Augustus | 10 Facts About The First Roman Emperor


Born Gaius Octavius and also known as Octavian, Augustus Caesar is famous for transforming the Roman Republic, marred by civil wars, into a stable monarchic Empire which would last for around 1400 years. Rising to prominence after the death of Julius Caesar, Octavian became consul and then a part of the Second Triumvirate. After defeating Mark Antony at Actium in 31 AD, he became the undisputed ruler of the Roman Empire and was conferred with the title Augustus in 27 BC. He ruled for a period of 41 years from 27 BC till his death in 14 AD. Know more about the family, life, rise to power, important battles, reign and death of Augustus Caesar through these 10 interesting facts.


#1 He was the nephew of Julius Caesar

Augustus was born Gaius Octavius Thurinus on 23 September 63 BC at Ox Head on Palatine Hill in the city of Rome. He was named after his father Gaius Octavius, who was the first in their family to become a Roman senator and who also served as governor of Macedonia. Augustus’s mother, Atia, was the daughter of Julia Caesaris, sister of Julius Caesar. After the death of her husband in 59 BC, Atia married Lucius Marcius Philippus, a former governor of Syria. It was his maternal grandmother, Julia Caesaris, who was primarily responsible for raising young Octavius. He delivered her funeral oration at the age of twelve in 51 BC.

Gaius Octavius statue
Gaius Octavius Father of Augustus


#2 Octavius gained political prominence as he had been named by Caesar as his heir

In 47 BC, Octavius went to Hispania (modern-day Spain) to fight alongside Julius Caesar. He was shipwrecked along the way and had to cross enemy territory, but was able to reach Caesar’s camp. His bravery impressed his uncle and when Caesar was back in Rome, he named Octavius as his heir and successor in his will. Octavius was completing his academic and military studies in Apollonia, Illyria, when Julius Caesar was killed on 15th March 44 BC. Caesar had no living legitimate children under Roman law. Octavius secured official recognition as Caesar’s adoptive son and took his uncle’s name Gaius Julius Caesar. However, to avoid confusion, historians refer to him as Octavian from 44 BC till he was conferred the title Augustus in 27 BC.

Painting of the Death of Julius Caesar
The Death of Julius Caesar, as depicted by Vincenzo Camuccini


#3 He was elected consul on 19 August 43 BC at the age of nineteen

Caesar had appointed Mark Antony as his co-consul. Consul was the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic. Antony refused to acknowledge Octavian as Caesar’s legitimate heir alleging that Octavian had earned his adoption through sexual favors. Allies of Caesar, including many in the Senate, rallied behind Octavian against Antony. They inducted him as senator on 1 January 43 BC and gave him the power to veto along with other consuls. The conflict led to the battles of Forum Gallorum and Mutina in which Octavian defeated Mark Antony and forced him to retreat to Gaul. As the consuls who commanded the Senate’s forces were killed in battle, Octavian held sole command of their armies and later coerced the Senate to grant him the vacant consulship in August 43 BC.


#4 Octavian was part of the Second Triumvirate which ended the Roman Republic

Instead of waging further war against Antony, Octavian made an alliance with his rival. On 27th November 43 BC, Octavian, Antony and another of Caesar’s principal supporters, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, formally split Rome’s provinces between them and established a three man dictatorship to govern Rome with Antony given the East, Lepidus Africa and Octavian the West. The alliance between them is known as the Second Triumvirate and its enactment officially ended the Roman Republic and started its transformation into an autocratic Empire. To further cement the alliance of Octavian and Antony, Octavian’s elder sister, Octavia, married Mark Antony in October 40 BC.

Map of Rome in 43 BC
Division of Roman Territories in 43 BC after formation of the Second Triumvirate


#5 He eliminated his political enemies through proscriptions

The Second Triumvirate lasted for two five-year terms, from 43 BC to 33 BC. The three triumvirs made a list of their political enemies and set in motion proscriptions which led to the execution or banishment of around 300 senators and 2,000 members of the class below the senators, the equites or knights. Rewards were given as incentive for Romans to capture those who were proscribed, while the assets of the proscribed were seized by the triumvirs. Antony and Octavian also declared civil war to avenge Julius Caesar’s assassination. Under the leadership of Mark Antony, they won the two battles of Philippi in October 42 BC against Caesar’s assassins Brutus and Cassius, both of whom committed suicide.

Map of Rome in 39 BC
Division of Roman Territories in 39 BC mainly between Octavian, Lepidus and Mark Antony


#6 He became Rome’s undisputed ruler after defeating Mark Antony in 30 BC

In 36 BC, a dispute arose among Lepidus and Octavian over who had authority over the recently acquired island of Sicily. The forces of Lepidus defected to Octavian, who then deprived Lepidus of his triumviral office and forced him into retirement. In 41 BC, Mark Antony had begun an affair with the famous Egyptian queen Cleopatra. In 32 BC, Antony divorced Octavian’s sister Octavia. In response Octavian declared war on Cleopatra. After decisive victory for Octavian at the Battle of Actium in September 31 BC, Cleopatra and Antony withdrew to Alexandria. Octavian besieged the city and defeated their forces in Alexandria on 1 August 30 BC – after which Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide.

Painting of the Battle of Actium
1672 Painting of the Battle of Actium by Laureys a Castro


#7 Augustus founded the Roman Empire in 27 BC and became its first Emperor

On 16 January 27 BC, the Roman Senate gave Octavian the title of Augustus (the illustrious one). At the same time, Augustus outwardly showed that he had restored full power to the Roman Senate thus making Rome a Republic again. However Augustus was the de facto autocratic ruler of the Roman Empire. By law, he held a collection of powers granted to him for life by the Senate, including supreme military command. The Senate only controlled five or six legions compared to twenty under Augustus. This led to the first phase of the Roman Empire which lasted from 27 BC to 284 AD known as the Principate. The Principate was marked by the emperors maintaining the illusion of continuance of the Roman Republic.

Bust of Augustus in Glyptothek
Bust of Augustus in Glyptothek, Munich


#8 He was an administrative genius who initiated Pax Romana

Augustus Caesar’s victory at Actium in 31 BC brought the lengthy civil wars in the Roman Republic to an end and transformed the decaying republic into a stable monarchic regime. It initiated a period of relative peacefulness in the Roman Empire which lasted for over two centuries till 180 AD and is known as Pax Romana (Roman Peace). Augustus implemented reforms in numerous fields including coinage, taxation, religion and administration which greatly increased Rome’s net revenue, provided stimulus to trade leading to prosperity, and contributing prominently to Pax Romana. Also, many building projects were completed during his reign including an excellent network of roads to connect his empire.

Ara Pacis, altar built in Augustan era, dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of Peace
Ara Pacis, altar built in Augustan era, dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of Peace


#9 He married three times but only had one child

Livia Drusilla - Wife of Augustus
A statue of Livia Drusilla – Wife of Augustus

In 40 BC, Augustus married Clodia Pulchra, stepdaughter of Mark Antony. The marriage proved to be short and was never consummated. Augustus divorced Clodia in 40 BC and married Scribonia the same year. His second marriage is also considered an unhappy one, though through it he would have his only child, Julia the Elder. Augustus divorced Scribonia in 39 BC, the very day Julia was born. Augustus married Livia Drusilla on 17th January 38 BC. The third marriage of Augustus is considered to be successful and lasted till his death in 14 AD. Augustus gave Livia the unprecedented honor of ruling her own finances and dedicated a public statue to her. Tiberius, Livia’s son from a previous marriage, succeeded Augustus Caesar as emperor and ruled the Roman Empire from 14 AD till his death in 37 AD.

#10 The month of August is named after Augustus

Augustus Caesar died on 19th August 14 AD in the town of Nola in Campania, Italy. It is said he died in the same room in which his father had died. His health had been in decline in the months before his death. His last words are famous as, “I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble”. Augustus ruled over the Roman Empire for 41 years from 27 BC to 14 AD. He is one of the longest reigning Roman Emperors and considered by many as the greatest. He was deified after his death and both his adoptive surname, Caesar, and his title Augustus, became the permanent titles of Roman Emperors for fourteen centuries. The eighth month was renamed August in his honor in 8 BC. It is said Augustus chose the month because it was the time of several of his great triumphs, including the conquest of Egypt.

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