Rise to Power
Augustus as Pontifex Maximus
PD Courtesy of Marie-Lan Nguyen
by Adrian Dorrington
Adoption was a common tool used by many great Republican families, as a way of appointing a personal heir when there was an absence of one. So was the case with Caesar who, having no personal heir, adopted his great-nephew Octavian. Caesar could officially and politically have no heir because the state offices he held were not inheritable, but he still adopted Octavian as his heir leaving him ¾ of his vast property, this in turn had exceptional political significance.1
But with this legacy came turmoil. Caesar's assassination in 44 B.C. had serious consequences for the Roman Empire, including the civil wars. The civil wars were a time of minor skirmishes between Octavian and Marc Antony (Marcus Antonius), Caesar's colleague. Octavian, obsessed with avenging his adopted father Caesar, fought Antony for power, honour, and of course the Roman world. After the several skirmishes, Antony left for Egypt, while Octavian became Senator and Consul. Seeing an opportunity for peace with his rival, he formed the second Triumvirate (a Triumvirate is a Roman Committee of three rulers) whereby Octavian controlled the western provinces, Antony the eastern provinces and General Marcus A. Lepidus (Antony's ally) controlled the African provinces.
In 37 B.C. Octavian offered his sister Octavia to Antony in marriage, in a vain attempt to effect reconciliation between the two men. This attempt soon dissolved when Antony sent Octavia back to Rome and then soon married the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. With this the Triumvirate collapsed and on September 3rd 31 B.C. the battle of Actium began. It took place off western Greece. Marcus Agrippa commanded the Roman fleet, while Marc Antony and Cleopatra combined their fleets as one against Octavian's. Antony and Cleopatra's fleet numbered 400 vessels, while the Octavian fleet numbered some 260 light vessels. Octavian's fleet managed to out-manoeuvre Antony's and Cleopatra's. Cleopatra, unsure about the outcome, was alarmed when she noticed an enemy manoeuvre, pulled back the Egyptian contingent of 60 ships while Antony followed, the remaining vessels were overtaken and destroyed. Antony's remaining ships soon surrendered, Antony and Cleopatra fled back to Egypt where Octavian soon followed.
In 30 B.C. Octavian found both Cleopatra, with the aid of an asp and Antony, with a sword, had committed suicide. With their deaths Octavian gained complete rule over the Roman world, becoming the first Roman Emperor. By this time the foundations for empire had been laid. Spain, Gaul, and Syria were annexed after Actium. Egypt, however, remained under Augustus' direct administration. These new regions also helped contribute men for the Auxiliaries in the Roman army.
1M. Grant, (1996) The Twelve Caesars. London; Orion Publishing. P. 54.
This resource page is © Adrian Dorrington.