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After being elected as consul for life, Octavian changed his name to Augustus, which means
‘Majestic One’. Augustus Caesar ruled Rome from 27 B.C. until his death in A.D. 14.
During his reign, Augustus Caesar instituted a number of reforms that strengthened
the empire, and that helped the poor find work, and improved their lives. He also oversaw a
number of important building projects, that lead him to declare ‘I found this city in bricks,
and left it in marble’.
Augustus was born Gaius Octavius on 23 September 63 BC in Rome. In 43 BC his
great-uncle, Julius Caesar, was assassinated and in his will, Octavius, known as Octavian,
was named as his heir. He fought to avenge Caesar and in 31 BC defeated Antony and
Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium. He was now undisputed ruler of Rome.
Instead of following Caesar's example and making himself dictator, Octavian in 27
BC founded the principate, a system of monarchy headed by an emperor holding power for
life. His powers were hidden behind constitutional forms, and he took the name Augustus
meaning 'lofty' or 'serene'. Nevertheless, he retained ultimate control of all aspects of the
Roman state, with the army under his direct command.
Military disaster, the loss of his grandsons and a troubled economy clouded his last years. He
became more dictatorial, exiling the poet Ovid (AD 8), who had mocked his moral reforms.
He died on 19 August AD 14.
Octavian's rival at this time was Mark Antony (c. 83–30 B.C.E.), who had taken command of
Caesar's legions, the largest Roman military units. The two men became enemies
immediately when Octavian announced his intention to take over his inheritance. Antony was
engaged in war against the Senate to avenge Caesar's murder and to further his own
ambitions. Octavian sided with the Senate and joined in the fight. Antony was defeated in 43
B.C.E., but the Senate refused Octavian the triumph he felt he was owed. As a result
Octavian abandoned the senators and joined forces with Antony and Lepidus, another of
Caesar's officers. The three men, who called themselves the Second Triumvirate (a group of
three officials or government leaders in ancient Rome), defeated their opponents in 42 B.C.E.
and assumed full governing power. They then divided the empire into areas of influence.
Octavian took the West; Antony, the East; and Lepidus, Africa. Over time Lepidus lost
power, and it seemed impossible that Antony and Octavian could avoid clashing. In 32
B.C.E. Octavian declared war against Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, to whom Antony was
romantically and politically tied. After a decisive naval victory in this conflict, Octavian was
left as master of the entire Roman world. The following year Antony and Cleopatra
committed suicide (killed themselves), and in 29 B.C.E. Octavian returned to Rome in
triumph.
ACTIUM
The Battle of Actium, in 31, decides the issue. Octavian wins. Antony and Cleopatra flee back
to Egypt, where Octavian pursues them. On his arrival, in 30, they both commit suicide.
Octavian stays in the east long enough to secure Cleopatra's Egypt as a new province of the
empire.
In August 29 Octavian enters Rome in triumph, the undisputed master of both east and west.