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First emperor of the Roman Empire and founder of the Julio-Claudian dynasty

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Princeps Civitatis
Roman emperor
Reign16 January 27 BC – 19 August AD 14
(40 years and 7 months)
BornGaius Octavius
23 September 63 BC
Rome, Italy, Roman Republic
Died19 August AD 14 (aged 75)
Nola, Italy, Roman Empire
Regnal name
Imperator Caesar divi filius Augustus
MotherAtia Balba Caesonia
Bust of Augustus wearing the Civic Crown, at Glyptothek, Munich

Caesar Augustus (23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) was the first Roman emperor, reigning from 27 BC until his death in AD 14.[nb 1] His status as the founder of the Roman Principate (the first phase of the Roman Empire) has consolidated an enduring legacy as one of the most effective and controversial leaders in human history.[1][2] The reign of Augustus initiated an era of relative peace known as the Pax Romana. The Roman world was largely free from large-scale conflict for more than two centuries, despite continuous wars of imperial expansion on the Empire's frontiers and the year-long civil war known as the "Year of the Four Emperors" over the imperial succession.

Originally named Gaius Octavius, he was born into an old and wealthy equestrian branch of the plebeian gens Octavia. His maternal great-uncle Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, and Octavius was named in Caesar's will as his adopted son and heir, after which he took the name Gaius Julius Caesar, though later historians would take to calling him Octavian to avoid confusion with his great-uncle. He, Mark Antony, and Marcus Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate to defeat the assassins of Caesar. Following their victory at the Battle of Philippi (42 BC), the Triumvirate divided the Roman Republic among themselves and ruled as de facto dictators. The Triumvirate was eventually torn apart by the competing ambitions of its members; Lepidus was exiled in 36 BC, and Antony was defeated by Octavian at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC.

After the demise of the Second Triumvirate, Augustus restored the outward façade of the free Republic, with governmental power vested in the Roman Senate, the executive magistrates, and the legislative assemblies, yet maintained autocratic authority by having the Senate grant him lifetime tenure as supreme military command, tribune, and censor. A similar ambiguity is seen in his chosen names, the implied rejection of monarchical titles whereby he called himself Princeps Civitatis ("First Citizen") juxtaposed with his adoption of the ancient title Augustus.

Augustus dramatically enlarged the Empire, annexing Egypt, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum, and Raetia, expanding possessions in Africa, and completing the conquest of Hispania, but suffered a major setback in Germania. Beyond the frontiers, he secured the Empire with a buffer region of client states and made peace with the Parthian Empire through diplomacy. He reformed the Roman system of taxation, developed networks of roads with an official courier system, established a standing army, established the Praetorian Guard, created official police and fire-fighting services for Rome, and rebuilt much of the city during his reign. Augustus died in AD 14 at the age of 75, probably from natural causes. Persistent rumors, substantiated somewhat by numerous deaths in the imperial family, have claimed his wife Livia poisoned him. He was succeeded as emperor by Livia's son – also his by adoption and former husband of his only biological daughter JuliaTiberius, who consolidated the Principate into a de facto autocratic monarchy, the Roman Empire.

Augustus Intro articles: 37


As a consequence of Roman customs, society, and personal preference, Augustus (/ɔːˈɡʌstəs/ aw-GUST-əs) was known by many names throughout his life:

  • Gaius Octavius (/ɒkˈtviəs/ ok-TAY-vee-əs, Latin[ˈɡaːiʊs ɔkˈtaːwiʊs]): He received his birth name, after his biological father, in 63 BC. "Gaius" was his praenomen, while "Octavius" was his nomen. He did not yet receive a cognomen at birth since his father appears to have lacked or eschewed one, which would normally be inherited.
  • Gaius Octavius Thurinus: He was given the cognomen "Thurinus" in 60 BC, when he was a few years old.[3][4] Later, after he had taken the name of Caesar, his rival Mark Antony referred to him as "Thurinus" in order to belittle him. In response, he merely said he was surprised that "using his old name was thought to be an insult".[5][6]
  • Gaius Julius Caesar: After he was adopted by Julius Caesar, he adopted Caesar's name in accordance with Roman naming conventions.[7] While he dropped all references to the gens Octavia, people colloquially added the epithet Octavianus (Latin[ɔktaːwiˈjaːnʊs]) to his legal name, either to differentiate him from his adoptive father or to highlight his more modest origins. Modern English language historians refer to him using the anglicized form "Octavian" (/ɒkˈtviən/ ok-TAY-vee-ən) to the period between 44 BC and 27 BC, rather than "Gaius Julius Caesar", as he was officially called, mainly to avoid possible confusion with Julius Caesar.[8]
  • Gaius Julius Caesar divi filius: Two years after his adoption, he founded the Temple of Caesar additionally adding the title divi filius ("son of the divine") to his name in attempt to strengthen his political ties to Caesar's former soldiers, following the deification of Caesar.[9]
  • Imperator Caesar divi filius: From 38 BC, Octavian opted to use Imperator, the title by which troops hailed their leader after military success. His name is roughly translated as "Commander Caesar, Son of the Divine".
  • Imperator Caesar divi filius Augustus (Latin[ɪmpɛˈraːtɔr ˈkae̯sar ˈdiːwiː ˈfiːliʊs au̯ˈɡʊstʊs]): Following his 31 BC defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, partly on his own insistence, on 16 January 27 BC the Roman Senate granted him the additional name "Augustus".[4][11] Historians use this name to refer to him from 27 BC until his death in AD 14.[12]

Augustus Name articles: 16

Early life

While his paternal family was from the Volscian town of Velletri, approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) to the south-east of Rome, Augustus was born in the city of Rome on 23 September 63 BC.[13] He was born at Ox Head, a small property on the Palatine Hill, very close to the Roman Forum. He was given the name Gaius Octavius Thurinus, his cognomen possibly commemorating his father's victory at Thurii over a rebellious band of slaves which occurred a few years after his birth.[14][15] Suetonius wrote: "There are many indications that the Octavian family was in days of old a distinguished one at Velitrae; for not only was a street in the most frequented part of town long ago called Octavian, but an altar was shown there besides, consecrated by an Octavius. This man was leader in a war with a neighbouring town ..." [16]

Due to the crowded nature of Rome at the time, Octavius was taken to his father's home village at Velletri to be raised. Octavius mentions his father's equestrian family only briefly in his memoirs. His paternal great-grandfather Gaius Octavius was a military tribune in Sicily during the Second Punic War. His grandfather had served in several local political offices. His father, also named Gaius Octavius, had been governor of Macedonia. His mother, Atia, was the niece of Julius Caesar.[17][18]

A denarius from 44 BC, showing Julius Caesar on the obverse and the goddess Venus on the reverse of the coin. Caption: CAESAR IMP. M. / L. AEMILIVS BVCA

In 59 BC, when he was four years old, his father died.[19] His mother married a former governor of Syria, Lucius Marcius Philippus.[20] Philippus claimed descent from Alexander the Great, and was elected consul in 56 BC. Philippus never had much of an interest in young Octavius. Because of this, Octavius was raised by his grandmother, Julia, the sister of Julius Caesar. Julia died in 52 or 51 BC, and Octavius delivered the funeral oration for his grandmother.[21][22] From this point, his mother and stepfather took a more active role in raising him. He donned the toga virilis four years later,[23] and was elected to the College of Pontiffs in 47 BC.[24][25] The following year he was put in charge of the Greek games that were staged in honor of the Temple of Venus Genetrix, built by Julius Caesar.[25] According to Nicolaus of Damascus, Octavius wished to join Caesar's staff for his campaign in Africa, but gave way when his mother protested.[26] In 46 BC, she consented for him to join Caesar in Hispania, where he planned to fight the forces of Pompey, Caesar's late enemy, but Octavius fell ill and was unable to travel.

When he had recovered, he sailed to the front, but was shipwrecked; after coming ashore with a handful of companions, he crossed hostile territory to Caesar's camp, which impressed his great-uncle considerably.[23] Velleius Paterculus reports that after that time, Caesar allowed the young man to share his carriage.[27] When back in Rome, Caesar deposited a new will with the Vestal Virgins, naming Octavius as the prime beneficiary.[28]

Augustus Early life articles: 33

Rise to power

Heir to Caesar

The Death of Caesar, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1867). On 15 March 44 BC, Octavius's adoptive father Julius Caesar was assassinated by a conspiracy led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

Octavius was studying and undergoing military training in Apollonia, Illyria, when Julius Caesar was killed on the Ides of March (15 March) 44 BC. He rejected the advice of some army officers to take refuge with the troops in Macedonia and sailed to Italy to ascertain whether he had any potential political fortunes or security.[29] Caesar had no living legitimate children under Roman law,[nb 2] and so had adopted Octavius, his grand-nephew, making him his primary heir.[30] Mark Antony later charged that Octavian had earned his adoption by Caesar through sexual favours, though Suetonius describes Antony's accusation as political slander.[31] This form of slander was popular during this time in the Roman Republic to demean and discredit political opponents by accusing them of having an inappropriate sexual affair.[32][33] After landing at Lupiae near Brundisium, Octavius learned the contents of Caesar's will, and only then did he decide to become Caesar's political heir as well as heir to two-thirds of his estate.[25][29][34]

Upon his adoption, Octavius assumed his great-uncle's name Gaius Julius Caesar. Roman citizens adopted into a new family usually retained their old nomen in cognomen form (e.g., Octavianus for one who had been an Octavius, Aemilianus for one who had been an Aemilius, etc.). However, though some of his contemporaries did,[35] there is no evidence that Octavius ever himself officially used the name Octavianus, as it would have made his modest origins too obvious.[36][37][38] Historians usually refer to the new Caesar as Octavian during the time between his adoption and his assumption of the name Augustus in 27 BC in order to avoid confusing the dead dictator with his heir.[39]

Octavian could not rely on his limited funds to make a successful entry into the upper echelons of the Roman political hierarchy.[40] After a warm welcome by Caesar's soldiers at Brundisium,[41] Octavian demanded a portion of the funds that were allotted by Caesar for the intended war against the Parthian Empire in the Middle East.[40] This amounted to 700 million sesterces stored at Brundisium, the staging ground in Italy for military operations in the east.[42]

A later senatorial investigation into the disappearance of the public funds took no action against Octavian, since he subsequently used that money to raise troops against the Senate's arch enemy Mark Antony.[41] Octavian made another bold move in 44 BC when, without official permission, he appropriated the annual tribute that had been sent from Rome's Near Eastern province to Italy.[37][43]

Octavian began to bolster his personal forces with Caesar's veteran legionaries and with troops designated for the Parthian war, gathering support by emphasizing his status as heir to Caesar.[29][44] On his march to Rome through Italy, Octavian's presence and newly acquired funds attracted many, winning over Caesar's former veterans stationed in Campania.[37] By June, he had gathered an army of 3,000 loyal veterans, paying each a salary of 500 denarii.[45][46][47]

Growing tensions

A reconstructed statue of Augustus as a younger Octavian, dated ca. 30 BC

Arriving in Rome on 6 May 44 BC, Octavian found consul Mark Antony, Caesar's former colleague, in an uneasy truce with the dictator's assassins. They had been granted a general amnesty on 17 March, yet Antony had succeeded in driving most of them out of Rome with an inflammatory eulogy at Caesar's funeral, mounting public opinion against the assassins.[37]

Mark Antony was amassing political support, but Octavian still had opportunity to rival him as the leading member of the faction supporting Caesar. Mark Antony had lost the support of many Romans and supporters of Caesar when he initially opposed the motion to elevate Caesar to divine status.[48] Octavian failed to persuade Antony to relinquish Caesar's money to him. During the summer, he managed to win support from Caesarian sympathizers and also made common with the Optimates, the former enemies of Caesar, who saw him as the lesser evil and hoped to manipulate him.[49] In September, the leading Optimate orator Marcus Tullius Cicero began to attack Antony in a series of speeches portraying him as a threat to the Republican order.[50][51]

First conflict with Antony

Bust of Augustus in Musei Capitolini, Rome

With opinion in Rome turning against him and his year of consular power nearing its end, Antony attempted to pass laws that would assign him the province of Cisalpine Gaul.[52][53] Octavian meanwhile built up a private army in Italy by recruiting Caesarian veterans and, on 28 November, he won over two of Antony's legions with the enticing offer of monetary gain.[54][55][56]

In the face of Octavian's large and capable force, Antony saw the danger of staying in Rome and, to the relief of the Senate, he left Rome for Cisalpine Gaul, which was to be handed to him on 1 January.[56] However, the province had earlier been assigned to Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, one of Caesar's assassins, who now refused to yield to Antony. Antony besieged him at Mutina[57] and rejected the resolutions passed by the Senate to stop the fighting. The Senate had no army to enforce their resolutions. This provided an opportunity for Octavian, who already was known to have armed forces.[55] Cicero also defended Octavian against Antony's taunts about Octavian's lack of noble lineage and aping of Julius Caesar's name, stating "we have no more brilliant example of traditional piety among our youth."[58]

At the urging of Cicero, the Senate inducted Octavian as senator on 1 January 43 BC, yet he also was given the power to vote alongside the former consuls.[55][56] In addition, Octavian was granted propraetor imperium (commanding power) which legalized his command of troops, sending him to relieve the siege along with Hirtius and Pansa (the consuls for 43 BC).[55][59] In April 43 BC, Antony's forces were defeated at the battles of Forum Gallorum and Mutina, forcing Antony to retreat to Transalpine Gaul. Both consuls were killed, however, leaving Octavian in sole command of their armies.[60][61]

The senate heaped many more rewards on Decimus Brutus than on Octavian for defeating Antony, then attempted to give command of the consular legions to Decimus Brutus.[62] In response, Octavian stayed in the Po Valley and refused to aid any further offensive against Antony.[63] In July, an embassy of centurions sent by Octavian entered Rome and demanded the consulship left vacant by Hirtius and Pansa[64] and also that the decree should be rescinded which declared Antony a public enemy.[63] When this was refused, he marched on the city with eight legions.[63] He encountered no military opposition in Rome, and on 19 August 43 BC was elected consul with his relative Quintus Pedius as co-consul.[65][66] Meanwhile, Antony formed an alliance with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, another leading Caesarian.[67]

Second Triumvirate


Roman aureus bearing the portraits of Mark Antony (left) and Octavian (right), issued in 41 BC to celebrate the establishment of the Second Triumvirate by Octavian, Antony and Marcus Lepidus in 43 BC. Both sides bear the inscription "III VIR R P C", meaning "One of Three Men for the regulation of the Republic". Caption: M. ANT. IMP. AVG. III VIR RPC M. BARBAT. Q. P. / CAESAR IMP. PONT. III VIR PRC. The M. Barbatius Pollio was a moneyer[68]

In a meeting near Bologna in October 43 BC, Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate.[69] This explicit arrogation of special powers lasting five years was then legalised by law passed by the plebs, unlike the unofficial First Triumvirate formed by Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Marcus Licinius Crassus.[69][70] The triumvirs then set in motion proscriptions, in which between 130 and 300 senators[nb 3] and 2,000 equites were branded as outlaws and deprived of their property and, for those who failed to escape, their lives.[72] This decree issued by the triumvirate was motivated in part by a need to raise money to pay the salaries of their troops for the upcoming conflict against Caesar's assassins, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus.[73] Rewards for their arrest gave incentive for Romans to capture those proscribed, while the assets and properties of those arrested were seized by the triumvirs.[72]

Contemporary Roman historians provide conflicting reports as to which triumvir was most responsible for the proscriptions and killing. However, the sources agree that enacting the proscriptions was a means by all three factions to eliminate political enemies.[74] Marcus Velleius Paterculus asserted that Octavian tried to avoid proscribing officials whereas Lepidus and Antony were to blame for initiating them. Cassius Dio defended Octavian as trying to spare as many as possible, whereas Antony and Lepidus, being older and involved in politics longer, had many more enemies to deal with.[75]

This claim was rejected by Appian, who maintained that Octavian shared an equal interest with Lepidus and Antony in eradicating his enemies.[76] Suetonius said that Octavian was reluctant to proscribe officials, but did pursue his enemies with more vigor than the other triumvirs.[74] Plutarch described the proscriptions as a ruthless and cutthroat swapping of friends and family among Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian. For example, Octavian allowed the proscription of his ally Cicero, Antony the proscription of his maternal uncle Lucius Julius Caesar (the consul of 64 BC), and Lepidus his brother Paullus.[75]

A denarius minted c. 18 BC. Obverse: CAESAR AVGVSTVS; reverse: comet of eight rays with tail upward; DIVVS IVLIV[S] (DIVINE JULIUS).

Battle of Philippi and division of territory

On 1 January 42 BC, the Senate posthumously recognized Julius Caesar as a divinity of the Roman state, Divus Iulius. Octavian was able to further his cause by emphasizing the fact that he was Divi filius, "Son of the Divine".[77] Antony and Octavian then sent 28 legions by sea to face the armies of Brutus and Cassius, who had built their base of power in Greece.[78] After two battles at Philippi in Macedonia in October 42, the Caesarian army was victorious and Brutus and Cassius committed suicide. Mark Antony later used the examples of these battles as a means to belittle Octavian, as both battles were decisively won with the use of Antony's forces. In addition to claiming responsibility for both victories, Antony also branded Octavian as a coward for handing over his direct military control to Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa instead.[79]

After Philippi, a new territorial arrangement was made among the members of the Second Triumvirate. Gaul and the province of Hispania were placed in the hands of Octavian. Antony traveled east to Egypt where he allied himself with Queen Cleopatra VII, the former lover of Julius Caesar and mother of Caesar's infant son Caesarion. Lepidus was left with the province of Africa, stymied by Antony, who conceded Hispania to Octavian instead.[80]

Octavian was left to decide where in Italy to settle the tens of thousands of veterans of the Macedonian campaign, whom the triumvirs had promised to discharge. The tens of thousands who had fought on the republican side with Brutus and Cassius could easily ally with a political opponent of Octavian if not appeased, and they also required land.[80] There was no more government-controlled land to allot as settlements for their soldiers, so Octavian had to choose one of two options: alienating many Roman citizens by confiscating their land, or alienating many Roman soldiers who could mount a considerable opposition against him in the Roman heartland. Octavian chose the former.[81] There were as many as eighteen Roman towns affected by the new settlements, with entire populations driven out or at least given partial evictions.[82]

Rebellion and marriage alliances

There was widespread dissatisfaction with Octavian over these settlements of his soldiers, and this encouraged many to rally at the side of Lucius Antonius, who was brother of Mark Antony and supported by a majority in the Senate. Meanwhile, Octavian asked for a divorce from Claudia, the daughter of Fulvia (Mark Antony's wife) and her first husband Publius Clodius Pulcher. He returned Claudia to her mother, claiming that their marriage had never been consummated. Fulvia decided to take action. Together with Lucius Antonius, she raised an army in Italy to fight for Antony's rights against Octavian. Lucius and Fulvia took a political and martial gamble in opposing Octavian, however, since the Roman army still depended on the triumvirs for their salaries. Lucius and his allies ended up in a defensive siege at Perusia (modern Perugia), where Octavian forced them into surrender in early 40 BC.[82]

Fresco paintings inside the House of Augustus, his residence during his reign as emperor.

Lucius and his army were spared, due to his kinship with Antony, the strongman of the East, while Fulvia was exiled to Sicyon.[83] Octavian showed no mercy, however, for the mass of allies loyal to Lucius; on 15 March, the anniversary of Julius Caesar's assassination, he had 300 Roman senators and equestrians executed for allying with Lucius.[84] Perusia also was pillaged and burned as a warning for others.[83] This bloody event sullied Octavian's reputation and was criticized by many, such as Augustan poet Sextus Propertius.[84]

Sextus Pompeius, the son of Pompey and still a renegade general following Julius Caesar's victory over his father, had established himself in Sicily and Sardinia as part of an agreement reached with the Second Triumvirate in 39 BC.[85] Both Antony and Octavian were vying for an alliance with Pompeius. Octavian succeeded in a temporary alliance in 40 BC when he married Scribonia, a sister or daughter of Pompeius's father-in-law Lucius Scribonius Libo. Scribonia gave birth to Octavian's only natural child, Julia, the same day that he divorced her to marry Livia Drusilla, little more than a year after their marriage.[84]

While in Egypt, Antony had been engaged in an affair with Cleopatra and had fathered twin children with her.[nb 4] Aware of his deteriorating relationship with Octavian, Antony left Cleopatra; he sailed to Italy in 40 BC with a large force to oppose Octavian, laying siege to Brundisium. This new conflict proved untenable for both Octavian and Antony, however. Their centurions, who had become important figures politically, refused to fight due to their Caesarian cause, while the legions under their command followed suit. Meanwhile, in Sicyon, Antony's wife Fulvia died of a sudden illness while Antony was en route to meet her. Fulvia's death and the mutiny of their centurions allowed the two remaining triumvirs to effect a reconciliation.[86][87]

A Roman marble portrait bust of Mark Antony, made during the Flavian dynasty (69–96 AD), Vatican Museums

In the autumn of 40, Octavian and Antony approved the Treaty of Brundisium, by which Lepidus would remain in Africa, Antony in the East, Octavian in the West. The Italian Peninsula was left open to all for the recruitment of soldiers, but in reality, this provision was useless for Antony in the East. To further cement relations of alliance with Mark Antony, Octavian gave his sister, Octavia Minor, in marriage to Antony in late 40 BC.[86]

War with Pompeius

A denarius of Sextus Pompeius, minted for his victory over Octavian's fleet. Obverse: the place where he defeated Octavian, Pharus of Messina decorated with a statue of Neptune; before that galley adorned with aquila, sceptre & trident; MAG. PIVS IMP. ITER. Reverse, the monster Scylla, her torso of dogs and fish tails, wielding a rudder as a club. Caption: PRAEF[ECTUS] CLAS[SIS] ET ORAE MARIT[IMAE] EX S. C.

Sextus Pompeius threatened Octavian in Italy by denying shipments of grain through the Mediterranean Sea to the peninsula. Pompeius's own son was put in charge as naval commander in the effort to cause widespread famine in Italy.[87] Pompeius's control over the sea prompted him to take on the name Neptuni filius, "son of Neptune".[88] A temporary peace agreement was reached in 39 BC with the treaty of Misenum; the blockade on Italy was lifted once Octavian granted Pompeius Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, and the Peloponnese, and ensured him a future position as consul for 35 BC.[87][88]

The territorial agreement between the triumvirate and Sextus Pompeius began to crumble once Octavian divorced Scribonia and married Livia on 17 January 38 BC.[89] One of Pompeius's naval commanders betrayed him and handed over Corsica and Sardinia to Octavian. Octavian lacked the resources to confront Pompeius alone, however, so an agreement was reached with the Second Triumvirate's extension for another five-year period beginning in 37 BC.[70][90]

In supporting Octavian, Antony expected to gain support for his own campaign against the Parthian Empire, desiring to avenge Rome's defeat at Carrhae in 53 BC.[90] In an agreement reached at Tarentum, Antony provided 120 ships for Octavian to use against Pompeius, while Octavian was to send 20,000 legionaries to Antony for use against Parthia. Octavian sent only a tenth of those promised, however, which Antony viewed as an intentional provocation.[91]

Octavian and Lepidus launched a joint operation against Sextus in Sicily in 36 BC.[92] Despite setbacks for Octavian, the naval fleet of Sextus Pompeius was almost entirely destroyed on 3 September by General Agrippa at the naval Battle of Naulochus. Sextus fled to the east with his remaining forces, where he was captured and executed in Miletus by one of Antony's generals the following year. As Lepidus and Octavian accepted the surrender of Pompeius's troops, Lepidus attempted to claim Sicily for himself, ordering Octavian to leave. Lepidus's troops deserted him, however, and defected to Octavian since they were weary of fighting and were enticed by Octavian's promises of money.[93]

Lepidus surrendered to Octavian and was permitted to retain the office of Pontifex Maximus (head of the college of priests), but was ejected from the Triumvirate, his public career at an end, and effectively was exiled to a villa at Cape Circei in Italy.[73][93] The Roman dominions were now divided between Octavian in the West and Antony in the East. Octavian ensured Rome's citizens of their rights to property in order to maintain peace and stability in his portion of the Empire. This time, he settled his discharged soldiers outside of Italy, while also returning 30,000 slaves to their former Roman owners—slaves who had fled to join Pompeius's army and navy.[94] Octavian had the Senate grant him, his wife, and his sister tribunal immunity, or sacrosanctitas, in order to ensure his own safety and that of Livia and Octavia once he returned to Rome.[95]

War with Antony and Cleopatra

Anthony and Cleopatra, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Meanwhile, Antony's campaign turned disastrous against Parthia, tarnishing his image as a leader, and the mere 2,000 legionaries sent by Octavian to Antony were hardly enough to replenish his forces.[96] On the other hand, Cleopatra could restore his army to full strength; he already was engaged in a romantic affair with her, so he decided to send Octavia back to Rome.[97] Octavian used this to spread propaganda implying that Antony was becoming less than Roman because he rejected a legitimate Roman spouse for an "Oriental paramour".[98] In 36 BC, Octavian used a political ploy to make himself look less autocratic and Antony more the villain by proclaiming that the civil wars were coming to an end, and that he would step down as triumvir—if only Antony would do the same. Antony refused.[99]

Roman troops captured the Kingdom of Armenia in 34 BC, and Antony made his son Alexander Helios the ruler of Armenia. He also awarded the title "Queen of Kings" to Cleopatra, acts that Octavian used to convince the Roman Senate that Antony had ambitions to diminish the preeminence of Rome.[98] Octavian became consul once again on 1 January 33 BC, and he opened the following session in the Senate with a vehement attack on Antony's grants of titles and territories to his relatives and to his queen.[100]

The breach between Antony and Octavian prompted a large portion of the Senators, as well as both of that year's consuls, to leave Rome and defect to Antony. However, Octavian received two key deserters from Antony in the autumn of 32 BC: Munatius Plancus and Marcus Titius.[101] These defectors gave Octavian the information that he needed to confirm with the Senate all the accusations that he made against Antony.[102]

Octavian forcibly entered the temple of the Vestal Virgins and seized Antony's secret will, which he promptly publicized. The will would have given away Roman-conquered territories as kingdoms for his sons to rule, and designated Alexandria as the site for a tomb for him and his queen.[103][104] In late 32 BC, the Senate officially revoked Antony's powers as consul and declared war on Cleopatra's regime in Egypt.[105][106]

This mid-1st-century-BC Roman wall painting in Pompeii, Italy, showing Venus holding a cupid is most likely a depiction of Cleopatra VII of Ptolemaic Egypt as Venus Genetrix, with her son Caesarion as the cupid, similar in appearance to the now lost statue of Cleopatra erected by Julius Caesar in the Temple of Venus Genetrix (within the Forum of Caesar). The owner of the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus at Pompeii walled off the room with this painting, most likely in immediate reaction to the execution of Caesarion on orders of Augustus in 30 BC, when artistic depictions of Caesarion would have been considered a sensitive issue for the ruling regime.[107][108]

In early 31 BC, Antony and Cleopatra were temporarily stationed in Greece when Octavian gained a preliminary victory: the navy successfully ferried troops across the Adriatic Sea under the command of Agrippa. Agrippa cut off Antony and Cleopatra's main force from their supply routes at sea, while Octavian landed on the mainland opposite the island of Corcyra (modern Corfu) and marched south. Trapped on land and sea, deserters of Antony's army fled to Octavian's side daily while Octavian's forces were comfortable enough to make preparations.[109]

Antony's fleet sailed through the bay of Actium on the western coast of Greece in a desperate attempt to break free of the naval blockade. It was there that Antony's fleet faced the much larger fleet of smaller, more maneuverable ships under commanders Agrippa and Gaius Sosius in the Battle of Actium on 2 September 31 BC.[110] Antony and his remaining forces were spared only due to a last-ditch effort by Cleopatra's fleet that had been waiting nearby.[111]

Aureus of Octavian, circa 30 BC, British Museum.

Octavian pursued them and defeated their forces in Alexandria on 1 August 30 BC—after which Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide. Antony fell on his own sword and was taken by his soldiers back to Alexandria where he died in Cleopatra's arms. Cleopatra died soon after, reputedly by the venomous bite of an asp or by poison.[112] Octavian had exploited his position as Caesar's heir to further his own political career, and he was well aware of the dangers in allowing another person to do the same. He therefore followed the advice of Arius Didymus that "two Caesars are one too many", ordering Caesarion, Julius Caesar's son by Cleopatra, killed, while sparing Cleopatra's children by Antony, with the exception of Antony's older son.[113][114] Octavian had previously shown little mercy to surrendered enemies and acted in ways that had proven unpopular with the Roman people, yet he was given credit for pardoning many of his opponents after the Battle of Actium.[115]

Augustus Rise to power articles: 122

Sole ruler of Rome

After Actium and the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian was in a position to rule the entire Republic under an unofficial principate[116]—but he had to achieve this through incremental power gains. He did so by courting the Senate and the people while upholding the republican traditions of Rome, appearing that he was not aspiring to dictatorship or monarchy.[117][118] Marching into Rome, Octavian and Marcus Agrippa were elected as consuls by the Senate.[119]

Years of civil war had left Rome in a state of near lawlessness, but the Republic was not prepared to accept the control of Octavian as a despot. At the same time, Octavian could not simply give up his authority without risking further civil wars among the Roman generals and, even if he desired no position of authority whatsoever, his position demanded that he look to the well-being of the city of Rome and the Roman provinces. Octavian's aims from this point forward were to return Rome to a state of stability, traditional legality, and civility by lifting the overt political pressure imposed on the courts of law and ensuring free elections—in name at least.[120]

First settlement

In 27 BC, Octavian made a show of returning full power to the Roman Senate and relinquishing his control of the Roman provinces and their armies. Under his consulship, however, the Senate had little power in initiating legislation by introducing bills for senatorial debate. Octavian was no longer in direct control of the provinces and their armies, but he retained the loyalty of active duty soldiers and veterans alike. The careers of many clients and adherents depended on his patronage, as his financial power was unrivaled in the Roman Republic.[119] Historian Werner Eck states:

The sum of his power derived first of all from various powers of office delegated to him by the Senate and people, secondly from his immense private fortune, and thirdly from numerous patron-client relationships he established with individuals and groups throughout the Empire. All of them taken together formed the basis of his auctoritas, which he himself emphasized as the foundation of his political actions.[121]

To a large extent, the public were aware of the vast financial resources that Octavian commanded. He failed to encourage enough senators to finance the building and maintenance of networks of roads in Italy in 20 BC, but he undertook direct responsibility for them. This was publicized on the Roman currency issued in 16 BC, after he donated vast amounts of money to the aerarium Saturni, the public treasury.[122]

Octavian as a magistrate. The statue's marble head was made c. 30–20 BC, the body sculpted in the 2nd century AD (Louvre, Paris).

According to H. H. Scullard, however, Octavian's power was based on the exercise of "a predominant military power and ... the ultimate sanction of his authority was force, however much the fact was disguised."[123] The Senate proposed to Octavian, the victor of Rome's civil wars, that he once again assume command of the provinces. The Senate's proposal was a ratification of Octavian's extra-constitutional power. Through the Senate, Octavian was able to continue the appearance of a still-functional constitution. Feigning reluctance, he accepted a ten-year responsibility of overseeing provinces that were considered chaotic.[124][125]

The provinces ceded to Augustus for that ten-year period comprised much of the conquered Roman world, including all of Hispania and Gaul, Syria, Cilicia, Cyprus, and Egypt.[124][126] Moreover, command of these provinces provided Octavian with control over the majority of Rome's legions.[126][127]

While Octavian acted as consul in Rome, he dispatched senators to the provinces under his command as his representatives to manage provincial affairs and ensure that his orders were carried out. The provinces not under Octavian's control were overseen by governors chosen by the Roman Senate.[127] Octavian became the most powerful political figure in the city of Rome and in most of its provinces, but he did not have a monopoly on political and martial power.[128]

The Senate still controlled North Africa, an important regional producer of grain, as well as Illyria and Macedonia, two strategic regions with several legions.[128] However, the Senate had control of only five or six legions distributed among three senatorial proconsuls, compared to the twenty legions under the control of Octavian, and their control of these regions did not amount to any political or military challenge to Octavian.[117][123] The Senate's control over some of the Roman provinces helped maintain a republican façade for the autocratic Principate. Also, Octavian's control of entire provinces followed Republican-era precedents for the objective of securing peace and creating stability, in which such prominent Romans as Pompey had been granted similar military powers in times of crisis and instability.[117]

Change to Augustus

On 16 January 27 BC the Senate gave Octavian the new titles of Augustus and Princeps.[129] Augustus is from the Latin word Augere (meaning to increase) and can be translated as "the illustrious one". It was a title of religious authority rather than political authority. His new title of Augustus was also more favorable than Romulus, the previous one which he styled for himself in reference to the story of the legendary founder of Rome, which symbolized a second founding of Rome.[115] The title of Romulus was associated too strongly with notions of monarchy and kingship, an image that Octavian tried to avoid.[130] The title princeps senatus originally meant the member of the Senate with the highest precedence,[131] but in the case of Augustus, it became an almost regnal title for a leader who was first in charge.[132] Augustus also styled himself as Imperator Caesar divi filius, "Commander Caesar son of the deified one". With this title, he boasted his familial link to deified Julius Caesar, and the use of Imperator signified a permanent link to the Roman tradition of victory. He transformed Caesar, a cognomen for one branch of the Julian family, into a new family line that began with him.[129]

The Arch of Augustus in Rimini (Ariminum), dedicated to Augustus by the Roman Senate in 27 BC, the oldest surviving Roman triumphal arch

Augustus was granted the right to hang the corona civica above his door, the "civic crown" made from oak, and to have laurels drape his doorposts.[128] However, he renounced flaunting insignia of power such as holding a scepter, wearing a diadem, or wearing the golden crown and purple toga of his predecessor Julius Caesar.[133] If he refused to symbolize his power by donning and bearing these items on his person, the Senate nonetheless awarded him with a golden shield displayed in the meeting hall of the Curia, bearing the inscription virtus, pietas, clementia, iustitia—"valor, piety, clemency, and justice."[128][134]

Second settlement

Portraits of Augustus show the emperor with idealized features

By 23 BC, some of the un-Republican implications were becoming apparent concerning the settlement of 27 BC. Augustus's retention of an annual consulate drew attention to his de facto dominance over the Roman political system, and cut in half the opportunities for others to achieve what was still nominally the preeminent position in the Roman state.[135] Further, he was causing political problems by desiring to have his nephew Marcus Claudius Marcellus follow in his footsteps and eventually assume the Principate in his turn,[nb 5] alienating his three greatest supporters – Agrippa, Maecenas, and Livia.[136] He appointed noted Republican Calpurnius Piso (who had fought against Julius Caesar and supported Cassius and Brutus[137]) as co-consul in 23 BC, after his choice Aulus Terentius Varro Murena died unexpectedly.[138]

In the late spring Augustus suffered a severe illness, and on his supposed deathbed made arrangements that would ensure the continuation of the Principate in some form,[139] while allaying senators' suspicions of his anti-republicanism. Augustus prepared to hand down his signet ring to his favored general Agrippa. However, Augustus handed over to his co-consul Piso all of his official documents, an account of public finances, and authority over listed troops in the provinces while Augustus's supposedly favored nephew Marcellus came away empty-handed.[140][141] This was a surprise to many who believed Augustus would have named an heir to his position as an unofficial emperor.[142]

Augustus bestowed only properties and possessions to his designated heirs, as an obvious system of institutionalized imperial inheritance would have provoked resistance and hostility among the r