Augustus Caesar – Biography, Accomplishments, & Facts

But for his mother’s strong dissuasion, Octavius would have joined his great-uncle’s North Africa military campaign. However when the time came for Caesar’s military campaign in Hispania, nothing could stop Octavius from signing up in 46 BCE as Julius Caesar waged war against his former ally Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey the Great (106 BCE – 48 BCE). Due to an illness Octavius was unable to participate in Julius Caesar’s victory over Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BCE.

Inspired by Octavius’ determination, an heirless Julius Caesar decided to name Octavius as his heir and prime beneficiary. At the time the fact that Caesar had made his adopted son Octavius his heir in the will was not known. Caesar’s will was filed at the office of the Vestel Virgins, an institution of priestesses of the Roman goddess Vesta.

Augustus’ rise to the throne

Augustus Caesar path to the throne was made possible when his grand-nephew Julius Caesar adopted him as his son and prime heir. Julius Caesar had no son, and his daughter Julia Caesaris had one child, both of who died in 54 BCE. This meant that he had no direct blood to become his heir. The closest male relative was his sister’s daughter’s son, Gaius Octavius. And so, Caesar nurtured the young Octavius, adequately preparing him for his big future as heir to his name and Roman legion.

Just a few years before his assassination, Caesar made plans for Octavius to be appointed primary lieutenant or Magister Equitum (the equivalent of the Master of the Horse) for 42 BC.

Not until the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE, Octavius was not aware that his great-uncle had made him heir to Caesar’s estate, titles and legions of Roman soldiers. Following his inheritance, Octavius styled himself Julius Caesar Octavianus. He would hold that name until 17 BCE, when he was given the title Imperator Caesar Augustus.

How Augustus consolidated his reign

At the age of 18, Octavian stepped into the shoes of his assassinated great-uncle Julius Caesar

A few years before Julius Caesar’s death, steps were being taken to by his great-uncle to clip the powers of the Senate in order to consolidate his hold on the republic.

The politicians – Brutus and his ally Cassius – that were responsible for the death of Julius Caesar took control of Rome following the latter’s death. Caesar’s death also allowed his close ally Marcus Antonius (also known as Marc Antony) to gain a strong foothold in Rome.

With all those competing factions, the young Augustus struggled for a quite some time to consolidate his inherited position. In a political move by an influential politician called Cicero, Augustus was able to discredit Antony, allowing Octavian to gain a greater foothold in Rome.

The 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”.

Known in Latin as triumviri rei publicae constituendae, the Second Triumvirate was a political pact signed by Antony, Lepidus and Octavian. The agreement, which was signed in 43 BCE, spanned for five years. It spelled out how the three men will divide Rome’s provinces among themselves. The Second Triumvirate allowed Octavian to go after the faction that was responsible for the assassination of Julius Caesar. During that time Antony had taken the sister of Octavian as his wife in order to strengthen his ties with Octavian.

Augustus marches against Marc Antony

Towards the end of the Second Triumvirate in 33 BCE, the relationship between the three men was so strained that Antony had become Octavian’s number one enemy. In addition to allegations of Antony deploying unsavory tactics in order to build a strong power base in Egypt, the general had also abandoned Octavian’s sister in favor of Cleopatra VII of Egypt. Antony hoped to use his alliance with the Egyptian pharaoh to cease Rome. And so, Octavian marched his Roman legions against Marc Antony at the Battle of Actium. By 31 BCE, Octavian had bested his former brother-in-law. With his army all but destroyed, Antony took his life, his lover Cleopatra followed suit.

Supreme military commander and consul of Rome

With Lepidus exiled (in 36 BCE) and Antony dead, Octavian had successfully eliminated all major threats to his position in Rome. Although it looked as if the Roman Senate and the legislative assemblies held some form of power, the real person in charge of the Republic was in fact Octavian. He even tried to mask his true intentions by calling himself the First citizen of the State (Princeps Civitas). The truth of the matter was Octavian was Rome’s military dictator, holding the title of tribune and censor of Rome.

The silver lining to his ascent to power was that he brought to an end to Rome’s civil wars, thereby restoring order to Republic. He could also keep Rome’s soldiers happy with the treasures he obtained after conquering Egypt. By 31 BCE, the Octavian had made himself supreme military commander and the consul of Rome.

Imperator Caesar Augustus’ contributions and legacy

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