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Roman Emperor - Augustus

Updated on August 25, 2019
Bust of Emperor Augustus wearing the Corona Civica.
Bust of Emperor Augustus wearing the Corona Civica.

Early Years

Born Gaius Octavius, at Rome, Italy, 23 September 63 BC. The son of Gaius Octavius by Atia, niece of Julius Caesar. His father died in 58 BC; his mother Atia remarried, and Octavius passed into the household of his stepfather L. Marcius Philippus.

From early youth, Octavius showed an extraordinary ability, which won him the high esteem of his childless great-uncle Julius Caesar.

At the age of 15 or 16 he was elected to the college of pontiffs, and in 46 BC took part in Caesar's triumphant return from conquering Gaul.

Octavius was studying in Illyricum in Greece at the time of his great-uncle's assassination in 44 BC. On receiving the news of Caesar's demise he returned to Rome and found that shortly before he was assassinated Caesar had adopted him as his son and made him his heir. His correct name was now Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, and from this date until 27 BC, he was to be known as Octavian, but he insisted on being called Caesar. His generosity and the name of Caesar won Caesar's legions and the people of Rome to his side.

The orator Cicero helped him legalize his adoption over the objections of Mark Antony, Caesar's chief lieutenant, who had seized Caesar's papers and money.

Although he was only 19 and did not look very strong Octavian was ruthlessly ambitious and a superb politician. His first rival, Mark Antony, was in control of Rome and Octavian quickly realised that he needed military support to put himself on an equal footing. Therefore he was prepared to cooperate with the Senate against Antony in the war that finally broke out in 43 BC but he then used his own army to demand political power for himself.

Until then Octavian had to deal with the senators who had feared and hated Caesar and with Caesar's friends, especially Mark Antony. Both factions planned to make use of Octavian to gain their ends, while he meant to use both to gain power.

August is the eighth month of the year. It was the sixth month of the Roman calendar, and had 30 days. It was called Sextilis, which means sixth. The Romans renamed it to honor the emperor Augustus. During Augustus' reign, the Roman Senate lengthened the month to 31 days by taking a day from February.

Power Struggle

When Antony took over Rome after Caesar's death, the friction between Octavian and Antony, and the Senate and Antony came to head.

Antony lost the support of the Senate by recruiting troops loyal to himself; and trying to remove the governor of Cisalpine Gaul, Decimus Brutus, from office. Cicero denounced Antony to the Romans, and commissioned Octavian to resolve the matter by force. Antony was defeated in Cisalpine Gaul at the battle of Mutina in 43 BC (now Modena, in north-central Italy).

Having won a good bargaining position, Octavian forced the Senate to elect him one of the two consuls of Rome. Octavian knew that the senate mistrusted not only Antony but also himself. To oppose the senate more effectively, he joined forces with Antony. Along with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, a Roman general, the two rivals formed the Second Triumvirate, which took upon itself power for reestablishing the state. Anyone who could be regarded as an enemy was killed (especially rich men, for Rome was bankrupt) and they killed more than 2000 enemies, including Cicero, who had befriended Octavian but was hated by Antony.

With Rome reasonably secure, the triumvirs moved against the eastern provinces. There the senators Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius, the conspirators who had murdered Caesar, staunch supporters of the Roman Republic and enemies of the triumvirate, had gathered an army of 80,000.

Octavian and Antony led an army against Brutus and Cassius. Thanks to the generalship of Antony, they defeated them at Philippi, Macedonia, in 42 BC. Octavian returned to Italy, where, in 41, he defeated Antony's brother Lucius, and in the next year was reconciled anew with Antony and a fresh distribution of the provinces was made, Octavian taking the western, Antony the eastern, and Lepidus (the least influential of the three rulers) was assigned to Africa. The alliance was cemented by a marriage between Antony and Octavian's sister Octavia.

With the help of Agrippa, Octavian then turned his arms against Sextus Pompeius, whose fleet controlled the Mediterranean sea routes, who was defeated in 36 BC and put to death soon afterwards. Lepidus was also deprived of his authority, and only one obstacle remained — Mark Antony. Relations between the two remaining strong men deteriorated, particularly since Antony had fallen under the influence of the equally ambitious queen of Egypt, Cleopatra.

When Antony gave Roman provinces to his children by her, Octavian went to war against Antony and Cleopatra. Antony's actions, well publicized by Octavian, aroused the hostility of the Romans toward Antony. In 31 BC, Marcus Agrippa, Octavian's general, chief adviser and also an admiral, defeated the combined fleets of Antony and Cleopatra in a naval battle at Actium, on the west coast of Greece (at Akri, a promontory in Western Greek). This resulted in Octavian becoming the undisputed ruler of the Roman world.

Alexandria was captured on 1 August 30 BC, when Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide. Octavian returned to Italy in the summer of 29, celebrated a triumph, and was hailed by all classes as the saviour of Rome and the restorer of peace after 60 years of war and civil strife. The doors of the Temple of Janus, the god of beginnings, were closed to symbolize the end of civil strife and the beginning of the Pax Romana, or peace throughout the Roman world.

There had been civil war, or at least some form of civil disturbance, since 49 BC and even before then political life had been violent and chaotic. What the Roman world desperately needed was peace and orderly government and that was what Octavian now gave it. Octavian learned from the experience of Julius Caesar who had also been sole ruler but who had paraded his power too openly and had been killed for it. In January 27 BC he formally surrendered all of his powers but, not surprisingly, the Senate refused to let him become a private citizen. Instead he was given control of a number of large provinces for 10 years and in gratitude the Senate also voted him several honours, including the new name of Augustus, a semi-religious title. In theory he was neither a dictator nor a king but the first citizen, sharing responsibility with the Senate. In practice he controlled virtually all of the army, which was stationed for the most part in his provinces, and this was the real basis of his power. He was also until 23 BC consul in Rome each year (that is, one of the two heads of state). His powers were renewed and slightly altered in later years but he always retained control without incurring the hatred of the Senate and his position and powers became the basis for all future rulers.

Reign of Augustus

Augustus, meaning 'venerable' or 'majestic', was a title conferred by the Senate upon the first Roman emperor and borne by all his successors.

In the 44 years that followed, he proved himself a great statesman. His aim was to make the rapidly expanding Empire united, peaceful and secure; this he achieved by far-sighted and painstaking reorganization of administration, finance and the army, taking to himself authority in a gradually extended number of spheres. He was the patron of the great (Augustan) age of Roman literature and architecture.

Octavian (having divorced his first wife Scribonia, who had borne him a daughter, Julia), had married Livia in 38, and with her assistance and that of Agrippa he proceeded to establish his own strength, to win public favour and to strengthen public confidence in his administration.

It is usual to describe the system of government now inaugurated by Octavian as the 'principate'. The old republican forms were restored in their entirety, but his was in fact the controlling hand.

When he next left Rome, late in 27 BC, he had secured tribunician power, the certainty of continuous re-election to the consulship and, above all, a 10 years' imperium which gave him control of the frontier provinces, sole command of all the armed forces and the right to determine foreign relations.

From the end of 27 until the autumn of 19 BC, Augustus was absent from Rome pacifying and reorganising the provinces, first in the west and then in the east. In 18 BC his imperium was renewed for five years, in which his son-in-law Agrippa was his colleague. The next two years were spent in domestic reforms; but from 16 to 13 he was again absent, dealing with matters arising from the necessity of strengthening and extending the northern frontiers.

Immediately on his return his imperium was renewed for yet another five years, and after the death of Lepidus in 12 BC he was elected Pontifex Maximus.


  • Augustus expanded the empire slightly, but he was more interested in peace than in war. He fought only when necessary.
  • His generals Agrippa and Tiberius won victories in Spain, and in Pannonia and Dalmatia (now parts of Hungary and Yugoslavia).
  • Augustus annexed Egypt.
  • Victories from Switzerland to Rumania established the right bank of the Danube as the Roman frontier.
  • The Gallic area conquered by Julius Caesar was organized and the Rhine was firmly established as a border.
  • In the east, his skilful diplomacy settled the Euphrates as the border between Rome and the Parthians.

Death of the Emperor

Augustus died at Nola, Italy, August 19, in 14 AD at the age of 76.

After his death, the people of the Roman Empire worshiped him as Divine Augustus. The remains of his tomb and many of his buildings may be seen in Rome.

Augustus was buried in a splendid mausoleum in Rome. Honored by all Rome, he was deified by the senate shortly after his death, He was succeeded by his stepson, Tiberius.


For more than 50 years, Augustus was the dominant figure of ancient Rome. During this time he reorganized the empire won by the generals of the republic, by Pompey, and by Caesar, and he made great additions to the Roman domain.

Augustus restored peace and order after 100 years of civil war. He maintained honest government, a sound currency system, and free trade among the provinces.

He developed an efficient postal system, improved harbors, and established colonies. He extended the elaborate highway system that connected Rome to remote parts of the empire.

Augustus gave control of the empire's more peaceful provinces to the Senate. But he kept control of frontier provinces that needed protection or pacification, and maintained a standing army for this task. He also kept a standing navy in the Mediterranean Sea, and a bodyguard called the Praetorian Guard in Rome. This small standing army, of about 25 legions, was directly responsible to him and was the basis of his power.

Many roads, bridges, aqueducts, and beautiful buildings were built in Rome under Augustus. He boasted that he "found Rome rock and left it marble." He not only completed buildings left unfinished by Julius Caesar, but also restored many structures, including 82 temples. Sculptors created many beautiful works in a classic style to decorate his buildings.

Augustus reformed the provincial administration to prevent the resurgence of corruption. He revised taxing and the policing of the city of Rome and the
Mediterranean Sea.

During his long life he rebuilt many of the public areas of Rome. He also improved the provincial administration, tried to ensure a return to traditional Roman beliefs and values and encouraged such patriotic writers as Virgil, Horace and Livy. By the time that he died, he had been given the title 'Father of the Country' and, especially in the east, was regarded as a semi-divine figure. After his death he was declared a god.

His influence was so far-reaching that it lasted, and even increased, for nearly 200 years. Rome achieved great glory during Augustus' reign and the period came to be known as the Augustan Age, an era of stability and creativity. This was the golden age of Roman literature and architecture.


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      It was published 3 years ago (2009), just to let you know. I needed to find out for school sooo I did! This was really useful and I'm using it as a source for my essay:3 thanks

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      i hate this

    • profile image

      9 years ago

      When was this written?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      hehe i was him in my past life heheh

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great website!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Origin profile image


      9 years ago from Minneapolis

      He's probably my top interest concerning people of the Roman time period, he's accomplished quite a lot during his lifetime!

    • heyju profile image


      10 years ago

      Smart guy. No wonder at a young age his uncle was impressed by him. Thanks for bringing a little more history to light for me. Loved it!!

    • AJHargrove profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      I'm always impressed when someone so young can do so much. He was undeniably a talented man.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I love all this stuff - it's all so dramatic and theactinsof such men still reverberate today in politics, education and society in general. I think I mentioned in a comment on your Nero Hub that I recently re-watched the 1978 BBC series "I, Claudius" - unfortunately, Augustus was portrayed ad a buffoon by Brian Blessed ( a double shame as Blessed is ans excellent acor and Augustus was no buffoon !). I also watched over tha last 2 years, another BBC series "Rome" which is more famous for its sex scenes than historical accuracy. But it did give a great sense of the atmosphere of the time - the physicalities of daily life, the social structure, the mores, the spiritual life etc.

      I live on the Gulf of St Tropez - Frejus is very close by where there are lots of roman ruins from the time of Augustus and Mark A. - the old port has been silted up for centuries, but at the time was one of the deepest sea ports on the Gaul coast of the Med - along with what is now Toulon and Marseille - and so was important to the Romans. There is a wonderful theatre at Orange with a statu of Augustus - I love it all !!!!!!!!!

    • VioletSun profile image


      10 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

      Its amazing that he was a teenager and had the ability and maturity to be a leader. This was a good read; brings back memories when I was in my High School days and would read about the ancient Romans and also Greeks, and truly enjoyed it, wasn't homework at all for me.


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