How Were Julius Caesar and His Ultimate Successor Augustus Related?

Family Ties and Roman Drama Galore

Octavian-Augustus strikes a pose. Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Question: What Was the Relationship Between Caesar and Augustus?

Augustus (born Gaius Octavius) became the first Roman emperor, in large part mainly because he had been adopted by Julius Caesar. But what was the exact relationship between Caesar and Augustus?

Answer: Augustus was Caesar's great-nephew whom he adopted as his son and heir. Born Gaius Octavius on September 23, 63 B.C., the future Auggie was the son of Octavius, a relatively average praetor from Velitrae, and Atia, the daughter of Julius Caesar's sister Julia.

Confusingly, most of the woman of Caesar's family were called Julia. That number included Caesar's own daughter, Julia, who was his only child. Married several times, including to Caesar's longtime frenemy Pompey, Julia sadly died in childbirth in 54 B.C. This ended her father's hopes for an heir of his own direct blood and messed up his tentative truce with Pompey. 

So, as was common in ancient Rome then and later, Caesar went looking for his closest male relative to adopt as his own son. In that case, the lad in question was young Gaius Octavius, whom Caesar took under his own wing in the final years of his life. When Caesar went to Spain to fight the Pompeians in 45 B.C., Gaius Octavius went with him. Caesar arranging the schedule in advance, named Gaius Octavius Master of the Horse for 43 or 42 B.C. Caesar died in 44 B.C. and in his will adopted Gaius Octavius. Octavius took the name G.

Julius Caesar Octavianus at this point, thanks to the encouragement of Caesar's own veterans.

By taking his great-uncle's name, Octavian also assumed Caesar's political mantle, which he savvily maneuvered to his own advantage over the coming decades. In the power vacuum after Caesar's assassination, Octavian and Marcus Antonius (better known to modernity as Marc Antony) battled for control of Rome and the legacy Caesar left behind.

After forming the Second Triumvirate - and a truce - with a guy named Lepidus, Antony and Octavian ultimately decided the battle for the fate of Rome at the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. Antony and his lady love Cleopatra both committed suicide after Octavian emerged victorious and consolidated his political gains in a way that wound up creating the first Roman imperial dynasty.

-Edited by Carly Silver