Who Was the Emperor Augustus?

The First Emperor (Princeps) of Rome Was Augustus

Ancient Roman bronze statue of Emperor Augustus, Porte Palatine city gate, Turin, Piedmont, Italy
Daniela Buoncristiani / Getty Images

The Age of Augustus was a four-decades-long age of peace and prosperity that evolved out of civil war. The Roman Empire acquired more territory and Roman culture flourished. It was the time when a capable leader carefully and cleverly molded the crumbled Republic of Rome into an Imperial form headed by one man. This man is known as Augustus.

Whether you date his reign to Actium (31 B.C.) or the first constitutional settlement and the adoption of the name we know him by, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (aka Emperor Augustus) ruled Rome until his death in 14 A.D.

Early Career

Augustus or Octavius (as he was called until his great-uncle, Julius Caesar, adopted him) was born 23 September, 63 B.C. In 48 B.C., he was elected to the pontifical college. In 45 he followed Caesar to Spain. In 43 or 42 Caesar named Octavius Master of Horse. In March 44 B.C., when Julius Caesar died and his will read, Octavius discovered he had been adopted.

Acquiring Imperial Powers

Octavius became Octavianus or Octavian. Styling himself "Caesar", the youthful heir gathered troops (from Brundisium and along the road) as he went to Rome to have his adoption made official. There Antony prevented him from standing for office and tried to block his adoption.

Through the oratory of Cicero, not only was Octavian's close-to-illegal command of troops legitimized, but also Antony was declared a public enemy. Octavian then marched on Rome with eight legions and was made consul. This was in 43.

The Second Triumvirate soon formed (legally, unlike the first triumvirate which was not a legal entity). Octavian gained control of Sardinia, Sicily, and Africa; Antony (no longer a public enemy), Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul; M. Aemilius Lepidus, Spain (Hispania) and Gallia Narbonensis. They revived proscriptions -- a ruthless extra-legal means of padding their treasury, and pursued those who had killed Caesar. From then on Octavian acted to secure his troops and to concentrate the power in himself.

Octavian, Antony, and Cleopatra

Relations deteriorated between Octavian and Antony in 32 B.C., when Antony renounced his wife Octavia in favor of Cleopatra. Augustus' Roman troops fought Antony, defeating him decisively in a sea battle in the Ambracian gulf, near the promontory of Actium.

Beginning of the Principate: The New Role of Emperor of Rome

Over the next few decades, the new powers of Augustus, the one leader of Rome had to be ironed out through two constitutional settlements and then the added title of Pater Patriae father of the country that was given him in 2 B.C.

Augustus' Longevity

Despite serious illnesses, Augustus managed to outlive various men he had been grooming as a successor. Augustus died in 14 A.D. and was succeeded by his son-in-law Tiberius.

Names of Augustus

63-44 B.C.: Gaius Octavius
44-27 B.C.: Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (Octavian)
27 B.C. - 14 A.D.: Augustus

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Gill, N.S. "Who Was the Emperor Augustus?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/augustus-117229. Gill, N.S. (2023, April 5). Who Was the Emperor Augustus? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/augustus-117229 Gill, N.S. "Who Was the Emperor Augustus?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/augustus-117229 (accessed June 2, 2023).