|Emperor of the Roman Empire|
The statue known as the Augustus of Prima Porta, 1st century
|Reign||16 January 27 BC – 19 August 14 AD|
|Born||23 September 63 BC (Roman calendar)|
Rome, Roman Republic
|Died||19 August 14 (Julian calendar) (aged 76)|
Nola, Italy, Roman Empire
Mausoleum of Augustus, Rome
|Issue||Julia the Elder|
|Father||Natural: Gaius Octavius;|
Adoptive: Julius Caesar (in 44 BC)
|Mother||Atia Balba Caesonia|
|These articles cover Ancient Rome and the fall of the Republic|
|Roman Republic, First Triumvirate, Assassination of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Cleopatra VII, Pompey, Cicero, Second Triumvirate|
Augustus (Latin: Imperator Caesar Dīvī Fīlius Augustus; 23 September 63 BC – 19 August 14 AD) was the first Roman Emperor, ruling from 27 BC until his death in AD 14. He led Rome in its transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.
Life[change | change source]
Octavian, as he was originally called, was the adopted son of the dictator of the Roman Republic, Julius Caesar. Octavian came into power in the Second Triumvirate. This was three men ruling over the Roman Republic: Mark Antony, Lepidus and Octavian.
All three were loyal to Julius Caesar, the assassinated dictator, killed in 44 BC. Following his death a civil war broke out across Rome, between those loyal to Caesar, and the conspirators, led by two of Caesar's assassins, Brutus and Cassius.
At first, Octavian was the junior partner in the triumvirate. Lepidus was more experienced in government, and Mark Antony was a fine military leader. The triumvirate defeated Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi, 42 BC, largely due to Antony's leadership. Then they split the leadership of the Republic three ways. Antony took the east, Lepidus took Spain and part of North Africa, and Octavian took Italy.
The triumvirate broke up in 33 BC, and disagreement turned to civil war in 31 BC. Antony was defeated by Octavian at the naval Battle of Actium and then at Alexandria. He committed suicide, as did his lover, Cleopatra VII of Egypt, in 30 BC. Lepidus was sidelined, blamed for a revolt in Sicily, and removed from government. He died peacefully in exile in Circeii in Italy in the year 13 BC.
After winning the power struggle, Octavian was voted as Emperor by the Roman Senate in 31 BC. He took the name "Augustus" (which meant 'exalted'). He ruled until AD 14, when his stepson and son-in-law Tiberius became Emperor in his place.
During his reign, some of those who were against his government were murdered (especially those senators who wanted to keep the Roman Republic). He promised to make Rome a Republic again, but instead proclaimed himself High Priest (Pontifex Maximus). Many temples in the provinces set up statues of him as one of their gods. The name of the month "August" in English (and most other European languages) comes from him.
Ancient sources[change | change source]
Historians often use the Res Gestae Divi Augusti as a source for Augustus. It was written by him as an inscription on his tomb which recorded all his achievements.
The historian Tacitus is often used by historians. He gives an anti-Augustan perspective, whereas many other sources and histories were written to flatter Augustus (propaganda). Some examples of writers like these are Velleius Paterculus, Virgil, Ovid. The most famous work of Augustan propaganda is the Virgil's Aeneid
Cassius Dio presents a quite impartial account of Augustus as emperor: he was writing in the reign of a later emperor.
Legacies[change | change source]
There are important legacies from Augustus. They go from the creation of the "Roman Empire" to the name of the eight month of the year until the establishment of the province called "Italia" (within its actual borders and "regions" for the first time in History). Other minor legacies are the establishment of the institution called "family" with surnames for all Roman citizens (previously only the aristocracy had "paters"), the creation of the first "fire fighters" in human History (for the city of Rome) and the set up of the Praetorian Guard as an elite of warriors.
Month of August[change | change source]
The month of August (Latin: Augustus) is named after Augustus; until his time it was called "Sextilis" (named so because it had been the sixth month of the original Roman calendar and the Latin word for six is sex). Commonly repeated lore has it that August has 31 days because Augustus wanted his month to match the length of Julius Caesar's July, but this is an invention of the 13th century scholar Johannes de Sacrobosco. Sextilis in fact had 31 days before it was renamed, and it was not chosen for its length (see Julian calendar).
According to a senatus consultum quoted by Macrobius, Sextilis was renamed to honor Augustus because several of the most significant events in his rise to power, culminating in the fall of Alexandria, fell in that month.
Creation of "Italia"[change | change source]
Roman Italy was created officially by the Roman Emperor Augustus with the Latin name "Italia". It was the first time in History that the Italian peninsula (from the Alps to the Ionian Sea) was united under the same name. Augustus was also called Father of Italy by Italian historians like Giannelli, because of this political/administrative decision. Around 7 BC, Augustus divided Italy into eleven regiones, as reported by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia. The following are the subdivisions/regions of his "Italia" (many are still existing today):
- Regio I Latium et Campania
- Regio II Apulia et Calabria
- Regio III Lucania et Bruttium
- Regio IV Samnium
- Regio V Picenum
- Regio VI Umbria et Ager Gallicus
- Regio VII Etruria
- Regio VIII Aemilia
- Regio IX Liguria
- Regio X Venetia et Histria
- Regio XI Transpadana
Italy was privileged by Augustus and his heirs, with the construction, among other public structures, of a dense network of Roman roads.
The Italian economy flourished: agriculture, handicraft and industry had a sensible growth, allowing the export of goods to the other provinces.
The Italian population may have grown as well: three census were ordered by Augustus (the first in Italian History), to record the number of Roman citizens throughout the empire. The surviving totals were 4,063,000 in 28 BC, 4,233,000 in 8 BC, and 4,937,000 in 14 AD, but it is still debated whether these counted all citizens, all adult male citizens, or only citizens sui iuris.
Estimates for the population of mainland Italy, including Cisalpine Gaul, at the beginning of the 1st century range from 6,000,000 according to Karl Julius Beloch in 1886, to 14,000,000 according to Elio Lo Cascio in 2009. These calculations included the slaves, who were approximately one fifth of the total.
Roman Italy remained united until the sixth century, when it was divided between Byzantine and barbarian territories. Since then "Italia" remained divided for nearly thirteen centuries until 1861 when was reunited in a similar way in the modern "Kingdom of Italy".
Portraits[change | change source]
Bust of Augustus, palace of Versailles, 17th century
Bust of Augustus in old-age, palace of Versailles
References[change | change source]
- Robinson Jr., C.A. (1964). "Introduction". Selections from Greek and Roman historians. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. pp. xxix.
- Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.12.35.
- G. Giannelli, Trattato di storia romana. 1. L'Italia antica e la Repubblica romana, Roma, 1965
- Hin, Saskia (2007). Counting Romans (PDF). Leiden: Princeton/Stanford Working Papers.
- Lo Cascio, Elio (2009). Urbanization as a Proxy of Demographic and Economic Growth. Oxford: Scholarship Online. ISBN 9780199562596.
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