus’ reign laid the foundations of a regime that lasted for nearly fifteen hundred years through the ultimate decline of the Western Roman Empire and until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Both his adoptive surname, Caesar, and his title Augustus became the permanent titles of the rulers of Roman Empire for fourteen centuries after his death, in use both at Old Rome and at New Rome. In many languages, Caesar became the word for Emperor, as in the German Kaiser and in the Bulgarian and subsequently Russian Tsar. The cult of Divus Augustus continued until the state religion of the Empire was changed to Christianity in 391 by Theodosius I. Consequently, there are many excellent statues and busts of the first emperor. He had composed an account of his achievements, the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, to be inscribed in bronze in front of his mausoleum. Copies of the text were inscribed throughout the Empire upon his death. The inscriptions in Latin featured translations in Greek beside it, and were inscribed on many public edifices, such as the temple in Ankara dubbed the Monumentum Ancyranum, called the “queen of inscriptions” by historian Theodor Mommsen.
There are a few known written works by Augustus that have survived. This includes his poems Sicily, Epiphanus, and Ajax, an autobiography of 13 books, a philosophical treatise, and his written rebuttal to Brutus’ Eulogy of Cato. However, historians are able to analyze existing letters penned by Augustus to others for additional facts or clues about his personal life.
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. The Roman Senate wished subsequent emperors to “be more fortunate than Augustus and better than Trajan”. Augustus was intelligent, decisive, and a shrewd politician, but he was not perhaps as charismatic as Julius Caesar, and was influenced on occasion by his third wife, Livia (sometimes for the worse). Nevertheless, his legacy proved more enduring. The city of Rome was utterly transformed under Augustus, with Rome’s first institutionalized police force, fire fighting force, and the establishment of the municipal prefect as a permanent office. The police force was divided into cohorts of 500 men each, while the units of firemen ranged from 500 to 1,000 men each, with 7 units assigned to 14 divided city sectors.
A praefectus vigilum, or “Prefect of the Watch” was put in charge of the vigiles, Rome’s fire brigade and police. With Rome’s civil wars at an end, Augustus was also able to create a standing army for the Roman Empire, fixed at a size of 28 legions of about 170,000 soldiers. This was supported by numerous auxiliary units of 500 soldiers each, often recruited from recently conquered areas.
With his finances securing the maintenance of roads throughout Italy, Augustus also installed an official courier system of relay stations overseen by a military officer known as the praefectus vehiculorum. Besides the advent of swifter communication amongst Italian polities, his extensive building of roads throughout Italy also allowed Rome’s armies to march swiftly and at an unprecedented pace across the country. In the year 6 Augustus established the aerarium militare, donating 170 million sesterces to the new military treasury that provided for both active and retired soldiers.
One of the most enduring institutions of Augustus was the establishment of the Praetorian Guard in 27 BC, originally a personal bodyguard unit on the battlefield that evolved into an imperial guard as well as an important political force in Rome. They had the power to intimidate the Senate, install new emperors, and depose ones they disliked; the last emperor they served was Maxentius, as it was Constantine I who disbanded them in the early 4th century and destroyed their barracks, the Castra Praetoria.
Augustus in an Egyptian-style depiction, a stone carving of the Kalabsha Temple in Nubia.
Although the most powerful individual in the Roman Empire, Augustus wished to embody the spirit of Republican virtue and norms. He also wanted to relate to and connect with the concerns of the plebs and lay people. He achieved this through various means of generosity and a cutting back of lavish excess. In the year 29 BC, Augustus paid 400 sesterces each to 250,000 citizens, 1,000 sesterces each to 120,000 veterans in the colonies, and spent 700 million sesterces in purchasing land for his soldiers to settle upon. He also restored 82 different temples to display his care for the Roman pantheon of deities. In 28 BC, he melted down 80 silver statues erected in his likeness and in honor of him, an attempt of his to appear frugal and modest.
The longevity of Augustus’ reign and its legacy to the Roman world should not be overlooked as a key factor in its success. As Tacitus wrote, the younger generations alive in AD 14 had never known any form of government other than the Principate. Had Augustus died earlier (in 23 BC, for instance), matters might 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. Every Emperor of Rome adopted his name, Caesar Augustus, which gradually lost its character as a name and eventually became a title. The Augustan era poets Virgil and Horace praised Augustus as a defender of Rome, an upholder of moral justice, and an individual who bore the brunt of responsibility in maintaining the empire.
However, for his rule of Rome and establishing the principate, Augustus has also been subjected to criticism throughout the ages. The contemporary Roman jurist Marcus Antistius Labeo (d. AD 10/11), fond of the days of pre-Augustan republican liberty in which he had been born, openly criticized the Augustan regime. In the beginning of his Annals, the Roman historian Tacitus (c. 56c.117) wrote that Augustus had cunningly subverted Republican Rome into a position of slavery. He continued to say that, with Augustus’ death and swearing of loyalty to Tiberius, the people of Rome simply traded one slaveholder for another. Tacitus, however, records two contradictory but common views of Augustus:
Intelligent people praised or criticized him in varying ways. One opinion was as follows. Filial duty and a national emergency, in which there was no place for law-abiding conduct, had driven him to civil war and this can neither be initiated nor maintained by decent methods. He had made many concessions to Anthony and to Lepidus for the sake of vengeance on his father’s murderers. When Lepidus grew old and lazy, and Anthony’s self-indulgence got the better of him, the only possible cure for the distracted country had been government by one man. However, Augustus had put the state in order not by making himself king or dictator, but by creating the Principate. The Empire’s frontiers were on the ocean, or distant rivers. Armies, provinces, fleets, the whole system was interrelated. Roman citizens were protected by the law. Provincials were decently treated. Rome itself had been lavishly beautified. Force had been sparingly used merely to preserve peace for the majority.
According to the second opposing opinion:
filial duty and national crisis had been merely pretexts. In actual fact, the motive of Octavian, the future Augustus, was lust for power … There had certainly been peace, but it was a blood-stained peace of disasters and assassinations.
In a recent biography on Augustus, Anthony Everitt asserts that through the centuries, judgments on Augustus’ reign have oscillated between these two extremes but stresses that:
“Opposites do not have to be mutually exclusive, and we are not obliged to choose one or the other. The story of his career shows that Augustus was indeed ruthless, cruel, and ambitious for himself. This was only in part a personal trait, for upper-class Romans were educated to compete with one another and to excel. However, he combined an overriding concern for his personal interests with a deep-seated patriotism, based on a nostalgia of Rome’s antique virtues. In his capacity as princeps, selfishness and selflessness coexisted in his mind. While fighting for dominance, he paid little attention to legality or to the normal civilities of political life. He was devious, untrustworthy, and bloodthirsty. But once he had established his authority, he governed efficiently and justly, generally allowed freedom of speech, and promoted the rule of law. He was immensely hardworking and tried as hard as any democratic parliamentarian to treat his senatorial colleagues with respect and sensitivity. He suffered from no delusions of grandeur.”
Tacitus was of the belief that Nerva (r. 96-98) successfully “mingled two formerly alien ideas, principate and liberty.” The 3rd century historian Cassius Dio acknowledged Augustus as a benign, moderate ruler, yet like most other historians after the death of Augustus, Dio viewed Augustus as an autocrat. The poet Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (AD 39-65) was of the opinion that Caesar’s victory over Pompey and the fall of Cato the Younger (95 BC-46 BC) marked the end of traditional liberty in Rome; historian Chester G. Starr, Jr. writes of his avoidance of criticizing Augustus, “perhaps Augustus was too sacred a figure to accuse directly.”
The Anglo-Irish writer Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), in his Discourse on the Contests and Dissentions in Athens and Rome, criticized Augustus for installing tyranny over Rome, and likened what he believed Great Britain’s virtuous constitutional monarchy to Rome’s moral Republic of the 2nd century BC. In his criticism of Augustus, the admiral and historian Thomas Gordon (1658-1741) compared Augustus to the puritanical tyrant Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). Thomas Gordon and the French political philosopher Montesquieu (1689-1755) both remarked that Augustus was a coward in battle. In his Memoirs of the Court of Augustus, the Scottish scholar Thomas Blackwell (1701-1757) deemed Augustus a Machiavellian ruler, “a bloodthirsty vindicative usurper”, “wicked and worthless”, “a mean spirit”, and a “tyrant”.
Augustus’ public revenue reforms had a great impact on the subsequent success of the Empire. Augustus brought a far greater portion of the Empire’s expanded land base under consistent, direct taxation from Rome, instead of exacting varying, intermittent, and somewhat arbitrary tributes from each local province as Augustus’ predecessors had done. This reform greatly increased Rome’s net revenue from its territorial acquisitions, stabilized its flow, and regularized the financial relationship between Rome and the provinces, rather than provoking fresh resentments with each new arbitrary exaction of tribute.
The measures of taxation in the reign of Augustus were determined by population census, with fixed quotas for each province. Citizens of Rome and Italy paid indirect taxes, while direct taxes were exacted from the provinces. Indirect taxes included a 4% tax on the price of slaves, a 1% tax on goods sold at auction, and a 5% tax on the inheritance of estates valued at over 100,000 sesterces by persons other than the next of kin.
An equally important reform was the abolition of private tax farming, which was replaced by salaried civil service tax collectors. Private contractors that raised taxes had been the norm in the Republican era, and some had grown powerful enough to influence the amount of votes for politicians in Rome. The tax farmers had gained great infamy for their depredations, as well as great private wealth, by winning the right to tax local areas.
Rome’s revenue was the amount of the successful bids, and the tax farmers’ profits consisted of any additional amounts they could forcibly wring from the populace with Rome’s blessing. Lack of effective supervision, combined with tax farmers’ desire to maximize their profits, had produced a system of arbitrary exactions that was often barbarously cruel to taxpayers, widely (and accurately) perceived as unfair, and very harmful to investment and the economy.
The use of Egypt’s immense land rents to finance the Empire’s operations resulted from Augustus’ conquest of Egypt and the shift to a Roman form of government. As it was effectively considered Augustus’ private property rather than a province of the Empire, it became part of each succeeding emperor’s patrimonium. Instead of a legate or proconsul, Augustus installed a prefect from the equestrian class to administer Egypt and maintain its lucrative seaports; this position became the highest political achievement for any equestrian besides becoming Prefect of the Praetorian Guard. The highly productive agricultural land of Egypt yielded enormous revenues that were available to Augustus and his successors to pay for public works and military expeditions, as well as bread and circuses for the population of Rome.
Month of August
The month of August (Latin: Augustus) is named after Augustus; until his time it was called Sextilis (named so because it had been the sixth month of the original Roman calendar and the Latin word for six is sex). 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). According to a senatus consultum quoted by Macrobius, Sextilis was renamed to honor Augustus because several of the most significant events in his rise to power, culminating in the fall of Alexandria, fell in that month.
Category:Augustan building projects
Vitruvius and De architectura
On his deathbed, Augustus boasted “I found a Rome of bricks; I leave to you one of marble”. Although there is some truth in the literal meaning of this, Cassius Dio asserts that it was a metaphor for the Empire’s strength. Marble could be found in buildings of Rome before Augustus, but it was not extensively used as a building material until the reign of Augustus.
Although this did not apply to the Subura slums, which were still as rickety and fire-prone as ever, he did leave a mark on the monumental topography of the centre and of the Campus Martius, with the Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace) and monumental sundial, whose central gnomon was an obelisk taken from Egypt. The relief sculptures decorating the Ara Pacis visually augmented the written record of Augustus’ triumphs in the Res Gestae. Its reliefs depicted the imperial pageants of the praetorians, the Vestals, and the citizenry of Rome.
He also built the Temple of Caesar, the Baths of Agrippa, and the Forum of Augustus with its Temple of Mars Ultor. Other projects were either encouraged by him, such as the Theatre of Balbus, and Agrippa’s construction of the Pantheon, or funded by him in the name of others, often relations (e.g. Portico of Octavia, Theatre of Marcellus). Even his Mausoleum of Augustus was built before his death to house members of his family.
To celebrate his victory at the Battle of Actium, the Arch of Augustus was built in 29 BC near the entrance of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, and widened in 19 BC to include a triple-arch design. There are also many buildings outside of the city of Rome that bear Augustus’ name and legacy, such as the Theatre of Merida in modern Spain, the Maison Carre built at Nmes in today’s southern France, as well as the Trophy of Augustus at La Turbie, located near Monaco.
After the death of Agrippa in 12 BC, a solution had to be found in maintaining Rome’s water supply system. This came about because it was overseen by Agrippa when he served as aedile, and was even funded by him afterwards when he was a private citizen paying at his own expense. In that year, Augustus arranged a system where the Senate designated three of its members as prime commissioners in charge of the water supply and to ensure that Rome’s aqueducts did not fall into disrepair.
In the late Augustan era, the commission of five senators called the curatores locorum publicorum iudicandorum (translated as “Supervisors of Public Property”) was put in charge of maintaining public buildings and temples of the state cult. Augustus created the senatorial group of the curatores viarum (translated as “Supervisors for Roads”) for the upkeep of roads; this senatorial commission worked with local officials and contractors to organize regular repairs.
The Corinthian order of architectural style originating from ancient Greece was the dominant architectural style in the age of Augustus and the imperial phase of Rome. Suetonius once commented that Rome was unworthy of its status as an imperial capital, yet Augustus and Agrippa set out to dismantle this sentiment by transforming the appearance of Rome upon the classical Greek model.
Physical appearance and official images
His biographer Suetonius, writing about a century after Augustus’ death, described his appearance as: “… unusually handsome and exceedingly graceful at all periods of his life, though he cared nothing for personal adornment. He was so far from being particular about the dressing of his hair, that he would have several barbers working in a hurry at the same time, and as for his beard he now had it clipped and now shaved, while at the very same time he would either be reading or writing something … He had clear, bright eyes … His teeth were wide apart, small, and ill-kept; his hair was slightly curly and inclined to golden; his eyebrows met. His ears were of moderate size, and his nose projected a little at the top and then bent ever so slightly inward. His complexion was between dark and fair. He was short of stature, although Julius Marathus, his freedman and keeper of his records, says that he was five feet and nine inches (just under 5 ft. 7 in., or 1.70 meters, in modern height measurements), but this was concealed by the fine proportion and symmetry of his figure, and was noticeable only by comparison with some taller person standing beside him…”, adding that “his shoes [were] somewhat high-soled, to make him look taller than he really was”
His official images were very tightly controlled and idealized, drawing from a tradition of Hellenistic royal portraiture rather than the tradition of realism in Roman portraiture. He first appeared on coins at the age of 19, and from about 29 BC “the explosion in the number of Augustan portraits attests a concerted propaganda campaign aimed at dominating all aspects of civil, religious, economic and military life with Augustus’ person.” The early images did indeed depict a young man, but although there were gradual changes his images remained youthful until he died in his seventies, by which time they had “a distanced air of ageless majesty”. Among the best known of many surviving portraits are the Augustus of Prima Porta, the image on the Ara Pacis, and the Via Labicana Augustus, which shows him as a priest. Several cameo portraits include the Blacas Cameo and Gemma Augustea.