Brief Background of the Title Augustus Caesar

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His Title Augustus Caesar

augustus.gifThat the empire survived the civil wars that destroyed the republic was largely due to the long life (63 B.C.-14 A.D.) and political skill of Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, later known as Augustus. In 44 B.C. Octavian, great nephew and adopted son of the murdered dictator, rallied Caesar's veterans and used them first against Marc Antony, the chief leader of the Caesarians, and then in alliance with Antony and Lepidus (the Second Triumvirate), against the republicans. Proscriptions caused the death of some 300 senators and 2000 nobles. Opponents of the triumvirate were defeated, and much property was made available with which to reward the troops.

After Brutus and Cassius had been defeated at Philippi (42 B.C.), and Mark Antony and Cleopatra at Actium (31 B.C.), Octavian was now without opposition and master of the empire.

See Image of Octavian

Octavian brought peace to the Roman Empire and became a popular leader. In 27 B.C., the Senate voted to give him the title Augustus, which means "the respected one." He ruled the empire until 14 A.D. In the Bible Luke refers to him as "Caesar Augustus."

With the settlement of 27 B.C. he laid the foundations of the `principate', a system of government that was to give the empire internal peace with only brief interruptions for around 250 years.

In reality this monarchy was much different than in the previous era and it was much more acceptable to men familiar with free republican institutions. The ruler was not king but first citizen (princeps). Of his formal titles, Caesar proclaimed that he was a descendant of the dead dictator, and Imperator (emperor), that he was commander in chief.

The Senate made aware the fact that this citizen had unique prestige and influence by giving him the title of Augustus. The princeps' power was like that of a king in that it rested on hereditary loyalty, especially of the army, to himself, his family and descendants (whether by birth or adoption).

His personality was magnified and publicized through the so-called imperial cult, a complex of ceremonies making use of the forms of religion to express and instill loyalty to the ruler. At the same time Augustus voluntarily restricted his actions within the limits of various constitutional powers conferred by the Senate, for which, taken singly, republican precedent could be found. Moreover, he let his position evolve through a series of settlements, and thus avoided outrage to public and especially senatorial opinion. In 27 B.C. he was granted a proconsular command, or province including Gaul, Spain and Syria, and by far the greatest part of the Roman army. In 23 B.C. he received the power of a tribune, and his proconsular authority was made greater than that of any other provincial governor. In 19 sc he received (probably) consular powers that entitled him to introduce administrative reforms in Rome and Italy. This complex of powers remained the constitutional basis of the imperial office and continued to be granted by the Senate, which thus retained, in theory at least, a share in the appointment of the emperor.

Augustus reduced the huge armies of the civil war to around 300,000 men, made up half of Roman citizens serving in legions and half of provincials in auxiliary units. The army was stationed in frontier provinces. After around 25 years service legionaries received a lump-sum pension from a military treasury fed by two special taxes. Auxiliaries, on retirement, were given Roman citizenship. Augustus was lucky to have able yet reliable generals, notably his friend Agrippa, and in later years his stepsons Tiberius and Drusus.

These and others expanded the empire very considerably until in 9 A.D. the loss of three legions in the disastrous battle of the Teutoburg Forest ended a sustained attempt to conquer Germany, and reconciled Augustus to frontiers stabilized along the Rhine, Danube and Euphrates. By and large growth of the empire had come to an end. The conquest of Britain, begun under Claudius, was the only major post-Augustan addition to the empire to prove lasting. Suspicion of successful generals, and the strain on the economy of recruiting, paying and pensioning the extra troops required by expansion reconciled most emperors to a basically defensive policy. In time the army had to be enlarged nevertheless-at great social cost.

Augustus reorganized the administration of the whole empire. At Rome he appointed an equestrian praefectus annonae to organize supplies for the free issue of corn that was the privilege of the inhabitants of the capital. For the first time the city received a police force, fire brigade and organization for flood control.

After the death of Augustus the public assemblies lost their electoral and legislative functions to the Senate. Public opinion could still find expression in demonstrations in the theatre or circus, where emperors were expected to watch the shows in the midst of huge numbers of their subjects. Numerous colonies were founded for the settlement of veterans, especially in southern France, in Spain and North Africa. In this way the surplus population of Italy, which had contributed to the instability of the late republic, was dispersed, and the raising of revolutionary armies made much more difficult for the future.

Appointment of provincial governors was shared between emperor and Senate. Imperial provinces were governed by a legatus Augusti of senatorial rank or by an equestrian official. Senatorial provinces were governed by ex-consuls or ex-quaestors, with the title of proconsul. In imperial provinces finance was in the hands of an equestrian procurator, in senatorial provinces of a quaestor. But inhabitants of both kinds of province looked upon the emperor as their head of state. Similarly resolutions of the Senate (senatus consulta) had legal force for the whole empire.

Under Augustus literature flourished. The epic of Virgil (70-19 B.C.), history of Livy (59 B.C.-17 A.D.), the personal poetry of Horace (65-8 B.C.), Propertius (after 16 B.C.), Tibullus (48-19 B.C.) and Ovid (43 B.C.-17 A.D.) were soon recognized as Latin classics worthy to be mentioned with those of the Greeks. Among the themes treated most memorably were the history and traditional values of the Roman people and the emotions of personal relations, especially of love.

After his death, the title "Augustus" was given to all Roman emperors. The "Augustus Caesar" mentioned in Acts 25:21, 25, for instance, is not Octavian but Nero.

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Augustus Caesar

Images and Busts of Augustus on romanemperors.com


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Augustus Bibliography Resources

Augustus Caesar's World - By Foster, 347 Pages, Pub. 1947

Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor - By Everitt, 432 Pages, Pub. 2007

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