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Augustus (Latin: Imperātor Caesar Dīvī Fīlius Augustus; 23 September 63 BC – 19 August 14 AD) was the founder of the Roman Empire and its first Emperor, ruling from 27 BC until his death in AD 14.
He was born Gaius Octavius into an old and wealthy equestrian branch of the plebeian Octavii family. His maternal great-uncle Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, and Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir. He, Mark Antony, and Marcus Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate to defeat the assassins of Caesar. Following their victory at Philippi, the Triumvirate divided the Roman Republic among themselves and ruled as military dictators.[note 4] The Triumvirate was eventually torn apart under the competing ambitions of its members. Lepidus was driven into exile and stripped of his position, and Antony committed suicide following his defeat at the Battle of Actium by Octavian in 31 BC.
After the demise of the Second Triumvirate, Augustus restored the outward facade of the free Republic, with governmental power vested in the Roman Senate, the executive magistrates, and the legislative assemblies. In reality, however, he retained his autocratic power over the Republic as a military dictator. By law, Augustus held a collection of powers granted to him for life by the Senate, including supreme military command, and those of tribune and censor. It took several years for Augustus to develop the framework within which a formally republican state could be led under his sole rule. He rejected monarchical titles, and instead called himself Princeps Civitatis (“First Citizen of the State”). The resulting constitutional framework became known as the Principate, the first phase of the Roman Empire.
The reign of Augustus initiated an era of relative peace known as the Pax Romana (The Roman Peace). The Roman world was largely free from large-scale conflict for more than two centuries, despite continuous wars of imperial expansion on the Empire’s frontiers and one year-long civil war over the imperial succession. Augustus dramatically enlarged the Empire, annexing Egypt, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum, and Raetia; expanding possessions in Africa; expanding into Germania; and completing the conquest of Hispania.
Beyond the frontiers, he secured the Empire with a buffer region of client states and made peace with the Parthian Empire through diplomacy. He reformed the Roman system of taxation, developed networks of roads with an official courier system, established a standing army, established the Praetorian Guard, created official police and fire-fighting services for Rome, and rebuilt much of the city during his reign.
Augustus died in AD 14 at the age of 75. He may have died from natural causes, although there were unconfirmed rumors that his wife Livia poisoned him. He was succeeded as Emperor by his adopted son (also stepson and former son-in-law) Tiberius.
Augustus was known by many names throughout his life:
At birth, he was named Gaius Octavius after his biological father. Historians typically refer to him simply as Octavius (or Octavian) between his birth in 63 until his adoption by Julius Caesar in 44 BC (after Julius Caesar’s death).
Upon his adoption, he took Caesar’s name and became Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus in accordance with Roman adoption naming standards. He quickly dropped “Octavianus” from his name, and his contemporaries typically referred to him as “Caesar” during this period; historians, however, refer to him as Octavian between 44 BC and 27 BC.
In 42 BC, Octavian began the Temple of Divus Iulius or Temple of the Comet Star and added Divi Filius (Son of the Divine) to his name in order to strengthen his political ties to Caesar’s former soldiers by following the deification of Caesar, becoming Gaius Julius Caesar Divi Filius.
In 38 BC, Octavian replaced his praenomen “Gaius” and nomen “Julius” with Imperator, the title by which troops hailed their leader after military success, officially becoming Imperator Caesar Divi Filius.
In 27 BC, following his defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, the Roman Senate voted new titles for him, officially becoming Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus. It is the events of 27 BC from which he obtained his traditional name of Augustus, which historians use in reference to him from 27 BC until his death in AD 14.
While his paternal family was from the town of Velletri, approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) from Rome, Augustus was born in the city of Rome on 23 September 63 BC. He was born at Ox Head, a small property on the Palatine Hill, very close to the Roman Forum. He was given the name Gaius Octavius Thurinus, his cognomen possibly commemorating his father’s victory at Thurii over a rebellious band of slaves.
Due to the crowded nature of Rome at the time, Octavius was taken to his father’s home village at Velletri to be raised. Octavius only mentions his father’s equestrian family briefly in his memoirs. His paternal great-grandfather Gaius Octavius was a military tribune in Sicily during the Second Punic War. His grandfather had served in several local political offices. His father, also named Gaius Octavius, had been governor of Macedonia. His mother, Atia, was the niece of Julius Caesar.
In 59 BC, when he was four years old, his father died. His mother married a former governor of Syria, Lucius Marcius Philippus. Philippus claimed descent from Alexander the Great, and was elected consul in 56 BC. Philippus never had much of an interest in young Octavius. Because of this, Octavius was raised by his grandmother (and Julius Caesar’s sister), Julia Caesaris.
In 52 or 51 BC, Julia Caesaris died. Octavius delivered the funeral oration for his grandmother. From this point, his mother and stepfather took a more active role in raising him. He donned the toga virilis four years later, and was elected to the College of Pontiffs in 47 BC. The following year he was put in charge of the Greek games that were staged in honor of the Temple of Venus Genetrix, built by Julius Caesar. According to Nicolaus of Damascus, Octavius wished to join Caesar’s staff for his campaign in Africa, but gave way when his mother protested. In 46 BC, she consented for him to join Caesar in Hispania, where he planned to fight the forces of Pompey, Caesar’s late enemy, but Octavius fell ill and was unable to travel.
When he had recovered, he sailed to the front, but was shipwrecked; after coming ashore with a handful of companions, he crossed hostile territory to Caesar’s camp, which impressed his great-uncle considerably. Velleius Paterculus reports that after that time, Caesar allowed the young man to share his carriage. When back in Rome, Caesar deposited a new will with the Vestal Virgins, naming Octavius as the prime beneficiary.
Octavius was studying and undergoing military training in Apollonia, Illyria, when Julius Caesar was killed on the Ides of March (15 March) 44 BC. He rejected the advice of some army officers to take refuge with the troops in Macedonia and sailed to Italy to ascertain whether he had any potential political fortunes or security. Caesar had no living legitimate children under Roman law, and so had adopted Octavius, his grand-nephew, making him his primary heir. Mark Antony later charged that Octavian had earned his adoption by Caesar through sexual favours, though Suetonius describes Antony’s accusation as political slander. After landing at Lupiae near Brundisium, Octavius learned the contents of Caesar’s will, and only then did he decide to become Caesar’s political heir as well as heir to two-thirds of his estate.
Upon his adoption, Octavius assumed his great-uncle’s name Gaius Julius Caesar. Roman citizens adopted into a new family usually retained their old nomen in cognomen form (e.g., Octavianus for one who had been an Octavius, Aemilianus for one who had been an Aemilius, etc.). However, though some of his contemporaries did, there is no evidence that Octavius ever himself officially used the name Octavianus, as it would have made his modest origins too obvious. Historians usually refer to the new Caesar as Octavian during the time between his adoption and his assumption of the name Augustus in 27 BC in order to avoid confusing the dead dictator with his heir.
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