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From Octavian to Augustus



adapted from

63 BC, September 23: Octavian born, at Rome to Gaius Octavius and Atia, niece of Julius Caesar; received early training in private life from his great uncle (Julius Caesar) (Suet. Aug. 5, 6, 94)

60 BC: First Triumvirate of Pompey, Crassus and Caesar

53 BC: Crassus killed and his army wiped out at Carrhae

ca. 50 BC: Funeral Oration for his grandmother Julia

49 BC: Caesar crosses the Rubicon, marches on Italy ; Pompey and the Senate flee to Greece

48 BC:

  • Battle of Pharsalus; Caesar victorious; Pompey flees to Egypt where he is murdered.
  • October 18: Toga virilis (ceremony: legally enters into manhood)

45 BC: In Spain with Julius Caesar: Battle of Munda; later at Apollonia to study and await Caesar's expedition to Parthia

44 BC:

  • March 15: Assassination of Caesar; Octavian named his principal heir and adopted by Caesar in his will.
  • March 17, 44 BC : The Senate, unable to take a consistent stand after Caesar's assassination, decreed that the assassins were to be immune from punishment but that Caesar's acts as head of state, including his will, were to be ratified, and he was to have a public funeral. At the funeral (March 20), Brutus spoke first; however, when Antony spoke, reading the conditions of Caesar's will (leaving 300,000 sesterces to each Roman citizen and his magnificent gardens to the people as a public park), the mob was so inflamed that Caesar's body was burned then and there in the Forum and riots began against the conspirators. Within a month, the conspirators had left the city for the East because of their unpopularity in Rome . Led by Brutus and Cassius, they began to raise money and an army in Greece , allying with Sextus Pompey, now a pirate chief
  • April 18: At Naples
  • April 19: Meeting with Cicero and Balbus (Cic. Att. 14.10); then goes to Puteoli (Philippus' villa), then Cumae ( Cicero 's Villa)
  • Early May: In Rome , meets with Antony in Horti Pompei (Pompey's Gardens); Caesar's nineteen-year-old great-nephew, Gaius Octavius Thurinus, entered Rome to claim his inheritance. Caesar's will had named him chief heir and adopted him as his son, making his name now Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (so modern historians usually call him Octavian until he received the title Augustus in 27 BC). His claim was not well received by Antony , but after many machinations on both sides they eventually reconciled, at least on the surface. They eventually come to blows.

43 BC:

  • April 14: Battle at Forum Gallorum (Antonius Defeated)
  • April 14-27: Octavian, invested with propraetorian imperium, leads legions in battle at Mutina, along with consuls Hirtius and Pansa
  • April 21: Antonius Defeated
  • May 24: Antonius and Lepidus join forces
  • August 19: Octavian and his cousin (Caesar's nephew) Quintus Pedius become suffect consuls; Octavian recognized as Julius Caesar's adoptive son under name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus
  • October: Octavian meets with Antony and Lepidus at island of Reni (Near Bononia)
  • November 27: Second Triumvirate Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus formed an official three-man government, called “the second triumvirate”; in order to silence opposition and raise money, they carried out bloody proscriptions, executing significant numbers of senators and equestrians, including the great orator Cicero, against whom Antony was particularly vindictive.
  • The proscriptions:

    130+ senators (Livy)
    200 senators + 2000 equites (Appian)
    300 senators + 3000 equites (Plutarch)
    Only one ex-consul known (Cicero), out of nearly 100 known names

42 BC:

  • January 1: Julius Caesar is proclaimed a god (due to a comet that appeared at games in his honor in 44); Octavian becomes "son of a god", divi filius
  • Spring – Winter: Preparations for the campaign against the forces of Brutus and Cassius, the 'Liberators'
  • October 23: Antony and Octavian, leading 19-20 legions, met the 19 legions of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi in Greece . In the first battle, Antony 's forces defeated Cassius's troops, but Brutus's forces defeated those of Octavian. Cassius, not knowing about Brutus's success, committed suicide. Brutus did not follow up his advantage immediately, however, and a second battle was fought three weeks later, with Brutus facing the combined forces of Antony and Octavian. When Brutus was defeated, he also committed suicide, marking the ultimate end of the Republican cause.
  • After the victory at Philippi , Octavian returned to Rome , but Antony left on a triumphal tour through Greece and the East; he planned to organize and supply an army to invade Parthia , the military campaign Caesar was preparing before he was assassinated.

41/40 BC: Antony ordered Cleopatra to meet him in Tarsus to answer a charge that she had secretly aided Cassius before Philippi (probably a pretext to get Egyptian aid for his Parthian campaign). She sailed to Tarsus on a magnificent barge, dressed as the goddess Venus in a tableau, and utterly captivated him, especially by catering to his taste for banquets and carousing. He soon followed her back to Alexandria , delaying his Parthian campaign, and ignoring the fact that his wife, Fulvia, and his brother, Lucius, were trying to maintain his influence in Italy against the growing power of Octavian.

40 BC: The situation in Italy was deteriorating and a new civil war seemed imminent, so Antony returned to Italy . Fulvia died before he got back, and Octavian and Antony agreed to blame their disagreements on her. They concluded a pact at Brundisium in which they agreed that Octavian would be supreme in the West ( Italy , Europe ) and Antony in the East ( Greece , Asia , Egypt ); the pact was sealed by the marriage of Antony to Octavia, Octavian's sister, who had been recently widowed. Antony and Octavia lived in Athens from 40-37, and she bore him two daughters, both named Antonia.

39 BC: Treaty of Tarentum: Antony and Octavian cede Sicily , Sardinia and Corsica to Sextus Pompey as a "Protectorate." Octavian marries Scribonia, a relative of Sextus Pompey, with whom he has one daughter, Julia.

38 BC: Octavian fights two indecisive sea battles with Sextus Pompey and loses his fleets in storms; divorces Scribonia upon the birth of Julia and marries Livia. The Triumvirate's mandate runs out.

37 BC: Triumvirate renewed for 5 more years. Agrippa trains a new fleet near Naples . Antony finally departed for his Parthian campaign, but en route he met Cleopatra in Syria , and she presented him with the twins she had borne him after he left for Brundisium; he acknowledged the children, naming the boy Alexander Helios and the girl Cleopatra Selene. Antony married Cleopatra according to the Egyptian ceremony, and she conceived another child, later named Ptolemy Philadelphus. The Parthian campaign was an unmitigated disaster, with no military gains and the loss of an estimated 20,000 men. When Octavia returned from Rome to Athens to meet her husband with gifts and supplies, he ostentatiously bypassed her and Greece (which was a direct and public insult to his wife), traveling directly to Alexandria and Cleopatra.

36 BC: Octavian, with the help of Agrippa and Lepidus, defeats Sextus Pompey at Naulochus in Sicily ; Lepidus attempts to take over Sicily , but instead loses his position as Triumvir, his army and his navy and is sent into exile. Octavian now has more military resources than Antony . East and West are now in complete control of two men.

34 BC: Antony breaks with Rome and Octavian for good. He holds a "triumph" in Alexandria to celebrate his "victory" in Armenia . Officially divorces Octavian's sister Octavia. Donations of Alexandria : Antony divides much of Rome 's eastern empire among Cleopatra's children (3 of whom are his as well) and declares Octavian a usurper of Caesar's rightful heir, Caesarion, son of Caesar and Cleopatra.

33 BC: Triumvirate runs out again; Octavian campaigning in Illyria

32 BC: The "war of words" between Antony and Octavian; Octavian reads Antony 's will (which again declares Caesarion as Caesar's lawful heir) in the Senate. The west, alarmed at Antony 's apparent prediliction for the East and willingness to advance the interests of Cleopatra over Rome 's, officially declares war on Egypt and demands Octavian (who currently holds no magisterial office) as "Dux" or leader of the war effort.

  • Antony made the “Donations of Alexandria,” giving away many territories of the Roman East to Cleopatra and her children, declaring Caesarion Caesar's legal heir, and formally divorcing Octavia, sending an official notice to Rome that she and his children were to leave his house. These actions were very unpopular in Rome , and the Senate, “of its own accord,” swore an extraordinary oath of loyalty to Octavian.

31 BC: The Senate outlawed Antony and declared war on Cleopatra.

  • September 2: Octavian (now consul for the third time) and Agrippa are victorious over Antony and Cleopatra at Actium . The climactic battle occurred at sea, off the promontory of Actium in Greece . Octavian's general was the shrewd Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, and Antony was hampered by defections among his officers and the presence of Cleopatra on her flagship, which his Roman soldiers deeply resented. Agrippa easily outmaneuvered Antony , and Cleopatra was the first to flee, taking her sixty Egyptian ships with her. Antony followed her in a single ship, leaving the rest of his fleet to be destroyed.

30 BC: After plans to regroup their forces in Alexandria failed, since most of Antony 's remaining soldiers deserted to join Octavian, Antony committed suicide with his own sword. The circumstances surrounding his death are not certain, but several versions state that Cleopatra sent him a message that she had killed herself; when he then stabbed himself, she had him raised to her in the her tower, and he died in her arms. In any case, it is definite that she lived for some weeks after Antony 's death and met Octavian on at least one occasion. Malicious sources report that she was trying to seduce Octavian also, but it is more probable that she was attempting to secure the best possible situation for her children. When she realized that Octavian was determined to parade her as his captive in his triumphal parade in Rome, she tricked him into believing that she would do this, and then had an asp smuggled in to her and died of its bite (or perhaps she took poison), along with two of her serving women.

29 BC, August 13-15: Octavian celebrates a triple triumph at Rome ( Illyria , Actium and Alexandria ) on three successive days; he attributes the success to Apollo. The influx of money and booty causes a sharp decreas in interest rates, making Octavian more popular than ever.

28 BC: Octavian dedicates a temple to Apollo on the Palatine Hill, Rome (next to his home).

27 BC: Octavian formally “handed over” his power to the Senate, which then “voluntarily” gave it back to him in a new legal form, officially declaring him the princeps (leading citizen), instead of dictator, king, or triumvir; he was henceforth called Augustus (“the revered one”). In effect, absolute power was in Augustus's hands, but this was concealed by his use of the old governmental forms; although Augustus's rule is often termed a principate, he was actually the first of the Roman emperors, and the beginning of the Roman Empire is officially dated at 27 BC.

The Ascent of Caesar's Nephew, Octavian

A month after Caesar's death, his eighteen year-old grand-nephew, Gaius Octavianus, to be known as Octavian, arrived in Italy from the East, where he had been waiting to serve Caesar in the war that was planned against the Parthians. Octavian had served with Caesar in Spain , and Caesar had adopted him and made him his heir. Against the advice of his stepfather and others, Octavian decided to use his inheritance politically. Like many who have inherited wealth or position from a brilliant man, Octavian would prove less capable, but he was determined, and he would prove able enough in his coming competition with Mark Antony. Antony considered himself Caesar's political heir. He controlled Caesar's private fortune, which he had quickly spent. When Octavian went to Antony to claim his share of Caesar's estate, Antony rebuffed him in a public display of contempt.

With what money Octavian had, and help from friends, family and supporters, Octavian was able to make himself a public figure. He paid the gift of money that Caesar had promised citizens in his will -- which Antony was refusing to pay. He paid for athletic games in honor of Caesar, and at these games a comet streaked across the sky. The crowd thought it was Caesar's star, a sign of Caesar's immortality, a sign of Caesar having risen, and a sign of heavenly favor bestowed upon Octavian. News of Caesar's star spread rapidly across the empire. And Octavian inherited the affection of soldiers and civilians who had worshiped Caesar. Many of Caesar's veterans gathered around Octavian and proclaimed their devotion to him, and war between Octavian and Antony appeared imminent.

Antony against the Senate

The accord between Antony and the Senate fell apart. As consul, Antony canceled the Senate's appointment of one of Caesar's assassins, Decimus Brutus (no relation to Marcus Brutus), to the governorship of Cisalpine Gaul . With his position as consul soon to expire, Antony appointed himself to the position. Still conciliatory, the Senate approved. But Cicero feared Antony 's influence. He made a speech with an undertone of criticism against Antony . Antony took offense and attacked Cicero verbally. And before the year ended a war of words was on between the two. Antony and Cicero disliked each other personally. Antony was affable but thought good manners were hypocritical and stuffy, and stuffy was what he though of Cicero . Antony saw himself as in tune with traditional male directness and simplicity. In manner and dress he was intentionally casual, and he had a coarseness and boyishness that appealed to soldiers. Some complained that he was sloppy in eating and noisy in drinking. Cicero described him as vulgar and as a drunken, lusting debaucher, and Cicero spoke of Antony 's speeches as little more than bombast.

Cicero saw Antony 's choosing to go to Cisalpine Gaul as governor as an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Caesar, and he accused Antony of preparing to create a military dictatorship. Cicero decided that it best to keep Antony and Octavian divided, to exploit their differences and to help Octavian against Antony . The Senate refused Antony 's attempt to have it declare Octavian a public enemy. Instead, the Senate made Octavian a senator, annulled its appointment of Antony as governor of Cisalpine Gaul and declared Antony an outlaw.

Antony did now what he could have done just after the assassination: he rallied an army against Caesar's assassins. The first of his targets was his rival in Cisalpine Gaul : Decimus Brutus. Cicero called on the governors in Spain , Transalpine Gaul and Narbonensis Gaul, to side with the Senate. But these commanders chose instead to side with Antony . The commander in Narbonensis Gaul -- Lepidus -- had Caesar's best troops, and Antony agreed to recognize him as equal in rank.

Octavian, Antony and Lepidus End the Republic

Octavian was uncomfortable allied with the Senate, and he saw opportunity in overthrowing those responsible for his uncle's assassination. He signaled Antony that he was willing to create an alliance against those they both opposed. Some were to claim that Octavian and Antony agreed that they had better hang together or they might eventually hang separately.

While Antony was winning his war against Decimus Brutus, Octavian and his troops marched on Rome , entering the city unopposed. There, Octavian took charge and in effect annulled the powers of the Senate. He instituted elections for the two consulships, winning one seat for himself and one for a second cousin, and he abolished the law that had made Antony an outlaw. A victorious Antony returned to Rome with his army. Lepidus, Antony and Octavian formed a ruling triumvirate. The triumvirate enlarged the Senate with their supporters. The Plebeian Assembly passed a law giving the triumvirate dictatorial powers for five years.

Octavian and Antony chose not to repeat Caesar's attempt at reconciliation. Against those who had conspired against Caesar they launched a massacre as terrible as Sulla's. Three hundred former senators and two thousand equites were killed, destroying much of what had been Rome 's old governing elite. Cicero was among those assassinated -- his severed head and hands presented to Antony . Caesar was declared a god of the Roman state. The two most prominent of Caesar's assassins, Cassius and Marcus Brutus, had fled east and taken command of armies there, and, in the year 42, armies under the combined command of Antony and Octavian waged war against them in Macedonia, Antony performing well as a general and Octavian, who lacked such skills, remaining in his tent. Brutus and Cassius committed suicide. An enemy navy, led by the son of Pompey, Sextus Pompeius, remained undefeated.

Octavian Rules as Emperor Augustus

Immediately after returning to Rome in 29 BC, Octavian fortified support for himself by giving some of the wealth from Egypt to the troops who had fought for him. He gave them land in Italy and abroad, and some of Egypt 's treasure he gave as prizes to the people of Rome . Thirty years had passed since Rome 's republican government had functioned normally, and Octavian considered what the nature of his rule was to be. He theorized that a republic was better than a monarchy, that the sons of kings often became incompetent rulers. He believed that Rome 's republican government had helped make Rome great, but he also believed that it had produced chaos. He decided that although the republic was suited to Rome when Rome was small, it was inadequate in meeting Rome 's task as the leader of the world's greatest empire. He believed that democracy could not achieve the political stability that the Senate had failed to achieve, and therefore he remained opposed to giving more power to the Plebeian Assembly. He decided also that clinging to absolute power would appear evil. He did not wish to appear to be the autocrat that Caesar had appeared to be, and he recalled that after having won against Sextus Pompeius in 36 he had promised that he would restore the republic.

Octavian and his trusted aide, Agrippa, were the two consuls, and Octavian used his powers as a consul to make the Senate more to his liking. Building on the purge of 43, in which about three hundred senators had been eliminated, Octavian purged two hundred more, and in their place he added some whom he had elevated to the rank of nobility, and the Senate became a body of eight hundred.

In 27 BC, Octavian began his seventh term as consul, and on the first day of that year he renounced his consulship and declared that he was surrendering all powers to the Senate and other bodies, including control of the army. It was a bogus withdrawal from power. As Octavian expected, the Senate, packed with his supporters, responded by returning much of his power, claiming that it was doing so for the sake of unity and relief from factionalism and civil strife. The Senate granted Octavian a ten-year governorship over those areas where the bulk of Rome 's armies were stationed: Spain , Gaul and Syria . This gave Octavian control over foreign policy, and it left him with authority over Rome 's military.

The Senate voted that Octavian be given the crown of oak leaves that signified service to Rome , and it made him consul again. From the period of the Second Triumvirate, Octavian still held the title of princeps, which could be translated as leader, or, in German, führer. In keeping with his great prestige, the Senate gave him a title that had the ring of his being divinely chosen, Augustus Caesar, and the Senate made it law that he be included in the prayers of Rome's priests. In appearance the Republic had been restored, but in fact ultimate power still lay with Octavian -- Augustus Caesar. •• Freewalt Family •• Search •• Terms of Use

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