Augustus (63 BCE - 14 CE): Augustus achieved a level of authority that was unprecedented, having been the first supreme ruler of Rome. He climbed to power using rhetoric and propaganda of reigniting the Republic, established the Pax Romana, and eventually was given the title Perpetual Dictator.
Gaius Octavius Thurinus - better known as Augustus Caesar - was born on September 23, 63 BCE. His great-uncle Julius Caesar had adopted him before his assassination and named him as his heir. At the age of 18, he went to Rome and allied with Mark Antony, Julius Caesar's relative and friend, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, forming the Second Triumvirate in October 43 BCE. The Triumvirate did not last long, for Lepidus was stripped of his titles and removed from the alliance when he offended Augustus by ordering him to leave Sicily.
While Mark Antony had sent support from Egypt, he later allied with Cleopatra VII of Egypt and divorced Augustus' sister Octavia Minor, whom Augustus had offered as a means to solidify their alliance. Antony also claimed that Caesarion was the true heir, and, these two offenses combined prompted Augustus to force the surrender of Antony's will from the temple of Vesta and subsequently declare war on Cleopatra VII. At the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE, the General Agrippa defeated the combined forces of Cleopatra and Antony, many of whom had defected to Augustus' side already. Augustus became the supreme ruler of Rome and all its territory. But, he would not make the same mistakes his adoptive father had, and instead, made sure to communicate his strategies and authority as being for the good of the Roman Republic.
Augustus even surrendered his authority voluntarily in 27 BCE, and the Senate bestowed the same powers back upon him, along with the title "Augustus". Still, he did not use this name in public, but rather, referred to himself as "Princeps" or First Citizen. The month of August was named in honor of Augustus. In 19 BCE he was given Imperium Maius, (supreme power), over all the provinces of the Roman Empire. Augustus took absolute power by making the people happy and persuading them that his actions were good for the Republic. He had won many battles and taken Cleopatra's treasure and was able to pay the army veterans and fund a massive building and propaganda program. He disguised his king-like authority by regularly referring back to Republican traditions. His propaganda and buildings featured his image and his supposed relation to the gods, Apollo specifically.
Lepidus died in 12 BCE, which left the chief priest position to Augustus, making him the official head of Roman religion. In 13 CE, Augustus renewed his powers for another ten years and gave equal constitutional power to Tiberius, his son from a previous marriage. He placed his will, which included a copy of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, (Achievements of Divine Augustus), with the Vestals in Rome in April of that year. When Tiberius was set to leave for Illyricum, he was called back, as Augustus had fallen ill. On August 19, 14 CE, Augustus died of natural causes at Nola. By the time Tiberius had taken over as Rome's second emperor, the Senate had enrolled Augustus among the gods.
Though Augustus masterminded a plan to become the absolute ruler, he still did things that were truly beneficial for the people - he restored peace, which was called the Pax Romana, caused the economy, agriculture and the arts to flourish, had buildings constructed specifically for public use, and restored many temples. He reformed tax laws for the better, made adultery illegal, and held his own family to said laws. Augustus' rule was considered a golden age of Rome and is often still referred to as such. Augustus was a genius that had turned the rotting Republic into a monarchic regime that would last for years to come, while the Roman peace he had secured remained. For, Augustus had established easier communications and more efficient trade by building a network of roads. His accomplishments trump those of previous leaders, and he set a high standard for the emperors who followed. His impact on Rome was monumental, literally and figuratively, and he and his methods are still remembered and studied to this day.
“I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.”
“Young men, hear an old man to whom old men hearkened when he was young.”
“Make haste, slowly.”
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