“On the day that he died , Augustus frequently inquired, if whether the rumors of his death were causing any popular disturbance. He called for a mirror, and had his hair to be combed, and his lower jaw, which had fallen from weakness, propped up. Presently, he summoned a group of friends and asked: ‘Have I played the my part in the farce of life credibly enough?’ adding the theatrical tag:
‘If I have pleased you, then kindly signify,
Appreciation with a warm goodbye.’
Then he dismissed them, but when fresh visitors arrived from Rome, wanted to hear the latest news of the daughter of Drusus the younger who was ill. Finally he kissed his wife with: ‘Goodbye Livia: never forget our marriage!’ and he died almost at once.”
This was the way that the writer Suetonius (writing in 96 AD) recorded the death of Augustus Caesar, which occurred on today’s date, August 19 in the year 14 AD — two thousand years ago. Why do I place this as an important day in history by telling you about it in my Blog? Because so much of our political, technological, and cultural heritage comes to us from Roman times, and it was this man, Romes first “Emperor” who essentially saved it for the years after his death. Augustus created the “Pax Romana” – the “Peace of Rome” which allowed her civilization to solidify and to flourish for the ages hence.
“Caesar” and Augustus’ Rise
First of all the title of “Caesar” was not originally a title, but a family name of the first Caesar, Julius who was murdered in 44 BC by Roman Senators who were angry about the assumption of dictatorial powers by him over the Roman Republic. The death of Julius Caesar was the cause of a great civil war within the Roman Empire. Augustus who went by the name of Octavian before rising to great prominence was
actually the nephew of Julius Caesar, and a rather slight and sickly child at that. But eventually Julius made him his adopted son and heir. Civil war broke out in the wake of Julius Caesar’s death with the forces of Octavian, and Julius Caesar’s friends Marcus Lepidus, and Mark Antony defeating those of Caesar’s assassins, Brutus and Cassius. Then Lepidus attempted to take charge of this triumvirate, but his armies were basically bought out by Octavian. This left Mark Antony, in charge of the Eastern Half of the Roman Empire. But he fell out with Octavian and the rest of Rome’s elite over his affair with Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. Antony and Cleopatra were defeated by the forces of Octavian at the Battle of Actium (above) on Sept. 2, 31 BC. This left Octavian in sole possession of the leadership of Rome.
Octavian/Augustus Rebuilds a Shattered Empire
Now Octavian stood as the sole power in an Empire that had been shattered by years of Civil War. First, in order to avoid the mistake of his adoptive father Julius Caesar he sought to appear as if he was not gathering too much power around himself personally. So he humbly laid down his power, but the Senate simply voted to restore his power and then granted him the title of “Augustus” which means “great” or “venerable”, derived from Latin “augere” meaning “to increase”. In public though, he went by the simpler title of “Princeps” or “First
Citizen”. Just as the month of July had been named in honor of Julius Caesar, the month of August was so named in honor of Augustus. His main accomplishment was in the peace, the Pax Romana which he established which in turn allowed the economy, agriculture, and the Arts to flourish. He established political stability by reducing the number of Senators, streamlining the way that the Senate did business. He went on a vigorous building campaign in Rome, constructing many temples and public buildings. He was also a great patron of the arts. It was during this time that Virgil wrote his epic poem “The Aeneid”. Buildings such as the Marcellus Theater (above) were constructed. He also firmly set the empire’s boundaries in all its areas, such as the north where he considered the Rhine River to be the empire’s natural northern border.
The Augustan Legacy
The reign of Augustus Caesar – he continued to use the name Caesar to link himself openly with Julius Caesar, and it wound up being another tradition which stuck — was most certainly a Golden Age for Rome. It was his steady hand at the helm of power, carefully and patiently building up Rome’s political, economic, cultural and military institutions that enabled those institutions to grow roots and to become ways of life which in turn secured the succession to other rulers long after his death. And it was in this way that much of that heritage survived to be handed down to successive generations such as our own.
Also… his history included a tumultuous private life in which, while he tried his best to set a good example, there was constant plotting, back-stabbing (literally), and sexual escapades. If the rumors which abounded then and since are to be believed, much of this was set in motion by his wife Livia, who seemed to be poisoning everyone. Whether or not this was true, it was the picture painted by the poet, novelist and classical historian Robert Graves (1895 – 1985) in his novel “I, Claudius” published in 1934. This was in turn made into a fascinating Television Series on PBS’s “Masterpiece Theater” in 1976 (above, actor Brian Blessed as Augustus in “I, Claudius”) which inspired a young man of 16 named Brian T. Bolten to read Suetonius, Graves, and to fall in love with history, as a collection of incredible stories… http://krusty1960historysstory.wordpress.com !!
“Suetonius – The Twelve Caesars”, Translated by Robert Graves, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England, 1979.
“I, Claudius” by Robert Graves, Copyright, 1934, Electronic Edition, Rosetta Books, LLC, 2014
“Augustus – the Life of Rome’s First Emperor” by Anthony Everitt, Random House, New York, 2006