Brief Background of the Title Augustus Caesar
Augustus Caesar | Index
His Title Augustus Caesar
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.
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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Images and Busts of
Augustus on romanemperors.com
Augustus Bibliography Resources
Augustus Caesar's World - By Foster, 347 Pages, Pub.
Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor - By
Everitt, 432 Pages, Pub. 2007