Augustus Caesaar is known as one of the most prominent and capable leaders in Roman history. Born as Gaius Octavius Thurnius, Augustus became a member of the Second Triumvirate. He eventually defeated the army of his fellow Triumvirate member, Marcus Antonius and became sole ruler of Rome. Octavius was renamed Augustus by the Roman Senate and the era of Pax Romana (Roman peace) was ushered in. Pax Romana lasted for two hundred years. This era, known as the Golden Age, is the longest period in time that there has been peace in human history.
Gaius Octavius Thurnius was born on September 23, 63 B.C. to Atia, who was the niece of Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar was the dictator of Rome at this time. Octavians’ first public appearance came when he was twelve years old, in 51 B.C. His grandmother Julia died and he delivered the eulogy at her funeral. Octavius was adopted by Julius Caesar and “after the assassination of Julius on March 15, 44 B.C. (The Ides Of March) Rome plunged into chaos” (Matthews, 108). Due to the fact that Julius Caesar had put Octavian in his will, Octavian had the right to the name Caesar and assumed the name C. Julius Caesar Octavianus. The nineteen-year-old Octavian was given minimal power by the senate in 43 B.C., only to have it taken away again. Angered by this move by the senate, Octavian formed an alliance called the Second Triumvirate with Marcus Antonius and Marcus Lepidus. Marcus Antonius took control of Egypt, and Marcus Lepidus assumed power in North Africa while Octavian ruled Italy, Gaul, France and Spain. The first actions of the members of the Second Triumvirate were to kill the great speaker and writer Cicero along with more than a hundred other senators and knights. Their next move was to avenge the murder of Julius Caesar and to move against the Senators under the leadership of Brutus and Cassius. Brutus and Cassius were defeated and killed at the battle of Philippi in Macedonia in 42 B.C.
The Second Triumvirate was now dominant, but did not last very long as the members began to feud amongst themselves. Marcus Lepidus tried to overthrow Octavian, but failed and was stripped of his title. Octavian confined Lepidus to house arrest and Lepidus later died. This event left Marcus Lepidus’ third of Rome for Marcus Antonius and Octavian to divide. Octavian assumed control of the Roman forces in the West and Marcus Antonius controlled the Roman forces in the East.
Inevitably, a battle for control between Octavian and Marcus Antonius ensued. This battle would be the largest civil war Rome had ever seen. Marcus Antonius, supported by the pharaoh of Egypt, Cleopatra, prepared his land forces and his navy in an attempt to overthrow Octavian. The two naval forces, Octavian’s navy commanded by Marcus Agrippa, and Marcus Antonius’ and Cleopatra’s navy, met at the battle of Actium on September 2, 31 BC. The naval forces of Octavian, commanded by the General Agrippa, came to be victorious. Upon hearing of Agrippa’s victory, the land forces of Antonius defected to the side of Octavian instead of putting up a fight. Marcus Antonius survived and escaped back to Egypt with Cleopatra, however, both commited suicide by the next year. Octavian assumed control of Egypt, Rome’s richest territory and it came under his personal control. “The Battle of Actium is thought of as one of the most decisive battles ever fought because it established Octavian’s position as master of the entire Greco-Roman world” (Grant, 245). Octavian now had the funds from the conquest of Egypt to pay his army and he also had increased the size of his own army due to the defection of Antonius’ army to his side. Octavian was now the sole commander of Rome and returned to Rome in victory.
After much celebration, Octavian was given the title Imperator Caesar Augustus, Augustus meaning “Holy” or “Blessed One” by the Senate. “Remembering that Julius Caesar has been murdered because of his recourse to naked power, he understood that the nobles would tolerate his autocracy only if he concealed it behind acceptable republican traditions”(Grant, 247). After putting on a lavish demonstration and stating that he wished to relinquish his power back to the people, Octavian gave up his role as supreme ruler. The Senate persuaded Augustus to take over and rule completely. Augustus received the tribuncian power for life and assumed the role of protector of the Roman people. He also received the right to intervene in the lands controlled by the Senate. In 2 B.C. Augustus was given the title “Father of his Country”, which is the title that he was the most pleased with. After all the celebrations were over Augustus stayed away from Rome. He used the money that he had plundered from Egypt after the battle of Actium to relocate the men that had fought for him into Italy and Rome.
The largest source of Augustus’ power came from being leader of the military. “The major portion of the army was not, however, kept in Italy, where rebellious generals might intrigue with the Senate and rise in sudden revolt. Instead, the Roman legions (twenty-eight of them, of six thousand men each, plus enough auxiliary forces to bring the total to about forty thousand men) were stationed at the other boundaries of the realm in just those places where there might be trouble with the barbaric tribes beyond the border”(Fagan, 12). It was also of great importance to Augustus that his elite troops and military officers were of Roman descent. Augustus felt that this made certain that people with pride, feelings, and love for the Roman Empire would run the army with Roman traditions. “Augustus also established an effective police force, a fire-brigade and a strong permanent bodyguard, the Praetorian Guard”(Hibbert, 36).
Augustus understood the importance of propaganda. A sculpture called the Augustus from Prima Porta was created and it depicted Augustus with cupid. This was created to associate Augustus with the gods. Augustus commissioned the leading writers and artists of his time. The poets Vergil and Horace were of importance to Augustus and he actively supported each of them. Their works glorified Rome’s past and the greatness of Augustus’ achievements. Vergil was commissioned by Augustus to write a great roman epic that would rival the works of Homer. The epic, entitled the Aaenid, would serve to promote the old Roman values and to once again connect Augustus with the gods by saying Augustus was a descendant of Romulus. This time of restoration is frequently referred to as “The Golden Age of Latin Literature”. In public, Augustus lived quietly in a small simple house instead of a grand palace. He was confident that his empire was secure and the issue of succession settled. In 13 B.C., the Ara Pacis, Altar of Peace, was unveiled. In this monument Augustus and his family are shown on the way to a sacrifice. Augustus once said, “When I came to Rome, it was made of bricks. When I left, Rome was made of marble.” (Matthews, 124). Latin literature achieved its highest level of excellence with the help of Augustus’ promoting of higher learning and his patronizing of the arts. The term “Augustan Age”, used to describe periods of great literary achievement in modern nations, shows that Augustus had a huge impact on the world’s history of learning. Augustus supported traditional religion, restoring temples, requiring the worship of the traditional deities and he even became Pontifex Maximus (High Priest) in 12 B.C.
In an effort to bring back the moral standards of the past, Augustus established a code of laws and social programs. The laws Augustus passed restored the family unit, which gave total power of the family to the head male. These laws included such things as encouraging marriage and child bearing with penalties imposed on women who remained childless after the age of twenty and men who remained childless after the age of twenty-five. Also, tax breaks were given to people with three or more children. Adultery was strictly forbidden. Married men were heavily fined and taxed for not having children. Widows and widowers were also required to remarry after three years. Later in the reign of Augustus he passed laws that limited the number of slaves that slave owners could free and restricted the freed slaves access to Roman citizenship. Augustus did offer an upgrade to full citizenship for slaves who had children. He also afforded more privileges to the families of senators and equestrian families. But severe penalties were handed down if the members of these prestigious families did anything that Augustus deemed disgraceful such as acting or fighting as gladiators. “Augustus wanted his only child, Julia, to be a model of feminine virtue. She spent her youth weaving and spinning, supervised at all times and permitted no boyfriends” (Time Life, 38).