Brief biography of Octavian Augustus, the first Roman emperor, founder of the principality

Octavian Augustusconsidered the first Roman emperorwas born in Rome with the name of Gaius Octavius ​​in 63 BC. Era Grandchild of Julius Caesar because his mother, Attia, was the daughter of Julia, a sister of the leader. A few years after his birth, Caesar chose the young Octavius ​​as his adopted son. The young man therefore also became the political heir of the leader and Mark Antony foughtanother exponent of the Caesarian faction, for control over the Roman state.

After defeating Antony in the year 31, Octavian became the lord of Rome. The Senate granted him extraordinary powers and assigned him the title of Augustusputting in fact end to the republic and starting the phase of principality. Octavian, now known as Augustus, became the first princeps (generally translated as “emperor”) of ancient Rome. He governed for about forty years, promoting important reforms in numerous fields of political and social life. He died in 14 AD in Nola.

Who was Octavian Augustus: summary of his life in youth

The man who would become known as Augustus was born in Rome, on the Palatine Hill, in 63 BC as Gaius Octavius. He belonged to one powerful and rich family. His maternal grandmother was Julia, sister of Julius Caesar.

Bust of Ottavio as a young man (Credits Wolfgang Sauber)

At the time of Octavius' birth, Rome was going through a period of turbulence and civil warsdue to the fact that the city was governed by republican institutions founded when Rome was a small center and not suitable for administering a vast empire like the one conquered in the 1st century BC. One of the protagonists of the civil wars was Caesar, who however found the time to deal also of Ottavio's cultural and political educationsending him to study in a city in Epirus, Apollonia (today in Albanian territory), together with two friends, Caius Cilnius Patron and Marcus Vipsanius Agrippawho will remain close to him throughout his life.

In the year 44, while in Apollonia, Octavius ​​received the news that Caesar had been killed in a conspiracy and who, before dying, had adopted him and appointed him his heir.

Augustus' rise to power and the second triumvirate

Ottavio immediately returned to Rome and changed his name to Gaius Julius Caesarto which the second was added by custom nomen Octavian (which however he did not use, calling himself simply Caesar). Numerous senators sided with him, thinking that he was more maneuverable than Mark Antonywho had been one of the men closest to Caesar and intended to collect his legacy.

After an initial clash, Octavian and Antony managed to reach an agreement and in 43 BC they founded the second triumviratean alliance that also included another political exponent, Marco Emilio Lepidusand had the purposes of putting end to the period of civil wars and to eliminate the army loyal to Brutus and Cassius, the leaders of the conspiracy that had killed Caesar.

The war between Octavian and Antony

For a few years the arrangement seemed to work. In 42 Octavian and Antony defeated the forces of Brutus and Cassius in the battle of Philippi and in 40 the three triumvirs found an agreement to “divide” the control of the Roman territories: Octavian would govern the western part of the empire, Antony the East, Lepidus Africa.

The triumvirate, however, was not destined to last long. Already in 37 Lepidus entered into conflict with Augustus and was effectively ousted from office. Relations between Octavian and Antony became progressively more tense and in 31 they turned into open war. The casus belli was Antony's decision to leave, after his death, control of the eastern territories of the empire to the queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. Octavian, who went to war against his rival, inflicted a decisive defeat on him naval battle of Actium of 31 BCat the end of which Antonio took his own life.

The first Roman emperor

Octavian had become the sole master of Rome and in the year 27 he “restored” to the Senate the extraordinary powers with which it had been invested, formally “restoring” the Republic. In reality, the move was a sham, because Octavian hired new ones extraordinary powers which, in fact, they transformed the republic into a principality: he obtained the tribunicia potestasthat is, the power of veto over the decisions of the Senate, theimperium (military command) over a part of the provinces, and the title of Augustus, which meant he was worthy of veneration. Octavian became like this princeps, that is, the first among men, and, although he had not abolished the republican magistracies, he exercised effective power. For this reason, he is considered the first Roman emperor.

The years of power: peace and reforms

With the birth of the principality the civil wars ended and the pax augusta. Rome's legions fought only on the borders of the empire to pacify the last rebellions in already conquered regions and to conquer new territories.

The conquests of Augustus (in green).  In pink the client kingdoms of Rome, in yellow the territory already belonging to the empire

Augustus promoted important reforms in various fields of social and political life. First of all, he divided the provinces into “senatories”, i.e. controlled by the senate, and “imperial”, subjected to its direct control. Furthermore, he reformed the administration of the state, establishing new positions and appointing officials who reported directly to him.

One was also promoted extensive construction activity in the capital: he built the forum that bears his name and other important buildings, including the first Pantheon. Through Patronfinanced the activity of many writers and men of letters, from which some of the best-known authors of Latin literature emerged, such as Virgil and Horace.

The death of Augustus

Augustus was aware that the transition from republic to principality was irreversible and therefore he had to worry about succession. He had no direct heirs (his only daughter, being a woman, could not succeed him) and therefore in the year 4 AD he adopted Tiberius Gaius Caesarson from a previous marriage of his wife Livia Drusilla.

August he died in the year 14 near Nola and Tiberius succeeded him in the role of princeps, giving rise to the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

Some curiosities about Augustus

The name of the month of Augustcalled previously sextilisderives from the title assigned augustus to the princeps: the senate decided to “name it” after him because it was the month in which he became consul for the first time and in which he had his rival Antony.

Augustus was the author of a historical work, Res Gestae Divi Augustiin which he narrated the exploits he had achieved.