- The Emperor Augustus 27 BC-AD 14
The first and perhaps greatest of the Roman emperors, Augustus ended a bloody civil war, ruled with wisdom and power, and united and kept peace in Rome for many years.
Augustus was born with the name "Octavian." Well educated in philosophy, rhetoric, and military skills as a boy, he was adopted by his uncle Julius Caesar and became his heir. When Caesar was assassinated, Octavian raised an army to claim his inheritance and avenge his uncle's murder. At the battle of Actium in 31 BC, he defeated the last of his opponents, Mark Anthony, and took control of Rome.
To legitimate his power, the Senate named him Imperium proconsulare maius infinitum in 23 BC, which gave him control over the provinces and the army. He saw taking control as the only way to sustain the empire. Even though it was a nominally a republic, he ran it as an autocracy. He acted in the name of the Senate, and the Senate reflected his will to keep people satisfied that the government was working together.
Augustus also kept the people satisfied with their leader and proud of Rome. He built temples to encourage and place importance in Roman religion. He was a patron of the arts, gladly spending money to improve the artwork of Rome, and encouraged the wealthy class to do the same. To improve the moral climate of the empire, Augustus tried to revive the traditional Roman religion. He also tried to fortify the traditional Roman family by established laws which punished adultery and required marriage and the remarriage of widows.
To more effectively govern the empire, he developed an imperial civil service. To more effectively govern the city of Rome, he divided it into 14 wards, and organized a bureaucracy to control them. The Urban cohorts were his police force for the wards, and either senators or Augustus himself served as ward leaders.
The military was probably the focal point of his leadership. He had a great military mind, and used his military strength well. He organized the military with himself at the head, and used it to control the frontier regions of the Roman empire as well as invade new countries. Among his claims made include Spain, Gaul, Egypt, and Armenia. He also signed a peace treaty with Parthia, showing he used wisdom as well as aggression.
Augustus died with honor, and was remembered well by his people. He gave Roman control to his stepson Tiberius for he had no other living male offspring. He was a great leader for the Roman empire. His wisdom and intelligence benefited the people of his empire, for he was a strong as well as fair ruler.
Gaius Octavianus was born on September 23, 63 B.C. His parents were Caius Octavianus, a praetor, and Atia, a niece of the great Julius Caesar by his sister Julia. At the age of four, his father died. In 53 B.C., at the age of twelve, he delivered his first funeral oration for his grandmother, Julia. At this same age, he began his first priesthood.
Caesar became fond of his great nephew. Octavian even celebrated a few of Caesar's triumphs with him in Rome. Octavius was never possessed strength, and when Caesar saw this weakness, he offered to give him military training at Apollonia, in Epirus. Here, he studied not only the arts of war, but philosophy. While at Apollonia at the age of eighteen, Caesar was assassinated.
Rise to Power
Caesar had willed the position of emperor to Octavian. Octavian traveled to Rome, where he had to deal with his rival, Marc Antony . Antony was Caesar's best friend and had decided that he wanted all of the power. Even though Octavian was willed the position of emperor, Antony still felt that it should have been his. The Senate, however, thought differently. They were anxious to snub the ambitious Antony, so they made Octavian a senator and asked for his aid in the wars that had begun as a result of Caesar's assassination. Also, Octavian befriended M. Tullius Cicero, a fierce foe of Antony. Tensions between Marc Antony and Octavian eventually erupted into open warfare. The decisive battle came in April of 43 B.C., when Octavian fought Antony at Mutina. Octavian won, and as a result, Octavian's troops demanded that he be given a consulship. The Senate reluctantly agreed and Gaius Octavian became Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus.
Even though Octavian had defeated Antony, there still was unrest within the city. In order to obtain peace and ensure that there would be no more fighting, Octavius formed the Second Triumvirate with Antony and Marcus Lepidus on November 27, 43 B.C. From this deal, Octavian assumed rule over Africa, Sicily, and Sardinia, leaving Antony control of the East. However, they did not come into power until they defeated the Liberators, the assassins of Julius Caesar, at Philippi in 42 B.C.
For political reasons, Octavian married Scribonia. She was a relative of Sextus Pompey, the son of Pompey the Great. Regardless of the importance of the marriage, Octavian eventually divorced Scribonia and married Livia Drusilla . He would live with her for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, Antony married Octavia, Octavian's sister. This move was supposed to help out the relationship between Octavian and Antony.
After the death of Caesar, Cleopatra fled from Rome and went back to Egypt. However, in 41 B.C., Antony summoned Cleopatra to Tarsus to see if she had aided in the conspiracy. According to Plutarch, she didn't just meet him, she seduced him:
"She came sailing up the river Cydnus in a ship with a golden
stern and outspread sails, while silver oars beat time to the music
of flutes, fifes, and harps. She lay under a canopy of gold cloth,
dressed as Venus in a picture, while beautiful boys like painted
cupids stood on each side and fanned her. Her maids were dressed
like sea nymphs and graces, and some were steering the rudder
while others worked the ropes. All manner of sweet perfumes
were wafted ashore." *
In 37 B.C., the Triumvirate signed the Treaty of Tarentum. According to its terms, Octavian took the West, Antony received the East, and Lepidus governed Africa. This would be the last treaty that the Second Triumvirate would sign. Soon thereafter, Antony divorced Octavia and ran off to Egypt to be with Cleopatra. This enraged Octavian. However, he could not chase Antony to Egypt because a pirate, Sextus Pompey, was threatening Rome.
Finally in 36 B.C., Marcus Agrippa, Octavian's skillful right-hand man, defeated Sextus Pompey at Naulochus. Now Octavian could deal with Antony. However, another problem arose: Lepidus, the third person in the Triumvirate, feared that he was going to lose all of his power, so he revolted. Octavian now had to suppress this revolt before confronting Antony. Octavian defeated Lepidus with no problem and took away his legions and sent him into exile in Circeii. Now, there were only two people in charge of the Roman Empire.
Octavian used his head, though, and decided that a war was not the answer. Antony returned to Rome and took the title of Imperator. He decided that the Empire's boundaries were most important, so he staged campaigns at Illyricum and Dalmatia (35-33 B.C.) and then proclaimed the boundaries to be safe. While this was happening, Agrippa began a beautification program, which gained a lot of popularity for Octavian.
In October of 32 B.C., the western provinces swore allegiance to Octavian. War seemed inevitable and everyone knew it. Octavian tried to lure Antony and his army to an area in southern Italy for a decisive battle. Fearing treachery, Antony left Italy and set up his headquarters at Actium, off the coast of Greece. Antony overlooked a spot near Actium where Octavian could land his ships, so Octavian decided to ferry his troops to Actium.
On the morning of September 2, 31 B.C., the battle of Actium began. Antony had over five hundred ships, including one of Cleopatra's squadrons. Nonetheless, a few of Octavian's smaller, faster ships defeated Antony's heavily armored, slow moving ships. Upon seeing this, Cleopatra turned her ships around and sailed off toward Egypt. When Antony saw this he left his troops in the heat of battle and chased a woman!
Before running off after Cleopatra, Antony had nineteen legions, twelve thousand horses, a huge navy, provinces with inexhaustible resources of treasure and manpower, and a capital in Alexandria that rivaled Rome in wealth and splendor. When he ran away, he lost all of this. Once he was gone, Octavian, with the TREMENDOUS help from his skillful advisor, Agrippa, defeated Antony's forces.
* - Whether this was the exact time that Antony fell in love with Cleopatra VII is unknown, however, it is rather odd that she would be so alluring just to meet him upon his request!
Sole Rule of the Empire
After the battle of Actium in 31 B.C., Octavian had complete control of the empire. The wealth of Egypt flowed into his private treasury, and he was now undoubtedly the most powerful man in Rome. He had sixty legions at his command to control the empire. Once he obtained full authority, he held the consulship from 31-27 B.C. In 27 B.C. he gave up his powers to the Senate, saying that he would no longer be consul because his perpetual tenure of the office was causing offense and was keeping all of the other nobles out of the consulship. His adherents had been carefully briefed to say that Rome could not do without his services, and the people followed these cries and urged him to become dictator.
However, he said no. He declined because he knew that if he became dictator, the same thing could happen to him that happened to Caesar: he would have been killed. So, he gave up the dictatorship, but he remained consul and received special command, called imperium, of the most important provinces, which were Spain, Gaul, Syria, and a few others. He also remained the commander-in-chief of the Roman army. Moreover, the imperial provinces, which he did not directly govern, were governed by legates who were directly appointed by Octavian. He also received tribuneship for life and was allowed to sit between the two consuls and speak on matters of debate. These two privileges allowed him to wage war, make treaties, and regulate Rome's relations with dependent kings of states bordering the frontiers of the empire. Finally, he was given the name Augustus as an honor for so graciously "giving away his powers." Because of his previous actions and because of the positions that he had held in Rome, Augustus had complete authority. He took the name princeps, or "first citizen," and was the undisputed first citizen for forty-five consecutive years.
However, he demonstrated his political astuteness by refusing the dictatorship and the titles that came along with it. During his reign, Augustus had an extensive building program. He built things such as the Ara Pacis, Horologium, the Forum of Augustus, the Mausoleum of Augustus , the Theater of Marcelus, the Baths of Agrippa, and the Pantheon . He also made many repairs to existing buildings. There were a couple of statues that were made of him too, the most famous being the Prima Porta.* Augustus was completely dedicated to the beautification of Rome.
To further his power, he became pontifex maximus in 12 B.C. and was named pater patriae, or father or his country, in 2 B.C. The type of government that he had set up came to be known as principate, or "rule by the first citizen." While maintaining a Republican facade, he retained complete authority suntil he died in A.D. 14. His adopted son Tiberius took over his powers as emperor.
* - The Prima Porta is a larger-than-life size statue. It portrays Augustus addressing his troops. He is in his middle years with a face that is grave and firm. The center of the breastplate has a scene depicting the return of the standards captured from Crassus and Antony by the Partheans. Above, under a figure representing the sky, is the sun in his chariot preceded by the dawn with the moon giving place to them. Below is Mother Earth with a cornucopia and two children, representing the prosperity that comes with peace. On either side are Augustus' two particular divine patrons, Apollo with his lyre and Diana on a stag. The Prima Porta is currently in the Vatican.