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Augustus (63 BC - AD 14)
Augustus was the first emperor of Rome. He replaced the Roman republic with an
effective monarchy and during his long reign brought peace and stability.
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.
At home, he embarked on a large programme of reconstruction and social reform. Rome was
transformed with impressive new buildings and Augustus was a patron to Virgil, Horace and
Propertius, the leading poets of the day. Augustus also ensured that his image was promoted
throughout his empire by means of statues and coins.
Abroad, he created a standing army for the first time, and embarked upon a vigorous campaign of
expansion designed to make Rome safe from the 'barbarians' beyond the frontiers, and to secure
the Augustan peace. His stepsons Tiberius and Drusus undertook the task (Augustus had married
their mother Livia in 38 BC). Between 16 BC and 6 AD the frontier was advanced from the Rhine to
the Elbe in Germany, and up to the Danube along its entire length. But Drusus died in the process
and in 9 AD the annihilation of three Roman legions in Germany (out of 28 overall), in the Varian
disaster, led to the abandonment of Germany east of the Rhine.
Augustus was determined to be succeeded by someone of his own blood, but he had no sons, only a
daughter, Julia, the child of his first wife. His nephew Marcellus and his beloved grandsons Gaius and
Lucius pre-deceased him, so he reluctantly made Tiberius his heir.
Military disaster, the loss of his grandsons and a troubled economy clouded his last years. He
became more dictatorial, exiling the poet Ovid (8 AD), who had mocked his moral reforms. He died
on 19 August 14 AD.