Augustus (27 BC-14 AD)

AUGUSTUS CAESAR. Civil war broke out after Caesar's assassination. Two of the assassins, Brutus and Cassius, led one side. Octavian, Caesar's adopted 18-year-old son, and Mark Antony, one of Caesar's lieutenants, opposed their bid for power. In 2 quick battles, the assassins were crushed. The victory catapulted young Octavian— or Augustus, as he was later called— into the political limelight. Besides the power of his father's name, Octavian seems to have been rather striking in appearance. One of his chroniclers describes him in this highly personal and informal way.

"He was quite handsome.... Sometimes he would clip his beard; sometimes he would shave it. While his barbers were at work on him, it was not unusual for him to read or write.... His eyes were clear and radiant.... His complexion was between dark and fair. Though only five feet, six inches in height . . his shortness was not too noticeable because of the good proportions of his figure." Augustus SEUTONIUS

While Octavian was growing in political stature, so was Mark Antony. Among the Antony's political friends was Herod, Antipater's son. After Antipater's death by poisoning, Antony helped Herod eventually get the title "King of Judea."

But Antony's days of power were numbered. He and Octavian began to disagree openly, and a showdown took place at Actium in 31 B.C. Octavian triumphed, but Antony managed a spectacular escape to Egypt. There, months later, he and his famous lover, Cleopatra, ended their lives in suicide.

When Herod got wind of Antony's death, he knew his own kingship now hung by a thread. He decided upon a bold move. Seeking an audience with Octavian, he took off his crown and placed it at the leader's feet.

Herod's theatrics worked according to plan. Octavian picked up the crown and returned it to Herod, saying in effect: "Serve me as faithfully as you did Antony." Herod did just that, from that moment forward.

In 27 BC Octavian became Rome's first emperor, taking the name Augustus Caesar. Although he wore platform shoes to look taller, Augustus turned out to be a giant, politically. In later years he boasted, not incorrectly, that he had found Rome in bricks and left it in marble.


- On January 13, 27 BC Octavian, a nephew of Julius Caesar and victor over Antony and Cleopatra at Actium in 31 BC, resigned the offices he had held since 43 BC and officially restored the Republic.

- In exchange, the Senate bestowed on him the title, Augustus, and a ten year military command over all the armed forces in the provinces.

- By 23 BC, Augustus discovered that he needed more power than he had already obtained. He was named pro-consul and tribune for life, a position that gave him the power of veto.

- After 23 B.C., Rome was ruled by one man, the emperor.


- Augustus provided Rome with a new start after years of chaos, civil war, and ruin.

- He overhauled and improved the administration of the empire.

- In Rome, departments for the city were set up--police, fire, drainage, conservation of the Tiber banks, and most important the establishment of the corn dole.

- Augustus restored a sound money policy and the confidence he created pushed the economy forward.

- He inaugurated a vast public works program, restored old temples, and provided a new forum in order to provide work for the unemployed.

- Rome became a splendid city of gleaming white marble.

- During 18 B.C., Augustus instituted reform legislation that was designed to improve the morals and restore republican virtues.

- Laws against adultery, plus restrictions against luxury and ostentation were promulgated and Augustus revived respect for the Lares, Penates, and for the Vestal Virgins.

Military Policy

- The military policy of Augustus and his successors during the first two hundred years of empire was based on two principles:

  1. the maintenance of the smallest army possible yet capable of meeting its commitments, and
  2. the avoidance of a highly centralized army concentrated in Rome.

- As a result, the prime purpose of the army was to defend the frontiers of the empire and maintain peace in the provinces.

Agrippa (Marcus Vispanius Agrippa)

- Augustus was shrewd enough to know that he needed help to run so large an empire.

- He received help officially from Agrippa (general and right hand man of Octavian), a boyhood friend, and unofficially from Livia, his third wife.

- Agrippa was the first to advise Augustus to make a bid for power when Julius Caesar was killed.

- Augustus had fought well at Actium and put down uprisings in Gaul and Spain.

- Surviving portraits show his rugged, strong jawed features.

- He was an outstanding general, a well educated man, and a brilliant administrator who organized cities, constructed a water supply system for Rome, and supervised the building of a road network in Gaul.


- Livia was a dignified aristocratic beautifully amazing woman.

- She had nice features, enormous eyes, and thick wavy hair.

- When Octavian first met her, she was married to a middle-aged soldier who allowed her to divorce him so that she could marry Augustus.

- She was chaste, obedient, and silent in public.

- She had a tremendous influence on Augustus who made notes on subjects he wanted to discuss with her.

- Her greatest service to Rome was in her devotion to her husband

- Also in the civilizing influence she brought to bear on him.

- Her great-grandson Caligula gave her the nickname (Ulysses in Petticoats).

Pax Romana


- The empire founded by Augustus was at its height in the first two centuries of its existence.

- During this age the pax Romana (universal peace terms for the dominions), existed throughout most of the Roman world.

- Only on the frontiers was defense necessary against Persian, German, and other foreign enemies.

- Defense was the work of the professional soldiers of the Roman legions.

- A standard bearing the eagle, the symbol of the empire, was planted in territory that extended to the Rhine river in the north, the Danube river in the northeast, the Caspian Sea in the near east, and the coastal area of North Africa.

- Britain and Dacia were added during the first century AD.