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Octavianus Becomes the First Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar

Augustus Caesar


Statue of Augustus

Statue of Augustus






Early Empire/Principate > Age of Augustus > Octavianus

Dates: September, 23, 63 B.C. - August 19, A.D. 14
Names: Caius Octavius, Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus, Imperator Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus Divi Filius Augustus

Names most familiar to us: Augustus, Caesar Augustus, Octavian

Parents: Gaius Octavius and Atia; adopted posthumously by Atia's uncle, Julius Caesar
Occupation: Roman emperor.

Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus (63 B.C.- A.D. 14), the grand-nephew and primary heir of Julius Caesar, began his career by serving under Julius Caesar in the Spanish expedition of 46 B.C. Upon his grand-uncle's assassination in 44 B.C., Octavius went to Rome. There, on August 19, at the age of 19, Octavius was elected consul and had himself formally adopted as the son of Julius Caesar (now, Octavian [Octavianus]).

"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen."
- Samuel Adams

Second Triumvirate

In November, Octavian, Mark Antony, and M. Aemilius Lepidus formed the second triumvirate and forced the Senate to grant all three of them consular power for five years. Before exacting revenge on Caesar's assassins, the triumvirate had Caesar deified and proscribed (killed or exiled) 300 senators and 2000 equestrians.

means three men and refers to a 3-person ruling coalition. The coalition involving Augustus is referred to by modern people as the 2nd triumvirate, although the unofficial prior arrangement of power between the 3 men, Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar, was not considered a triumvirate by the ancient Romans.
First Triumvirate

Initially, the triumvirate geographically divided the power so that Lepidus had control of Africa, Antony, the East and Gaul, and Octavian, Spain and Sardinia, but in 40, when Antony's lieutentant died, Octavian took Gaul, and in 36, he set Lepidus aside.

Battle of Actium

In 32 B.C., Mark Antony was living in Egypt with Cleopatra (although still married to Octavia, Octavian's sister). Rumors spread about the Eastern (i.e. Egyptian) menace and Romans began to fear that Egypt would capture Rome and Cleopatra would become Queen. When Antony finally divorced Octavia, an outraged Octavian sought the help of the Senate against the Eastern menace, but the two consuls and 300 of the 1000 senators joined Antony. This made little difference since Octavian had a stronger force. Defeating Antony, Octavian won the Battle of Actium in 31.

Octavian becomes Augustus

The world over which Rome presided was in chaos, insecure, and accustomed to constant violence. To meet this challenge, Octavian strengthened the military. He bought the support of the soldiers by providing land to 100,000 veterans in Italy for which he compensated the original landowners with Egyptian booty. Octavian also formed a permanent army and navy which swore him an oath of allegiance.

There was no longer a triumvirate. From 31-23 Octavian had himself elected consul. In 27 Octavian staged an offer to lay down his powers, but the Senate insisted he take most of the powers back and awarded him the title Augustus. Augustus was also assigned maius imperium -- power (imperium = power) that was greater than that of the other governors.

were elected by the plebians.

In 30 or 23 B.C. Augustus became tribune for life, a title that he used to show his connection with the people, since the tribunate was a magistracy for the plebeians, common people, rather than the elite, the patricians. Being tribune also meant he had veto power. He was also pontifex maximus, which meant he was in charge of religious observances. In addition, Augustus held the right to convene the Senate, to speak first, and to propose legislation in the popular assembly. Augustus courted popular favor through the distribution of free food and entertainment ("bread and circuses") and cash.

27 B.C., the year in which Octavian became Augustus, is held to be the date of restoration of order and consolidation of the principate.


Chester Starr's A History of the Ancient World.
Pat Southern's Augustus


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