Augustus – The First of Many

By Jonathon Clark

On the 23rd of September, 63BC, an event that would change the world occurred. Gaius Octavius was born. Named after his father, he was born into an upper class family. Though not famous, the family was certainly rather rich and his father, Gaius Octavius (senior), was a Roman Governor of the state of Macedonia. His father’s status was very much similar to the class of Medieval Barons and Knights. And as – the head of a household’s status and wealth gave his family a name – Octavius’ family was of, what Romans called, the Equestrian order. A governor would have had to have made a name for himself, so where did Gaius Octavius Senior do this? Well, while most Romans would tell you that Spartacus’ rebellion was one of Rome’s darkest days, for Octavius Senior it was a golden opportunity. At the time, Octavius Senior was running a small settlement near the gulf of Tarentum. The settlement was called “Thurii”. When the Spartacan revolts came about in 73-71BC, Octavius successfully defended Thurii from an army of around 5000 slaves. He won against overwhelming odds, and saved hundreds of Roman lives. He was later then promoted to govern a larger area – the Roman State of “Macedonia”. But what did this have to do with Gaius Octavius Junior, the future emperor? Well, shortly after birth, Gaius Octavius junior was given a special surname by his father. His name was now none other than “Gaius Octavius Thurii”. His father must have gone through some trouble to allow him to have this name however. Naming someone after a town had to be consented to by the leaders of the town, and the emperor. As Augustus grew up, he was well educated, and at the tender age of 15, was elected as a student at the college of Pontiffs at Rome. He was also given a toga virilis. This meant that Octavius was now a respected Citizen, and a Pontiff in training, soon to be the real thing.

After being educated at what was likely to be the best school in the world, Octavius was asked by his uncle to go to Spain, and be military staff. His mother protested, understandably, as Octavius was still a teen, but Octavius opted to go. Afterall, his uncle was Gaius Julius Caesar – legendary conqueror of land, and the slayer of men. After a second offer, Octavius decided he would go. So, he set sail in a small ship with some childhood friends as guards. He would meet his uncle Caesar in the north of Spain. However, disaster struck. As his ship was navigating up the Spanish coast, Octavius became ship-wrecked, after striking rocks. He was stuck behind enemy territory. Barbarians pursued him for many miles before he made it back to the Roman frontlines. His courage was admired by many a man in Caesar’s army, which was now tearing it’s way through Hispania. He spent a few months in Spain with his uncle Caesar, where his fighting skills and tactical knowledge, again, improved greatly. Caesar and Octavius travelled back to Rome. This would be Caesar’s final journey, as one year later, he was to be assassinated by rival senators.

It was at this point that Octavius life changed. When he heard the news (he was in apollonia at the time) , Octavius was shocked. However, he was even more shocked at what Caesar’s will contained. It declared that his nephew, Octavius, was to be Caesar’s heir. It was at this point Octavius turned from a man to a Roman. He changed his name to “Gaius Octavianus” which was usually just abbreviated to “Octavian”. However, with taking Caesar’s place, Octavian took Caesar’s enemies and rivals. Mark Antony immediately started political campaigns against the young, new leader. Pressure piled on top of Octavian, but he remained calm. Mark Antony tried to seize power, but failed after losing military and political battles with Decimus Brutus in Transalpine Gaul. He was excused however. Then, Octavian returned to Rome, and took over the armies, and began a manhunt, rampage, and personal war of pride to destroy the men that killed his uncle. He made an alliance with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus. This alliance is known as the second triumvirate. The first triumvirate, between Caesar, Pompey and Crassus was classed as illegal, as it undermined the senate’s authority and posed a threat to Rome. This pact however was endorsed by almost everyone. Rome was on a mission. A mission to kill. Firstly, the 3 great leaders hunted down around 3000 Equestrians and senators and either killed them, or completely stripped them of power. Then, the 3 united powers marched eastwards, to Macedonia and Greece, where Brutus and Cassius, the final two generals that went against Caesar, committed suicide, as their armies were utterly annihilated.

At this point, the pact broke down and the 3 leaders went their separate ways. Lepidus, opting for an easy life, went off to spend his days governing various provinces, and having a quiet and peaceful life, save for a few Barbarian uprisings. Antony, however, went back to his old ways of political slander and vies for power.He travelled to Egypt, and had children to Cleopatra – Caesar’s former lover. The children were: Alexander Helios, Cleopatra Selene, and Ptolemy Philadelphus.

Eventually, Octavian unleashed his fury and anger. He marched to Egypt and pushed Antony all the way back to Cleopatra’s palace, where they both committed suicide. Their 3 children, along with Caesar’s neglected son, Caesarion, were murdered. After this battle, Octavian made a quote which has been featured in many history books:

“Two Caesars is one too many.”

This was the climax of many battles on land and sea, that had occurred after Antony had campaigned in the East, and Octavian seized power in the West.

Eventually, after years of fighting ended, Octavian changed his name to the one we know him by best – Augustus Caesar.

Though he wasn’t enthusiastic about ruling, he was given a laurel wreath, the prefix “Princeps” which translates roughly as “Premier Citizen”, and after many attempted resignations, he stuck with the position. He also gained the title “Pontifex Maximus” after his trusted friend and ally, Lepidus passed away.

While not truly being an “Emperor” most people regard him as one, due to the fact that Rome prospered like never before, was at peace, and was governed by someone so superior. So although back then he wasn’t an emperor, it would be quite correct to call him one today. He also set a standard for future emperors, and set many titles to be given to rulers in the future. The items we recognise emperors by today, such as purple robes (Toga Picta) etc… all extend from Augustus.

Augustus was never as nervy or as brave as Caesar in some aspects however. Caesar infamously wore red boots as he walked around Rome – the sign of a king. This may be one of Augustus’ strengths, however. And I personally find the following quote something rather significant when talking about Augustus in correlation with his uncle Caesar.

“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

Augustus died of old age on 19th August AD 14. He was the first of many great rulers. He was the last of true rulers. He was the only Augustus.