Octavian  [Caesar Augustus]   [63 BCE - 14 CE]

Chief architect of the Roman empire & one of the most influential rulers in ancient history. Gaius Octavius Caepias was a talented 18 year old when he was adopted by his great-uncle, Julius Caesar [in the dictator's last will] & officially renamed Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (45 BCE). When Caesar was assassinated less than a year later, Octavian won enough popular, military & senatorial support to be appointed consul of Rome at the age of 19. He negotiated a 5 year alliance with Marc Antony & Lepidus---the 2nd triumvirate---which reorganized the Roman state (43 BCE) & led to the elimination of thousands of Julius Caesar's political opponents. 

After their victory over Caesar's assassins [Cassius & Brutus] at Philippi, the triumvirs split the Empire. Octavian assumed control of an Italy torn by civil war. Though not himself a great soldier, he was able to pacify the peninsula with the aid of his loyal friend, Marcus Agrippa, the best naval strategist of the time. At the same time he began a shrewd campaign to win the support of Romans of all classes by his public championship of traditional Roman civil religion. Capitalizing on the Senate's deification of Julius Caesar, he began to style himself "Caesar, son of a god" [Latin: filius dei; Greek: huios theou]. While Antony basked in royal luxury in Egypt & publicly endorsed the royal pretensions of Julius Caesar's natural son by Cleopatra (Caesarion), Octavian made a point of identifying with the simpler life-style & traditional republican values of average Roman aristocrats. Thus, he won the allegiance of Romans who had an aversion to monarchy. 

After Agrippa's victory at Actium over the combined fleets of Antony & Cleopatra (31 BCE) & his own conquest of Egypt Octavian was in fact sole master of the Roman world. But the only office he held was a string of one year appointments as consul. The only titles he used were "commander" [imperator] & "first citizen" [princeps]. Four years after his triumph he retired from public office in Rome & officially transferred governing powers back to the Senate & people. Yet he maintained personal control of the army & adopted the honorific title "Augustus," which gave his actions a religious authority that transcended any office in Roman society. Though officially retired from public life, he worked tirelessly despite fragile health to reform the political & social structure of the Roman state, producing a long string of projects & edicts that were ratified by the Senate. Rather than personally engaging in military campaigns, he relied on professional soldiers like Agrippa & his stepson, Tiberius. The pax Romana allowed him to spend most of his own time in planning virtually every aspect of civic life: from a centralized economy to a system of highways to support for the arts & religion. Thus, he was personally the architect of the empire that became the basis of western society & culture. The Roman Senate declared him a god less than a month after his death.

Augustus' personal life, on the other hand, was a series of disappointments & disasters. He had no son & his only daughter's sons all died before him. So, he was forced to adopt his wife's son, Tiberius, whom he disliked. In public Augustus posed as champion of traditional family values; but the intrigues & scandalous behavior of his own family, including his wife, daughter & their children produced one of history's most lurid soap operas, complete with the murder of kin, public debauchery & incest.

Augustus himself was not innocent of plotting executions to eliminate personal enemies. He favored loyalists like Herod who controlled their subjects, whatever the method. In fact, when he found that Herod was more effective in suppressing revolts than Roman governors, he named him procurator of all Syria (20 BCE), subject only to his own vice-regent [Agrippa] & personal legates. Yet, he was swift to remove those who [like his fellow triumvir Lepidus] challenged his own authority or who [like Archelaus] could not silence protests. In running the empire as a centralized corporation, he was more concerned to suppress public dissent than to promote social justice. Thus, he was also the father of the totalitarian state.

References: Josephus, Antiquities 14.301,383-388, 403.
                                                        15.109-, 121, 161-167, 183-201, 215-221, 336-364.
                                                        16.90-132, 161-173, 270-273, 340-358.
                                                        17.190, 202--252, 297-324, 342-348, 355.
                                                        18.1, 26-33.
                   ______, War 1.283-285, 298, 386-415, 451-459, 531-538, 620-625,
                                         2.17-19, 24-39, 78-83.
Suetonius, Augustus 1-101.
                  Cassius Dio, Roman History 45-56.

Other resources on line:

Roman silver denarius bearing image of Octavian with Latin inscription: Caesar Augustus [minted 13 BCE]. The other side of this two-faced coin has the image of Augustus' vice-regent, Marcus Agrippa. For high resolution images of this & more coins of Augustus see Dane Kurth's vivid numismatic guide: Wildwinds.

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