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Augustus Caesar

The first Roman emperor, was born on the 23d of September, B.C. 63, and was the son of C. Octavius, by Atia, a daughter of Iulia, the sister of C. Iulius Caesar. His original name was Octavius, and after his adoption by his great-uncle, C. Iulius Caesar Octavianus, Augustus being only a title given him by the Senate and the people in B.C. 27 to express their veneration for him. He was pursuing his studies at Apollonia when the news reached him of his uncle's murder at Rome, in March, 44. He forthwith set out for Italy, and upon landing was received with enthusiasm by the troops. He first joined the republican party in order to crush Antony, against whom he fought at Mutina in conjunction with the two consuls, C. Vibius Pansa and Hirtius. Antony was defeated, and obliged to retreat across the Alps; and the death of the two consuls gave Augustus the command of all their troops. He now returned to Rome, and compelled the Senate to elect him consul, and shortly afterwards he became reconciled to Antony. It was agreed that the Roman world should be divided between Augustus, Antony, and Lepidus, under the title of triumviri rei publicae constituendae, and that this arrangement should last for the next five years. They published a proscriptio, or list of all their enemies whose lives were to be sacrificed and their property confiscated; upwards of 2000 equites and 300 senators were thus put to death, among them Cicero. Soon afterwards, Augustus and Antony crossed over to Greece, and defeated Brutus and Cassius at the decisive battle of Philippi, in B.C. 42, by which the hopes of the republican party were ruined.

Augustus returned to Italy, where a new war awaited him (B.C. 41), excited by Fulvia, the wife of Antony. She was supported by L. Antonius, the consul and brother of the triumvir, who threw himself into the fortified town of Perusia, which Augustus succeeded in taking in 40. Antony now made preparations for war, but the death of Fulvia led to a reconciliation between the triumvirs, who concluded a peace at Brundusium. A new division of the provinces was again made: Augustus obtained all the parts of the Empire west of the town of Scodra in Illyricum, Antony the east provinces, and Lepidus Africa. Antony married Octavia, the sister of Augustus, in order to cement their alliance. In B.C. 36, Augustus conquered Sex. Pompey, who had held possession of Sicily for many years with a powerful fleet. Lepidus, who had landed in Sicily to support Augustus, was degraded by him, stripped of his power, and sent to Rome, where he resided for the remainder of his life, being allowed to retain the dignity of Pontifex Maximus. Meantime, Antony had repudiated Octavia, on account of his love for Cleopatra , and had alienated the minds of the Roman people by his arbitrary conduct. The Senate declared war against Cleopatra ; and in September, B.C. 31, the fleet of Augustus gained a brilliant victory over Antony's near Actium in Acarnania. In the following year (30 B.C.), Augustus sailed to Egypt. Antony and Cleopatra , who had escaped in safety from Actium, put an end to their lives. Augustus now became the undisputed master of the Roman world, but he declined all honours and distinctions which were likely to remind the Romans of kingly power. On the death of Lepidus, in B.C. 12, he be

Augustus Caesar.

came pontifex maximus. On those state matters which he did not choose to be discussed in public he consulted his personal friends, Maecenas, M. Agrippa, M. Valerius Messalla Corvinus, and Asinius Pollio. The wars of Augustus were chiefly undertaken to protect the frontiers of the Roman dominions. Most of them were carried on by his relations and friends, but several he conducted in person, as when, in 27, he attacked the warlike Cantabri and Astures in Spain. In 20, he went to Syria, where he received from Phraates, the Parthian monarch, the standards and prisoners which had been taken from Crassus and Antony. He died at Nola, on the 19th of August, A.D. 14, at the age of seventy-six. His last wife was Livia, who had been previously the wife of Tiberius Nero. He had no children by Livia, and only a daughter, Iulia, by his former wife Scribonia. Iulia had married Agrippa, and her two sons, Gaius and Lucius Caesar, were destined by Augustus as his successors. On the death of these two youths, Augustus was persuaded to adopt Tiberius, the son of Livia by her former husband, and to make him his colleague and successor. See Tiberius.

Augustus is described as having been something below the middle size, but extremely well proportioned (Suet. Aug. 79). His hair was inclined to curl, and of a yellowish-brown; his eyes were bright and lively; but the general expression of his countenance was remarkably calm and mild. His health was throughout his life delicate, yet the constant attention which he paid to it, and his strict temperance in eating and drinking, enabled him to reach the full age of man. As a seducer, adulterer, and sensualist, his character was like that of his uncle (Suet. Aug. 69, 71). In his literary qualifications, without at all rivalling the attainments of Iulius Caesar, he was on a level with most Romans of distinction of his time; and it is said that both in speaking and writing his style was eminent for its perfect plainness and propriety (Suet. Aug. 68 foll.). His speeches on any public

Statue of Augustus. (Vatican.)

occasion were composed beforehand, and recited from memory; in fact, so careful was he not to commit himself by any inconsiderate expression, that even when discussing any important subject with his own wife, he wrote down what he had to say, and read it before her. Like his uncle, he was somewhat tinged with superstition. He was deficient in military talent; but in every species of artful policy, in clearly seeing, and steadily and dispassionately following his own interest, and in turning to advantage all the weaknesses of others, his ability has been rarely equalled. His deliberate cruelty, his repeated treachery, and his sacrifice of every duty and every feeling to the purposes of his ambition, speak for themselves; and yet it would be unjust to ascribe to a politic premeditation all the popular actions of his reign. Good is in itself so much more delightful than evil that he was doubtless not insensible to the pleasure of kind and beneficent actions, and perhaps sincerely rejoiced that they were no longer incompatible with his interests.

Among the various arts to which Augustus resorted to gain the good-will of his people, and perhaps to render them forgetful of their former freedom, one of the most remarkable was the encouragement which he extended to learning, and the patronage which he so liberally bestowed on all by whom it was cultivated. To this noble protection of literature he was prompted not less by taste and inclination than by sound policy; and in his patronage of the learned, his usual artifice had probably a smaller share than in those other parts of his conduct by which he acquired the favourable opinion of the world. Augustus was, in fact, himself an excellent judge of composition, and a true critic in poetry; so that his patronage was never misplaced, or lavished on those whose writings might have tended to corrupt the taste and learning of the age. The court of Augustus thus became a school of culture, where men of genius acquired that delicacy of taste, elevation of sentiment, and purity of expression which characterize the writers of the age. To Maecenas, the favourite minister of the emperor, the honour is due of having most successfully followed out the views of Augustus for promoting the interests of literature; but it is wrong to give Maecenas the credit, as some have done, of first having turned the attention of Augustus to the patronage of literature. On the contrary, he appears largely to have acted from the orders, or to have followed the example, of his imperial master.

Augustus was buried in a mausoleum, whose remains are still to be seen at Rome on the Via de' Pontefici. It was a pyramidal tower, 328 feet in height, covered with white marble, surmounted by a statue of the emperor, and divided into three stories by receding steps, each story being planted with cypress-trees. Before this structure was set the tablet of bronze containing the index rerum a se gestarum, which he had had prepared (Suet. Aug. 101). A copy of this important inscription was found in modern times on the inside of the antae of a temple at Ancyra (now Angora), in Galatia, and has been published in fac-simile by Prof. Mommsen, with a commentary. It is reproduced in the illustration on page 171.

For many interesting details regarding the personality of Augustus, see the life by Suetonius (ed. with Engl. notes by H. T. Peck, N. Y. 1889), and the following works: Ampère, L'Empire Romain à Rome, 3d ed. (Paris, 1867); Dezobry, Rom in Jahrhunderte des Augustus (Leipzig, 1837); Beulé, Auguste, sa Famille, et ses Amis, 4th ed. (Paris, 1868); Schiller, Geschichte der röm. Kaiserzeit (1883); and Gardthausen, Augustus (pt. i. 1891).

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  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 68
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 69
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 79
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